One B2B sector that leads by example is manufacturing, with organisations such as GE showing how to implement digital to drive positive changes not only within your own company, but within the entire market. The majority of transformation programmes focus solely on reinventing processes within an individual business, but GE took it to the next level. Their digital transformation programme not only introduced new practices and technologies to increase operational efficiency (e.g. data-driven insight for optimised performance), but ended up building an entire digital division aimed at reimagining how industrial companies operate and deliver their products. With the development of Predix - the world’s first Industrial Internet Platform that helps industry players to turn data and intelligence into actionable insights, GE is contributing to the digital transformation of the entire manufacturing market.
Apart from a few companies that have invested heavily to deliver a successful digital transformation programme, digital disruption in the B2B world is still in its infancy, at least when compared to B2C veterans such as Facebook or Amazon. But as the digital world grows and we become increasingly familiar with customer-led experiences, we are now starting to expect B2Bs to replicate key practices that are commonplace in the B2C sector. Transparency of offering and service, flexibility of choice, speed of order, convenience of usage, interface quality and the availability of a seamless omnichannel experience are some of the CX-led ways B2C has driven our expectation of high-quality customer experience, whether in our leisure time or in the work environment.
So how can you ensure that your B2B will thrive in the digitally disrupted world?
With rising customer and employee expectations in the B2B environment, it’s imperative for businesses to take radical action and adopt a more proactive approach to digital transformation, if they are to survive and thrive. Many organisations have burnt through massive budgets, only to find they have failed to gain any competitive advantage. So how can businesses ensure that their digital transformation programme is implemented successfully?
Our survey of 200 B2B senior digital, IT, technology and marketing managers shows that customer experience (CX), operations and innovation are areas with the highest potential to deliver an early payback from digital transformation.
But different B2B sectors will of course have different priorities, so defining a clear vision for the future and roadmapping the transformation based on extensive research is crucial for implementing any digital transformation programme. Marketing services, technology companies and e-commerce retailing businesses may potentially place a higher priority on CX, while heavy industry and manufacturing sectors might focus on identifying efficiencies and developing superior products that meet clients’ expectations and lower operational costs.
The Four Pillars of Digital Transformation
While the goals of the digital transformation programme will differ depending on the sector and the company’s individual needs, there are four pillars that form a foundation for any further development:
Managing transformation across these four pillars will unlock value and drive growth, whether via speeding up processes through digitisation, enhanced data analytics that supports businesses in client acquisition, or employee engagement to ensure all staff support the defined vision and work towards achieving a common goal.
While B2B businesses should initially focus their efforts on the area that shows the highest potential for achieving immediate ROI and driving the biggest change, these pillars are often interlinked – maximum potential is reached when implemented together. Imagine a scenario where you invest a significant proportion of your digital transformation budget towards operational changes. You plan to implement the ‘next-generation’ Artificial Intelligence technology that aims to speed up your processes and minimise human error. It all looks great on paper. But what if your employees don’t believe in that change? What if they don’t understand its potentially positive impact on their work, or worse – feel threatened? If culture and employee morale is low, the large investment in operational change will be wasted as employees may not sufficiently engage with newly introduced technologies and processes.
B2B businesses must pro-actively and categorically embrace digital transformation across all the four pillars if they want to remain successful in 5 years, 10 years and 20 years time. This transformation must be built on solid foundations – a robust vision, meticulous road mapping with customers in mind, and an understanding that whatever the focus of the business, its employees must be brought along for the ride.
Technology and the market may seem to be the driving force of digital transformation, but at the heart of the process, it’s still the humans on the ground that are in control.