Inter-company trade has lagged a long way behind consumer-oriented trade when it comes to digitisation of customer dialogue, marketing and sales. However, Knowit Experience can still see a clear trend in which more and more industrial companies are now hoping to increase their market share through e-commerce. If you don’t go along with what is happening now, you’ll be struggling to catch up with the head start your competitors already have.

During the past couple of decades, digitisation has changed consumer-oriented trade from the ground up. Today, industry-leading B2C companies are focusing on building customer experiences, where strategies and tools in the form of 'inbound marketing' and 'marketing automation' interact with web sites and physical stores.

However, as concerns B2B – inter-company trading – this reorientation process has slowed somewhat. Many industrial organisations have been living in a relatively protected world where digital competition has not had the same impact. Now, we are seeing a change.

Within B2B, and especially in the industrial segment, many businesses have been caught napping. Several leading companies have long held that as long time market leaders, they have had no need to streamline their customer dialogue. This is where we are now seeing a clearer shift in attitudes.

B2C habits becoming B2B habits
One strong driving force is that B2B customers have become accustomed to the friction-free experience they get when trading privately through digital channels. Challenges surrounding automation and the need for physical encounters in B2B commerce are now perceived as being increasingly outdated and ineffective. A clear outcome of this is that B2B companies' pure “information webbers” are now approaching e-commerce in the form of digital services.

Meanwhile, many B2B companies are unable to go on the same journey as the leading B2C businesses have done. Customer-specific product configurations and complex agreements mean that B2B commerce is not always suitable for a web-shop. Nonetheless, customers are both committed to and expectant of a greater degree of friction-free and, not least, personalised dialogue.

We recommend putting a toe in the water to find out who the actual customers are, and especially how to guide them along on the customer journey. Today, a great number of companies agree that customer experience and customer satisfaction are two of the most important competitive advantages and the only real unit of measurement for success they have. More and more businesses want to take up the position "closest to the customer" and to compete to a greater extent founded on optimal customer experience throughout the customer’s interaction with their product. The customer journey is equally important when it comes to B2B.

The web is one channel used during the customer journey, but you can also find the customer at trade fairs and in a wide variety of other channels. When your customer is going to buy something, it may not necessarily take place on the web, but more likely in connection with a seller physically talking with him or her. Digitisation can help you with how digital surfaces can be used to afford the seller more leads, and in addition, support customers along the way toward a purchase. Just as it is for B2C companies, it is about focusing on creating a good overall experience for the customer. Tools like ‘marketing automation’ are not the answer to everything, but need to be seen as adjuncts to the rest of the company’s sales channels.

One of the strongest trends we are seeing is the need to coordinate all channels into one unified customer journey. For this reason, many businesses are looking for a partner who can both provide the technical solutions and the more strategic work involved in shaping the customer experience.

We are increasingly meeting B2B companies that want to tailor e-commerce solutions, automate and understand more about user-focused solutions. It’s going to take place extremely quickly here. Many want to be the first to secure the market shares that come to those who succeed.

Some trends and observations
Although the company operates within a traditional industry where sales and turnovers are relationship-based, we are convinced that it can benefit from thinking a little differently about its development of B2B marketing. Objections will arise to the effect that this is only really applicable to a few customers and suppliers with whom we are on first-name terms. And they are also the ones we often meet and even travel together with when attending the most important trade fairs.

Our challenge is to use digital marketing strategically; not only to build familiarity with and knowledge of, but also as a platform that generates more relevant leads.

Today, it’s the Millennials who are making B2B decisions
We see very clear changes in decision-making demographics, and your traditionally-minded customer may soon be replaced and a new and younger person with other ways and habits will be taking over. According to Google, the 18-34 age group is, today, already making most B2B decisions.

Seven out of ten B2B traders begin their customer journey with generic searches on Google, Bing, etc. Before taking any initiative, they check out different digital ‘sites’ for video and other content. Our recommendation is to be ever visible to a wide range of searches using ‘long tail’ keywords. Also, be prepared to distribute content and participate elsewhere than on your own digital surfaces. In terms of content, video presents as the most effective medium, and of course, it also needs to be mobile-friendly. The growth in mobile usage throughout the entire customer journey up to the sale itself was last measured by Google at 91 per cent.

Earned, owned and paid-for media needs to be seen in context
Every single surface is an important part of the whole, and all contribute to a holistic and integrated digital marketing strategy.

With brand, storytelling and position in place, the plan should be to attract traffic, engage visitors and try to convert them to potential customers; leads. Measurement, learning and optimisation are key words for this round dance to succeed. Short, repetitive cycles will contribute to continuous improvement; constantly driven by data; in order for you to achieve your goals. Other keys to success are mapping competitors, the market and various offers out there, as well as developing archetypes, customer journeys, CPIs, and setting clear goals.

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