By Michael McLaren
Digital transformation represents a fundamental change in how an organization delivers value to its customers. It’s the latest in a line of data-driven, tech-enabled shifts that have fundamentally changed modern marketing as we know it.
While customer behavior is always changing, the pandemic was undeniably the catalyst for many organizations and industries to accelerate their digital transformation plans as it became a need that they could no longer afford to ignore. That said, “digital transformation” remains no less daunting of a proposition than it was before the pandemic.
To break the gridlock around such a monumental undertaking, it makes sense to start by orienting around the customer and intimately understanding their needs and expectations at every step of the brand’s engagement with them. Especially during unprecedented times, sales and marketing teams must work in lockstep to re-think and re-engineer the customer journey and prioritize investments based on what they learn as they go. But what does that really look like, and how prepared are B2B organizations for what lies ahead?
Digital transformation readiness and momentum
Historically, B2B companies have not rushed to adopt new technologies. According to a survey conducted by B2B International, a leading global insights firm, only 55 percent of organizations have a digital transformation roadmap in place. (Those with an e-commerce offering and those working in financial services and IT are more likely to be ahead of the curve.) In addition, while 80 percent of those surveyed agreed that senior management are supportive of digital transformation plans, 75 percent also believe they have significant gaps in digital skills and knowledge across the business.
Furthermore, 50 percent of organizations are still making a decision on subjective criteria (i.e., the opinions of specific individuals and departments). This shows that there is room to influence B2B businesses based more on objective criteria drawn from data, insights, and ROI analysis.
There are certain areas where B2B organizations are under-utilizing technology, and this needs to be an area of focus for the year ahead. But technology is only a part of the much broader picture when it comes to driving transformation.
Across the board, B2B professionals say that building a more personal, human connection with their buyers has become more important to closing sales since March 2020. But how can this be achieved when there are no face-to-face events to rely on, limited direct salespeople access to clients and automation quickly becoming the name of the game among B2B organizations?
The internal approach to digital transformation
B2B companies are rapidly reorganizing to address changing market dynamics and needs. They’re hiring differently and rethinking their marketing mixes to accommodate an always-on, 24/7, self-service B2B sales environment. Many claim they have plenty of data to drive this process, but that they lack the people and structure to analyze it properly. As a result, it’s hard to truly put the customer at the center of digital transformation.
TURF analysis has supported this idea, identifying that organizations are more likely to start with refining internal processes before focusing on understanding their customers. Is this something that will change with the times? Is this where perhaps B2B organizations are going wrong, and why the majority have struggled to keep up with their B2C counterparts?
In fact, our analysis shows that over 75 percent of organizations currently require a detailed audit of what business data is needed to guide their transformation. As it stands, they often have to resort to manual methods to bring it together. 48 percent admitted that their business data is not even kept up to date, and 51 percent don’t trust the accuracy of the data they do have. Those respondents with a digital transformation roadmap in place realize they could be making better use of their business data, with 90 percent saying improvements are needed.
There seems to be more of an understanding among B2B leaders that, in order to remain successful into the future, both the internal culture of an organization – and the happiness of its customers need to be front and center, and investment needs to be allocated accordingly. But is enough being done? Our research reveals 80 percent of B2B organizations have made budget allocations for digital transformation, but only 20 percent think this is enough to meet their ambitions.
Marketing’s role in digital transformation
In most B2B organizations, marketing has typically served the needs of other parts of the organization. However, given the dramatic shifts in the way customers engage with brands today, marketing needs to take on a much stronger role and become a primary driver of the business, taking responsibility for the entire customer experience.
Today’s customers, given their comfort with digital tools and skill at accessing information sources, are taking themselves deeper and deeper into the purchase process before formally engaging with the brand itself. On average, Millennials will spend 13 weeks on the initial research phase of a B2B decision, compared with 12 weeks for Gen X and eight weeks for Boomers (source: The Generational Differences in B2B Decision-Making). As such, marketing’s role in shaping an appropriate self-guided customer journey is more vital than ever.
Moving forward on the path to digital transformation
In summary, while digital transformation is a priority for many B2B organizations, there’s a long way to go on multiple fronts. While 91 percent of organizations say they are exploring new ways of working and 86 percent saying senior management support digital transformation plans, there are significant gaps in skills and knowledge. Organizations are not using technology as much as they could, with only one-third of tasks currently automated. They are also not leveraging technology appropriately to gain a better view of their changing industries and what those changes mean for the type of digital experiences today’s customers expect. When it comes to business data, manual processes and data silos are still a massive barrier.
Today’s B2B organizations understand the importance of digital transformation; however, they need to put their foot to the pedal and speed up these efforts considerably before they get left behind. It’s time to look long-term and lay the people, process and technology foundation that enables today’s businesses to stay connected with their customers and anticipate new customer needs into the future.