Four Ways Industrial Companies Can Accelerate the Digital Journey

Expectations for engaging B2B customers digitally have never been higher. Given this trend, industrial companies need to expand their digital sales capabilities now. Here are some thoughts on how to build momentum.

Brian R. May, Managing Director, Industrial North America, Accenture
Brian R. May, Managing Director, Industrial North America, Accenture

We’ve long known that digital sales represent the future for industrial companies. But the speed of growth we’re seeing in this new way of interacting with customers is remarkable. Already representing 26% of total U.S.-B2B sales, digital commerce is expected to keep accelerating over the coming years, closing in on a third of all industrial B2B sales in North America by the middle of this decade.

Industrial B2B customers are expecting a different type of experience across the entire engagement lifecycle—from searching for product information to influencing product engineering to transacting buys to servicing products. Standards and expectations have been driven ever upwards by the digital commerce giants. The ability for industrials to respond to these expectations will differentiate the leaders from the rest of the pack.

Expectations are now blurred between the B2B customer’s consumer life and their industrial buying life. People know what a “good” buying experience looks like as consumers—whether that’s the way products are displayed and recommended or the ability to complete a streamlined transaction end to end online—and they don’t simply forget that when they come to work. 

So, the challenge for industrials is to make sure a digital transformation of sales delivers against these higher customer expectations while simultaneously driving efficiencies and margin benefits. 

Learn from the leaders
Accenture’s new High Voltage Digital Sales report shows how some industrial companies are racing ahead with this transformation. By examining what makes these leaders tick, we’ve identified several capabilities which can provide a template for all industrial companies to aspire to.

First, these leaders have moved away from a reactive and sequential approach and are able to interact digitally with customers across the end-to-end buying journey. Second, they’re better at providing proactive and personalized recommendations to increase sales. Third, they’re able to use their data to generate predictive customer-specific insights at scale. And fourth, leaders will typically have more standardized and automated sales processes than their peers (and, what’s more, are planning to invest further in this area). 

Finally, many leaders have also managed to bridge their organizational silos between sales, marketing, and after sales, and establish close cooperation across the whole front office. This, however, is an area where U.S. industrial companies may be lagging. Accenture’s research shows just 40% have achieved strong collaboration between sales and marketing (compared with 45% globally).

Four ways to accelerate a digital sales transformation
So, what practical steps can U.S. industrials take now to emulate the leaders and move their digital sales to the next level? There are four key areas to focus on.

#1. Embrace the ecosystem. The biggest barrier to digital sales transformation uncovered by Accenture’s research is a lack of internal or external technology implementation capabilities—91% of respondents from North America cited this (compared with 78% globally). One solution can be to combine an internal “center of excellence” with an ecosystem of partners who can not only implement the right technology platforms (such as a digital customer lifecycle management solution) but also drive the operational and organizational changes that go with it. 

#2 Know your customers. Recommendation engines can be an invaluable tool for B2B sales, especially for less complex products. In fact, leading companies attribute as much as 8.5% of all sales to recommendation engines. However, you need the right customer analytics to deliver targeted recommendations at scale—and so investments in this area need to be prioritized and accelerated.

#3 Measure your successes. It goes without saying that a sales transformation needs a solid business case—this is vital in securing sufficient budget and leadership confidence. But an often-overlooked aspect is choosing the right performance measures. The goal is to have a targeted set of key performance indicators (KPI) that are easy to measure and can demonstrate what the transformation is delivering. Good examples of this are online configurator visits and online sales margins. Choosing hard-to-measure KPIs or having too many to manage is a surefire way to lose focus.

#4 Let employees be advocates. Handled badly, digital transformation programs can run into resistance from employees accustomed to existing ways of working or fearful of what automation means for their livelihoods. However, when done well, a transformation can engage, enthuse, and incentivize the workforce with a renewed focus on customer value. A key way of achieving this is to enlist employees themselves as advocates, demonstrating the benefits of better collaboration, re-skilling, and the ability to concentrate on selling higher value products. 

Seamless digital B2B sales at scale
The above steps should help industrial companies ramp up their digital sales efforts. The leaders are showing it doesn’t need to be a three-to-five-year program—it’s achievable in the here and now. By injecting more urgency into a clearly targeted transformation, companies can start delivering the seamless end-to-end consumer-grade buying experiences their customers increasingly expect and demand.

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