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THE NEW FACE OF B2B: HOW DECISION MARKETERS INTERACT WITH SUPPLIERS

By Jonathan Whiteside, Principal Technology Consultant,Dept Agency

 

Face-to-face meetings between buyers and suppliers have always been central to building an ongoing relationship in the B2B world. Both parties benefit from the personal touch and the ease of airing out any queries and sorting potential issues. With the coronavirus pandemic cancelling every booked face-to-face for the foreseeable future, buyers are now looking for a digital solution to the challenge.

At the same time, disruption to factory production has broken links in the global supply chain, creating the added challenge of buyers potentially needing to source new suppliers who are able to deliver. If lockdown measures have limited production or forced the temporary closure of a factory, these potential buyers need to be able to quickly find the solution that your business is offering.

Supply chain disruption, combined with the difficulty of running in-person meetings, means the manufacturing sector must consider alternative options. McKinsey’s recent ‘Global B2B decision-maker response to COVID-19 crisis’ survey covered what B2B decision-makers are looking for when researching suppliers, tracking the importance of different digital features in this new marketplace. The survey looked at the UK, France, Italy, Spain, Germany, China, India, South Korea, Brazil and the US, and found that across the board, there’s an increase in demand for digital self-serve options that empower buyers to find their solution.

 

Jonathan Whiteside

Onsite Search is a Priority

Across all surveyed countries, when asked “what ways of interacting with a supplier would be most beneficial to you when researching/considering suppliers going forward?”, the most popular choice was onsite search. Can a buyer visit the company website, search for the product they are looking for, easily find more information, and process their order?

It’s important to consider this in terms of the purchase journey. Onsite search often comes early on; a quick guarantee that this company can supply the product they need. After the first point of contact, whether it’s a call, email, piece of direct mail or a self-initiated Google search or referral, the company website becomes the most important reference point, always answering questions that a potential customer may have.

For this reason, every manufacturer and supplier needs to ensure there is a search option onsite and that existing product and information pages are up-to-date with relevant information. Your CMS or commerce platform may provide a simple search feature to add to the site, but optimising the content for search requires a little more work.

From a UX perspective, a visible and well-defined search bar will make it quick and easy for anyone to find products and information. This will result in fewer clicks and less time spent on the homepage. A faceted search will enhance the general search, enabling users to narrow down their search to a category, price, product options and custom fields. All of this will improve the customer experience and help customers find what they’re looking for, quickly and easily.

Having a well optimised on-site search also has the added benefit of providing further insight into what buyers are looking for and what the roadblocks to purchase are. This information is gold dust; it either shows demand, or it shows opportunity. For example, a product selling at a fairly low rate could actually be getting high search volume, indicating a potential opportunity for the business to push this product to the fore.

These search stats and insights can also inform your business of developing trends in terms of customer demand or common difficulties. While there is nothing better than speaking one-to-one with a client about the challenges they are facing in the coming weeks, months and years, having clients visit your site and type their challenges into the search bar is a close second. Use this to tool your sales team with information on what common challenges are driving discussion in the industry. It’s also useful in optimising the messaging of onsite copy and any marketing campaigns your business is running. Reviewing search logs can also guide your business on what is currently missing from your site.

The preference for onsite search shows two important points. The buying and research process is digital-first and driven by self-serve opportunities. This shows a drift towards on demand information, giving buyers the ability to research at their own pace. This is backed up by the second preference — live chat. Rather than scheduled phone calls or back and forth emails, buyers are opting for the on demand option, enabling them to engage with potential suppliers when it suits their schedule.

 

Improving the Customer Experience with Live Chat & Chatbots

A strong live chat system combines automated and staffed solutions. Like a customer service line, live chat conversations typically begin with a light automated opening that directs the visitor to the appropriate colleague for this conversation. Parts of this can be decided in the background, such as knowing which page the visitor is on and using this information to inform which representative joins the live chat.

The added bonus for companies implementing a live chat or chatbot feature on site comes through an extra customer services option; through a flow of automated responses, a chatbot can help current customers find a quick solution, taking the strain off of call lines.

When looking at the surveyed countries in Europe, there is a soft preference for sales rep led interactions, showing the importance of a personal touch, even in an increasingly digital market. Germany, Spain, Italy and the UK all name face-to-face meetings in their top three ways of interacting with suppliers; a major challenge during the lockdown period.

The clear lockdown replacement is video calling. What is often ignored is the idea of availability. It’s generally understood that if a buyer wants to call a supplier, they can pick up the phone and dial a number listed on the site. The culture does not yet exist around video calling, meaning companies need to make it clear that their sales reps are ready for video calls should a buyer want to talk face-to-face.

Update your site design with information about video calling as an option, and speak about it in your outreach and marketing. Proactive options include video consultancy sessions, organised on a one-to-one basis or a gated livestream, available to viewers that sign up. This broadcasts the point that your business offers video conferencing to current and potential clients that are still interested in face-to-face discussions. With sales reps working from home, keeping the CRM system up to date with information from these video calls is a top priority.

Looking across to the APAC region, Brazil and the US, digital self-serve options fill the priority touchpoints for buyers, from apps to websites to social media. Knowing that these regions prioritise digital and self-serve is useful for suppliers and manufacturers in Europe that sell internationally.

 

Increasing Agility with Headless

If you operate internationally, the already complex task of managing localisation is currently heightened, given the varying level of Covid-19 restraints in your operating markets. To speed up the delivery of localised messaging, content and microsites, you can consider moving to a headless technical architecture for your content management.

A regular CMS connects a single front end (the sales channel that a customer interacts with), to a single back end (the operational side that processes payment and data and keeps the channel running). In this setup, changes to the front end must be reflected in the back end. This creates a fair amount of work if a company is running multiple websites, an app, or mobile-specific sites, as any updates must be repeated across each sales channel. A headless CMS connects each front end into a single back end. This means edits can be made to the front end without requiring a constant update to the back end. Launching new sites or creating an app for these new markets is a much more agile process with a headless architecture. For more of a deep dive into the benefits of headless and when to consider it, check out our recent webinar, ‘Moving with speed and agility with headless systems.’

It’s important to remember that this shift has been accelerated by the Covid-19 crisis, rather than being caused by it. The drift towards digital and self-serve options in the B2B space is part of a industry-wide move to online and on-demand that’s been building momentum over the past couple of years. Reorienting your operations to be more digital ensures relevance during the pandemic, but also provides a platform for the company to stay at the forefront of how buyer and supplier relationships function.

Each adjustment the business makes now should factor in the multi-year strategy for the business, an initial change that leads to a much wider digital transformation. Now is the perfect time to review your digital roadmap and accelerate the digitalisation plans that will make the biggest impact as we enter a period of recovery.

Business

BACK TO SCHOOL – CEOS NEED TO LEARN A NEW LANGUAGE, FAST!

By Simon Axon, Financial Services Industry Consulting practice lead in EMEA, Teradata

 

Chief Executive Officers of banks know all about change. Leading responses to new challenges, new opportunities, new regulation and new markets is all in a day’s work. But the existential challenge posed by Big Tech requires a totally new set of skills. It is an entirely different beast that inhabits a totally new environment and speaks its own language. CEOs now need to learn the language of data to survive in the emerging digital world.

Learning a new language later in life is hard. CEOs need to fully commit to accomplish it. Becoming data literate means mastering the basics of vocabulary and grammar. Gartner defines data literacy as the ability to read, write and communicate data in context, including an understanding of data sources and constructs, analytical methods and techniques applied — and the ability to describe the use case, application and resulting value.” Extending the language analogy: the building blocks are an understanding of logical data models – the basic vocabulary; meta data providing rules and information about data is the grammar.  Learning needs to go beyond parroting a few key phrases and acronyms. To really communicate in this new language CEOs must not only be data literate – but data cognitive. Language shapes thinking, and to succeed, today’s CEOs need to think data like digital natives.

Simon Axon

As anyone who has learned a language will recognise – practise makes perfect. This means rolling up your sleeves and getting into the data ‘lab’. Run some queries, experiment with data to test theories and learn how data can, and should, inform all aspects of business management. It is daunting, and different functions are fiercely protective of their data. But that’s one of the big cultural shifts the CEO needs to lead. Data is more valuable when it is used across the business. Developing safe and secure ways to combine, refine and analyse data at an enterprise level is fundamental to competing with Big Tech. The Chief Data Officer can help. Spend time with them and use them as a teaching-resource to get more familiar with what can and cannot be done with your data.

As you practise you will build confidence and move from school-level conversations to business-class data fluency. Spending more time looking at and working with data and you will begin to recognise ‘quality’ data, identify attributes and flag anomalies. This will build confidence and essential trust in data. Last year KPMG found just 35% of CEOs trusted the data in their organisations. This shocking stat undoubtedly stems from a data skills deficit among CEOs themselves. If they don’t know what to ask for, and can’t recognise what they get, they won’t trust it. To stretch our linguistic analogy, if you are not confident in the language then you’ll be anxious ordering food in a restaurant!

Ultimately, no one expects the CEO to personally implement data-analytics programmes across the business. But unless they have the confidence and the skills to accurately communicate what’s needed, to sit at the head of the table and ask the right questions about the menu, then the organisation is unlikely to put the right emphasis on the data strategy.

In How Google Works, former Google Chairman Eric Schmidt outlines how every meeting revolved around data – it is simply how Big Tech works. Banks need to adopt the same approach. Exploiting data in all scenarios must become second-nature. By modelling the use of data across the business – dissolving silos rather than sticking to narrow data sets that reinforce them, the CEO can define a powerful data culture. Operationalizing data strategy will, just like using language skills, stop data literacy from becoming rusty.

Entering any new market requires investment in understanding the language, culture and business environment. In the Big Tech world, data is the lingua franca informing every decision. Bank CEOs need to learn from them and invest in building their knowledge to become data fluent. There are no short cuts. Throwing money, bodies and tech at the problem will not get you there.

 

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Business

REVITALISING THE TOKEN MARKET

By Gavin Smith, CEO at Panxora

 

With interest rates near zero and fears that whipsawing stock markets are set for further plunges, many investors are turning to alternative markets in the search for returns. Money flowing into cryptocurrency hedge funds and trusts like Grayscale is at all-time highs and the large cap coins seem to be entering a bull phase, but that capital is not trickling down into new token projects. Why are blockchain token projects struggling to attract funding?

 

Seed investor scepticism

Setting aside the reputational issues with mainstream investors, even those educated in blockchain tech are not signing on the dotted line. This is certainly due in part to the hangover from the early token market.

During the heady days of 2016/17, investors could buy tokens during the token sale, and if the project was legitimate – even if the business case wasn’t particularly strong – prices would soar based on market enthusiasm. Early investors purchased at a discount and cashed out almost immediately for a handsome profit – and then repeated the process again. The token sale allowed founders to amass a war chest large enough to finance the entire token project – without having to give up a large chunk of company equity. Everyone got what they needed out of the deal.

Running a token sale is far more expensive today than it was during the boom. Getting the attention of the token buying public in a market where advertorial has replaced editorial is expensive. This coupled with a regulatory framework that requires the advice of accountants, solicitors and information gathering of KYC details for investors all comes with an escalating price tag.

To accommodate the change in cost structure, tokens now need to acquire funding in two rounds. Frequently there is a first round where capital is raised from a few, large investors. This cash is then used to finance setup and marketing the main token sale. The token sale, in turn, provides the capital needed to run the entire business project.

 

Bridging the gap between token projects’ needs and early stage investors

To successfully get a token through the capital raising process, founders must acknowledge the risk assumed by those very early investors and reward them appropriately. And given that tokens may stagnate or fall in price post token sale means that a deep discount in token price is not necessarily attractive enough to get investors to commit.

Many tokens have turned to offering equity in the business in the effort to raise that first tranche of capital. If you look at the number of successfully concluded token sales, the downward trend has continued since Q2 2018, so offering equity is not sufficiently stimulating the market.

 

Two sides of the coin

So, what is the answer? It’s a complex question but one thing is certain. Any solution must be rooted in a deep understanding of what both parties need to successfully conclude the deal.

On the one hand, token founders’ needs are clear: they need enough capital to get the token ready for and through a successful liquidity event that will provide sufficient funds to build the project. The challenge lies in striking the right balance between accruing that capital and making sure not to offer so much project equity that give up either the control or the incentive founders need to drive the project forward.

On the other hand, while the needs of the seed capital investors are more complex, there are two areas of key concern: transparency and profit incentives.

 

Transparency can mean many things, but almost always includes providing more informative cost and profit projections, as well as answers to a whole range of questions, not least the following:

  • What happens to investor capital if the token sale event fails? Token founders must be transparent from the outset. The token market is highly speculative and early investors run the risk of losing their money should the project fail. Therefore, investors require a well-established fund governance process in place throughout the fundraising so they can make informed decisions on whether the project is worthwhile. 
  • How are the assets for the entire project managed? Investors need to know that their money is in good hands and that proper treasury management techniques are being used to manage cryptocurrency volatility risk. Ideally, an independent custodian will be used to hold the funds and limit founders’ ability to draw down the capital – releasing funds to an agreed-upon schedule of milestones.
  • How are the rights of investors protected, for instance in the case of a trade sale? Investors need to know what happens if the company they are investing in is sold. What impact could this have on the value of their stake? Would a separate governance framework need to be established? These are critical questions and investors aren’t likely to settle for any ambiguity in the answers.

Profit incentives are important when it comes to encouraging early participation in a project. Investors need convincing that the proposition will keep risks to a minimum and focus on providing a strong probability of a return. This means that founders need to be able to defend the case for the increase in the value of their token.

But this isn’t the only incentive that matters. Investors can also be incentivised by preferential offerings such as early access to projects and services that might help their own business.

Let’s not forget that investors don’t support just any project. What really matters is that there is something special and unique about the business being underwritten by the token. Preferably something that could be shared upfront and directly benefit the investor – proof that the investment is really worth it.

And that’s what it all comes down to. Ultimately, while token projects are having a hard time finding funds at the moment, if they can prove their worth and provide full transparency and clear profit incentives to ease investors’ concerns, the money is out there. And deals can be done.

 

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