While seamlessly incorporating digital strategies into the customer experience is a primary goal for many B-to-B companies, making it a reality requires significant changes in corporate culture and structure. At the Forrester Forum for E-Business and Channel Strategy Professionals, held Oct. 28-29 in Chicago, brothers Omar Haque, worldwide director of global e-commerce at New York-based Colgate-Palmolive Co., and Imran Haque, head of global digital strategy, e-commerce and multichannel marketing at Florham Park, N.J.-based Zoetis Inc., discussed their tips for leading digital change within B-to-B and B-to-B-to-C organizations.
1. Commit to the company. “You can’t change the culture very easily, but you can definitely shape it,” Imran says. He recommends that digital leaders spend time understanding each business unit within their company and its financial challenges. Then, by proposing solutions to the business unit leaders and working together to develop it, digital leaders can build relationships and allies within the company. “Think about nurturing [those relationships], but be very deliberate in how you go about doing this. If you make it too ad hoc, guess what? The results will be ad hoc,” he says.
2. Think small, but high-quality. Imran says that B-to-B digital leaders should understand the concept of the “minimum viable product,” or the simplest product that will still yield a high return on investment. While he emphasizes that companies should never compromise on quality, they should recognize that a digital product doesn’t need many bells and whistles to be initially successful. “We have no idea what the customers will like, especially in mobile,” he says. Instead, digital leaders should put high-quality products on the market quickly, and then add capabilities later as they see how the market responds.
3. Be a conflict manager. Both Omar and Imran rolled out digital ordering systems and faced fears about how the tools would change their respective businesses. For Omar, digital ordering for Colgate-Palmolive’s prescription pet foods made them more competitive in the marketplace, but veterinarians, who had traditionally sold the food in-office, were afraid that they’d be cut out of the business. By showing vets examples of other companies that had found success in digital sales while still maintaining their sales structure, Omar’s team was able to develop relationships with veterinarians and get early buy-in.
At Zoetis, which provides animal medicines and vaccines for veterinarians, Imran’s team rolled out a tablet-based app for placing Web orders. But unknown to the team, Zoetis’ field reps were worried that the tool would relegate them to tech support roles. Instead, because the team rolled out the app internally before it went live to customers, the reps found that using the app on a tablet while out in the field actually increased their sales because they were able to show customers’ their past orders and present them with a full digital catalog.
Both Imran and Omar advise marketers to consider the way that digital tools will impact workflow and make sure that tools work smoothly across departments.
4. Share your goals. Imran encourages digital leaders to set clear expectations for how they define success. Research what metrics you are likely to achieve with any given project, and then be confident in letting the organization know what they are. Too often, leaders don’t share these goals because they are afraid, he says. “There’s some risk—there’s risk in everything—but you have to set expectations so that when the right threshold happens, you can show success.”
The article was originally published in the December 2014 issue of B2B Marketing.
Julie Davis is a staff writer for the AMA’s magazines and e-newsletters. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.