Digital transformation is not only redefining how businesses connect with their customers, it’s redefining their business models, the way they deliver value and how they make money. There is little doubt that digital is the future and B2B organisations need to embrace digital transformation and give it strategic importance.

A new Econsultancy report, B2B Digital Transformation: Leading brands share their insights, aims to explore the challenges B2B companies are facing as they drive forward their own digital transformation and the approaches they are taking.

The research is based on interviews with senior executives working for B2B companies and agencies including Arkadin Cloud Communications, Work with Agility, Atos, British Gas, IBM, Fuji Xerox, Ogilvy APAC, OppenheimerFunds, Oracle Marketing Cloud, Salesforce, Slater and Gordon Lawyers and Velocity Partners.

It was also supplemented with data provided by the 2,400 B2B respondents from our 2017 Digital Trends in B2B survey.

For more insight, Econsultancy subscribers can download the full report, but here are several key trends and recommendations emerging from the study.

Think digital first

Digital has re-engineered the way B2B companies buy and the way vendors market their services. With up to two-thirds of the customer’s journey to the point of purchase being conducted online prior to any interaction with anyone in the sales team, interviewees highlighted the need to think first about online and focus more on digital channels for driving marketing.

Rising expectations from customers and prospects is also driving digital transformation as B2B buyers are increasingly expecting the same levels of service they receive as consumers.

The need to therefore create journey-based experiences, rather than internal business-focused experiences, is recognised. This includes understanding pain points and where digital can support customers, rather than focusing on the technology first and driving experiences based on this and internal structures.

Create compelling content for digital experiences

More than three-quarters of all B2B purchases today, including small business and enterprise customers, have only limited interaction with salespeople. Buyers are relying on digital resources such as videos, buyer reviews, blogs and social media. Half of all customers today expect a supplier’s website to be a helpful channel and more than a third expect the site to be their most helpful channel.

Driving a cultural change

Cultural issues were identified as key barriers to change and interviewees emphasised that without a comprehensive strategy, the various components of the customer experience are unlikely to come together successfully. There is a need to create an organisational structure that supports digital transformation and a culture that encourages change.

A key theme highlighted was that it is not one team’s or one person’s job to look at digital, but everyone’s responsibility. A company’s culture needs to support new ways of working which requires greater collaboration and breaking down siloes across functions and teams.

Erik Schneberger, SVP, Head of Brand & Client Experience, OppenheimerFunds says

The number one factor in successful digital transformation is creating a test-and-learn culture that empowers team members to feel comfortable trying new ideas. This, coupled with having the right team members who are curious and willing to learn new concepts, is the key to success. We need to constantly challenge conventional thinking by asking the question ‘how might we do this differently?’.

Convergence of sales and marketing

A greater push for alignment and collaboration between marketing and sales was a common theme highlighted by interviewees. An increased focus on collaboration allows companies to partner more closely to address their clients’ needs through the full customer lifecycle and provide the best customer experience possible.

Doug Kessler of Velocity Partners says

Marketing is still very much in the early stages of digital transformation. So every marketing department is facing a major change management challenge before they even get to the challenges involving new technologies and processes. The B2B companies that master the change management part of the equation will blow away those that try to simply force new technology and new processes into the old organisation.

Traditional marketing roles are therefore being redefined due to the increased importance of the customer experience and increased strategic nature of marketing within B2B businesses. Businesses that are transforming successfully are very much considering marketing as a strategic partner.

According to Andrea Tucker, Senior Product Marketing Manager at Oracle Marketing Cloud, the most successful organisations have established ongoing meetings and metrics with marketing and sales that look at the whole customer experience from first touch to final sale and adjust their methods as they identify the best practices that lead to a close. Technology has helped engender new agreements between sales and marketing to facilitate higher quality leads and relevant conversations. As organisations strive to make the buyer’s journey even more efficient, new technologies such as chatbots and artificial intelligence are starting to pop up.

Transformation takes time

Just to conclude with a few final thoughts from our interviewees on what they see as the key ingredients for success in driving through digital transformation.

For Nicki Soffe, Marketing and Product Marketing Director at Arkadin Cloud Communications, it is about being open to new ways of doing things, but also considering how the company operates and the markets it is serving. Technology is important, but how people interact with and make use of the technology is key to digital transformation being a success.

“It is about stepping out of the traditional B2B mindset and seeing your customers as people who live within the digital space as ‘consumers’ as well. That will open up more ideas and doors for creativity and new practices”, says Daniel David, Manager, Digital Corporate Communications at Fuji Xerox.

With more and more services being mediated through technology, and an increasing share of revenue being made online, there is little doubt that digital is the future and B2B organisations need to embrace digital transformation and give it strategic importance.

For more insight, download the new Econsultancy report – B2B Digital Transformation: Leading brands share their insights