How does digital strategy evolve at large scale B2B organisations?

You may assume that unlike start-ups, many of these corporates have legacies and rules and regulations that make their digital transformation difficult.

However, Electrocomponents – which trades as Allied Electronics in North America and RS Components across the world, and is thought to be the first B2B company to launch a transactional website – is one company that aims to dispel this notion. Vishal Chhatralia, Senior Vice President of Digital at RS Components, is intent on fighting off the belief that big B2B organisations are unable to reach the dizzy heights of digital innovation.

I spoke with Chhatralia about how digital is becoming a bigger part of RS Components – and the skills and structures needed to achieve this.

Vishal

Attitude – not aptitude

Recently, Econsultancy reported how graduates within the marketing industry are facing barriers to entry. While his career began at a different time, Chhatralia suggests that an unwavering desire to learn has been the key to his own career progression, which has seen him go from graduate rotations in marketing to his current role.

“For me, rising through the ranks is an output; as are promotions, salary increases and changes in job titles which, for the most part, you can’t control” he says.

“What you can control is passion, learning, energy and hard work – grafting and putting in a lot of effort is the foundation you need in order to drive output and get results. If you put in the effort, show passion and results, your company will reward and challenge you in return.”

Indeed, Chhatralia has taken this belief and applied it to his own recruiting strategy when growing the digital department at RS Components. Naturally though, this comes with its own challenges, in terms of getting the right culture fit, along with the relevant technical skills and knowledge.

As a result, Chhatralia suggests that the recruitment process is not based on a one-size-fits-all approach, instead explaining how the company incorporates a varied strategy for interviews.

“We have a subject expert; someone who will focus on cultural fit; someone who will determine attitude and others that will focus on knowledge and skills.”

He explains, “it’s not a quick process – and we do that on purpose in order to hire the right people.”

Culture club

Culture is a big focus for RS Components, with CEO Linsley Ruth promoting the ethos of attitude, not your aptitude, will determine your altitude’. This means that the company places a huge focus on how prospective employees might like to work, the culture they prefer to work in, how they make decisions, as well as their skills-based experience.

Chhatralia notes how the company even takes candidates for senior roles to a more informal environment for interviews (or at least part of it), such as to dinner or for a drink, in order to make sure the cultural fit is right.

“Whilst skills and competency is important, we believe that people can continue to learn and develop the technical side of the role from a good base – but having the right cultural fit cannot be learned.”

Collaboration, collaboration, collaboration

For large corporate companies, team silos remain a big barrier to success, with many struggling to build a culture of openness and teamwork – which is something that drives digital innovation.

RS Components aims to combat this with a culture that actively promotes collaboration, along with five other important traits – passion, integrity, innovation, accountability, and aspiration.

Chhatralia explains that, “rather than employees working in a conveyer belt style, we’ve created virtual cells across the company, where we can.” This means that teams are integrated within a group of people from different departments. For example, a member of the digital marketing team might sit with a member of the developer team, as well as someone in the testing team. Managers sit within these cells too.

The result of this is greater agility within the business, which Chhatralia says helps to drive the aforementioned behaviours of collaboration and innovation. He uses the analogy of a coffee shop barista to highlight this, explaining how “even if you make a great coffee, if the person wanted a cup of tea, it’s not reaching the goal.”

“When working within a team – where every member is in touch with the customer and their needs – it ensures that there’s always real-time customer feedback and continuous iteration.”

Ultimately, RS Components’ ‘cell’ strategy “drives transparency and integrity” as well as greater accountability and “responsibility taken as a team”.

Future predictions

With digital dramatically changing the retail landscape in the past few years, I asked Chhatralia whether it is possible to predict how digital and ecommerce will evolve in the not-too-distant future. He suggests that, while it’s difficult to forecast, it is possible to make some predictions based on what we’ve seen up until this point.

Customers becoming more demanding with time and relevance is one prediction he makes, “and the challenge for industries will be to innovate and give the consumer more and more”.

With online content and retail growing at a rapid rate, and consumers becoming all the more demanding, the question is ‘how will digital leaders keep up and stay innovative when facing more competition than ever before?’ Is this where AI and machine learning comes into play?

Chhatralia suggests that customer value should be the biggest priority for digital leaders; especially in the retail industry, where customer experience remains key.

“Rather than just using technology for the sake of it; it must create customer value, business value, and most importantly of all, be feasible and relevant to the customer’s needs.”