Spotlight on Digitization and the Changing World of B2B

Do B2B businesses have what it takes to transform themselves into digitally mature organizations? That’s a vital question in today’s economy, which is seeing businesses of all sizes attempting, with varying degrees of success, to invest in new technologies and realign their business models in order to provide the accessible, mobile, and personalized customer experience that contemporary consumers demand.

To get a better sense of how B2B businesses in particular are handling this transformation, Accenture Interactive commissioned Forrester Consulting to conduct a survey and study of B2B enterprises on questions related to their digital transformation skills and experiences. Compiled from the survey responses of 203 enterprise business decision-makers in 10 countries (including the US, UK, China, and Brazil) and released in October 2015, the completed report reveals that while virtually all B2B companies are actively pursuing digital transformation strategies, most still have quite a way to go before their capabilities are fully developed.

Read on for a closer look at the survey’s most important highlights.

What’s driving digital transformation for B2B?

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Not surprisingly in an era that has been dubbed “The Age of the Customer,” B2B digital transformation is strongly motivated by the desire to create a better customer experience. Among B2B organizations, the top three drivers of digital transformation according to survey respondents are profitability, customer satisfaction, and a faster speed-to-market. In terms of broad strategic priorities, “improving customer experience” was the choice that received the most number-one rankings from respondents. Interestingly, however, while improving the online customer experience was certainly the top priority for most B2B enterprises, more than half of respondents indicated that they were still planning to put more work and investment into traditional customer connection points such as call centers and in-store experiences.

What’s holding B2B businesses back from achieving digital mastery?

One of the major difficulties that B2B enterprises seem to be encountering is a lack of clarity over who within the company is the primary owner and driver of digital vision and strategy. According to Forrester analysts, having a clearly designated, customer-focused leader to spearhead the strategic digital drive and lead the enterprise-wide implementation of embedded digital strategies is a critical element of a successful digital transformation. However, at the company level, it is often far from clear which senior leader either is or should be in this role. Thirty-five percent of survey respondents indicated that the CEO of their company was or should be their digital leader, and another 35% of respondents identified their CIO as the one in this role. A smaller percentage (11%) would like to see digital strategy led by a Chief Digital Officer, though this idealized role is not found in many companies.

Another barrier to digital mastery for most B2B businesses is organizational readiness. While a significant majority of survey respondents indicated that their operational processes (74%) and their technology (71%) were ready to effectively execute digital strategies, only 63% felt that their organizational readiness was sufficient to support digital transformation. Part of the challenge here is that many B2B businesses still do not have a comprehensive grasp of what “digital” really means. It’s clear that there is still much more room for them to improve their understanding of online consumer behavior and of the relationship between digital strategy and business success.

What are B2B businesses doing to overcome digital transformation obstacles?

To help overcome some of their digital deficiencies, the vast majority of B2B firms turn to third-party solution providers and partners for support. Eighty-seven percent of companies surveyed stated that they used a third-party provider to fulfil at least one element of their digital strategy. The processes most likely to be outsourced to a third-party vendor were front-end applications (41%), back-end applications (39%), and performance analytics and reporting (35%). Also frequently outsourced were managed services and web/user experience design and content strategy (both at 33%).

online storeInterestingly, B2B decision-makers have increasingly high expectations of their vendors, looking for them to be more than just implementers of point solutions, but ongoing strategic partners. However, the survey showed that, given this vision of an optimal vendor-B2B relationship, there is room for significant improvement. Only 32% of B2B respondents reported that they were very satisfied with their third-party digital vendors; communication and post-project support in particular were cited as areas where vendors fell short of expectations.

To help increase satisfaction in these areas, it may be necessary to look at restructuring the current fixed-contract nature of many vendor relationships. With only 43% of B2B companies using at least one vendor as a full-service partner, Forrester’s analysis suggests that there may be opportunities to create an alternative relationship structure in which B2B companies and vendors engage in an end-to-end partnership, with the vendor assuming a certain degree of responsibility for successful outcomes rather than simply supplying time and materials contracts.