Friday, June 3, 2016

B2B No Longer Means Boring2Boring

By Stephen Delvoye

Global Head, Marketing Communications

If there’s one thing I learned at the Digital Marketing, Europe: A Frost & Sullivan Executive Mindxchange event last January in beautiful Cascais, Portugal, it was that big B2B companies are finally catching up with the digital age. Okay, we are still not as sexy or advanced as our B2C counterparts, but it is clear that the huge gap between us that once existed is now almost gone. 

The big players in B2B IT are leading the digital transformation by applying best practices from the B2C world. To guarantee a seamless customer experience, they create an omni-channel presence using well-founded content strategies, buyer personas and a mix of digital tools. 
But many B2B players, even the big ones, still don’t offer the most basic digital services. While most people are on their phones all day long, a lot of B2B companies don’t even have a mobile (responsive) website. These companies fail to understand that their customers are expecting the same level of professionalism that they are expecting from any online services in their personal lives.  A corporate purchaser expects to have the same customer-oriented, persona-driven online experience buying goods and services for their company as he or she does buying a book on Amazon for their own leisure. 

The ongoing trend of website personalization will also hit B2B companies very soon and force them to offer specific and relevant content tailored to the needs of the targeted audience. We (@Bekaert) recently started experimenting with personalization of our website and have had very positive results in terms of conversion rates. Our personal experiences have taught us that to make any online activity succeed, it is essential to select the right tools and vendors. A condition sine qua non is a mature and well-managed CRM system and integrated customer experience platform that contains a CMS and marketing suite. Having these in place will cover the biggest part of your needs. 

Though it is still often debated where digital marketing belongs on the organizational charts, it is generally accepted as part of marketing and not IT. Depending on its perceived importance, digital marketing can be seen as just another marketing department responsibility or as a separate department that operates along with marketing. Top-level executives who are dismissive of the digital department underestimate its potential. Digital marketing is much more solid than it was at the beginning of the century. Many digital business models show us that digital marketing is here to stay and it is crucial for any business situation; B2B, B2B2C or B2C. Adaption is the key to survival. 
Honestly, it was good to hear that B2B players are finally considering using digital media in the same efficient and effective way as B2C companies. It was getting tiring to be constantly reminded at conferences that we, big B2B companies, are lagging decades behind the digital trends. Colleagues from more consumer- oriented businesses have always mocked the boring customer approach of their B2B selling peers. At least now B2B, B2B2C and B2C companies all have the same mindset when it comes to digital communication. It might not seem radical, but it is happening right now: no more boring business!

Stephen Delvoye is the Global Head of Marketing Communications for Bekaert, where he built the global marketing communications team from the ground up after a major restructuring of the company in 2012. He guided a 10+ person team spanning four continents to create and execute all integrated, multichannel initiatives to support the company's corporate branding, sales and marketing strategy. 

Over the course of his life, Stephen has gravitated toward roles where he can work as a strategic thinker, an innovative achiever and an authentic leader. His background in politics, also helps him to see the big picture and act as a bridge-builder.