The single biggest story of Digital Leaders study this year was the acceleration of digitalization in B2B companies. The number of companies providing advanced features such as design tools on their websites has increased dramatically and VR and other new technologies are now being utilized to enhance the product experience – and to generate better leads.
During the Digital Leaders breakfast and panel discussion at G Livelab in Helsinki, we had the chance to ask the creators of digital success from several leading companies about their steps in digitalization. The panelists* highlighted three necessary steps for successful digital transformation that B2B companies must get right if they are to catch up to their B2C peers: setting and communicating a clear vision for digital development, focusing the creation of digital solutions on concrete customer needs, and making sure you are using the best possible data. These steps apply equally to B2C companies willing to reach the level of international benchmarks.
Competing teleoperators, Telia and DNA, were placed first and second place in the overall category. During the panel discussion, representatives from both companies emphasized that agile teams make judgement calls every day, and they have to be given the power and the responsibility to do so without waiting for a steering committee next month. Telia’s Jani Engbergposited that agile teams can’t make good decisions without a clearly communicated vision and a strong ambition of the desired end result – a sentiment echoed by DNA’s Kati Sulin in what she coined as having a purpose. Alko’s Paula Kujansivu pointed out an often-overlooked idea at the center of setting a vision: choosing a direction or a goal is just as importantly a choice of where not to go. These sharp-sighted comments emphasize the importance of a strong and active digital leadership within companies. Leaders should spend time on communicating their company’s change story, and sending the new vision as a .ppt file bi-annually just won’t do the trick.
Stora Enso took everyone by surprise by jumping from being digitally the least mature company to winning the B2B category this year. The key to the success? Utilizing all assets to better serve the needs of customers and the business, said Stora Enso’s Juha Maijala – linking back to the company’s purpose. Focusing on customer needs was a clear theme also among the other panelists from digitally leading companies. For example, DNA’s Kati Sulin remarked that successful digitalization requires truly listening to customers to find out their needs, not just ticking the “customer heard” box. Having the customer at the center of everything we do also requires lots of knowledge, which brings us to the third point: data.
While AI and deep learning have been all the rage recently, our panelists focused on a much more fundamental part of building insight: actually having the data. According to OP’s Anders Stenbäck: in the future competitive edge is “all about who has the best data and how they commercialize it”. That, however, is not easy, as pointed out by Petteri Putkiranta from Helsingin Sanomat, and requires constant trial and error: “Put your data in order first, and when it doesn’t work out, at least you have learned a lesson. 90 per cent of measurements end up being useless. But you can’t know which are the useful ones in advance, so you have to have lots of data to figure that out.”
In our research, the grade-gap between B2C and B2B industry averages is diminishing. While many B2C companies emphasize the challenge and threat of digitalization, companies in heavy industries and high tech choose different words: opportunity and enabler. Realizing those opportunities requires three things: having a clear and well-communicated purpose arising from customer needs that we can figure out when we have the best possible data. One clear trend emerges from the annual reports of major Finnish B2B companies – three out of every four B2B companies now mention digitalization as a strategic focus area. B2B companies might still have some catching up to do, but the message is clear: B2B now has its game-face on, and given their growth-mindset they might get there sooner than you expect. Maybe it’s time for B2C companies to get back to talking about digitalization as an opportunity instead of a threat?