The state of the B2B Digital Experience : Observations on the findings of this outstanding survey and insight from Episerver

In these times of substantial, accelerated change and increased dependency on digital capability it was fascinating to see and review this Episerver report focusing on the B2B Digital Experience, and digitisation more broadly. The full report is below followed by a summary of the points that caught our eye and our perspective on what we think those points mean for the organisations taking part in the survey and the industry more broadly.

b2b-digital-experience-report-by-episerver

  • Starting optimistically : 85% of respondents indicated that they expect Digital Experience budgets will increase over the next year or two, suggesting a strategic and operational understanding of the criticality of digital.
  • Reality bites : 41% of respondents saw selling direct as the most significant commercial opportunity they have. This, plus the fact that so many B2B businesses still have not achieved the ‘critical mass’ metric of 20% online indicates that the B2B industry continues to struggle to match the pace of digitisation occurring in the lives of it’s customers. This potentially leaves the industry wanting when it comes to meeting the basic and fundamental needs of those customers, particularly the newer generations, despite the effort and investment being expended.
  • Mind the gap : Despite 84% indicating they had completed some kind of Digital Transformation, 54% of respondents described their customer relationships as strained, developing or non-existence, and 71% ‘self-assessed’ as having a customer-centricity gap.95% indicate that finances, resource and budget are not an issue in achieving their goals, so why then the gap? Digital programmes are often overwhelming and as a result very quickly lose sight of the problems they intend to solve, the outcomes they set out to achieve and the needs that customers most importantly demand. This significantly impacts the design of the programme, which in turn impacts the efficacy of and accountability in the delivery cycle and the lack of customer impact becomes a feature and not a bug of the transformation. Simplification, customer first design, ruthless focus on outcomes, empowerment and accountability are not just characteristics of the best transformations, they are the characteristics required to be successful at all.
  • ┬áSuccesses, but whose? : 95% of respondents considered their Digital Transformation as successful. This is paradoxical to us in terms of the insight that comes before (see point above) and also in terms of the experiences we see out in the industry where success rates, even self certified, would be described at a much lower rate.I think digital ‘initiatives’ would fare better under scrutiny and it may be that it is how these changes are being defined in the minds of respondents that gives cause for such a high success rate. It could also be that success is being judged based upon technological change rather than customer, commercial or cultural benefit and impact. We would argue long and hard that these latter dimensions of success are the only measures by which you can truly understand whether you are effectively transforming digitally, or even effectively digitising your operations, as not all strategic shifts to digital are, nor should be ‘transformations’.
  • The new normal was becoming the new normal anyway : The combination of changed working practices due to COVID-19 and the way we communicate in our own lives present significant opportunity for businesses. As trade shows all but pale into obscurity social media has become the third most popular way to research B2B businesses (all be it behind email and telephone!?! baby steps folks, baby steps). That said, we, like many people are craving the opportunities to mix, network and share ideas that events provided, all be it within the shift to smaller more targeted and social formats – the desire for interaction and development cannot be completely met by social, but is unlikely to be met by large scale events either.
  • Precision, what I need, where & when I need it : Businesses themselves are still developing their thinking in how best to reach customers and what is portrayed in the responses is that it is a pretty muddled view across all available digital and non-digital options. This perhaps represents a test an learn phase that maybe we are finally coming to the end of (Paid Social Media being the one clear method with any consensus at c 30% among Marketers).What was clear in terms of demand, needs and intent was the concept of ‘self serve’. This understanding and focus does better reflect the wider world we live in. Gaining clarity on customer expectations in these areas will be the way many companies are able to accelerate digital impact and also help drive simplification and outcomes focus for initial and ongoing success.
  • Strategy or project? : Well over half of the respondents intend to invest in a new eCommerce platform in the next two years. c 30% expect to serve 40% to 60% of their business online by 2025 and at least another 25% expect that number to be more than 60%.These are better, bolder expectations than I we have seen historically. The businesses that are clearest about the needs they must meet and the outcomes they must achieve for their customers and in turn with their business have a better chance than ever of getting there, as long as they combine this focus with genuine empowerment of their people and accountability for success.

    The enforced environment of change and ambiguity will likely help culturally and enable greater decisiveness which has perhaps not always been as strong as it might be when things were more stable. The businesses surveyed described digital native competitors and the rising digital expectations of their customers as well as the high costs of acquiring new customers as their biggest threats.

    We would argue that one and two have been a feature for sometime and are likely an impact rather than a threat for most. For the last point if you are struggling to identify your customer needs and how best to reach them then it is unsurprising that the exercise is anything but expensive!

    New focus, determination and decisiveness may well be about to make for an exciting rewarding shift in the world of B2B that has perhaps been long over due, or has underperformed in some of its previous incarnations.

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