Successful B2B Digital Transformation

Markus Saalwächter

b2b_digital_transformation B2B Digital Transformation

What saved the global economy from collapse during the Coronavirus pandemic were the digital structures built up over the past two or three decades. Millions worked from home using technologies that were described as “disruptive” before Coronavirus showed us the true meaning of disruption.

Industry showed great ingenuity in re-tooling its production lines to start manufacturing the medical equipment necessary to contain the virus. To make that possible, complex networks of B2B suppliers had to be adapted – or built virtually overnight.

The goals of “agility” and “time to market” had always been important in B2B, but they could no longer be mistaken for marketing slogans. The Coronavirus pandemic is accelerating digital adoption, especially in B2B which still relies heavily on one-to-one contacts for its sales and branding.

Staring at this void, B2B businesses have no choice but to push ahead aggressively with digital transformation — or risk being outflanked by competitors that put more thought and resources into digital experiences. However, this was equally true before the Corona crisis.

B2B businesses that survive the lockdown – and future waves of digital destruction – are those that create the strongest customer experiences and are best prepared for change.

In this article, we explore what B2B businesses can do to take a holistic view of their customers and processes. Digital transformation, yes – but one that transforms the entire customer experience.

A common misconception is to equate digital transformation with e-commerce: an online catalog, a procedure for ordering online – and the business is transformed.

E-commerce alone is not systematically the first answer to digital transformation, there are many more appropriate approaches to tackle this challenge. In particular, B2Bs who operate on tight margins and complex sales models with purchasing scenarios that may vary between industries and geographies are likely to find e-commerce tools unable to fulfill their requirements.

What Disruption Means for B2B Businesses

It has often been said that in order to survive, B2B businesses must shed their digital inhibitions and adopt the technologies and approaches that have made B2C so successful.

While this is true, digital transformation goes deeper than that. Rather than merely imitate B2C, wholesalers, distributors, manufacturers and suppliers have to be bold and inventive enough to disrupt their own business models and think out of the B2C vs. the B2B box.

Over the past 10 years, Amazon has leveraged the awesome technologies it pioneered and developed in B2C to build a powerful B2B e-commerce marketplace, with annual sales of $15 billion

Millennials are natively fearless and flexible about the possibilities of B2B and see disruption as a natural process. This is also the secret of digital pioneers such as Amazon and Intel.

Intel is a B2B business that cemented its market dominance by advertising over the heads of its actual customers to the end-users of its product. Although most of these end-users have little notion of the purpose and functioning of a semiconductor chip, they “know” that Intel is the best, and will only buy a PC with an Intel sticker on it. Such is the power of branding. Intel does not “sell” to its customers, but forges customer stickiness by asserting the supremacy of its brand.

Every discussion of B2C and B2B and everything in between eventually comes back to Amazon. Over the past 10 years, Amazon B2B sales grew up to $15 billion, still don’t get this wrong, replicating B2C to the B2B world would be a mistake. The good idea is to get inspired by B2C successes. The top vertical of Amazon Business is the maintenance, repair and operations (MRO) industrial segment — a far cry from the typical consumer products that we are used to ordering on Amazon.

In the following three sections we explore how the transformations in technology and point of view are impacting B2B. Broadly, this affects (or must affect) how B2B buys and sells, how it masters this new experience of buying and selling, and how it positions itself to be an innovator, rolling with the punches as new waves of disruption batter the sector.

DXP Success

Digital Experience Platform is an umbrella term for a range of complementary capabilities that integrate seamlessly to give businesses the tools to leverage their digital operations to create competitive advantage.

There is no set definition of what functionalities should come as native with a DXP and this has made many B2B businesses err massively on the side of caution by implementing one that does everything, or – the other extreme – emboldened them to build their own.

The modular approach is not a comprise between the two, but rather an intelligent way forward for the vast majority of B2B businesses. We examine the pros and cons of the three approaches.

B2B e-Shop Systems



All-in-one Monoliths






Modular Hybrid



Photo by Medienstürmer on Unsplash