Podcast: The shift to digital in B2B
Chad Warren, VP of Marketing at MRM shares how B2B brands can shift from a traditional to a digital business model, including how to rethink the B2B buyer's journey.
Chad was joined by Clay Warren, Head of Digital CX at Qualtrics.
Hear the full interview
Digital leaders achieve 5x the revenue growth versus laggards, yet only one in three B2B companies have embraced this transformation. Why do you think that is?
“Old habits die hard. The way the marketing departments work and operate hasn’t changed in 75 years. The marketing departments of today, and I would say equally on the sales side, uses a fundamentally outdated model relative to the current marketplace, in order to drive success for its business.
These motions get ingrained and we get very used to a way of doing things, and it’s difficult to make that transition. New entrants have a distinct advantage because they’re really starting these efforts from scratch. They can build the right tool, for the right job and they don’t have to reverse engineer a system that they’ve had in place for a long time.”
How should we be thinking about using digital transformation and strategy to increase sales and penetration with customers?
“This is the customer value conversation. Ask yourself as a business - ‘What problems are you solving for your customer?’
The Coca-Cola company is an example that springs to mind. They recognized that the whole bottle ecosystem was built around individualized relationships, and that has to scale pretty broadly if you consider every business that buys Coca-Cola. They started with a website, which isn’t a holistic digital strategy, but it’s the primary front upon which you’re able to address customer problems. Here customers could order products, automate the ordering process and make service requests for their equipment. Then they went mobile with an app and began looking to leverage more channels.
It may not sound very sexy, but these channels keep customers moving and frankly, buying more Coca-Cola products.”
How can brands rethink their customer journey and start delivering value through their digital channels more effectively?
“It is categorically difficult for businesses to buy from other businesses. The B2B customer journey is really hard because decision making, especially at enterprise level, is made in buying committees. There’s lots of people involved that all have a different role in the decision. From decision-makers to procurement who has a very different set of needs than a decision maker.
A lot of brands think: “How do we make it easier to sell?”
But instead frame it as: “How do we make it easier to buy?” then it opens a door for different thinking. What kind of tools, what kind of information, what do we need to make available to our customers to help them make decisions.
At the end of the day, your job is to solve a customer problem, not sell a problem. Remember this and you’ll be more equipped to drive more value for your business because it becomes a value exchange when you are surfacing and solving a problem for your customer.”
Any other tips for businesses going through digital transformation?
“Be wary of innovation for its own sake. Rather than looking for that next channel or acquiring a new technology, be more purposeful. This sounds obvious but it happens a lot. People think “Oh, video is the platform that’s going to solve all of our problems”. It’s not, it requires thinking much more purposefully. This is the definition of being customer-centric.
People want a quarter-inch hole, not a quarter-inch drill. It’s not the tool itself that solves the problem.
Who is my audience? What do they want? How do they like to consume things? Where do they like to consume things? And what is the insight that we can bring to that conversation that is going to add value?”
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Hi, this is Clay Warren, head of digital CX at Qualtrics. And I want to welcome you to a webcast series. We're calling the digital playbook and this webcast series. We'll discuss all things, digital, digital marketing, digital analytics, digital strategy, and digital customer experience throughout this series. We'll invite industry experts and digital practitioners to discuss and debate these topics. Today, we're going to be talking about digitization and the B2B digital customer experience with VP of marketing at MRM. Chad Warren. Welcome Chad. Good to have you on. Thanks clay. Happy to be here. Chad, can you tell us a little bit about MRM, your role and the types of problems that, uh, MRM is tasked with solving?
Yeah, absolutely. So MRM is a full service marketing agency with a, with a heavy digital focus. Uh, our emphasis is on helping brands grow meaningful relationships with people. Um, we have about 3,900 people, uh, globally. We're part of the IPG network. Uh, we focus on a lot of digital strategy, digital transformation, uh, work, uh, in my role is I lead, um, MRNs, uh, marketing orchestration practice globally. So how we harness the use of technology and data to orchestrate and automate, uh, the, the primarily the digital customer journey. Uh, I also work as a part of, um, MRM VTB center of excellence, uh, where we work with brands like Verizon and Cisco and Panasonic and several others and, um, and addressing their challenges and B2B.
Yeah, that's great. Very interesting. And, um, fascinating that you are part of that B2B center of excellence. We brought you on today because we want to pick your brain on digital strategy and B2B, and, and as we were preparing for this, one of the things I've been thinking about is you and I have both been in digital and working with B2B brands for more than a decade combined well over 20 years, what's interesting is how we've seen some B2B brands, specifically tech brands who have embraced digital transformation and had digitized a lot of their processes, product delivery among other things while other traditional B2B brands have lagged behind, uh, there's also ample research and data that indicates that digital leaders in B2B achieved five times the revenue growth versus laggards. Yeah. Only one in three B2B companies have embraced digital transformation. Why do you think that is?
Well, clay? I think, I think old habits die hard for one. Um, when, you know, when I look at most marketing departments, um, you know, and I, and I've had, I feel like some really good opportunity to, to have an inside look at how a lot of companies both on the consumer and B to B side operate throughout my career, um, is, you know, when you look at their marketing department, you know, besides having an it department, you know, the, the, the way, the way the marketing department works and operates and the way that they get work done and organize to get that work done, hasn't changed in about 75 years. Um, I would argue that the marketing department for today, and I would say equally on the sales side, uh, is, is uses a fundamentally outdated model, uh, relative to the current marketplace, uh, in order to drive success for its business.
And however, these motions get very, very well ingrained and we get very, very used to a way of doing things and is, and it's difficult to make that transition. So I think that new entrance, uh, you know, this is kind of classic disruption theory, you know, new entrance or innovation theory rather have, um, have a distinct advantage because they're really starting these efforts from scratch. And so there's an opportunity to build the right tool for the right job. Uh, and, and they don't have to reverse engineer a system that they've had in place for a long time. And I, you know, and I, I saw his example of that. Um, you know, I saw an example of that just the other day I was talking to a large brand. And, um, and one of the concepts we were talking to that brand about was shifting their focus from a, like a lead based view from a B2B marketing perspective to more of a company or an account based view under the recognition that you know, that, you know, as we know that there's a lot of people involved in buying decisions at companies and that we have to address a lot of their needs.
And more of that customer journey is in digital. And the response I got from the individual was, was smart and understandable, recognize this problem said, look, I hear you. And I get what you're saying, and I even believe what you're saying, but the reality is, is I have several hundred sales reps that are sitting around waiting to call down on leads and sorry.
Well, it's super interesting because the traditional B2B model is I, I have a large Salesforce and we have a set of accounts that we go and work and we nurture, and we build relationships yet we're in a world where most of everything can be digitized. Uh, if you think about the B2B sales cycle, you know, so much research now that says buyers are going, you know, what is it, 80% way, all the way through the buying process before they want to engage with somebody in sales. And yet there are these large B2B corporations that continue to rely on traditional selling models. How, how are you thinking about that as a digital strategist for the brands that you work with?
Well, I think it starts with an understanding of, and I mean, you kind of began to touch on this and it starts with an understanding of the, of the customer and, and, you know, a couple of things are at play, right? Like what you talked about is then has been, um, you know, it sounds almost silly at this point to talk about the advent of digital, right. But we're in that we're in, we're in that movement. Right. And, and, and continue to progress it and accelerating now with what's happening in the world with everyone working from home. But the reality is where research happens, where decision making happens, it's all happening in digital and all of those decisions are happening there. And, um, and, and along with that is the buyers themselves are changing. So, you know, there is more of a reluctance to talk to a salesperson.
There is more of, if you look in, you understand the consumer in general, there is less of a desire to, you know, to engage in those conversations and more to do kind of individualized research. There is more of a call for transparency. You know, that's been a big term that we talk about a lot in business and in digital, in particular, um, over the last several years, and look, I mean, there is a perception that, you know, at risk of, you know, alienated some people within a broader audience that, that those principles of like transparency and things like that are, are, are not, um, you know, are not exactly the calling card of, of the, of the enterprise sales world, right. Or at least that's not the perception that continues to get perpetuated. And so, you know, people want to make those decisions. You know, one thing that comes to mind that I think I can make a good correlation in the consumer side is you look at what Tesla did, you know, and we can debate the merits of their innovation across several friends, but one area where they innovated as they, as they went and did, did away with the dealer model.
So they cut the sales personnel largely. And, um, and, and as most people have seen like that, didn't go over very well. And in fact, to the point where there was lobbying groups and getting government involved to attempt to enforce a, um, a, uh, disintermediated sales model upon consumers and the purchase of a vehicle, and, you know, and, and we're perpetuating that because we have these into institutionalized systems, but I also think it's a maturity thing too. It's like, w we don't know when you see what is possible, you know, so we kind of just do what we're used to.
Oh, absolutely. I mean, Tesla has completely disrupted the automobile or the car buying model, and you're, you're starting to see other auto manufacturers follow suit that you can essentially move that entire buying process online. What's interesting is if I'm selling a tractor, I'm selling a turbine, you, you could basically replicate that model. And that's, what's interesting is as brands start to think about their own digital transformation, and a lot of that could be cutting costs, gaining efficiency, which helps them scale as well through digital channels. That Tesla model is very interesting to see if they can replicate, you know, if I'm John Deere or if I'm Honeywell, if I'm any one of these brands, and I'm thinking, how do I digitize this buying process for, with my customers? So, but Chad, you're, you're not just talking about building a website, though. You're talking about a digital strategy and B2B talk about how you think of, if I'm a B2B brand, it's, it's so much more than just building a website and a commerce channel. How else should I be thinking about how to move, you know, about digital transformation or about digital strategy for increasing sales and increasing my penetration with customers?
Well, in that regard, I think it's, you know, this is the kind of the customer value conversation, you know, like what problems are we, are, are you solving for your customer, which is universal right across marketing. And, you know, an example that I think of, um, that comes to mind is what the Coca Cola company is doing. Um, you know, they're one of many, cause this is not all doom and gloom, but you know, this is a business that has very, very traditional, you know, it's been around for a hundred years, right. They are very, very traditionally been, uh, they, they kind of come from, yeah, I know it's food and beverage, but right. It's kind of, kind of brought more broadly part of, kind of the manufacturing space, right. Which was what has been one of the slowest verticals to digitally transform. And, and they do still sell products through bottlers through a bottle or ecosystem.
Chad Warren (11:18):
Um, but they went out and they recognize that the whole bottle or ecosystem was built around, um, you know, these individualized relationships and that those relationships with, with salespeople that has to scale pretty broadly when you're considering every business, every business that buys Coke from, you know, from McDonald's to, you know, Joe's pizzeria and Peoria, you know, Indiana. Right. You know, it's, they, they have to scale out that Salesforce to do that. And so there is, you know, there's kind of a use case and opportunity to go solve some of those problems. And they did start with the website now you'd be like, Oh, okay. That's not really a, like an Omni channel or a holistic digital strategy. But, you know, when you consider that, that is, you know, for most brands, like that's kind of the, the, the, the primary front upon which, you know, you're going to begin to kind of address those problems.
Chad Warren (12:17):
That makes sense that they would do that. So they essentially built a platform that allows, you know, considering like, well, what are all the problems we want to solve for our customers? Well, we want to make it possible that they can order product from us, that they can automate the ordering process. Right? Like by setting up order renewals that they can make service requests for their equipment, right. At their dining locations and other outlets, um, that recommendations can be made. And, but, but to their credit, they're not thinking about it just as, Oh, we're just going to stand up a website. Right. So they're extending that to mobile, like in a mobile app. And then they're even going beyond that to say, how can we leverage other channels again, this may not sound very sexy, right? But like, you know, email being another primary communications channel that isn't going away is that they're trying to mobilize that channel as well as how can we, you know, build triggered communications to drive both recommendations and drive notifications and forum and a keeper, keep, keep our, our outlets, these customers moving and quite frankly, buying more Coke products.
Clay Warren (13:28):
Yeah. That's interesting. Anheuser Busch as another brand, that's done something similar. We've seen that they've transitioned where now, if you want a 12 pack of beer on your left at your door, you know, you can get that within 30 minutes an hour, you can actually go online into a, they have a commerce shop that will procure their products through local vendors, and you can get it delivered. And I think that's innovation. It doesn't sound like much, but from a B2B or a B to B to C in that case, uh, that's certainly transformation in its own. And it's strategic in that they're increasing their scale, improving efficiency. And I love what you mentioned about this idea of, it's not just selling product, it's the holistic value chain or the full value chain with a, with a, B to B company is how are they doing services, delivering services. Um, and even just as importantly, is how they're measuring those experiences. Are they measuring them so they can consistently optimize or have an always on optimization strategy to make sure those experiences are better? Um, what are some of the ways, or tell me about some of the examples of how B2B brands are rethinking their customer journey, uh, and, and, and some of the brands that you've worked with in the past.
Clay Warren (14:53):
That's a good question. Let me think what I mean, I'm trying to get into this idea of, you know, brands have just, I felt like they'd been so stuck in B2B on this. Not only do they have their, their traditional sales model or traditional service model, but we often talk about how brands, if they want to, how do they start delivering services through digital channels? How do they start, you know, optimizing their own value chain, that if I'm a typical manufacturer, you know, it's, again, it's not just a website or a mobile app, but I need to start engaging with customers differently and how they can start delivering value through digital channels more effectively. I wonder if, if you've had any experience that with some of the brands that you've worked with.
Chad Warren (15:39):
Yeah. So a good example of that and, and, you know, and, and, you know, and we could look from a presales perspective from a post sales perspective. There's, there's good examples for both, but like on the presale side of things, you know, there is a broadening recognition, and this is still catching on quite a bit, that, that as you would kind of spoke to earlier, that more and more of the, of the sales process is happening in digital. And while that's beginning to be recognized a lot, I think a lot of people still scratch their head and are not quite sure a lot of brands scratch on their pressure. Like, well, what does that mean? And from my perspective, what that means is that, is that I think of it in terms of, uh,
Clay Warren (16:24):
if you think about it in a customer centric way,
Chad Warren (16:28):
it is categorically difficult for businesses to buy from other businesses. The B2B customer journey is really hard because decision-making, especially at the enterprise level it's made in buying committees. There's lots of different people on those buying committees that all have a different role in that decision. Uh, you know, anyone from decision-makers to like procurement who has, you know, who has a very, very different set of needs than a decision maker. And, um, and I think that is as brands further recognize the, all of the people in, um, that are a part of that decision and recognize that it is difficult to buy, then they're there puts them in a better position to say, okay, how do we make it easier to buy? And, and, and again, that's not how most brands think of it. They say, well, how do we make it easier to sell?
Chad Warren (17:30):
And they should be thinking about the other way around is like, how do we make this easier to buy? And when you frame it in that context, which I think personally is a relatively simple context to think of it within, then all of a sudden it opens the door to start thinking like, okay, so what kind of tools and what kind of information and what kind of, um, and otherwise do we need to provide and make available to our customers to help them make decisions? And I'd say if you combine that kind of concept with this idea that at the end of the problem, at the end of the day, excuse me, you're, you're, you're solving your job is to solve a customer problem. It is not to sell a problem, right? Like if you think of it in those terms, then you're, well-equipped, you're much better equipped to be able to,
Chad Warren (18:24):
to drive value for your business, because it ends up being a value exchange when you are surfacing and solving a problem for your customer. Um, and you're making it easy for them to solve that problem. And, you know, in a lot of times it starts with, uh, helping your customer identify a problem that they didn't know that they have, but, but that's value in and of itself, right? If I'm, if I'm a business leader and I'm thinking every day about how to solve problems for my business. And I go read a great piece by Verizon about mobile security and how big of a challenge that is for corporations, and it's not focused on the horizons, mobile security products, but it's, it's focused on objective perspectives about, you know, what is the reality out in the world then? And that makes me think differently about solving that problem. Well, who do you think that I'm going to go to and invest, or at least at a minimum investigate first to solve my mobile security problems? Well, I'm going to go to Verizon,
Clay Warren (19:25):
right? Yep. Makes sense. And content, as you were alluding to is, is a key strategic pillar for any B2B business, but I still feel like, you know, we're, we're stuck and even traditional realms of, of B2B content, white papers, long form, white papers or PDFs, and we're kind of getting in a different topic, but, um, very interesting. And as I think about just digital strategy and B2B, what other, any other things that come to mind, uh, what other tips that you would, if, if for our listeners, you know, who are part of a B2B marketing team who are a part of a B2B strategy team, uh, who are trying to help their brands go through digital transformation and, you know, in the realm of their own responsibilities, what tips or tricks would you give? Uh, any of our listeners?
Chad Warren (20:14):
One thing that comes to mind is that, um, is to there, you know, there's, there's innovation for its own sake. They're saying like, okay, well we need to go and be an X channel, or we need to go and acquire X technology. And then there's been kind of more purposeful about that. And while that sounds kind of like an obvious, that sounds maybe maybe an obvious tip,
Chad Warren (20:43):
this happens quite a lot where the acquisition technology is, is used essentially to solve a business problem where technology itself, you know, there's, there's a, I think it's a Peter Drucker quote, you know, people want a quarter inch hole, not a quarter inch drill. Mmm. And, you know, at the end of the day, in many cases, you know, there can be a lot of different tools that can solve a problem, but it's not the tool itself that solves the problem. So, so we need to stop looking towards that next channel, whether it's social or mobile app or whatever, or looking towards that next content piece, like, Oh, video is the platform that's going to solve all of our problems. Or if I go acquire X vendor, you know, we go implement a CDP, man, that's gonna, that's gonna fix it all because, because it's not, it's thinking much more purposely about, um, about what, what, yeah.
Chad Warren (21:42):
Again, I mean, I hate to hate to overly beat this as a drum, but, but this is the definition of being customer centric, right? Like you had mentioned, um, you had mentioned about, you know, this overindulgence in, you know, long form kind of white paper type thing is, is B2B marketing tool. And well, why, why, why should we consider moving away from that? Why should any brand consider moving away from that? Well, okay. Let's think about it from a customer perspective. So number one, like PDFs are not a largely discoverable asset, right? So when you think like, well, how do consumers find things? Well, they discover them through channels like social or they search for things, whether implicitly or explicitly, you know, on search engines, well, PDFs are not a largely discoverable asset format. They also like don't spend, you know, most people aren't going to spend like an hour or 45 minutes reading a white paper.
Chad Warren (22:45):
Right. So we have to consider like, okay, well, who is my audience? And what do they want and how do they like to consume things and where do they like to consume things? And then, and then on top of that, as I'd mentioned early, earlier, what is the insight that we can bring to that conversation that, that is actually providing them value? Mmm. You know, that's where I think a lot of brands I would argue just to put it another way are stuck, is we're taking the old model of, of advertising. Mmm. W which is really just saying something. And we're, we're, we're just moving it into new format where what we really need to be doing is doing something, providing some kind of value to the consumer. Yeah. That's interesting. This, uh, how you've mentioned value, and I've been preparing some other content for a customer of mine and he, he or she
Clay Warren (23:46):
was asking me about, you know, how should we think about digital digital customer experience? So I said, digital customer experience is all about understanding how to deliver value to your customers through digital channels. It's not so much about just digital or offline. It's about using digital channels to deliver value. And you can do that. And that's where B2B brands need to, you know, kind of tie off on this where they need to start focusing is how do I deliver better value to my customers through digital channels? That doesn't mean just creating new tools or like you mentioned, it's not only about acquiring new technology, it's a cultural shift and understanding how to deliver customer value that requires understanding your customers inside and out becoming customer centric, centric, and developing insights about the channels. They want to engage in the type of content, the problems they're trying to solve. So this has been very, very valuable. Chad, thanks so much for joining us today. Um, I really appreciate how you've laid out the playbook for digital strategy and B2B. I really appreciate the opportunity and, and, uh, thank you so much. And if for all of our listeners, if you want to talk about anything you heard on the webcast or about how Qualtrics can help your business customer experience, please feel free to email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit our website, qualtrics.com for more information. Thank you.
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