Three digital transformation shifts to drive growth in B2B

By Fred Geyer, Prophet Growth Consulting and Joerg Niessing, Insead

We are witnessing a profound shift in how corporate customers use digital to consume information, make informed buying decisions and engage with suppliers. COVID-19 has accelerated this shift, which will not abate when the pandemic recedes. Although the shift is easy to see, addressing it isn’t straightforward.


In our book ‘The Definitive Guide to B2B Digital Transformation’, we examined 20 case studies of B2B digital transformations and spoke to over 1,000 B2B transformation leaders who indicated that taking a step-by-step approach to becoming more customer-centric, agile and digital paves the way to a successful transformation. The most common question we always hear from executives feeling the need to go digital is, “Where do I start?” The answer is, “Where it makes the most sense from a customer’s point of view.”

Companies that leverage digital technologies and data to create value for their customers will create value for themselves. Our research identified three transformational shifts that have helped successful B2B companies leverage digital technologies, build competitive advantage and achieve profitable growth.

1. The digital selling shift: engage customers and sell more effectively

This shift begins by taking sales and digital marketing out of their silos and pooling them together. The standard arrangement, in which sales “owns” the customer relationship and marketing provides messaging and content, is too cumbersome for the digital age.

As companies move through the various stages of the digital selling shift, digital marketing becomes increasingly intertwined with sales, to the point that certain legs of the sales journey are automated. The best sales staff are thus freed to focus their attention on closing the promising leads generated by digital marketing. The integration of sales and digital marketing is happening in full force in the pharmaceutical industry, where a digital-first approach to physician engagement is now common in at least three crucial phases of drug sales: premarket conditioning, launch sell-in and post-launch market development.

2. The digital experience makeover: innovate and enrich customer experiences

A digital experience makeover begins with making customer interactions with suppliers smoother and more accessible. It requires overcoming the frequent tendency in B2B to force customers to interact with multiple supplier company departments to achieve their goals. Successful digital transformation in this sphere eliminates unnecessary work, makes it easier for the customer and reduces costs for the B2B supplier.

As digital experience makeovers gain momentum, they evolve from fixing customer pain points to designing experiences that exceed customer expectations. For example, global building materials company CEMEX created a one-stop-shop digital offering called CEMEX Go, encompassing order placement, shipment tracking and invoicing for its main products.

3. The digital proposition pivot: offer data-powered solutions to increase the value of the customer offering

A proposition pivot involves using digital technologies to reimagine the basic value proposition B2B companies offer their customers. This pivot often involves shifting the focus of the company to providing data-powered solutions. Solutions that rely on data acquisition and analysis to learn, improve and become smarter after they are initially implemented.

Data powered-solutions are made possible by a host of new technologies – IoT, AI, blockchain, etc. – to capture and take advantage of customer data, for the benefit of both B2B companies and their clients. For example, packaging manufacturers have started using radiofrequency information technology in labels and containers, producing a cascade of efficiencies throughout the supply chain in many industries. Several incumbents in the medical device sector, by contrast, have been slow to pivot to data-powered propositions. They now find themselves squeezed between low cost rivals and sophisticated data-driven insurgents.

We explore the best practices to tackle each of the three transformational shifts in our book, ‘The Definitive Guide to B2B Digital Transformation’. You can also learn more at www.b2bdt.com

Fred Geyer is Senior Partner at Prophet Growth Consulting. Joerg Niessing is a member of the INSEAD faculty and co-director of INSEAD’s Leading Digital Marketing Strategy and B2B Marketing Strategies programmes.