‘What do you really want?’. This simple, but lasting question often comes up in the minds of any marketer or salesperson. Unlike in B2C markets, many B2B players find it difficult to ask this question to their end-users because they simply do not have the direct relationship. In the age of customer centricity this poses many challenges, ranging from fulfilling customer needs to providing meaningful support and service. However, the tide is changing as new technologies are enabling B2B players to slowly find their way down the value chain. A seismic power shift is about to happen.
Moving beyond the middleman
B2B players are moving from product-centric towards customer-centric businesses. 63% of B2B CEO’s already have ‘Customer Centricity’ as one of their top three priorities1. To make this happen, companies need to make investments in establishing relationships with both direct- and indirect customers. This is where the challenge comes in; ‘middleman’ companies position themselves as owner of the end-customers to stay the value-generating party in the value chain. However, technologies such as Internet of Things (IoT), Block Chain and virtual layers are providing the ultimate solution. B2B players can now extend their reach beyond the ‘middleman’ companies and become increasingly relevant for (end-) customers by building a value-based ecosystem in two ways: The value push and the value pull.
The Value Push: Enrich your products and services
With customer centricity on the rise, companies are searching for ways to create a seamless experience and leave no customer need unanswered. This also entails that delivering solutions to customer needs happens not only during the purchase but also before and after. By integrating sensors and data-enriched materials into products, B2B players can generate value throughout the entire customer life cycle. Examples of how to add value are:
- Creating a virtual layer with the Digital Twin – The Digital Twin is a virtual representation of physical assets that enables the user to get informative and actionable insights. Companies such as GE and Siemens are already heavily betting on the rise of this technology. While often used for simulation purposes, the Digital Twin can also be integrated within the product material through the placement of sensors or recognizable patterns. The (end-) customer can scan the sensors or patterns and see an augmented reality layer with rich, contextual and real-time content.
- Adding provenance with the “Block” Chain of Custody – With an increasing need for sustainable sourcing, the Chain of Custody can provide information about the tracing history of product materials. As Block Chain solutions rise to prominence, sourcing information becomes highly trustworthy. B2C companies such as Unilever and Sainsbury’s are piloting with tracing tea leaves based on Block Chain technology. Similarly, B2B players can start sharing their sustainability performance more explicitly with the entire value chain to improve their brand reputation.
The Value Pull: Start a silent conversation
Next to enriching the product with data, B2B players can also capture insights from the product. IoT sensors can be integrated within the product materials and start generating data about the product performance and its environment. While the data is often only shared with the user, it can also be sent back to the selling company. This can be leveraged especially in service-centric business models. Let us take a look at how Rolls Royce reshaped its business model by starting up a silent conversation.
Although Rolls Royce is most famous for its luxury cars, a much larger part of their business is related to the production of aircraft engines. Additionally, they have been providing maintenance services to keep the engines perform at all time. Rolls Royce has been pioneering with IoT-enabled monitoring since 2001, but recently also invested in setting up a predictive maintenance-as-a-service where they keep track of fuel efficiency and machine performance. Through real-time analytics and machine learning, multiple terabytes are being processed each flight and being used by Rolls Royce to schedule new maintenance appointments before the customer recognizes the need for it. As data from sold products is brought back to selling company and used to optimize services, they can strengthen their position in the value chain.
Redefining your position in the value chain
So where to start? The challenge of obtaining a new position in the value chain is not one of technology. It’s much more about how you create value from it. Before investing in ways to leverage technologies, B2B players should reconsider their value propositions towards the entire value chain. This means that end customers will be part of the playing field. 3M recently launched their consumer-focused ‘Wonder’ campaign, which was a strong example of how a B2B brand reached beyond their direct customers with targeted advertisements. After defining your propositions, it is all about creating an ecosystem where you bring added value to your customers and monetize the value for your own business.
- Capgemini Consulting, 2017. B2B Players, Let’s Jump Into the Omni-Channel Experience. Journal of Marketing Revolution.