Anyone who spoke about digitization in the 10s usually mentioned the word disruption in the same breath. According to a common opinion, disruptive technologies force companies to deal with digitization in order to survive in the market.

The Corona Pandemic has made it clear that other external factors can also have a disruptive – i.e. destructive – impact on existing processes. The decisive factor in this case was and still is the transition from an exceptional situation to a "new normal". Megatrends such as "New Work" have the potential to change work cultures in the long term. Announced branch closures, e.g. at Mediamarkt/Saturn or Douglas, are justified with an accelerating shift in sales towards online channels. In terms of costs, companies expect that the previous number of business trips will no longer be reached after Corona.

How do such socio-economic changes affect B2B trade? It can rightly be argued that branch closures only affect B2C trade or that business trips are only digitized for internal areas. And of course the buyer who has been ordering his products from his sales representative for years will certainly want to continue this process in the future. While these points of view may still hold up in the short and medium term, the Corona Pandemic is accelerating the way B2B companies should act in the future in order to be successful in the long term.

Four thematic blocks are described below, which will continue to gain in relevance in the coming years and will be essential for successful B2B commerce.

1. Information Supply Chain

A central position in a successful digital strategy is the efficient and structured collection, refinement and display of product data and product media. Product data is still too often processed manually in Excel/Access and sent to a wide variety of recipients by email. Updating this data often consumes almost as much internal resources and is therefore often postponed until further notice.

What role does product data play in the B2B context? A very important one of course! We remember Mediamarkt/Saturn. A print brochure may list ten product features and an image. Eight to nine times as many features and images are displayed for the same product in the web shop. The provision of this information is usually the responsibility of the manufacturer, a classic B2B scenario.

Product data is often updated in the food or chemical industry, where allergen information or new certificates have to be published promptly. Here, too, a manual process leads to high internal costs.

Finally, high-quality and up-to-date product data enables the user to find products quickly and easily. Faceted searches and variant displays support the user and facilitate the information procurement and decision-making process. The introduction of suitable technologies such as product information systems (PIM systems) or digital asset management (DAM) systems to optimize product-related data management and display will be a decisive success factor for manufacturers.

2. Multi-channel communication

In addition to the existing (offline) direct sales and possibly your own online shop, there are other channels through which B2B companies sell their products. These include e.g. EDI or e-procurement systems but also B2B marketplaces. These sales channels are supplemented by a wide variety of communication channels, such as company websites, social media channels and, of course, trade fairs or print media.

The systematic orchestration and automatic recording of the respective channels will also be of central importance for successful B2B trade. In addition to the product data and media already described, general content also plays a role here. The simultaneous release of a new product across all channels and (international) markets still ties up a great deal of internal resources, since each message for each channel often has to be created manually. At the latest when it comes to the desire to play out personalized or target group-specific content, traditionally thinking companies will reach their limits and have a disadvantage compared to modern competition.

The meaningful integration of modern content management systems (CMS) supports companies in the efficient creation and display of content.

3. (Self) Service Platforms

In a narrower sense, self-service is normally understood to mean the independent management of delivery addresses or the inspection of order histories or the like. In a broader sense, this also includes all activities that a user can carry out at any time in order to obtain information relevant to a purchase. In addition to a simple, guided product search, this includes customer-specific prices, availability, binding delivery times, other surcharges and product configurations.

The digital request for individual offer conditions or discount models will also gain in importance. The online shop will therefore be more than just a sales channel. He will be the central point of contact for all types of services. In this case, the provision of current and individual prices, order and delivery documents, offers or service tickets must be guaranteed by a corresponding CRM/ERP integration. What information customers specifically expect should definitely be compared. Customer expectations and the information provided often do not match (ibi research: "Online purchasing behavior in B2B e-commerce", 2019).

The use of so-called Progressive Web Applications (PWAs) will increasingly make sense for those manufacturers whose customers mostly work on the move and do not have continuous Internet access. Scanning and immediately ordering a required spare part increases customer benefits. The subsequent transmission of the order to the ERP/WaWi takes place without further interaction on the part of the customer.

4. Collaboration and change management

Probably the biggest challenge is less technical in nature, but will be in the form of changed processes and the form of cooperation between departments. The identification of the much-cited customer journeys is much more complex in the B2B context, since several people are often involved in the purchase decision-making process on the customer side. Information on lead generation, which is obtained, for example, through online campaigns, is too often thrown "over the wall" to sales. Marketing often does not know which interested parties sales had contact with at a trade fair, so that a personalized approach is not possible. The synchronization of marketing, sales and service in a multi-channel concept will be of fundamental importance.

With stronger online sales, there must also be appropriate communication with direct sales, which sees "their" sales and, as a result, their earning potential at risk.

Even for existing IT service providers, it will no longer be sufficient to only advise and implement technical monoliths. The understanding of the content of the business processes and the management of the associated change processes will be an essential unique selling point in the market.

The corona pandemic does not provide any fundamentally new insights into digitized trade. However, it accelerates the need for adjustments in all areas of the company. The ability to respond quickly to organizational and procedural changes and the knowledge that an online shop is never "finished" is decisive for the future success of the company.