What You Can Learn from B2B’s ‘Slow-and-Steady’ Approach to Digital Transformation

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For as long as digital transformation has been an industry buzzword, businesses have tried to outpace their competition in the race to innovation. Particularly in B2C, this has meant lots of AI-, AR-, and VR-driven (and sometimes gimmicky) web store and app features. On many occasions, these have taken precedence over optimizing the basics of an e-commerce strategy, like the purchase journey and fulfillment cycle. B2B companies, on the other hand, have tended toward a slower, more strategic approach.

B2B businesses are often considered to be lagging in their digital maturity. In reality, they are simply focusing on gradual back-office improvements and on modernizing legacy infrastructure to improve the customer experience, rather than on customer-facing or feature-specific innovations. They’re keeping what works and improving what doesn’t. What’s even more promising? Research from McKinsey & Company indicates that B2B companies’ commitment to strategic digital disruption has been paying off — big time. Companies getting it right, as early as 2016, were driving 5x more revenue growth than their peers.

Both Traditional and Digital Channels Are Working in B2B

Today, we’re seeing that B2B’s top sales channels — a blend of traditional and digital — reflect a commitment to strategic digital transformation and customer experience. Last year, we surveyed 300 global B2B businesses about their approach to B2B e-commerce in the age of digital transformation. Here are the top 10 sales channels B2B businesses are using today, and plan to use in the next two years.


Sana Commerce Top 10 B2B Sales Channels

As you can see, digital channels are ruling supreme. Particularly for web stores, growth is trending upwards — and quickly. As recently as 2015, a mere 29% of B2B businesses were selling through their own web stores, and only 20% were selling through distributor web stores. Today, over half of B2B businesses have their own web stores. By 2019, as many as 34% are expecting to sell through distributor stores.

Still, the staying power of traditional channels — physical stores, sales representatives, and even fax —  is not negligible. It, in fact, sheds light on an important truth about the B2B approach to digital transformation and e-commerce. That it has struck a successful balance between traditional sales channels and digital channels. For B2B businesses, digital transformation seems to be about just that: transforming business processes rather than innovating quickly and frequently in the name of disruption.

To Innovate, or to Transform?

In the digital age, what exactly is the difference between innovation and transformation? And more importantly, how do you maneuver one or the other to reach the best end-result for your business? Often, innovation and transformation are terms used interchangeably. But the distinction lies in the pace of change. Digital transformation should involve gradual and ongoing digitization and improvement, rather than spurts of customer-facing updates. It should also evolve and change alongside your business and the needs of your customers. Given our research on the sales channels prevailing in B2B, it seems apparent that B2B businesses are successfully mastering just that.

Take Your Cues from Your Customers

B2B businesses are keeping their eye on the prize. They’re not dashing ahead when it comes to innovation, but they are making strategic choices to be where their customers are. They’re launching and improving web stores, engaging on social media, tapping sales representatives and maintaining the presence of their physical stores. To learn more, read about how Alko Distributors, together with Sana, is doing this well.

Many may still argue that when it comes to digital transformation, B2C businesses are leaps and bounds ahead of those in B2B. But it’s clear that B2B businesses are simply focusing on making the right changes where they matter most. The B2B industry’s focused and balanced customer-centric approach to digital transformation may not (yet) feature the flashiest new technologies out there, but it certainly seems poised to pay off. ‘Slow and steady’ does win the race, after all.

More About the Trajectory of Digital Transformation in B2B

According to our Digital Transformation and B2B E-Commerce Report, “a customer-centric approach appears to be one of the main drivers behind the increase in digital sales channels.” While this remains true, our data on the top B2B sales channels indicates that the same strategic, customer-centric focus is also the reason traditional sales channels are still holding their own (albeit with less popularity). Download your free copy for a progress report on B2B’s embrace of digital transformation, and insights on where it will go in 2018 and beyond.


Sana Commerce Digital Transformation E-Commerce Report


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