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B2B eCommerce Adoption: Connecting with Your Internal and External Stakeholders

The B2B eCommerce Podcast

Oro Podcast

Key Points

  • An eCommerce digitization project should be driven by customer expectations. The most successful digital transformations have the customer as the Northstar.

  • Customer interviews before the project and feedback during the project are often the biggest sources of innovation for eCommerce projects.

  • There are enormous benefits of letting a business team lead the digitization project, instead of an IT team. It helps to better connect with customers to understand their needs and wants, iterate more, and get to results faster.

  • Top management should be involved in dealing with internal pushback when adopting new technology. The key message: tech is not going to steal your job, it will help to upgrade, elevate and evolve your role at the company.


B2B eCommerce Adoption: Connecting with Your Internal and External Stakeholders

Full Transcript

Jary Carter: We are going to talk today about connecting with your internal and external stakeholders, ie, the folks internally inside your company that need to help you with the digital transformation you’re trying to do, as well as the folks outside of your company, your customers, your prospects, the folks you’re working with.  I’m joined here with really an all-star set of participants here today, panelists to today’s podcast. We have Jason Vagnozzi, who is the Global Director at Braskem. Welcome, Jason. So happy to have you here. And we also, yeah, we also have Andy Wagner, who is the Executive Director at AAXIS Digital. Welcome, Andy.

Andy Wagner: Thanks. Great to be here.

Jary Carter: All right, I want to jump right in. However, before we jump into today’s discussion, I’d love to give you to the opportunity to just briefly introduce yourself, your background, and tell us a little bit about why you’re passionate about our topic today. So I’ll start with you, Jason. And then we’ll head over to you, Andy.

Jason Vagnozzi: Sure, thanks, Jary. So I’m Jason Vagnozzi. I work for Braskem. For those of you don’t know, it’s a large commodity plastics producer, with global headquarters in Brazil, and commercial headquarters for North America based in Philadelphia. So that’s where I work. I have been with the company the past 20 years, and most of my background is in procurement, supply chain, and business development. And the company recognized that digital innovation was a core part of our strategy about four years ago. And so I joined a digital transformation team in all the different areas of our company and figuring out how we can use technology to drive efficiency, both for us internally as well as for our clients externally. So my whole career had been a change agent disrupter, I’ve never been happy with where things are done. So this was the perfect role for me.

Andy Wagner: Thanks, Jason. So as Jary mentioned, I’m an executive director at AAXIS Digital. For those who don’t know, we are a digital commerce agency. And we really try to act as a commerce business partner for customers, which simply means we start by helping our customers tackle those decisions that are really going to matter for the business and the customers. And then we look at what’s the right technology to use to make that program successful.  In a nutshell, that’s what we do, I personally have spent the last 24 years delivering digital commerce and customer experience programs, while living in Sweden, Italy, India, UK. And now back in the US, where through AAXIS Digital, we’ve had the pleasure of working with Jason and the Braskem team, from the very beginning of their journey. So it’s really great to be here for the conversation.

Jary Carter: Very good. Very good. Thank you to you both. Now let’s just jump in. Jason, a big reason we wanted to bring you in is to talk about your project currently. So we’d love to hear a little bit about your business, a little bit about the challenges you were experiencing that led to the idea of building a digital portal for your B2B customers.

Jason Vagnozzi: Sure, yeah. So when I joined the digital transformation team, one of the core projects that I worked on was how do we transform the client experience for our customers at Braskem. And, you know, the chemicals industry is not known for innovation. We kind of joke about it internally. The last real innovation that happened was probably email for the way we do sales to the market. We used the argument that, don’t you think it’s crazy that we’ll sell a railcar of polymer for $200,000 and can’t really tell you where it is, when it’s going to arrive, or how it’s going to get there. But you can order a pizza for five bucks, and you know who’s making it, when it’s going in the oven. And it’s going to show up pretty on the nose of when they tell you it’s going to show up.  We recognized that something was off. So we really took a look at what we were doing and tried to fix what was going on. And so OroCommerce was obviously a great solution for us. Because, you know, we looked at a lot of out-of-the-box solutions. And a lot of the out-of-box solutions are made for selling widgets. But when you have a business like agricultural like chemicals like oil and gas, some of those solutions, they don’t fit the user experience. And so we need something that was a little more flexible, a little more customizable. And so that’s we looked at solutions such as Oro and went that direction. But you know what, that was the challenge. How do you bring that Domino’s Pizza experience to the chemicals industry. And that’s really where we’re starting.

Jary Carter: I love that Northstar. And you and I have talked about this before, Jason, that idea that the B2C world, the direct-to-consumer world has done so much innovation when it comes to customer experience and customer communication. And the further back in the supply chain, you get a lot of times the worst customer experiences. And so really bringing that forward becomes such a sustainable place of competitive advantage. And certainly, the stories that you’re telling, the analogies that you’re making into the B2C space are so relevant for people who are really the innovators and the pioneers in the B2B commerce space. So I love that analogy.  Andy, I want to turn to you. And you have a more broad view, you’ve certainly worked with the Braskem team, but you’re also working with a lot of other companies and seeing what’s happening in the industry. What are you seeing when it comes to more and more companies sort of traditionally offline companies going online? Are there some interesting examples that you could share with us?

Andy Wagner: Yeah. We all sort of knew that the B2B industry was lagging behind. They were never really forced to tackle the digital commerce question. They didn’t need to. Everything was working great. But then we had the COVID pandemic. And when that hits, companies in the manufacturing distribution, any business really where the bulk of their revenue was generated by a direct sales team, they had to confront their digital future sooner than perhaps they were ready to.  So one of the trends that we’ve seen come out of that digital scramble is actually on the B2B buyer side, so their customer side where there’s a growing preference to purchase online.

In fact, I saw earlier this year, a Gartner survey, where they found 8% of B2B buyers now have formal goals to increase purchasing through the digital commerce channel. So you know, what this is doing is pushing these traditionally offline B2B companies to come to terms with the reality that digital has become the context for business, not just a chat or not just a way to conduct it. In the Braskem poject, I can remember the day that our developers understood that we have to figure out how to track rail cars, right? That is something that you don’t see every day. But the big things we’re tackling are how do we transform our traditional offline business? What does that mean for our processes? And it’s being pushed from the customer side. So understanding how to better serve our customers is everybody’s challenge in the space. 

Jary Carter: Yeah, it really is about customer experience. And really liked that concept of digitization as a part of customer experience, not just the channel purchase, because there is so much data and research coming out that even in the B2B space, you know, 80 90% plus of searches for products and services in the B2B space still start online, start on Google. And so if you’re not there, if you haven’t digitized that experience, if you haven’t created content for that customer experience, you’re really falling behind. I appreciate that perspective.  I want to go back to Braskem’s project. I’m so impressed with the story that you created. You’re a global director in a close to $6 billion market cap company, how do you get such a huge project off the ground? Where do you start? And you know, how do you lead change in that type of organization, because I know a lot of folks listening in are in your similar situation. They’re one person leading change in a big company. And they’re curious how they start in the change.

Jason Vagnozzi: It’s not easy. Especially the first one through the door, you got to get whacked in the face a couple of times, you got to have thick skin for sure.  I’m sure half the people on this podcast are trying to do the same thing. I tell my team: “you’re gonna hear no a lot. Get ready for it just right up front”. Knowing what they do, how they do it, they’re only focused really on their job, it’s really tough for them to see the bigger picture of how these tools work together. So it’s just tough finding the right people to lead these projects with you that are disruptors and innovators within the company. And I can tell you, this wasn’t Braskem’s first attempt at something like this, and we’ve failed in the past.

And one of the things that Andy mentioned, and you mentioned was these things need to be driven by the client expectation. All too often we drive them from internal efficiencies, we look at a program like this, and we try to justify it on an ROI basis, like how much time will my customer service team save? How much time will my supply chain save? We forget to ask, what does the client need? Because there’s really not a good ROI calculation for that. You do it. Because the industry and the world around us are changing. And if you don’t do it, you might not be around to see what that looks like.

So that was just one of the first mentality shifts is, hey, we’re going to design this project, we’re going to take a team, separate from the business, because the business people have way too much to worry about. They’re running the business. So we need a separate project team. And we’re going to start the design phase from the clients’ perspective.  We interviewed 60 clients, and only 10 internal stakeholders. Because we know what all the challenges internally are. But we don’t understand what the challenge is to the client. Our whole design phase was based on the client feedback, not the internal stakeholders’ feedback. It was a mind-blowing experience. People were really frustrated with why aren’t you talking to me? Because internal supply chain customer service tended to want to just push work to the customer, saying I don’t like doing this anymore, can you make the client do it? And you’re like, “I’m not sure that’s going to get the right customer engagement”. So some of those early decisions really needed to be flushed out and thought about.

Jary Carter: Yeah, it’s interesting that you say this, because I do think there’s a lot of the ROI calculators and a lot of the calculations that folks do is around things like, how do we reduce customer service? What a self serve do for our sales organization, and how much more efficiency can they gain? All of those things are sort of like externalities. It seems like the most successful digital transformations have the customer as the Northstar in terms of their experience, and how they want to interact with the brand and how they want to purchase and how they want to go through that whole customer journey.

Jason Vagnozzi: Exactly. What we found is if you start with those ROI calculations, you end up with the incremental change in your organization, right, you do things, but you don’t really lead to disruptive change. And so you really got to ask yourself as a company, are we really trying to change the way we do business? Are we just trying to make incremental changes? Because most of us know how to make incremental changes. We don’t know how to really change the way we do business. And that was the goal of our platform launch.

Jary Carter: I think we could actually end the podcast on that comment. And it would be well worth our time. That is such an insightful comment, because I do I agree with you. It is not about incremental efficiency, especially for projects of this magnitude. 

Jason Vagnozzi: I’ll tell one more story. You got me rolling now. So I’m going to keep going. And Andy knows this already, because this was really something unique we did with this project launch, which we’re doing more often now. These digital transformation programs are being led by people from the business.  Historically, when Braskem would look at these things, it would be an IT-led program. IT would go and scope the solutions, they were presented to the business leaders, the business leaders would select the solution. And then the IT team would gather requirements from supply chain customer service, they would go off on their own, and they would build this thing over the course of eight months. And they would come out of their hole. And they’d present it and it’s either good or it’s not.  Our project was led by the business. So platform selection, interviews with the customer. And IT was a support function to the project, which is something that companies of our size don’t typically approach that way. That was another revelation for us that makes a difference overall: it’s more about the user experience than the functionality.

Jary Carter: Well, getting closer to the customer probably made that idea of transformational change versus incremental change much easier to visualize and see.

Andy Wagner: I can’t state strongly enough just how brave that approach was that Jason and the team pulled off. What they did, it was more than just the business leading it, which  is absolutely the right thing to do. But what happened there was the business didn’t simply replace IT in terms of coming up with the requirements. The business listened to the customers, the customers defined the requirements. So we had a very rapid prototyping iterative process whereby the customer was actually the real true client saying “this is what I want”. It was an amazing experience. It took a little time to put the guardrails around it. But once we got there, it was an extremely valuable process that allowed us to quickly get to results that the customers were happy to onboard and say, Yes, finally, let’s do this.

Jary Carter: Yeah, it’s not actually diminishing the role of IT in a project like this, because they are critical stakeholders. It’s about elevating the role of the customer in this process, and really putting forward what the customer needs and wants in a project like this, which is absolutely right. I also want to talk about what and how you actually pulled the “what” out of the customer. There is this process as you’re going through and defining requirements and defining the scope of the project where you really want to get alignment between what the customers need and what your project really looks like. I’d love to ask both of you as to how you did that in this specific case, because I do think a lot of teams really struggle to get those requirements or those ideas and needs,  and wants out of their customers.

Jason Vagnozzi: We went with more of an iterative, agile approach to trying to get those requirements from the customer. Firstly, we went in it with an internal brainstorming generated some hypotheses about what the key customer pain points were. We mapped on a giant whiteboard with a whole bunch of posts and notes what’s the customer journey look like today. We did an internal brainstorm as a project team about what do we think it needs to look like tomorrow. And in that, we developed some hypothesis about where the key pain points were.

So then we basically had this list of questions to confirm our suspicions and get information about where the pain points were.  Then we interviewed those 60 customers. We identify different personas within our client base. You kind of divide it up: you have a large strategic clients, the top 20 clients, or 80% of my sales revenue. It’s probably a pretty common theme there, they’re really important. But then we have the tail. And the tail probably don’t get as much direct attention. And they probably have a different set of pain points.  So we interviewed clients from each portion of our portfolio, asking them the same script of questions, and then analyzed the results. And I think very quickly, you saw about 10 or so themes start to bubble up, like “I need to access information”, “I need to do it quicker”, “I don’t like customer portals, because other suppliers have them. Here’s why I don’t like them”. Because I think there’s also this stigma about bad customer portals and bad marketplaces that really prevent people from engaging. 

We took that feedback when we started developing wireframes. We still didn’t build anything, we just built simple, clickable wireframes. And then we went back to those same customers and said, “This is what we thought we heard from you. Can you give us additional feedback from this?” And we actually had them click through it and experience it before we build it.  And we got some really cool feedback through the way. I think I told you early on, as we were testing the wireframes, we thought we were doing really good. We have a lot of engineers on the team, right? So very detail-oriented and trying to share platform. And we put these wireframes, which are essentially just a clickable thing, with nothing behind it.

We’re testing it with a customer. His name was Earl, and still remember the conversation, and really big personality. After we’re demoing this to him, he goes, guys, I gotta stop you, I gotta hold you up. He’s like, I’m not gonna use this thing. It’s way too complex. He said, “let me tell you something. If it’s more than two clicks away, I ain’t using it. So we can just stop right now. You will think about that. And you come back and show me something in a couple of weeks”. 

This was six months of the project, three months, of interviewing, and then three months of doing these wireframes. So we haven’t even built anything. But all that upfront work really accelerated the build process and our ability to launch the program.  So we went back, and we share that with the design team. And we ended up that was the mantra for the project. For the next four weeks, we wrote, If it’s more than two clicks away on the project board, I hate using it and that drove everything we did. And it was such a simple comment. But the fact that we listened to it, and we drove our design decisions from that, I think made our project that much more successful.

Jary Carter: I love that Earl story. So did he like it in the end? That’s the real question. When you brought it back to them and showed it.

Jason Vagnozzi: He did. He was one of those purchasing managers that the sales team warns you about. Look, you’ll never get early use this. He’s been in 30 plus years. He’s seen every portal thrown at them. He’ll never use it. And he was one of our first 10 customers to use it, which was really a testament to the feedback that we got from him and the team listening.

Jary Carter: That’s great. Anything to add on that? Any other thoughts?

Andy Wagner: As I’ve expressed before, that was just such an amazing way to start the process to make sure you’re getting started on the right foot. And what we’ve really appreciated is that it enabled us to do what we needed to do to support Braskem. So once we had, version 0.1 up, and we had customers on it, we didn’t just sit back, we kept going. And we kept engaging with the customers. And at that point, we were able to get involved in some of these conversations, and they were just incredibly useful to understand not only what needed to be done, but why, so that we could then help make better decisions in terms of how do we connect this and use the technology in the right way, and all that kind of stuff.  It just became this this kind of Customer-Braskem-AAXIS team that just rolled and iterated. It was an incredible process. It helped us bring on new customers. We got the next group of customers which would say if only you did that, we would consider it. We took that very seriously. And that’s how we were doing it. We’re still working like that. 

Jary Carter: Yeah, very good. Thank you. Fast forward to project launch, how did people react to the change? What was the reaction from the sales folks, or even potentially folks that may have felt threatened in the project, as well as more importantly, what’s been the reaction of your customers?

Jason Vagnozzi: It’s funny, the exact opposite of what we expected to happen happened. Where we expected the change management fight, or the change management challenge to be with the clients. Because of the process, we achieved the clients engagement quicker than our internal stakeholders.  Because the platform was so based on a easy-to-use user experience, and the features that we launched, were all the features that were asked, customers loved it.

The internal change was much harder. It was, as the team’s you would expect it was supply chain, customer service and sales, it was challenging for them. And for a few reasons.  The immediate emotional reaction to a platform like this, as you know, people worried about their jobs. That was number one. You have to be really sensitive to those things. Our messaging was absolutely not, it’s not going to replace your job. So instead of doing some of the data entry work, your job is going to evolve to help you evolve in your career. So you’ll go from more of a data entry position to an inside sales position. So we want to upgrade, elevate and evolve the roles to give them more different responsibilities because we’ve taken some of the transactional work out of their day to day stuff. 

I think that was one of the key messages that really need to be delivered from all levels of the management, not just from the project team, but from all the way up to our CEO. We had him meet and talk about digital transformation, because this is just one of several projects that was happening across the company. But it’s a little different message when your manager says it versus the CEO of the company says, “Hey, we’re not laying anyone off because of these tools. We’re hoping to evolve the company so we can service clients better and increase our sales”. And so that was really important messaging internally.

Jary Carter: I love those three words: upgrade, elevate and evolve your roles. What aspiration for internal folks who are doing a lot of mundane tasks that they just don’t need to do. Their roles can be upgraded, they can be elevated, they can be evolved.  That’s good advice for anybody going through that change to really message to internal stakeholders.  I’ve never seen anyone go through digital transformation of this kind and think you know, we can’t wait to just let people go in this change. It’s so much more about what you’re talking about, which is how do we really elevate people to where their customers really want them to be? Versus just reacting to customer requests that they could find on their own. I like that.  One last question that I have for both of you. I want you to get your crystal balls out. There’s some heaviness with supply chain issues, inflation, fears of recession. What’s the future of digitization whether for Braskem or for the marke generally? Are you seeing that this will accelerate digital change? Or that it’s going to slow it down? What’s your perspective? 

Jason Vagnozzi: The quick answer for me is I think it should accelerate your desire to invest in these tools. And the reason for that for us is because one, we think it brings us closer to customers. Two, we think, in the long run, it should make us much more competitive and efficient. And three, with these tools, we should be able to scale our business and continue to grow it without the need to adding a lot more resources or overhead to the company.  So if you build the base now and build a strong foundation of tools, you can scale and elevate those tools as your business grows without adding people. That was our traditional approach, right? You add more capacity, you add more people, you need more sellers, you need more customer service, you need more back-office support. Digital tools should hopefully make you a lot more competitive as you move forward into the world. So I think that’s our quick view of that.

Andy Wagner: I think my crystal ball is really only useful as a bookend in the current situation. Because as you alluded to, it just feels like everybody’s working in this mode of what’s next, what’s gonna go wrong next?  What we’re seeing with a lot of our customers, and just generally in the B2B space, is, we’ve coined the phrase, new normal, but we’re seeing a lot of companies that are sort of forced to just operate in this constant crisis mode. And what I mean by that is that there’s constant supply chain issues on that side of the house, so how do we get the goods? How do we get the products? How does that all work? Versus on the other side, how do we manage our customers expectations? How do we get these two sides of an equation to balance out. 

Where we’ve seen companies and customers really succeed is by embracing digital with the capital D, not just digital commerce. Because this helps and will help companies manage some of those things that need to become more agile, to be able to handle this crisis, this formula that isn’t balancing out.  So things like replacing slower manual processes. We may not be able to do it the way we’ve always done it, but there are other ways that are going to give us some benefits, make us more flexible, to manage the ups and downs. That’s also on the customer sides of being able to communicate more quickly and directly to customers, not allowing yourself to get the position where they have to chase you, with questions like “where’s my order? Where’s this? What’s that?” 

Digital’s helping us from messaging to even better self service features that is pushing information out to you as a customer,  allowing you to go that extra mile, but not necessarily adding that internal transactional overhead to make it all happen.  The other area that we’re seeing our customers be successful while the business hustle is they’ve started the path of having systems that can more quickly and easily onboard new suppliers or new partners. It’s not a several months to a year long process to get somebody connected and integrated and all of that kind of thing.

And similarly for the customer experience, being able to change, modify, add new features very, very quickly just allows the company to behave in a more agile and flexible way. You’re more ready to react to the next shoe that drops, if you know what I mean.  So the companies that are able to do that they really embrace that. Not just again, as Oh, yeah, we haven’t any commerce channel. But just this is how we engage with our customers. They’re the ones that are surviving and thriving, actually, even with all the the craziness and crisis that’s going on.

Jary Carter: Gentlemen, really appreciate your time today. Jason, thank you so much for sharing your perspective with us. Andy, really appreciate you sharing your perspective on the project and what’s happening in the market overall. I’ve as always loved to thank Anna, our producer for just organizing all of this and the team at Oro for helping us put this on today. Thank you so much. And y’all have a great day. Appreciate everyone who joined us both on LinkedIn up here on Zoom. Bye, y’all take care.

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