Both Anders and Stellan have a lot of experience of working with B2B companies from their time at Zooma, so it was interesting to see what conclusions they came to. You can listen to the episode to hear the full discussion, but one thing was clear - if you start by agreeing on the 'why' of your digital transformation, you'll be in a much better position than most of your competitors.
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Alexander Evjenth: [00:00:08] Hi, and welcome to The Onlinification Pod, a podcast produced by Zooma. I'm Alex, your host, and in today's episode, I got the chance to ask Anders and Stellan a question I wanted to ask for a long time. And it is "What would you prioritise if you were a decision maker at a larger B2B company?" As always, their answer is very interesting. So I hope you enjoy this episode.
AE: [00:00:38] Both of you have a vast experience working with larger B2B companies, and I want to start and ask youStellan, what are the most common challenges you see these companies face today?
Stellan Björnesjö: [00:01:04] I think it's more or less the same challenge that we've seen for quite a while. And I think the top two that comes to mind, number one is inertia. So it means basically too slow in terms of making decisions. The other thing I would mention is approaching most sort of innovation or most business development as if it was an IT project. Always starting with the system rather than starting with what it's actually going to achieve.
AE: [00:01:46] Do you agree Anders?
Anders Björklund: [00:01:47] I always listen with interest when Stellan says things. My first two thoughts were, that if I pick two, it would be how to become more sustainable while still making money, and how to digitise and digitalise. To make colleagues become more digital-ready and for the business to digitally transform. And sadly, I believe that Stellan is right about his first thing – a lot of systems have been bought and a lot of PR has been made regarding both important initiatives.
AE: [00:02:42] So, Stellan, you mentioned that these are two challenges that companies have faced for quite a while now. Is it more important than ever to overcome these?
SB: [00:02:55] So if we look at any type of curves of change, they all point to the pace increasing. So change is happening faster now than it used to do. And of course, if we just take an evolutionary approach, that means that you also have to increase the pace with which you change or you risk being irrelevant. So my answer is yes, it's more important than it has been before.
AE: [00:03:20] And Anders, you mentioned two huge trends right now, sustainability and digitalisation. It's also two trends that have been actual for quite some years. And what do you think will happen with companies that will not overcome these transformations that need to be taking place?
AB: [00:03:45] We're at, at present we are at extraordinary circumstances in all companies. But I think you asked the two most common challenges. These are challenges that I believe sadly have been approached as buying systems and doing PR. And by doing PR, I mean, everyone tries to claim that they are more sustainable than they are. And they thought that the sort of solution of digitalizing was to buy systems. I think very few companies will learn something from the ongoing situation and take a stance from that. They now actually can't have physical customer meetings and so forth. Sadly, I think that very few companies will do what is needed regarding both matters. Now, we have a unique opportunity to actually make decisions on how to become more digitalised and how to become more sustainable. We have time for that right now.
AE: [00:04:58] And in order to do that, we need to overcome inertia. Like you mentioned, Stellan, and during the years you've been involved in bigger B2B strategies and in overall projects, have you seen any company that has actually overcome the inertia and how do they do that?
SB: [00:05:28] A lot has to do with the company culture. So you have to hire the right people and then you have to give these people the right mandate. And then the organisation will change from within, and another approach, of course, is to hire a bunch of consultants who go in and just make all the harsh decisions for you. And then again, it comes down to you actually being bold enough to make those decisions. And I think long term, the most successful approach is to hire the people, because you need them within your organization in order for this not to be a sort of a one-off shift. And then in five years, you're back in the same loop again.
AB: [00:06:19] Anders, I know that you often help and are involved with our customers when they recruit new talent, and what skills do you tell our customers to look for and what skills will be important moving forward?
AB: [00:06:40] I would say you need to take a decision before you hire people, because if we say that those people exist who know how to transform an existing B2B business, and I would say we're talking about a handful globally, and I'm not saying this sort of a contradiction to what Stellan said, but what's the plan for increasing digital readiness and the digitisation among existing employees? I know that it's possible to do and we need to be aware that the owners and the decision-makers in a traditional B2B company might be a bit afraid to be revealed that they don't understand. So if we take the situation that I'm an owner or decision-maker, that if I'm really honest to myself, I have no clue how I should do and what I should do, if I then should be the one to employ others or you, then I'm in trouble. I think you need to start with small steps, tangible things that you can do in a short time to get confidence. Someone must lead the way. And I am certain that a modern leader leads by example. So if that thesis is right, the owners and the decision-makers need to get started now with themselves, how they act, how they do. And again, a fantastic opportunity to start to learn and show that you don't know but you want to know when you're a decision-maker on your own at these extraordinary times that we live in right now.
AE: [00:08:28] Do you agree, Stellan?
SB: [00:08:31] Yeah, I agree, the only exception to that would be if I'm the owner and the CEO and everybody knows that what I say is law, so to speak, and that I can just sit back and make the decision and I don't have to change my behaviour. I have the right people to do it for me. Then it could work, otherwise Anders is completely right. You have to lead by example. Otherwise nothing will happen.
AB: [00:09:00] And I agree – sorry for interrupting Stellan. There are a few examples. I'm not going to give you any names where companies are in the quarterly economy, meaning they are listed – but the founder is the CEO and owns the main share of the stocks. There we see the tempo. But if you're actually just an administrator being the CEO, perhaps you own a couple of shares, but someone else makes the owner decisions, then it tends to be slow. Then it tends to be, a bit sort of short thinking, meaning you think by quarter and you need to show certain results on a yearly level and it's very, very difficult if you're driven by short term results or the compensation structures that were designed for that. And therefore, I think in our role, many times it comes to motivating and proving that you actually can manage change in a much shorter time than you thought just by being decisive and make the right decision. First, not only delegate, if we now focus on digitalisation to someone in the management team that becomes the sponsor of an initiative or a project led by external people. I would say my main advice always to decision-makers and owners is, if it is an improvement when it comes to digitalisation, whether it's for the customer experience, the internal processes or the business model and the offering. If it's sales, it's the global sales manager who's the project manager. He or she cannot be the sponsor. It needs to be a natural part of how they evolve their sales. That's the easiest advice based on what has happened with digitalisation and onlinification in the last twenty, twenty five years. Become the owner and make it as soon as possible a natural part of your way of working.
AE: [00:11:22] Do you have anything to add there, Stellan?
SB: [00:11:28] I just read yesterday, someone commenting and saying, you know, how can we let the people who took us to where we are now be the sort of experts of telling us how to change going forward? And I think there is something in that. And you really have to make an effort and get some shoulder mate in showing the direction. And when you make a change, it's impossible to know all the outcomes beforehand. And that's often the status quo with these decisions that it's like, yes, we're going to innovate. Yes, we're going to make this new approach. Yes, we're going to throw these things out that we did before. And now, please, before we do that, can you tell me what this new approach will give us? And the answer is, of course, we don't know. That's the whole idea. And Jeff Bezos is sort of known to be saying that if you have to bet the company, you're too late. So Amazon is constantly making small bets in order to not have to bet the whole company at some point. I think that's what many companies need to be much better at, makes small bets all the time. Some of them will fail and some of them will be hugely successful.
AE: [00:12:51] And Anders, if you were a decision-maker at a larger B2B company, what would your prioritisation be?
AB: [00:13:01] If the owners told me or us in the executive management team that we need to digitalise or digitally transform our business? I would start with three decisions: to fully agree on 'why', to appoint a directly responsible individual for the 'why', and to make an agreement that online and digital shall be a core part of our daily work, if I have those three decisions in place and everyone agrees, we have a better platform to work from than any B2B company ever had.
SB: [00:13:51] Agree.
AB: [00:13:54] And secondly, I would be, long before I start talking about what we should do, I would define the short- and long-term growth areas where it's relevant. I would divide everything in three main things - this is for the customer experience, these are our processes, and this is the business model and the offering. Then I should specify very firmly, "who should buy this?" and "how is it to be them?" And then I should try to focus on CPIs rather than KPIs. I don't know what you say about that Stellan.
SB: [00:14:43] Yeah, it's super important. I completely agree.
AB: [00:14:48] And I mean, then perhaps you have three, three or four more decisions. But before you can agree upon this, that this is what sort of digitalizing the company is about, then I wouldn't spend a dime on anything before I agree on this with executive management and the owners.
SB: [00:15:08] Yeah, it's a big risk of having a huge sunk cost if you don't start from the right angle. You won't realise it immediately but you'll realise that after a couple of years you've invested a lot and you've gotten nowhere.
AB: [00:15:21] And then maybe sort of besides those decisions, there needs to be a couple of plans based on those decisions. And I, I actually like to divide them in digital readiness, digitisation and digitalisation and make sure that we also agree upon the meanings of those three different expressions if the goal is to digital it well. So that's why I'm happy to hear that Stellan agrees, we must start by fully agreeing on 'why'. That's it. And if you don't agree on that, stop digitalising.
AE: [00:16:07] Well, thank you for listening to this episode, I hope you found it interesting. If you like this podcast, you can subscribe to it on Spotify, SoundCloud or on zooma.se. Thank you for listening, bye bye.