There is a common narrative around e-commerce that if you build the storefront, they will come. Digitization can seem like a simple task, especially when faced with endless success stories.

Author Nick Saraev

Photo: Freepik

However, transformation projects are notoriously unpredictable. Depending on your company, your journey toward digitization and e-commerce integration can be far more complex than expected. 

Michael Schlitzkus from Siemens Healthineers recently shared his journey through the maze of digital transformation. He broke down some of the challenges that his team faced as they started down the path to digitization. 

Even when the goal is clear, the path can take unexpected turns. The trick is being able to anticipate those turns, and still find your way to the exit of the maze. 

Understanding the Goal

At the start of their journey, Siemens got up close and personal with their customer journey. They found several issues with the system in place. Purchasing even the simplest of items was time-consuming, cumbersome and non-transparent. 

For example, when ordering a single knee cushion, customers had 10 different options to look at, over 30 steps to purchase a product, 4 separate employees to interact with, and a 7-day waiting period to get the product they wanted. 

A poor buyer journey such as this leaves customers asking 

  • Why can’t I order the product right here and now? 
  • What is the right channel to order? 
  • How can I identify the right product? 
  • What is my order history? 

Ultimately, this system leaves your team putting in a huge effort for items that bring in hardly any profit. However, a similarly cumbersome system is still in place in many industries. 

To bridge the gap between customer expectation and their customer journey, Siemens set out to build a digital customer engagement platform. This would provide a seamless experience for their customers, and increase productivity across the board. 

While the vision was clear, the reality of their situation came with a slew of challenges. 

Breaking Down Barriers to Transformation 

One of the most common mistakes that an e-commerce team can make is over-promising. The path to success seems linear and simple, but it actually includes several barriers. 

To overcome the challenges that come with this scale of project, you first have to be aware of them. These are some of the hurdles that Schlitzkus’ team faced in their journey. 

Technical Challenges 

Manufacturers generally have massive portfolios that make traditional, out-of-the-box e-commerce solutions difficult to use. This issue only expands when you’re attempting to build something beyond a simple webshop. 

To combat this, Siemens broke down everything they would need from a customer perspective and landed on a composable solution. The flexibility and customization provided a way to grow and expand their shop into a fully integrated engagement platform. 

When you’re dealing with such a flexible system, the platform cost can skyrocket. Even before you start looking at licensing costs, the price tag for creating your ideal system will be high. 

This complexity was only one facet of the technical challenges they faced. Other hurdles included 

  • Inventory Calls – Knowing exactly what they had in stock where
  • Performance – Your shop should pull up information instantly. If customers have to wait even a few seconds, they are 90% more likely to bounce
  • Authorization – Who has access to data and information on your products and services? 
  • Data Backup and Recovery – You can store data on-site, or rely on cloud services
  • Automatization – The more things you automate, the more your team can focus on value-added work, and the faster your customer experience will be

Even these only scratch the surface. The key is to balance complexity and flexibility. You need to ensure you are realistic with the results you’ll be able to produce as you build and flesh out your system. 

Infrastructure and Organisational Readiness 

Unless your company is brand new, not everything within it will be designed for modern digitised automotive processes. In fact, the majority of your tools will need to be shaped and changed to fit with your expansion. 

Understanding these systems and how they can be brought on board can be extremely time-consuming, but is necessary for integration. 

Beyond the systems in place, your company’s approach to change management may be a stumbling block. Even with the support of executives, you will likely face pushback. 

E-commerce will take time to make money. When it comes to resource allocation you are likely to be fighting against initiatives that will produce results faster. 

You will also need to show how your project helps drive other departments forward. They need to understand what you are trying to accomplish, and how it fits into their own goals. This willingness to collaborate and integrate is a major element of organisational readiness. 

Customer and Sales Adoption 

Many customers in the manufacturing field are not prepared for a digital revolution. Not only is there a disconnect between what you are proposing and what they have the infrastructure for, but they may push back on principle.

Not every market or country views digitization as a positive change. Schlitzkus often found himself speaking with customers who were annoyed with digital tools and the perceived lack of personal contact. 

The best way to tackle this pushback is by focusing on the benefits to the customer. They are extremely busy and want an easy solution to their problems. When you focus on the value, you can bring them on board far quicker. 

In Conclusion 

B2B E-commerce success requires an awareness and battle plan for technical, organisational, and customer challenges. It’s more than simply building up your technological capabilities. 

In order to drive change, you must emphasise adaptability, collaboration, and alignment. Balancing flexibility with complexity and innovation with practicality will help your digital transformation be both successful and sustainable. 

These challenges can seem overwhelming, but an awareness of them is the first step to overcoming them. Having a plan in place, and understanding what might go wrong, is the best way to navigate the maze of digitization.

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