One of the biggest challenges in B2B eCommerce transformation: Rethinking and reshaping our processes

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My last blog post addressed one of the three biggest challenges that come with setting up B2B eCommerce: building a winning team. Once you have set up this winning team, how will you have to structure it and how will it operate? This is what we will see in this post by tackling the second challenge which is processes.

How does one team or organization need to both rethink existing processes to reshape them into new ones to guarantee a successful B2B eCommerce transformation? How did our global eCommerce team in Schneider Electric rethink ways or working, adopt a new culture and mindset as well as a new kind of leadership? And how do these processes implemented bring more efficiency and structure in our business?

The challenge of processes

What do we mean by processes? When we talk about a team’s or an organization’s processes, we refer to multiple things altogether which are the working methods, the leadership styles, the working relationships and collaboration structures as well as the culture and mindset.

Processes are a crucial component of any B2B ecommerce transformation journey. Indeed, a digital transformation represents a fundamental change in how a team or an organization operates. It forces us to rethink our existing processes which are directly impacted by it and need to be updated. Also, today, the business environment, the market dynamics and the customers’ needs are constantly evolving. When you add to this the fierce competition with new digital entrants, you realize that traditional ways of working are not suited anymore. Indeed, rather than traditional methodologies, agile methodologies give the framework needed to anticipate and respond rapidly to this ever-changing landscape.

Adopting agile ways of working implies moving away from traditional hierarchical organizational models to small, self-organizing teams. This means the role of leaders necessarily evolves. The former rigid hierarchy, bureaucracy and governance give place to employee empowerment and greater autonomy. Leaders must instill accountability within their team and get rid of the “not my job” mindset. More than owning up to one’s responsibilities, it is about team members having a shared understanding of business priorities, working towards common objectives and embracing the broader picture. They are all held mutually accountable for the business outcomes. The team and its leader face a true challenge here as finding the balance between alignment and autonomy is the ultimate test of leadership during a digital transformation.

Cultural and behavioral changes are also inevitable. Risk appetite and tolerance need to be high to both learn and fail fast. The focus must be on innovation rather than optimization. Lastly, customer-centricity is key in the digital age. Indeed, customers increasingly expect companies to respond swiftly to inquiries, to customize products and services seamlessly, and to provide easy access to the information customers need, when they need it.

 Addressing the challenge of processes for our Schneider Electric eCommerce business

To successfully set up our B2B eCommerce business and team at Schneider, processes had to be reshaped to move from traditional methods and mindset to agile ones. More than just doing agile, it is about being agile. In that sense, it means developing new processes to be more efficient and structured as well as decrease underlying complexity.

  • Adopting a transformational leadership style

As mentioned at the beginning of this post, reshaping processes while undergoing a digital transformation also means rethinking our leadership style: we, as eCommerce leaders, need to role model as transformational leaders rather than transactional leaders.

This starts with inspiring our teams. Team members need to feel engaged and empowered. Indeed, it is important for us to communicate on clear objectives to foster transparency across the teams and motivate everyone to work towards a common goal.

Transformational leadership also requires fixing what is broken. We focus on anticipating on what is not working to its fullest potential and stick to an open-door communication policy, so everyone can easily voice out concerns and potential pain points. But most importantly, we strive to make tough decisions when needed. A transformational leader must think ahead and be able to manage risk that almost inevitably comes with opportunities. In that sense, we promote creative leadership and value learning from failures. On top of this, it is crucial to stay relevant and connected with the wider innovation ecosystem. This implies staying up to date with the upcoming technological and digital trends, the fast-growing startups and what other industries are doing when it comes to digital and eCommerce. It is also about discussing and sharing with experts while knowing what you don’t know to seek for help when needed.

In fact, we find here many of our Schneider Electric leadership values including to dare to disrupt, embrace different, act like owners, shape our future, build the best team and use your judgment.

Having said that, we need to keep in mind that the real success of this digital transformation relies heavily on the ability of the leader to structure and close the loop. To remain productive, efficient and ahead of the competition, we need to partner up and refrain from working in siloes as we will only drive long-term results through cross-team collaboration.

  • Adopting a growth mindset culture

Another aspect of this transformational leadership has to do with switching from a fixed to a growth mindset. Our eCommerce team today has a flat structure with no sense of hierarchy. To achieve this, cultural and behavioral changes had to be made. Rather than a fixed mindset culture, we apply a growth mindset one in which failing is part of learning and being curious about everything is a must. In today’s changing world, continuous learning is key to stay ahead of the curve and challenges are opportunities that propel you forward towards your goals and help you grow.

In line with this growth mindset, we opened a new Growth Leader role at the end of last year to initiate and manage as series of growth & transformation projects. Team members can take the lead on projects depending on expertise or experience required, their availability or simply their willingness to drive a certain project.

These projects come to life and are fueled thanks to team members’ ideas, current trends and technologies, businesses’ offer priorities as well as evolving customer needs. To quickly deploy an MVP, we reach out to external vendors and partners for flexibility and faster execution. Once it is deployed, we track and analyze the pilot results to decide if we scale or drop it. We also strongly rely on customer feedback to take this decision and adapt the pilot as we scale it. The goal is to learn (and fail) fast. We find here the core components of Agile methodology: adaptive planning, evolutionary development, early delivery, continuous improvement and customer-centricity.

A well-executed Agile methodology, from the ideation process to the MVP and the decision to scale or drop the project, enables us to be proactive and efficient to quickly seize opportunities and reap the benefits of implementing a new technology, a new solution or a new business model.

  • Adopting a customer-centric approach

To successfully drive our digital transformation, we focus on the customer first. In today’s Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous (VUCA) world, customers’ needs and expectations are constantly changing. We nurture close relationships with our main key accounts through regular meetings and quarterly face-to-face e-steercos. While we think global, we act local and in that sense our go-to-market approach is regional.

Our Digital Enablers team, part of the Global eCommerce team, has a clear objective which is to enable eCommerce for our channel partners. To reach this goal, the team focuses on the entire customer journey, from beginning to end, to develop marketing and technology tools: fundamentals, acquisition, engagement, transaction and analytics. These tools are then deployed and localized in specific regions, depending on the region’s eCommerce maturity, readiness as well as local partners’ needs and specifications.

On top of this, we have just recently created a Customer Champion role. He will be the voice of customer within the team and ensure all business models and roadmaps on digital tools & eCommerce are formulated with customer insights. This means identifying the eCommerce touchpoints along the journey for each persona to then deliver the right assets to boost eCommerce.

Being customer-centric also reflects on the decision-making process as it means putting the customer at the forefront of every single decision we make. The same applies for our strategic direction which will reflect more and more this customer-centricity and tackle each customer persona one by one.

By adopting this customer-centric approach, we ensure what we develop and implement directly serves our targeted customers. This means their needs are met and that they are happy and satisfied throughout the whole customer journey. In the end, this results in both more efficiency and profitability. In fact, client-centricity is the most important factor in a successful business digitalization, since client-centric companies are 60% more profitable compared to companies not focused on the customer.

To sum up, we had to rethink our processes to come up with new tailored ones to be more agile and faster in execution while setting up our Schneider eCommerce business. This brought overall greater efficiency and transparency. It started with putting together engaged and empowered teams motivated by transformational leaders who trust, coach, inspire and delegate to their teams while giving result-oriented feedback. Regarding project management, we conduct growth & transformation projects in an agile framework which ensures team members truly own, develop and contribute to these projects. The third and last key change in processes is customer-centricity which we apply to both our strategy and our operations.

In my next blog post, I will focus on the third and last challenge faced when setting up B2B eCommerce in an organization: Technology.

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