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These are the mistakes that companies make all too often when digitizing their B2B sales – and we want you to avoid them!

Dr. Johannes Ihringer
Dr. Johannes Ihringer

That is why we put together the five most common mistakes that our B2B sales expert Dr. Johannes Ihringer experienced in most of his projects, when digitizing sales processes of global corporations.  

Digital retail and end-customer sales have once again seen significant developments due to pressure during the corona pandemic. Digital sales to business customers (B2B), on the other hand, often appear to be behind the times. This is because in the mid-market, engineer-dominated industry in particular, digitization is primarily equated with technology and efficiency gains. The focus is rarely on customers or internal users. Dr. Johannes Ihringer, Managing Director at strategic consultancy TTE Strategy, describes the most common mistakes that he has seen in digitization initiatives for B2B sales – and what companies can do to avoid them in future.

Mistake 1: corporate management initiates significant change – and neither the organization nor the workforce are ready for it yet

Many companies initiate change before assessing whether they are mature enough for it or not. In many cases, this leads to an overload for their own organization, the development of resistance within the workforce, and, ultimately, a considerable delay in the progress of the project – or even failure. “You don’t just send an occasional athlete off to an Ironman in Hawaii,” says Johannes Ihringer, Managing Director at TTE Strategy. “Top athletes set themselves ambitious but achievable goals. They train step by step to get better. Time and again I have seen companies where the management or executives want to flip the digitization switch from one day to the next. This is understandable from both an economic and a psychological viewpoint, but it is still often the wrong move.” Instead, it is crucial to assess the company’s maturity and to set realistic goals and timings on this basis. Johannes Ihringer says: “Culture, processes, individual training. Depending on the maturity level, this is the first investment step in digitization. Not the development of new software.”

Mistake 2: digitization is considered solely as an efficiency gain – and is accompanied by a loss in quality from the customer’s perspective

“Companies in a B2B environment with qualitatively excellent and sought-after products are often run by engineers and economists; marketing and turnover play a subordinate role. This is why the digitization process is usually initiated at a commercial level – in order to save costs. But this kind of one-dimensional orientation in digitization processes actually leads to lower earnings in the long run,” says Johannes Ihringer. “The criterion of service quality comes into play considerably less often than you would think.” For this reason, B2B digitization initiatives are often seen from the wrong perspective. They fail to offer additional customer benefits. Johannes Ihringer says: “There is no doubt that digital sales processes can result in efficiencies. But these must be balanced against an improved customer experience. I have seen numerous projects where the CFO school of thought was far too pronounced. Here, there should have been a clear balancing of internal interests first. Customers will tend to go elsewhere in the long run otherwise.”

Mistake 3: customers are integrated into the digitization process too late – the result is that innovations come nowhere near meeting their expectations and needs

Johannes Ihringer says: “Too many companies think that they already know what their customers really need. But this is often not the case – even for organizations that are really close to their customers.” Based on this knowledge, companies then develop digital B2B platforms and processes that often miss the needs of their customers. “But the money has already been spent and the internal structures are adjusted. Both the customer and the organization have to live with it. This problem could easily have been avoided.” The experts at TTE Strategy therefore advise first consulting customers in a structured way prior to the start of a digitization project. Where would a digital process make their lives easier? Which additional services do they need that they may already be willing to pay more money for? In which areas do they see no need for change or prefer to maintain an analogue solution? “As so often in life, those who ask get answers. Preemptive provisions do not often go down well,” says Johannes Ihringer.

Mistake 4: requirement drafted, technology commissioned – and the finished solution just does not work in the real world

A standard approach handed down through the years when implementing technical solutions: after a project has been planned, the requirements are drafted and the project is handed over for technical development – the finished product is then accepted. “This just does not work anymore,” says Johannes Ihringer. “One reason for this is that the world has not stopped turning. Another is that the solutions have to map processes that are increasingly complex. This leads to even simple items being missed in the planning phase and therefore being forgotten. In spite of this, many companies continue to use a very inflexible model these days. And must invest heavily in adjusting their solution afterwards.” Instead, technological developments should no longer be detached from those whose needs they are intended to meet. The recommendation: developing the solution by dividing it into subgoals, receiving ongoing feedback from the business side, immediate adaptation, and removal of errors and problems during the development process. “Tried-and-tested management tools, such as design thinking or SCRUM, can help to redesign these processes.”

Mistake 5: customers are asked once at best – and must live with their answers after that even though the underlying conditions have changed

What is true of involvement in technological development should also be true of the involvement of customers in the process as a whole. “An initial survey regarding expectations and requirements is no excuse for a solution that is not sufficiently customer-centric,” says Johannes Ihringer. “Along the lines of: but twelve months ago you told us that this was what you wanted.” The customer’s world is also constantly turning. Customers may suddenly see requirements quite differently a few weeks after the survey because they appreciate the situation differently. Johannes Ihringer says: “And this is precisely why customers have to be involved throughout the development of technology and the underlying processes. Some companies think that development will slow down as a result. And actually, that is true in many cases I have witnessed. But this is an acceptable cost compared to those occasions where customers are presented with a solution that they can’t use and don’t want. In this case, it is often very expensive and increasingly frustrating for all concerned. This should be avoided at all costs.”

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