How To Digitization Strategies: How Sales Survived Despite Corona

To become "one of the most innovative companies in the world" is the vision and challenge that the Evonik Group has set itself - even in its position as Germany's second-largest chemical company. Especially in the time of crisis in which we currently find ourselves, the question arises: will this vision of the future remain wishful thinking for the time being, or will the vision become reality through the skillful use of digitalization strategies?
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Digitalization strategies: Best practice with Evonik

"Leading Beyond Chemistry" - translated into English, this means something like "leading beyond chemistry". This is the promise that Evonik, one of Germany's best-known chemical companies, also due to its involvement with Bundesliga club Borussia Dortmund, makes to us in its slogan. We ask ourselves to what extent this ambition is already being addressed in the area of digitalization: does the promise have to be put on hold in view of the current status quo? Or will Evonik manage to prove its corporate added value beyond the boundaries of the chemical industry?

Opportunities and risks of digitalization under Corona

In this special year of 2020, quite a few companies are getting into financial difficulties. Evonik, however, is coping well with the crisis according to its own statements - and Henrik Hahn also remains quite optimistic. Especially for chemical companies, whose customers are almost exclusively within the manufacturing industry themselves, the effects are only noticeable somewhat later due to the dependence on other sectors. And yet: Evonik "came through the crisis well" in the third quarter of 2020, which is certainly a positive development according to the expert. Things are different, for example, in companies that have close trade relations with the automotive industry, where more severe cuts in sales have been recorded. Especially in view of this, one can speak of a positive overall crisis management so far, Henrik Hahn is sure.

And nevertheless: There are some Corona-related challenges that are particularly noticeable in sales. Henrik Hahn reports on the lack of personal customer exchange, which was long considered a feature of classic sales, especially for B2B business such as in the chemical industry. "Personal advice also makes a difference at Evonik," the industry still lives from established sales channels and direct customer contact. However, a step towards modernization must now be taken, the digitalization expert is certain of that. As far as digitalization strategies are concerned, Evonik is already well on the way and has long been allowing employees to work remotely, for example. The concept of "remote work": Believe it or not, for many companies this is a new form of work that had to develop out of the crisis. In recent months, the acceptance and urgency of digitalization in companies has grown.

Changed purchasing behavior due to Corona?

In addition to remote work, Corona has changed a lot in the world of B2B sales, that's clear. The fact that the usual face-to-face field service is currently not feasible is definitely one of the challenges of digitization. Another example of this is the lack of trade fairs, which is causing stomach aches for many companies in the chemical industry. "After all, we're all in the same boat," says Hahn. He remains calm: "As 'industry for industry', as the saying goes, our customers are almost exclusively other chemical companies, who are just as unable to be represented at trade fairs as we are due to the Corona restrictions." The expert then adds thoughtfully: "Nevertheless, new customer business is difficult, especially in international competition: travel restrictions make contact with customers more difficult, so local competitors can currently take advantage of local advantages. This is where digitization strategies and digital solutions are particularly important."

Now more than ever, virtual customer care must be relied upon. Evonik's CDO points out that 90% of the chemical industry association's members are medium-sized and small companies. Now is the chance to promote virtual collaboration and thus change face-to-face sales in a sustainable and future-proof way. With a grin, he adds: "In the chemical and process industries, we all know each other, and I would almost say we all like each other a little bit, as far as that is permissible. As an industry, we want to tackle the big issues like digitization and sustainability together." It has long been no secret that budgetary constraints can arise in the middle of a crisis. And the result? Digitization measures are also a question of priorities in companies - and some small and medium-sized companies in particular probably have other priorities. - Nevertheless, one cannot simply generalize, warns Henrik Hahn. He remains fundamentally optimistic about digitization progress, especially since not every company in his area is affected by structural austerity measures. So there are opportunities. On the other hand, Hahn opposes the assumption that the crisis alone will act as a boost for digitalization. This also includes the will to draw the right, appropriate conclusions in companies now and then actually make the necessary strategic decisions, says the expert.

How digitalisation strategies help find innovative partners and solutions

Today, the question is: What is the best way to proceed when it comes to digitalization strategies? As CDO, Henrik Hahn has the following advice: Instead of generalizations, individual solutions should be found for equally individual gaps in the company! From experience, he particularly suggests exchanging ideas with other companies in order to not only change perspectives but also benefit from the know-how of others. This includes not only experience with suppliers or other service providers, but also shared knowledge in general as a "driver for innovative digital solutions". How did Evonik find these strategies for itself? Be brave and try things out! That was one of the motives that ultimately led to the founding of Evonik Digital. "Partnerships beyond the industry have helped to set many a ball rolling quite unexpectedly," says Henrik Hahn.

  1. An individual problem definition and a targeted step-by-step approach using efficient methodology are the be-all and end-all! According to the expert, the key question should always be: "How can I use modern technologies to strengthen my own competitive position?"
  2. According to Hahn, what is particularly important, but often not common in the B2B sector: early customer contact! The customer must be involved in important decisions at an early stage. It is important to always keep an eye on their customer experience and journey.

The last and, according to Dr. Hahn, most crucial factor:

  1. The initial spark of every company should come from within! Simply outsourcing to universal consulting firms in the field of digitalization rarely has the desired effect that you as an entrepreneur are looking for.

And what happens next? Digitalisation strategies in the future

"Multifaceted and already ubiquitous." With these words, Henrik Hahn paints a future outlook in which digitalization strategies are indispensable. He attributes particular importance to internal process optimization and the use of AI in the future. Modern processes and machine learning are set to conquer the market and ensure greater transparency in supply chains through tower and dashboard solutions.

The future of digitalization holds both opportunities and risks. In the current status quo, it is often claimed that the Corona crisis will finally drive the generational change and thus the assumption of leadership positions by digital natives. Henrik Hahn sees this dilemma differently. "This is not a generational conflict; rather, German medium-sized companies are often high-performing, specialized and so successful that there was no pressure to question their own behavior and thought patterns. Everyone is a creature of habit, and willingness to change is not a question of age, origin, skin color or other demographic factors, but works independently of all of these. This also applies to corporations. It is always about weighing up the advantages and disadvantages of change and acting at the right time. But this is not a question of generation, but of individual assessment." It seems perfectly clear that according to this thinking, digitalization should be understood as a learning process in order to expand internal company competencies and thus be able to look to the future with confidence. In addition to a significant increase in efficiency, this ultimately also leads to a more positive customer experience – “So it’s worth getting started!” laughs the expert.

Working with startups is often promising because they often have exciting, innovative solutions that are often easier to shape than the solutions of the "big" providers. For example, we at FoxBase are constantly developing new features for our customers in order to have the perfect software solution for each company. With our SaaS solution, the Digital Product Selector, B2B companies that sell products that require explanation can digitize their sales, which should be part of a successful digitization strategy, especially in 2020. The digitization of sales enables early customer contact and enables a customer experience and journey tailored to the individual customer.

Are you curious about the complete talk? You can watch it here:


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