Shaping customer loyalty in B2B – why digitization creates closeness

When you have to define customer loyalty, is personal contact the first thought that comes to mind? Maybe even regular phone calls and specially signed Christmas cards? It's logical that digitalization doesn't even appear in your idea of customer loyalty at first. Digitalization plays a major role in customer loyalty, especially in the B2B sector, as Mario Holt from ifm told us in our “B2B Digital - The Live Talk”. We have summarized the key facts from this conversation for you.
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Mario Holt has been working at ifm for 15 years, where he gained years of experience as a product manager and is now the main department head for content and campaign management. “For ifm, customer loyalty was always the top priority!”, Mr. Holt tells us. Not so easy to implement for a company that specializes in automation and digitalization technology, markets highly complex products and employs 7,300 people in over 95 countries.

What constitutes customer loyalty and what role digitalization plays

Before we get started, we should clarify what customer loyalty actually means in the B2B sector. Is it really the time spent with the customer that counts, or is it more about the result? That we know through conversations what the customer wants, what special features he is looking for and what is really important to him? After all, most salespeople agree, customer loyalty occurs when the customer is satisfied with the product and service and is happy to come back. You build it when the customer feels picked up and receives exactly the product or service they were looking for as quickly and conveniently as possible.

Now digitalization comes into play. Because, like ifm, many B2B sales companies offer a wide range of products worth explaining - in this case there are even over 10,000. How can the customer, who usually doesn't even really know the relevant technical terms, find the right items for his project? Ultimately, he won't have to dig through tons of content just to finally find the right product after hours have passed. Things get even worse if they order the wrong thing due to lack of information and go to another company disappointed with the product and service. Customer loyalty failed!

Why a good online shop strengthens customer loyalty and what it takes to achieve this

However, the website is, at best, the central point of contact in a company - this is also what Mario Holt advises. He states that 10 % of group sales will be generated from this in the future as one of ifm's goals. The company even had its first online shop around 20 years ago and around 7 years ago the foundation stone was laid for a completely new architecture of the website - and my goodness, it was digitized here: processes were modernized, new tools were found and solutions were integrated. Ifm thinks in two strands: On the one hand, they want to increase the efficiency of the company, on the other hand, they want to meet the customer's expectations, offer them the best possible service and actively support them in their purchasing decisions. In short: build proximity to customers and ultimately strengthen customer loyalty.

Ifm integrates standard solutions in the online shop wherever possible, which optimize processes and give the customer orientation, says Mr. Holt. But they wanted to go one step further, enable customers to shop with complete carefree care and take customer loyalty to the next level through advanced digital advice. Mr. Holt compares the desired process to a visit to the supermarket: “When the customer goes shopping for a delicious breakfast, he knows exactly what he wants for it and writes a shopping list accordingly: croissants, coffee, cold cuts…” In the B2B sector On the other hand, the customer does not always know what the product needs in order to satisfy his needs. So how about finding a way to write this “shopping list” for him and guide him specifically to the products that meet his needs? In relation to ifm, the “shopping lists” would be individual packages or system-specific parts lists. If, for example, the customer wants to implement condition-based maintenance for a fan, then this is initially a challenge for him - logically not for ifm, as they have the necessary expertise. The basic idea is that it would be of great benefit to both sides if this expertise could be passed on not only in a direct conversation with the customer, but also via the online shop and lead the customer directly to the best options.

How ifm and FoxBase solved the problem and the digitalization of sales created customer loyalty

If customer loyalty is created by the customer getting to the solution they want as best and as quickly as possible, then it is essential that the processes that lead them there mesh: This is only possible if they come “from a single source,” says Mr. Holt . The customer deserves a fair, i.e. one and the same, representation of the product from selection to ordering, a clear product comparison and a consistent display in the shopping cart. With all of these wishes, ifm came up with FoxBase and the one and a half years ago Digital Product Selector, a software with which companies in the B2B environment can finally digitize their sales. The selector ensures that potential new customers can find their desired product independently in just a few seconds - regardless of whether they are familiar with the subject or not. This shortens sales cycles and gives sales more time to provide more intensive support to existing customers. In short: Efficiency is increased and at the same time customer loyalty is created from the very first moment.

In our talk, Mr. Holt and FoxBase founder Benjamin Dammertz talk about how ifm found FoxBase, what hurdles they tackled together and what successes were celebrated. “What brought us together was definitely the common factor of automation technology,” remembers Mr. Holt. The fact that FoxBase is a startup didn't initially play that much of a role for ifm. “The eye level was just right straight away.” There was a lot of agreement on the requirements for the selector, i.e. which components should be combined in order to enable the user to navigate easily and thus ultimately increase efficiency and strengthen customer loyalty. In fact, the MVP, the first, preliminary version of the solution, was tested internally by ifm sales specialists after a short time and integrated on the website after around six months. Since then, more new features have been added steadily. Large corporations usually have to get used to this startup-typical way of working, notes Mr. Holt with regard to the rapid implementation. But he noticed that the very agility with which startups like FoxBase approach projects gives them much better planning: With an MVP you quickly have a “small solution” that is constantly being developed and can grow. You can also start with a smaller investment, requirements are implemented precisely and the current status and progress can be tracked at any time.

Today, both FoxBase and ifm speak of a successful collaboration, the result of which relieves the salesperson and supports the customer in their purchasing decision, thereby increasing efficiency and increasing customer loyalty. Thanks to the integrated Customer Insights Portal in the Digital Product Selector, salespeople can also better understand potential buyers' decisions and react quickly, which builds additional customer proximity.

Are you curious about the complete talk? Here you can take a look at it:


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