Today, I want to take you on a journey.
Imagine you work for a chemical company that produces products in large quantities. The things that matter the most to you are quality, producing at full capacity, getting products out of stock, and of course, selling them at a good price. I think we can agree on a high level that there is nothing wrong with this assumption.
Of course, you are investing in R&D, as the industry is carefully observing what new innovations you create. Imagine you’ve developed a new compostable plastic wrap, which is coming at the right time to leverage discussions around the circular economy. However, as usual in the industry, customers are cautious, and they are waiting to see the trends around your new product. At the same time, you receive a large number of inquiries from the different communication channels your company is using.
It seems impossible to manage all of this feedback, and from time to time you are lucky to hear from one that asks for more information… maybe a lead? Obviously, the market is reacting. Marketing and business development are measuring a lot of engagement, looking for the big, well-known accounts, and trying to get through the jungle of social media feeds, calls, emails, and blog posts. It is just a matter of time until the first big deal is placed. A cakewalk, so far.
Wesley: The unknown opportunity
Wesley doesn’t have a big name, although he is a big player in Africa. His company is not known to the chemical industry, as Wesley is at the very end of the value chain, an end customer, as we say. Distributors might know him, but they also are struggling with everyday business.
What makes Wesley so special? Well, his company is growing tulips and roses in Africa. Yes, that is right. Africa is among the biggest floriculture countries in the world, and Wesley is operating one of the biggest businesses there. Wesley’s biggest market is in the Netherlands, and his biggest challenge is that flowers often get damaged during transport, and when they do, they become unsellable. As Wesley’s roses and tulips are wrapped in plastic, ready to sell, they cannot simply be disposed of. The flowers must be separated from the plastic, which is not only difficult but also has a negative impact on margin.
When Wesley heard about your new disposable wrap, he saw an opportunity to make a significant change to his business and to the environment. He started contacting you on all your channels, over and over again.
The beginning of the end
We have all experienced how frustrating it is to ask for something and never get feedback. If our inquiry is urgent, we ask more frequently and use different channels hoping that someone with a helping hand notices. With time, our frustration grows exponentially, and soon we reach a point where anger kicks in. Even when we eventually get an answer, the feeling of being ignored will stay with us for a long time. In this respect, business is not very different from our private lives. We are human, and few of us have the power to isolate our business from our feelings. Such a bad experience is something we take home and tell our friends. We blog or we tweet about it. Back before the internet took off, we may have reached 10 people. Today, we can reach 10,000 with little effort.
There goes the multi-million-dollar opportunity
You never know what you don’t know. This is why such stories are seen as fairy tales, not relevant in such a highly professional industry like chemicals. Companies of all sizes think they are well-known, and if someone needs to get in contact with us, they’ll manage to do so. Doing business in the chemical industry has never been an easy game. Lots of constraints, politics, and correlations make this industry a complex one.
What if instead of having legions of people talking about tools and features, companies would start asking over and over again: “Who is the customer? How is the customer interacting with us, and how can we improve those interactions?” It sounds so easy, but it is still the exception.
Imagine understanding the supply chain and the wider ecosystem so you can actively use the distribution network. On the one hand, the network would benefit from new customers and deals, and on the other hand, customers would be spared bad experiences and waiting for ages to get a reply to one of the 100 messages they sent. The time to market would also improve.
Machine learning helps identify relevant inquiries and forwards them to the right departments for reply. Insights on markets, product usage, and distributor loyalty are just a few of the possible outcomes. Distributors get more than products, training, and documents, all for the sake of business growth, customer loyalty, and customer satisfaction.
As Wesley’s case shows, the silos within companies are preventing a true view of opportunities, risks, challenges, and the impactful voices of customers and markets. The answers for business development, R&D, sales, marketing, and more often are at the tips of our fingers.
The magic of combining all the services and the tools into a true value-adding landscape for state-of-the-art bidirectional communications has a name. It is called omnichannel strategy, and if you do not have such a strategy in place, you might not hear Wesley knocking on your door offering you the deal you were looking for.
The good news is that current technologies allow us to turn our Wesley story into a successful ending. The bad news is that it requires a lot of discipline and the willingness to rethink business as we know it.
Author: Pedro Ahlers
About Pedro Ahlers: Pedro Ahlers is a business architect at SAP. In this position, he helps chemical companies understand and apply the values of customer experience beyond products, features, and functions to increase business growth, customer loyalty, and satisfaction. He is obsessed with customers and human-centric change management that empower organizations to accept the challenges chemical companies are facing. With 12 years of experience at BASF, the world’s biggest chemical company, Pedro brings together business and technology know-how.
Article has also been published in www.digitalistmag.com