Mark Sutherland

The personal site of Mark Sutherland, eCommerce & Digital Leader

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B2B Online – a conference for manufacturers and distributors

b2bonlineI attended the B2B Online conference in Amsterdam over the past two days, and thought it worthwhile penning some notes for a wider following. B2B Online is specifically aimed at manufacturers and distributors across all industry sectors and aims to highlight and discuss the issues facing these businesses as they confront the challenge of digital commerce. This is the second year that the conference has been held in Europe, and whilst last year I attended and spoke on behalf of a construction company, this year I was here as a Ricoh representative.


What’s striking is that the themes that come out in discussion are not vertical specific; manufacturers of all sizes and in all industries are battling with the same challenges – should our websites mention price and availability? should our sites be mobile and tablet enabled? should the shop be open to google or closed and by invitation only? How do we adapt to the change in B2B sales practices – where 90% of market research is done online and 66% of the sales process is complete before the customer ever contacts a salesperson? How do we all react to the threat that digital disruptors like Amazon business pose to our markets? What’s the role that is played by distribution and dealers?


What’s interesting is that the biggest hurdle faced by all the companies I met and listened to, from SKF to Philips Lighting, Siemens to Eriks, Xerox to RS Components, is not technical or functional but cultural – how willing is the organisation to react to the challenge that digital change poses to the existing business model and ways of working? As someone who started his career in b2b face to face sales, bolstered by telephone cold-calling and faxshots, I’m really conscious that we need to build a model of digital engagement that compliments the relationship that only a skilled sales person can achieve with a client. And that’s a message that came through from the conference – digital isn’t a “bolt-on” or a “threat” or an “option”, it’s the world we now live in.


Most buyers are now millennials – born after 1982. They’ve grown up with technology and the internet. Their first preference is to look online for a product or service and their second is to engage via webchat. Only reluctantly do they pick up the ‘phone and speak to a salesperson. The same is true in customer service and aftercare. My role here at Ricoh is to help our customers engage with Ricoh in the way that they now prefer to do business. There’s a lot of work to do and some exciting and challenging times ahead.