Transcript of the webinar: Success factors for a strong B2B brand in E-commerce
Introduction & Welcome
Oliver: So, welcome everyone to the ifm Elektronik webinar. I am particularly pleased that we can take advantage of this opportunity today. I’d also like to hand it over to Joachim right now for moderation, and then we’ll do the short round of introductions. I don’t think Joachim can hear us. We have a bit of a technical problem. Then I’ll take over at that point. My name is Oliver Bogatu, Managing Director Bloomreach. We are a technology provider that is used at ifm, and there is a little more about that as we go along. With that, I’m happy to hand it over to Mark.
Mark: Yes, good afternoon. My name is Mark Wefelnberg. I’m a department manager for the Web Development team at ifm. I’ve been with the company for a good 12 years now. I started here as an application developer for the Lotus area back then. Some of you may still know the system. It is, was or perhaps still is, quite common. I’m based at the company’s headquarters in Essen, in the marketing department. That’s probably a bit unusual for an IT project like this, but I think it has turned out to be a strength. Because here we have a closer relationship to the customer and our product, i.e. the product of the online platform. This gives us a better understanding of the technical requirements placed on a website. Perhaps significantly, very briefly about ifm as a company. Founded in 1969, now owner-managed in the second generation. Ifm is one of the industry leaders in the field of automation. We provide sensors, controllers, software and complete system solutions. This means that ifm offers a wide product range of inductive sensors, pressure sensors, safety controllers, 3D cameras, and software in Industry 4.0. We are represented in over 80 countries worldwide, with more than 7,300 workers and reached over 160,000 customers. And in Germany, in particular, we naturally have two vital regions: on the one hand, Lake Constance, where a large part of our production is located, and here in the Ruhr region, as I said at the beginning, here in Essen is the company headquarters and our logistics warehouse. Yes, and ifm wants to become a leading platform across B2B automation and help our customers solve their requirements online with targeted content and innovative solutions.
Oliver: Great, thank you very much, Mark. Now I’ll hand it over to Joachim. Joachim, can you hear now?
Joachim: Thank you, exactly. It’s always like that. The dress rehearsal works, and in life, the microphone breaks down. But now you can hear me. Yes, welcome from me as well. Thank you, Oliver, for stepping in. Yes, we’re looking forward to doing the webinar together. My name is Joachim Weiß. I work for diva-e in sales and key account management. Right, then I’ll hand over to the Dino as the last one in the round if I see that correctly.
Dino: Yes, thank you, Joachim. My name is Dino Karl, I come from SAP, Customer Experience, and I’m responsible for presales in that area. And yes, I’m pleased to accompany a customer like ifm and especially the partners diva-e and Bloomreach in this webinar today.
Oliver: Great, thank you very much, Dino. So, I would say right away, let’s get into the first question. And that is, ifm and diva-e have known each other for many, many years and work together very successfully.
How has the cooperation between ifm and diva-e developed?
Mark: Yes, with pleasure. So it all started around 2013 when a colleague and I went to Dmexco. And we were looking to get in touch with Bloomreach to talk to them about their CMS. And it just so happened that both companies, diva-e and Bloomreach, shared a booth. And we went to the trade fair to look for products to implement the project for this new online sales platform. Yes, and in the preliminary analysis, we already noticed the Bloomreach CMS as a possible candidate for the implementation, and that’s how the initial contact came about. This then solidified a bit. We then organized a proof of concept together for two times three weeks to check the selected products. And yes, that’s how we found a very reliable and long-term partner, more or less by chance. And so it is that since 2014 we have always had developers from diva-e involved in our project. So the project team was or is both internal developers from ifm and external ones provided by diva-e. Yes, and I would say both sides have benefited greatly from that. So, of course, ifm on the one hand through the development resources, developer resources, and know-how brought along on the one hand in the application area. Here, no one knew the details of the applications that we then introduced. But ifm also benefited from the project approach and project management. And on the other hand, I think diva-e has also benefited from having a very, very exciting project here, with many complex challenges and which is perhaps also a bit different for the developers and diva-e, offering an extra level of complexity than maybe one or the other project in the B2C area. That is, I think, in a nutshell, how the contact with diva-e came about, yes.
Joachim: Yes, I can only confirm that. The cooperation has been working very well here for a long time. My question to you: What were the challenges back then? You say you set out to select a new system. What was the reason, and how did these challenges develop over time?
Mark: Yes, well, so ifm had at least its website relatively early on. I think the first one was created before 2000. Of course, that’s all. I wasn’t in the company then—the early 2000s. So you have to know, our previous website was also wholly developed with Lotus Notes. Those who know a bit about the subject and have perhaps seen our website before knowing what complexities were involved. But the webshop was, let’s say, around 2003, 2004 with ifm Webs via Commerce. However, that was not a particularly long venture because the product has not proved to be particularly sustainable for us now. Neither were the expenditures necessary for version upgrades effective for us nor was the manufacturer support what we had hoped for. Of course, these are experiences that I have heard from my colleagues. I wasn’t there myself, but in any case, it led us to develop our store solution here in-house. And then we continued to use it. So we started with eCommerce in the USA and Germany. And then we gradually extended it to other countries. And everything was always linked to this Lotus Notes website. That means you had this classic break, content on one domain and the store functionalities were corporate check-out on the other domain. Yes, that went well for quite a while until there was a clear, let’s say, direction from management, a new strategy, around 2013, let’s say. “We want to bring sales to the Internet.” As I said at the beginning, when we have around 160,000 customers worldwide, we will no longer advise each of them personally. Because our goal is, of course, to acquire more and more customers. And no matter how many local employees we hire, we won’t be able to reach every one of them personally. And yes, it was clear that the focus should also be on boosting online sales, which was the starting point for the online sales platform project. In just a few years, this should account for a good 10 per cent of the company’s sales. We finally achieved this goal. Since this new platform went live, we have tripled our online sales.
Oliver: Great, Mark, thank you very much. Let’s maybe go into a little more detail, Mark, about precisely what role the choice of technology, CMS technology, played. Content management is, after all, the issue of just getting the content to a particular touchpoint over a certain amount of effort. To do that as efficiently as possible. What criteria exactly did you use to select the systems at that point? Maybe you can tell us a little bit more about that.
What criteria were used to select the systems?
Mark: Yeah, I’d love to. So maybe to follow up on that last point, because that plays together quite well. And that is, one of the challenges that maybe I just forgot a little bit about was, among other things, just this old legacy system Lotus Notes. Maybe it also just didn’t come out very clearly. Everything that we presented online came from this platform, from many databases. And if you want to set up a new system like this, all these data sources have to be integrated somehow. And that was one of the challenges of this project, to, let’s say, get the new platform up and running. How do we get all the data from Lotus Notes integrated and perhaps partially connected to the new system? And that was, to come back to the question now, certainly also a requirement criterion somewhere. We knew relatively early on that we would have three large pillars. Three large applications and systems. So, on the one hand, the CMS is the store system and a component that will provide our search function. In other words, good integration of these systems was essential for us. So important that, as I said before, we did a proof of concept at the very beginning. To find out how the three selected systems fit together. One of the reasons for this is that our products are not quite so simple, if I may put it that way. Sensors have many technical properties that have to be communicated to customers. Something like switching distance or how many- what connection, how many wires, whatever you can imagine. this much technical information goes beyond what would be, for example, in a B2C store clothing or furniture. There has to be a lot more technical information provided and the ability to compare that information or multiple like products. When selecting the CMS, documentation was one of the factors that played a role. Of course, no developer wants to dig through dusty documentation or start studying to find out how to implement the function and methods to achieve the goal of a user story. That was important, of course, and we took a close look at that. And of course, the marketing functionalities, i.e. what does such a system offer us in terms of campaign management or personalization, AB testing. What’s already there, and what can be used to present different content variants to the user? But if I had to decide on something that was the most important for us at that time, then I would say the aspect of internationalization. If you already know ifm or have visited the website, you will see that we are active in more than 45 countries. And we do this in more than 25 languages. This is one of the unique selling points of ifm. If possible, we always try to meet our customers in the national language. That is what we are seeing right now. So everything that we see here in this grey area is our subsidiaries. And as a rule, these are also all implemented in the respective national language. So be it, I say, still relatively simple here in English, be it Japanese, Chinese, Slovenian, Finnish, Swedish. I can go on for a relatively long time, and even if we go deeper and deeper into it, the translation quality won’t change much. Instead, as I said, we always try to offer the technical details in the local language. Exactly, and that’s why we needed a CMS that would allow us to implement our internationalization concept. We knew that we had very, very specific requirements and that probably no standard system would be able to handle them all. But we would at least need a flexible system to be able to customize this concept. We still see a few site areas here, including the industry area, where customers can filter: “Well, which industry do I belong to? What could be interesting for me?” We have now selected the packaging industry. And here, examples of machines are used to describe what processes are behind them, what applications are described. And if we take it further, then it is described based on a palletizer, what procedures, what processes are behind it, and what sensors solve the problems around this machine. And that is presented to the customer and brought closer because we have the approach. We want to come from the customer’s problem. Asking the customer, “What application do you have?” What application, and then offer him the appropriate products. And then, further down the line, we always offer which products are used in such an application. Genoa, with such a beautiful rendering, the sensor is also on it. that must, of course, all be prepared, that is also part of it, to generate this content. Of course, there’s a lot of effort behind it to make sure that happens. You have to decide whether or not to include text in such graphics. Because this would then also have to be translated if necessary. If you are like ifm, you want the text to be in the local language everywhere. And exactly, underneath you have found example products, and here we see a product detail page with the usual functionalities, prices, accessories selector. And the technical details mentioned below, which can be a bit more complex than perhaps what one usually knows. Exactly, and yes, from my point of view there are a few very, very fancy functionalities around accessory selection, which are very valuable for our customers. Then I have product innovations here, of course, we present what is now brand new from ifm. Here is the Profiler. That means that when we offer and publish product innovations, we naturally also strive to provide the customer with appealing content. Among other things, we also offer videos for our customers. They are good. You’re welcome to take a look. Our internal colleagues put much effort into presenting our products in an obvious way. And at the bottom of the product news section, you’ll find further explanations of the products. What is the right product variant for me as a customer? Offer decision-making aids. And then the products mentioned from this product news are also listed further down, for example, to be able to compare them directly with each other, to put them on a watch list, or to be able to buy them directly. Exactly. Yes.
Joachim: Good. I’m just going to end this right now. Thank you for the walkthrough. Joachim: Yeah, wonderful, Mark. Is there anything you’d like to cover? And a fundamental question:
What experiences did you have in the project? What would you do differently today?
Mark: Well, I have to say that I was not always in this position, but as I said, I also started as a developer in this project. And one of the most significant changes was certainly agile working methods and Scrum for ifm. This had not yet existed in this form in a project like this at the ifm. And it was undoubtedly the most critical learning process for everyone. That means developers had to get used to something like a daily stand-up and the transparency that goes with it. You can no longer develop for two or three weeks and then show what you’ve done. Instead, you discuss your progress with the team every day. And you also discuss where there might be a hitch at one point or another. And product owners certainly had to get used to preparing the user stories for the development sprint. And they had to do it in enough detail so that the developers could then implement it accordingly. And yes, that was a learning process for both sides. Of course, we were glad to have diva-e as an experienced partner in this area who could support us somewhere in the project process. Yes, the whole thing was a learning process, but the project itself also laid many good foundations from which we still benefit today. Above all, in the area of project work, I would say. Another challenge was that we replaced many IT systems at the same time. In addition to the CMS, we introduced a new storage system. The new search engine was implemented, then a unique pin system. And to some extent, we were already looking in the direction of a new CRM system. That means many, many parallel projects, which also require a specific synchronization. Because, if you want to put it bluntly, if you’re finished with the content, but then we have problems, let’s say, getting the product data into the store because it doesn’t work via the interfaces yet, then we haven’t gained much if we want to make sales. And yes, when I think back to the Go live, that was certainly a stretch because the decision had been made that we were not going online with an MVP. So not with a more stripped-down version of the website. We first went online with the new platform in two countries, Germany and the Netherlands. And the internal and external expectations were too high. This meant that we had certain killer functionalities on the website, including our product selector. It was generated entirely from Lotus Notes, the databases, and could not be reused. It had to be rewritten. And that, of course, took a lot of development time. But we knew we couldn’t start without these functionalities, because on the one hand, it’s the customers who are dependent on this functionality. On the other hand, it’s also our internal customers, i.e. our colleagues, who also use the whole thing as a working tool to advise the customers further. And yes, at the end of the day, ifm’s quality expectations spoke against launching a poorer product, i.e. a more deficient platform. Especially because Germany is such a large market for ifm and such an important market, we could not afford to launch a reduced version. Yes, what would we do differently? That was the second part of your question. Yes, maybe what I just said. Make sure that you also take the internal customers with you. I just said that certain functionalities had to be rewritten, i.e. redeveloped. That always means that they feel different. And that always has a direct impact on internal processes. For example, if a product selector also advises customers on the phone in our service centre, our internal colleagues must change their working methods a bit. And that would be something we would do better next time, to let them participate even more closely in this development process to get even more feedback so that the transition would be a little smoother. Then maybe you’d want to cut off a few more cherished tresses. I think everybody knows that there are a few things that one or the other department has grown very fond of. But maybe not so many people use them anymore. And there is then only a very, very small part of the user community of a website interested in certain functionality. But precisely, this thing would then cost very much time to develop that again. Yes, and then maybe something, but that’s more due to the times. Today, there would probably be more opportunities to move into the cloud with specific applications. Back then, we had a clear strategy of keeping most things on-premise. Today, the discussion opens up or is a bit freer. And perhaps we would move some applications to the cloud sooner to achieve better scalability. Yes, that would be it, I think.
Oliver: Thank you. I find it quite exciting to talk honestly about what you would do differently today. I think it’s a very, very good insight into what you ultimately realized for yourselves in retrospect. That follows on from my next question, Mark. What are the essential insights you have made with your sales platform over the last few years? Maybe you can briefly summarise that in two or three tips that you would like to pass on to today’s companies or listeners who are facing similar challenges.
Three takeaways based on many years of experience
Mark: Okay. Two, three tips. Integration capability, look at the integration capability of the products. How well do the components you’ve selected play together? What are the killer functionalities you have in your company, and where do you know that this is not a standard, but we want to have them in the same way, and we need them in the same way? Anyone can tell us that we will not change these processes. You have to identify them. And then build a concept for the whole thing to find out if the selected components fit together and if they fit with these killer functionalities and with these killer requirements. Second tip: Pay attention to the system architecture, build it as modular as possible and build it decoupled. We all know software evolves, products evolve. What is on-premise today may be in the cloud tomorrow. No one wants one-to-one, complicated interfaces in the products; instead, you have to create a decoupling. For example, SAP is on-premise today, in the cloud tomorrow, the day after tomorrow, in the future, whatever. And we don’t want the interface work that we have from, let’s say, store systems to SAP systems, that these two systems don’t talk directly to each other, but that it doesn’t matter whether the store now speaks to an SAP on-premise or an SAP in the cloud. And the third point: Stay on the ball. As I said, software products are constantly evolving, and there are always new ways for systems to interact with each other. And when we started the project, for example, there was no interface between our store system, SAP hybris, and SAP ERP. And when you start a project like this today, you should look at what ready-made interfaces are available from products like these, for example, so that you can pick up more speed in a project like this. So that would help, yes.
Oliver: Great, thank you.
Joachim: That fits very well now, to bring the Dino into play as a representative of the store system. So what would your answer look like from the perspective of a product manufacturer? Perhaps also the question: What would you do differently today?
What would you do differently today from the perspective of a product manufacturer?
Dino: Yes, so very, very actually, what Mark has also reported now. I think that nowadays, of course, one would consider going directly to the cloud. That is, perhaps not to build such a solution on-premise, but to use this store system or our commerce solution in the cloud. There you have exactly these advantages, including scalability. Also, the possibility of current employment, modern development in the cloud, sometimes certain things, monitoring, etc., which is not part of the standard product in the cloud, is one of the significant issues. Of course, some companies are still thinking about it. Some companies are not yet ready. But it is foreseeable that our customers, even if 2020 shows it, are now also very strongly pushing this step from on-premise to the cloud world. And in addition to that, it is, of course, the case that – Mark also mentioned it – the topic of headless Commerce, quite clearly, also this race of the front end of the commerce system, one of the big topics, which is now also available with us in the cloud version, is this modern, one says PWA, progressive web app front end. Very stylish on different devices, mobile, iPad, et cetera functional. Which is available as an open-source project, so completely open to your partners, customers, and the community. And I believe that some of these topics that we have also seen, expanded with Bloomreach, are also based on this very modern frontend. Behind this, it is also essential, Mark also mentioned, that companies want to bring in their killer functions. And these are usually not standard functions that every store system has, but every individual, also from B2B customers. And our microservices architecture, our framework, which is also cloud-native, is a very modern framework that helps partners or companies implement and expand precisely such functions. And yes, last but not least, the topic of real-time personalization. I have just seen in the Q and A that there is also a question about personalization, personalization engine. There are, of course, some things that are now also newly added from the product that can identify anonymous and quasi known users and then play them out at the end. And last but not least, I think that was one of them, how shall I say, pain points also probably from the past. And that is through this integration from the commerce world to the ERP world and from the commerce world into the CRM world, our standard integration. We also offer this out of the box for partners and customers via SAP Cloud Integration. Yes, it is swift and easy to link these cloud solutions and the cloud with on-premise solutions. Precisely, these are the new tools nowadays.
Oliver: Yes, Dino, I may now add, we have also published the Commerce Cloud Accelerator with the press release in 2020. That is precisely what Dino is saying. Today, it’s all about prepared interfaces to simply reduce the integration effort as much as possible. Because the customer is in pain now and wants to have, those issues resolved as quickly as possible. And to reduce the development times, that is, of course, the topic of us as a unique provider with our top partners SAP, to then ultimately be able to offer even more attractive solutions for the industrial customers outside. Dino, on this subject, what topics are SAP planning to meet the requirements of eCommerce even better in the future? That also includes a fast-deployment strategy. Could you perhaps give us a little behind-the-scenes look at SAP?
What topics is SAP planning in the future to meet e-commerce requirements even better?
Dino: Yes. So one crucial topic this year will be Commerce Everywhere. We have noticed, also through the situation with Corona et cetera, that the whole topic of online Commerce, online customer experience, will become increasingly important. And what we mean by Commerce Everywhere, perhaps not only in B2B but also in B2C, is precisely this cross-channel customer experience across different touchpoints. This can be both online and offline. And also the expectation of the customer ultimately in the B2B world. And ifm is, I think, an excellent example of how this is implemented excellently from the customer experience side, because B2B customers do expect this very B2C-like, yes, customer expectation, personalization. Of course, with the help of our customer data platform and the mass of the customer engagement platform, we now have some new possibilities combined with the store system landscape to precisely improve this customer experience. Specifically also in the frontend area. I spoke earlier about this Spartacus progressive web app. Some of these well-known, standard functionalities that we find in the B2B area, i.e. quotation creation or this B2B customer portal or configurable products, etc., will also be added in the subsequent releases so that our B2B customers can then also use exactly these functions out of the box. And then with the help of hyper-personalization, with the help of the data that we can collect from various customer data platforms, or even from, now from our context, services, where we collect this customer information. And last but not least, a critical point, and I think this is also a perfect example here in this session, also with Bloomreach. We have our SAP App Center, which was recently relaunched as an SAP store, so to speak, where all these partner solutions, such as Bloomreach, ultimately offer our customers very innovative extensions to expand our commerce platform in the cloud very, very well for various use cases.
Joachim: Thank you, Dino. Exactly. Now we have talked a bit about the future. We are now also slowly coming to an end. I would also like to answer one or two questions that were also asked in the chat in a moment. But one more question for Mark: What do you think, what is your expectation, what is the expectation of ifm, what will happen in your industry soon, what will the future bring you?
What is in store for this industry in the future?
Mark: Yeah, I think I would want to pick up on a point from Dino. And that is this expectation of our customers. Through private interaction on the Internet and shopping on the Internet, even B2C stores, I think customers transfer one-to-one into the B2B area. So what you experience in your private life and expect similar comfort from these B2B platforms. And yes, that’s what will keep us busy, staying on the ball and making our platform just as convenient and targeted for the customer. What new functionalities we could launch in the future would be a system configurator. Since ifm no longer only sells hardware devices and software, it is more a matter of providing a kind of solution for the customer, i.e. a complete solution. And you have to take the customer by the hand to find the right components for this solution. Networking other internal systems would be a different matter. Be it the CRM or the ERP, to provide such great new functions as online quotation generation. If customers have an existing customer account, they can now generate an official ifm quotation from their shopping cart. No ifm employee has to work manually anymore, but the source is generated, stored in SAP and can then be ordered. From a technical point of view, I would say that if I make a small change, today we have already connected our store, yes, headless. So we don’t use the front end of the store system, but only the interfaces. And we would probably want to do the same with the CMS in the future. We would then like to rely more on a more flexible front end. Yes.
Oliver: Great. Mark, finally, the last question with a request for a short answer that maybe we can still respond to the audience questions or listener questions. It’s certainly hard not to discuss the current world situation. Perhaps you could tell us, what changes has ifm seen and how are your customers buying in the last few months, last year?
To what extent has ifm been changed by the pandemic situation?
Mark: Yes. Of course, the pandemic has also affected ifm. But I would say that so far we have managed quite well. This is also a result of this project and the orientation to create such an online sales platform. Because that’s how we were able to advise our customers very well online last year and sell our product online, of course. Of course, this requires much effort. So everyone has to get involved, and even the sales staff who were perhaps still at the customer’s site yesterday have to enter into a dialogue with the customer in this pandemic period: “I may not be able to visit you directly, but we have an online store. You can do it directly online there.” And so what we’ve seen in the last few months is at least a significant increase of almost 40 percent last year in online sales.
Joachim: Wow, impressive numbers. Exactly. We’re pretty much at the end. But I see a few questions, and I would like to use the last few minutes to ask the audience questions. The first question already sounded a moment ago.
Is the product content supplied via the CMS, or does the pin system play into that?
Mark: Exactly. The product data is all supplied from the pin system, that’s right. And dynamically built, and then for each language individually. So, of course, that’s not connected one-to-one. As I said before, there is no one-to-one coupling. That’s asynchronous via the search engine that we have in the middle, which then collects the data for us and then presents it to the customer in the frontend.
Joachim: Exactly. The topic of product content, quasi editorial content, videos, graphics and so on, that’s then what comes out of the CMS, right?
Mark: Right. Sorry. Right, the second part. Right, content, that all comes from the CMS and, of course, video, that then resides in other places with the cloud provider. But a content editor can then use content elements to select that content and then place it.
Joachim: Okay, thank you. The question after that, how big is the team. How many people are working on content product data and translation?
Mark: Content product data and translation. Okay, these are different departments at our company. If I had to make a rough estimate, it would be around 20 people. If it’s just content and product data, then, of course, there’s also a translation team, some of which is here in-house, but some of which is based in our subsidiaries in other countries or is bought indirectly.
Joachim: Okay. Then, we’ll go over one more minute. I’ll ask the last question. What tactics do you use in marketing to make customers aware of the online presence? What are you doing there?
Mark: Yeah, so I’ll say what I think everybody does then, so trying to optimize the website towards search engines. To provide good findability and structures. There we are. Also, I say, in a particular upheaval now again. Then Google AdWords, of course. We use various analysis methodologies, and in individual branches or countries, we also go into this area Google Shopping.
Joachim: Okay. Now the very last question, really, it just came in. How do you use the data you gain in the online store to do targeted or personalized marketing?
Mark: We, yes, am not quite sure exactly what is meant by that. so probably it’s about, so what a customer has bought-. A customer can tell us, for example, to which industry he belongs. Then, if necessary, we would address marketing measures in mailings, which then also just accordingly and, I say, send a newsletter for a particular product area then. Or display other content on the website.
Joachim: Okay, thank you. Thank you, Mark, for that. So we are through the questions. Dear colleagues, do you want to say anything else? Otherwise, it’s time for the final moderation. Thank you very much to all participants for being here. We hope that, that you have enjoyed listening. If there are any questions on any of the points, if you feel that we have not answered the question that you have asked correctly or that there is a need for further discussion, please feel free to contact us. As we can be seen here, all four of us are available to talk. The webinar will be recorded, has been registered. You will get an email afterwards. Feel free to redistribute it to your companies. And we look forward to the continued dialogue. Have a good afternoon, have a good week. And see you next time on this webinar. Goodbye.
Dino: Thank you, Mark, thank you, Joachim, thank you, Oliver. And goodbye, see you again.