How Ford Embraced Digital Transformation (and 4 Reasons Why B2B Businesses Should Do the Same)

Close-up of a modern Ford steering wheel

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Companies that have realized the importance of digital transformation are thriving in the B2B space. Here are some tips for your company to follow suit.

In general, B2B businesses haven’t been as quick to go digital as B2C companies. That isn’t true for everyone, though… Take Ford, for instance. They’ve become a great example of B2B digital transformation. 

And they didn’t start small… 

The automotive giant has one of its biggest factories in Cologne, Germany. The factory makes more than a million transmissions a year. They supply Mazda and Volvo in addition to Ford, and it’s not just about volume… The factory creates many types of custom variations as well. 

With this huge, complex system, it’s no surprise that they often faced delays when production processes failed to run smoothly.

So, Ford decided to do something about it. 

They used digital transformation to change that factory into an innovation hub. To deal with the problems, Ford implemented the Material Flows Wireless Parts system. This allows them to track critical parts and make sure that the right quantities of those parts get to the right place at the right time. 

They started with 220 radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags. Each one corresponds to a unique part number. Then Ford set up portable PCs at critical stages in the assembly and production lines and installed a special wireless infrastructure as part of this B2B digital transformation.

Now when a worker needs a particular part, they hit a WhereCall materials replenishment button. This causes a “Parts Needed” message to show up in the warehouse. Suppliers also get a notification that assists in tracking inventory.

All of this combines to make sure everything works smoothly. On the assembly line, workers stay put and call for more parts as necessary. The result is seamless production at the factory, all built on modern digital technology integrated into their existing manufacturing process.

They’re now also using artificial intelligence to simplify the process even further. Once up and running, the AI will use modeling techniques to eliminate the WhereCall step altogether. 

The importance of digital transformation extends well beyond automated production processes, though… Below are several reasons for taking advantage of B2B digital transformation in your own business.

Better Customer Experience

It’s safe to say that the B2B customer experience is more complicated than B2C. This is because you have to approach clients on two levels:

  1. Individual
  2. Organizational

Both have a say in the decision to continue or stop buying from a particular provider, and like B2C, customer experience is usually the defining factor. 

The best customer experience is one that takes friction out of the equation. It speeds up production and delivery, and it simplifies the pipeline as much as possible. This applies to all client experiences, from first engagement through to post-sale.

With digital transformation, the B2B client experience isn’t just about selling. You may have to employ complex transactional processes, but that complexity shouldn’t inconvenience your customers. 

A good example of this is the financial technology company Kabbage. The company created an online loan application system that only takes minutes to approve. The process is completely web-based and removes all friction. Prior to that, you’d need to have a few sit-downs at the bank and potentially wait for 20 days or more.

Meeting Customer Expectations

There’s been a lot of hype about the importance of digital transformation. It’s a technological leap that blurs the line between services and products. It changes how you run your business, regardless of organizational level.

But how does it help you meet and exceed customer expectations?

Customers are already accustomed to a seamless online shopping experience. They expect the same when doing business.

This only means that you have to dream big and adopt digital transformation. In fact, it’s dangerous not to do so because the competition is always quick to step into your place.

Having complex B2B systems shouldn’t be a limitation to innovation.

A digital future improves efficiency and customer expectations. With digital systems, you can increase customer retention and profits. You can also improve turnaround times for products and services.

Offering Data-Powered Solutions

B2B digital transformation is all about leveraging data. This means you’re able to generate greater value for your business and customers. You can secure your competitive advantage by becoming faster, more productive, and more adaptable.

A big part of these improvements comes from increased efficiency. In the past, the sales department covered customer relations and marketing covered messaging. That’s not a good setup for the digital age.

Data-powered solutions build links between departments. Because of this, operations become more cohesive and free of bottlenecks. This can be attributed (at least in part) to better communication and access to data.

Connecting the Online and Offline Worlds

With digital transformation, buyers can interact with your company through different channels, such as online web stores, field sales, and more.

…And here’s another big benefit about digital: these buyers tend to spend more than those who only focus on one channel.

So take advantage of this opportunity!

Create an ecosystem with great cross-channel integration. On average, a B2B customer uses six channels in their decision-making process. If you have a disjointed sales model, it becomes more difficult for them to move through your funnel.

It can also be hard for customers to move from online to offline interactions. Of course, poor cross-channel integration contributes to this.

To that end, mobile technologies play a significant role in B2B digital transformation. Most buyers use a mobile device at least once during a purchasing journey.

Your job is to make the switch from mobile to in-person seamless.

Welcome the Digital Future

Digital transformation is relevant across industries. You can see that with companies as diverse as Ford and Kabbage. If you dig a little deeper, you’ll find plenty of smaller B2B companies that have done well too.

Digitization brings with it automation, speed, and agility. You can remove redundant steps and improve the client lifecycle. This means you can attract clients faster and keep them for longer. 

…And all this adds up to higher profitability for your company.

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