Webinar Replay: How to Take Your Brand DTC in 2021 feat. Canoo

In the wildly disruptive electric vehicle market, Canoo is pushing boundaries. Take a peek under the hood.

56 min

In this webinar, we hear from Prophet’s client Canoo, an award-winning electric vehicle subscription service. Bob Wolfley (Marketing), Lucy Ross (Subscription & Pricing) and Veronica Shea (Content & Communication) share how the brand redefined urban mobility and navigated the COVID crisis with a refreshed DTC approach.

Prophet is obsessed with helping our clients win with their customers. We are a global consulting firm, helping our clients unlock uncommon growth in this digital age. Contact us to learn more about what we are doing in all things direct-to-consumer.


Casted Podcast with Mat Zucker

19 min

How Internal Podcasts Can Liberate Your Employees with Prophet’s Mat Zucker

Mat Zucker inspired the idea for this mini-series when he interviewed Lindsay from Casted for an article he wrote for Forbes about internal podcasting. He has been a fan of podcasts for years. In fact, he’s been creating brand podcasts since the ’90s. This mix of passion and experience gives him a unique perspective when it comes to use cases for podcasts in the world of brands. In his experience, most use cases are usually for external brand podcasts. But with the rise in training and communication within organizations, Mat saw the opportunity to explore how internal podcasts can be a valuable asset to businesses.

In this episode, Mat dives into trends that he has seen in using podcasts internally to build a stronger community and connection inside the business.

Listen now.

You can also tune in to Mat’s Podcast Series “Rising” and follow him on LinkedIn & Twitter.


Webinar Replay: B2B Leaders Series feat. Zurich & Maersk

Digital transformation offer special challenges for B2B companies. But there are more opportunities, too.

56 min

Watch the webinar replay in which you’ll learn the challenges and opportunities that B2B organizations face in undertaking transformation on a large scale. The discussion features Lindy Hood, SVP, Chief Customer Officer at Zurich North America, Sonny Dahl, Global Head of Customer Experience at Maersk and Fred Geyer, Senior Partner at Prophet and will include lessons learned in accelerating forward momentum as well as how COVID has impacted their transformation plans.

Two of the featured speakers, Fred Geyer and Joerg Niessing, co-authored ‘The Definitive Guide to B2B Digital Transformation’. Get your copy of the book here.

If you have any questions or would like to learn how our Marketing & Sales practice helps clients identify a clearer path to a digital transformation that powers growth with real and measurable results, contact us today.


The Acceleration of Digital Transformation in Europe

Our research shows that employee collaboration and a new kind of agility are fueling regional gains.

Every January, the Prophet team sets out our predictions for what the year ahead might bring. This year one of the predictions we made was that 2020 would be the year when failed digital transformation initiatives would face a reckoning.

And then 2020 happened.

Since COVID-19 first emerged in Asia at the start of the year and then took hold in Europe in March, we have lived through a period of dramatic change – the pace of which nobody could have predicted.

This is especially true when it comes to the adoption of digital technologies in our professional and personal lives. In the UK, the e-commerce share of total retail jumped from 20 percent to 30 percent in just two months, and even as lockdown eased, online grocery purchases continued to rise, almost doubling from mid-May to mid-June. In France, in just one week, there were almost half a million online telemedicine consultations, compared to 40 thousand the month before. And, following a surge in-home streaming in March, Netflix agreed to reduce the bitrate for its streams across the EU to lessen the demand on networks.

In the 2020 State of Digital Transformation report, my colleagues at Altimeter, a Prophet company, have surveyed leaders across the globe to understand how their organizations are responding to the shifts and trends that are shaping how they transform. For those of us in Europe, it provides a fascinating snapshot of the way coronavirus has dramatically shaped the role technology plays in transforming businesses.

Agile Becomes More Than a Buzzword

One of the most significant shifts in this year’s study is the key drivers of transformation efforts. In 2019, the top driver for digital transformation was growth opportunities in new markets. But in 2020, in reaction to the global pandemic and the associated economic pressures, leaders have shifted their focus to operations.

It is in this area we see one of the key differences between the leaders of transformation efforts in Europe and their North American peers. In North America, the top transformation driver is increasing productivity and streamlining operations (41%), but in Europe, the need to work with greater agility is more likely to drive transformation efforts (35%).

“It has become vital for organizations to become more digitally mature.”

The need for agile business practices is particularly pressing in Europe, which experienced a faster and deeper lockdown than North America. This lockdown has required leadership to adapt its transformation efforts to address rapidly shifting customer demands.

Europe Leads the Way in Employee Collaboration

COVID-19 has accelerated the need to shift to virtual ways of working, which has been mirrored by a boom in virtual collaboration tools. The 2020 State of Digital Transformation report shows that Europe is leading the way in this area, with 58% of respondents reporting that platforms to enable employee collaboration was either a top strategic objective for digital investment, or that employees frequently connect over digital platforms. This is particularly pronounced in Germany, with 65% of respondents in the top two levels of employee collaboration and engagement.

Seamless Experiences Command a Price Premium

The rapid adoption of digital technologies throughout the pandemic has shone a light on the points at which experiences break, with issues around technology being the most commonly received complaint.

The 2020 State of Digital Transformation report reflects this, with 52% of respondents reporting that they were yet to achieve a seamless sales and service experience.

But the benefit of doing so is also clear, and it’s an area where Europe leads the way, reflecting a relatively higher adoption of digital tools for sales teams.

29% of European respondents reported that they were able to charge a higher price premium as a result of offering a seamless sales and service experience online, compared with only 15% in North America and 9% in China.


The global pandemic has undoubtedly changed our relationship with technology, and many organizations cite it as a key driver of their own digital transformation.

As we begin to think about the “new normal” shaped by the global pandemic, it has become vital for organizations to become more digitally mature. The 2020 State of Digital Transformation report provides organizations with the opportunity to measure and benchmark their stage of digital maturity.

The report also offers encouragement for European organizations planning for what comes next. EMEA-based organizations are twice as likely as ones in North America to be at the highest stage of digital maturity. Because they have built a strong digital foundation, their focus is now on leveraging data and AI to create great customer experiences.

Helping organizations advance their digital maturity is one of our primary focuses at Prophet, from marketing to brand, experience to culture. As you look to the months and years ahead, we’d love to hear where you are focusing your transformation efforts. Comment below or reach out to us directly.


Shaping Your Brand Around the Future of Next-Gen Gaming

As the metaverse gets closer, there are more ways than ever to dive in. Is it time for your brand to play?

Shaping Your Brand Around the Future of Next-Gen Gaming

As gaming companies, technology giants and entertainment conglomerates fight for engaged consumers, it’s become a new race to own the engagement platform – and gaming is the momentum behind the acceleration.

Take a closer look at our infographic below to learn more about how cross-publishers and platforms are building towards the future of content engagement, how the gaming experience has evolved, and how brands can engage in this direct-to-consumer ecosystem.

Prophet is obsessed with helping our clients win with their customers. We are a global consulting firm, helping our clients unlock uncommon growth in this digital age. Contact us to learn more about what we are doing in all things direct-to-consumer.

Follow Eunice Shin on LinkedIn & Twitter or send her an email.


2021 Growth Acceleration Playbook

To achieve uncommon growth, double down on cultural changes to equip your teams for the future.

For most business leaders, this is a pivotal time. The decisions being made are dictating whether you survive or thrive in these uncertain times and there is enormous pressure on leaders to step up and provide the structure, guidance and clear communication that people are looking for.

This playbook brings together some of the latest thinking from our experts to help with those decisions, from how to double down on your company culture and equip your teams for the future way of working, to understanding the new needs of your customer and making the digital go-to-market shift. It provides some actionable ideas to get your business back on track now as we move out of this crisis and for the growth opportunities beyond.

Download A Playbook to Get Your Business Back on Track

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Thank you for your interest in Prophet’s research!


Reimagining Communications Podcast with Mat Zucker

22 min

In the 35th edition of the Reimagining Communications Podcast with Matt Swain “Leading with Your Heart and Your Head” Prophet Partner and Marketing Practice Leader Mat Zucker illustrates how effective communications shape a company’s brand, reputation, and culture by drawing upon his career at creative agencies and consultancy firms.

Listen here

You can also tune in to Mat’s Podcast Series “Rising” and follow him on LinkedIn & Twitter.


Embracing the DTC Business Model for B2B2C

New ways to view content, community and commerce can help reframe outdated business models.

Reframing a direct-to-consumer business model for a B2B/B2B2C enterprise will uncover customer growth and loyalty.

Brands engage directly with your customers, no matter who they are or what your business is. Through social media and Ecommerce, everyone from buyers at enterprises to end consumers see direct channels as table stakes. So, how are you directly engaging with your customers to transform and grow your business? And if you still haven’t gone direct, there’s no day but today. Here’s why.

Direct-to-consumer (DTC) businesses have disrupted many legacy business models. For example, Lemonade took on the insurance business, a high-margin industry, armed with intermediary agents and salespeople, and took it directly, without the dependency on channel partners. And they were welcomed on Wall Street with a stellar IPO. Even more impressive is how they figured out a way to make SEO work for them with a brand name like Lemonade.

With new players coming up fast, even in commercial industries, like energy and manufacturing, legacy businesses need to understand the challenges of DTC brands (which I have covered in previous pieces here and here). Then, they need to look to apply a DTC model to a highly scaled, operationally savvy business. Applying DTC principles and tactics to your business might be the secret sauce you’ve been looking for in transformative growth.

Here’s why B2B companies need to embrace a DTC model. 

Your customers are consumers, too

With the massive growth and adoption of digital-native companies like Amazon, Uber and DoorDash, the expectations around customer experience have shifted. Ease of use, transparency, high accessibility and availability are part of the digital customer experience. So why would the same person who tracks their dinner delivery en route, not have the same expectation of transparency and updates with critical business transactions?

Innovate or die, but at least go down fighting 

In the very near future, the next generation of DTC businesses will reach a level of growth and maturity because they’ll have out-innovated incumbent companies. They will catch up on brand portfolio management, optimization of the distribution and operational scale and strategic inorganic growth. These new entrants will be positioned where long-standing companies will no longer have much leverage to compete.

However, there is still a window of opportunity for incumbents to act; but, fast innovation must be the mandate. There aren’t any fancy tricks in innovation, but embracing a design-thinking and strategic-testing gut will be necessary to turn a big ship. How much are you investing in innovation? What criteria are you using to consider companies to watch, partner with, invest in or buy?

Help me help you 

The common concern we hear with B2B and B2B2C companies is the fear that going direct will cannibalize channel business and hurt long-standing, trusted sales partnerships. However, if done right, owning and bolstering your direct channels should actually improve the overall brand experience, which helps your sales and retail. Applying a DTC mindset doesn’t require launching a direct commerce business. It does require the utilization of DTC business tactics in customer acquisition, performance marketing, branding, communication, customer service, etc.

“If done right, owning and bolstering your direct channels should actually improve the overall brand experience, which helps your sales and retail.”

At the end of the long day, the brand experience is on you. Customers place the burden of the brand—to deliver, to live up to the brand promise—on the brand itself, and not on intermediaries. Foregoing direct channels allows your channel partners to own conversations with your customers. A DTC model helps diffuse that dependence and rewards you with the customer data that can identify essential behaviors. Once you have these customer insights, you must create an environment where partners can learn from your data and further strengthen the partner relationships.

Speaking of first-party data…

Ain’t no party like a first-party data, ‘cause a first-party data is first.

One of the biggest benefits of going direct is owning, controlling and learning from direct customer data. The learning is key. The immediacy of readily available data is key. Customer insights to be applied, tested…rinse and repeat. It equips you to expedite learnings by shortening the feedback loop, to observe and listen to your customers, and to raise critical business decisions, faster and earlier. Annual customer insight reports are interesting, but oftentimes it’s too late. It reports history. You want your data to work for you to inform your next steps. A DTC mindset means looking at your data daily, even hourly, in performance-based operational models.

The DTC Trifecta – Content, Community and Commerce

The undeniable power in direct-to-consumer is when you have the winning combination of content, community and commerce in a beautiful orchestration. Being a great storyteller to a devoted brand tribe will deliver on customer loyalty. The DTC Trifecta is the goal, and building each muscle does not require all three to be there to start. Don’t have direct commerce, don’t think you ever will? Then build your content and community. Don’t have a dedicated brand tribe or community yet? Then build your content to attract an audience so you can nurture and grow a community.


Hopefully, you are persuaded by now. And sure, the words are straightforward, but we know that the process and path for change are windy. If you’re wondering where and how to start applying a DTC mindset, we’re here to help. We’re happy to share with you what we are seeing in your direct industry and competitors. And can help determine how to get started. Let’s chat.


Achieving the Next Level in DTC

Amid growing pains, even digital natives are learning the value of hitting the “refresh” button.

There may never be a better time for incumbent companies to prioritize DTC, even for just a single product line. Pandemic disruptions to retail channels and supply chains mean people are more open to new ways of buying everything— from potato chips to manufacturing equipment. However, it’s not just about launching a new brand with a sans-serif modern logo using an outdated DTC playbook.

Going direct-to-consumer is hard. It requires a new mindset that embraces a performance-based approach. Many digital natives are experiencing challenges to reach that next level of growth. And the scale and operational rigor that incumbents can bring might be the combination to unlock that next level of DTC magic. Let’s break down how to achieve the next level in the DTC ecosystem.

DTC Through the Lens of the Pandemic

There’s no arguing that these are dark times for many direct-to-consumer businesses, especially for some formerly high-flying digital natives. But while the era of the DTC unicorn and massive acquisitions may have hit some roadblocks, more significant changes to the marketplace are underway. Despite the pandemic-induced decrease in consumer spending, those digital natives with the strongest communities, such as Peloton and thredUp, are thriving and among the top DTC brands. And many legacy companies, especially those in the CPG and B2B arenas, are adding DTC lines. Companies like Pepsi and Ocean Spray are going direct not just to recoup revenues lost to COVID-19 disruptions, but also to gain vital insights that inform the rest of their business strategies.

“These companies are learning that the direct channel is a game-changer that deepens customer relationships.”

These companies are learning that the direct channel is a game-changer that deepens customer relationships. It’s not just about digital channels and sales, but about cultivating meaningful engagement through DTC branding and marketing. By building communities with relevant content, help and services, customers interact with them again and again. And with the data these companies glean from DTC channels and transactions, they’re finding ways to innovate throughout the entire enterprise. The benefits of real-time access to direct consumer data and communications just weren’t achievable before with traditional B2C and B2B models.

Digital Native Growing Pains

But first, it’s worth taking a close look at why so many of the DTC companies are struggling. Even before the pandemic, the DTC market was shaky. The cost of customer acquisition had been increasing at staggering rates. DTC marketing on social media in a diluted digital marketplace was less effective, so brands began leveraging physical and traditional platforms such as billboards and subway stations. And in growth-at-all-costs mode, many rushed into physical retail, either with their own storefronts or pop-ups with retail partners.

For many, the goal wasn’t near-term profits, but a near-term exit. And that worked for some, including Unilever’s $1 billion deal for Dollar Shave Club in 2016 and Amazon’s $1 billion purchase of Ring in 2018. But megadeals in recent times have been scarce.

Others hoped to cash in by going public. But the harsh reality is that Wall Street measures financial health differently than venture capitalists, with well-known DTC brands like Blue Apron and Casper struggling after initial public offerings. Others, including Airbnb, have delayed IPO filings.

And then there’s the bad behavior. Toxic leadership at places like Uber, WeWork and Away was a problem before the pandemic. But the worldwide crisis is shining a bright light on how businesses treat employees. Against the backdrop of illness, layoffs and widespread suffering, that kind of toxicity is especially damaging.

These visible meltdowns of a few call the organizational performance of the entire category into question. Once revered within DTC circles, Brandless’ demise and Outdoor Voices’ shakeup are sending strong reality checks to the venture capital funds supporting them. And the sharp downturn in consumer spending has sparked massive furloughs at top brands like Everlane, ThirdLove and Rent the Runway.

Refining DTC Acquisition Efforts

Some companies will come through this period stronger than ever, and this upheaval is creating many opportunities. Lululemon’s recent $500 million acquisition of Mirror proves that there are still deals to be made when the fit is right. For private equity and investment organizations, this may be an excellent time for acquiring undervalued DTC assets and putting cash behind those that have a differentiated offering and deep customer engagement.

For digital natives, it’s time to hit the “refresh” button. Top DTC brands should focus on optimizing organizational operations for sustainable growth, building with profitability controls. Painful as they are, furloughs can offer breathing room for companies to reset priorities for growth in this recovering market.

And it’s crucial to rethink customer acquisition. Before 2020, the focus had been on getting as many customers as possible at all costs. Now, it’s time to refine acquisition efforts with a retention and profitability filter. There is no standard DTC acquisition playbook. It’s taking a next-generation performance-based mindset of quality over quantity, anchored with a relentless focus and patience on customer value.


There are perhaps even more significant opportunities for non-digital natives. Many have seen during this pandemic how disruption with intermediaries has stonewalled their business, with a breakdown in sales channels, impacts to inventory and distribution, and a gap in knowing their customer sentiment and outlook. And with the grim outlook for retailers and outlets, the gap in a direct-to-consumer conversation is exposing their immediate need for a direct customer relationship.

For those contemplating a DTC launch within the business, this may be the ideal time.

But the underlying principles are the same for all companies, whether they are a century old or a new digital startup. Brands that are authentic, relevant and genuinely helpful win customers over. DTC channels allow them to show up for people throughout the purchase journey. And at a time when many consumer behaviors are laced with fear and uncertainty, these brands build strong bonds through purpose, transparency and empathy.

Want to learn more about partnering with us on DTC marketing? Let’s chat.


Four Priorities for CMOs to Reimagine and Reignite Marketing

Stoke growth by building at two speeds, feeding every initiative with a continuous stream of customer insights.

Even before the pandemic, chief marketing officers had been navigating a complex and shifting digital landscape. And due to COVID-19, according to Gartner 76 percent of marketing leaders expect to be working with drastically reduced budgets. While some may view that as a doom-and-gloom scenario, we see it as an opportunity.

The CMO role is more important than ever, playing an essential part in guiding companies as they respond, reignite and reimagine themselves in a post-pandemic world. Here are four shifts we see as urgent priorities for CMOs today:

1. Accelerate Digital Transformation

Marketing leaders have long known, of course, that customers are shifting to digital across the entire journey. But the resiliency and dexterity shown during stay-at-home orders provide dazzling proof that customers are ready for much more than they’ve been given credit for.

The current disruptions in all parts of the value chain create breakthrough opportunities for digital to drive success in marketing and customer experience. They can stoke demand, build relationships, optimize customer data and predict channel shifts.

Yet many digital transformation efforts leave CMOs outside of the decision-making circle. The upcoming State of Digital Transformation report from our Altimeter research team finds that CMOs only “own” 4% of digital transformation efforts. CMOs can play a greater role by supporting the corporate digital transformation agenda in any manner they can.

2. Continuously Fuel and Feed Customer Insights

To determine how to win, CMOs need to understand their customers’ needs–and accept that much of what they used to know is no longer true. Continue to collect and use customer data to augment existing market research, address market uncertainties and go one step further to create an insights engine. Look for new ways to capture more information on how customers and intermediaries are feeling and behaving. That intelligence will add value not only in marketing but through the entire enterprise.

Nike is a powerful example. While it built its reputation with great products and relevant marketing, business growth is powered by digital insights that it embeds into every part of the company. Its Nike Direct division hasn’t just fueled sales. It provides data on fast-changing tastes and preferences, informing decisions in everything from innovation strategy to product design to community building. And it’s led to breakthroughs like the Nike Fit app and the 30-day wear test.

3. Build at Two Speeds

To succeed, CMOs need to throw themselves into two-speed thinking. First, they must adapt and innovate marketing and sales to meet the short-term realities of business in this radically disrupted environment, while also planning for things that drive return in the long run like purpose and customer experience. The second speed requires reimagining different scenarios and which bets will be successful. Armed with customer insights and investments in digital, it can be done.

“Even as the world waits for a “new normal” to emerge, reinventing marketing for immediate challenges looks different for each company.”

Even as the world waits for a “new normal” to emerge, reinventing marketing for immediate challenges looks different for each company. According to our State of Digital Transformation research, the majority–64%–of companies say revenue has fallen since the pandemic began. And for 15% overall, the drop is significant. For these companies, marketing is all about restarting the engines. But a lucky 17% have seen revenues increase. And while that’s nice for now, they face short-term challenges in retaining those new customers.

Starbucks has been perfecting the art of operating at two speeds. Short-term, it is taking advantage of its mobile app and loyal base to keep relationships and drive growth. For the longer term, the company is revising the experience for both customers and employees, investing in new drive-through stores, pick-up windows and better machines. All will allow Starbucks to continue to increase and meet demand.

4. Re-Define and Re-Execute your Brand Purpose

Purpose, a brand’s reason-for-being, means so much more today, as consumers demand better corporate behavior. They want to buy from ethical companies that are trying to do the right thing. They expect businesses to be empathic, responsible employers–and recent events have shown us they are willing to walk away from brands that mistreat people. And while they’ll forgive many missteps, they expect transparency.

Amazon, for example, has come under shareholder and employee fire for its refusal to disclose how many workers have contracted COVID-19. In response, the company went beyond mere words, committing an astonishing $4 billion–about a quarter of its annual profits–to make Amazon workers safer and fulfill its mission.

“Providing for customers and protecting employees as this crisis continues for more months is going to take skill, humility, invention and money,” founder and CEO Jeff Bezos says in its statement. “If you’re a shareowner in Amazon, you may want to take a seat, because we’re not thinking small.”

It’s not enough to be trust-worthy. Consumers expect companies to make an impact on society. They want assurances that the brands they buy are protecting people’s health and the environment. And they want to see them promoting social change, such as addressing racial bias. Procter & Gamble, for example, had already established itself as an outspoken advocate for social justice. As a result of recent protests, it stepped up its commitment with a $5 million pledge and compelling new content in its “Take On Race” challenge.

Building a New Action Plan

To act on these new priorities, recalibrate marketing plans. Accept that these are no longer annual documents, but works-in-progress to review monthly, if not weekly.

Make sure plans…

  • Get ahead of budget cuts. Do more with less, re-evaluate marketing ROIs, setting up more frequent reviews to challenge assumptions.

But more importantly…

  • Show marketing as a value creator. How can marketing contribute to the organization versus being seen as a cost center? How can it use brand purpose to increase relevance?
  • Create or recalibrate a continuous customer insights engine, to understand shifting customer needs. How and when should the CMO initiate new market pulsing?
  • Ensure the production of intelligent content, relevant to the moment, contextualized for the consumer.
  • Make sure operating models can execute data-driven test-and-learn efforts.
  • Audit the marketing technology stack to make sure the best moves are automated.


It’s still too soon for any CMO to predict the months ahead. A vaccine could change the landscape, as could a second or third wave of infections. But planning for the known unknowns–and building in good behaviors now for marketing teams–will help ensure success over future horizons.

Are you setting the right priorities for business growth? Reach out now to chat with our experts and get exclusive insights into the work of other marketing leaders.


Webinar Replay: “How to Win at B2B Digital Transformation” presented by Prophet & INSEAD

In key ways, B2B leads B2C in digital transformations, finding more effective ways to connect with customers.

61 min

Watch the webinar replay to learn about the three transformative shifts that need to be taken by B2B businesses to build operational resilience and sustain profitable growth today. Slides from the webinar are available here.

Arming growth leaders with the steps needed to move ahead, this webinar is based on the insights from ‘The Definitive Guide to B2B Digital Transformation‘ – a book co-written by Fred Geyer, Senior Partner at Prophet and Joerg Niessing, Faculty Member at INSEAD. Get your copy of the book here.

If you have any questions or would like to learn how our Marketing & Sales practice helps clients identify a clearer path to a digital transformation that powers growth with real and measurable results, contact us today.


Social Distancing Doesn’t Have to Interrupt B2B Customer Relationships

With the right tools and skills, remote selling can be just as effective as meeting face to face.

Firms reluctant to make the shift to digital selling are finding that their hands are being forced as social distancing makes traditional interactions between suppliers and customers impossible.

The COVID-19 pandemic is changing the ways suppliers and customers interact with remarkable suddenness and scale.  B2B companies that rely on large sales forces, networks of intermediaries, call centers, and visits from technical support teams are particularly vulnerable to having their customer relationships interrupted. Making a shift to digital selling is an important way to sustain supplier-customer relationships throughout the pandemic and to exit it with capabilities to accelerate revenue-building once customer demand improves.

B2B companies that have successfully made the shift to digital selling – organizations such as integrated logistics giant Maersk and the commercial arm of ING bank – have reoriented themselves and are now using data and digital tools to acquire new customers; sustain and grow share of wallet among established customers; expand the number of buying centers within existing customer organizations.

“Making a shift to digital selling is an important way to sustain supplier-customer relationships throughout the pandemic.”

These companies have taken advantage of recent B2B advances in digital targeting, personalization, outreach, content creation, account-based marketing (ABM) and always-on marketing, to position themselves well in today’s uncertain times. A digital selling shift involves moving to a selling approach that relies extensively on digital marketing and data-driven selling. It integrates sales and marketing in a tightly linked partnership that is data-driven, digitally powered, and foregoes the need for person-to-person contact.

During a digital selling shift in the current environment, B2B leaders pursue revenue-generating paths to address the parts of the sales funnel that at immediate risk and provide the greatest growth opportunity once recovery begins. The risks and the opportunities will vary by company and industry. For established leaders in mature industries, the greatest risks and opportunities will often occur in the parts of the funnel dealing with renewal, cross-sell and supporting existing relationships. For insurgent companies or rapidly growing sectors, the opportunities and risk may reside primarily at the top of the funnel in acquiring new customers and encouraging them to make an initial or trial purchase.

Our study of successful digital transformation in B2B has uncovered several paths leaders can take to reduce their risks of selling disruption and boost their opportunities to build demand as economies begin to recover:

Demand Generation to accelerate customer acquisition

The explosion of data and a rapidly expanding set of vehicles for reaching B2B decision-makers is making it possible to create direct relationships with end customers without cutting out their sales representatives, channel partners, distributors, advisors, or other middlemen. These channel and content alternatives are enabling established sellers to generate leads for their sales as well as for their intermediaries. Engaging in demand generation provides an added benefit: it creates a direct relationship with the customer that enables suppliers to learn from users and buyers, test alternatives, and more effectively probe for new opportunities. This path may be particularly important to insurgent companies or companies in rapidly growing sectors.

Digital Sales Enablement to accelerate cross-selling and boost value

Here, companies use digital tools and digitally collected data to sell more effectively. Sales engagement and relationship management platforms, including those of Salesforce.com, Oracle, and SAP are so well established that Gartner reports that the market reached $48.5 billion in 2018 and represents a quarter of all corporate purchases of enterprise software. Sales enablement platforms, networks, and apps help individual salespeople achieve more and help sales teams work more effectively together. In the past few years, these platforms have shifted from individual customer relationship management to helping the sales teams engage more fully with their customer’s entire decision-making team. The payoff is immediate: better equipped and coordinated sales teams perform better. They generate more revenues, strengthen customer relationships, and stay with companies longer. This path may be particularly relevant to leaders in mature industries.

Digital Relationship-Building

New, more targeted vehicles, such as LinkedIn advertising, along with compelling content (such as video and virtual reality) have paved the way for Account-Based Marketing (ABM). ABM is more personalized and tailored to the needs of individual decision-makers than traditional push email and digital advertising campaigns. As an integrated approach, it combines salesperson interactions and digital engagement for maximum efficiency and impact. Its digital components extend engagement into an anytime, anywhere experience through the 24/7 advantage of online and mobile vehicles. This path is likely to be relevant to all companies with sales teams whether they are leaders or insurgents.

Digital Customer Support

Companies are also using digital technologies to shift more of the routine chores online. B2B companies are now using advanced AI bots in combination with live person-to-person chat to enable customers to easily order parts and accessories and get problems resolved online. Companies are also shifting their technical support and client-learning functions to digital formats. These new tools boost team efficiency and effectiveness through improved resource deployment and enable customer 24/7 customer support. This path is helpful in any industry where technical support or customer training is an important part of the supplier value proposition.

Direct Digital Commerce to accelerate acquisition and cross-selling

One of the biggest opportunities digital has created for customers is allowing them to make purchases directly from suppliers and bypass intermediaries. As more customers demand 24/7 access, intermediaries’ have become increasingly open to allowing suppliers to directly engage with customer segments that are hard to access, fulfill offers that are costly to serve, or supply information directly that enhances the customer experience. Direct commerce can be valuable at renewal, upgrade or cross sell occasions in addition to initial purchase. It’s important that suppliers determine how they will integrate direct digital commerce solutions with their intermediary relationships or their own salespeople. This path has broad relevance for both incumbents and insurgents but the scope of bypassing the intermediaries will vary based on the power of the intermediaries and the willingness of the supplier to challenge them.

Our 4 Step Approach

By examining case studies in successful transformation by B2B companies we’ve identified a step by step approach to following each path and generating measurable impact:

  1. Choose where to play by understanding where in the sales funnel to sustain or grow customer demand and by understanding the barriers customers face in achieving their goals.
  2. Determine how to win by building a compelling digital strategy based on clarifying the target, capturing the target’s attention, cultivating their interest, and converting them to buy, buy more, or recommend to others.
  3. Accelerate what to do by using scrum agile methods to conduct a series of sprints to pilot new digital selling approaches, scale previously piloted approaches, or build capabilities required for digital selling.
  4. Ensure you have who is needed by setting up and enabling a customer data team with the resources they need to put in place a system to undertake the shift and maintain progress through continuous customer-driven improvement.


Making the digital selling shift makes sense in ordinary times.  At a time when in-person contact is extremely difficult it is even more important.

Joerg Niessing, a faculty member at INSEAD and Fred Geyer, a consulting partner at Prophet, are authors of  The Definitive Guide to B2B Digital Transformation upon which the conclusions in this article were based. Visit this website to learn more and get your copy of the book here