Digital Strategy for a B2B World

It’s easy to see why so many view companies like Uber, Amazon and Google as the business models of the future. They’ve redefined their industries. They’ve rewired the customer experience. They’re not afraid to fail fast, learn from mistakes and make the changes necessary to stay well ahead of the market.

None of this is news to leaders of industrial and other business-to-business (B2B) companies. But these executives also know full well that what works in the consumer realm doesn’t always translate in a B2B context. Failing fast? That’s problematic in industries such as chemical processing or offshore drilling, where the smallest mistake can trigger epic disaster. Moving quickly? We’ll get back to you when our channel partners get back to us. Redefining the industry? Easier said than done in a business like aviation, where many stakeholders operate in a complex, interdependent ecosystem.

The truth is B2B is different than business-to-consumer (B2C) when it comes to digital strategy, and it requires a different approach. There are many lessons to be learned from digital innovators like Amazon, and the opportunities are very real. But simple comparisons to what works for these digital standouts aren’t always useful in an industrial setting and often come off as naive or impractical, feeding the notion that digital is more hype than reality. This gets in the way of deciding how digital can, in fact, transform important parts of a business and makes it hard to create alignment around the right path forward.

Doers vs. dreamers

When it comes to strategy development, most leadership teams have both doers and dreamers. Doers are focused on the here and now. They want to cut through the digital hype and direct the company’s energy toward implementing practical digital initiatives. The dreamers tend to focus on the long term. They want to define the full set of ways digital could either evaporate the company’s profit pools or create new opportunities to become the disrupter. Both perspectives are critical because both are valid. Yet when these two groups are left in opposition, the tension can be paralyzing.

An effective strategy-development process resolves these conflicts by striking a balance between the doer and dreamer perspectives. It should blend a practical set of near-term, high-impact initiatives with a bold vision for how the pace of digital innovation is likely to reshape the industry over time.

Getting it right starts with a few key assumptions about the opportunities and constraints of devising strategy in a B2B world.

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