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It’s no secret that B2B buyers are getting younger. And while chemical companies are investing plenty of time and resources to understand what they’ll need to do to attract the younger generation, discussions often end with better technology, apps, and personal benefits such as mobility, shares, and retirement benefits.

In some of my discussions with customers, I’ve learned about an unexpected development in hiring. Young people don’t ask first about earning more money and advancing their career; they want to work less – Monday to Thursday, with Fridays off, 30 hours a week, ideally flexible.

How would you react to this request? What would come to your mind? Interestingly, these discussions pop up across roles, in procurement, lab technicians, research & development, sales, and more. Depending on the job, this impacts technology, processes, and how you serve your customers.

Why? If people share a job, they cannot simply share user credentials; in most cases, this is not allowed and, by the way, it’s real old school and not secure. Customer service may also be affected. But, I see some very interesting approaches, and at SAP Germany, we have implemented such models very successfully.

Already 50% of today’s B2B buyers were born between 1981 and 1996. That makes them as young as I feel (depending on my condition that day) – between 24 and 39 years old.

You’ll have a hard time explaining to them why processes and services are still living in the yesterdays when business needs to be done today for tomorrow.

The future is personalization

The processes we use today might be older than some of the readers of this blog, but changing them is not easy. Processes are the backbone of a company. In many cases, processes are certified and not changeable without lots of struggle and impacts on a complete value chain. But the vast majority of processes have one thing in common: They were designed at a time when doing business was different from today, highlighted by personal interaction, making a big mystery of price and availability, and personality influencing decision making. People were buying from people, and processes were not designed for customers, but for sales, production, and logistics.

Today’s world is different. Looking at a simplified customer journey, most of the projects I see are around sales.

There are some facts to consider if you are in the sales field:

  • Up to 80% of the buying decision in B2B is made before contacting sales

  • 93% prefer to buy online when they’ve decided what to buy

  • 74% say buying from a website is more convenient

  • 59% prefer not to interact with a sales rep

  • On average, seven people are involved in a buying process

  • Up to 70% of the time is spent on product search and quoting activities

Companies often try to improve the interaction by adding a nice, shiny new user interface. But processes are unchanged, maybe tuned by some additional code in the front end that, in the end, often makes it worse. This is what I call “putting lipstick on the pig.” Ignoring the trends and waiting to see how things develop – and then jumping on the train – might not be a good decision. It is also not recommended to jump on every idea – but who said business would be easy?

If you really mean to be customer-centric, you should seriously consider checking your processes. It is not “Order to Cash” or “Market to Order” you want to look at, it is “Lead to Cash.” You need domain managers talking together and building the same outcomes. Why? Because a customer these days is not loyal just because you offer a shiny interface. Maybe it is the other way around, and the only thing you are really better at than your competition is the processes. You shouldn’t build on the assumption that because “loyal” customers were buying from you the past 40 years, that they’ll do so in the coming 40 years. They have problems to be solved, and they may also need solutions in addition to the products you’ve been selling them.
Progress is a nice word. But change is its motivator. And change has its enemies.
– Robert Kennedy

Consider the complete picture, slice it into manageable portions, and always work from your customer, in all its complexity, to your processes and services. You’ll see what needs to be done and how these measures will affect your customer relations. Don’t forget to measure, before and during the improvements. Keep in mind that there is no such thing as “The Customer” – all of the people, roles, and invisible influencers who deal with what you deliver form “The Customer.” That is why a shiny user interface has its limits.


Overcome the silos, and bring together marketing, communications, sales, IT, process owners, and all of the other organizations that are part of the value proposition. Work as one liquid force to understand your customer organization’s needs, be able to adapt like water and turn their needs into real solutions. Don’t allow people to hide behind the complexity of the organization and processes. If this is happening, ask yourself how your customers are dealing with this, what they see, and how it impacts the reputation of your company in markets and customers and how your competition might be using this.

This is personalization in its ultimate, most challenging form. Companies who understand this will be ahead of the competition for many years, as this is nothing you can buy; it is just hard work. Also, ignoring relevant trends will not be possible, as these issues already bother your customers and value chains. Introduce technology with purpose, without oversimplifying facts. It’s estimated that 80% of the chemical business is done offline. Embracing digital capabilities, smartly connected to business capabilities that are derived from your business’ front-line, will unleash a load of magic.

Last but not least, develop a culture of asking and listening to your customers. Asking questions and having a good dialog is an asset that needs to be trained and continuously improved. Otherwise, you just hear what you want. There is a lot to say. Routing negative customer statements back to people and organizations to blame each other is not the reason they provide feedback. They are asking for changes.