Anyone who sells highly innovative products needs a strong digital brand

Every company with a website has a digital brand. For B2B companies, too, it’s a  must” to design their digital presence in such a way that it creates a real  competitive advantage. The guiding principle “digital first” should be anchored in the sales strategy of B2B companies – across all touchpoints of the customer journey.

Our business, automation technology, is consultation-intensive. Nevertheless, we already generate more than a quarter of our turnover through online channels. The influence that the website has on a purchase decision is significantly even bigger – as our worldwide customer surveys show.
This trend will continue: B2B sales structures, which are often still classified as traditional, are changing – analogous to the developments we know from the B2C sector. Those who capitalize on this changed information and buying behaviour have a decisive competitive advantage. But an authentic digital brand does not emerge ad hoc – it must be built consistently across all channels.

Brand perception begins with the first digital contact

Our customers – from medium-sized machine manufacturers to large corporations – are  redominantly using digital tools, both privately and professionally. Almost every buying process starts with an online search – usually via a search engine. That’s why we have to be present as an innovative brand at the relevant touchpoints in the online world. Customers expect, for example, direct findability via search engines as well as quickly available and accurate information.
In order to be visible in the digital world, we rely on a broad spectrum of measures: On the one hand, we consistently use digital marketing instruments – such as SEA, SEO, re-marketing, tracking and ads. On the other hand, we have established a consistent lead management, which we support with an integrated marketing automation tool. This allows us to comprehensively identify interests and direct customers to the appropriate channel in a targeted manner.
Social networks are also becoming increasingly relevant – social selling combines professional expertise with networking. The brand becomes visible in a professional environment, while at the same time the people behind the brand become approachable as experts. More and more of our sales experts are making use of this potential and thus underlining Festo’s digital appearance in an authentic way. In addition, target group-specific campaigns are placed via the company channels.

Added value in the purchasing process: data analysis makes it possible

Our customers are used to the intuitive processes of large online platforms. We are all familiar with helping hints like: “Other customers bought / were interested in.” In the B2C sector, great added value can be generated from just a small amount of data. Such recommendation approaches have now also arrived in B2B. Even if the underlying data models are usually more complex here, since recommendations must always take technical compatibility into account, and are fed from various sources. Data analytics / AI can be used to identify behavioural patterns and make automated deductions. However, this alone does not generate added value – the decisive point will be to make the processed data available at the right time and in the right channel.
We are currently using data-based recommendations very successfully for accessories, for example. Our customers’ behaviour shows that many of them prefer to be able to buy “simple” products online 24/7. We make this possible with intuitive configurators, among other things: Just by entering a few parameters, a concrete solution can be offered – even to users without specialist knowledge. Ultimately, all these “positive” experiences pay off in the value of the digital brand.

The changing role of sales experts: partners for complex solutions

With the increasing use of digital channels, the role of our experts is also changing: Their role is evolving – also with the use of corresponding communication channels – more and more into an advisor for complex questions or details towards the end of the buying process.
Our surveys show a clearly differentiated customer behaviour: While they like to handle the purchase themselves for simple requirements, they appreciate the advice of our contact persons for complex solutions. The fact that upstream and downstream activities of a purchase are increasingly covered digitally also creates more freedom for our experts to find time for these individual approaches.
For classic trade fairs or our “Festo Experience Centres”, the following applies: They are not becoming superfluous, but are changing – towards an “event” with a focus on direct experience of the brand and on personal advice. Because even with the most renowned digital brand, personal contact will always be needed in B2B. But that doesn’t mean that this always has to take place on site. Visiting our Experience Centres, for example, is possible completely remotely – the boundaries between real and virtual visits become blurred. This development reaches its temporary peak with the future trend “Metaverse”.

Distribution in the Metaverse: Brand and product presentation beyond physical boundaries

While virtual experience spaces have so far been particularly popular in the gaming and consumer context, they will gradually find acceptance in the B2B environment as well. The possibility of presenting technical products and applications globally and interactively as 3D versions is highly interesting for our industry – even in the near future! For example, we are currently testing possibilities to complement the presence at the trade fair stand with virtual experts: Here, the avatars of our customers/sales staff meet the digital version of our products in a Metaverse environment.

“Digital first” – this only works with the appropriate mindset

Establishing an authentic digital brand requires a critical mass of employees with a corresponding mindset. In order to implement new approaches quickly, we have decided to strengthen our presence in one of the global hotspots in the field of digitalisation, in addition to expanding the central team at our headquarters: Festo has opened a “Digital Sales Hub” in Barcelona. Right in the middle of the renowned start-up metropolis, we benefit from the innovative impulses of the scene: We are very close to the latest trends and closely linked to the highly sought-after talents in this discipline, which is now crucial to success.

The author:
Frank Notz has been Board Member Sales at Festo SE & Co KG since 1 September 2022. He has already held various positions – particularly in the sales and marketing environment. Most recently, he was Board Member Human Resources for over three years. Festo is a leading company in automation technology and the world market leader in technical education. The family-owned company has around 20,700 employees worldwide and a turnover of € 3.36 billion.