90% of B2B decision-makers expect the shift to digital to endure for the long term. The post-pandemic B2B buyer wants sales leaders to modernize quickly. Moreover, the number of decision-makers involved in purchasing decisions has expanded multifold, and their need to see the ongoing value has become ingrained. How have sellers experimented with the way they approach B2B buyers in the new normal?
Udit Pahwa, Head of Information Technology at Huhtamaki, in an interesting conversation with Krishna Tewari, Director (the USA and the UK) at Netscribes, offers his insight into the B2B buying changes witnessed over the last two years.
Krishna: How has the buying process for Huhtamaki changed over the past two years?
Udit: Everyone will agree that physical to virtual has been one of the most noticeable changes, Krishna. For instance, when Huhtamaki required an appliance-based backup solution in the pre-pandemic days, we physically shifted the demo pieces to our office to get a look-and-feel of the appliance and try it out in our data centers. In the last two years, however, we started relying on virtual proofs-of-concept to establish business cases.
In doing so, we also shifted from initial reluctance to comfort with virtual procurement. Today, physical movement has changed. There’s more dependence on business partners for carrying out proofs-of-concept. This is one key tactical shift that has taken place.
Krishna: Are you approaching new vendors or partners differently now?
Udit: By and large, the process has remained the same as before the pandemic. That said, amid discussions with proposed OEMs or business partners, gathering feedback from peer networks has become increasingly significant for us today than ever before.
Five years ago, casual conversations could suffice. But, with the rapid pace at which technology is changing, my peers in the CIO network discuss and deep-dive into pressing business challenges, how business partners have addressed those problems, and learn from each others’ perspectives how we can resolve particular issues, procure, and upgrade our solutions.
Krishna: Did you change any commercial terms & agreements with your business partners during the pandemic?
Udit: We sure did. To manage cashflows, we not only connected with our new vendors but also went back to our existing software OEMs. We asked them for deferment of annual support fee payments. Thankfully, they did oblige and offered us deferrals ranging from 3 to 6 months in 2020 amid the pandemic.
Krishna: Udit, what are your expectations from the vendors today?
Udit: A key requirement for us today involves looking for business partners who can provide end-to-end managed solutions, whether it is hardware, software, or application. Consider SaaS managed services. These cover onboarding, sustaining and enhancing the processes. We are now leaning towards OEMs or business partners who can offer end-to-end holistic solutions starting from implementation to upgrades.
Krishna: Do you see a change in how your partners interact with you?
Udit: We were looking at a business process management service in 2020. The idea was to source a digital platform for the transformation of the finance and accounts function. We aimed to set up an internal shared service center using this digital platform. We zeroed in on three business partners for the solution. In an interesting turn of events, a wildcard vendor appeared for evaluation. Subsequently, we decided to drop one of the previous three shortlisted partners. What did this new vendor do differently?
The wildcard vendor upfront asked us for our specific data. Generally, we are used to the demo database during sales pitches and we ran simulations. This particular vendor gave templates and data elements that they required from the company. Within a matter of days, a Huhtamaki-friendly environment was created. This made our business users feel more comfortable and familiar with the setting. This made the other shortlisted vendors change their way of pitching, too. Moreover, being extremely proactive and reverting without delays was a value addition from this vendor.
Krishna: How relevant is data analytics to you in a B2B buying scenario?
Udit: Data analytics is relevant on the manufacturing front. It’s more to do with predictive maintenance using data from machines. Today, we call this AI/ML. Our machines run at printing speeds between 200 to 600 meters per minute. Images run on a printing line, and an image master software in the installed photo camera accurately catches faulty images and flags quality issues in real-time. We use this optics technology to reduce our cost of quality.
An industry leader in Huhtamaki provided an interesting perspective regarding analytics which is worth sharing. Consider a use case: X is a printing operator in Thane plant in shift one, using printer one to print 5Star 5gm SKU. We have all data points in the technology available in the past. What is the probability that we might run into quality issues exactly there at a particular moment?
We are working to manage so many data points to predict whether we can run into quality issues or not with deep analytics. Furthermore, it requires a lot of history to analyze such data. However, we have a heterogeneous mix of ERPs which makes the task challenging. We do have an interoperability model, which is a work in progress, to deal with such issues in the future.
Krishna: Before we leave, would you like to share with us a key technology that you think will be important for the future enterprise?
Udit: The low-code/no-code framework of technology is gaining importance. We have leveraged it very heavily in the last three years. Typically, any B2B solution that you buy can address at best 75% of your business case The traditional approach would be customization.
Low-code/no-code framework is the modern approach wherein you build your business case for missing components and just plug it in. In 2019, we stopped customizations and started LC/NC platforms. The processes which were not possible in the ERP, we began to build those on low code platforms and stitched them together with the ERP, which has been successful so far.
Krishna Tewari has successfully grown and managed businesses in the field of Publishing , Industrial Automation & Ecommerce for leading companies such as the Times of India group , Network18 and Emerson process management. He has worked extensively in global markets as a global head of business at the Datamatics group and Director (Board member) at Lumina Datamatics . Digital transformation and growth enablement are his professional areas of expertise. Currently, Krishna is associated with Netscribes as a growth mentor as well.
Head - Information Technology, Huhtamaki India
Udit is currently spearheading information technology at Huhtamaki India, a global food packaging major which operates out of 38 countries. He has been associated with Huhtamaki for the past five years. With a background in Chartered Accountancy and a flair for technology, Udit is a subject matter expert on technology applications, enterprise architecture, and business process solutions. He is also the co-author of “Automation for the Future Enterprise” published in 2021.