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"The future is today" that’s a phrase commonly attributed to the renowned Sir William Osler, Baron, physician, ‘Father of modern medicine’ and one of the founders of the world-known John Hopkins School of Medicine.

Sir William hit the nail: In fact, the future is indeed a matter of urgent actuality. The future happens today, now, in every second we live.

And B2B businesses need to be highly aware of this. There is no other sector so competitive and yet so rich in opportunities as B2B. By its nature, B2B organizations deal with a narrower market, with robust peers that have mastered their sectors and are always hungrier for more. That’s why wholesalers need to be efficient but at the same time spread that efficiency to their B2C clients - as much as possible - to guarantee its own profitability.

Also, B2B companies must teach their customers how to use, buy and make the most out of their products and services, and also how to pass this information from the B2C retailer to the end consumer. That’s why, to help you navigate the B2B waters, we founded B2B Frontrunners!

B2B Frontrunners is a community about empowering and inspiring. It's a commitment to creating a think tank, a global repository of ideas, knowledge, and technical tools based on free sharing and collective improvement. And there is no better way to kickstart this community than dealing with one of the most pressing matters of our times, a matter that, for many, is part of that ‘future’ we talk about—a future that is today: the data-driven intelligence.


Data-driven intelligence: A tool to stay ahead of the curve

Intershop held the first session of the B2B Frontrunners community - the entire video session is available here - to provide a keen insight into data-driven intelligence usage for B2B business. This session shared exclusive industry insight to help B2B companies supercharge their businesses.

That’s why today we want to share with you the main takeaways from this first B2B Frontrunners session about data-driven intelligence, with the keynote speakers Nils Breitmann - Enterprise Architect at Intershop Communications, Arjen Bonsing - Founding Partner at Customer Journey Experts, Frank Beke and Martijn Hazelhorst from De Nieuwe Zaak and André Herbst from Soennecken.

Thanks to all of them, this first session showcased the main reasons to use data-driven intelligence, why it is an excellent tool for B2B Frontrunners, and several use cases to pinpoint, even better, the main benefits of data-driven intelligence. With all that in mind, we want to share a recollection of the main takeaways from this first session. Let us begin!  


Empowering growth with data-driven intelligence and the B2B/B2C evolution

Commerce has suffered a massive evolution in the last 50 years. As Arjen Bonsing from Customer Journey Experts accurately points out, we jumped from having direct contact with the milkman or baker to our hyper-virtual / hyper-digital world, where we could have no human contact at all during online shopping. And no other technology has been so instrumental in this evolution as mobile devices like smartphones.  

This shifted B2B and B2C from the personal age - where we had direct human interaction- to the individual age, where our interactions are defined by the channels we use to communicate with the business or brand: social media, e-commerce, mobile shopping, and so on.  

That’s why in our hyper-connected world, data-driven intelligence is vital; by using these mobile devices and the multiple channels they allow us to access, we are creating a constant stream of information that B2B businesses can use to accurately predict shopping patterns, define customer expectations and create personalized customer journeys to match the will-be-client preferences reducing friction and creating a smooth shopping experience.  

A prime example of how these personalization capabilities work was presented during this first session by Arjen Bonsing with an evolution timeline of how AI-driven intelligence -based on data-driven technologies- can achieve a more personal shopping experience.

The timeline he presents showcases how we started with the creation of click-based websites, then advanced to chatbot-based conversations, which provide a higher degree of personalization. Then we will continue to evolve into conversational agents to reach - in the near future - AI virtual assistants, who will be able to create a tailor-made customer journey based on the data acquired from previous client interactions.

A prime example of this is Huisman Equipment's approach to creating an e-commerce B2B solution - based on Intershop - that will be able to record, process, and predict possible future repairs needed for the machinery of every one of their clients and notify and discuss and comment with them, about this potential predictive maintenance services. Thus, creating a service tailored to each different machine, each different client, and even to the particular way of usage that each machinery operator has. All of this is assembled into an automated chat and email-driven system.  

Now, one key piece to achieve similar or even higher levels of personalization via data-driven intelligence, as explained by Arjen Bonsing, would be the usage of ChatGPT and other similar technologies. So far, chatbots have been used on websites and e-commerce more like a FAQs database, being able to answer a pre-determined pool of commonly asked questions, but with the irruption of ChatGPT neural models, things could easily turn for the better.

New chatbots using ChatGPT-similar technologies will be able to guide the consumer in a manner more akin to that of an assistant, even performing for them tedious tasks that the will-be customer has to do nowadays. For example, this kind of chatbots combined with data-driven profiles of the users they are attending to, could create compatibility lists for a regular customer that is fishing for spare parts or that wants to buy a piece of new machinery, product, or component.

Offering the will-be client a curated list of products aimed at matching its preferences is fast becoming an industry standard, and many companies struggle to match the level of personalization the industry leaders offer today.  

But chatbot personalization using tools like ChatGPT and other AI technologies can’t provide a complete solution. In fact, as he accurately points out, personalization using chat solutions represents only 30%, or less of the actual personalization capabilities a fully data-driven intelligence B2B e-commerce can offer.

Another key aspect of the data-driven intelligence approach for B2B is the capability of creating a virtuous autonomous loop of information, decision-making, evaluation of the results derived from those decisions, and the corresponding re-adjustment to achieve improvement and growth.

It is becoming increasingly expensive to reach new audiences, up to 5 to 10 times more expensive than selling to returning customers. That’s why having a B2B e-commerce capable of handling massive big data influxes, helping you and your team understand this information and make decisions, or even going as far as following pre-set criteria to make autonomous decisions based on this information, is the real future of data-driven and B2B e-commerce.

What we are talking about here is having an online platform capable of predicting, providing in advance, and re-adjusting in real time to what the market is requesting or what the market could request based on the previously gathered client data. But to do so, we need to create a data-driven culture inside our organization. A challenge considering that currently, only 34% of B2B organizations consider themselves to be ‘data-driven’ as was explained by Arjen Bonsing during his insightful intervention available to you here

“Advanced personalization and use of data is not the domain of UX designers or marketing departments. It is actually necessary that it becomes part of your organization's DNA.”  
Arjen Bonsing - Founding Partner at Customer Journey Experts 


Jarola: Growth derived from data 

During the session, Frank Beke and Martijn Hazelhorst from De Nieuwe Zaak, explained the case of Jarola, and why data-driven intelligence has proven to be instrumental for the company's growth.  

This case was explained in three phases:  

  • Phase 1: AB testing

  • Phase 2: Search and merchandising  

  • Phase 3: Personalization 

Jarola's case was explained using Wildkamp as a prime example of data-driven growth. Wildkamp, one of Jarola's main brands, offers technical products and solutions for the fields of agriculture, irrigation, confirmation and maintenance, construction and roofing, piping and pressure fittings, and electricity and lighting, among many other related areas.

The company is one of the leading brands in the Netherlands and, so far, has worked via a network of 50 physical stores. But now, it aims at creating a powerful e-commerce hub to provide support for all its B2B clients under a single source of information that is also capable of catering to multiple channels in an autonomous, personalized way. Wildkamp e-commerce platform is based on Intershop.

In Wildkamp's case, the goal of using data-driven is aimed at improving the customer experience with a mid to long-term client's emphasis. This is because many of the products provided by Wildkamp are expensive machinery that is not regularly bought multiple times by the same client.

Data-driven is used to make the customer journey as smooth as possible, taking into consideration the different degrees of product knowledge each customer might have. In fact, as presented during the session, Wildkamp's use of data-driven intelligence allowed the Intershop-based e-commerce, to identify client categories, from the worker to the technician, and show each one of them a customized and different customer journey focused on the selling arguments and topics of interest that each has.

But to do this, Wildkamp required an organization-wide effort to implement, modify and operate under the framework of a data-driven B2B business.

As it was keenly explained multiple times during the session by Frank Beke and Martijn Hazelhorst from De Nieuwe Zaak, a team effort is required to re-organize and adapt any organization to use a data-driven intelligence approach.

This demands growth in multiple areas at the same time.

Meaning you need to care of the following:

  • Finding and training the right people.

  • Using the right tools.

  • Creating the proper organizational structure to drive the teams inside the company.

  • Creating the most efficient processes for it to show its full potential correctly.

  • Creating enthralling and powerful marketing content to communicate with your potential customers using the right channels.   

With this in combination, Wildkamp can identify clients and customers, and provide a personalized and automated customer journey for them.

It can offer insights and information on the products they are searching for and other compatible products, increase cross-sale and upscale by bundling together packs of ‘commonly bought products and components’ - by identifying what kind of project the customer is buying for - and in general, provide far better support to each and every one that arrives to their e-commerce.  

This is all thanks to being able to acquire, process, and use big data effectively through a data-driven intelligence approach. 

Some of the main takeaways from the Jarola-Wildkamp case are:

  • To become data-driven you have to grow in various areas. 

  • Besides analysis, data helps with automation. 

  • Select best-of-breed tools for an improved CX.  

If you want to find out more about Wildkamp's journey to achieve a data-driven intelligence approach, as well as to learn in detail what apps, solutions, and tools were used, check the entire session here


Soennecken: A journey into data-driven intelligence

During this first session, we had another amazing story regarding the transforming power of data-driven intelligence: the journey of Soennecken.

Being the largest owner-managed purchasing and marketing cooperation in the office supply industry in Europe, Soennecken had a lot on the table when it decided to jump into a more data-driven approach.

Composed of over 500 cooperative members, which are medium size specialist dealers belonging to the top leading office supplies companies in Europe, and with over 300+ shops encompassing more than 25 years of industry experience, Soennecken is a prime example that data-driven intelligence is indeed becoming a standard used by the top-leading B2B organizations.

André Herbst, IT Manager Soennecken, explains in a remarkably clear way the entire thought process of the company, the complex challenges inherent to its particular cooperative structure in combination with the more traditional straightforward stores.

To achieve a fluid customer journey and cater to all the different types of clients Soennecken has to cater to, the company has divided its structure into the following solutions:

  • SoProcure: Large businesses and e-procurement platform

  • SoCommerce: Small and medium business e-procurement platform

  • Shopware: Private customer shop 

But these three different platforms needed to converge into one single solution: one single source of truth. Something that was decided to increase and boost Soennecken at all levels. And the new solution, called YourCommerce, was based on Intershop, with one single goal: to create a multi-scale B2X procurement and shopping platform.

Perhaps one of the most amazing aspects of Soennecken journey into data-driven is that they had to start from scratch. From asking their cooperative members to sign contracts for the use of their data to the implementation of a multidisciplinary cross-functional team capable of operating the new model, including the change from printed media to online data offerings, the implementation of a new pricing model - capable of dealing with B2B, B2C, and B2X - until even the establishment of the entire operational phase, Soennecken created an entire data-driven approach from zero.

Human, technical, and corporate transformations were developed simultaneously to create a proper framework compliant with the current EU legislation to acquire, process, and use the data from their cooperative members, customers, and even personnel.

And what was Soennecken's approach to the use of this data? Well, they aimed at the heart of the matter: to create personalized customer journeys and product recommendations.

“We had to change the way we had of dealing with these systems, we had to change the teams, and we had to change our entire approach. As it was explained in the presentation before said, it is 30% IT and 70% change.”  
André Herbst, IT Manager Soennecken  

To actually make proper use of the power data-driven intelligence has, Soennecken had to restructure everything, including the way they relate with their customers as well as the data center, and even the way the product data was presented. 

Soennecken case confirms the core idea that, to be successful during a data-driven intelligence implementation, it is foremost fundamental to adapt and evolve the entire organization around using data-driving tools, concepts, and criteria. It is not just about the technical tools but about the mindset of the entire team.  


Intershop: The core of autonomous commerce

Finally, Nils, Enterprise Architect at Intershop Communications, and Chi, Co-Founder at SPARQUE.AI, explained how data-driven intelligence core is to achieving autonomous commerce. Autonomous commerce is the next evolution of e-commerce and one of Intershop's main philosophies to provide companies and organizations with the cutting edge to remain ahead of the curve.

During the session, Nils also provided a most interesting schematic about the levels and flavors of AI (artificial intelligence) and generative AI, and even shared several amazing case studies for anyone to realize the power behind data-driven intelligence.

In that sense, Nils carefully explained how organizations can use data-driven intelligence to fuel the autonomous commerce ‘autonomous decision’ part. For example, an autonomous commerce solution can automatically set up new prices based on stock levels or competitor prices, keeping your brand and products relevant in the global markets.

He also showcases the main building blocks to create a data-driven intelligence approach composed of an AI-data hub, AI-data models, and a customization tool; in the example, this tool was SPARQUE.AI.

SPARQUE.AI is an AI technology part of Intershop. It is currently considered a thought leader in personalized search and AI-based product recommendations for B2C and B2B commerce scenarios. SPARQUE.AI provides AI-supported custom algorithms ready for use in just a few days.

These algorithms are fed with data from diverse sources like your ERP, your e-commerce platform, PIM, and Google Analytics, but also contextual information like page views, a device used, and real-time data like location and weather. The main advantage of these applications is that they are fast and scalable and can cater to any kind of business.

Precisely to talk about SPARQUE.AI capabilities, Chi showcased several insightful examples of how SPARQUE.AI is being used for data-driven intelligence strategies, bringing to all the public enjoying this first session a much-appreciated real-life case of how to implement this technology in their e-commerce.

The first case presented by Chi was InTronics Business and how they used it - by creating an API connection with ChatGPT services that is validated by SPARQUE.AI - an intelligent-driven keyword search recommendation tool for the search engine inside the e-commerce.

Thus, allowing customers to get recommendations on other keywords of products related to their original search on the InTronics e-commerce site. This enables for more efficient up-scaling and cross-selling and also saves time for the customer by giving him options to search for products that the data from ChatGPT capabilities shows are related to the original product he is planning to buy.

The second case showing SPARQUE.AI capabilities was Warmteservice, a well-known brand that had years and years of sales data that SPARQUE.AI was able to process to provide the company with customized recommendations for product bundles to increase sales at all levels.

Chi explained how they were able to create customized bundles, cross-selling optimize bundles, or even sector-specific bundles, depending on the particular project the client is buying the product for.

And one will think that this level of customization is a complex achievement, yet as Chi accurately points out when asked about this precise matter during the session, ‘this is a matter of applying common sense’.

Chi proceeded to explain how companies who want to remain relevant in the future need to train staff members to become specialists in handling and understanding data, as well as create a data-driven culture in their team to prevent your business from fighting against the data, and instead remove themselves from all prejudices and see the data - and the behavior it shows - with absolute objectivity—a perfect combination of AI and human ingenuity!

Finally, the session was wrapped up with a clear overview of all the hot topics showcased, from learning that having your data in one place - especially in a cloud base data solution - will be essential to build that tailor-made customer experience. We also learned that data-driven solutions can’t be applied if the entire company does not create a data-driven culture at all levels, especially at the managerial level.

Then we discovered the cases of Jarola and its brand Wildkamp, showing us how data-driven growth is possible, and Soennecken, which proved to us how vital it is for B2B companies to create an entire organizational culture change towards data-driven if we want to succeed in the future.

From there, we enjoyed Nils’ and Chi’s intervention re-capping the evolution of AI technologies and the current use cases of how this technology - like SPARQUE.AI - can actually be implemented to improve our business.

Overall, this first session was amazing! And you can watch it again here.

We hope to see you all attending the next session, which will be held on September 12th, titled: Harnessing the potential of platforms in B2B e-commerce. We are more than sure you will love it and will find it ultra-productive!  Register here.