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B2B online shops look like B2C Can a B2B webshop be too customer-friendly?

At a recent expert panel, we had the opportunity to discuss the challenges of digitalization with a global manufacturer - Rockwool. For them, success was based on digitalizing the backend services first, before deploying everything slowly to their commerce platform.

Daniel Tholander, Director of Commercial Excellence at Rockwool laughs, when he speaks about internal change management: “Yes, we called it RockCommerce. We like the Rock name, it has a nice ring to it internally. You know, when you sell such a project to your organization, it makes it really easier when you brand a product like that!” 

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Daniel is responsible for commercial excellence at Rockwool. The organization is operating globally, with headquarters outside of Copenhagen, Denmark. They have 46 manufacturing facilities, from Thailand, China, Russia, all the way over to North America. They produce stonewool; thin “fibres” that derive from molten stone and that are tremendously effective to insulate walls.

Steering global e-commerce centrally

“Within my role I am responsible to ensure that our sales team has the adequate tools and the supportive processes they need. That doesn’t necessarily mean that we from the headquarter decide how they’re supposed to work and which tool they’re supposed to take on, but we do try to do our best to actually have more of a centralized steering on what tools and what processes to have.”

For Rockwool, e-commerce is the outcome of a very thorough and long-term digitalization initiative. “We’ve been going through quite a digitalization journey over the past five years, focusing mainly on our backend services to ensure that they work properly so that we can actually feed them effectively to a commerce platform. For us it’s kind of imperative that we have a commerce platform that actually delivers the services and the transactional value that we want, but also that our customers can realize it and that they see a benefit from these services.” 

Although the back-end was well prepared, deploying the B2B online shops is something that Rockwool don’t rush. So far, only three countries have access to the Intershop-based portal: France, Germany, Spain and soon the UK.

“We’re ensuring that in each market we address the right customers, and that we have the right approach there. We also want to ensure that the local market, the management team there, that they know what they’re doing, they know how to harness our product and know how to engage with their customers.” 

A B2B platform that looks like B2C

Rockwool customers have had access to a basic procurement platform for the past 10 years now. It is still live in some regions, but lacks most expected features in terms of user experience. 

In the early stages of running on Intershop, the pilot customers were a bit confused, though: The team of Rockwool created a platform that was too fancy for B2B!

“The Intershop platform can be mistakenly taken for a B2C platform because of the ease of functionality and also the look and feel. We invested quite a lot in the design and UX of it, for example in reducing the check-out process from five to three clicks. However, we quickly found out that we had to tone it down a bit, because our pilot customers didn’t think they were on the commerce platform! 

We wanted to make sure that when you enter the platform, you quickly see some of the latest transactions, and some relevant extras. But you need to make sure to not be mistaken for a regular B2C website. That was indeed a lesson we learned. Although the new platform definitely has some better functionality and look and feel, just be careful that you don’t turn it into too much of a B2C platform.” 

A slow deployment ensures that customer needs are truly met. And that can mean not implementing every possible feature or tool: “In Germany, 50% of our orders last year came from fax machines. If you are a 55/60 year old procurement professional, you’ve been doing this all your life, you have your own processes on how you file certain procurement requests. Then it may not be in your benefit to change that process!”

Challenges in terms of B2B self-services

Changing user behaviour in order to increase efficiency for both the customer and the manufacturer is one of the challenges of digitalization at Rockwool: “Our customers can easily get on the commerce platform for an invoice request,  a change of pricing, or a quote request. We have all these features in place. So why do they want to call and maybe sit 15 minutes in a queue instead of just doing it themselves? It’s our current task to explain that to the customer and show them the benefits of that.”

Continuous development - with new user journeys

“Now that our developers know the platform so well in terms of benefits and the limitations, we will redo some of our customer journeys. It doesn’t have to be a four day workshop. We’ll try to see what we can do in a few hours, just to highlight a few things that we want to optimize.

Of course then we put the customers on the spot and say: Okay, for this particular service or for this particular piece of information, what would be the most effective way for you to engage with the platform? And this is what I think is a good iteration process to have.”

Do you want to get more insights into the digitalization of Rockwool? Watch the expert panel now and explore more about their challenges and solutions!

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