E-commerce in a complex, international B2B environment
What if your organization’s work field is in a traditional industry, and you believe omnichannel e-commerce is necessary to remain a frontrunner? Start with one country. One product. One target group.
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Agile innovation approach to digitalization
Vegetable breeding company Rijk Zwaan chose an agile approach: Learn by experimenting. If the experiments turn out to be successful, scale up and transition into the maturity phase next. At Rijk Zwaan, e-commerce is now in the scale phase.
Phase 1: Experiment
How did it all start? Initially, Rijk Zwaan selected one country for one crop (lettuce for a hydroponic growing system) and one target group (hydroponic growers)—a small project using simple tooling and a platform to create a webshop. Rijk Zwaan handled the data and customer contacts manually. When an order came in, Rijk Zwaan entered it in their ERP, and the order shipped. Rijk Zwaan found out their experiment worked. Within six months, 10% of all lettuce sales in Brazil were online.
Moreover, Rijk Zwaan attracted many new, smaller customers (growers) because they could make their purchases online directly. This successful experiment brought Rijk Zwaan to scale up all the crops. Rijk Zwaan adjusted the website to give it a more professional look and feel and started investing in marketing. The portal now was still stand-alone and not connected to other systems. The WhatsApp button became an essential feature of the portal in Brazil. WhatsApp helped customers ask questions and build confidence in Rijk Zwaan.
Phase 2: Scaling up
In the second phase, Rijk Zwaan planned to scale up and take time to build a foundation. Rijk Zwaan started by creating a compelling story explaining to colleagues worldwide why the company decided to invest in e-commerce. This story included that customer contact had become more digital, accelerated by the COVID pandemic. In this industry, digital enables cooperation in the value chain.
Simultaneously, Rijk Zwaan builds a commercial strategy consisting of 3 pillars: attract, convert, and retain.
For this strategy, Rijk Zwaan defined four goals:
Improve customer experience and meet the customer’s expectations 24/7
Reach and service new customers
Service existing customers of dealers and distributors directly
Make sales processes more efficient
Rijk Zwaan started experiments and projects in all three pillars. Rijk Zwaan improved the commercial website to attract customers. They invested in an e-commerce platform for conversion and connected with CRM and ERP.
Building a digital foundation
Also, Rijk Zwaan built an IT infrastructure strategy for its customer service containing a platform vision, software solutions, IT development and implementation partners, and its own IT development resources. Rijk Zwaan supported this with a business case defining benefits, costs, and securing resources to run a long-term program. Rijk Zwaan started by connecting the e-commerce platform with ERP and CRM. First, Rijk Zwaan launched new e-commerce websites in Ukraine, Austria, and Germany. After that, they migrated the Brazilian website. Now, Rijk Zwaan is scaling up with an agile approach. Rijk Zwaan optimizes what they have built and keeps adding functionalities, like customization options for larger clients, growers, and distributors. The current target groups for the website are smaller to medium size organizations. Rijk Zwaan will gradually migrate more country sites and shops over the next few years and keep adding functionalities.
The new commercial website – rolled out country by country – brings all customer services together: the homepage, the marketing content, the shopping content, the blogs, and the e-learning part. Rijk Zwaan is only at the beginning of its digital journey, but the results are stunning already. Their most important tip: Start!
Seven tips when you start with e-commerce in an international B2B environment
Start small so that you can learn.
Invest in new skills.
Bring people to the local organization and train the existing people. It is essential to have a mix of new digital skills and people who know the market, organization, and products.
Be prepared to tell the story repeatedly, especially in a traditional business. Set up a business change project and include communication (to create awareness) and a training program (to build necessary skills) and embed it in your succession and HR planning.
Celebrate your successes, e.g., when you go live.
Train your people in e-commerce and marketing.
International organizations should have eyes and ears in every country. Languages differ, and content varies as well. There are local customer journeys and local payment providers, local tax regulations, etc.
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About Rijk Zwaan
Rijk Zwaan is a Dutch, family-owned vegetable breeding company. Rijk Zwaan has 3800 employees in more than 30 countries. The company ranks 4th in the global vegetable seed market. Rijk Zwaan focuses entirely on vegetable seeds and offers a wide assortment within the sector. Rijk Zwaan is an R&D-driven company: 40% of the employees work in R&D, and the company invests 30% of its turnover back in R&D. Rijk Zwaan sells seeds in more than 130 countries. In 30 countries, Rijk Zwaan has subsidiaries. In the 100 other countries, distributors sell the seeds. Rijk Zwaan believes that a digital transformation can improve its quality and service to customers.