In the “age of the customer,” companies need to think in terms of operating digitally across multiple operations—and interact with customers throughout their purchase journey, Forrester Research Inc. says in a report released yesterday.

“In this new world, B2B companies must adopt a customer-obsessed operating model,” Forrester says in the report, which was written by Andy Hoar, principal analyst for B2B e-commerce, along with other Forrester analysts. In addition to transactional e-commerce, the report says companies must also build an expertise in a broad digital strategy that, for example, uses digital methods to interact with customers for marketing, customer service and technical support.

But the report suggests companies first identify where they’re at regarding their digital B2B maturity, then take steps to improve their game.

Forrester’s blueprint—which it calls its Digital Maturity Model 4.0—lays out numerous questions companies should initially address regarding their corporate culture, organization, technology and insights—all related to their interest and experience with forging a digital strategy. The questions cover such things as how much a company’s senior management backs a digital strategy (culture), how well it develops digital skills among employees (organization), if it has a flexible technology budget to shift priorities (technology) and if it has clear goals for measuring the success of its digital strategy (insights).

The Digital Maturity Model then scores companies on their answers, and places them within one of four “maturity segments”—the highest being “differentiators,” followed by “collaborators,” “adopters” and “skeptics.”

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Starting from the bottom, skeptics tend to be just starting on a digital journey and working to convince personnel of the value of going digital; adopters have started to invest in digital technology and skills, focusing more on customers’ needs; collaborators are beginning to break down barriers between online and offline sales channels and working to build a competitive edge; differentiators are using cross-channel digital information and processes to build strong customer relationships, while blending digital and physical channels.

Forrester recommends that companies identify which of these groups they’re in, assess their strengths and weaknesses, and—for those in the bottom three groups—figure out what they need to do to go the next level. Next, assign individuals or teams the responsibility to identify and carry out the necessary steps for improvement. And, for companies in all four groups, cite the value derived from digital efforts—such as more loyal customers and increased sales—to justify continual development of a digital strategy.

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