In this Q&A article, Faisal Hussain, vice president of ecommerce and product management at multibillion-dollar distributor MSC Industrial Supply Co., comments on the critical trends in B2B commerce and how MSC is acting on them.
Hussain will speak on B2B digital commerce strategies at the June 17 online event, “Breaking the Barriers to B2B Ecommerce Success,” hosted by Digital Commerce 360. This article is one of a series of “Speaker Spotlights” featuring the event’s presenters. MSC is a supplier of industrial maintenance, repair and operations (MRO) and metalworking products and services. The company does more than half of its sales through ecommerce.
DC360B2B: What is driving B2B companies like MSC to expand online?
Hussain: Ecommerce has been one of our strengths at MSC, representing about 60% of our sales. But we are always looking to deliver a better customer experience. Customers increasingly have expectations that we provide a B2C experience similar to what they enjoy as consumers in their personal lives, meaning easier with less friction. That requires B2B companies like MSC to make investments in delivering a world-class digital experience, leveraging data more than ever before for a faster, more dynamic, highly personal and richer interaction.
DC360B2B: What are your biggest internal or and external barriers?
Hussain: To say that change is constant in the digital world is a huge understatement because it is accelerating exponentially. The investments in technology that we’ve made over the years have served us well but making further investments in enhancing our entire ecommerce tech stack is critical.
It’s important that we identify and invest in the right solutions that provide a flexible platform for growth. The rapid pace of change requires that we move faster than ever, and the ability to move quickly is largely driven by the talent level that you employ on your team or through partners. To stay on top, you must compete for top digital talent, which is in scarce supply.
DC360B2B: What are the chief gains you’re realizing?
Hussain: Our digital transformation is about exceeding our customers’ expectations well beyond being relationship or website sellers. We’re on a journey towards creating an intuitive, exciting and integrated digital customer experience. For our customers, this will mean a seamless, consistent connected experience with MSC. From their perspective, it means MSC knows who they are, why they’re on the site, and what they need.
We will anticipate their business needs and solve them. They can trust the price, that the product is available, and the information is reliable. All of this will help the customer do his or her job better and make their company better by engaging with MSC. Although we’re in the early stages, our investments in talent, structure and technology are starting to pay off and show up in our business metrics, and the feedback we’re receiving from customers is quite positive.
DC360B2B: What is the most valuable piece of advice you have on launching online B2B sales or increasing them?
Hussain: I’ve seen first-hand the benefits of investing in and developing talent and evolving the culture by instituting the core principles of transformation: L.E.A.D (Learn, Engage, Adapt and Disrupt). It’s also imperative that you make prudent technology choices by not following the shiny object. Instead, you should invest in and leverage technology that yields the highest benefit to the business.
DC360B2B: Regarding COVID-19, what is the biggest adaption your company has made?
Hussain: Prior to the global COVID-19 pandemic, digital was becoming more critical. The pandemic has only heightened and accelerated the importance of digital. Although customers appreciate the high-touch expertise that our associates provide working side-by-side with them, we recognize that the digital thread through which they engage with us must be enhanced. For that reason, we have been making deeper investments in digital talent, modern technology, data and analytics over the past year, in particular.
DC360B2B: What existing trends will the pandemic accelerate?
Hussain: Keeping people safe during the pandemic necessitated less human interaction and that was solved, in many cases, through digital experiences. So, we’ve seen the acceleration of a number of trends in the areas like automation, self-service experiences and big data analytics. The success of the innovation and solutions that businesses put in place to serve their customers during the pandemic likely means we’ll continue to move in that direction, only heightening the need for more digital. At some point soon, we’ll all abandon the word “ecommerce” because there’s no longer a distinction. Modern commerce is digital.
DC360B2B: What new ideas will become trends?
Hussain: The acceleration of digital transformation clearly will continue to be the biggest trend. The use of an on-demand workforce has also become a trend with companies increasingly adopting this model. Supply chains will fragment further with technology platforms integrating them. Multitier supply chains will emerge and track critical components, including the origin of supply and incremental value-adds. The definition of “workplace” will change as remote-working models become the norm rather than out of necessity, permanently shifting where and how people work.
DC360B2B: What post-pandemic needs will become opportunities?
Hussain: Online shopping for B2C and B2B will continue to grow exponentially, as will cybersecurity. Platforms, applications and services that deliver value to consumers and businesses that continue to operate remotely, such as last-mile delivery platforms (think Uber, DoorDash, Postmates, Instacart, etc.), remote-working software, and digital health, among others, will continue to grow as well.
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