As the vice president of ecommerce at Essity Professional Hygiene, a global hygiene and health products manufacturer, Denise Vivas plays a critical role in Essity’s focus on growth through digital commerce. Here she addresses how Essity is engaging a new generation of online buyers of such products as Essity’s Tork brand line of workplace cleaners, dispensers, and related products.
Vivas is a panelist on the “Ecommerce Business Strategy: Creating a Blueprint for Digital Commerce Excellence” session June 21 at 2023’s EnvisionB2B Conference & Exhibition in Chicago.
DC 360: What is driving B2B companies like Essity Professional Hygiene to expand online?
Vivas: At Essity, our “North Star” is to deliver superb customer experiences in everything we do. We are always thinking ahead and always researching to ensure we provide the best service to our customers where they are. And where they are is online. In fact, research shows that close to 70% of our customers are millennials, and for them digital is the norm, not the exception.
Our digital transformation efforts are directed toward executing a customer-centric strategy across every inch of our business — from the way we manufacture products all the way to reaching and engaging current customers and seeking new business and profit opportunities. Digital is how we can bring Tork products and solutions to customers with speed and convenience.
Our online services seek to accomplish three important objectives at Essity:
- Build brand equity and trust.
- Defend our share as end customers shift from offline to online practices.
- Drive growth by unlocking new buckets of opportunities.
DC 360: What are your biggest internal and external barriers?
Vivas: There’s no greater satisfaction than when Essity and our partners — distributors, wholesalers, service providers and such — find we are on this digitalization path together. When our visions align, we are able to amplify and accelerate growth and customer satisfaction.
But in reality, resistance to change continues to be a barrier to that forward trajectory. Legacy systems and lack of resources can all weigh down and slow down progress. We strive to be leaders and help our partners embark on the digitalization journey with us.
Think about buying a car 15 years ago versus buying a car now. The transformation of how a car operates, all its safety features, and even how you can now purchase a car online, is mind-boggling. But people still operate the vehicles and must be willing to accept this new technology and drive that car off the lot. That is what we hope to continue to do with our partners — to show them how much faster, safer and more efficient we can be when we are firing on all cylinders together.
DC 360: What are the chief gains you’re realizing?
Vivas: Our online business — both through distribution partners and direct — is growing faster and more profitably than any other channel. And what we have learned along the way is that we can not only understand and acknowledge our customers’ needs but also help address and solve them.
Back to that Essity North Star, we are committed to strengthening our distributor partnerships, which includes the work we do to support their online business. How can we do that? Our approach involves developing ecommerce, digital marketing activation, and digital selling capabilities that we extend to our distributor partners as value-add services. These services complement the great work we do offline. As we master the art of supplementing online levers with offline ones, we advance further toward our destination, which is to differentiate Essity as a leader in omnichannel partnerships.
DC 360: What is the most valuable piece of advice you have on how to launch online B2B sales or increase them?
Vivas: As basic as this sounds — and it can’t be stressed enough — understand your customers’ pain points and devote the time and resources to solving them. And do it better and faster than anyone else. This is how you build brand equity and trust, and it’s how we reach our North Star and the growth that naturally follows.
I would also add: Be bold. The cost of technology continues to go down. Going back to my car analogy, think about the cost of cars today with all that technology now included even in base models. Take advantage of these lowered costs and start small. Pilot a service where you can prove to scale or dump quickly. But don’t be afraid to fail! Just fail fast and move forward.
DC 360: Regarding COVID-19 and supply-chain disruption, what is the biggest adaptation your company has made?
Vivas: We quickly and efficiently implemented highly responsive networks that stabilized our value-creation chain end to end. This was a collaboration across our organization. We even set up remotely to avoid face-to-face interaction during the “lockdown” period.
Some examples include:
- Streamlining our portfolio in order to boost output.
- Deliberately increasing target inventories of articles with a more complex supply chain (such as dispensers).
- Creating task forces to identify alternative suppliers.
- Developing an employee-retention program to create stability within our operations.
- Developing and sharing a successful health and hygiene website that educates our customers on how to avoid infection at the workplace. This site was recognized by experts and adopted by unions.
DC 360: Looking back over the past few years, is there anything you wish you had done differently in ecommerce?
Vivas: As we have seen with technology advancements, things move quickly. And at Essity, we have worked hard to keep up with and ahead of those advances. But what we’ve learned is that success in ecommerce is 10% technology and 90% an effective operating model.
In other words, success truly depends on an organization’s ability to effectively manage change. To do that, you must engage your people so that they trust the process. Invest as much time and as many resources as necessary to get employees involved right from the planning and development phase. As our approaches changed, having everyone on board helped them remain aligned and agile.
DC 360: What excites you the most in new digital commerce technology?
Vivas: While artificial intelligence is just emerging, and we must proceed with caution, I am excited about the potential AI has to power predictive personalization engines. This will allow us to truly connect with customers in a very intimate way, at scale and with immediacy.
To achieve this, we are actively working on the next wave of digital capabilities. We hope to further simplify the way we do business while still delivering exceptional customer service, driving us right toward our North StB2ar and ultimately translating into rapid, profitable growth for Essity Professional Hygiene and our partners and customers.
DC 360: Going forward, what do you see as the most significant commerce challenges and opportunities?
Vivas: Our biggest opportunities lie in the ability to deliver value to our customers with simplicity and speed. And in the B2B world, how that comes across is all in the eye of the beholder. In other words, digitally savvy customers have much different needs for simplicity and speed than do more traditional customers. But we must make the process seamless for both. The key is to be effective at servicing a wide range of customers, offering our digital tools to those ready to utilize them, and bringing customers with us as we maneuver this digital highway together.
Finally, I will say that as fast as technology moves, we must always pause to be sure our internet and customer information-management systems are secure. This is a trust we never want to breach.
Jim Daly is a Digital Commerce 360 contributing editor covering B2B digital commerce technology and strategy.
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