Disruption — it’s what senior vice president of ecommerce at Konica Minolta Velinda Cox said drives ecommerce change.
Cox spoke to attendees last week in a keynote address at the 2023 EnvisionB2B Conference & Exhibition in Chicago. Konica Minolta is a 150-year-old global manufacturer and marketer of imaging products. The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated ecommerce at the company, with Cox spearheading the effort.
The unfortunate events of the pandemic accelerated Konica Minolta’s ecommerce business, she said. Cox set to work to gather information from the customer. Through a series of focus groups, surveys and customer interviews, Cox’s team identified where to begin.
“We needed to go across what priorities, capabilities, and which portfolio items to start with,” she said. “What were customers wanting to buy online that they couldn’t find with our sales reps today?”
A customer-guided shopping experience
Cox said her team realized that customers don’t necessarily want salespeople contacting them while they research and discover products online.
Just as important was deciding which products to make available online. Konica Minolta has an expansive portfolio of products, she said.
“We carry a lot of things. We needed to competitively price products in the market. The competitive market changes very quickly in digital worlds,” Cox said.
The ecommerce team planned a roadmap. Cox had to identify what B2B-specific difficulties the company might encounter, she said.
“We [planned] where we would encounter the logistics of fulfillment,” she said, and addressed such questions as, “Would we want to drop ship products? “What about longer lead times [during the pandemic] and exposing unavailable inventory?”
Konica Minolta sets a timeline
Cox encountered multiple hurdles while setting up Konica Minolta’s ecommerce business, she said. In 2021, there was a micro-chip supply shortage and the Suez Canal blockage, which bottlenecked the shipping industry, leaving many businesses and retailers short of goods. Then, the COVID-19 lockdown in Shanghai in 2022 delayed shipments.
“Lead times for our core products went from days to weeks to months within the 30-45 day window we were building our technology infrastructure for,” Cox said. “I said to our CEOs across multiple countries that we can’t do a live ecommerce site without product we can fulfill quickly.
“That would be a horrible way to start and a bad customer experience,” she continued. “So, we had to pivot our portfolio.”
Pivoting included offering third-party products on its website, she said.
“That pivot was what we started with last fall,” Cox said. “I’m very excited because we’re getting ready right after the Fourth of July to bring our core products on.”
Konica Minolta began using software vendor Elastic Path in November 2022 to launch a product experience manager (PXM) system and payments capabilities to create an easy online checkout experience for its B2B customers. (The PXM system combines product information management, product merchandising and a catalog composer for displaying products to customers.)
Disrupting the digital eco-system
Long-term, Cox looked at Konica Minolta’s distribution partners and the challenges that lay ahead selling through and competing with dealers in the industry, she said.
Selling online was met with some resistance. Cox referred to one meeting with one of the company’s dealers who was concerned Konica Minolta was “going to disrupt the entire industry.”
“That would be great if we disrupted the entire industry,” Cox said. “Unfortunately, not everyone is going to go along — but I’d rather be the disrupter than the one left behind.”
Cox said it was necessary to keep dealers happy while helping them understand the necessary direction needed in order to grow the business, she said. This also included convincing various executives that changing how it sells its products would also lead to new opportunities, new leads, she said.
Other ways Cox introduced technology to the customer buying experience included further digitizing how it followed up with customers.
“We need to be there for customers and create new value through experiences,” Cox said. “There was no post conversion via [online] chat. There was no instant SMS text.”
“These are [tools] to layer in better connection with your customer,” she continued. Which leads to better retention and new opportunities to learn about what customers want going forward, she said.
“We never had a digital [communication channel] where customers could give us instant feedback,” she said. “This is a big opportunity, and we’re continuing to [plan our] roadmap around that.”
Bring the organization together
Market alignment is another challenge — which products to offer, and, just as important, convincing corporate leadership that investment is needed, she said. That requires bringing different parts of the organization together, she said.
In autumn 2022, Cox met with about 45 leaders within its organization. That included becoming Scrum certified and earning other certifications to understand how to deploy technology to boost ecommerce, she said. Scrum is a software framework that helps companies structure and manage their work through different parts of the business, including software development, research, sales, and marketing.
“We got certified and taught people about design thinking and how we could change,” she said. “It’s about failing fast and experimenting.”
“We came from a culture where failure really wasn’t an option,” she continued. “But we needed to help everyone start to understand that failing gives you the ability to learn fast and to take those learnings and not repeat mistakes across other areas of your organization.”
Sharing and celebrating failure is important, Cox said.
Cox is revamping the company’s digital marketing efforts.
“It’s all about unlocking the data,” she said. “The quality of your data can be an interruption in your objectives. There’s so much you can do when you start to aggregate the views from all your different functional areas.”
It’s important to use company data to understand customer behavior as well as how the sales organization works.
“I have vendor meetings every day of the week,” she said. “I’m reviewing current vendors, what their roadmap is, while also exploring with other vendors and new technologies that don’t exist in our portfolio or infrastructure.”
Doing so helps Cox keep abreast of what might differentiate Konica Minolta from competitors.
“Personalization can change the behavior and outcomes we’re trying to get with our customers,” Cox said. “You’re going to increase your customer acquisition, increase revenues and return on investment is going to improve.”
Sign up for a complimentary subscription to Digital Commerce 360 B2B News, published 4x/week. It covers technology and business trends in the growing B2B ecommerce industry. Contact senior editor Gretchen Salois at [email protected] and follow her on LinkedIn.
Follow us on LinkedIn and be the first to know when we publish Digital Commerce 360 B2B News content.