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    Interview: Those Darn B2B Millennial Buyers and Their Questions with Steve Max, Director of Global Digital Commerce Strategy at TE Connectivity

    Steve Max, Director of Global Digital Commerce Strategy at TE Connectivity, talks about how manufacturers must adapt to the new digital B2B buyer’s journey.


    Peter: Welcome to Unpacking the Digital Shelf where we explore brand manufacturing in the digital age. Hey everyone, Peter Crosby here from the Digital Shelf Institute. There is no question that the new B2B digital buyer, often a millennial, is upending the sales process for manufacturers. The question is, what are you going to do about it? Steve max, director of global digital commerce strategy at TE Connectivity has some answers in this conversation with Justin King and me. A spoiler alert. It has more to do with shifting mindsets internally than it does to shifting technology. Take a listen.

    Justin: So we're broadcasting here from B2B Next in Chicago and we're here with Steve max. And Steve, this is, I mean it's been a pretty incredible conference so far. Don't you agree?

    Steve: Yeah, it's fabulous. It's great to get together with folks who have the common problems and common goals.

    Justin: Yeah, I think the last year there was like around six to seven hundred people and they're projecting I think like around 1200 people here. It's just incredible. I mean the tracks have an amazing, there's a whole track on change management here this year, which is a really, really hot topic. I'm really excited about.

    Peter: Yeah. Andy had made the point in his opening remarks that that was the gap that he discovered at last year's conference. That we're learning about all these things we should do as a company, but the but was always, but there are people that aren't ready to do that. I'm fighting battles behind the scenes. I don't have the right people. So often it goes back to it seems like, , what is the state of my organization? What are the skills that I need and how do we navigate this change in a powerful way? So that's, it's really great to see that, that topic. 

    Justin: I do think it's a really the biggest key to success. I want to talk to you about change management success today Steve. I want to start here. You, your title now is at TE connectivity on e-commerce, but your previous role was you were director of eBusiness. So I have a question for you. We don't see the word e-business anymore. Like where did that term go? Where did it go? Any idea?

    Steve: First you're dating me, Justin for saying it was e-business. Yeah. So I'm not sure why it disappeared. I actually find the title or the word e-business more inclusive than e-commerce. When people think of e-commerce, they think of adding things to a shopping cart and buying and in B2B the capabilities you're developing, and really even some of the capabilities that are most important aren't really about buying. They're about supporting the transaction, whether it's tracking orders or retrieving documentation or just generally building a relationship with the customer online. So I don't know where it went, but I do think e-business, it encompasses everything. The whole, you know, from research to purchase. Whereas commerce is just buy, it's a little more of a B2C term.

    Justin: I think we should restart reclaiming the word ebusiness. I think it's this, I think you're right. I think there’s a lot of value in the business because it's about EDI too, right? And not just ecommerce and as a manufacturer, I know that it's not necessarily just about add to cart purchase process for you. It’s so much more complex than that. And I think e-business kind of encapsulates it better?

    Steve: Yeah, you're right. E-business goes beyond the website. It's EDI, it's marketplaces that you're integrated with, or customers procurement portals. So, you know, as soon as I get back to the office, I'll update my title.

    Peter: Going back to e-business. I like it. I like it. Maybe I'll change my title to e-business strategy. I like it. So TE connectivity, you know, what manufacturing, what does e-commerce look like for you as a manufacturer? I would imagine it looks different than it would for a distributor.

    Steve: Sure. There's really two sides to our e-commerce program at TE. One serves our existing direct customers and that's more eBusiness where we let them track orders, get order history, retrieve documentation. And then there's the part of the program really geared to customers that are ultimately served through distribution. And it's sort of like a paid sampling program, but it allows engineers who are looking for our products to come to our site, get pricing and availability, information on our products, and then we give them the choice. You can buy it directly from us or we show you the distributors that those products are available from. Why is that important to us? Ultimately, we're not going to serve some of these smaller customers directly, but we want to build a relationship with them. We want to make sure our product gets designed into whatever they're building. And so by offering this capability to them, it allows us to do that.

    Peter: So it sounds like e-commerce is very top of the funnel for you. 

    Steve: Very top of the funnel. 

    Justin: That's pretty interesting. 

    Peter: And do you, do you get value from that? Like do you like them to come to your site? Is that a place where because more and more we hear that having that personal or direct relationship with the customer, getting that first party data can be very useful. So are you happy when they come to your site and you support that or are you fine if they just know you through distributor? 

    Steve: Yeah so that’s a great question. We're happy wherever they go. Coming to TE.com is something we hear engineers want to do and they do do it. They want to buy directly from the manufacturer because it's a trusted source, particularly as we look at some markets outside the U S where counterfeiting is more of an issue. So they know they can come to our site, they're getting the, the real, the real thing. So that's, you know, that's important to us.

    Peter: And I was looking at your site this morning and it, it is beautiful and, and beautiful and yet has utility. So tell me a bit about how you thought about designing that site in a way that helped the buying process. 

    Steve: Yeah, so what we didn't want to do with TE.com is just be another catalog, right? Our distributors can provide that purpose. And so a lot of the content you see on the site is about providing solutions, application level information. So up from just a part number and yeah, you can drill in and get the real media engineering data about specific parts, but the content throughout the site helps pull that together. And you'd understand how our products can work together to form a real solution. And we continually think about that and think about how we can be a thought leader while still meeting the needs of the engineer just to get the hard engineering data that they need about the products. 

    Justin: Talk about your role now with TE. I know it's grown over the last couple of years. 

    Steve: So we launched our eCommerce program about a year and a half ago. I've been with the company for five years. And we've launched it really again to target these smaller customers, with this e-commerce capability. The ecommerce capability is part of a larger program to reach out to small customers who we generally have low brand awareness with and so putting part numbers and pricing and the ability to buy gets you on better search engine listings.

    Steve: It also demonstrates what we call our commercial intent. We put the pricing out there and you know, that we're actually trying to sell those parts. And that's part of the information engineers need, right? They don't just need the specs on the part. They actually need to know that they can buy it, will it be available, and where can I get it? So when I get to the phase of manufacturing this stuff, I know I have a viable part.

    Justin: Often talk about buyers one, three things. Do you have it? What's my price and when can I get it? That is exactly what you just said right there. 

    Steve: Yeah. And so as, as a manufacturer who's typically sold direct to large customers or through a distribution, answering those questions is much harder than…

    Peter: You’d think it should be. 

    Justin: Surprisingly, right? 

    Steve: Because our product management teams aren't used to putting out their pricing or availability. So the exercise to figure out what the price is, is a little more difficult. Sure. We've always had a book price that we shared with manufacturers, but when you're publishing it to the end user, it's a little more sensitive and it has to stand up to a little more scrutiny. So that's an exercise we worked on and we continue to improve on. The other aspect is what is the product offering out there that you can purchase? TE has a huge product offering. Right now only about 10% of the parts in the online catalog are available for sale on the site, about four or five times that we know are available immediately through distribution. But are those the right parts? And that's something we continue to focus on as well. 

    Peter: So how old, what's that relationship like between distributor and manufacturer? And I'm sure it's different for every distributor that you deal with, but where do you see that kind of collaboration going and has that started at all in your industry?

    Steve: It has started. And so when we launched e-commerce program, we did a lot of communication with our distributors to make sure they understood that our intent is not to compete with you, it's to give customers choice. And that we really don't have any intent of supporting small customers for their larger purchases. And our intent is to funnel that to the distributors. But let's be honest, it's our job to sell our product and we need to own that. And a distributor’s job is to sell product, not just ours. So we have to take a more active role, you know.

    Peter: What kind of range of sort of digital scale and capabilities do you find in your distributors? Is that an important part when you look at how are they going to survive in this next period? Are you actively evaluating that and is that a conversation that you're having with them?

    Steve: Yeah, so that's, that's one of the reasons that drove us to create these e-commerce capabilities because we saw several distributors not really keeping up with customer demand. And that's, that's a problem for many distributors, especially smaller, ones to develop digital capabilities that keep pace with…

    Peter: It's a big investment. 

    Steve: It's a big, it's a big investment. It's very difficult to find talent. As you know, we talk about and they're used to going about things in a, in a certain way. And this requires a lot of change in thinking and a change in backend processes to support.

    Justin: Well, let's, let's talk about customer demand a little bit. I think we're in the midst of, in B2B, I think we're still talking about millennials. In the, in the B2C world, they don't talk about millennials anymore. In the B2B world, we still talk about millennials and the impact of them. And I think customer demand is being affected by this new generation that's coming into place. What are you, what are you seeing in your business as a manufacturer, maybe driven through customer demand through the distributors?

    Steve: Yeah, I mean, it's just more and more millennials don't want to interact with somebody. They wanna self-service digitally. And it's accelerating the depths of services they expect that for. So, you know, in the past you might get a customer so far digitally, you just have your product specs out there, but then you've got to call to get pricing availability. Millennials don't understand that. Why on earth would I, would I have to call you for pricing? Why on earth won't you publish the price of your product on the website? And that's a fairly rapid shift, right? And so it's something, you know, manufacturers have to have to adjust to. It's also when we look at the way you traditionally go to market with outside salespeople or inside salespeople forming a relationship with someone and getting them to come along for the ride and understand why digital's important for growing their customer base.

    Steve: You know, that we talk about change management and working with our sales teams to help them understand why it's important and for us to gain insights from them. One of the challenges that I see is that sales folks are used to engaging with their customers a certain way. They know the folks at the account, they've had relationships for a number of years, but as we see this demographic shift, they don't necessarily have visibility to the new people coming into their accounts. And they don't really have visibility in a lot of cases to how often their customers are actually using our website. Right? They may have one, two, three, five, six main contacts, but there might be 10 times that of the number of people engaging with our products and touching our website. And one of the challenges and one of the opportunities is how do we get that information and deliver it back to our salespeople so they have visibility to how their customers are interacting with us digitally, whether it's downloading documents or placing an order for a sample.

    Steve: And once you can bridge that gap and give them the visibility, it becomes easier for them to understand that, Oh, this is really impacting me in a way that's faster and deeper than what I may be previously thought. 

    Peter: And how, what's the point in your website journey where you know who it is that's doing that and do they sign on because they have an account and they search under that or is there a point where, Oh, I can't get this spec until I identify myself to the company? Like how are you driving that, that data? 

    Steve: Yeah, I mean I'm trying to make a clever pun with the sirens in the back, you know, this is, this is a debate we have internally about what content to gait and what content, not the gate because we do need that, that contact information to take the relationship to the next level. But on the other hand, if we're not giving real value, customers don't want to give you that information. So we do, we do share the pricing, the specs. We do we do sort of gate some content. Like CAD files are very important to engineers, so we ask them for their email when they're requesting it, but we don't require it, for example. Of course anything that's account specific, yeah, they have to login for that. But we generally try to put as much information out there because that's honestly, that's the expectation, right? And you have to have a really strong reason to, to gate something. 

    Peter: Well you want to ultimately be easy to do business with. And the terms of what that mean have changed and adjusting to that is it is a big shift for everyone involved in the, in the buying process on both sides. How does that feedback get to you from the millennials? Like how are you, is it coming through your salespeople or is it comments on your website? Like what does that relationship look like. 

    Steve: We have a number of ways to collect voice of customer. We do talk to our sales teams. The digital team has an extremely close relationship with our customer support team. We have VOC mechanisms right on the site to collect feedback on every single page, right. For e-commerce, we have a checkout survey at the end of the survey and then we do, you know, we do focus groups as well to gather feedback. 

    Peter: That's great. 

    Steve: So we get a lot of VOC. The challenge is, how do you respond to it?

    Justin: So when you look at the millennial generation, do you guys see this as a, like an internal challenge or do you see it as an opportunity to, to embrace that, you know, against your competitors that that may not be embracing that?

    Steve: With digital we increasingly see it as an opportunity to gain market share because the company's pretty committed to growing our digital capabilities and particularly using it to reach smaller customers. And not everybody's, not everybody's doing that. Sure. There's internal challenges, right? Because of big company built through acquisition, different systems and that requires changing some of the processes and standardizing things. But that's something, you know, all B2B companies face and we're committed to tackling those things over time.

    Justin: How important has it been for you, you talk about your teams partner with customer service. How, how important has it been on the sales side to partner with them? In my experience, they've been some of the slowest to move because they feel impacted by these decisions.

    Steve: Yeah. It's funny when you talk to folks in sales particularly, they get that digital's important. They just don't quite understand why it's important specifically to them and the accounts that they've managed for a number of years. There's really no secret sauce to solving this. It goes back to change management and it goes back to collaboration. A lot of digital folks, maybe they just want to, you know, focus on their next release or building the capabilities. The most important thing for a digital team in a, in a manufacturer organization is to spend time with the salespeople, talking to them explain your strategy, listen to their feedback. Sometimes it's going to be a little rough, but as you do that and you spend more time with these groups, they're going to develop trust and understanding what you're doing. And, and, and I found that both at TE and my previous positions is really the key to making progress.

    Steve: The more time you spend talking to folks and socializing and listening, the more people are going to be willing to support you. It's, it's really as simple as that. When you think of somebody in a digital position and who's done digital for for awhile, you have a certain view, you get it right. Like you get this as important. Other folks, they're not thinking about digital, you know, all day, every day they're thinking about, you know, whatever accounts payable or shipping or their next sales call. So things that you just naturally get, they just haven't thought of. When you sit down with them and listen and talk, you can help. You can help move past that.

    Peter: Well we are at the conference of the man who coined the B2B salesperson is dead, Andy Hoar, who was founded B2B Next. He really like changed the thought process of the industry by publishing that report at Forester years ago. And I, and I think he's, he used a provocative statement to make a very clear point, which is if these things don't shift, your competitors will shift them for you. And that that's really the choice you need to make. And the, the, the good part is when you actually combine the experiences it does seem, and you tell me if that's what's happening at your company in some ways can free up your sales people to focus on the more value because it is still about relationships when you're selling products as complex I would imagine as yours are. And so hopefully there's some of this kind of I need my answers, I need them quickly. And they, if somebody has a delightful experience digitally, then they're more willing to connect with the sales person when they actually need that human touch.

    Steve: Yeah. So many of our salespeople are engineers, TE's producing sort of game changing components for devices that we use every day. And in the future we don't want our sales reps having to respond to order status or having to just ship a document out. So digital helps free them up so they can focus on really those value added discussions, that collaborative design, that, that gets us into the next great new product.

    Justin: Are you seeing, are you still seeing that relationship being built for millennials with millennials? 

    Steve: Less and less. When we talk to our sales folks, they talk about how difficult it is to get to talk to somebody or get an appointment because they really want a value added, a real value discussion. And if they think it can be done digitally, why would I talk to you? So those, those days are, those days are gone.

    Justin: The last topic I'd love to discuss with you is millennial customers is changing. What about millennial talent? How do you, how do you in your team as a manufacturer, not the most, we don't have a sexy business in manufacturer. You've heard me say that many times. How do you attract millennial talent to your organization to serve those needs? 

    Peter: Snacks? It's all about the snacks.

    Steve: Okay. Right after I changed my title, I'll go off to the supermarket and get some good things. Yeah. I mean talent. So the keys to success. Yeah. It's that change management, getting and retaining the right talent. And that's a real challenge. So folks with eCommerce experience are in great demand and you're right, industrial manufacturers aren't cool. They're not necessarily recognized brand names. So you have to really appeal to folks desire to be in a fast moving environment and people who want challenge. And you have to, you have to create a little bit of a safe zone for them where, you know, some of the tougher elements of working in a large global manufacturer, give them some time to warm, warm up to it. But I, I don't know that generations have changed. It's just a demand for folks with these skills is increased exponentially.

    Justin: Yeah. Probably across generations. Yeah. Right. Any, any last thoughts? I mean, you can just kinda think about the other manufacturers kind of starting in this process. You know, w what's your, what's your thoughts about this new generation of buyers and attacking the problem and within your organization? Like where do you get, like where do you even get started?

    Steve: So a product content and is one of the keys, right? I think one of the mentalities you, you need to take is this agile mentality, this MVP, minimal viable product mentality and just go, don't try to get everything perfect. Also don't think you know everything, assumptions you have today are, are just wrong. So get out there with, you know, the bare minimum. Test and you know, test and learn, test and learn and go fast. Be okay making some mistakes. That's probably the most important thing because if you wait to get everything perfect, if you wait to respond to every stakeholder in your organization, you're not going to go, you're not going to go fast enough.

    Justin: I think what you're saying too is it's not a project. This is a pro, a program. A program, a department that's going to continue into the future.

    Steve: Sure. You know, one advice I'd give to other folks in this position is you're going to have a lot of opinions from your counterparts within your company. Always recognize you are the expert at selling online. You're going to have folks tell you, Oh, this is the way we sell. This is our process. That's great. Understand it. You're the leader. Own it. You're here to push the company forward and adapt to the changes in the marketplace. It's not for you to align with everything your company's done in the past. It's for you to guide your company into the future. And that's going to be, you know, pushing some people to change the way they do things and think different.

    Peter: I mean, I presume your company hired you to be that change agent and so you sort of have to sign up for that.

    Steve: You have to sign up for that. We remind our teams on a regular basis when they get pushed back. Like, guys, that's, that's why we're here, right? We're, we're not here just to get their feedback and go build something. We know what to build. We know how to do this better than anyone else.

    Peter: Have you found a surprising ally in that fight or, or who has been sort of your best partner in this,

    Steve: In that effort? You know, when you look at a big company, there's lots of different stakeholders. You're not going to win over everyone. Everyone's going to have different strategic priorities. They're going to have a different understanding of what commerce can be. So who that ally is, is going to vary. My advice is don't try to make everyone happy. Find you know who your allies are. Maybe they're in finance, maybe they're in sales, it doesn't matter. Find your allies, work with them, drive growth through those folks. The other folks who aren't quite ready to move forward, they'll, they'll come along, they'll see the value. And also, you know, you've a bandwidth constraints. So, you know, pick, pick where you can get wins and push forward with those.

    Peter: Yeah, I think we see that a lot with, with the customers of Salsify where planning the projects so that there are early wins and you can show so many of the, they're not even naysayers. I think they're just wary because of the change. They see that result and they're like, I want that. And then bit by bit people start coming over to your side and next thing you know, there's a big group around you and then there's just a few left on the other side and, and and then you have to decide which side of this boat are you going to be on. Cause this is where it's headed. 

    Steve: I mean, I generally find that people support a digital strategy, but where the hold up is, is they don't understand how that execution will work and impact to them. And how you execute might be different depending on who you're working with in the company. Right? Different business units have different processes, different product lines appeal to different markets. So everybody gets digital's important. We need to move forward. They're just not exactly sure, you know, the best way in some, some places.

    Justin: I think it's fascinating. I think every conversation that we start talking about technology, right? We start talking about digital and eCommerce. We think we're talking about technology, we’re not. We're talking about change management every single time. People in change management. Yeah. Evangelism. And it's a, it's pretty fast about,

    Steve: It's about collaborating people and starting dialogues. You know, if people will come to the digital team, what's the digital strategy? An important thing to think of is turn around to them will, well, what's your digital strategy? It's, it's 2019 you're a business leader. You certainly need to be, you certainly thought this through, right? How do you think this can help? I can help make that real, but you tell me what you want to get out of this and for your business. 

    Peter: That's really powerful. Yeah, I really liked that. We'll see. I mean, certainly being here at B2B next, we, you know, I see all of these people gathering to try to figure this thing out and we really want to thank you for joining us to tell us your journey and, and and that it can be done with the right mindset and just sticking to the path. Thank you very much for

    Justin: Congratulations on becoming the global e-business director for TE connectivity.

    Steve: I hope the HR department isn’t listening. 

    Peter: You’ll have to show us your new card on LinkedIn. 

    Steve: Thank you. 

    Peter: Thanks Steve.