In industrial settings with deeply skilled B2B sales teams, it is possible to argue that digital transformation is not a substitute to traditional customer and B2B relationships and existing skill-sets.
Yet, how much of account management and customer interaction is just to maintain loyalty and lock-in? How many customers would prefer the online tools and interaction platforms to order products directly, or to solve issues by consulting online help? What if they just want to download the information they need, so they can make their own decisions?
An example of how digitalization is suppressing the need for traditional, highly-skilled sales teams would be AdWords, which significantly reduced the role of buying agencies by allowing advertisers to go direct. Another example would be E-Trade, a service through which retail investors are given direct access to specialized information that was previously only available to professional investors, such as specialized research and stock screeners. Digitalization here empowered the customer by getting rid of the middleman.
Another example is SAP’s cloud efforts, which only charges customers for the features they select, thereby significantly increasing its accessible market. Here again, digitalization empowers customers, as it allows them to customize the offering to their needs. The move from customer loyalty to customer empowerment is another key business model innovation theme, one that disrupts traditional business relationships.