A specialty manufacturing company in business for a long time Geoff Webb, VP of Strategy for AI/analytics platform PROS, says his company went from doing roughly 10% of their orders through online digital ecommerce at the end of last year, to 80% of their business today.  

Geoff shared this with me and my CRM Playaz co-host Paul Greenberg during our latest weekly show.

That stopped us in our tracks.

But also led to a fascination conversation with lessons for businesses of all sizes to take in. 

Below is an edited transcript of a portion of our conversation.  To hear the full conversation listen to the embedded SoundCloud player.

Geoff Webb, PROS, Interview with Small Business Trends

Brent Leary: You guys deal with optimization and numbers and trying to help your customers figure out the right mix from a data perspective to allow them to make the best offer at the right time and extend it to that level. With this pandemic, how has digital transformation changed and how have using the numbers, using these optimization techniques and skills changed because of what’s going on right now? 

Geoff Webb: I think the first thing it’s done is it’s made almost every business everywhere in the world look at their current business plans and say, you know what, this probably isn’t going to work anymore, right? We’ve seen every kind of business go, you know what, that was great. Looked like a great plan back in December, it no longer applies. In fact, not only does it no longer apply, it’s probably actively damaging if we try and follow this. 

And so that pressure to engage with customers in different ways, engage with where they want, the move to digital has gone from something we were planning over the course of years to something we must do over the course of weeks and months. And that has really accelerated the transformation of the things that we work with businesses on, which is really the transformation of the sales process. Every step of that sales process has to change because the one thing that we cannot ignore has changed, and that’s what your customers want to do, how your customers want to buy.

Everything’s gone faster, everything’s become more intense. Everything’s become more direct, everything’s more personalized. And as a result, the risk that businesses take is if you just react, right,? If you don’t look at the information, if you’re not listening again to the market, then you run the risk of doing the wrong thing really quickly. And that’s a bad thing right now. 

So, what we’re recommending is you look closely at what matters to your customers and it may have changed. It probably has changed, right? What they see as value in the relationship with you is probably changing right now. So you better understand that and you better shape how you go to market, what you take to market, how you sell it, how you package it, how you price it, obviously an area that we focus on, so that you’re matching what they want to get out of things. So, yeah, everything’s faster and everything’s more focused now. 

Paul Greenberg: So, what would be some evidence that you’ve seen of those kind of changes? 

Geoff Webb: Oh my goodness. I mean, there’s a lot of things that we’re seeing happening. I think broadly, every conversation we have is becoming more and more focused on how do we engage digitally more quickly, right? So, there was a conversation with one of our customers who has been a longtime customer, one of the largest food manufacturing companies in the world. They said, we were thinking about things like e-commerce because we’re really a B2B company, but we think maybe e-commerce should become important for us in the future. Now, we realize we’re way behind. We need it now and we need to do it right now. We need to scale now.

We have a company, a customer of ours that’s a specialty manufacturing company, been around a very, very long time. They told us recently that they went from the end of last year, beginning of this year, doing about 10% of their orders through online digital e-commerce type channels. Now, it’s 80% of their business. Now, can you imagine if they didn’t have the infrastructure and the capacity to respond to that, the harm that does their presence in the market? Luckily, they’re able to, but that is an incredible shift that happened in an unprecedented quick way, right? No one could have planned for that.

Paul Greenberg: No, no, no.

Geoff Webb: I think for us and Paul sees this, right? He works with us, he looks under the hood and understands what we’re doing. First of all, we invest incredibly heavily in real meaningful AI research. We have some of the most intelligent, brilliant people you can imagine. Our chief AI strategy Dr. Michael Wu, leads the world in the thinking about the application of AI to business problems, complex business problems. 

I think the other thing I would say is we’ve been doing this for a while. So, we don’t say, here’s a generalized AI platform, go do something with it, go hire a bunch of people and do stuff. What we’ve done is we’ve taken a lot of AI horsepower and we have tied it very closely to solving very specific business problems. Things like I’m in a deal in real time with a customer, based on everything else that’s going on in my business, everything else is similar to them, what’s the right price for this particular offering that I can offer? Can I increase margin by 1% and still win this business? 

What’s the right configuration of this very complex product so that I can get it to this customer and it will be the right thing for them. And we have done that. We’ve delivered that capability through the commerce platform that we’ve built over and over again. And it’s proven, right? The nice thing is we have the proven results, because we see this, we process about, I think it sounds like about two trillion transactions a year, literally with a t going through our system. 

So, the scope of information that we see going through the systems and so on, gives us the breadth to really apply it in a way that’s provable. And I think that’s what people look for now when they think about AI is can you prove it. 

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This is part of the One-on-One Interview series with thought leaders. The transcript has been edited for publication. If it’s an audio or video interview, click on the embedded player above, or subscribe via iTunes or via Stitcher.


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