Building Better B2B Relationships

Rich collaboration platforms are transforming customer and partner relationship

Richard Humphreys
27 April 2022

5 min read

Many companies have gained the flexibility they need to adapt to rapidly changing operational environments via platforms that facilitate collaboration among internal disciplines. Those same platforms can create closer links with external stakeholders too – from suppliers and partners to customers. Three companies that are reaping such benefits share their experiences.

Discerning customers are demanding seamless interactions with companies, so improving the customer experience was a top priority for Kindof. The Italian producer of contemporary and sustainable furniture wanted to show customers how easily it could personalize their furniture, but knew the experience had to be flawless.

“It was key for us to be able to show this on our e-commerce website and in our product brochure, but we knew it wouldn’t be feasible to make each piece of furniture in every different color and finish combination,” said Camilla Mazzola, brand and marketing manager at Kindof.

After discovering the technology at a design technology trade expo in Milan, Kindof implemented the 3DEXPERIENCE platform from Dassault Systèmes to showcase photorealistic virtual imagery of its products and develop an effective go-to-market strategy. It was helped in this venture by IDeCOM, also based in Italy, which provides project management and consultancy within the civil engineering industry. One key advantage: Kindof and IDeCOM can collaborate on all of their shared projects on the platform.

“We have a private community and chat on the IFWE Loop, which we use to easily share files,” Mazzola said. The IFWE Loop is a feature of the platform that facilitates and tracks all collaboration and communication with colleagues and partners in one shared but private space. For example, the IFWE Loop makes it easy to collaborate with IDeCOM.

Italian furniture-maker Kindof uses the 3DEXPERIENCE platform to collaborate with its partner, IDeCOM, to perfect photorealistic renderings of its furniture. (Image courtesy of Kindof)

“IDeCOM answers all my queries and is really patient with me, allowing me to make modifications to get the right result,” Mazzola said. “One day, for example, I gave them the measurements and details for one model; then something changed, and they modified it immediately. They are very responsive and help me get the best results.”

Kindof is already seeing the benefits of the platform; Mazzola said it has “saved several months of additional work.” The furniture producer also is considering using the platform to manage its product design processes.

“At the moment, we draw the designs and make the prototypes from sketches,” she said. “In the future we could create them using 3D models, which would allow us to truly visualize a product before it’s made.”

A BETTER CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE

Kindof’s experience is increasingly typical, as other companies that have adopted business innovation platforms to improve internal operations discover it can manage external interactions as well, including the ability to build customer relationships.

“We have a private community and chat on the IFWE Loop, which we use to easily share files,”

Camilla Mazzola, Brand and Marketing Manager, Kindof.

“You have to keep your customers happy,” said Peter Bilello, president and CEO of product lifecycle management consulting and research firm CIMdata. “The challenge of building better B2B customer relationships is tying people and information together. You can have a great product; but if your customers have a bad experience interacting with the company, people turn off.”

By extending the social collaboration benefits of business platforms to the entire value network, Bilello said, companies can transform their relationships.

“For all B2B customer communication, you want it to be clear, concise and valid,” he said. “A collaborative platform can be very helpful in those situations as it makes the whole process quicker, with faster feedback and [the ability to] minimize issues that arise from bad communication that would have been historically done via separate systems.”

COLLABORATING WITH CUSTOMERS

Swedish software and consulting company SolidEngineer is also seeing the positive impact of “platforming its business” to interact with clients, founder Björn Lindwall said. After adopting a single platform that facilitates collaboration among its entire workforce, SolidEngineer wanted to extend those benefits to its customer relationships as well.

“We use the platform to show customers how to use a digital solution and work with ideas that have been generated,” said Pernilla Ahlberg, a management consultant who works with SolidEngineer’s clients to develop innovation strategies. “The difficulty we had previously was managing all of the ideas. However, the idea-management tool on the platform allows us to input all the ideas, collaborate on them, and then use a funnel tool to easily see when an idea is mature and ready to set up as a project.”

Once an idea becomes a project, the platform facilitates project planning among all of SolidEngineer’s stakeholders, both internal and external. The platform’s planning capabilities allow the company’s teams to see how a project is progressing, identify areas of concern and make real-time, informed decisions, said Mie Sörqvist, SolidEngineer’s chief technology officer of project data management projects. At key points, the team can even share its progress and brainstorm additional ideas with customers and partners, all via the platform.

Because the platform also generates and supports 3D virtual twin experiences – scientifically accurate simulations of product designs and the environments where they will operate, allowing users to “experience” a product before it exists – communication among people from different disciplines becomes easier.

“I can share designs with other people in a community we have created for feedback,” designer Alice Berglund said. “With the design on the platform, I then use the project planning tool to keep track of tasks and update them so my manager can see, at a glance, the status of the project.”

VIRTUAL ONLINE SUPPORT DEMOS

RS Components, a UK-based distributor of electronic, electrical and industrial components, is employing its platform’s collaboration capabilities internally on some projects, including DesignSpark, the company’s design-engineering community. But RS Components has also used its platform to demonstrate in-development projects to customers and suppliers and receive valuable feedback.

“Previously, our old experiences were closed and siloed,” said Mike Bray, group lead of innovation and research and development, who also leads the company’s DesignSpark community. “By moving to a collaboration platform, it has produced a much more communicative and shareable experience.”

Bray describes the platform as a “transformer.”

“Pooling data between different organizations and clients makes our experiences much more seamless,” he said. “Our base in Texas has developed a new technical lab capability, and the reaction to the initial set of virtual demos has been very positive from suppliers and customers. The platform has allowed us to position our technical support capabilities in a very different light from a lot of our competitors.”

Although RS Components’ experiments in external collaboration are in their infancy, “the plan is to phase the platform rollout across our organization and other parts of our customer base,” Bray said. “The platform gives us the ability to plan and see emerging design trends, as well as their application. This is a hugely valuable insight for our business, and the manufacturers and suppliers that we work with on DesignSpark. It’s a great fit for us.”

OPPORTUNITIES IN AERO AND AUTO

The trend of organizations expanding their business collaboration platforms to encompass external collaborations and communications will become more common in future, CIMdata’s Bilello said. Key industries to watch for the trend, he predicts, include automotive and aerospace.

“It can really drive their business significantly as they get linked to others that have other disciplines and core competencies,” he said. “Platforms will continue to evolve, especially as the technology becomes more readily available. And there’s no question that by breaking down silos and connecting people and information, business collaboration platforms will help the companies deploying them to adapt quickly to disruption – whatever form that comes in next.”

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