Thoughts on B2B Products as a Digital Transformation Consultant

Find out how consulting projects inspire product managers to develop new thoughts on the B2B product development process.

A digital transformation consultant helps companies to:

  • Organize their business processes
  • Put together a product requirement document
  • Guide customers in bidding and contracting
  • Assist customers in selecting suppliers, and 
  • Participate in the whole project implementation 
As 80% of a product manager's working time is spent designing products, communicating with Research and Development (R&D), and meeting product deadlines, they might not be familiar with the source of product requirements. A consultancy experience can help managers have a better understanding of areas uninvolved in their daily work. It also provides a third-party perspective on the working relationship between the client and the company to which the product manager belongs.

Understand the product requirements to start the right way

Traditional large companies have increasingly strived to speed up their digitization process by using tools to manage their digital assets, and this provides many opportunities for B2B firms. 

While business clients know the desired endpoint, they rarely see the path to get there, and this makes it hard for them to identify precise requirements for the product. The product manager should dive deeply into client's business operations to assess their real needs. 

In a consulting project, digital transformation consultants help clients sort out useful digital software based on their business operations. Check out the chart below.

We can hardly standardize B2B products because the business operations of companies vary from each other. Therefore, it is vital to break down client's operations and work with them to produce a Request For Proposal (RFP). The RFP will be a draft of the Invitation for Bid (IFB) document, which will occur later and include all the client's requirements.

The bidding process

In general, the bidding process invites providers to submit a proposal about how they will meet the product requirements and at what cost. The steps are as follows:
  • Selected providers read the IFB
  • Providers recommend solutions based on their products
  • First-round private meeting between providers and the client to discuss the proposals
  • Formal review meeting
  • Contract granting meeting
The key in this process is to understand user requirements to provide suitable product functions accurately. The salesperson needs to have a good understanding of the requirements, and the product manager must have the ability to transform requirements into product functions. 

Standardization is key

There are two types of development companies: standardized product providers and solution providers. Solution providers customize the product according to a client's requirements and therefore could cost more. Standardized product providers make their products suitable for most clients but might not meet their needs perfectly. However, it is noticeable that standardized product providers usually face fewer challenges and work faster. 

Do not give up on learning during the acceptance phase

Generally, the delivery of B2B products is divided into several stages. The client needs to accept the delivery in each stage – such as design, product functionalities, and the provider receives a partial payment after each acceptance. At the final stage of delivery, unsatisfied clients tend to give additional unreasonable requirements. This is because traditional companies are often not sure if the money they spent is worth it in a digital transformation process. When it happens, my tips are:
  • Get the sales team involved
  • Figure out what caused the dissatisfaction
  • Collect user requirements, even if they are proposed at the end of the implementation process
In the B2B product development process, it is much more challenging to get the requirements from the actual user. A product cannot upgrade without feedbacks from existing users, and therefore, a good product manager should always try to collect user requirements. Even if the user requirements cannot be fulfilled in this project, they can be helpful in future projects to improve the product.

Project "productization"

Make one product in this project a standardized one and sell it to more customers such that the company does not have to rely on one new project after another. We call this type of projects "productization". It is common in tech giants like Alibaba and Tencent. In enterprise digital transformation, improving quality, efficiency, cost and savings are conventional goals. However, no set of methods can completely penetrate an industry or even a single enterprise. B2B projects are complicated because clients have very different business processes. We should gain more experience from the project to extract commonality and find the core processes for productization. At the same time, remember to carry out partially customized development work to suit the client's requirements and specifications.