The concepts of business productivity and competitiveness are many-headed beasts with lots of moving parts. Among those moving parts, the one that’s non-negotiable these days is the availability and mobility of operational data.
In B2B environments, operational data includes things like the rate of throughput for critical product lines, customer insights about the most frequently ordered products, and data gathered from web properties that can tell you which ad campaigns are working and where your prospective customers are located. Each of these represents a major opportunity for companies that make the required investments. Let’s break each one down into a little more detail.
IoT for Marketing and Customer Experience
When it comes to successful marketing, it’s all about sending the right message at the right time. The Internet of Things (IoT) provides a way to gather data from an incredible number of sources. It will also push information to a variety of locations based on business and customer needs.
Suppose you operate multiple business locations across a wide geographical area. Investing in in-store beacon technology is one of the most appealing ways to bring IoT devices into the fold. Not to mention, this will better market to your B2B or B2C customers. Beacons use internet connectivity and Bluetooth to deliver real-time alerts to customers based on proximity. This isn’t a new concept. In fact, Macy’s stores rolled this technology out years ago. They deliver personalized notifications to customers when they arrive on the premises. The result was higher foot traffic, even in an era where chain stores are famously faltering.
Some 70 percent of customers indicate they’re likelier to make a purchase or sign up for a service if they receive personalized promotions delivered with beacons. There’s another piece here that’s easy to overlook, and it involves our omnipresent smartphones. Think about customers who use their phones or tablets to get updates on their accounts, to order products or to engage with your customer service team. Consumers who do this are interacting with your business using IoT. You can make your mobile apps even more capable with features like contactless payments and live chat or chatbots.
IoT for Asset Tracking and Operational Awareness
Strategically placing eyes and ears throughout your production facilities was one of the earliest and most important applications for IoT technologies. Cameras, sensors and other technologies give business leaders and decision-makers incredibly valuable insight into the performance of their existing infrastructure and daily processes. Here’s a crash course:
- Preventive maintenance is a snap with IoT. Meeting your clients’ needs on time is only possible if your manufacturing or material handling infrastructure is working properly. It’s getting more cost-effective for business facilities to either upgrade their existing equipment or retrofit older machines with a variety of sensors that indicate when a machine needs attention, well before it fails and brings operations to a halt.
- The IoT provides an opportunity to monitor the real-world usage patterns of your products that was unheard of only a few years ago. Using things like sensors, prospective customers’ IP addresses, web cookies and even intelligence from social websites, companies have more data than ever on how people use their products, how they perform over time and even how consumers repair items or interact with the aftermarket for modifications.
- Does your company provide products or services all year? Do you deal with perishable items? And do you find it a challenge to maintain the right conditions for them until they’re on the way to customers? Some nurseries are turning to connected devices like temperature, moisture and humidity sensors. That way they can sell plants and other green products throughout the year. In efforts to cut down on product spoilage in warehouses or while en route to customers, other companies utilize intelligence-gathering devices during transit to remotely monitor the condition of shipments.
More data equals greater operational efficiency and awareness. The more efficient and self-aware your operations become, the more satisfied your customers and clients will be.
Is the IoT a Good Investment for Companies With Out-of-Date Technology?
There’s no way around it: The IoT represents an investment. Like any other B2B operation out there, you want to get the most out of your budget. Reasons like “everybody’s doing it” provide a mixed bag of results. However, when it comes to investing in the IoT, it makes some sense. Bringing the IoT into the B2B marketplace seems like a no-brainer at this point. It’s an increasingly vital competitive advantage you won’t want to do without. Global spending on IoT technology hit $157 billion in 2016 — but it’s set to grow to a stunning $456 billion by 2020. The next few years could also see the U.S. economy add close to a quarter-million brand-new IT jobs, many of which will involve designing IoT deployments for companies of all kinds.
The best way to think about the IoT as it applies to B2B is straightforward. Do you want to offer more personalization, or less? Do you want to do more work, or less, to gather valuable insights into how your customers use your services and interact with your products? We’ve gone over some of the more specific ways IoT devices can bring rafts of useful data into the mix. A more abstract way to look at the IoT in the B2B landscape is to think of the insights you’re gathering as a kind of 3D map of each of your customers. This map is a useful tool for you when it comes to tailoring your offerings and offering greater personalization.
One question that’s rightfully getting some attention is: Are there any security concerns with the Internet of Things? The answer is “yes” — but the same is true of just about everything these days. And the good news is that a competent IoT service provider (a.k.a “TaaS” vendors) will know how to keep you safe. Amazon Web Services, Microsoft, Dell and Google are proven names in computing and cloud services. They know how to navigate the inherent difficulties in keeping client data safe.
How Can B2B Companies Balance All of This With Privacy and Security?
Photo: Digital Way
There are also the matters of privacy regulation compliance, too. This is especially true in the wake of General Data Protection Regulation and anticipated similar legislation beyond the European Union. The IoT has the potential to completely remake entire business models. Companies wanting to gather, analyze and even disseminate data about their partners, there’s a real danger of overstepping. Your customers will thank you for maintaining transparency when it comes to how you intend to use your IoT infrastructure to better serve them. They’ll also want to see opt-out tools so they can personalize just how detailed your “3D customer data map” becomes. Every previous technological revolution in the business community offered a raft of opportunity to be weighed against ROI and the potential risks. There’s so much to be excited about when it comes to IoT and B2B. Start with a clear mission and build your infrastructure for security and privacy from the ground up. Then use IoT to see your company reach even greater heights.