FREESTYLE presents… B2B Spotlight Q&A No 3: Keith Reville, RUBIX

The Spotlight series is a thought-provoking mix of interviews, musings, tips and stats from the front line of B2B marketing. B2B Spotlight #3 comes in video and long form. Freestyle’s Kay Edwin is at RUBIX HQ getting insights into Europe’s largest industrial distributor.

RUBIX is Europe’s largest industrial distributor and the Group owns the Brammer, Buck & Hickman and Orexad brands.

Sit back and enjoy some refreshing directness from Keith as he calls out B2B clichés, Ai hyperbole and useless bots. Brought to you by Freestyle.

Q: What does digital transformation mean for RUBIX? 

A: I think it means getting just as good at digital as we ever were at analogue. It’s the latest chapter in a long history of RUBIX companies growing very successfully and quickly throughout Europe. We’ve achieved this by being predominantly analogue. So getting good at digital is our next big objective and opportunity – and making sure it stands up there with all the other things we’re good at, like category management and purchasing, and all the while delivering great service to our European customers. 

Q: What changes have you noticed in the marketing of industrial products in recent years? 

A: I’ve noticed lots of changes, some good, some bad. I find that our customers tend to be very bright, very cynical, quite marketing-adverse, and don’t always appreciate the trend, that some businesses in our sector have embraced, of mimicking B2C-style marketing.

You’re not marketing to people who are consumers at work. You’re marketing to people who are typically very conscientious, very deadline-driven, very busy and really value substance over form.

So, I think there are some elements of consumer-based marketing that work and some that don’t. The marketing approach that I find works the best is taking an extraordinarily customer-centric approach, and making sure everything we put out into the market place is very relevant and geared towards helping our customers do their jobs better. 

“You’re not marketing to people who are consumers at work. You’re marketing to people who are typically very conscientious, very deadline-driven, and really value substance over style.”

Q: What are RUBIX doing to personalise experiences for your customers? 

A: We’re trying to make the brand a personalised thing. We’re very omnichannel in our approach. We take a very classic, digital with a human touch approach and we try to deliver that across our immense range, in all our geographic territories and for the thousands of customers we serve. 

We want to be seen as a multi-specialist, and there are things that we are the biggest and best at, bar none. But our European scale demands a degree of personalisation; where we might be strong in one country, for a particular service offering, it’s not what is needed in another country. So we have to address another element of our value proposition. 

We have a mixture of product knowledge, technical solutions, service accuracy and then this rising tide of digital and personalisation. 

All of our customers that I speak to continually tell me that the way to differentiate in this marketplace is on ease of doing business - which shouldn’t be limited to analogue or the digital world, it should just be the brand essence.

“All of our customers tell me that the way to differentiate in this marketplace is on ease of doing business.”

Q: Does RUBIX have any plans to integrate AI into the organisation? If so, how are you going about it? 

A: I think you have to start small. I’m personally allergic to some of the hyperbole that I hear about AI. I think the best AI in the world is done on making the basics brilliant. 

So for us, something like artificial intelligence applied to predicting customer behaviour is a big deal. Our customers really appreciate things like recommendations for associated products. This is a really basic principle but it’s really hard to deliver at scale, so we’re investing a lot of effort in that area.  

 Increasingly, we are using bots to deliver first-line customer service. But you have to be very careful that. You have to make sure the cost of providing customer service, which can be very attractive with chat bots, doesn’t overtake the importance of delivering good customer service. Because sometimes if you pay cheap, you pay twice. 

A classic case of that is the service I experienced recently with DPD (the parcel delivery company). They gave me a delivery window - my parcel was due at 11am so I thought I’ll work from home in the morning, get my parcel and go into the office for the afternoon. At about 10.50am, I get a message saying your parcel will be delivered on schedule at 4.30pm - so this completely blows the plan. I immediately start looking for some customer service contact points to see if I can recover the situation.

The first, second and third line of the customer service response was a bot, which wasn’t giving me any help or satisfaction at all. And I twigged a little too late in the conversation that I was actually engaging with a bot. So I asked, ‘Are you a bot?’, and it answered, ‘Yes, I am a bot, but I’m very well-trained and able to help’, in a situation where it had been completely unable to help for the previous 15 minutes. So I said, ‘Well actually, you can’t help, please let me speak to a human’, and then I was told again by the bot, ‘No, I’m able to help’. And then, when I asked a second time I was finally given a phone number. It was a complete shambles from start to finish. It was a real case of how the cost of providing customer service becomes more important than the quality of the service. It was well-intended AI for a really good brand, but delivering a really suboptimal experience. 

So we’re using AI to make the basics even more brilliant, learn a little more about our customers, and track it all back to that central plank of the value proposition around being easy to do business with and helping our customers to do their jobs better. 

“I’m personally allergic to some of the hyperbole that I hear about AI. I think the best AI in the world is done on making the basics brilliant.”

Q: Are there any brands that you think are doing a good job of adopting AI?   

A: I don’t actually, not wanting to sound controversial. I see lots of people trying to do it.  I think the main emphasis on AI in our market place today is cost reduction. And I think sometimes in life if you pay cheap, you pay twice. I’d like to see a less is more approach.

Q: At RUBIX your ambition is to transform the delivery of industrial products and solutions across Europe. How does digital help you do that?

A: I think digital gives you reach. It’s always the most empirical, as in easily measurable, part of any business as it takes away all the guess work. If you want to know how your customers are interacting with your digital touchpoints, go and have a look. You can see every single session with simple tools like SessionCam or Hotjar. 

I think in a way, digital puts pressure on traditional companies to embrace digital from the inside. In big companies, there’s often an inverse proportionality between the strength of a person’s opinion about digital and how much they actually understand about it. 

So digital is a window on the world, everyone can see what their competition is up to, and I think we’re all obliged as digital professionals to get a bit more hands on with it ourselves.

“In big companies, there’s often an inverse proportionality between the strength of a person’s opinion about digital and how much they actually understand about it.”

Q: When it comes to content, how do you inspire people to create something interesting in a ‘non-sexy’ B2B environment?

A: I often say that non-sexy work can deliver really sexy results. And just establishing cause and effect on content, and then democratising the data with the teams that write the content, so they can see the results of their work, whether it’s in views, conversion or sales, really does the trick. 

Because the products themselves are typically industrial in nature, they’re not sexy to the wider world – but they are sexy to somebody. And when you really make a connection with a customer, and you can see that the work you do delivers a better customer experience, helps the customer to do their job better, makes their lives easy and also increases the growth of our company – I’ve yet to find a marketer that doesn’t like that. 

“I often say that non-sexy work can deliver really sexy results”

Q: Finally, you’re en-route to a desert island and you can only take three things, what do you take?

A: I would take my phone, my headphones and I would take the complete works of C.J Sansom.

Thanks to Keith for his time and valuable insights into the fascinating World of RUBIX. Until the next industry Q&A, thanks for reading.

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