Creating digital products focused on customers’ needs and desires remains a challenge for companies in different sectors, especially those with a more traditional background. With the right strategy and allies, Minerva Foods has achieved a consolidated e-commerce structure.
The social and technological changes in recent years have brought about a true transformation in consumer relationships. The buying and selling process, which was once purely transactional, now involves a deeper relationship with customers and consumers, addressing different stages of their journey and, above all, their desires and needs.
For companies, this represents a new challenge: reaching the level of maturity required to create digital products that place the customer at the center of business strategies, especially for large, well-established companies in their market.
Imagine, for example, a company in the beef export industry with over 30 years of experience and a presence in more than 100 countries, conducting sales operations physically. Suppose this company has identified the need to redefine its operating model to offer its customers a new way of engaging. How can it create a digital structure from scratch that puts the customer at the heart of business strategies and strengthens the company’s market position?
This is the case with Minerva Foods, which, for a long time, relied solely on one communication point with its customers: the brand’s sales structure. However, a little over three years ago, the organization invested in digitizing its services and helped customers gain more autonomy to make their purchases whenever and wherever they wanted, becoming protagonists of their buying journey. All of this was accomplished by embracing the concept of omnichannel, meaning that regardless of the chosen purchase channel, Minerva Foods’ customers are guaranteed to have the same experience.
To ensure that the entire operation could be carried out efficiently and generate the desired results, the company entered into a strategic partnership with Infobase, one of the largest IT integrators in Brazil, which helped Minerva Foods make all the necessary adjustments to adapt its operations to the digital market.
“Today, we have a hybrid model, and this was an internal paradigm that was broken because, until then, the customer could only be with us if they had a visit from the sales representative and went through a prior documentary analysis. One of the innovations we made was to digitize this process from start to finish. Through this, we learned that customers make purchases outside of business hours. Previously, we had a restriction, and customers could only make purchases from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., but now we have learned that customers buy outside of business hours, during holidays, and on weekends. They have autonomy, access our brands, products, and services offered on the platform. And this adds value to the business as a whole and, at the end of the day, represents a source of incremental revenue,” explained Marcelo Narita, E-Commerce Manager at Minerva Foods.
The Challenges of Adopting a Customer-Centric Approach
In general, a customer-centric approach demands the need to remodel processes to meet the customer’s needs satisfactorily. This includes considering all stages that involve the customer’s experience, from the prospecting phase through the buying journey to the after-sales phase. At Minerva Foods, one adopted strategy was to structure what the company calls a “digital squad,” bringing together business and technical areas to translate this customer-centric language across all sectors.
This maneuver also involves an aspect often overlooked by companies aiming to adopt this approach: the maturity of work methodologies. In practice, leaders must understand that this transformation involves a process of concessions, adjustments, and adaptations to grasp the best ways to strengthen this mindset for the digital and innovation domains.
“When we think about these connections, we always think about the human being. But deep down, we are talking about digital relationships, albeit humanized, because at the end of the day, that’s what it is: how we handle this in a natural and human way. The customer wants to enter our e-commerce platform and understand that there is personalization, that we are talking to them,” pointed out Narita.
Within this process, there should also be an understanding of the best ways to address the culture of fear since punishment for mistakes made during the transformation process can be a critical success factor. “Here, we began to work on this aspect with people; otherwise, we would undoubtedly break any innovation process because everyone would be afraid of making mistakes, and the fear of making mistakes inhibits creativity, so everyone would keep doing the same things, without taking risks.”
As a result, the company, which had zero digital revenue a little over three years ago, now generates significant revenue, structurally supporting the digitalization strategy. Moreover, the entire Minerva Foods team has acquired more learning and capabilities to execute more multifunctional projects and meet customer demands.
The Role of Partners in the Innovation Process in Companies
At Infobase, Minerva Foods found the technical support to make the development, implementation, prioritization, and, above all, restructuring of working methods viable, gaining agility in processes, and assuming the necessary risks for innovation to truly happen. The partnership between the companies arose during a management transition that initially seemed easily recognizable and manageable but, in practice, involved other layers.
The key to making this relationship work effectively, generating the desired results, was building a close connection between the partners. Marcelo Narita pointed out that it is essential to connect the partner to the business so that they can truly feel like a fundamental part of the process and be involved not only in a specific project but in all essential stages and the results achieved throughout the work.
“We also like to share the results of what was done, and I think that is an advantage because the partner sees their work happening. It’s one thing for the partner to just deliver, and another is to have a real understanding of what worked or didn’t. All of this, I think, engages more, brings us closer, and makes it easier to work together.”
The ability to prototype and develop a minimum viable product was one of the challenges faced. Understanding project viability more accurately was crucial for the company to gain the capacity to make more strategic decisions. All of this was aligned with Infobase’s role as a partner.
“We have to think about where the beauty of innovation lies and have the partner understand, most of the time supported by methodologies, considering that innovation occurs with organizational and cultural maturation. Because I’ll be quite honest, it’s of no use to hire the best specialist if they don’t understand the culture, the people, and how the process will work.”
For Minerva Foods, innovation is seen as a value and not just a means to generate measurable results, and this alignment was also conveyed to the strategic partner so that they understood the main criteria underlying internal decisions in the company. This practical unfolding is aligned with the values of the Organizational Culture, titled “Our Way,” which is the result of an internal survey with all employees to understand the values that should permeate this journey, combining the process of cultural transformation with advances in digitalization.
Strategy, Innovation, and Risk
For companies that are beginning to articulate projects in this direction, Marcelo Narita emphasizes that it should be a strategic decision for each company. Moreover, it requires planning. “If it’s not something defined in the strategic planning, I’ll be quite honest, it will be a risk to generate a distraction, an investment without necessarily being aligned with the return because, at the end of the day, it’s a value and must be practiced as culture.”
This strategic alignment also needs to involve a clear and assertive perspective to understand what truly constitutes a significant investment and how to measure time, cost, and return. In practice, this also requires preparing employees to experience these transformation processes, which generally involve fear and insecurity. Especially because these movements are often associated with workforce reductions, but that is not necessarily the case. Narita advocates the idea that this is a process more linked to revisiting and redefining roles and outcomes.
Another point is the understanding that there needs to be assertiveness in this infrastructure because this innovation strategy will not only be driven by technological aspects but also cultural changes, legal adaptations, and cybersecurity. Especially in companies like Minerva Foods, with established corporate governance practices, such adjustments and compliance are part of the organizational routine.
Finally, employee engagement is crucial for any company to succeed in this transition from physical to digital, especially when the goal is to align the two strategies. And this is not just for the e-commerce or technology teams but also various other teams that may not necessarily have much contact with these changes but may eventually need to digitize their processes too.
Translated from: MIT Technology Review