How to Build a Robust B2B Operations Strategy for Efficiency and Scale

For B2B companies, the day-to-day execution of work and strategic objectives are highly dependent on the strength of their operations. Gartner research shows that 80% of growing companies see business operations as key to future profit growth. A well-oiled operations engine is essential for efficiency, flexibility, and the ability to scale the business over time.

Yet 65% of B2B leaders say driving consistent execution and operational excellence is a major challenge, according to research by Bain & Company. Many companies either lack a clear operations strategy altogether, or execute poorly against the strategy they have in place.

Developing a robust B2B operations strategy – and following through on it – requires a deliberate approach. As renowned management consultant and author Ram Charan puts it: "Execution is the missing link between aspirations and results."

So what exactly does a winning B2B operations strategy entail? At its core, it‘s about designing and orchestrating the optimal combination of processes, people, and tools to efficiently achieve the company‘s strategic goals. Let‘s unpack each of those key pillars:

Pillar 1: Design Efficient and Scalable Business Processes

Business processes are the lifeblood of B2B operations. A strong operations strategy must start with mapping and analyzing the company‘s core processes to understand the current state and identify areas for improvement.

Some key processes to assess and optimize include:

  • Lead-to-cash: The end-to-end process from customer acquisition to order fulfillment and payment
  • Procure-to-pay: The end-to-end process for sourcing goods/services and managing suppliers and spend
  • Plan-to-produce: The production planning and scheduling process to meet demand
  • Issue-to-resolution: The process for identifying, triaging and resolving product/service issues
  • Hire-to-retire: The end-to-end employee lifecycle process

The goal is to make these processes as simple, streamlined and standardized as possible. A few proven tactics for process optimization:

  • Eliminate bottlenecks and waste using lean methodology
  • Automate repetitive tasks with workflow tools and RPA
  • Establish clear process standards and KPIs
  • Implement agile methodologies for continuous improvement

By designing frictionless and scalable processes, B2B companies can drive major operational improvements. Examples:

  • GE Healthcare reduced equipment installation cycles by 30% by streamlining workflows
  • Cisco cut average lead-to-order time by 45% with process automation and standardization
  • Caterpillar improved on-time delivery to 98% with lean manufacturing techniques

Pillar 2: Build a High-Performing Operations Organization

Even the best processes fall flat without the right talent and org structure to support them. A robust B2B operations strategy requires clarity on the human side of execution.

Some key talent and org considerations:

  • Role design: Clearly define key operations roles/responsibilities and how they fit into the org
  • Talent acquisition: Develop a plan to recruit and retain top operations talent
  • Centralization vs. decentralization: Determine the right balance and interplay between a central Business Operations team vs. distributed ops resources
  • Center of Excellence (COE) model: Consider leveraging COEs to concentrate specialized operations skills (e.g. lean, automation)
  • Upskilling: Provide training and development to build operations capabilities

Example: Honeywell established a Global Business Services unit consolidating operations resources across finance, procurement, HR, and customer care. This shared services model has delivered over $250M in savings.

Beyond the right org structure, B2B operations also require strong leadership to guide the function. An empowered Head of Business Operations can be a critical role reporting to the COO or CEO. This leader can ensure operations has a voice in strategy setting and a clear mandate for transformation.

Pillar 3: Implement Enabling Technology and Tools

In today‘s digital world, technology is an essential driver of operational performance. A robust B2B operations strategy leverages best-in-class tools to enable processes, provide visibility, and measure results.

Some key operations technology considerations:

  • ERP/financials: Ensure core financial operations run on a modern, integrated system
  • CRM: Implement a CRM to streamline front-office operations like sales and service
  • Supply chain systems: Leverage tools for demand planning, procurement, logistics
  • BI/analytics: Invest in reporting and analytics to track and improve operational KPIs
  • Workflow/automation: Deploy tools to digitize manual processes and drive efficiency
  • Master Data Management: Ensure consistent, high-quality data across operational systems

A strong operations tech stack is a major competitive advantage. Example: Brose, a global auto parts supplier, implemented a digital manufacturing platform that drove a 30% increase in productivity via real-time performance monitoring and predictive analytics.

Putting the Pillars into Practice

With those three pillars in mind, here are 10 best practices to build and execute a robust B2B operations strategy:

  1. Align operations strategy with overall business strategy
  2. Understand and optimize end-to-end critical processes
  3. Establish organizational model to centralize key operations functions
  4. Hire the right operations leadership
  5. Define clear operations roles and responsibilities
  6. Provide training and development to upskill operations talent
  7. Implement integrated operations tech stack and tools
  8. Establish operational KPIs and performance dashboards
  9. Leverage COE model for specialized operations skills
  10. Foster a culture of continuous improvement

Of course, executing on these best practices is often easier said than done. Common challenges include:

  • Siloed functions and fragmented operations
  • Legacy processes and systems that are hard to change
  • Lack of operations standards and governance
  • Scarcity of skilled operations talent
  • Resistance to change from front-line employees
  • Difficulty integrating operations strategy across M&A

How can B2B companies overcome these barriers? Take an agile approach. Prioritize a few quick-win initiatives to build momentum. Secure CXO sponsorship to champion the operations agenda. And don‘t be afraid to bring in outside expertise to accelerate your transformation.

The Digitized, Automated and Agile Future of B2B Operations

Looking ahead, the bar will only get higher for B2B operations excellence. We predict that future-ready operations strategies will increasingly focus on:

  • Digitization of processes via AI, IoT, blockchain, and other emerging tech
  • End-to-end process automation leveraging RPA, low-code platforms, etc.
  • Agile approaches for faster performance improvement
  • Advanced analytics to proactively address operational issues and opportunities
  • Customer-centric ops that leverage sentiment, usage and other data to improve CX

As Aston Tan, operational excellence leader at CRM leader Salesforce states: "Over the next few years, operation teams will need to build the digital expertise to manage large-scale automation, create data-first operating models, and embrace agile delivery practices."

Key Takeaways and Next Steps

Building a robust B2B operations strategy is no small undertaking. But the business benefits are substantial – from improved efficiency and quality to faster speed to market and increased customer satisfaction. By optimizing processes, building the right team and skillsets, and leveraging technology, B2B companies can develop their operations into a true source of competitive advantage.

Not sure where to start? Follow these steps:

  1. Assess current operations maturity and pain points
  2. Define your future-state operations vision and strategy
  3. Design the target operating model to close gaps
  4. Develop a roadmap balancing quick wins and longer-term initiatives
  5. Pilot, measure, and iterate to drive continuous improvement

With the right strategy, talent and execution, your B2B operations can become a well-oiled machine that drives your business forward.

If you would like to discuss ideas further, or need more advice on where to start, feel free to email me here [Insert email address] or book a 30-minute advice session with our operations consulting team [Insert Calendar Link].