Digitalisation within the N! Community: part 1, Virtual Events
In this, the first of four articles on digitalisation within the N! Community, Bas Donders, N! Brand and Communication Director, provides an overview of how the technology is being deployed by Nexus to enable new ways of working, in particular for events and communication.
In 2018, we were already talking about digitalisation as one of the most disruptive trends in the aftermarket, creating new opportunities for value creation but also seeing increased competitive pressures with the entry of new players and more transparent pricing changing the expectations of customers.
Alongside these would be a greater reliance on software, which today is being translated into new ways of communication among various actors in the aftermarket. The industry, despite the evolution, is still characterised by an old-fashioned communication approach, which sometimes leads to confused and inefficient business relationships.
It is an issue that has been highlighted over recent months, when every organisation in the aftermarket had to re-think and organise its structure to better deal with communication issues and obstacles caused by the COVID-19 emergency.
When we talk about digitalisation, what is changing for NEXUS and its Community?
There is a broad and extensive definition of digitalisation, which can be applied to different domains: retailing, mobility, communication, customer service, etc.. in NEXUS we want this revolution to involve all of these domains. My team has worked hard over recent months to bring new technologies to our partners in order to guarantee a continuous and open communication channel despite the distances. We built CON!NECT as our first step to finding the best way to keep our community connected and gathered in the same place.
Just before the lockdown in March 2020, we announced the newly-rebuilt platform, CON!NECT 2.0, which not only offers a unique solution to all our community to get connected and find digital resources but also to be better informed about the NEXUS Community and the aftermarket in general.
After the big event in March, how did you organise your events?
Events are part of our core activity and we know how important it is for our market to meet face-to-face. Of course, this was not possible, so we tested different approaches, which also required an important effort from our Community to learn new technologies and adapt to a more digitalised way of running business meetings.
We started with some web-based trainings, through the NEXUS Academy program and we noticed with pleasure that this approach really worked. We then moved into a more structured events program and we ran 12 different Virtual Connecting Days, gathering regional members with selected suppliers.
The outcome of these web conferences was pleasantly surprising! Beside the good number of participants to each event, the interactions and exchange was dynamic and interesting and gave us the opportunity to better understand local markets, both from a distributor and manufacturer point of view.
We also took a big risk by running a real digital trade show, N! Virtual Days. It was a real success. To be completely honest, the community and the team were concerned about this new approach. First of all, because we used a new tool, and we were the first to learn how it works and how to better use all the features to optimise its efficiency for the community. Then, there was a concern about the technologies at disposal: firewalls, weak internet connections, incompatible devices. We were really shaking with fear that it might be a big flop!
You can imagine the feeling of release we had once we realised that everything was going well. Of course, it is a first experience for everyone, and we know where improvement is needed.
What did the virtual event bring to the community?
We received a lot of good feedback from our members and suppliers about their experience with the virtual event. We registered 1,200 meetings in two days, and we heard of some fruitful outcomes from these video-based meetings. The difference with our usual global event, the NEXUS Business Forum, is that we gave access to all the local representatives of our members and suppliers. So, they were able to speak the same language and run more efficient meetings.
What is the outcome of the discussions which took place during the Connecting Days?
Of course, we had different kinds of outcomes from the NEXUS Virtual Connecting Days and mainly because of the different geographical origin of the participants. However, we were surprised to notice that generally speaking there are some similarities among the manufacturers’ activities and ways to deal with the situation. Beside the healthy measures put in place for all the employees, most of the suppliers claimed to have experienced a fast business recovery as from September 2020 and that, in most of the cases, they took advantage of this time to focus on product development, catalogues and regional development.
In some cases, the relationships between suppliers and distributors became more consolidated, with enhanced communication, interactions and intimacy.
Online trainings were highly appreciated both by the distributors and manufacturers, and the time spent at home provided more opportunities to join the trainings.
What about the future?
In general, we hear people talking about ‘back to normal’ or ‘new normal’. Personally, I like to say, ‘a step forward’. Even if we begin to travel again, and we will of course run face-to-face meetings, we have also found a new way to be more efficient, connected and sustainable. We can bring people on the same platform from anywhere in the world and at any time of the year, help them run their business and at the same reduce the impact of travel expenses on company’s budget and on the environment.
In 2021 we will offer many other virtual opportunities to our Community, with the aim at keeping all our global members and suppliers connected and help an even stronger community to emerge.