When it comes to the way we buy things, the COVID-19 pandemic has crammed decades of change into a matter of weeks. With customers unable to purchase products face-to-face, both B2B and B2C businesses have been forced to find ways to adapt to the new normal by either bringing their customer experiences online, or improving their existing online experience.

As part of our first ever pan-EMEA Salesforce Live event, we hosted conversations with two Salesforce customers who have had to transform their commerce businesses at short notice due to the pandemic. The two customers: Francesco Bottigliero of Italian fashion company Brunello Cucinelli, and Andre Schültke of German appliance-manufacturer SEVERIN.

You can watch both these sessions on demand here or read on to find out some of the key points that were covered.


How Brunello Cucinelli is balancing tradition and technology in uncertain times

Francesco Bottigliero, iCEO at Italian fashion company Brunello Cucinelli, spoke with Salesforce’s Angelique De Vries (EVP for Northern Region), about the challenge of staying agile and resilient in the face of change. Named after its founder (and current chairman), Brunello Cucinelli is based in Solomeo, a hamlet in the Umbria region of Italy that was established in the 14th century. And the company’s interest in and connection to tradition is far more than geographic. 

“Our chairman had the idea of appointing somebody at CEO level who handles digital transformation and innovation—hence the ‘i’ in iCEO,” explained Francesco. The point was to underline that the digital vision needs to work with the more traditional vision that has led this company this far, over the last 40 years. So even though Brunello Cucinelli has adopted digital technology for a number of years, it has always insisted on keeping this technology discreet for its customers. 

“Many fashion brands have adopted things like digital signage and tablets in their physical stores,” said Francesco, “but we don’t want that technology to interfere with the warmth of the relationships between our customers and sales associates. We want our customers to feel the atmosphere of our boutiques, to feel our cashmere.” 

“That’s why we like to make our technology almost invisible.” With COVID-19, of course, tradition has come under threat — and technology’s profile has been raised. The all-important boutiques have closed, and the company has been forced to develop distance selling tools for its customers that don’t dispense with the warm relationships Brunello Cucinelli’s customers have come to expect.

“At the end of January we locked down our manufacturing activities, and only reopened the factory at the end of April,” said Francesco. “Of course, we understood during this time that the priorities for our customers and partners changed dramatically. And we needed to find ways to keep up our customer relationships using digital. ”Fortunately, while keeping its adoption of technology quiet in public, behind the scenes Brunello Cucinelli very much believes in creating what they call “unified commerce” — a consistent, omni channel experience, where all channels are connected and complement each other.

The company was therefore well prepared to make the shift that COVID-19 had accelerated: “From years ago, we were using MuleSoft as an ESB,” said Francesco. “This is really helping us now, because we can now use it to make the most important data and digital tools available to the business.” While Francesco believes that digital will never become the company’s predominant channel, the company recognises that COVID has ushered in a “new time” — a time where tradition will have to be balanced more carefully than ever with technology.

“My humble tip to everybody is that we should activate our beginner’s mind,” said Francesco. “We need to be very nimble as a business, knowing that the future we are going to experience is different from what we saw in the past.”


How SEVERIN built a B2C storefront in just 6 weeks

One of Germany’s biggest electrical appliances manufacturer SEVERIN is also rooted in tradition. It was founded in 1892, and first went into the electrical household segment around 70 years ago. Since then, it has been a pure B2B player. COVID-19, however, overturned 70 years of tradition in a matter of weeks, as SEVERIN CIO Andre Schültke explained to Melis Unsal, EMEA Product Marketing Manager for Salesforce.

“Coronavirus showed us instantly how fragile our set up was,” said Andre. “Our inventory and warehouses were full of household appliances with no B2B customers to buy them.” “We had to think about how to get in touch with the B2C customer,” said Andre, “which is a big challenge. It’s really hard for a B2B company to go to B2C — so much is different, from after-sales to invoicing.”Knowing that Salesforce best practices came with a proven record, SEVERIN first met with the Salesforce team just two months ago to start planning a 6 week fast-track project to build SEVERIN a Commerce Cloud storefront. 

“The solution needed to be scalable and future-proof, with the possibility to adapt to a B2B solution later on,” explained Andre. “Given the time restrictions, customisation wasn’t an option, but the storefront architecture was flexible enough to handle most of our corporate design guidelines.” How was this possible in just 6 weeks? Andre said it was all about teamwork and communication. 

“Decision making had to be quick. Escalations had to be solved immediately. Communication channels needed to be clear and responsibilities needed to be well-defined on both sides. Kay (the Services Delivery Manager for Salesforce on the project) and I spoke every day, throughout the day.”

In spite of the fact that Kay and Andre never met in person, SEVERIN’s B2C store is now live on its website. An amazing achievement in such a short time, and a tantalising prospect to businesses facing dilemmas similar to those facing both Brunello Cucinelli and SEVERIN in recent months.

Watch the on-demand recordings of these sessions, and many more from Salesforce Live: EMEA