Maxon Motor - How the Internet becomes a B2B sales channel

For more than 50 years, everything at maxon has revolved around customer-specific drive solutions. The Internet has become the company’s most important sales channel for technically complex precision drives. The customer configures their individual solution themselves - be it for the Mars Rover, robots, passenger planes, heart pumps or high-precision industrial plants. The subsequent offer and order process up to delivery is completely digitalised and automated. This way, the customer’s individual drive solution is shipped after only eleven working days.  Dr Luca Bongulielmi, head of Business Management EMEA at maxon, explains how the company became a pioneer in digital B2B sales for complex and customised products.

With the introduction of our online configurator, we succeeded in delivering custom engines and transmissions to our customers within eleven working days.

- Dr. Luca Bongulielmi, Head of Business management EMEA at maxon

Dr Bongulielmi, what products does maxon specialise in and where are they used?

We develop and manufacture Electric drives. They are used wherever there are high requirements and engineers cannot allow for any compromises. Our engines power the NASA rovers on Mars. They are built into insulin pumps and hand-held surgical devices. They are located in humanoid robots or in high-precision industrial plants. They all have something in common independent of where they are used: our drive solutions are always customer-specific to a high degree.

How do you deal with this flexibility and complexity in your product range when preparing offers?  

This has, in fact, posed serious challenges for us in the past. Since introducing our configuration tool by camos a few years ago, we have succeeded in mapping all rules for the configuration of our products. Since then, we no longer need to question whether the customer specifications can be built or not. Using the plausibility and completeness checks integrated in the system, the software ensures that only technically feasible product variants can be configured. This way, the customer-specific product becomes the standard for us.  

When did you decide to offer your precision drives with an online configurator via your website? 

When we launched a new product line on the market in 2010, we dealt intensively with the question of how our process can be digitally mapped in its entirety - from the first customer enquiry to the delivery of the engine. We developed a vision that turns the Internet into the most important sales channel. Each drive variant should be quick and easy to configure and be available within eleven working days.

What was your motivation that led to this vision?  

We realised that web technology was increasingly dominating the every-day lives of our customers. In addition, we also knew that this would make our sales process more uniform, easier and more efficient. The information basis was to become consistent for everyone. Sales staff in the field and office and also our customers should be able to go through the same digital ordering process and effortlessly assemble the custom engine with a single interface. Time-consuming media interruptions were to be reduced to zero.

How did you implement your vision in practice?

We started by developing our future processes with the organisation. At the same time, we specified the software solution in steps. The realisation of quick prototypes helped us to make the right decisions regarding the guidebook and rules. In addition to defining the configuration rules, a central task was to develop our user interface. As already mentioned, we wanted a ‘one-for-all’ user interface. Nevertheless it had to meet the different requirements of all relevant user groups and personas. To do this, we first identified the personas who might be interested in our products in workshops: from the CEO of an SME, to an engineer of a large company to a student. For all defined groups, for example, we worked out which previous knowledge they have when visiting our website and which information they need. All results flow into the optical and functional design of the configurator. In 2012, we then went live with our camos online configurator. Our customers can access it from anywhere in the world via our website without registering.

How do you ensure that the interested party can adapt the level of detail of the information provided to their needs in the configuration and offer process? 

The interested party can flexibly control the information content and intuitively display relevant additional information in their display using the corresponding information buttons. Upon request, they can view all technical specifications, drawings as well as information on delivery times and prices for all options directly on the website. Moreover, they can view their individual configuration result in a 3D model or export it for their CAD system. It is important that customers can choose the level of detail in the displayed information. After all, our customers use the online configurator quite differently, in fact. For some, it serves initially as a source of inspiration to gain a first insight into our product range and our prices. Others already know exactly what they need. They purposefully configure their product, verify the performance and dimensions regarding their requirements and have the binding offer with all options and prices prepared ad hoc. They place the order on this basis.

And this then automatically triggers all further steps in your digital process?

Yes, all commercial information is transferred to our ERP system, so that the necessary documents are created here. In addition, our configuration system transmits all necessary data to start a detailed production order. The customer then receives an order confirmation promptly after the order is placed. This is possible because the system allows us to guarantee that only technically feasible product variants are configured. This relieves our sales administration and design departments and significantly speeds up our overall process. 

That means you have reached your goal of delivering within eleven working days? 

Yes, we have been able to deliver the vast majority of all orders within eleven working days since its introduction. This allows us to meet the high expectations placed on response times in the digital environment.

Let's us look to the future. What’s next for maxon in terms of digital distribution?

The success is reason for us to continuously evolve the online configurator and to further differentiate our product range. We are striving for maximum customisation. The associated increasing complexity will be mapped in the software in such a way that it remains manageable. Today we offer brushed and brushless drives. Soon our new IDX compact drives will also be configurable with encoders, controllers and brakes. We have set new benchmarks for our field with our configurator. We are highly motivated to remain at the top and challenge ourselves every day to further improve our sales performance.

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