Digitalising a traditional B2B company is no easy task - but with the right mindset and tools, it can be done. To find out how, we invited two friends from Interwheel to join this episode of Onlinification Pod and found out how their journey is progressing.
This week's guests were sales and marketing director Karl Helmer and digital marketer Alireza Abbasi, both from Interwheel, a major B2B wholesaler of tires and rims to workshops and car dealers across Sweden. Over the last couple of years, Interwheel has undergone a pretty major transformation - not only has the company's entire brand been consolidated and updated to reflect its new structure, but a major digitalisation initiative has been adapting and improving the way the sales, marketing and service departments do their daily work.
It's always interesting to find out how companies manage periods of intensive change like this, so it was great to speak to Karl and Alireza and discover the opportunities and challenges they've run into on the way. Among other things, we spoke about:
- How moving to HubSpot CRM has changed the way Interwheel's sales reps work and interact with customers
- The biggest roadblocks they've faced during the course of the ongoing transformation
- How their digitalisation efforts are changing the way the company is perceived by customers and prospects
- Their main tips for comparable companies looking to implement similar changes in the future
Thanks to Karl and Alireza for joining me at the Zooma office to record this episode - I thought we got some really great insights. To listen to this episode on the podcast platform of your choice, take a look at the links below. You can also find a full transcription of our discussion further down if you want a preview. Enjoy!
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Alexander Evjenth: So, today we have two guests on the podcast - it's Karl and Alireza from Interwheel. So Karl, who are you and what is your background?
Karl Helmer: All right. Yes, I am Karl Helmer, I have a background from various different businesses, but the main ones are fast moving consumer goods and the paper industry, before I two years ago entered the tyre and wheels business.
AE: What made you go to that industry?
KH: Well, it was kind of a coincidence, because I've been back and forth in marketing and sales and I really love the area there in between these two big areas which are quite often a bit competing. But then after spending a few years in the Baltic states working for Essity, I was back in Sweden working in the paper business, but that was only with sales. So then this opportunity came by to work with both marketing and sales together. So that was perfect, I thought. And then the company we're working in was also in a really interesting place at the moment.
AE: Hmm. Hmm. Interesting. So we'll get back to to your role later. Alireza, who are you and what's your background?
Alireza Abbasi: Hello, I am Alireza Abbasi. Actually, in general, I am a digital enthusiast who is interested in digital world, but today I am a digital marketer. At Interwheel, I started my career more than ten years ago, with experience from my previous role in CMS, quality management systems, sales and graphic and photography. But the first role in the marketing that I had was kind of a traditional marketing role. After learning more about marketing and based on my interests and that I love digital stuff, I started my journey in digital marketing and business digitalisation and today I am still learning and experiencing new things and stuff in this exciting part of the business.
AE: So how long have you been at Interwheel now?
AA: It's been two years and two months, I think. Yeah, if I want to be exact.
AE: You started at quite the same time?
AA: Yes, yes.
AE: Cool. And so, Karl, what does Interwheel do, for a listener who doesn't know the brand?
KH: All right. Yeah, well, we do a lot of things, but our core business is tires and wheels. So we have our own brand, Kumho, that we import, and we also have Alutec, which is a rims business that we have. So these two are our own brands that we, that we run in the market. But then we also work with all the big international names within tyres. So, you know, Nokian, Pirelli, Michelin, Goodyear, etc. So we can offer everything even though we focus on our own brands. So this is a bit of a unique position in the market that we have, that we produce wheels and can provide all the big brands basically.
AE: Yeah. So who is your customers? Who do you sell wheels to?
AA: Um, our main customers are, in Swedish we call them bilfack and däckfack...
KH: 'Fack' is a very...
AA: It's a tricky word to say as a non-Swedish speaker! It's car dealers and tyre dealers, and these are our main target groups or these are our main customers in the industry.
AE: And mainly in Sweden.
KH: Yes, we are focusing on Sweden and it's a really interesting time in our business because there is many other businesses, you can see that there has been a concentration to bigger and bigger firms, but that has not really happened before the last few years in the tire and rims business. Yeah, so this is a big trend that we are working with. Another big trend is is also that there is more of a fight between the 'däckfack' and 'bilfack', or the car dealers and the traditional tire and rims dealers, because the electrification makes it more interesting and more important for the car dealers to get involved in the tire business.
AE: So the big boom in the electric car has new demands on wheels, or new interests?
KH: Yes, it changes the business in the way that there is less need for service on a car, you know, oil has been a really big profit maker for the car dealers in the service business. But that kind of, yeah, that is diminishing with electric cars. So then it's very important to have the wheels, where you get your customer in two times a year to your car dealership, and when you change the tires, you can make sure to change the windshield wipers, or you can increase your sales in many ways when you have your customer in place.
AE: Interesting. So Alireza, tell us a bit about your role. What do you do at Interwheel on a daily basis?
AA: Yes, I started as a digital marketer to enhance our marketing activities at Interwheel about two years ago, for both for online and offline activities. Also, I am involved in our digital transformation journey that we have at Interwheel, we started by implementing inbound marketing, then we expanded it to inbound strategy for our whole sales, marketing and service team. So during this process, during this phase, I was or I am the product owner, if it's the right term. Also today, we really have we have a really nice webshop, and I am taking care of the webshop's needs and improvements from different perspectives, and we are trying to improve our customer experience in the webshop day by day.
AE: And Karl, your role?
KH: My role is to really make sure that our sales, our top line is is growing in the way that we have set out in the long term. And that means managing a team of salespersons and marketers. And it has a lot to do with people, actually, everyday, their challenges and communication, but also being present in the customer discussions all the time, and also more strategic questions like who should be our customer, etc..
AE: Yeah, I have some questions about your ideal customers later. But first, as an outsider not working at Interwheel and following your company, it seems like there's a lot of things happening. For example, you changed brand recently from Dawero to Interwheel, and so on. Is that a correct perception?
KH: It is, it is, for sure. There is a lot of things going on. And if we start by focusing on what you just mentioned with the name, when I presented myself six months ago, it could sound like, okay, I'm Karl, I'm from Dawa, Interwheel, KB Wheels, ProImp, and Dawero. Of course, that's quite confusing for anybody you talk to. So we decided that this needed to change. The reason is that we have bought quite recently four companies, and that's where the names come from. But of course, in the long run, you cannot keep these brand names. So we decided that we will go with one name and that is Interwheel, a little bit reflecting what we do with wheels, and 'inter' being an aspiration in the long run to to to look outside the borders of Sweden. So it was a really interesting journey. We we did it very closely with Zooma, where we gathered our leadership team here actually at Zooma and locked ourselves up for a couple of days. But if you look at it, what we are trying to do was create one brand and change internal systems, so we have one business system, simplify internal processes with the purpose of enhancing the customer experience when they talk to us. And actually the consumer offer has not changed in that process. It's more about how our customers experience us that we want to enhance.
AE: Yeah. So Alireza, since you started, what has changed in the way you work in your role?
AA: About two years ago when I joined the team, we had a one-page website, with just a login page to our web shop. So for us, we try to change the way that we communicating with our customers and how we are, how we're presenting ourselves. So we started by having a more structured website with more proper information, helpful articles for our customers and things like this. And also we added new ways of communication, and we added new channels to communicate with our customers, like new forms. We added chat tools to our workflow, we added newsletters and email marketing as tools to use for our marketing and sales activities. Then to have all our sales and marketing and service activities under one roof, under one umbrella, we started to use HubSpot as our main platform and implement inbound within our company processes by the help of having HubSpot as a tool.
AE: Karl, having HubSpot as a tool, how has that changed the way salespeople work, or has it?
KH: Yes, for sure, for sure. In many, many ways I would say, because if we look to where we were, where the tires and wheels business has been, where you work very individually on your computer with your own files, you save your customers, you save your notes, etc. on your computer, which is a very old fashioned way of working, I would say. And what we have done now is that everything we do is measured. And I would say the most difficult thing is changing people. We put enormous efforts into educating our team and working with and in HubSpot, and we see now that we can measure everything. We can also look to the future, which is fantastic. You can have a discussion with the salesperson up ahead of, okay, what are the meetings you're going to have? What are the topics that you're going to discuss? It's all open, so it's a tool to discuss the way that the salesperson is working. So this is really, really strong, and it has enhanced the way we the way we discuss our business down to each salesperson. So, so that is one part. And then we have the innesälj, the inside sales team, and they were actually the quickest to adapt.
KH: They were, from one day to another, they worked 100% in HubSpot, all errands came into HubSpot and all of a sudden we go from having nothing, with five inboxes for the errands coming in, to having actually just everything in one place, and full overview for me leading these teams. It's also great for me, I have full measurability of everything, so I can see the the time we spend on each ticket that comes in, how many tickets that are coming in. We can balance, also, do we have the right amount of people? We have a business with high peaks and it's really interesting to be able to beforehand go in and know how long time it takes every ticket to be resolved, because we can get people in beforehand and be proactive in the way we work. But what's really in it for me is the the seamlessness that we are getting closer to in customer experience, that the customer talks to a salesperson and calls in two weeks later, talks to the inside sales team, and the inside sales team can continue the dialogue that was started two weeks ago with another person. That gives a fantastic feeling if if you're a customer.
AE: Yeah, and I have some insight into how you work with HubSpot, and from what I see you do it very well with all the salespeople. What has been the success factor on actually onboarding everyone to start to work with it? I know that a lot of companies have challenges with actually getting people to start using it.
KH: Yes, and to be honest, we still have have some challenges to overcome because the team consists of persons who are older, who are maybe not so digital or not digital at all. And we have the other employees who are extremely digital and have no problems whatsoever. So the problem is to get everybody on board. We invested a lot in the education, we spent, I think it was one and a half months for each team, with trainings two to three times a week. And of course you don't have to do that, but I think every single minute was worth it. And we're actually going to talk about today, I think, if we're going to have some some follow up meetings as well, and dig deeper into the system and continue the learning. But all in all, this onboarding is really, really worth to put a lot of effort into.
AE: Yeah. And Alireza, in your role, how aligned are you with the salespeople in your role with HubSpot?
AA: To do that, the most important thing was to support them in their questions and on the new things, the new way of working that they have to do every day, you know, to give them some to answers their question properly and make sure that they understand how to work. And HubSpot was one of the main factors that they feel it's easier working and that they and have a smoother workflow in their daily life.
AE: Yeah. So what have been your challenges during this transformation, or what do you think has been the hardest thing?
AA: For me, the biggest challenge was that HubSpot was new for me as well, but I was supposed to be the, I was supposed to lead others, so I had to be one step ahead of the others. And so so when they come in with their questions, I am supposed to know the answer to that question before they come to me. So I had to be some steps ahead and that was a challenging part for me.
AE: How did you solve that?
AA: By learning.
AE: On the Hubspot Academy?
AA: On the HubSpot Academy, knowing more about inbound strategy details and how to implement it. We had really good sessions regarding change management, how to manage the change that we are going to have and and that played a main role in our journey.
KH: But I can say, I think it was a few factors that made it successful from our perspective, and it was like Alireza is mentioning, putting a lot of emphasis on the planning beforehand. We we planned for probably six months how to do this, and it was down to how do we sell it into the team and who do we target and in what order. And it was very interesting discussions. Then we had the the part that we talked about, the training and so on with with Zooma, but also that Alireza could be on top all the time because you spent full time, I think for six months on this. But that was really, really helpful for everybody, I would say, in this. It was also for, in the communication with getting the right setup, it was really important that Alireza could be on top of this all the time and be one step ahead. So so I think these three things were quintessential to really succeed and get a good outcome of the implementation.
AE: So, now we've spoken a bit about sales and marketing, but the customer service, has it changed how they work yet?
KH: It is totally different, I would say, in the sense that we have full measurability of everything. How many tickets, how long time it takes to solve them, how long time to first response and so on. And everybody in the team also sees the tickets that we have in front of us. That means they can communicate and say, okay, I take this, you take that, and it's easier for them to coordinate the jobs that we have in front of us. So that has changed a lot. And I can say also, actually, that the whole atmosphere is much more positive than beforehand, because now it somehow creates a better dialogue between everybody.
AE: Yeah. And you use HubSpot as your CRM for all the brands now, or?
KH: Yes, we have it, and we use then marketing, sales and customer service.
KH: And we can also mention actually, an interesting effect of this is that it's been so positive that the sales team is, is talking about this in our organisation. So now customer claims wants to have this, our purchasing department, they also want to have HubSpot to communicate with our suppliers, and our our warehouse want to have it, when they discuss with transporters and supply chain. So it's interesting how it spreads in our organisation because it systemises a lot of the communication.
AE: Yeah, interesting. And you mentioned that one of your objectives is to really have a seamless experience, customer experience. Have you got any proof yet that customers feel improved in the customer journey?
KH: We've had this now, HubSpot, for about six months, and we don't have measures yet to prove this, but as I am in contact with customers every day, I really feel that there is a big change in, in the how they see us and how they understand and and experience the company as a whole. Another thing is we actually use this in our present customer presentations. We're in a business that is, as I mentioned, not so far ahead when it comes to technology, and when they see how we take care of of their questions, they are really impressed. And this is actually becoming one part of our sales pitch.
AE: That's great. So if you could wish for the ideal customer, who is that for you?
KH: Our ideal customer, what we can see now is, as I mentioned, the companies are are becoming bigger and bigger and more advanced. And we want to work with the companies who are in the forefront of this. We want the companies who want to use digital solutions, who want automation... difficult to get the tongue right there! And use technology, because then we can interact with them in an automated way, which becomes very interesting. And we see big benefits for our customers, but also for ourselves.
AE: You mentioned, Alireza, that you have an e-shop, could you explain a bit about what customers can do within it?
AA: In our web shop? Definitely we are selling all our products, you can divide them in four categories - tires, rims, wheels and accessories. And also we have a really nice tool there, that there is an engine behind our website that is combining different wheels, different rims and different tires and creating different wheels based on the customer needs, based on the design that they want, but based on the characteristics that they are looking for. And we can offer them a unique combination of tire and rim as a wheel to them, so they can choose whatever they want, so they are not limited with the specific number of products.
AE: Yep, really a part of the seamless solution in the customer experience. Was that a new launch as well, during these years, or?
AA: No, no. It's been there for a long time. It is there for a long time.
AE: Yeah. So, very interesting to have you here and listen to everything that's going on and so on. If there are any listeners who are thinking about, who are interested in Interwheel, do you have, are you looking for new positions, or are you, what are your current needs when it comes to employees?
KH: We're constantly looking for good people to work with us, that's for sure. And we currently have a few open positions in different areas, supply chain, sales, but when we find the right persons, we are also interested in the people. So not just when we have open positions, but is it the right person, then we have interest in them as well. So, so that is one thing that is important to keep in mind.
AE: What's the best thing about working at Interwheel, Alireza?
AA: I think that one of the best things about Interwheel is the people who are working there, the people who work at Interwheel are some of the most open minded and flexible people that I have worked with, and they are really open to new things and changes. And I think that is a really big advantage for our company that we have, I have these kinds of colleagues around me and yeah, we have a really wonderful team.
AE: Great. So Karl, what's the next step for Interwheel? What what do you want to improve?
KH: We have a lot to fix, but we also have a lot to develop, of course. And we, we have done so much in the last couple of years or in the last year, I would say. But the things we have in front of us are really to to keep this journey that we are on, to optimise our production to to be much better in our forecasting of the future, and then to keep developing our our advantage, I would say, in the market, when it comes to being more digital, being more automated, using more technology, this is something where we're going to try to keep an advantage and extend it towards our competitors.
AE: Yeah. I think you're on a very good path, so thank you both for joining The Onlinification Pod.
KH: Thank you.
AE: Thank you.
AA: Thank you for having us.