Industry News, Adhesives & Sealants, International Trade
Digitalization has become increasingly important for chemical companies, including digital marketing. The COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns, which increased remote-work options, and the disruptions faced by chemical companies due to a variety of supply chain issues over the past three years have created an environment for adhesives and sealants companies to find new ways of sourcing raw materials. The result is a quickly changing landscape that is disrupting traditional models and creating new opportunities. One of the companies embracing that change and offering adhesives and sealants manufacturers new methods to source products is Knowde. The company is a digital sales and marketing platform built specifically for the ingredients, polymers, and chemical industry. ASI recently spoke with Ali Amin-Javaheri, co-founder and chief executive officer of Knowde, to learn more about the company and how digital marketing is changing the chemical sector.
Can you give a brief summary of the history and mission of Knowde?
We founded Knowde back in 2017, myself and two others, in the heart of Silicon Valley. We sat in a very small office just six years ago starting the company. Our original mission still plays out today, which is that we want to be able to give suppliers in this industry all the tools that they need in order to give their customers an amazing online digital experience. For some additional background, we are a pureplay software company. We have raised funding from some of the best venture capital investors in the world including Sequoia Capital and Coatue. As far as we know, we have raised more venture capital than any other tech company in the history of our industry and that has helped spur a lot of our growth. We are up to over 200 employees and we have gained a considerable amount of traction in the market from companies such as Dow, Evonik, and BASF and so many other suppliers that have chosen to be part of Knowde.
How did COVID-19 impact front-office digitalization, and how is that affecting customer relationships?
That is a heavy topic. So, obviously we at Knowde have believed for a very long time that this industry is going to eventually move online and do a lot of the buying and selling online. Certainly COVID accelerated a lot of things. As you know, this industry has relied on field sales people to go out and engage their customers and we certainly feel like there is still a role for that, but people got very comfortable over the past few years doing everything that they need to do self-serve online or over the phone. When you think of how customers want to go through the discovery engagement process, based on everything we are seeing and the research that we are doing, it has accelerated dramatically in the past couple of years. So, I think that suppliers certainly recognize this, and they are feverishly investing a lot more than they have in the past in order to meet some new customer expectations.
I have been in this industry for 15 to 20 years and it has been top of mind for me for a long time, and every year I have said to myself, “I think this is going to be the year where true digital transformation happens.” I have been saying that for 15 years, but I think that now we can firmly say that it is happening and I think that the amount of investment that suppliers are doing is a major indication of that.
How has the growth in digital marketing in the chemical sector affected the supply chain and can it help customers mitigate current supply chain issues?
Any time we talk to buyers, whether that is R&D or procurement, we hear a lot of the same stuff over and over again, which is that they want information to become more accessible. They want to be able to engage suppliers in a much more seamless and convenient way. What does that really mean? That means that they want to be able to jump online; they want to be able to browse catalogues really easily; they want to be able to find the right product within a few clicks; they want to be able to learn about the product and its value proposition. What are the terms of sale? Where the product is stored? How strong of a supplier are you? All the things that customers typically expect, they want access to that information as quickly as possible. And so, when you have supply chain constraints, what is the number-one thing that is top of mind: sources of supply. You want to be able to go to a trusted source, and obviously we want Knowde to be that trusted source, but a trusted source to quickly find alternatives. And historically that can be really challenging. You are tied to one or two suppliers, and you have got to go on this wild hunt to see who else may be out there. Our objective is to make it really simple to be able to go through that discovery process and find the right suppliers. We have seen a massive acceleration of our platform over the past couple of years because people are looking for ways to be able to find the right suppliers all because of the constraints that are happening in the market.
It gives them a way to find new options, but they also want to be able to talk to a supplier and talk to the right people in the supplier community as fast as possible, so they can quickly vet and determine whether that supplier can meet their expectations. Even if you find the right product, or you find alternative sources of the right product, it can be really challenging to call the general hotline and navigate your way to the right person in order to be able to ask the right questions. Finding the right person is really difficult and then getting the answers to your questions can be really time consuming. We certainly believe that all those processes have to change.
What do you see as the top digital sales trends, and what can companies to do get ahead of these trends?
I think that everyone can now acknowledge that we have got to make the discovery process really easy and convenient. When I say discovery, what I am referring to is the ability to find and learn about all the various options in the market. But the next step of the buying journey is about engagement. Now that I have found the right supplier, how do I make requests in a really easy way? How do I interact with your experts in a really fast way so that I can get back into the lab or get back into my office and get back to work? Those capabilities have not really been built by suppliers yet. We have obviously built it within Knowde. But those sort of capabilities—to easily make requests and easily talk to the right expert, ask your questions, request a meeting—all those sort of things aren’t capabilities that have been built. I think that is going to be a massive trend over the next couple of years. If you think about it, field sales has been the path to the market for a long time. Meanwhile, customers are coming to your website, and they are browsing, learning, trying to see if you may be able to fit their needs. Think about the number of people that are hitting a website versus the number of customers field sales can possibly reach. If you have a team of 10 field sales people, you are probably not going to touch more than 40 to 50 customers a week. In the digital world, there are going to be a thousand, at least, that are coming to your website every week. We are kind of flipping the script here and saying, look, engage with the customers that are already on their buying journey on your website, because that is a much lower-cost way of doing it, and they are active in their buying journey. They want to talk to you. I think the middle of the buying journey is going to be a massive trend. How do we engage and collaborate online in a much easier way?
In what ways can Knowde help research and development professionals in the adhesives and sealants industry?
What we hear all the time is that they want to innovate. They want to be able to go out and research and identify all the possible ingredients that go into their formulations. Our objective is to make it as transparent of a discovery process as possible and be able to unravel every potential option really simply. If you want to do a search for a specific thing, we can support that. If you want to do a really broad-based search and uncover every potential option on earth, we can also support that. As you narrow down your options, we want to make it really easy for R&D folks to reach out to the supplier, be able to meet their requests, be able to negotiate online and do all the things that are typically done offline right from within their screen.