Paul Tayler, CEO of Nexeo Plastics, Shares His Perspectives from the Top

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Paul Tayler, CEO of Nexeo Plastics, Shares His Perspectives from the Top

Paul Tayler joins Knowde to share his insights on the massive opportunities at hand for greater reach, connection, and engagement with customers, following shifting customers expectations.

Read the transcript.

Ali Amin-Javaheri: Hello and welcome everyone. I’m your host, Ali, CEO and co-founder of Knowde, the leading digital customer experience platform for chemicals and ingredients. Our goal with this series, as you know, is to share the perspectives that you need to navigate the changing digital landscape in our industry. We have another amazing guest with us today, and I can’t wait to get started. I’m thrilled to welcome Paul Tayler, CEO of Nexeo Plastics. I’m sure all of you guys know, Nexeo Plastics is a leading global plastic resin distributor representing quality products from the world-class suppliers. Nexeo Plastics goes beyond traditional logistics and provides many, many services including material selection, support, application development, process optimization, supply chain optimization, and much, much more. They exist to help you solve your material challenges. I’m so glad to have Paul here. I’ve known Paul for a while. He’s an amazing human being. Paul, anything else about Nexeo or yourself that you want to share before we get started?

Paul Tayler: Well, firstly, thanks for inviting me, Ali. It’s great to be invited on one of these podcasts. I’ve seen a lot of other podcasts you’ve done. They’re all great. 

In terms of Nexeo, this year actually is our 50th anniversary, so it’s a special year. We have been around a long time. I would say a part of the DNA is innovation. So as a distributor, you’ve constantly got to reinvent yourself in terms of how you can add more value to your customers, to your suppliers, and also internally with your employees as well. And so we’ve been looking and trying to lead in terms of innovations, use of technology and things like that. So it’s an exciting time for us. And, yeah, I’ve been in the role for three years. Prior to that, I was running our operations in Europe before I became the CEO. So thanks for inviting me.

Ali Amin-Javaheri: And based in beautiful Houston.

Paul Tayler: Yeah, it’s beautiful down here, especially now. The weather’s coming down a little bit.

Ali Amin-Javaheri: Okay, so we’re going to jump right in. I’m going to ask the same three questions that our audience cares to hear about the most. And so let’s kick it off with the first one. 

We’re seeing and noticing lots of changes in both the supplier community and with distributors in that they’re increasing investments in their digital capabilities, especially related to customer facing initiatives. So a lot of folks invested a lot in ERP over the years, and now they’re kind of shifting their focus more to the tech that their customers engage with. From that perspective, what’s the biggest opportunity for Nexeo Plastics from your perspective when it comes to digital?

Paul Tayler: Yeah, I think Ali, as you say, we’ve been using ERP and CRM systems for a long, long time so we’ve been engaged. I think there’s a massive opportunity now though to get 1) greater reach and 2) greater connection, greater engagement, deeper relationship building. We want to actually get as far forward as we can in terms of the purchasing cycle with our customers. And as you mentioned in your intro, that involves product selection. So the easier you can make it for people to access information, the earlier in that process you can get in terms of engaging, the better chance you’ve got in terms of doing more business. So greater reach, greater engagement. Also with that is speed.

So I’d say this gives us a great opportunity, one to provide what we call the easy button. It’s very complicated. We are a global distributor. We’ve got more than 20,000 different products that we sell globally. We’ve got more than 10,000 active customers globally. And so that’s quite a complex scenario to manage. And so we need to try and make that as straightforward, as simple, as easy as we possibly can for our customers to get the information they need.

So there’s no interruption in terms of that process, end-to-end selecting a product, getting advice, getting information right through to, is that product available? How can I order it? Can I check if it’s being delivered? Where is it?

So right end-to-end. And I think there’s a huge opportunity for us to really take that to a different level now, and that’s one of the areas we’ve been paying close attention and investing in over the last few years, as I’ve discussed with you in the past.

Ali Amin-Javaheri: Yeah, I mean, look right off the top. You’ve nailed it. So from our perspective, there’s still a lot of suppliers and distributors that are struggling just to get their product catalog accessible online. And so, you know, if you want to expand the reach and be able to generate new leads and those sort of things, you got to give your customers something to engage with. And so them being able to come in, explore your large catalog, hit a handful of filters, and find what they’re looking for is incredibly valuable. And if you don’t kind of set up that discovery process first, and then, you know, like you said, you can’t build the rest of the end-to-end. So I do think you guys have done some amazing work there, so congrats on all that.

Paul Tayler: Thank you.

Ali Amin-Javaheri: There has been changing expectations from customers when it comes to the way that they engage with you. And on your website it clearly states, with a relentless focus on driving great customer experience, we’re always thinking about how we can improve your business. How do you think your digital strategies help support and meet these new customer expectations?

Paul Tayler: Well, I think, you know, if we step back, I think there’s been a big change in terms of what people expect. So in everyday life now, I mean, whether you’re going to search, if you want to make a trip, everyone is very comfortable choosing a hotel, getting a flight booked, buying anything from groceries to other items. People have got a great confidence in doing that and getting answers immediately. And so with greater expectation in terms of, I want to know something and I want to know it now, and I want to be able to act on that, we’ve really enhanced what we’re doing in terms of connecting our different digital platforms together as well as we invested in a platform called My Nexeo that we launched just over a year ago. I mean, we’ve had reorder capabilities for quite a few years, and that’s a fairly basic capability. But people want to know all the things I mentioned earlier in terms of, okay, is the product available? Where can I get it? If I’m going to order it today, when’s it going to be delivered? They want all of the information they’ve got at their fingertips in terms of all the safety data sheet information, the product characterization information, and that’s stored for them so they can go back.

And we want them to use it as a tool in the hub. And so ordering is one thing in terms of ordering products, but that’s only really the tip of the iceberg. I think, you know, the wealth of information, how easy you can make it for people to do business, that’s the key to getting people to come back and use the tool. And we launched it in June last year across North America. It’s been very, very successful. 

What we’ve found is people come back and they use it, and as I said, not just for ordering in terms of the whole process in terms of product selection, and when you’ve got 20,000 plus products, being able to select and filter, we can also prioritize.

So we can actually do launches, campaigns, whether it’s a webinar linked to different products and different applications to also promote different things as well. So there’s lots of areas where we engage, and I think we’ve got a deeper engagement now. North America was just over a year ago. That went very well since then. Just to give an update, we’ve actually launched that across the whole of Europe. We’ve now got 19 countries covered. We’ve got seven different languages covered. We’ve got all the various different currencies covered. And I’m really proud of the team in terms of how they’ve been able to stand that up in a very short time period to really get an edge in terms of differentiation and how easy we can make it for our customers to find what they really want.

And we link that back to our suppliers as well. So, we want to really also focus in terms of their strategy and what they want to promote and what they want to focus on. So it’s a whole raft of different areas that this helps with.

Ali Amin-Javaheri: Love that. I mean, we’ve focused this conversation around the customer experience. And I’m going to go off script a little bit and also ask about whether you’ve thought about creating similar experiences for your suppliers? And how do you take some of those customer insights along with other information and give them a portal into your world?

Paul Tayler: Yeah, I mean we work very, very closely with our strategic suppliers and we’ve demonstrated what this platform can do. And we’ve had numerous conversations in terms of how we can connect, what they’re doing to the platform, to the promotions, to the campaigns. In the past we’ve had different connection points from a digital perspective in terms of things like EDI links, for example. So we’ve done some of that more basic capabilities that’s been there for some time, but it’s really about integration, how you can integrate the different systems together. 

We also have a philosophy of being very transparent in terms of what we’re doing with our suppliers and linking together. So in terms of developing new programs and projects, in terms of new business, that’s very closely linked with our suppliers in terms of what we’re doing together as a partnership. And I think that’s what digital capabilities give you as well, is the ability to form much faster, more responsive, more productive collaborations. And so it’s all about collaboration, and we’ve discussed it in the past, Ali, in terms of, you know, you can’t do everything yourself, so you need to find other partners who are really good in different aspects, learn from them, and then move really quickly going forward. And that’s what we did with My Nexeo. We actually engaged with a pilot list of active customers, and we actually designed it and developed it with those customers and tweaked it along the way prior to the launch. And we’re constantly doing that.

So for me it’s a question of making sure you start, make good progress, don’t have too broad a scope when you start, but then iterate in a very active and fast way so you can keep improving on that. And we’re still doing that today.

Ali Amin-Javaheri: Look, just based on what I’ve seen around My Nexeo and some of the other capabilities you’ve built and what you’ve shared today, I can tell the audience that you guys are in the top, very high percentile of this industry. Your capabilities, just what you’ve developed over the past year, I think has leapfrogged a lot of folks. And I give you guys a ton of credit for continuing to put in the investment in order to stay ahead. And it kind of leads into the third question. I think the most important question. 

Times have changed. This isn’t like what it was in 2021 or 2020, there are certainly headwinds. And what we see is there’s two types of leaders in these environments where, there’s types that are looking at cost cutting initiatives and kind of preserving expenses for maybe the future versus those that say, look, we’re always in cyclical environments and we we’re going to balance these short-term challenges and continue to invest in long-term initiatives like digital. And, I know you’re more of the latter. 

And so, what’s kind of your perspective and what would you share with your peers?

Paul Tayler: Yeah, I think you’re absolutely right. It’s about balance at the end of the day, but you can’t have just everything focused on the short term environment we’re in. You constantly need to reinvent and also see how you can increase your efficiency, productivity. We talked about reach being really important and increasing the scope that you’ve got. So we actually invested in this area during, you know, a difficult time. So 2021 from an economics perspective was a pretty good year. There were challenges for sure, but it was, from an economics perspective, a pretty good year. Since then, things have moved towards more of a challenge, more headwinds as you say. But I think that’s when you can differentiate more as well.

And so investing in tools that can differentiate you, I think is the right investment to make. And again, you can decide on the scope. So, we decided to pilot it. We worked very closely with key partners. We worked initially here in North America. We’ve since expanded that in terms of Europe. So you’ve constantly got to be moving forward, but you gain a lot from that. And so yes, we invested, but it is very targeted, so you need to decide where you’re going to put your investment in focus. For us, this is one area that we think will provide big dividends in the future. And it definitely is one area to differentiate on. 

So tough choices, you have to balance that in good times and bad, but you also need to stick to your end goal. And for us, it’s around how we can really become an invaluable connection for our customers in terms of the choices they want to make and making their businesses stronger through the support we can give them. And then as a distributor, we’re in that sweet spot between our suppliers and our customers and connecting them.

And for me, the digital connection is one of those really critical areas that you do need to excel. And so we did a lot of collaboration with people in the industry to check best practice, and what we can take to build the right tools. So it’s external in terms of customers, external in terms of our suppliers, but it plays a big part in terms of how we connect internally with all of our employees as well.

So it’s been a key focus for us and we prioritize in this area. And for our business, we think this is really key.

Ali Amin-Javaheri: I obviously have a biased opinion, but I can’t agree more. And everyone’s looking for that edge or what’s the differentiation, maybe not in two years, but in five years. And I’m a firm believer that digital is one of those things because it creates more information flow, it gives you access to data, it creates those collaboration opportunities that you spoke of earlier. I mean, hopefully now nobody sort of debates the merits of moving further and further online. I mean, this is obviously where the world is going. And so look, I love the insights that you provided. I think it was very real, it was very tangible. I know that everyone loves listening to these short, informal conversations, especially from folks like you that are grounded in real digital capabilities and you’re helping shape the industry with these capabilities.

So thank you for everything that you do to move this industry forward. I can’t wait to see where My Nexeo and Nexeo Plastics goes in the future. 

I stand by what I said earlier. You guys are in that top percentile and so, keep investing, keep innovating. And congratulations on 50 years. I’m sure the next 50 will be much more fruitful.

Paul Tayler: Thank you very much, Ali. Thanks for inviting me.

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