The way businesses buy and sell products has drastically changed because of the COVID-19 pandemic. These changes might even be permanent, mostly since the coronavirus crisis has uncovered gaps in efficiency or safety in how many places typically conduct transactions. Surviving in the next normal for B2B companies requires a willingness to adapt to new economic realities. Here are things that business-to-business companies should watch in the coming months.
Because of the pandemic, many B2B buyers and sellers had to rapidly develop digital platforms or adapt existing ones that cater to their needs. However, what started as a crisis management measure is looking more and more like a regular part of the next normal. These digital-first companies will significantly affect how businesses transact with each other in the future. According to a 2020 McKinsey & Company report on decision makers' behavior across industries, approximately 70 to 80 percent of B2B decision-makers prefer remote human interactions or digital self-service.
Remote human engagement has become a viable option for businesses, especially ones that interact with clients in different geographic locations or ones that want to keep overhead costs low. Digital self-service is more popular today because people prefer to get information on demand. Besides safety concerns and the inability to meet in person because of various local government health protocols, people view remote engagement as more convenient than the in-person kind.
Even in industries where field- or in-person sales were the norm pre-pandemic, only 20 percent of B2B buyers say they are ready to meet people on the field once more. Also, this shift extends beyond borders; all the countries that McKinsey surveyed had a preference for digital-first engagement. Leaders are no longer "forced" to go online; they have learned that their businesses can thrive in this environment.
The patterns and behaviors that the pandemic has brought about are likely to become permanent. For nearly nine in ten decision-makers in the McKinsey report, these new commercial sales practices will become fixtures in 2021 and the coming months. Furthermore, people in B2B industries remain optimistic for their markets despite the challenging year that everyone has had. This positive outlook shows through multiyear plans that show increased spending or sustained OPEX and CAPEX.
Digital sales are becoming increasingly viable for a greater number of products. In a recent Wunderman Thompson survey of buyers in the UK, researchers found that 46 percent of B2B purchases happen entirely online. What's more, the number of buyers for B2B companies who spoke to salespeople before making a purchase has gone down from 44 percent to 16 percent.
This shift shows that B2B suppliers need to improve their efforts to incorporate e-commerce seamlessly into their brand. The same Wunderman Thompson survey shows that 43 percent of businesses find it complicated to buy things online, despite the rise of digital-only transactions and e-commerce during the pandemic. What's more, respondents said that one of the reasons they switched suppliers in the past few months was a lack of e-commerce capabilities.
According to B2B decision-makers, online and remote selling is just as effective as the in-person kind, if not more. They aren't just talking about warm leads, either; sellers think digital prospecting allows them to conduct better lead generation. Creating SEO content, pay-per-click ads, and a strong social media presence does help a brand gain more clients.
The massive shift to digital services because of COVID-19 has resulted in video conferences and live chat as the primary channels for closing sales and interacting with B2B customers. In-person meetings and sales activities that require gatherings of more than two people experienced a sharp decline in the past year.
The revenue from interactions held through video conferences has jumped by more than 60 percent since April 2020. A combination of e-commerce and video conferences now make up 43 percent of B2B revenue. This figure is higher than the revenues companies gain through other channels. Coupled with C-suite executives' preference for digital-first interactions, at least for the near future, it appears that businesses will continue to close deals through online platforms.
The increase in digital adoption is a tremendous opportunity for B2B organizations to reorganize and position themselves for more significant revenues in the long run. Focusing on virtual sales lets companies greatly reduce their cost per visit. Going online also helps extend a company's reach, often beyond geographic and time zone-related constraints they had no control over previously.
Digital-first efforts also let them engage customers who want to have more options for interacting with their suppliers. However, this opportunity also means the pressure is on companies to capitalize early and effectively. B2B decision-makers must commit to these changes and an overall digital strategy before the rest of their peers do.
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