The COVID-19 global pandemic has changed our lives and the way we do business forever, especially the way B2B buyers and sellers interact. But how exactly have sales changed during the global pandemic? In this blog, we aim to give you insight into how the pandemic has affected B2B buyers and sellers, as well as three themes that have emerged during these conditions.
Sales leaders are navigating how to adjust to the new normal and take care of their people and customers. At the same time, they must adjust the way their organizations make a sale while dealing with new customer habits and the current economic environment. Many businesses have been forced to transfer their efforts online. This is no different for B2B sales. Moving forward, B2B sales operations will have to implement a digital approach.
A McKinsey study taken to better understand how both customers and sellers are reacting to the pandemic reveals three themes to take note of:
- Spend: Companies are typically reducing spend. However, a large number are actually increasing or maintaining it with rates that depend on company size, sector, and most importantly, location in the world.
- Digital: Looking towards the future, B2B businesses are starting to see that digital interactions are 2-3x more important to their customers than any traditional sales interactions.
- Remote: Nearly 90% of sales have moved to a video conference platform, phone, or web sales approach. More than half of B2B companies believe this is equally or more effective than the sales models that were used prior to COVID-19.
Let’s take a deep look into how these three themes have impacted B2B businesses, their sales teams, and customers.
With the current economic state, it was expected that B2B companies would have more drastic reductions in spending. Instead, a substantial amount of companies are maintaining their spending – some are even increasing it! In fact, 53% of large B2B companies were expected to increase or maintain spend during the beginning weeks of the pandemic. 85% of the cases surveyed by McKinsey showed that the rate of change in spending, whether an increase or decrease, was no more than 35% of total spending. Pharma, medical products, technology, and media were of those industries expecting the greatest spending increase, while travel and global energy and materials expected the least amount of spending increase.
Furthermore, the rapid shift to a digital approach has impacted the B2B sales environment. The importance of utilizing a digital process over traditional has significantly grown in the past few years and has increased almost overnight since the COVID-19 global pandemic has begun. Now, sales leaders are rating digital channels twice as important as they were before. B2B decision-makers in Spain and the United Kingdom have even rated them nearly three times their importance prior to the pandemic, while those in Japan and South Korea have rated them close to one-and-a-half times more important than they were before.
The shift in the importance of a digital process is seen in customer behaviors. Since 2019, customers’ preference for digitally-enabled sales interactions has soared. Suppliers’ mobile apps, social media, and online communities have shown their biggest increase since last year. Research shows that mobile apps are twice as important when it comes to conducting research for products among Chinese buyers than they are for those in the United Kingdom or Germany. In addition, the importance of a B2B supplier’s web page has not shifted much – most likely because customers were already using supplier websites during their buyer journey. During their buyer journey, customers reported a strong preference for self-service during the purchasing stage, causing the importance of suppliers’ mobile apps to double in 2019.
Although customers seem to prefer self-service, B2B companies should not be giving customers multiple options for self-service. Sales leaders should make the purchasing decision for each buyer a personal experience. So, how do you make a digital experience personal? Simply put, by addressing your customers’ questions, pain points, and frustrations. Some of these include confusing websites, a lack of information when it comes to delivery times and technical support, and difficulty setting up payment methods. Now that we are living in a position where everything has to be online for the time being, it is crucial that your team is constantly troubleshooting your website to make the process as seamless as possible for your customers. Making the digital experience personal will ensure that you are delivering outstanding customer sales support, as well as encouraging loyalty during the buying process.
With the pandemic causing everyone to have to work remotely, B2B sellers had to quickly re-strategize their sales processes. Almost immediately, 90% of B2B sales teams began working via video conferencing platforms or over the phone. The sudden shift to becoming a remote seller and the “consumerization” of B2B buying have complex implications for how companies sell to and buy from one another. On top of sales leaders adjusting rapidly to remote working, almost 70% of companies have established multi-disciplinary central sources of leadership to manage sales operations temporarily.
Most B2B sales leaders have accepted the push to digital channels. However, the significant increase in the use of digital channels means that B2B companies need to be strategic. Not only about how to have digital interactions effectively, but also about how to position their sales reps to successfully help customers and provide support when needed.
The COVID-19 pandemic has created a challenging environment where sales habits and practices have changed and will continue to change. Sales leaders need clarity of what their customers want and what steps the company can take to address and satisfy their needs. In the digital environment, sales leader support is the best way to offer a “human touch” to the customer buying process.
In conclusion, the COVID-19 global pandemic has briskly changed the way companies do B2B sales. The pandemic has greatly affected spend, the way sales leaders approach customers and the location in which the sales process takes place. As we shift to a digital and remote sales world, it’s crucial for B2B businesses to keep their priorities focused on making the customer buying experience as personal as possible.