The pandemic has forced many B2B companies to quickly add e-commerce capabilities to keep the order flow going.
“B2B companies that wanted to work more with digital in five years’ time had to cut their schedule. Covid made them, ”said Challin Meink, Senior Marketing Director at Avionos, an agency.
The transformation is almost certainly permanent and will change the way B2B companies work. It’s also incomplete.
1. Buyers prefer e-commerce. Even before the pandemic, B2B buyers expected the “convenience, simplicity and accuracy” of a digital experience, Meink said.
This should come as no surprise, as the same purchasing professionals who place orders on behalf of their employers shop for themselves too. You’re used to simply ordering from Amazon, Walmart, or one of the thousands of retailers who sell online.
“More than three quarters of buyers and sellers say they now prefer digital self-service and remote human engagement over face-to-face interactions – a sentiment that has steadily increased even after the lockdown ended,” said McKinsey & Company Report.
Over 80 percent of professional buyers believe that a combination of remote human interaction and “digital self-service” is safer, easier to plan, and less expensive than a personal experience.
“Only about 20 percent of B2B buyers say they hope to get back into in-person sales, even in sectors where field sales models have traditionally dominated,” according to the McKinsey report.
Additionally, B2B buyers were more satisfied with the new remote and e-commerce sales processes throughout 2020. On April 9, 2020, around 54 percent of McKinsey respondents believed the new Covid-driven B2B sales model is effective. By August 11, 2020, those in favor were 75 percent.
2. Mobile apps increase orders. Imagine that you work for a plumbing company that serves a large metropolitan area. You have a van with tools and accessories. You don’t drive 50 minutes to the store most days. Rather, home is your base.
One day you have a service call. You open a storage container in the back of the van and discover that there are only four toilet seal rings left. You quickly pull out your phone, tap the icon for your supplier’s mobile app, and order a dozen toilet seal rings for delivery to your home.
This type of convenience works for a lot of B2B buying scenarios. It became more common during the pandemic. This could be a reason McKinsey & Company said B2B sales through mobile apps rose 250 percent during the pandemic and buyer affinity for the apps rose 30 percent.
3. Chat and SMS help with research. “The best solution [for B2B digital transformation] would have been the five year plan, with a great suite of platforms that have beautiful architecture that work together. But that takes time, ”said Meink.
Some B2B companies started using live chat. McKinsey reported that the frequency of live chats with a B2B sales rep increased 23 percent during the pandemic. McKinsey rates live chat as the most important communication channel when looking for a new B2B provider.
Vendors like Podium have combined live chat with SMS (text) messaging so the live chat widget found on B2B websites is SMS that staffs connect directly to buyers’ mobile devices.
These new chat and text messaging behaviors are unlikely to go away once the pandemic has subsided.
4. Video conferencing is effective. According to McKinsey, video conferencing as a means of connecting B2B salespeople with buyers rose 41 percent during the pandemic. That doesn’t seem high enough either.
Managers, employees, grandparents and more have turned to video conferencing during the Covid lockdown. Video meetings give sales reps more time to engage with clients and become lawyers and consultants. Not traveling can improve a salesperson’s quality of life.
So don’t expect video conferencing to go away. Instead, look for less personal appointments.
5. More investment required. Covid forced companies to add digital systems in a rush. At the start, in March and April 2020, Meink said many business leaders were reluctant to invest in digital media because they weren’t sure how long the lockdown and pandemic would last.
Eventually it became clear that B2B e-commerce is essential and that the digital transformation should happen as soon as possible. However, this shift is not yet complete. There is more to come.