In the past year, society has seen many pronounced market shifts due to the pandemic and the resulting changes in the way people work, live, buy and sell. Stores closed and online shopping exploded. People stopped traveling, gasoline prices fell. Families were bored, puzzles and sourdough starters were the order of the day. While these findings are clearly the result of changes in consumer behavior, the event has also caused a profound change in the way B2B companies do business on a global scale.
Ready or not, COVID-19 accelerated digital adoption to survive.
B2B sales cycles tend to be more complex than selling directly to consumers. Company acquisitions are often substantial and the expenditures are scrutinized. This means that buyers take the time to do due diligence and select vendors. As a result, B2B salespeople have long relied on an expected level of “hand-holding” to guide potential customers on their way to a sale. Traditional websites were designed with call-to-action capabilities to request a demo or schedule a meeting so that a sales professional could take over from there.
When businesses needed to quickly replace offline sales channels with online stores, B2B sales teams had to trade best practices for unfamiliar strategies tailored to a new business environment. Although research has shown that leading digital B2B companies outperform their competitors by five times the growth in sales, many B2B retailers have been slow to implement a digitally optimized sales process. Ready or not, COVID-19 accelerated digital adoption to survive.
Once the virus fades into the background, it is widely believed that consumers and businesses will stick with many of the new habits and guidelines that were passed last year. With this in mind, B2B sellers shouldn’t wait for the return to previous norms. Instead, they should focus on strategies to further optimize the digital sales cycle. Here are three things retailers should focus on in moving from an online strategy that arose out of necessity to the next level of digital sales success.
1-Optimize the website for self-service
Even before the pandemic, corporate purchasing decision makers indicated a growing preference for finding information and choosing products on their own terms. According to a recent survey of B2B buyers, the most important thing after price was simply finding products via search and navigation when choosing a B2B website. It’s time to lean on self-service.
Are your products categorized and indexed so that visitors can easily crawl and browse your website? Is there enough educational content on how your products work and why they are better than the competition? If your B2B products are selling best in showrooms or factories, did you see augmented reality as a way for customers to experience the product in a simulated environment?
Meeting shopper expectations for speed, choice, personalization, and quality service is a huge task, especially for businesses that have always relied on phone calls and handshakes to close deals. Fortunately, e-commerce technology has come a long way. Every major e-commerce platform has a huge ecosystem of integrated partners with tools to streamline the buying process and improve the shopping experience. Explore all of the pre-built ways to add valuable functionality to your site.
2-Go digital, but stay personal with ABM
Just because everything is now happening in a highly automated, digitized world doesn’t mean that sales professionals can’t maintain the personal, human side of sales engagement. In fact, account-based marketing (ABM) tools and services make it a lot easier to manage. It’s no surprise that in 2020 ABM investments have skyrocketed as this allows for a more targeted and personal engagement with prospects that integrates sales interactions and marketing efforts for maximum efficiency and results.
When the sales activity goes online, data occurs. Use it to create meaningful connections with the right message at the right time.
3-Consider online marketplaces as part of your strategy
When most people think of online marketplaces, they think of Amazon. And when most people think of Amazon, they think of the retail bull that consumers rely on to buy almost anything online. Did you know that Amazon launched a B2B marketplace in 2015 that has seen similar explosive growth? While a native website is vital to building your brand and managing customer relationships, adding your products to a B2B marketplace can only add to your visibility. Amazon offers simple tools that you can use to list your products. This makes it easy to add a channel that promises growth as B2B commerce continues to digitize.
Analysts have already predicted that B2B sales were heading for their own digital transformation before the pandemic hit and accelerated the time span. Fortunately, there is a lot that B2B sellers can get out of the B2C playbook. Buyers want convenience, choice, access to information, and a generally smooth shopping experience. You want a personalized, yet non-invasive experience. To stay competitive, B2B companies should go digital and focus on everything an online customer wants from the beginning to the end of the buying journey.
Meghan Stabler is Vice President, Global Product Marketing & Communications at BigCommerce, an e-commerce technology provider for B2B and retail companies.