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B2B’s Digital Shift Is Permanent and Incomplete

The pandemic has forced many B2B companies to add ecommerce capabilities quickly to keep orders flowing.

“B2B organizations that were planning to do more with digital five years down the road had to accelerate their timeline. Covid made them,” said Challin Meink, senior marketing director for Avionos, an agency.

The transformation is almost certainly permanent, changing how B2B companies operate. It’s also incomplete.

B2B Transformed

1. Buyers prefer ecommerce. Even before the pandemic, B2B buyers expected the “convenience, simplicity, and accuracy” of a digital experience, said Meink.

This should not be surprising since the same purchasing professionals who place orders on behalf of their employers also shop for themselves. They are accustomed to the ease of ordering from Amazon, Walmart, or any of the thousands of retailers selling online.

“More than three-quarters of buyers and sellers say they now prefer digital self-serve and remote human engagement over face-to-face interactions — a sentiment that has steadily intensified even after lockdowns have ended,” according to an October 2020 McKinsey & Company report.

Upwards of 80 percent of professional buyers believes that a combination of remote human interactions and “digital self-service” are safer, easier to schedule, and less expensive than an in-person experience.

“Only about 20 percent of B2B buyers say they hope to return to in-person sales, even in sectors where field-sales models have traditionally dominated,” according to the McKinsey report.

What’s more, throughout 2020 B2B buyers became happier with the new remote and ecommerce sales processes. On April 9, 2020, about 54 percent of those McKinsey surveyed believed the new, Covid-driven B2B sales model was effective. By August 11, 2020, the proponents were 75 percent.

2. Mobile apps boost orders. Imagine you work for a plumbing company that serves a large metropolitan area. You have a van stocked with tools and supplies. Most days you don’t drive 50 minutes to the shop. Rather, home is your base.

One day, you’re on a service call. You open a storage bin in the back of the van and notice that you have just 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 sort of convenience works for many B2B buying scenarios. It became more common during the pandemic. It could be one reason McKinsey & Company said that B2B sales via mobile apps had risen 250 percent during the pandemic and buyers’ affinity for the apps rose 30 percent.

3. Chat and SMS aid research. “The best solution [for B2B digital transformation] would have been the five-year plan, with a large suite of platforms that has beautiful architecture that works together. But that takes time,” said Meink.

Some B2B companies started with live chat. McKinsey reported that the frequency of live-chatting with a B2B sales representative has risen 23 percent during the pandemic. McKinsey rates live chat as the top communication channel when researching a new B2B supplier.

Providers such as Podium have taken live chat and combined it with SMS messaging (text) so that the live chat widget found on B2B sites is SMS connecting reps directly with the buyers’ mobile devices.

These new chat and SMS behaviors will not likely go away when the pandemic subsides.

4. Video meetings are effective. Video conferencing as a means of connecting B2B sales personnel to buyers rose 41 percent during the pandemic, according to McKinsey. Even that doesn’t seem high enough.

Managers, employees, grandparents, and more have turned to video conferencing during the Covid lockdowns. Video meetings have given salespeople more time to engage with customers and become advocates and advisors. Not traveling may improve a salesperson’s quality of life.

So don’t expect video meetings to go away. Instead, look for fewer in-person appointments.

5. More investment needed. Covid forced businesses to add digital systems in a hurry. Early on, in March and April 2020, as they were unsure how long the lockdown and pandemic would last, many business leaders were reluctant to invest in digital, according to Meink.

Eventually, it became clear that B2B ecommerce was essential and that the digital transformation should occur as soon as possible. But that shift is not complete. There is more to come.

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