At the beginning of 2020, it was forecasted that eCommerce would expand exponentially across the B2B landscape. But what no one knew at the time was that a global pandemic would erupt, making eCommerce the key to business survival and forever changing B2B consumer behavior.
In parts I and II of this B2B customer buying behavior series, we’ve looked at how the habits and preferences of B2B consumers have evolved in recent years and how the pandemic has shaped them in 2020. By understanding the past and how it molded consumer behavior, we can imagine what the future will be like and how consumers will interact with their suppliers moving forward.
Key revelations for the future
If the future of B2B sales could be described in one word, that would be digital. The pandemic has forced B2B buyers and sellers to expedite their digital transformation projects, move online, and revamp their sales strategies. Although this was initially just a natural response to the outbreak, the 2020 migration online is defining the new normal.
In fact, last year, eCommerce has achieved 10 years of growth in just 3 months. This staggering fact speaks more about the future than it does about the past. Buyers will be increasingly online looking for solutions and making purchases, which means sellers must make critical investments into their digital sales strategies if they haven’t done so already.
1. The new digital reality is here to stay
Both buyers and sellers in the B2B landscape have embraced the new digital reality. According to McKinsey & Company, approximately 70-80% of B2B decision-makers already prefer remote human interactions or digital self-service because of the ease of scheduling, savings on travel expenses, and safety.
What’s more, only 20-30% of buyers want to ever interact with reps in person again after the pandemic. And almost all of them, up to 90%, expect the digital model to stick around for the long-run, as they believe it’s more effective for each party involved.
This shows that the world can’t resume business-as-usual. The new preferences of both buyers and consumers are shaping a new business reality in which remote interactions and self-service will reign supreme. After all, once B2B buyers have discovered the convenience of buying online, there’s no going back.
As such, suppliers will have to enhance their virtual sales process, build a solid digital sales strategy, learn to communicate via digital channels, create seamless user experiences, reduce friction using automation, and more. Most importantly, they have to personalize experiences for their customers and prove they recognize their needs. It’s one of the most efficient ways to win customers on their side.
2. Big purchases online will continue
Many B2B sellers believed that eCommerce and digital self-services are solely used for low-value purchases like industrial supplies or consumables. However, in 2020, B2B buyers have become comfortable making large purchases online. Research shows that 70% of B2B decision-makers are open to making new purchases of $50,000 using digital self-service or remote options. Additionally, 27% of them are comfortable using the same purchase channels to spend more than $500,000, proving that digital prospecting is as effective as in-person transactions.
It’s worth mentioning that B2B buyers making bigger purchases doesn’t mean they are actually splurging. In fact, buyers are very likely to become even more cost-conscious from now on as the pandemic definitely taught them how to budget differently. For B2B sellers, it’s extremely important to communicate their value, review their messaging, and revamp their marketing strategy. Creating a frictionless website and relevant content is essential in the new normal and it will make the difference between mediocre and premium experiences.
3. Buying experiences will become richer
Forward-thinking B2B sellers are already making efforts to enrich the virtual buying experience — by taking notes from their B2C counterparts. B2C digital platforms are already way ahead with seamless, easy, and informative qualities that transform online purchases into memorable experiences.
Companies that want to ensure a seamless and consistent experience for their buyers can invest in a solid PIM solution. Customers expect accurate and detailed product information across all points of sale and this tool can help them meet those expectations.
Last but not least, meeting customers where they are will be equally important to providing a superior customer experience. According to research, 97% of buyers shop on digital marketplaces, which offer a quick way to compare similar products on prices from multiple suppliers as well as the ability to buy multiple products on a secure, user-friendly, frictionless website. B2B sellers can accommodate this preference by joining a marketplace or creating their own.
4. Buying uncertainty will stick for a while
Because B2B buyers will continue being cost-conscious, and because the B2B buyer journey is a complex and non-linear process that involves an entire, predominantly millennial, committee, reaching a final purchase decision will be painstaking and time-consuming. Additionally, ever-evolving institutional changes decline the buyers’ ability to reach a purchase decision by 30%.
However, uncertain buyers are responsive to sellers who can mitigate their concerns. Suppliers can support purchasing decisions by addressing organizational changes, boosting consumer confidence with relevant information, and so on.
It no longer makes sense to hope for a return to the business reality before the pandemic. While some of the old ways may re-emerge in the future, the convenience and effectiveness of digital sales have both sellers and buyers excited. For B2B sellers, it’s of utmost importance to create a digital-first selling model that accommodates the demands of buyers whose behaviors have been reshaped by the pandemic.
The future won’t be the death of sales reps, but they won’t be the primary commercial channel anymore. Customers are now digitally-enabled and have increasingly difficult considerations to make, so they need a sales model that matches their habits and preferences.