A lot of the information about selling in a COVID-19 — and economically uncertain — world has focused on consumer sales. Because of stay at home orders and concerns about transmitting and catching the disease, the trend toward online buying and selling is accelerating at a pace few could have ever imagined. All kinds of businesses — from grocery stores to medical practices and gift shops to accountants — have quickly made the switch to online sales and service.
But what about businesses that sell to other businesses (B2B)? How are they adapting to changing times?
According to a study by McKinsey, B2B companies are also at a major sales turning point similar to business to consumer (B2C) companies. The study is wide-ranging, representing B2B operations of varying sizes in 11 countries across seven sectors. It found that B2B digital operations are becoming more prominent — and changing at a faster pace — than ever before.
Here’s what you need to know about the McKinsey study, along with what you can do so your business can stay current and succeed in the digital realm in these challenging times.
While some companies are currently reducing spend on things like everyday operations and marketing, a large number are maintaining or even increasing it.
According to the McKinsey study, for 85 percent of businesses, the rate of change in spend is less than 25 percent up or down, which is relatively minor considering today’s extreme circumstances.
The companies that are most likely to increase spend are those in industries that have an opportunity to grow during the pandemic and recession. These include businesses in the pharmaceutical, healthcare, cleaning, remote technology, medical and media sectors. Those in dormant areas like hospitality and energy are typically cutting spend.
Another factor impacting business budgets is location, and how the COVID-19 pandemic is impacting individual cities, states or countries. Companies in areas that are recovering from the crisis view this as an opportunity to increase sales by upping spend in digital marketing and operations. Those in areas hit hard by it, are cutting budgets because they see little opportunity to sell in the months ahead, although building digital infrastructure now to use in the future could be a smart move.
Key takeaway: Leverage these two things — industry opportunity and current COVID-19 realities — to help you decide how to handle your budget.
- Is the current situation providing you with opportunities to grow your business? If so, you should consider upping your budgets to take advantage of new chances to sell.
- Is the market you serve recovering from the pandemic? Is business activity increasing? It could be a good time to increase spend to take advantage of opportunities to sell to — and serve — other businesses.
As they look ahead, B2B companies that participated in the McKinsey survey said they view digital interactions with customers as two to three times more important than traditional sales connections.
The importance of digital for B2B companies has grown significantly over the last several years. It has dramatically increased since the COVID-19 crisis began.
The primary reason this is happening is business consumer demand. This includes a significant increase in B2B buyers doing more research online, engaging with social media, participating in virtual communities and events and taking advantage of digital apps.
Because of requirements for working at home and concerns about coronavirus transmission, business buyers today are demonstrating a strong preference for self-service across the entire buying journey. This is a big difference from just a few months ago, when digital was key at the beginning of the buying process, but often supplanted by more traditional methods when it came time to close deals.
As more and more B2B buyers expect to serve themselves virtually, it’s critical for companies to not just allow customers to do business online, they must get it right. Purchasers are no longer willing to accept less from their business buying experiences than they are from their personal purchases.
Important point: According to a recent McKinsey study, businesses that provide outstanding digital experiences to their B2B buyers are more than twice as likely to be chosen as a primary vendor than those who deliver poor experiences.
When it comes to getting it right, B2B customers expect three things from their digital buying journeys: speed, transparency and expertise. This is particularly true during challenging times like these. With the improvements to B2B digital experiences accelerating at a faster clip than ever, most buyers are unwilling to accept issues like confusing websites, poor technical support, a time-consuming ordering process or difficulties in setting up payments. They’ll move on to a competitor rather than making do.
Key takeaway: The rapid shift to B2B virtual selling has been born out of pandemic-related necessity. However, it presents an opportunity for B2B businesses to break through. If you take a leadership position during this period of digital transformation, you could position your operation for success in the years and decades ahead.
Sales team integration
Almost 90 percent of B2B sales interactions have recently moved from in-person meetings to the virtual realm, including videoconferencing, phone and web-based engagements. While some skepticism among business owners remains, more than half believe this change has been equally or more effective than the sales tactics they used before the pandemic.
The fast and extraordinary shift to remote working caused by the coronavirus pandemic has had major implications for how companies sell to and buy from one another. Sales teams are completely changing how they engage with buyers in the current environment. They’re optimizing how to work together remotely, most by developing nerve centers that help facilitate long distance sales operations.
Even more important than developing new processes and procedures, sales leaders are working hard to find sensitive ways to integrate digital interactions with those of actual reps. Leading B2B companies are the ones who are best able to make this work. They’re figuring out how to replace face-to-face interactions with videoconferences, webinars, phone calls and other virtual means. They understand the crucial role the human touch plays in the digital sales process.
Key takeaway: It’s not good enough to just adjust your regular sales process to move into the virtual realm. You should completely rethink it so it leverages the best that digital technologies can offer coupled with the human connection reps are able to offer to close deals.
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