Over the last year, society experienced many pronounced market shifts that can be attributed to the pandemic and the ensuing changes in how people work, live, buy and sell. Shops closed, and online shopping exploded. People stopped traveling, gas prices dropped. Families got bored, puzzles and sourdough starters trended. While these outcomes are clearly the result of changes in consumer behavior, the global-scale event also caused a fundamental transformation in how B2B companies do business.
Ready or not, COVID-19 accelerated digital adoption as a matter of survival.
B2B sales cycles are typically more complex than selling directly to consumers. Enterprise purchases are often significant, and expenses are highly scrutinized, meaning buyers take their time with due diligence and vendor selection. As a result, B2B salespeople have long relied on an expected level of “hand-holding” to guide prospects through the sales journey. Traditional websites were designed with call-to-action features to request a demo or schedule a meeting so a sales professional could take over from there.
When companies had to quickly replace offline sales channels with online stores, B2B sales teams had to trade tried-and-true practices for unfamiliar strategies tailored to a new business environment. Even though research has shown digital B2B leaders outperform their peers by five times the revenue growth, many B2B merchants have been slow to embrace a digitally-optimized sales process. Ready or not, COVID-19 accelerated digital adoption as a matter of survival.
Once the virus moves to the rearview, it’s widely believed consumers and businesses will maintain many of the new habits and policies adopted this past year. With this in mind, B2B salespeople shouldn’t wait for a return to previous norms. Instead, they should focus on strategies to continue optimizing the digital sales cycle. Here are three things merchants should focus on to go from an online strategy born out of necessity to the next level of digital sales success.
1-Optimize the website for self-service
Before the pandemic, business purchase decision-makers were already indicating a growing preference for seeking out information and selecting products on their own terms. According to a recent survey of B2B buyers, after price, ease of finding products via search and navigation was most important in selecting a B2B website. It’s time to lean in on self-service.
Are your products categorized and indexed in a way that makes it easy for visitors to search and browse your site? Is there sufficient educational content available about how your products work and why they’re better than the competition? If your B2B products sell best in showrooms or plants, have you considered augmented reality as a way to allow customers to experience the product in a simulated environment?
Delivering on buyer expectations of speed, choice, personalization and high-quality service is a tall order, especially for businesses that have always relied on phone calls and handshakes to close deals. Luckily, ecommerce technology has come a long way. Every major ecommerce platform has a vast ecosystem of integrated partners with tools to streamline the purchase process and improve the shopping experience. Explore all the pre-built possibilities for adding valuable functionality to your site.
2-Go digital, but remain personal, with ABM
Just because everything now plays out in a highly automated, digitized world doesn’t mean sales professionals can’t maintain the personal, human side of sales engagement. In fact, account-based marketing (ABM) tools and services make it much easier to manage. It’s no surprise that 2020 saw a rapid increase in ABM investments, as it allows for more targeted and personalized engagement with prospects that integrates sales interactions and marketing efforts for maximum efficiency and results.
When sales activity moves online, data happens. Use it to develop meaningful connections, at the right time, with the right message.
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 beast that consumers rely on for purchasing just about anything online. Did you know that Amazon launched a B2B marketplace in 2015 that has experienced similar explosive growth? While having a native site is critical for building your brand and managing customer relationships, adding your products to a B2B marketplace can only extend your visibility. Amazon provides simple tools for getting your products listed, making it easy to add a channel that promises to grow as B2B commerce continues to go digital.
Analysts already predicted that B2B selling was headed towards a digital transformation of its own before the pandemic came along and accelerated the timeline. Fortunately, there is a lot that B2B salespeople can lift from the B2C playbook. Buyers want convenience, choice, access to information and a generally smooth path to purchase. They want a personalized, yet non-invasive experience. To remain competitive, B2B companies should embrace digital and focus on everything an online customer would want from start to finish of the buying journey.
Meghan Stabler is vice president of Global Product Marketing & Communications at BigCommerce, a provider of ecommerce technology for B2B and retail companies.