COVID-19 Changed B2B Buying Forever

COVID-19 impacted nearly every aspect of everyday life. The B2B landscape was not immune to those changes – buyer expectations, preferences, and behaviors rapidly shifted, bucking “business as usual” for good.

The pandemic ushered in digital adoption in a massive way. The shift may have started as a crisis response, but it has transformed into the next normal, with implications for how buyers and sellers will continue to do business in 2021 and beyond. Buyers and buying cycles have changed, and there’s no going back.

We’re sharing how both B2B buyers and traditional buying cycles changed as a result of the pandemic, and how you can adapt your business to thrive in the new normal.

COVID-19 Increases B2B Online Buying

The lines between B2B and B2C continue to blur, and buyers expect the buying journey to mimic the consumer experience, offering the same online buying options. McKinsey found that 70-80% of B2B decision makers prefer digital self-service and remote sales rep interactions, due to safety precautions, ease of scheduling, travel cost savings, and a faster buyer experience.

More and more, B2B buyers were adopting self-service options in recent years, but they’ve often been limited to reordering products or making smaller purchases. Failing to expand beyond these options is a missed opportunity – 70% of buyers are now willing to independently purchase new items online in excess of $50,000, and 27% of buyers are comfortable purchasing in excess of half a million dollars.

We don’t expect buyers’ preference for convenient self-service tools to go away. In fact, 90% of B2B buyers reported that they expect the remote and digital buying model to stay for the long haul, and three out of four believe the new standard is as or more effective than the old model.

To meet this demand, a strong e-commerce presence and digital strategy is critical.

Goodbye to Traditional Buying Cycles

COVID-19 rapidly upended consistent and reliable B2B buying cycles, centered around trade markets, holidays, and existing relationships.

The postponements and cancelations of in-person tradeshows and reduced markets quickly moved buyers to the world of 24/7 online sales. In fact, U.S. e-commerce penetration grew more quickly in the first 3 months of the pandemic than it had in the past ten years combined.

Before COVID, wholesalers earned the bulk of their yearly revenue around the busy market seasons, while sales typically leveled out in the months in between.

Now, online B2B revenue is growing every month. In a sampling of our B2B clients, we see online revenue growing in the double digits (year-over year) every month from July through December 2020. September alone saw a 72% increase in online revenue, compared to 2019. 

Buyers are gravitating toward the speed and comfort of the new digital reality. Sales reps, meanwhile, use the digital channel and virtual meeting options to create better, more informed meetings, a win-win for vendors, reps, and retailers.

Delivering an Always-On Buying Experience

Although the return to “normal” is on the horizon, in many cases, it’s out with the old and in with the new.

COVID-19 kickstarted a new paradigm for B2B sales, and with it comes plenty of opportunities to refocus, reinvent, and reshape how vendors can connect with buyers.

Empower your buyers to conduct business with you on their own time and on their chosen channels. Thrive online with a customer-focused B2B e-commerce website to drive engagement and consistent revenue year-round.

Optimize your website with robust self-service tools and a thoughtful user-experience (UX), so buyers can discover products, place orders, and find answers to their questions. Use an integrated digital strategy to re-engage and stay top of mind, while informing your customers of promotions, top sellers, or special offers.

Make it easy for customers to navigate the buying journey without assistance, but then give users easy access to customer service and reps for when they need guidance.  

With Disruption Comes Opportunity

COVID showed us that the world will always evolve, disrupting traditional buying cycles and shifting buyer preferences. Businesses need to be ready to pivot their digital strategy, deliver a 24/7 buying experience, and provide the self-service options buyers expect, or get left behind.

Get in touch with one of our digital experts or watch our on-demand webinar for more on expanding your digital presence in order to meet and exceed buyer expectations and win in the new B2B landscape.