Content Marketing Institute just revealed its 11th annual content marketing research report, which gives us a quick snapshot of how the pandemic has impacted B2B businesses so far.
According to CMI, 94% of B2B businesses changed their marketing strategy because of the pandemic, 85% expected some of the changes to stay in effect for the foreseeable future, while 70% of them changed their messaging/targeting strategy or changed their promotion strategy and content distribution. Yet, it comes as no surprise – the pandemic has forced B2B buyers to go digital in a big way. What started out as a crisis reaction has now become the new normalcy, with zesty implications for how shoppers and sellers will do business in the future.
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Recent research on decision maker’s behaviour worldwide across industries since the outbreak shows that the massive digital shit is here to stay.
Both B2B sellers and buyers prefer the new digital reality.
More than three quarters of sellers and buyers say they now prefer remote human engagement and digital self-serve over in-person interaction – a sentiment that has strongly intensified even after lockdowns have come to an end.
Safety is one major reason, of course. Yet, remote and self-serve interactions have made it easier for avid online shoppers to get information, place the order, and arrange service, and customers have appreciated that convenience and speed. Only 20% of B2B buyers cite they hope to return to face-to-face sales, even in sectors where field-sales approaches have traditionally dominated, such as medical products and pharma.
Far from being a merely local phenomenon, the shift to remote engagement and digital has been welcomed by decision-makers in all states studied worldwide. B2B e-commerce leaders have progressed from being “pushed” to rely on digital in reaction to the far-reaching shutdowns in the early phases of the outbreak to a mounting conviction that digital space is the way to go.
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Customers are buying big online.
With 6 in 10 consumers (61%) saying they have purchased something online, it’s clear that they are becoming increasingly comfortable with e-commerce. This is good news for B2C as well as B2B companies, as prior research shown that older customers account for 54% of the wealth in the U.S.
The common belief used to be that those online businesses were mainly for fast-moving parts and smaller-ticket items. Well, not anymore. The survey shows that a significant chunk of consumers is happy to browse online for bigger ticket items such as real estate ( 27%), furniture (33%) and cars (34%), perhaps to evade the high-pressure sales atmosphere associated with browsing these items in-person.
B2B decision-makers globally say that remote and online selling is as efficient as face-to-face engagement, or even more so – and they’re not just talking about warm leads. Major retailers also consider digital prospecting to be as efficient as in-person meetings to link with current customers.
Free shipping: The main drive for online purchases
No matter if it’s small or large items, a major driver in purchasing online for more than 77% of shoppers is free shipping. Fast shipping is also a decisive factor, with respondents seeking options such as same-day shipping (93%) when making a decision to purchase online.
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Another decisive element in shopper’s decision-making is the ability to return products free of charge. A past survey has found that half of U.S consumers said they would not purchase something online if they were not given the option for free returns.
Two breakout stars: Video and live chat
With the significant shift to digital resulting from the pandemic, video, podcasts, and live chats have emerged as leading channels in interacting and closing deals with B2B customers, while face-to-face meetings and related sales activities have dropped considerably.
The amount of revenue spawned from video-related interactions has reached 69% in April 2020. Together, videoconferencing and e-commerce now account for 43% of all B2B revenue, more than any other channel. The online shopper also made it clear that, given the circumstances, they prefer video on the phone.
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Video has boomed in recent months as it’s the only type of content that allows customers to see, hear and know about companies. It truly makes a difference. Because of the more intimate feel that video provides, it can be used in a multitude of ways as more B2B companies begin to embrace the virtual space.
When you can’t meet for an in-person sale lunch, meet over a zoom video call. When you can’t have that in-person team meeting, then use Skype and make everyone feel productive and included.
In 2020 video is an alternative to written content that B2B businesses can easily share on their social media platforms or websites. Given that 78% of people consume online video weekly, and 55% watch online video every day, why would B2B businesses not incorporate video into your marketing strategy?
The future is digital and optimistic.
The pandemic has induced a few patterns that are likely to become permanent. Near to nine in ten business leaders say that the new go-to and commercial market sales methods will be a fixture throughout 2021 and perhaps beyond.
The attitude is also upbeat for a considerable percentage of decision-makers. That optimism mirrors in a majority citing multi-year plans for maintenance on opex increased spending and capex.
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The upsurge in digital adoption reveals a seminal opportunity for B2B businesses. The shift to virtual sales can help sellers extend their reach, lower their cost per visit, and considerably improve sales effectiveness – while agreeable customers who are requiring these new models of interacting stick long term are more likely to reward providers that do it well. Yet while opportunities are significant, so is the tension to capitalize on it. B2B business leaders that commit to extending their digital market models should gain a competitive edge in the form of more – and more reliable – consumers than their slower-moving rivals. In this digital and remote world, however, the crucial role of the human touch persists.