The Covid-19 crisis is far from over. Still, as the pandemic rages on, now is the time to double down on efforts to build an enduring business that will emerge stronger from this economic mess. Sure, some challenges require urgent attention, but planning mustn’t give way to short-termism.
B2B commerce businesses need to focus on 2021 and beyond and decide where to invest to maximize long-term gain. For this, they need an understanding of the trends bubbling away beneath the surface and view them through the lens of a post-pandemic world. Below, we take a look at the five trends most likely to affect B2B commerce post-pandemic, with an additional five “honorable mentions.”
1. Let’s start with the obvious: rapid digital adoption.
COVID-19 has massively accelerated the pre-existing trend towards digital. Commentators estimate that we’ve been thrust forward six years in terms of digital adoption. And we’re never going back.
In a September 2020 survey of B2B commerce decision-makers, 90% expected their new remote and digital models to stick around for the long run, while 3 in 4 believe the new model is as effective, or more so, than before COVID-19 (for both existing customers and prospects.) Almost 90 percent of sales have moved to a videoconferencing(VC)/phone/web sales model, and more than half believe it’s equally or more effective.
With the long-term supremacy of digital sales channels assured, B2B commerce companies tackling digital transformation for the first time, or bolstering pre-existing capabilities, must adopt an investment mindset. This means planning for future performance, even if it means spending more. As the old saying goes: “buy cheap, buy twice.”
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2. The rise of fully personalized B2B commerce.
We’ve witnessed a broad trend towards personalization across the B2C eCommerce space with the likes of Amazon offering a unique “version” or their website to each customer account. As the lines between B2C and B2B eCommerce are blurred, B2B buyers are expecting the same Amazon-like service when they buy for work, with websites, navigation, and checkouts all tailored to their needs.
COVID-19 has sounded the death knell on relationship selling in many industries, but this doesn’t mean that buyers want to sacrifice personalization. Quite the opposite, they want personalization; they just don’t want the “person”. 50% of B2B buyers identify improved personalization as a critical feature when searching for online suppliers to build relationships with.
By recording browsing behavior, order history, industry data, company data, employee count, revenue, software stack, and sales cycles stage, a B2B commerce business can build a detailed customer profile and provide a wealth of personalized features through their website. Examples include custom price lists and catalogs, intelligent recommendations, location-specific services, and predictive ordering.
AI and predictive analytics are getting smarter, creating value for buyers, and improving conversion rates and order values for vendors. Companies that fail to incorporate personalization into their B2B commerce strategies risk falling behind post-pandemic. Start now, and gain a crucial learning advantage.
3. Self-service leapfrogs traditional selling practices.
66% of B2B decision-makers believe self-service is now more important to customers than traditional sales interactions, up from 48% before the pandemic. That’s a significant leap, but with millennials leading the new wave of B2B buyers, this figure is set to increase rapidly post-pandemic: millennial buyers had demonstrated a clear preference for self-service over sales rep interaction since way before COVID struck.
B2B commerce businesses can make substantial savings and achieve rapid ROI by investing in self-service options now. Self-service costs B2B companies only $0.10 per engagement on average, while live support costs as much as $12. As an extra kicker, automation of sales and support processes frees up teams to work on creative solutions to strategic problems rather than time-sapping, menial tasks.
Implementing a robust CPQ (configure, price, quote) solution with a customer-facing interface is a cost-effective way to enhance the self-service experience. With KBMax, B2B commerce businesses can embed a visual product configurator into their website that buyers can use independently without any sales or engineering input.
4. A fully immersive shopping experience becomes a reality.
The demise of business travel and face-to-face meetings has forced B2B commerce businesses to find new ways of recreating “hands-on” customer experiences. Cue VR (virtual reality) and AR (augmented reality) – technology that has promised much, but delivered little, until now. Finally, price and potential have converged to form a very attractive proposition, particularly for custom product manufacturers.
VR places customers inside a simulated reality where they can move, look around, and interact with products within a 3D scene. AR overlays product visuals onto a real-world background captured by the camera of a phone or tablet. Together, they create a fully immersive experience that beats any showroom visit, resolving buyers’ desire to interact with a product before purchase, increasing conversion rate, and deal size.
5. Online marketplaces continue to evolve and dominate.
Online marketplaces (eCommerce websites where multiple B2B suppliers sell products) are in the ascendency. Gartner estimates that 75% of B2B procurement spending will happen via an online marketplace within the next five years. Amazon, which owns about 54% of product search volume, dominates the space. With a global presence, an active user base, and an established, optimized infrastructure, it’s incredibly cheap and easy for B2B commerce businesses to upload products to an online marketplace and see sales. It’s convenient for buyers, too, as they can consolidate purchases through a single portal.
But online marketplaces have significant downsides for B2B commerce businesses that could be selling directly through their own websites. First, transaction fees are often eye-watering (and sponsored ads cost even more.) Second, companies are at the mercy of marketplace operators who can demote or delist products for spurious reasons. Third, copycat and fake products are rife. And fourth, and most importantly, the seller misses out on precious customer data generated from transactions, all of which is captured by the operator. Nevertheless, there’s no doubt online marketplaces are here to stay post-pandemic, so every B2B commerce business needs to be able to define their marketplace strategy.
6. Voice commerce comes to B2B.
B2B commerce purchases are often more complicated, but more repetitive than B2C purchases, with companies replenishing the same supplies regularly. This kind of purchase pattern lends itself particularly well to voice commerce ie, the use of voice commands to place an order.
7. Content marketing funnels target prospects online.
Millennial buyers fully define their own needs through copious online research (rather than consulting a sales rep.) This research phase provides the perfect opportunity for content marketing funnels – a system that targets prospects with carefully crafted content to transform them, step by step, into paying customers
8. Buyers demand shorter sales cycles.
B2B commerce buyers are no longer prepared to wait days for proposals and quotes. They want instant gratification. Companies that have implemented effective digital transformation strategies, in particular a robust CPQ solution, will be able to cut sales cycles from weeks down to a matter of minutes.
9. Rapid fulfillment potential will provide a significant competitive advantage.
Offering a next day delivery service is no longer a USP – it’s table stakes in many industries. B2B commerce buyers are now expecting same-day deliveries. Shopify is investing heavily in robotics to expand and streamline its fulfillment capabilities in line with Amazon Prime.
10. Loyalty programs will be required to retain customers.
It’s cheaper to retain a customer than it is to acquire a new one (as we’ve all heard a million times before.) But digital is lowering barriers to entry and making it easier than ever to switch suppliers. Hard-earned customer loyalty is being eroded, and B2B commerce businesses are working harder than ever to drive retention and repeat purchases. Loyalty programs, offering everything from points-based rewards to priority partnerships, are becoming an increasingly popular vehicle for retaining customers over the long term.