The COVID-19 pandemic changed all of our behaviors, and in some industries it may have a more lasting impact even as things slowly return to normal. In the B2B industry there has actually been a shift underway for several years. COVID probably sped up some of the inevitable changes that were coming, and now sales and marketing teams have to understand how the new behaviors will change the way you reach customers.
A Decade of Shifting B2B Trends
Even before the events of 2020 and the upheaval to business as usual, the B2B industry was already undergoing a lot of change. Previous tactics of networking with C-suite executives to secure a meeting where you could give your best sales pitch were old news. Those methods have shifted in favor of a digital world as a result of several trends:
- Consumers have more information than ever available online. A 2020 Gartner study revealed that buyers only spend about 17% of their time actively meeting with potential suppliers.
- Millenials—the first generation to grow up as “digital natives”—are now in management positions with significant decision-making power.
- Buying journeys are longer and more complicated than ever before.
- The number of technologies, suppliers, products, and services available is higher than ever before, while budgets continue to tighten.
All of these trends were underway before 2020, but when COVID hit, it pushed them into overdrive. Now it’s time to consider what that means for the future of B2B sales and marketing.
Creating Digital-Friendly Sales Experiences
In the B2B world, most of the sales tactics still revolved around face-to-face meetings, even as buyers were trying to move toward a digital experience. Most businesses were not ready when COVID hit and they had to go digital for the safety of internal teams and customers.
The events of 2020 have erased all the lingering excuses for why companies were not ready to go digital or didn’t want to disrupt their time-honored tradition of in-person sales. Most of your B2B consumers have adapted to a digital-first experience and are unlikely to want to go back. The entire customer journey should be streamlined to use technology where it can improve the process and involve your sales team to maintain that human touch.
Generating Excitement with Virtual Events
With most large-scale events still on hold for the foreseeable future, companies need to find new ways to generate leads and build a sales network. If trade shows were a big part of that, this will require a significant investment of time and effort, but it’s not impossible.
- Use digital tools to your advantage. Companies have a wealth of tools available for sharing information and connecting. Set up profiles on LinkedIn and professional networking sites, create a social media presence, update your website, and add content regularly through your blog to draw in new customers and build your funnel.
- Become an online influencer. If you think social media influencers are only celebrities who promote consumer brands, think again. The online influencer industry is expanding and it’s a prime opportunity for B2B. To succeed, create valuable content and push it out on the right platforms (mostly LinkedIn, but Facebook and Twitter are secondary platforms where you should be cross-promoting). Don’t think of your influencer campaign as a specific strategy to develop leads, it's an opportunity to position yourself as an authority in your field of expertise, which will help you generate leads.
- Create content that is valuable to your audience. When consumer experiences move online, people want and need information. Not websites that skim the surface or contain a lot of fluffy—but ultimately useless—content. Publish quality information about your products and services, and how they meet the specific needs of your audience.
- Nurture your leads. Marketing automation helps nurture the leads that come in through social media and other digital campaigns by tracking customers through their digital sales journey and feeding them the right information at the right time.
Finding Ways to Meet
When COVID hit, in-person meetings went virtual with Microsoft Teams or Zoom. But as we come out of the pandemic companies will need to find ways to balance the “Zoom fatigue” people are experiencing with the convenience of digital connections.
Video conferencing can feel very formal, and isn’t as conducive to a quick chat when you have to schedule it, send a link, and input a password just to get started (not to mention the “can you hear me?” and “I think you’re on mute” conversations). Instead, think about ways to keep in touch casually for quick check-ins outside of your usual meetings.
- A text can let your customers know you are available for questions without being intrusive.
- Tools like Slack, where you can have endless channels and exchange direct messages with people online, are less formal than a video conference.
- Short, socially distanced coffee meetings or lunches outdoors are a welcome change from virtual meetings (weather and local restrictions permitting).
Simply asking customers what they prefer can go a long way. Some may still want the face-to-face interactions whenever possible, while others might like to do it all online. Having all the options available makes the sales process more comfortable for everyone.
Strengthen Your B2B Marketing
If you want help developing a better B2B marketing strategy, talk to Synchronicity today. Our Charlotte-based team can help you make the most of the tools available to accelerate your growth, even in a global pandemic (or whatever other challenges lay ahead).