Technology and cultural shifts have been transforming the way we do business for years now. The pandemic accelerated many of these changes. Some areas that have been particularly affected include the increase in remote work and flexible hours. Many businesses have switched to a hybrid or remote work model in the last few years. Supply chain challenges have also had an impact on many industries, which have also impacted the way B2B customers make their purchases.
Let's look at some notable stats about changes in B2B customers over the past couple of years.
Certain trends, such as digitalization and remote work were already happening before the pandemic, but not at the scale it is today. Lockdowns and social distancing certainly caused these lifestyle changes to accelerate. While much attention is focused on how retail customers began shopping online more frequently since the pandemic, the same is true for B2B buyers. Statista found that the percentage of B2B buyers using online stores increased in several areas since the COVID lockdowns.
B2B buyers are now more comfortable shopping online. Vendors need to make the online buying experience as seamless and convenient as possible to stay competitive.
It may be tempting to believe that we will soon return to a pre-pandemic "normal." All evidence, however, points to changes such as online shopping and digitalization being permanent.
70% of businesses reported that the pandemic forced them to make adjustments to their content marketing strategies. One of the most far-reaching differences is that almost everybody has embraced digitalization, including in areas where business was traditionally conducted face-to-face. McKinsey reports that more than 75% of buyers and sellers now prefer practices such as digital self-service and remote transactions.
This preference applies to all types of interactions between buyers and sellers, including finding new suppliers, ordering, and reordering. This is most likely a permanent shift, as the same survey reveals that only 20% of B2B buyers ever want to return to in-person sales. In other words, partly due to the pandemic and partly because of larger trends, people are getting accustomed to remote rather than in-person interactions.
One of the biggest overall shifts in the entire economy is the move toward digitalization. B2B buyers are at the forefront of this trend.
Advances in virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) are making it more convenient and appealing for B2B buyers, who no longer have to rely on old school websites to see products, places, and demonstrations. YourTechDiet identifies several ways that VR is useful for B2B sales, including virtual stores, product testing, and providing a more personalized experience.
As Harvard Business Review points out, the Metaverse can make VR even more appealing, as people will be able to have more realistic and aesthetically pleasing experiences in virtual surroundings.
There will always be a place for live business events such as conventions and trade shows. However, we are seeing a major shift towards virtual events. There are several key advantages to virtual events, even if live events are feasible. How big is this trend towards virtual events?
BrightTalk reported a 76% increase in virtual events in 2020. A survey by Statista of marketers worldwide estimated that 40% of events would be virtual in 2022, an increase of 35% over 2020. There are good reasons to expect that virtual events will continue to flourish, even in the post-pandemic world. There are several key advantages to holding events online.
Another advantage of virtual events is that there are several models to choose from. For example, there are live, on-demand, and hybrid webinars. An on-demand webinar is a recorded event that has the look and feel of a live event. Viewers can access these at any time. With hybrid webinars, some of the content is pre-recorded but attendees can interact with presenters live as well.
One webinar company, Netline, had an overall 49% increase in webinar registrations. Just as significantly, they had 36% more registrations for on-demand than live webinars. This fits in with the modern trend of people wanting to access the content at their convenience, as with online streaming services such as Netflix. On-demand webinars are more convenient for both presenters and attendees as they offer complete flexibility.
As technology such as VR and AR advances, virtual events will become even more appealing. Because of the economy and flexibility of holding events online, businesses have a strong motivation to create them. In the post-pandemic world, virtual events will flourish alongside live events. Both can be very useful for B2B engagement.
The United States as well as other countries have been experiencing supply chain challenges since the pandemic. Due to various factors, including rising inflation, the war in Ukraine, and continued uncertainty about the pandemic, these challenges are likely to continue for some time.
Supply chain issues are having a big impact on B2B sales. For one thing, it's making everyone extremely cost-conscious. It also means businesses are looking for new, more reliable suppliers for items from electronic parts to food. Supply chain changes overlap with digitalization as businesses are now ordering mostly online. This means that suppliers that don't offer online ordering or whose digital capabilities are limited are at an extreme disadvantage.
Wunderman Thompson's B2B Future Shopper Report of 2021 found that 53% of B2B switched suppliers for all purchases in the last year, compared to 18% the year before (pre-pandemic). The report also reveals that most of these companies are not planning to return to the "old normal," with 93% planning to continue with the changes in purchasing behavior made during the pandemic.
With B2B companies making significant supply chain adjustments, many are looking to successful B2C supply chain processes, such as Amazon. Project 44 shares 5 Lessons the B2B Supply Chain Can Learn From Amazon, which include delivering a seamless customer experience and thoroughly analyzing data. The article also mentions the importance of SLAs (service level agreements), which specify the services delivered by logistics providers. The main point is that, in order to compete under increasingly challenging conditions, B2B supply chains must learn to adapt some of the practices of the most efficient B2C supply chains, with Amazon being one of the best models for inspiration.
Having a thorough understanding of your customer is fundamental to both B2C and B2B businesses. Mapping out the buyer journey is a crucial aspect of growing your business and adapting to changing circumstances. Here are some key facts about typical B2B buyers. According to Harvard Business Review, 73% involved in research and decision-making regarding B2B purchases are millennials. These younger buyers have some distinct habits when it comes to research and communication:
While it's useful to compile general data about your audience, it's even better when you drill down and identify exactly who your customers are. One of the best tools for doing this is creating a buyer or customer persona. This is a fictional entity that has the characteristics of your typical customer. See our blog post for a description of how to create B2B buyer personas.
A buyer persona goes beyond mere analytics, such as demographics data. Tapping into the voice of your customer is also necessary. What is ‘the voice of customer’? It simply means understanding the particular needs, demands, and quirks of your audience. If you are going to effectively sell to your customers, you first need to listen to them. This includes:
What is the B2B Buying Process? The customer or buyer journey is the path a customer takes from the moment they become aware of a product until they make a purchase. While the basic elements of the customer journey map are comparable for B2C and B2B businesses, there are some key differences. B2B transactions, for example, typically have more decision-makers involved.
Gartner published a report that outlines some of the key challenges of the B2B buyer journey. One major difference between B2C and B2B is that traditional selling is far less of a factor with B2B. When buyers are considering a decision, they only spend 17% of the time meeting with potential suppliers. Gartner also found that buyers find the process of finding reliable sellers extremely challenging, with 77% reporting that their latest purchase was difficult.
The buyer journey consists of a marketing funnel that contains three stages: Awareness, Consideration, and Decision. See our Ultimate Content by Funnel Guide to learn how to create a buyer journey and find the right content for each stage.
If B2B buyers don't have time (or the inclination) to talk much with sellers, how do you reach them? One of the best ways to reach potential buyers is through content marketing. By creating informative content, such as white papers, articles, videos, and webinars (see virtual events above), you can educate buyers in a non-intrusive way. It's important to remember how much of the buyer journey is digital today.
Written content such as blog posts, articles, white papers, and reports are essential for educating buyers. Martech published the results of a study that found B2B buyers consume an average of 13 pieces of content before selecting a vendor. This content is divided between about 8 pieces from the vendor and 5 from third-party sources. This points to the value of having authoritative sources discussing your business.
Video content is also a powerful tool for reaching B2B buyers. Video ads and short videos are effective at getting buyers' attention and introducing them to your products. More in-depth videos are good for educating and training customers on how your products work.
Email marketing is an evergreen strategy that remains one of the best ways to connect and engage with B2B customers. A study by the Content Marketing Institute reveals that 81% of B2B marketers rely on email newsletters as their most-used type of content.
According to Martech, 70% of B2B buyers found content related to purchasing decisions directly on the vendor's website. This points to the need to optimize your content for search engines. Keep the fundamentals of SEO in mind for all your content. This includes using keywords that your customers will be searching for and building backlinks to your site. On-page factors such as page-loading speed and mobile friendliness are also important.
Because a B2B company is serving other businesses, they also have to remember the needs of the end customer or your customers' customer. An example of this is a traditional retail shopping mall. A mall owner's direct customers are retail stores that rent space. However, if they want the enterprise to succeed, they must create an atmosphere that's appealing to shoppers, and their customers' customers. Harvard Business Review provides the example of an airport, whose customers are airlines, but must consider the needs of the airlines' passengers.
Many of the changes we've been discussing apply to both B2C as well as B2B. For example, retail customers are increasingly ordering online. Similarly, supply chain challenges are affecting the retail market. Therefore, B2B companies need to keep the end customer in mind as they market their products and services to other businesses.
Building customer loyalty is crucial for B2B companies. With the challenges and changes we've discussed, it's more difficult than ever to win the loyalty of your customers. As we've seen, customers won't hesitate to change suppliers for reasons such as price and lack of digitalization. Martechseries shares some helpful insights on what B2B companies need to do post-pandemic to gain loyal customers. This includes:
The COVID-19 pandemic has brought many changes and accelerated others that were already taking place, such as virtual events and flexible work. If your customers are B2B buyers, you have to keep up with the evolving demands of these customers.
Need help in figuring out the best ways to connect with today's B2B buyers? Steel Croissant can help with content marketing, SEO, creating buyer personas, mapping out the buyer journey, and more. For more information, contact us.
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