The traditional B2B sales cycle is changing. Well, actually, let’s put that in the past tense because it has already changed. It has gone from being based on time-consuming in-person meetings with sales reps to streamlined multichannel interactions that span across offline and online.
In this article, we’ll look closer at what this means for B2B brands and how you can keep up with the accelerating customer demands.
OMNICHANNEL B2B IS HERE TO STAY
There’s been talk in B2B marketing about how omnichannel is the future for quite a few years. But the truth is, we’ve passed that. It’s not the future; it’s now. It’s here, and it’s time for B2B brands to catch up. Customers make no distinction between B2B and B2C when it comes to their level of expectations, and therefore, B2C has already set the bar for what buyers expect.
In response to the pandemic, B2C businesses have scrambled to survive and been forced to perfect their digital journeys. And customers have grown accustomed to seamless experiences across all channels, digital, physical, and phygital. Research from McKinsey confirms that even as in-person engagement reemerged as an option, buyers were adamant that they prefer a cross-channel mix, choosing in-person, remote, and digital self-serve interactions in equal measure.
For B2B ecommerce, this means that going omnichannel is no longer a question of “if” or “when,” but of “how soon can we have this up and running”? With the preferred answer being “yesterday”. And yet, many B2B vendors are far behind in this area. The good news is that those who realize the urgency and take action can still be saved.
Related reading: The Future of B2B Ecommerce
AN OPPORTUNITY FOR GROWTH
In this evolution lies a massive opportunity for those B2B businesses who fully embrace ecommerce and do what it takes to create a great omnichannel experience. The use of, and preference for, e-digital in B2B keeps increasing, including self-serve features that allow buyers to go through the whole buyer journey without any human interaction. Buyers have also become comfortable moving back and forth between in-person and remote sales as quarantine restrictions have shifted.
So what are the implications of this for the B2B businesses who implement omnichannel communication and sales? Well, they can be summarized quite easily: increased scalability. The more digital the buyer journey becomes, the better it scales. So yes, it’s definitely worthwhile to get there sooner rather than later.
8 IN 10 B2B BUSINESS LEADERS PREFER OMNICHANNEL
Omnichannel has become an urgent strategic focus during the pandemic crisis, and it will be even more imperative going forward. According to McKinsey, eight in ten B2B leaders consider omnichannel to be more effective than traditional methods.
And as many as 83 percent of B2B leaders believe that omnichannel selling is a more successful way to prospect and secure new business than traditional, in-person sales approaches. This is an essential sign of confidence, considering the potentially (initially) higher cost and hurdle of acquiring new customers in new ways.
CHALLENGES ALONG THE ROAD TO OMNICHANNEL
The need for businesses to quickly shift to digital and remote sales has come with a number of challenges for most B2B businesses. The most common are related to the workplace and culture and how to adapt to working remotely.
They include finding the most effective structure for field reps who are suddenly working from home and making remote interactions and meetings feel as personal as in-person experiences. Another challenge is providing Proofs of Concept and demos that build a level of trust equivalent to that of physical meetings and walk-throughs.
Another common pain point is channel conflicts, with two-thirds of decision-makers stating that their sales teams have encountered this issue. Omnichannel requires a whole different level of structure and overview. Many companies have a lot of catching up to get their CRM, support, and marketing systems synced and optimized.
However, as stated above, there really is no other way around these issues than right through them. Not embracing omnichannel is not an option for forward-thinking B2B businesses, so it is important to get started on solving any challenges rather than postponing the friction that all change processes inevitably entail.
EXPERIENCE MORE IMPORTANT THAN PRICE
As customers grow increasingly savvy in digital shopping, the sales, and marketing landscape is shifting. Today’s selling point is not just product and price, but the customer experience (CX) is becoming one of the key differentiators for B2B brands.
So much so that according to Walker’s Customers 2020: A Progress Report, CX will surpass product and price as the most critical differentiator for B2B brands in 2022. And as we’ve pointed out in a previous article, a customer-first approach is vital when it comes to driving any success in CX.
Related reading: Seamless Customer Experience: Why it Matters and How to Deliver
BIG-TICKET CLIENTS GOING SELF-SERVICE
Even large ticket sales are increasingly moving online, as clients spending six figures and beyond seem to be willing to travel most of their sales journey on their own. Or even prefer it. Despite the conventional assumption in B2B that big-ticket sales absolutely require personal contact, 20 percent of B2B buyers state that they’re prepared to spend over $500,000 in fully remote/digital sales models. And as many as 11 percent are willing to spend more than a million without any in-person meetings.
B2B budget projections seem to indicate the same willingness to spend, despite the current market volatility. 60 percent of the respondents were planning to maintain or even increase their OPEX investments over the coming five years. And 47 percent plan to increase their CAPEX over the same period.
This means that B2B vendors who anticipate this and prepare their organizations with solid technical foundations are the ones that will reap the rewards in the coming years. In other words: this is not the time to step on the brake pedal; quite the opposite. As the rate of digitalization keeps increasing across all industries, companies who upgrade their technical infrastructure and processes to keep pace will be the ones winning market share in the years ahead.
TECHNOLOGY – THE KEY TO OUTSTANDING CUSTOMER EXPERIENCES
Exceptional digital customer experiences are supported by technology, or more accurately, integrated technologies. A seamlessly integrated technology stack is a prerequisite for a frictionless experience, which is why it’s so important to have a holistic approach to all technological decisions and choices.
In the past, spinning up new channels could be a complex, time-consuming endeavor. By leveraging modern API-first commerce, this is no longer the case. B2B companies now have increased flexibility to implement and manage a wide range of commerce services and systems all from the same backend. Using technology from our partner, commercetools, B2B buyers can get the most out of every channel experience including B2B marketplaces, social sales platforms, and smart devices, as well as newer touchpoints like AR/VR and IoT.
Another reason why integrating tech is vital is that it allows you to get a comprehensive view of your customer data. To meet customer demands, you need to understand your customer. Having access to your customer data and the ability to mine it for insights gives you a competitive advantage and allows you to create seamless experiences from the first touchpoint in the customer journey.
CHANGE MANAGEMENT – A CRUCIAL SUCCESS FACTOR
As we’ve already touched upon, one of the main challenges in shifting towards an omnichannel approach lies in the actual change itself. Change is always challenging, and when it comes to digital transformation, it’s important to remember that it does not only involve the technology aspect. In fact, sometimes it’s the people and their behaviors that require the most attention for a change management process to be successful.
Omnichannel customer experiences can only be created through change management programs that tackle tech, processes, structures, and people in parallel. As shown in a B2B omnichannel study by Forrester, organizational misalignment often dramatically reduces digital platforms’ efficacy. The same report also found that 36 percent of B2B businesses ranked conflict between different parts of the organizations as one of the top challenges hindering their omnichannel strategy.
HOW VAIMO CAN HELP
We understand that going omnichannel can feel like an overwhelming task. Bringing all the channels together and integrating them into a well-oiled sales and marketing machine does require some time and effort. But while there’s no silver bullet and no one-size-fits-all solution, it’s safe to say that companies must continue to integrate more channels in their marketing and sales approaches to keep pace with evolving customer expectations.
We can help you identify the different touchpoints in your customer journey, understand the data, and guide you in working in a more customer-centric way.
Vaimo’s strategy team can help score your business against more than 150 customer experience parameters and provide advice and guidance on how to improve and where to start. Get a free tailored Customer Experience report here. If you want to explore the topic more or have any questions don’t hesitate to reach out to our team of experts.