If there is one thing this pandemic has accelerated, it is the rate at which businesses have realised they are in deep pits of dung. Outdated systems, experiences and pipelines have come to the open following the outbreak and it looks like the situation is not going to improve any time soon.
In its Future Shopper report, Wunderman Thompson Commerce has found that shopping behaviours are changing in B2B as well. So just how do you ensure your business is ready for the changes that are to come?
We reached out to Wunderman Thompson Commerce's global head of consultancy and innovation Hugh Fletcher to get a general overview of the situation and a bit of advice on what to do next.
B2B buying behaviours are changing, but is your business ready?
Let’s be clear about one thing… whilst the global Coronavirus pandemic has changed both B2C and B2B online behaviours, many of these changes had been set on course well before this outbreak.
The pandemic has accelerated this change, but those who had been preparing for the ‘future customer’ are better placed to deal with what has been thrown at them, while the businesses that have remained largely unchanged for decades now face an even bigger hill to climb, and even less time to climb it.
Our Future Shopper report observed exactly how COVID-19 has sparked a change in behaviour, and it could have a profound effect on the post-pandemic B2B market.
Online is on the rise, and the pandemic has harmed face-to-face selling
Even before the pandemic, our research indicated that online selling was up by nearly a quarter (24%) since last year. Amidst the height of the UK’s first wave, respondents indicated that as much as 46% of their purchasing was now online.
And if this doesn’t convince you that the future will be online, then what we also saw was a decline in buying directly from sales reps, which fell from 45% pre-outbreak to just 16% during. While the challenges of lockdown affected this, it is likely that this change will remain, at least in part.
The move online has forced changes to suppliers
A sudden reliance on distance buying and selling has stress-tested many B2B businesses’ online presence and has consequently driven change in the market. Nearly a fifth (18%) of buyers said that they had switched suppliers for all purchases because of the effect of COVID-19, while 56% of B2B buyers said that they had switched some of their suppliers.
And the reasons for these switches included lack of inventory, the existing supplier not offering online ordering, not offering delivery, and instability in suppliers’ websites. It’s apparent that many B2B businesses need to review their online offering and its performance to ensure that they are ready for the future.
The B2B customer experience is changing
As B2B buyers transition their spend online, it’s key that the experience is prioritised. While B2C organisations have invested heavily in the online customer experience to maximise conversion, B2B businesses clearly have some work to do; 43% say that buying online for B2B is more complicated than offline.
Much can be learnt from the B2C market, with 72% of B2B buyers saying that they expected a similar experience buying on B2B sites as B2C ones, including customer ratings and reviews, a factor that influences 24% of B2B buyers.
Having a site and selling online is not enough. B2B businesses must be using and trading their sites if they are to maximise their online revenue.
And this need for improved experience should not be driven by the front-end alone. No, B2B sellers must adapt to new technology and infrastructure such as MACH – microservices, API-first, cloud-native and headless which are seen as the modern approach to platform architecture and commerce.
Amazon is rising even more
While 36% of online buying starts directly at a suppliers’ website, three-in-ten (29%) purchases start with Amazon. That figure comprises both their consumer and Amazon Business sites, showing the dominance the eCommerce giant in the B2C and B2B sphere.
And the signs that this percentage will continue to rise is clear, with two-thirds (59%) of B2B buyers saying that they don’t currently buy through Amazon but intend to in the future; three-quarters (74%) also believe that online marketplaces like Amazon are more convenient. With the growth of Amazon Business outpacing its B2C site, it has firmly set its sights on cracking the B2B market – which is twice the size of the retail market.
Clearly, the question that needs to be asked is how much of this change is permanent, and how much is temporary?
What’s become clear is that many of the assumptions that many businesses hold dear have turned out not to be true: working from home is less efficient, teams can’t operate effectively without meeting in person, sales can’t take place over video-conference. The pandemic sledgehammer has broken the business culture wall.
Initial indications from the B2C market suggest that while consumers will not retain such a high percentage of their spend online, the online slice of the pie will have grown. We predict the same in the B2B market. And this will require B2B businesses to invest in their online platforms, their stability, their functionality and the customer experience.
We predict that less face-to-face selling will take place, though salespeople will still have a role to play via the digital channels. B2B organisations will start to emulate their B2C counterparts – not because they choose to, but because they have to survive. Adopting continuous feedback loops and integration and responding quickly will take precedence.
Worryingly, the pandemic sledgehammer has not necessarily finished wreaking its damage. All businesses must be prepared for further waves and lockdowns until a vaccine is available. So all B2B businesses must look into setting up or improving their online presence. And fast.