There’s no denying the impact of COVID-19 on the business-to-consumer (B2C) market. Retailers around the country were forced to close their doors because of mandated stay-at-home orders—migrating their businesses online as quickly as possible.
Even as governments begin loosening their quarantine restrictions, the retail experience of old will be no more. Local businesses are adapting their stores to be post-coronavirus-friendly with one-way aisles, sanitation stations, and line buffers for social distancing. These same businesses are also integrating more flexibility with their customers through curbside pickup, local delivery services, and online or mobile ordering.
The coronavirus pandemic is not only changing the B2C space—it’s affecting the business-to-business (B2B) industry, too.
The B2B industry depends on a thriving economy, and with rising unemployment and recession-like market trends, signs point to a very rough road ahead for the B2B sector. In fact, a recent survey from Contemsa found that almost 74% of respondents saw a decrease in B2B sales opportunities since the coronavirus outbreak began.
For many B2B industries, sales have all but ground to a halt because B2B brands sell to B2C companies or partners that contribute to the B2C supply chain.
B2B brands were also limited by COVID-19, and some of the adaptations they made will have an immediate and long-term effect on their operations. The business-to-business world is going to be forever changed by this pandemic.
Popular Conferences Have Gone Virtual
Throughout the year, B2B brands use conferences to gather new leads and connect with existing leads on a deeper level. Their employees set up booths with games and prizes to attract attendees, while their CEOs and other leaders speak in panels and give presentations—highlighting their industry expertise.
However, COVID-19 paused conferences across the country as air travel and large gatherings went extinct. COVID-19 will affect B2B sales through conferences in both the short- and long-run.
For now, you can expect:
- An immediate drop in new leads from canceled conferences. Sales teams have fewer people to reach out to, meaning fewer potential clients to close.
- Qualified attendees to drop for the rescheduled conferences because companies will have new priorities to address following the pandemic. While businesses may have some presence at the conferences, the decision-makers are likely focused elsewhere in the interim.
- Fewer people to attend in-person conferences due to COVID-19 safety and budget concerns.
In the long-run, more conferences may be held digitally. The Adobe Summit 2020 was held entirely online, and attendees can watch 100+ free breakout sessions at any time. (You can still access these today.)
While digital conferences are still engaging, they often lack the networking opportunities that come with mingling over drinks or chatting at a roundtable. It may be harder for companies that are dependent on conferences for leads to grow back their sales funnels following the pandemic.
Sales Teams Will Become More Remote
Sales teams were already transitioning to more digital processes and automated systems before the coronavirus pandemic; however, adjustments made in the past few months may become permanent.
One survey by McKinsey & Co. across several countries in Europe, North America, and Asia found that 37% of companies around the world went completely remote with their sales teams during the COVID-19 pandemic. Only 4% of sales teams were still exclusively visiting leads in-person (as opposed to working in tandem with virtual sales representatives).
In the past decade, the B2B sales process has shifted almost entirely online. Companies might send a sales team to another city or state to close a deal and take the client out to dinner, but most selling, negotiating, and planning happened virtually.
Moving forward, you can expect the sales process to become more dependent on virtual solutions.
B2B companies might send gifts to new clients when they close a deal, but the classic steak dinner after signing a contract might become medium-rarer than before.
Digital Marketing Continues to Drive the Sales Funnel
Digital marketing isn’t exactly a new concept, with most brands having decades worth of social media and email marketing experience. However, as B2B brands move away from conferences (at least for this year), they are investing more in digital connections to drive leads into the funnel.
Expect to see an increase in B2B digital marketing efforts and lead building over the coming months. The same McKinsey and Co. survey mentioned earlier found that 66% of companies valued digital interactions during the COVID-19 pandemic over traditional. Before the pandemic, only 48% of B2B companies thought it was more important (compared to 52% who favored traditional engagement).
All of this digital content points back to the “rule of 7” or how a lead needs to hear about your brand an average of 7 times before they will convert. In some B2B companies, the rule of 7 can stretch over several months. In others, customers convert after 2 or 3 touches. However, principles are the same: customers need to engage with your brand, which means you need digital content and engagement opportunities so they can do so.
Each industry within the B2B world will have weathered the COVID-19 storm differently. Some companies—especially those who offer e-commerce services—likely thrived in the past few months as brands tried to go digital and move their businesses online.
Other B2B industries, like those related to travel and tourism, may not see their sales pick up for a while. However, being aware of trends can help you adjust to what your clients expect, helping you turn as many leads into sales as possible.