COVID-19 has destroyed lives and communities and continues to do so in many countries around the world. Although the health ravages of the pandemic are far from being managed, it is clear that its economic consequences have an even greater negative impact.
For sales managers who are thinking about how to react to this very complicated context, caring for people and their customers must be a priority. Managers need to change the way companies sell in order to adapt to new customer habits and the current economic period.
In many ways, changes in customer behaviour lead to an acceleration of digital trends that were present before the pandemic. We are currently at a point of digital explosion, where B2B sales will start to look fundamentally different from what it was before the pandemic.
To better understand how both customers and sellers react to this new business context, we present three key elements that we will explain below:
- While many companies reduce their costs, others have chosen to increase or maintain them, directing them towards digitization, marketing and frugal innovation.
- B2B companies now see that digital interactions are much more important to their customers than traditional sales interactions
- Almost 76% of sales meetings are made by videoconference, and more than half of sales managers believe that this approach is more effective than the working models used before COVID-19.
Sales managers will go through the three phases of managing the business effects of the pandemic:
- Navigating the current crisis through immediate solutions and focusing on resilience,
- Planning to recover, even partially, the negative impact, and
- Reformatting and adapting to the changed business environment that we call the “new normal.”
Obviously, there is still a great deal of uncertainty, but there are signals that indicate an acceleration of pre-pandemic trends in sales – omni-channel, inbound, automation and technology, e-commerce. All this is on an integration trend now.
Expenditure changes in B2B
Given the bleak economic forecasts, we would have expected more drastic spending cuts. But a considerable number of companies have decided differently, at least for now. This thread of optimism comes from companies in sectors that have had high pandemic sales such as pharmaceuticals, medical products, IT, retail, agriculture, certain areas of FMCG, especially those with hygiene products.
In this context, companies that have maintained the level of spending will be more likely to materialize market opportunities and will return to growth faster, as shown by a study conducted by Harvard Business Review on a global sample of 4700 companies.
Accelerating digital transformation
Similar to what has happened in B2C, the importance of digital channels has grown significantly for B2B in recent years and has accelerated since the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis. This shift in the importance of digital interactions is mainly reflected in customer behaviours. B2B customers’ preference for sales interactions in the digital space has shifted to social media or web portals. In making a purchase, buyers now have a strong preference for accessing product and offer details on suppliers’ websites and / or online stores.
It is noteworthy that people are no longer willing to accept less as B2B customers than they are used to getting as B2C consumers. Three things I emphasize during this period are: the price, the transparency of the information and the consultative approach through the informative materials put in the online environment. These priorities are manifested on all channels and are more pronounced now than ever.
To deliver exceptional digital experiences and encourage loyalty, B2B companies need at least a relevant online approach to the most pressing points of customer dissatisfaction and frustration. The most common are the duration of the ordering process, followed by the difficulty of finding products and technical problems with the order. Other areas of frustration were confusing websites, lack of delivery information and technical assistance, but also difficulties in making payments.
Selling remotely in B2B
The shift to distance selling came out of necessity because quarantine forced people to stay home. B2B sellers have reacted with astonishing speed and work by video conference or phone. In addition to this adjustment to distance selling, large companies have set up multidisciplinary virtual teams to effectively manage sales operations during this period.
The sharp increase in the use of digital channels leads companies to evaluate not only how to generate a good digital experience, but also how to conduct sales interactions to have the best result. Increasing customer experience satisfaction and the efficiency of sales processes are a priority for sales managers.
Therefore, they need to focus on how to implement digital sales. In an environment where customer requirements and operational practices have changed overnight, sales managers need a clear vision of what their customers want. Only in this way will their company be able to make the necessary changes and be able to provide the necessary training to the team members. The transition from traditional face-to-face to distance selling via video conferencing, webinar, phone, chatbot and other means requires better skills, different from sales agents. In this new world where we do business remotely, it is important to know how to transmit human empathy and warmth.