The digital age is all around us. Rarely a day goes by when we aren’t reminded of the seismic shifts taking place thanks to the internet and other technological marvels. Everything from taxicabs to hotels to retail shopping have been forever changed by these developments.
But, while the most obvious focus has been on business-to-consumer (B2C) products and services, business-to-business (B2B) has slowly been playing catch up as many in this sector are waking up to changes in buyer behavior that can no longer be ignored.
Top digital performers are dedicating around eight-percent of annual revenues to improving their sales capabilities. Less successful players are devoting half that amount.
Much of the B2B sector still has a long way to go in matching the B2C sector’s rapid adoption of game changing tech, but the seeds of its own paradigm shift have clearly taken root and business leaders who want to succeed must adapt their traditional views of sales and marketing.
For starters, many of the changes that affect B2C are now realities in the B2B market as well. The shift in consumer behavior away from relying on the advice of traditional salespeople towards online research and polling their social networks has come to B2B buyers as well.
Adapt or Fade Away
Classic B2B models were built around long-standing relationships with customers, retailers, and manufacturers. The internet has forever disrupted that traditional framework.
Today, transparency is high, and loyalty is a fleeting resource. Instead of having to search high and low for a cheaper or better-suited alternative, it might be just a few clicks and queries away, and those with purchasing power are increasingly willing to look elsewhere.
The buyer’s journey for B2B sales has changed completely and moved almost entirely online. According to Forrester Research, a full 90% of B2B buyers do their research online and 77% of the buying process is complete before ever contacting a supplier.
In other words, B2B isn’t all that different than B2C anymore. Consequently, B2B buyers are starting to demand the same consistent, feature-rich, 24/7 experience they get while making personal purchases on Amazon when they shop for their businesses.
As Forrester ecommerce analyst Andy Hoar puts it: “It’s not like someone has a great experience on Amazon or Sephora or Target.com or Jet.com and then goes to a B2B-centric site and dramatically lowers their expectations.”
Room For Improvement
Although the change is underway, B2B still has a ways to go before it can match its consumer counterparts.
By 2021, analysts forecast B2B ecommerce will account for $1.2 trillion in sales, but a report by consultants at McKinsey & Company gave B2C companies an average score of 35 on the quality of their digital “strategy, capabilities, and culture.” B2B companies only merited an average score of 28.
Part of the reason for that shortfall is lack of investment. According to the Boston Consulting Group, top digital performers are dedicating around eight-percent of annual revenues to improving their sales capabilities. Less successful players are devoting half that amount.
90% of B2B buyers do their research online and 77% of the buying process is complete before ever contacting a supplier.
If you’re convinced that digital B2B is the future, then you may be wondering how you can incorporate the lessons and tools of this new era into your own business. Start by considering how you use the following methods for creating a full funnel marketing approach that includes lead generation, nurturing campaigns, and post sales follow up for recurring revenue:
- Data Capture: Knocking on doors and making cold calls are still valuable, old school ways of generating leads, but they simply can’t match the speed and ease of modern computerized approaches. Interactions on websites, emails, and social media networks are rich with data just waiting to be harvested and leveraged.
- Actionable Analytics: Data is so valuable in this era, it’s sometimes analogized to oil, but perhaps a better comparison is unrefined crude because it needs to be processed before it’s really useful. Having a massive list of potential leads is good, but better still is the ability to properly segment that list by key factors like physical location, job title, company size,vertical markets, and then create content specific to that audience and their place in the buying process.
- Omnichannel Outreach: There are too many channels to count these days (and more popping up all the time) and the average B2B purchaser is interacting with around six of them at any given time. Creating a consistent experience across all channels, whether email, websites, social media, blogs, or video sharing sites, is vital to creating a frictionless customer journey. This approach allows businesses to create valuable brand touchpoints throughout the entire sales funnel.
- Marketing Automation: Once, you have the data, analytics, segmented lists and identified channels for reaching your audience, it’s time to create a manageable way to reach them on a regular basis. Sales reps can only contact a limited amount of prospective and existing customers. Marketing automation tools allow you to set up timed interactions with your target audience that keep them informed and engaged in a way that sales people couldn’t possibly do on their own. Then, dashboards show your hottest potential prospects and zone your sales resources in to make their calls to the people most likely to be open to the sales pitch.
Some companies have been slow to recognize the monumental break in the status quo taking place. Others are aware things have changed, but believe their time-tested practices don’t need updating. Both cases are signs of trouble ahead.
Failure to adapt to changing times is a path to stagnation and loss of market share to more agile competitors who are willing to shape their business models to better fit an altered business environment.
Don’t fight the future — use it to your advantage!