With any luck (and a vaccinated population), the pandemic may be mostly behind us by Q4 of next year. But there’s no denying this experience has reshaped us all indefinitely. And even after life returns to any semblance of our old normal, we'll likely hold fast to a few of our new habits — like remote work flexibility, an increased focus on employee wellness, and (hopefully) frequent hand-washing.
But how has B2B buyer behavior changed in the wake of COVID-19? And what do these evolving habits mean for B2B organizations looking to boost revenue in the year ahead?
To help you prepare for 2021 (and beyond), we’re delving into a few ways B2B buyer behavior is shifting and what it takes to meet buyers' needs both today and in a post-pandemic world.
Even before the pandemic took hold, B2B decision-makers reviewed more material before making a purchase decision. According to data shared by Raconteur, 51% of sales and marketing pros said their buyers were conducting more research over the past 18 months than previously. This is likely due to two reasons:
What you can do: Look to top-performing B2C organizations as an example of how to create the best pre-purchase experience, and include lots of opportunities for self-led research. This means highlighting product reviews (including those from third-party sites), publishing real testimonials, creating videos depicting how products and solutions work, and sharing content that explains how your offering will overcome a specific challenge.
Now, more than ever, it’s crucial you’re doing everything you can to help buyers feel confident enough to convert.
From ordering groceries and other essentials to hosting birthday parties and streaming live concerts, we’ve spent the majority of 2020 doing pretty much everything remotely. And we’ve become more comfortable making larger purchases online, too — mostly because we didn’t have a choice.
But now that we’ve all discovered the convenience of 100% virtual buying, there’s no going back. The era of closing deals over martinis was already on its way out and, while plenty of companies are eager to get their sales teams back on the road, prospects might not be so keen to receive them. Today, a whopping 90% of B2B organizations have transitioned to a virtual sales model, according to McKinsey.
What you can do: Enhance your virtual sales process to mimic your traditional routines. For example, continue to be highly communicative via digital channels and use automation to reduce friction in sales communication. To add a touch of personalization, leverage direct mail to send tokens of your gratitude throughout the process — like a small gift to nudge them when a deal stalls and a larger gift to celebrate when a contract is signed.
For many companies, 2020 held layoffs, budget cuts, hiring freezes and salary reductions. As a result, buyers became more judicious when investing in B2B products and services. In fact, when it comes to tech, 49% of B2B buyers have decreased their spending during the pandemic, according to data from TrustRadius. And when they did increase budgets, that money went to fulfill immediate needs like video conferencing software and online collaboration tools.
Given it will likely be several months before a vaccine is available to the general public, we don’t expect budgets to increase substantially — if at all.
What you can do: It’s more important than ever to communicate your value. This is the perfect time to review your messaging and overall marketing strategy to ensure you’re telling the right story. A mediocre website design and “meh” content may have been enough to get you the revenue you needed in a pre-pandemic world, but now you need to up the ante. Give buyers a premium, white-glove experience from day one and leave an indelible impression.
Planning for a return to pre-pandemic B2B buyer behavior no longer makes sense. While some traditional habits may re-emerge in the coming years, it’s unlikely everything will go back to the way it was. And, in some ways, that’s excellent news. After all, you’ve spent the past several months investing time and energy into new strategies and processes to meet rapidly shifting demands. Now, it’s time to make those changes permanent and evolve them further.
By focusing on delivering the research tools prospects need, enhancing your virtual sales process, and communicating your value through a top-quality experience, you’ll be well-prepared for our new era.