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How the Pandemic Has Changed B2B Commerce for Good

The pandemic has accelerated social and economic change across the board, from exacerbating existing social problems to accelerating the white-collar exodus from cubicle to home office.

In the B2B sector as in other sectors, we’ve seen a marked increase in online communications and transactions. According to a report from global management consulting firm McKinsey & Company that outlines the ways the pandemic has changed business to business sales, these changes are here to stay.

Despite periodic surges in case numbers, the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic seems to be over. Even when it is relatively safe to interact in person, buyers and sellers alike continue to show a preference for online and remote interaction. McKinsey’s survey indicates that 70-80% of B2B decision makers prefer remote interaction and digital self-service due to its convenience and the savings on travel expenses. Only about 20% of buyers hope to return to the pre-pandemic norm of in-person sales interactions.

When it comes to identifying and evaluating new suppliers and placing orders, nearly 50% of interactions are taking place remotely. 74% of American and 81% of Chinese respondents find this new digital way of doing business to be either more or just as effective as in-person interactions. In the past, buyers may have been wary about making a big purchase digitally, but now, 32% of respondents are comfortable with placing digital orders up to $500,000 and 12% are willing to spend up to $1 million without face-to-face interaction with a seller.

Interpersonal communication is vital in B2B interactions, and while placing orders through digital self-service has increased in popularity, B2B buyers still value direct communication with another person. Videoconferencing services like Zoom have helped fill that need. In-person sales have dropped 52% since the beginning of the pandemic, but digital interaction via videoconference has risen 41%, with the amount of revenue generated by videoconference calls increasing by 69% since April 2020, while in-person sales have fallen 55%.

There is one technology being left behind in all this rapid change: the telephone. Respondents to the survey voiced a preference for videoconference over phone calls. While the telephone might be more convenient and efficient than an in-person meeting, the video call has the added bonus of being able to see the person you are interacting with, which goes a long way to establishing a trusting relationship between buyer and seller.

The majority of sales representatives and buyers alike prefer this new model and would like it to remain in place even as it becomes safer to return to in-person interaction. The digital model is easier and more convenient at all levels of the buyer’s journey, from researching suppliers to interacting with sales reps via video call to placing orders through digital forms. What was once primarily a business driven by face-to-face interaction and phone calls is being replaced by video calls and digital forms.

For B2B suppliers, this means that having a streamlined, easy-to-navigate website is more important than ever. And while the ease of digital purchasing is the future of B2B commerce, human interaction will remain important. In addition to offering a satisfying web experience, B2B suppliers should also provide buyers with live chat options with expert sales representatives who can answer both questions about products and technical questions about the website itself. And since the majority of research is taking place online now, make sure to provide ample educational articles and blog posts that demonstrate your expertise, your values, and what you can provide your clients. COVID has reshaped the way we do business, seemingly for good, and if you haven’t begun to implement these changes, you risk being left behind.