The pandemic has accelerated a number of social and economic changes. Consumers have embraced online ordering and delivery for goods typically purchased in person, from groceries to luxury jewelry. But it’s not only retail that is changing.
The business to business sector has traditionally done business face-to-face, but B2B buyers and sellers alike are embracing remote purchasing options. McKinsey & Company reports that 70-80% of B2B decision makers prefer digital self-service, and 74% of them find this method to be just as effective as in-person transactions. Even as worldwide restrictions have been lifted, B2B transactions are remaining online due not only to the speed and convenience but to the money businesses can save on travel expenses.
But the pandemic isn’t the only thing driving the B2B online revolution. The labor shortage has made it difficult to find sales reps, especially ones with experience. But that insistence on experience may be part of the problem. In all sales positions, new hires are often expected to come into the job with the soft skills required to be a good sales rep. They are often given minimal training and are left to learn on the job. And in this changing employment landscape, an employee who feels unsupported or who is struggling to acclimate to a new position is more likely to quit and find something else than to stick it out.
Another challenge B2B sellers face is the trade show. Once a staple of B2B sales interactions, big trade shows took a hit during the pandemic and are yet to fully recover. PricewaterhouseCoopers estimates that B2B trade show market size might not recover to pre-pandemic levels until 2026 at the earliest. Attendance is yielding fewer leads, and the leads you do find might not be high quality or they might not be the best fit for your business.
It’s clear that there are some major upheavals disrupting the traditional approach to B2B sales. What should suppliers be doing to compensate?
A Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system is a suite of software that allows a sales team to centrally track and manage customer data. If you’re having trouble retaining customers, closing leads, or simply keeping in touch with customers, you might want to consider a CRM implementation. A system like this allows for more thorough documentation of information on customers and leads and conversations your reps have had with customers. This in turn facilitates faster response time, higher efficiency, and most importantly, an increase in sales.
If attending large, expensive trade shows halfway across the country is not showing a good return on investment, consider focusing on regional trade shows. In a survey conducted by AIRC, 53% of trade show exhibitors reported that they had more success finding reliable prospects at regional trade shows.
In addition to focusing on smaller trade shows closer to home, take the initiative with concentrated sales trips focusing on retailer sales training. Trunk shows are another great way to meet new retailers, build relationships with existing customers, show them exactly what you can offer them. When coupled with an effective CRM implementation, you’ll be able to personalize these shows for each retailer’s needs.
If you haven’t done so already, the statistics at the beginning of this article should be enough to convince you. Both buyers and sellers prefer the speed and convenience of placing orders online. Is your website set up to handle this? Another article in this newsletter, “Anatomy of a B2B Website,” covers the subject in a little more detail, but you’ll need educational materials and a compelling story on your website, an informative and interesting blog, and easy-to-navigate product pages and catalog. Let your website carry some of the sales load, especially if you’re having trouble maintaining a large enough sales staff.