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How Covid-19 changed B2B sales

The corona pandemic was and still is a challenge for everyone, but it also shows that digitization is an opportunity for companies. B2B sales are becoming hybrid. This is shown by a recent study by McKinsey on B2B sales in 2019 versus 2021.
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It's 2:00 p.m. sharp and the office phone rings. “Hello, I would like to speak to Mr. Dammertz. I have an appointment with him. ”“ Yes, just a moment ... He should already be online and my colleagues in the home office must be too. Or are you not meeting via web conference? ”“ No, I have entered it as a telephone appointment. ”My boss looks at me in surprise when I come to him in the conference room with the phone in hand. He hasn't had a phone appointment for a long time. Without further ado, a web conference is set up, because otherwise it would not have been possible for the colleagues in the home office to take part in the appointment.

When was the last time you had a phone appointment? When Covid-19 triggered, not only did working conditions change, but also work equipment and methods. Everything has become more digital. Analog trade fairs, sales talks on the phone or on-site advice have been on the decline since 2020. This is also shown by a current one McKinsey study, which looked at how Covid-19 is changing B2B sales. The key take-aways of the study related to Germany:

1. Customer approach: B2B customers prefer digital sales channels

Accelerated by Covid-19, numerous companies have switched to new communication channels. The pandemic called for a rethink and created many challenges for B2B sales. Approaching new customers and consultations inevitably found their way into the digital world, and it is interesting to see that in 2019 the top 1 channel for first approaching potential customers was digital. With 55 %, these stood far above trade fairs and telephone acquisition with 28 %. In 2019, however, there were still analogue trade fairs, which meant business trips and a high expenditure of time.

Only a few months after the pandemic hit the whole of Europe, online events have established themselves and in 2021 sales employees can visit virtual trade fairs and events without leaving their front door. McKinsey shows with its study that a balance of sales measures for customer acquisition has leveled off: In the first phase of interaction in 2021, customers will contact companies 34 % via face-to-face conversations or telephone, 33 % via digital interaction options with sales people ( e.g. virtual trade fairs) and also 33% via digital self-service channels.

2. Ordering process: self-service offer is increasing

The ordering process has also become more digital. In 2019, orders for 44 %s were processed on site or by telephone, and 31 %s were processed with the sales representative via digital communication media. Only 25 % of the buyers were able to place orders independently and without contacting the sales department. In 2021, the self-service offer increased to 31 %. And the 44 % became 35 %.

So there is an acceleration of digitization in B2B sales and the customer is increasingly given the opportunity to plan and process orders outside of business hours. The result: the customer experience and the effectiveness of selling through digital channels have improved tremendously.

3. Efficiency: Digital tools increase the effectiveness of B2B sales

This brings us to the next key fact from the study that is worth mentioning. Digital channels increase the effectiveness of B2B sales and, according to the survey, the majority of customers are more satisfied with them because they also save valuable working time for them. The fact that B2B customers view digital sales channels so positively was actually not the case for a long time. In April 2020, i.e. at the beginning of the first corona wave in Germany, 50 % of those surveyed saw the new and digital sales models as inefficient.

Almost a year later, however, 29 % corrected themselves and only 21 % remained with this opinion. Conversely, at the beginning of the pandemic only 18 % recognized the potential in the digital sales models; one year later there were already 46 %. The new sales models have already convinced and make it clear that there is no reason to stand still before innovations and new paths. The pandemic shows once again that new sales models in B2B even significantly increase effectiveness. Conclusion: 83 % believe that the new sales approaches will persist and will be expanded even after Covid-19.  

4. Investments: Companies are spending more money on digitizing sales

What do B2B industries conclude from this? Or to put it another way: What does McKinsey conclude from the figures and findings of their study? B2B companies are now more willing to invest in innovations for sales than they were in 2019. In numbers, this means: German B2B companies want to invest around 15% more in the digitization of sales over the next five years. The courage to invest more also shows that there has been a rethink in B2B. 95 % of all decision-makers feel comfortable making purchases of over € 50,000 completely digitally.

Conclusion: B2B sales will be hybrid!

The study shows that B2B customers prefer digital communication channels and self-service over analog sales channels. But digital distribution will not triumph over analog distribution, nor is it the other way around. Despite the steep learning curve of digital sales, the difficulty of finding the most effective way for the respective sales department and its employees remains. What will remain after the corona pandemic is the omnichannel approach: B2B sales will be hybrid!

In addition, the study shows once again that digital solutions have been shown to increase the effectiveness of sales. B2B companies have been more open to new innovations since 2020 because they have noticed that digital measures have made sales faster and more efficient. The restructuring of many companies so that their employees can work from home has contributed to the establishment of new tools and sales approaches in such a short time, and most of them will stay for quite a while. It is therefore worth taking a look at the market for sales tools and integrating new, digital solutions, because over time every company will jump onto the digital branch, as the trends from this study clearly show. The customer will gain in importance, after all, two-thirds of customers prefer digital product searches to door-to-door advice. The big challenge here is that the customer receives just as informative insight into the offer as in an analogue consultation.  

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