It is not in doubt that the Covid-19 pandemic has affected businesses in every industry across the globe.
The pandemic has shifted B2B buying preferences and habits significantly and companies around the world are taking steps to adjust to the new normal. In ordinary times, B2B buyers are known to spend more time researching before they make purchase decisions.
But with the disruption brought about by Covid-19, buyers are taking more time to scrutinize offers and their suitability to meet their needs than ever before. This means there is a need for sales and marketing teams to change tactics too and focus on influencing buyers positively by showing them value.
One of the reasons buyers are scrutinizing more in the new normal is the challenges they’ve experienced working with their current vendors. Across the globe, B2B buyers have expressed dissatisfaction with inefficient and slow responses from existing vendors, inconsistencies in product or service pricing and reducing transparency in inventory.
Due to these challenges, 70% of B2B buyers say the pandemic has compelled them to shift their supplier preferences, according to a study conducted by PROS and Hanover Research shows that
A Longer Buying Cycle
Though B2B buyers in different sectors halted purchasing as a result of recession fears and budget freezes, some buying patterns have changed as a result of the Covid 19 pandemic.
One of them is the B2B buying journey.
With the disruptions brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic, the B2B buying cycle has expanded. Decision-makers are now scrutinizing their options more before they are making a buying decision.
A study by Edelman shows that about three-quarters of B2B decision makers say they are interested in making a purchase, but want to take the process slow so they can make evaluations before deciding on specific purchases.
A typical B2B buying process has 10 decision makers, according to a survey by Gartner. Each of these decision makers gathers information from 4 to 5 sources independently. This means when they start talking, a conversion to reduce the conflict brought about by this information must happen.
This is not the only dynamic that expands the buying cycle – there is an expanded pool of solutions and options available to choose from due to emergence of new products, services, suppliers and technologies. These dynamics were already making the purchase cycle complex for B2B buyers.
As the Covid-19 pandemic rips through global economies, it has created uncertainty in the market. This has caused buyers to engage in prolonged research and analysis of products or services prior to making decisions – which is a shift from the pre-Covid period. This prolonged purchase process means more customer touchpoints.
Even so, some B2B buyers have become flexible – they are ready to engage in spontaneous buying as needs arise because they are no longer held back by fixed deadlines.
Prioritizing Customer Experience
As the Covid-19 situation evolves, B2B buyers are increasingly looking for vendors who can deliver top-notch customer experience as they work towards bouncing back.
Customer experience means delighting their customers. By itself, positive experience is capable of unlocking real value for the company. In the B2B space, customer experience has become a major competitive differentiator. In fact, it is predicted that by the close of 2020, customer experience will surpass product and price as a brand differentiator.
One key benefit of great customer experience is boosting customer retention. Statistics show 86% of customers who receive positive experiences from a company are likely to come back to buy more and even pay more. 90% of B2B executives consider customer retention an important factor in realizing organizational goals as customer loyalty enhances the flow of sales revenue in the business.
In addition, customer experience plays the important role of boosting customer relationships to enhance the capacity of a business to convert prospects into customers.
To boost B2B customer experience during the pandemic, companies need to:
- Map B2B Buyer Journey: The most important step in boosting customer experience is placing customers at the center of your business. With the changing B2B buyer behavior, companies need to map B2B buyer journeys to gain a deeper understanding of the customer. Doing this will enable them to not only identify customer pain points, but also develop strong feedback and account management mechanisms to boost experiences of their customers.
- Use Customer Data:B2B companies need to know what their customers think about their business, service or products. Available data shows that companies that register high customer satisfaction ratings often leverage customer data to understand customer concerns and expectations. These insights become valuable in enhancing customer experience.
- Gather Feedback Continuously: Since they use your services or products, B2B buyers hold key information that can help you improve their experiences. When done correctly, customer feedback can help your company to remain relevant even in changing times. Maintaining a close relationship with your customers makes it easier to get honest feedback from buyers.
If you have a good relationship with your customers, leverage it to ask for honest feedback from them. Rather than using surveys to capture feedback, consider having personal interactions with your customers on video or voice calls. This will enable you to gather quality feedback from them. You can also use automated strategies like chat functions, thank your page surveys, email campaigns and exit polls to collect feedback.
- Communicate Transparently: One of the challenges that B2B customers are experiencing during the Covid-19 pandemic is a lack of transparency in communication in deals. This is not just important to enhance during pre-sales interactions, updates are necessary even in the post-sales phase. Some interesting ways that B2B companies can enhance communication during the pandemic include:
- Providing buyers with updates on delivery milestones
- Tracking customer concerns and acknowledging discrepancies and
- Reporting product performance.
All these are important ways of maintaining transparent communication. Engaging with customers regularly through feedback cycles sets honest expectations and goes a long way in boosting customer experiences.
- Embrace Omni Channel Communication: Today, technology allows people to interact through multiple communication channels. Customers too want to be able to engage brands that they follow on communication channels of their choice. Allowing them to do this can go a long way in improving customer experience. For instance, B2B companies can leverage social media to interact with customers. Interacting with buyers on such platforms as well as live chats, emails and calls builds their trust in the business.
- Measure Customer Experience Performance: Assessing your customer performance is critical in identifying gaps. It also enables you to benchmark your company against competitors. Internally, consider using marketing metrics to track your performance over a given period of time. Externally, you’ll need to gather data on those metrics from your peers or competitors and compare performance. Ideally, external benchmarking should utilize data from companies that operate in the same geographic region and environment since different customer journey factors will vary across countries or regions.
Bridging The Gap
A huge percentage of B2B buyers – about 83% – often engage in online or offline research, or engage purchase groups way before they start interacting with sales reps. This means that sales and marketing teams have a slim chance of influencing their purchase decisions.
As such, companies must understand what decision makers need and when they need it if they are to influence them and lighten the immense pressure they have to make the right purchase decisions. There are several things that B2B marketers can do to address this need:
- Make Messages on Landing Page or Homepage Precise
Anytime they want to make a purchase, B2B buyers do a quick scan of vendor websites to determine whether the solutions they offer meet their needs. Since there are many vendors being considered, buyers are often looking for a reason to eliminate those that aren’t good fits and focus on those that offer what they are looking for. To increase your chances of being considered during the research stage, provide short-form messages that convince buyers to take an In-depth look at your solutions. Make your message precise but also impactful in a way that resonates with the buyer.
- Provide Detailed Product or Service Info
If your home page or landing page message resonates well with buyers, they’ll want to learn more about your offerings to determine whether you’re a good fit. Make it easier for them to learn about your products or services by providing web content that explains how your solution meets their needs.
The best way to do this is use different content formats to cater for varying information preferences. Make use of videos, infographics, text, demos and screenshots to communicate product or service details.
Explain why it is better than other solutions in the market. Don’t just state the benefits they’ll get from using the products, go a step further and support your claims with proof. Providing technical details of your solution and product metrics like fail-over rates and up-time is a great way to do this.
- Develop Case Studies
It is not enough to convince your buyers that you’re able to solve their problems successfully – you need to give them a sense of how your product is within their means without requiring them to talk to a sales person. The best way to do this is to provide case studies that show how others have used your solutions. A good case study should provide information about:
- The company that used your product
- The problem it had
- How your product helped it solve the problem
- The benefits that the company is enjoying
Across the globe, the Covid-19 pandemic has caused a shift in the business world. B2B companies have to adjust to the new normal. The B2B buyers have changed the way they make purchase decisions – they are more detail oriented and are in need of more information to scrutinize and find solutions that meet their needs. As a B2B marketer in today’s world, you need to understand your target audience better and change your tactics to meet this emerging need.