COVID-19 has destroyed lives and livelihoods and continues to do so in many communities around the world. Although the full implications of the pandemic are far from certain, it is already clear that its economic consequences are dire.
For sales leaders contemplating how to react, taking care of their employees and customers are top priorities. Even as they manage that reality, sales leaders also need to adjust how their organizations sell in the face of new customer habits and trying economic times.
In many ways, the changes in customer behavior are an acceleration of digital trends that were already in motion, prior to the pandemic. And, we believe we are at a digital inflection point, where sales operations going forward will look fundamentally different from what they were before the pandemic.
To better understand how both customers and sellers are reacting, McKinsey recently launched a survey of B2B businesses across 11 countries in seven sectors and across 14 categories of spend. Their findings reveal three emergent themes:
Spend. While companies are generally reducing spend, a sizable number are increasing or maintaining it, with rates depending on company size, sector, and — more than any other factor — location in the world.
Digital. Looking forward, companies see digital interactions as two to three times more important to their customers than traditional sales interactions.
Remote. Almost 90 percent of sales have moved to a videoconferencing (VC) / phone / web sales model, and while some skepticism remains, more than half believe this is equally or more effective than sales models used before COVID-19.
Clearly there is a great deal of uncertainty, but there are also plenty of signals that indicate an acceleration of previous trends — omnichannel selling, inside sales, tech-enabled selling, e-commerce — rather than completely different behaviors.
Sales leaders are already moving quickly to navigate the crisis, with the best ones focusing on how to make targeted changes that help their businesses weather the storm and start preparing for the recovery.
Shift In Spend
Given some of the grim economic signals, we expected more drastic reductions in spend. But a sizable number are maintaining or even increasing it, at least for now. That is especially true for large B2B companies; 53 percent expected to increase or maintain spend. In 85 percent of the cases, the rate of change in spend — either up or down — was no more than 25 percent of total spend.
Shift to Digital
Similar to what we’ve witnessed in the B2C landscape, the importance of digital channels for B2B companies has grown significantly in the past few years and has radically increased since the COVID-19 crisis began. Sales leaders, on average, rate digital channels approximately twice as important now as they were before.
This shift in the importance of digital interactions is reflected in customer behaviors. When researching products, customers’ preference for digitally enabled sales interactions has jumped significantly, with suppliers’ mobile apps and social media or online communities showing their sharpest increase since 2019.
In making a purchase, buyers cited a strong preference for self-service, with suppliers’ mobile apps more than doubling in importance since 2019. This carries on a pronounced trend of preference for self-service channels across every stage of the customer decision journey, which we first started tracking in 2016 (Exhibit 3).
To deliver outstanding digital experiences and encourage loyalty, companies need, at a minimum, to address customers’ most pressing pain points and frustrations. Today, the number one pain point is COVID-19.
Like almost all functions in essentially every sector, the shift to remote selling was born of necessity as lockdowns, shelter-in-place orders, and quarantining have forced people to stay at home. Sellers have reacted with astonishing speed: around 90 percent of them are working via videoconferencing or phone.
The sudden and massive shift to remote working prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic and the “consumerization” of B2B buying that was already underway have profound implications for how companies sell to and buy from one another. Sales leaders are already moving aggressively to adjust to the COVID-19 crisis.
While most sales leaders accept the need for a move to increased use of digital channels (many, in fact, have made significant adjustments since quarantines started), it’s not as simple as just “moving to digital.” The sharp rise in the use of digital and self-service channels means that companies need to be thoughtful not only about how to enable effective digital interactions but also about how to deploy their sales reps to best effect.
Re-orchestrating the customer experience and the accompanying sales processes across channels should be at the top of the list for sales leaders trying to manage effectively through this crisis and plan for recovery. The same for determining how best to deploy sales professionals across channels to help customers and provide support when it is most needed.
In an environment where habits and practices have changed so quickly and will likely continue to do so, sales leaders need a clear view of what their customers want and what steps their company can take to address their needs. Traditional face-to-face interactions have given way to sales and service support by videoconference, webinar, phone, human chatbot, and other means. In this remote and digital world, however, there is still a crucial role for emotional connection.
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Here’s a short article on how we are choosing to respond to COVID-19. To learn how Givz can help your business to grow with purpose amid this pandemic, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.