Seemingly overnight the COVID-19 pandemic has brought the global economy into a new era of B2B customer engagement. Our digital customer experiences have never been given the center-stage in the B2B space. At only 7.2% of total B2B revenue, eCommerce sites are not how customers typically buy.
COVID-19 has changed the game. Within a matter of months, companies across the world have found themselves with a sink or swim ultimatum. Customers have an imperative to limit human contact - resulting in fewer visits to brick and mortar locations, the lifeblood of most B2B business models. Given this new norm, the decision for B2B companies is simple. Meet your customers’ digital expectations requirements or be replaced by a competitor that will.
Given the high touch nature of B2B transactions, sales activities have traditionally been labor-intensive for salespeople. While we can’t ignore the complexities of B2B transactions, we know so many of the sales efforts are repetitive and administrative - adding little to no value to customers. Sales expertise is wasted on overhead and opportunities are lost to bookkeeping activities.
This isn't groundbreaking news - the real change is the higher urgency to transform and perform. Today companies have a real imperative to develop a relationship with their customers through contextual, relevant and personalized digital touchpoints.
Digital can play a part in refocusing your sales organization on strategic and value-added efforts. Food distribution firms that traditionally focused on supplying restaurants are helping those same restaurants pivot their business models. Gordon Food Service, the largest privately held foodservice distributor in North America, launched eat.news. A website aimed at helping restaurant operators adapt and embrace new delivery & takeout business models as a result of COVID-19. Through this website GFS enables its restaurant operators with digital tools to adopt strategies such as curb-side pickup and optimizing their menu to continue operating during shelter in place orders.
On a different note, GE Healthcare replaced what would have been an interactive booth at ACC 2020 World Congress of Cardiology, with a digital experience that showcases the manufacturing company’s cardiac solutions in a web interface. Their online catalogue allows healthcare providers to easily access information on the features of their latest products.
This isn't a new playbook, just an accelerated one. The fundamentals are still critical for B2B transformation. Digital leaders need to understand that while their digital initiatives will have a newfound level of urgency, it’s not time to panic.
The challenge for B2B businesses will be to rapidly evolve in order to meet customer expectations in the next new normal. Moving faster does require a little more emphasis on the foundational elements of your digital transformation: Here are 4 principles to ensure you're on the right track.
Your sales force is still essential and your digital experiences must enable your sales organization to accomplish more. A well-positioned digital commerce initiative should enable sales to contribute their deep expertise while unburdening your salesforce from low-value transactional overhead activities.
Intuitive design is your ounce of prevention
The most successful B2B commerce initiatives keep customers at the center of every digital product decision. Companies that invest in good CX don't need a training session for customers and enjoy seamless adoption.
Iterate, don't boil the ocean
It’s critical to release early and often. It sounds counterintuitive, but so many companies save up months and years of work to do a “Big Bang” release… this puts too much risk on getting it exactly right. Instead, release small increments of commerce functionality and adopt a test & learn mindset as you evolve the overall product.
Never lose focus on your differentiating value
There's a reason your business is successful, don't cut it out with your digital experiences. For example, if your business differentiates with superior service, reinforce that DV with your digital customer touch points!
Virtually every B2B sales operation is somewhere along the journey to transforming to a digitally-native strategy. However, nobody anticipated just how accelerated the timeline of that journey would become. In many ways, the right steps forward aren’t necessarily new, they’re just being forced to carry more weight in less time. And like a quarantine-induced deep clean of your home, sometimes the best way forward is to do the things you should have been doing all along.