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How COVID-19 Has Changed B2B Marketing & Sales

Last year we wrote about creating your COVID pivot-plan to include a focus on digital marketing and selling. This year, we're looking ahead and examining fundamental changes to B2B marketing and sales as a result of COVID-19 and how it has profoundly affected the way consumers interact with brands.

How COVID Changed B2B Marketing and Sales

Tactics and actions that started out as crisis responses have become the "new normal." The implications of this shift towards digital forced upon B2B buyers and sellers by the pandemic will have a far-reaching impact on sales and marketing.

This new normal will emphasize certain characteristics that will make businesses more resilient and adaptable to customer needs, including:

  • Support for people, customers, and suppliers
  • Refocusing of the business to withstand new threats and seize new opportunities
  • Ability to navigate through rapid shifts in societal norms, values and buyer behaviors

McKinsey & Company recently conducted a research study to measure the impact of COVID-19 on B2B sales. We’ll explore a few key takeaways from their research and layout three strategic steps and core tactics to implement now in order to capture market share while keeping pace with ever-changing customer demands.

Digital Presence is More Important than Ever 

The new digital reality is here to stay. More than 75% of buyers and sellers stated that they “now prefer” digital, self-guided service through a buyer's journey, and remote human interactions over in-person engagements. Even after lockdowns ended, this trend has continued to grow.

McKinsey and Company Graph 1Source: McKinsey & Company

B2B sales leaders everywhere have shifted from being “forced” to adopt digital as a reaction to the global COVID-19 pandemic to a growing conviction that digital is truly the way to go. In fact, more than 80% of B2B buyers hope not to return to face-to-face interactions.

Digital Fear is Gone

B2B buyers are displaying a level of comfort in making large new purchases and reorders online that show the maturity of digital sales today.

E-commerce is no longer only for small-ticket items and fast-moving parts; today, 70% of B2B decision-makers say they are open to making new, fully self-serve or remote purchases in excess of $50,000, and 27% would spend more than $500,000 via online purchase.

McKinsey and Company Graph 2Source: McKinsey & Company 

This demonstrates that online remote selling is as effective, if not more so, than in-person sales. Sellers share this feeling, as most of them believe digital prospecting and social selling are as effective as their analog counterparts.

Video and Live Chat Adoption Continue to Grow

COVID-19 gave the entire world a massive push towards digital transformation, making video and live chat the most predominant channels for interacting and closing sales with B2B customers. Customers have also made it clear that they now prefer video to phone communication.

McKinsey and Company Graph 3Source: McKinsey & Company 

An eye-opening 43% of all B2B revenue comes directly from e-commerce and video conferencing. This is a 69% increase in the amount of revenue stemming from video-related interactions since April 2020.

An Optimistic Digital Future

Nine out of 10 decision-makers surveyed around the world optimistically state that the new digital go-to-market sales practices developed during COVID-19 will be a fixture throughout 2021 and beyond. This matches what we have seen in our annual TREW Marketing and IEEE Global Spec research study to engineers in North America, where 62% of respondents reported they now conduct more than half of the buyer’s journey online before speaking with sales.

TREW Research Finding 1Source: TREW Marketing and IEEE Global Spec

Three Tips to Capture COVID-19-Induced Market Opportunities

2020’s global pandemic means we need to throw out the old playbook and embrace the unpredictable new normal. Here are three strategic steps you can explore now to capitalize on the opportunities going forward.

1. Re-Evaluate Customer Needs

  • Meet their new needs with educational content that guides them through their buyer's journey. Consider increasing your blog frequency to weekly. Offer CAD drawings as a new type of gated content. Research shows that engineers are more likely to fill out a form to download a CAD drawing over every other content type. 

  • Proactively personalize your messaging to hone in on resolving their pain points and delivering value-driven solutions. Tweak your tone to indicate you are on top of current events.

  • Focus your time and content development efforts on high-value markets and segments. Consider having a quarterly content theme around a strategic business area to add impact and grow leads.

2. Optimize Your Website

  • Consider creating new sections or pillar pages on your website that match your prioritized services, products, and or business segment. You'll have much higher success converting web visitors into customers with relevant information that is easy to navigate.

  • Implement landing page best practices to increase lead conversion to 20% or higher and grow new contacts by up to 10% annually.

  • Ensure you are spending time creating page titles and meta descriptions, which inform search engines about the content that resides on the page and help you rank higher in organic search results.

3. Adopt a Video, Chat, and Social Media Strategy Today

  • Set up your demos and create videos of each with a staff member presenting. 96% of engineers watch videos weekly for work, and over half listen to podcasts for work regularly. 

  • Ensure you are promoting and optimizing your B2B video content on YouTube, to get found by new prospects. 
     
  • Turn existing content (like white papers and case studies) into presentations via video AND live or recorded webinars. 80% of engineers found value from virtual events, but twice as many prefer webinars over virtual events 

    TREW Research Finding 2Source: TREW Marketing and IEEE Global Spec

  • This is the perfect time to pilot chat for your company, and for those of you already on the HubSpot platform, this capability is built in through their conversations tool. 

  • Consider shifting some of your events/travel budget to online advertising including LinkedIn. If you've never used LinkedIn for sponsored content ads, learn how here.

  • Are you getting anything out of your time invested in social? It might be time to update your social media strategy. Learn how with these 4 tips.

View the COVID-19 Resource Kit

Seize the Opportunity

This is a crucial time for leaders to reinvent business models and reintegrate the value their organizations provide into a new, changing business landscape that demands bold business transformations.

The shift to virtual sales will help organizations lower your cost per visit, extend your brand reach, and significantly improve sales effectiveness while delighting customers who demand new ways of interacting.

Remember that even if the opportunity is significant, there is pressure on businesses to capitalize on it.  As a leader, you must define your commitment to further digital transformation into go-to-market models that help you achieve a competitive advantage and perceived value for your customers.

To continue learning about the how engineers research solutions, download our 2021 research report.  Also explore the Forbes article "Work Habits That Marketers Should Keep In A Post-Covid World."

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