B2B sales during coronavirus are holding steady thanks to ecommerce. Adapting to work-from-home and digital events is key. The golden opportunity is digital advertising, according to data.
The Good News: B2B Product Sales are Happening Now Thanks to Ecommerce
The pandemic has accelerated a clear shift to ecommerce and online B2B sales. Online purchases have not only risen from last year to this year but from pre- to post-onset of the coronavirus pandemic. Tech, financial services, and energy are benefiting the greatest out of the B2B sectors. Digital strategies will need to adjust to keep up –including shifting to greater digital advertising efforts and online sales use.
- The number of online B2B purchases has risen from 41% before lockdown to 46% during lockdown (Wunderman Thompson Commerce via MarTech Series, June 2020)
- B2B online purchases have increased by 24% since last year. (WundermanThompson Commerce via MarTech Series, June 2020)
- There is a 23% increase in the worldwide average company revenue share driven by ecommerce before vs. during the coronavirus pandemic. Research (McKinsey & Company)
- Even in the thick of the COVID-19 pandemic, more than half of US B2B buyers are currently considering purchases for their business (LeadMD via eMarketer, April 2020).
These are the B2B sectors experiencing minimal impact (as compared with others), according to eMarketer, May 2020:
- Tech and telecom (21%)
- Financial services (28%)
- Energy and utilities (29%)
B2B Sales Strategy & Budget is Shifting From Live to Digital
With live/in-person events canceled en masse in mid-March and continuing concerns around face-to-face meetings (most offices won’t be opening until 2021), B2Bs are adjusting their strategy and leaning on digital channels. Virtual events, email reach out, and Zoom meetings are the new normal.
This is not just a temporary x; this will likely be a permanent strategy in the future.B2B marketers are even preferring digital reach out, and are recognizing the value in digital marketing and interactions.
- Almost 90% 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. (McKinsey, April 2020)
- The same goes for live events: 49% of US B2B marketers replaced some of their live events with digital ones, while 19% used digital to replace most of their events (B2B Marketing Zone via eMarketer, March 2020)
- B2B companies see digital interactions as two to three times more important to their customers than traditional sales interactions in the future. (McKinsey & Company, April 2020)
The B2B Opportunity: Digital Advertising
Buyers are online, and they are looking for answers to their company’s problems. Digital marketing, in the form of content marketing and distribution through high-quality digital advertising to scale, will be able to carry the load to reach target consumers, increase awareness and brand favorability, and establish B2Bs as a trusted source of expert information. Problems that include: downsizing, shifts to virtual, and greater technology needs.
“Without in-person events fueling the top of the funnel with leads, digital channels will need to do that heavy lift, at least short term. It is critical to optimize all channels and weigh how much to spend and where.” (eMarketer, June 2020)
The problem is B2Bs are spending more on content creation than on distribution. 43% of US B2B Marketers are reallocating event marketing budgets not used because of coronavirus to Content Creation (eMarketer, March 2020).
The most important action steps B2B marketers can take is sharing the content they are creating with targeted buyers. As our CEO likes to say “If content is king, content distribution is king kong.” If no eyeballs see the content, it’s not worth its creation. Forbes recommended the same in their recent Five Ways To Pivot B2B MarketingPlans During The Pandemic, urging markets to leverage digital advertising as you reallocate marketing dollars. “With people currently spending more time at home and online, now is the time to jump into digital ads if you haven’t yet. Not only can ads help you build brand awareness, but they also can capture new leads”
A year ago in 2019, B2B companies in the US spent $6.08 billion on digital advertising, up 18.7% year over year, according to eMarketer. Even with this growth, eMarketer stated, B2B companies were slow to shift dollars to digital ads. Many still lacked the foundational data and technology to successfully leverage digital. There’s a gap that needs to be filled. B2B’s would do well to shift dollars and strategy to a full-service programmatic platform that has the technology to target buyers and decision-makers.
Further, utilizing contextual targeting in a digital platform can strategically deliver ads next to relevant content, complementing other intent strategies and delivering deep engagement with B2B’s content. (Read more about Just Media’s successful approach to B2B digital advertising here). Contextual optimization capabilities enable content to go beyond where standard banner and display ads can reach and in front of the eyes of decision-makers like CTOs and CIOs for meaningful engagement.
Another big opportunity: mobile. While more than 70% of total US digital ad dollars will go to mobile formats in 2019, B2Bs will spend just 37.3% of their digital ad dollars on mobile placements in 2019 (eMarketer)
In our opinion, “short term” is short-term thinking. This pandemic will instigate a long-term if not a permanent strategy and budget shift to digital.
Stay active in messaging: provide valuable information, truthful
Digital advertising will also keep B2Bs in touch with consumers. While some B2Bspaused their communication plans at the start of the pandemic, it should continue now if it hasn’t yet. B2Bs providing content that is relevant and useful will gain traction. Adjust messaging so it is informative and solution-oriented. According to eMarketer, B2Bs should show compassion and offer solutions and deals while being consultative during the pandemic.
B2B buyers agree. Roughly a third of B2B buyers said they would need more quality and accurate information about what they are buying, while 23% of respondents noted they would need to have more confidence in the purchases they are making (eMarketer, April 2020). The key is not just shoving information down buyers’ throats, but offering thoughtful, useful solutions and advice (products, services, and technology included) that will make their lives easier.
This includes catering to working-from-home. If B2Bs offer technology services to make working from home easier, this is their golden opportunity.
WATCH: 5 Ways B2Bs Can Adjust Digital Strategy & Brand MessagingBased on Coronavirus Impact
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Charlotte Otremba is Sr. Manager of Communications and Marketing at Bidtellect.