Post COVID-19 B2B Marketing – latest stats

Written by Keith Errington  |  5, November, 2021  |  0 Comments

For a while now, the data on B2B marketing that's repeatedly quoted in articles have come from pre-pandemic years, with the majority being at least five years old.

In this article, I've compiled all the latest research to give you a comprehensive picture of the B2B environment as it is right now. But, driven by the need to understand the impact of the pandemic on B2B buyer's habits, the results of several new pieces of research by leading organisations have been published. This research allows us to look at the current state of B2B buying and the implications for B2B marketing strategy and plans.

The research shows the impact of the pandemic and the permanent change in buyer behaviour that it has brought about. These are not just trends or possibilities – we are dealing with a new B2B landscape here.

Technology and the pandemic

At the start of 2020, most of the world went into lockdown, shutting down offices and removing the possibility of direct, in-person interaction with customers or prospects. 70% of buyers were working from home more than half the time. [1] 

Pretty much every business had to find a way to switch to digital selling. This forced companies to use sales and marketing technology they had previously been reticent to deploy and was the impetus for rapid development in a variety of new tools and software. For example, eCommerce saw the equivalent of ten years' growth in just three months in the US.

Around half of sales organisations added or implemented new technologies, [1] and 90% of marketers said that their digital engagement strategy changed over the pandemic. 84% said that customer expectation was the driving force behind these changes. [2]

Even pre-pandemic, many businesses were beginning to understand the positive impact digital tools could have on their business – for both buyers and sellers, but now, all companies – through necessity – were discovering the advantages.

Given that most people were remote-working, it is perhaps not surprising that around 87% of marketers reported increased investment in virtual events. [9] 

Buying online

As more and more people became more familiar with this new way of doing business online, buyers began to lose their inhibitions and make significant purchases without talking to a salesperson face-to-face. Over one-third, (36%) of vendors in a survey by LinkedIn said they had closed deals of $500,000 or more online. [1] 

There was an increasing use of mobile devices, leading to a 30% increase in customer preference for placing orders on mobile apps and a 250% increase in ordering using mobile apps. [10]

Pre-COVID-19, 38% of B2B purchases happened online, which rose to 48% during the pandemic. Significantly, 30% switched suppliers because no online ordering was available. [5] 68% of B2B buyers say that their experiences during the pandemic have elevated their expectations of companies' digital capabilities. 

The clear message here is that the ability to buy your product or service online is not a bonus; it's an absolute essential. Even for bigger, more complex purchases, the ability for a buyer to at least commence the process online is crucial.

But not only must buyers be able to purchase your product or service online – you must make it easy for them to do so, or you risk losing their business. Here are the main reasons B2B buyers switched to a new supplier during the pandemic: [5]

  • Existing supplier not able to offer delivery (45%)
  • Existing supplier out of stock (39%)
  • More extensive product range with a new supplier (31%)
  • Existing supplier not able to offer online ordering (30%)
  • The existing supplier's website has become unstable (29%)
  • Change in payment terms (21%)

Some of these issues are easier to fix than others, with supply chain issues in the UK proving to be a problem for many businesses. Equally, though, most of the rest are well within the scope of a supplier to address.

According to a survey by McKinsey, you are twice as likely to be chosen as a supplier if you provide an outstanding digital experience. [10]

Recovery

As businesses are recovering from the effects of the pandemic, they are being more careful with their budgets and taking longer to consider decisions.

Buyers within those organisations are becoming more cautious, and, as a result, the number of stakeholders involved in a decision has increased. In addition, they are doing more research, taking longer over the buying process and reviewing solutions more diligently than before. 33% of buyers spend more time researching products now than before the pandemic. [7] The interactions required to make buying decisions has increased in the past two years: from 17 in 2019 to 27 in 2021. [6]

This cautious approach means that 61% of buyers are sticking with solutions they know rather than new or more innovative products. [8]

For the marketer, this affects content, with 62% of buyers relying more on content to research and make B2B purchase decisions than they did last year. [3] 

Marketers have responded to this new demand and changing buyer dynamic – 89% of marketers said their content strategy has changed since before the pandemic.

It seems the pandemic has had a positive effect; according to over half of content marketers, "Adapting to changes brought forth by the pandemic" was a significant factor contributing to content marketing success. [12]

Buyers are also becoming more critical of content, with 79% believing that they are given irrelevant information from vendors, despite the majority spending more time researching their purchases than ever before. [4]

Video was increasingly popular before the pandemic, but it came into its own when people worked remotely. The nature of that content has changed too. Businesses are now presenting more live content than ever before, along with more personalised, focussed, and characterful pieces of recorded video rather than the previous one-size-fits-all approach of the bland, selling-skewed product video or animated slide deck.

The use of online chat channels to respond to customers boomed during the pandemic, showing a 31% increase alongside a 69% increase in video conferencing. [10] 

76% of sellers prefer video calling to phone for meeting prospects, and 77% of buyers prefer video calling to phone for dealing with vendors. [10]

One thing that hasn't changed is a B2B buyer's most trusted source of information – their peers – with 99% still depending on their peers more than any other source. [9] 

This is why broader brand awareness marketing and establishing credibility and authority within your target market are just as important as specific, buyer-focussed content. 

Where buyers cannot ask peers about product offerings, they turn to reviews (where they are available), with 45% of buyers using reviews during their purchase process. 92% of those buyers share them with at least one other person, and 40% with four or more other purchase decision-makers. [7] 

Interestingly, whilst the review's actual content is the number one thing buyers care about, vendors are mistakenly under the impression that it's the score.

The New Normal

Once the pandemic's effects lessen, the world of B2B marketing will not be going back to quite the way it was.

Businesses the world over have seen how remote-working, virtual meetings, online ordering and new technology have performed, as they have been forced to deploy them. 

They have learnt lessons about what has worked and what hasn't. They've seen the benefits from many of the changes and come to grips with the issues. 

The research shows we are likely to see permanent changes in the way buyers behave and how they buy.

Take remote working; 71% of buyers say they would like to work remotely half or more of the time in the future. [1] And the number of sales professionals working from home has almost doubled from 2019 to 2021.

Several studies point towards B2B buyers preferring to do it themselves when it comes to buying and have seen the advantages in connecting digitally rather than in-person meetings. 

Around 70%-80% of B2B decision-makers prefer remote interactions or digital self-service due to its ease of scheduling, travel cost savings, and overall safety. 44% think they have found their ideal product or solution before contacting the seller and simply need assurance.

The Gartner Future of Sales report predicts that by 2025, 80% of B2B sales interactions between suppliers and buyers will occur in digital channels. [11]

Sellers, too, have seen new sales models developed during the pandemic improve their effectiveness, with 46% saying that these are more effective than before. [10] 

As businesses have been successful with these improvements, they will continue to use them – 79% of B2B companies said they are likely to retain the new ways of working for at least 12 months post-pandemic. [10]

Gartner predicts that as many as "60% of B2B sales organisations will transition from experience and intuition-based selling to data-driven selling, merging their sales process, applications, data and analytics into a single operational practice." [11]

Hybrid sales representatives are becoming the most common sales role – these are representatives who interact with customers via video, phone, apps, and occasional in-person visits. 85% of vendors expect hybrid sellers to be in the majority over the next three years. [13]

Along with hybrid sales representatives, hybrid events are becoming more common and successful, with 86% of B2B event organisers seeing a positive ROI after seven months.

Conclusion

This year's current buzzwords are 'hybrid' and 'omnichannel' – and for once, they seem to be not just hype, but both reflect the changes that have taken place over the past year or two. Their popularity and use point to a permanent change in the way buyers want to do business.

According to McKinsey: B2B buyers aren't just moving to omnichannel. They've arrived. Purchasers have shown they want them all given the choice of in-person, remote, and e-commerce channels.

And B2B Vendors have found this way of working more effective, with 83% of B2B leaders saying that omnichannel is at least or more effective than traditional methods. [13]

Hybrid events are here to stay. The major challenges for B2B businesses hosting an event are identifying and deploying the best technology to run them and successfully engaging remote attendees.

Another interesting trend – which is admittedly more anecdotal than based directly on statistics, is the trend for some B2B businesses with appropriate products to sell directly to the consumer – and therefore taking a hybrid approach to their business and marketing.

Finally, one of the most exciting and positive statistics I've seen during my research for this article was that during the pandemic, 56% of B2B marketers say their customers were focusing more on helping their communities, suppliers, and employees weather the pandemic than on selling. [8] It will be interesting to see how much this "community spirit" is retained in future years.

[1]       LinkedIn State of Sales 2021 Global Report

[2]       Salesforce State of Marketing, 7th Edition (2021)

[3]       DemandGen – Content Preferences Survey Report (2021)

[4]       Durhamlane/Cyance – B2B Buyer Insights Report 2021

[5]       Wunderman Thompson – The B2B Future Shopper Report (2020)

[6]       Forrester’s 2021 B2B Buying Study

[7]       TrustRadius B2B Buying Disconnect (2021)

[8]       Edelman/LinkedIn – How B2B companies are adapting customer engagement strategies during COVID (2020)

[9]       Bain/Twitter Technology Purchasing Trends Buyer Survey (2021)

[10]     McKinsey COVID-19 B2B Decision-Maker Pulse #3 (2020)

[11]     Gartner – The Future of Sales in 2025

[12]     B2B Content Marketing – benchmarks, budgets, and trends

[13]     McKinsey COVID-19 B2B Decision-Maker Pulse February 2021

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