History will remember 2020 as a year that changed the world, including how it has affected how we do business. The chaos created by the COVID-19 pandemic has had a dramatic impact on global business, including B2B sales and marketing. The B2B sales trends you can expect to see in 2021 are going to be a direct result of the pivot that successful companies were able to make to deal with the economic downturn in 2020.
The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on B2B sales was fast and far-reaching. According to a June B2B survey by eMarketer, 58 percent of respondents were worried about sales revenue, 56 percent were concerned about cash flow and liquidity, and 52 percent said the pandemic had disrupted their business strategy.
The pandemic has also affected how sales reps handle B2B prospects. At the end of the first quarter of 2020, 73.9 percent of sales professionals said opportunities were down while 26.1 percent said sales were up.
They also said that the biggest obstacles were customers postponing sales decisions (50 percent), followed by an inability to meet customers in person (25 percent). Two-thirds of B2B sales professionals (66.7 percent) said they had low confidence in hitting their sales targets, but 12.5 percent said they had high confidence.
The pandemic has changed B2B strategies, probably forever. To survive and thrive, companies have had to revise their sales tactics and implement fresh approaches to cope with the new normal. You can expect many of these tactics to continue.
The Immediate Impact on B2B Sales
With the onset of the pandemic, B2B companies had to make some immediate adjustments. In a global survey, McKinsey identified three trends that characterized those changes:
- A shift in spending — At least half of companies reduced their spending, but 26-28 percent increased their spending by anywhere from 4-25 percent.
- A shift to digital — Online channels became twice as important, with 66 percent reporting that digital channels were most important to customers; up from 48 percent before the pandemic. There also was an increase in demand for self-service channels, transferring the experience customers are used to as consumers to B2B sales.
- A shift to remote selling — Out of necessity, 90 percent of companies have shifted to a virtual sales model, with 60 percent of U.S. companies surveyed saying that remote sales are effective.
Forrester also noted some changes in B2B selling, which their analysts think will be here to stay, including:
- B2B buyers expect suppliers to treat them like partners rather than targets; they want a different kind of business relationship.
- The distinction between in-house and field sales is disappearing as buyers seek out more digital interactions that can shorten time to value.
- The channel “brand” is more essential than ever, with 48 percent of organizations adopting permanent remote-work policies. Channel partners that can stay ahead of customer needs by providing short-term solutions to support remote work and long-term solutions to support cloud computing will come out ahead.
- More events will be virtual. The conferences and trade shows of the past are going online for broader reach and better attendee data acquisition.
- Industries are catching up on marketing automation, investing more in sales and marketing tech and analytics to improve targeted digital engagements.
- Marketers will invest in more resources to support buyers throughout the lifecycle, working to move from focusing on customer retention to promoting customer advocacy.
It’s a brave new world for B2B sales, and it is being driven by more data and more digital interaction.
Accelerating B2B Sales Trends
The trials and tribulations of 2020 have accelerated and institutionalized many of the trends that we have already identified in B2B sales. For example, digital channel partners have become more important than ever, and buyers are seeking to remove friction from the sales process. The lines between in-house and field sales are continuing to blur as more decision makers go online seeking solutions rather than waiting to be sold. Expect to see these trends continue into 2021.
The companies that are successfully navigating the economic downturn triggered by the pandemic have learned that agility, adaptability, and creativity are essential to survival. They have already mastered the art of the pivot and seen how harnessing new online marketing strategies, using more digital sales tools, harnessing analytics, and engaging with Sales as a ServiceⓇ partners can see them through the pandemic and even increase revenues.
Many of the systemic changes that Forrester analysts predicted would emerge from the pandemic are already here, and outsourcing partners like MarketStar are helping make them happen:
- MarketStar is already providing digital channel support, identifying and nurturing prospects and qualifying them to identify specific needs so that B2B suppliers can partner to solve them.
- MarketStar is augmenting both in-house and field sales reps with new strategies and Customer Success programs that give buyers the convenience they want with the level of problem-solving and support they have come to expect.
- MarketStar can help provide support for channel partners, including recruiting, managing, re-activating partners, and solution sales support to help them adapt to the new B2B sales reality and sell more products.
- MarketStar has the latest in sales and marketing technology, which means vendor partners can take advantage of the most advanced sales stack components, including advanced analytics, without having to invest and train their own sales team.
- MarketStar has already invested in supporting every step of the buyer’s lifecycle, from lead qualification and initial queries right through to contract close and onboarding. We work with B2B companies to provide support wherever it’s needed along the Buyer’s Journey.
What you can expect in 2021 is to see the best B2B sales practices adopted to deepen customer relationships and give vendors the agility they need to meet changing customer needs. You also can expect to see more vendors outsourcing different elements of B2B sales so they can stay ahead of customer needs and keep their revenue projections on track.