Just as retail and customer-facing industries are suffering through the COVID-19 crisis, B2B organizations are struggling to adapt to changes in how they connect with customers. New research from digital experience firm Episerver finds that more than half (54 percent) of leaders in IT, marketing and ecommerce roles define their company’s customer relationships as strained, developing or non-existent as they face market uncertainty brought on by the global pandemic. As a result, delivering relevant, personalized digital experiences has emerged as a top priority—and direct selling as the most significant opportunity for B2B leaders navigating a new reality.
The firm’s newly released B2B Digital Experience Report reveals that 41 percent of respondents believe selling directly to customers online is the most significant opportunity for their business in the next year, followed by expanding into new geographies (37 percent) and providing their salesforce with digital selling tools (36 percent). Despite the economic downturn, 85 percent of B2B organizations still expect their digital experience budget to increase next year, which will help 71 percent of B2B leaders who agree that the digital experience their company offers does not meet the needs and expectations of its customers.
“It is clear from our data and conversations with customers that digital transformation is being accelerated to address immediate needs due to COVID-19,” said Alex Atzberger, CEO of Episerver, in a news release. “Direct-to-consumer sales, for example, have been discussed for years, but now the time is there to rethink your go-to-market channel. Getting in touch with customers directly and in a hyper-relevant way is business critical when in-person tactics are impossible to execute. You can’t not be digital anymore; you can’t not create content to create engaging experiences; you can’t not sell directly.”
Success story: Partsmaster embraces digital commerce
While even a year ago direct digital selling was seen as a luxury for distributors, one year later digital-first capabilities are now a necessity. Industrial products supplier Partsmaster launched an e-commerce site in early 2019 with Brilliance Business Solutions. With increased digital demand due to COVID-19 in both orders and web traffic, Partsmaster was able to support its customer base with the infrastructure it had in place to scale quickly.
“It’s not surprising to me that selling directly to customers is seen as the top opportunity for B2B organizations,” said Robert Debault, software architect at Partsmaster, in the release. “None of us could predict the global impact of COVID-19, but Partsmaster saw clearly that B2B buyers want the same ease and convenience they receive from B2C brands when shopping online. It’s why we turned to Episerver and Brilliance to be digital, scalable and flexible. For many years, it wasn’t a matter of ‘if’ B2Bs needed e-commerce but rather ‘when’—and that ‘when’ has been accelerated overnight.”
While Partsmaster was ready for this digital-first world, many B2B organizations are struggling to meet customer expectations and are faced with an arduous competitor. Fifty-two percent of B2B leaders believe their company is losing revenue to Amazon, but despite those perceived losses, 52 percent of B2B leaders also say Amazon is seen more as an opportunity than a threat.
While technologies offer a potential solution to today’s challenges, anxieties remain around the impact of AI and automation on future job security, according to the research:
- 61 percent of B2B leaders fear that AI will replace the need for a human worker in their current position in the next five years.
- 82 percent of B2B leaders say, however, that AI will make them better at their job in the next two years.
- 82 percent of B2B leaders say better data quality is how AI will make them better at their job in the next two years.
In today’s world, businesses are met with the challenge of deciding what products, services and technologies their companies should invest in and how they can adjust their budget to be better positioned for the current recession. While the decisions are daunting, the biggest opportunity for businesses is to invest in products and services that better serve the customer in today’s digital-first (and now digital-only) economy.
“B2B Digital Experience Report: A Customer-Centric Pivot in Pivotal Times” explores the priorities and plans, tactics and technologies of 600 decision-makers from the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, Sweden and Australia. Respondents are employed full-time by healthcare, financial services, commercial services, manufacturing, distribution and high-tech organizations. The report breaks down findings by role and industry.