If this pandemic has made one thing clear, it’s that the only constant is change. Fast and ongoing change. Customer behavioral shifts are evolving, and those brands that develop an approach to leverage this pace of change in “real-time” will be the most successful. And real-time is not addressing it within your annual strategic planning process over several weeks or months; it’s immediate.
With this significant shift in behavior in 2020, digital adoption and engagement have accelerated like never before. In fact, during the first eight-week span of the pandemic, a McKinsey study estimates that consumers leapt forward five years in their adoption of digital engagement. The shift won’t be temporary, and it doesn’t only affect consumers and B2C marketing efforts.
According to a parallel McKinsey B2B study, sales leaders indicated digital marketing efforts are now twice as important to their business success as they were before the pandemic. This forced digital adoption is greatly impacting the way consumers are engaging with brands… and the approach B2B must now go to market. And it is not just the go-to-market, it’s basic day-to-day tasks that are being challenged: in-home sales calls, job site visits, interactions with their distributor or manufacturer rep. How manufacturers and industry professionals adapt to the changing expectation will affect their long-term customer experience (CX) and overall brand perception.
No More Trade Shows
What if tradeshows never came back? How would you shift your new product launch strategy or build your customer relationships or lead process? The new digital format may allow people to see the new products being launched, but it lacks the personal connection and touching and feeling that was the benefit of tradeshows and demo events. This is where companies need to change the game and transform their thinking and interactions with customers. It’s where a new CX should and could be born.
Major trade shows in all industries are being canceled, and many such as the Consumers Electronics Show (CES) have announced they are going to an all-digital format in 2021. Companies need to quickly transform the way they interact, sell and launch products. Take for example the leading construction surveying and measuring instruments brand; an industry where demoing their high-tech instruments in person is critical. They have looked at demos in a new light. By obtaining a credit card to reserve the shipment and trial of their expensive equipment, upon arrival, the local company sales rep sets up an appointment virtually to walk the prospective customer through the technology demo. If they keep the equipment, they get invoiced, if they return it, their credit card is never charged.
B2B Morphing into B2C
Business owners don’t want to accept less from their professional experiences than they are accustomed to getting from their personal experiences as a consumer. According to Retailwire, B2B professionals expect “interactions like sales calls and trade shows with brands to be closer to Amazon shopping experiences than mere virtual live events”.
When researching products, business-related customers’ preference for digitally enabled sales interactions has jumped significantly. Because of the forced lockdown, desire to socially distance and the improvements in video conferencing, businesses have shifted from face-to-face meetings to other forms of communication; and this is expected to continue even post-pandemic. And it’s not only the external world changing, the way businesses conduct their day-to-day inter-company tasks have been forced to change as well. Lack of communication and goal alignment is the number one cause of failed execution, so companies need to ensure they are continuing to find digital ways to highly engage and align their employees.
Where to Place Your Money
Corporations are also using this new digital world as an opportunity to optimize SG&A costs, with one big area of savings being travel: some forecasting a reduction of 30-50+% of travel costs going forward. They are dropping a portion of these savings directly to the bottom line. However, the more progressive ones are redirecting a large portion of those dollars into more critical growth areas. The primary focus is on initiatives that directly impact the CX of their best customers, and ideally therefore their company sales and profits. Dropping savings to the bottom line will make the company look good today but making investments in the right CX solutions will have better long-term value (more loyal customers, bigger purchases, newly acquired customers and higher mix and profits).
As online expectations have increased, it has placed greater importance of business success on having both a strong CX and content strategy. McKinsey found that “those suppliers who provide outstanding digital experiences to their buyers are more than twice as likely to be chosen as a primary supplier than those who provide poor experiences, and about 70 percent more likely than those providing only fair ones.” Given the importance of providing optimal online journeys, there is a need to create frictionless pathways from the first customer touchpoint all the way to purchases/reorder, ensuring there is quality content and guidance throughout the process, particularly in the critical early stages of the purchase process.
According to a recent Forbes article, three things are sure to be true going forward:
- Digital transformation will only continue to accelerate amidst the new playing field and expectations
- 1:1 commercial intimacy centered on empathy and emotion will be pervasive, and the worlds of B2C and B2B will continue to become indistinguishable
- CX will consequently remain the ultimate battleground
Your Digital Game Plan
- Take any SG&A savings and re-invest into digital-centric resources. It’s the markets’ expectations and your best investment today and into the future.
- Utilize your current experiences and expectations as a consumer (think Amazon, Netflix, Uber), and start interacting with your B2B touchpoints (internally and externally) as you would a B2C experience
- CX is your growth engine. It’s your brand’s long-term relevance and business sustainability. Invest in a more comprehensive understanding of your customer to allow you to more deeply engage with them to drive loyalty to your brand.
The C-Suite will need to focus more closely than ever before on customer advocacy as it becomes synonymous with the ability to achieve hyper-growth. In order to get closer to customer advocacy, companies must make it their #1 priority (and #1 investment) to gather intelligence related to the triggers of how their key customers act, feel and behave. As a result, the subsequent insights uncovered must quickly migrate from sales and marketing tools to becoming one of the most critical currencies fueling the future of business growth and brand relevance.