George Anderson


B2B sales during COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic is forcing manufacturers to innovate in their selling models. While this is a painful time for all of us, the pandemic is also forcing manufacturers to get closer to the buyer of product, whether that buyer is a dealer, distributor, or the ultimate consumer.

With sales reps not available for in-person meetings as they once were, manufacturers are depending on their digital channels to interact directly with customers. This is a chance for manufacturers to stake out a stronger role in their distribution channel (and increase their value to customers).

Below, we’ll examine what it takes to do that. But first, here’s an example—one of our clients who relied heavily on in-person sales reps before the pandemic hit.

Case study: Transitioning customers to B2B eCommerce during the pandemic

One of our global clients uses a unique selling model in their German division. While the company is not directly affected by COVID-19, their sales process has been disrupted.

Buyers in their market prefer face-to-face interaction, and our client’s traveling sales reps use their Corevist B2B eCommerce portal to place orders on behalf of customers during in-person meetings. Customers can also access the portal themselves to place orders through self-service.

With Germany under lockdown, sales reps weren’t able to meet with their customers as usual. However, our client’s German B2B portal is seeing an increase both in digital revenue, and in new users.

  • New Users—Average 1,600/month before the pandemic. In March 2020, they logged 2,922 new users to the portal, an increase of 83%.
  • Revenue—Average €3.8M/month before the pandemic. In March 2020, the client processed €6.3M through the portal, or 66% eCommerce revenue growth.

In other words, this manufacturer has successfully pivoted their sales model during the pandemic. What’s more, they’re also closer to their buyers than ever. They’re leveraging all the benefits of B2B eCommerce—rich content, cross-sell/upsell, personalized pricing, and more—to drive greater value in the transaction.

Here’s what it takes to get closer to your buyers (and transition them to self-service eCommerce).

1. Maintain customer access to Sales, even if Sales is working from home

Reporting on Avionos’ recent survey of 150 B2B buyers, Digitalcommerce360 advises that customers may still need guidance from sales reps as they make purchases online. Two stats from the survey are especially noteworthy:

  • 94% of respondents claimed that sales reps “improve the online buying experience.”
  • 69% of respondents claimed they could not complete a B2B eCommerce transaction without the help of a sales rep.

If your customers need the help of sales to complete a digital transaction, that need won’t change during the pandemic. In fact, customers may want more help as they navigate new processes and new sources of stress.

It’s also worth asking why customers need the help of sales to complete an eCommerce transaction. Obviously, some purchases will always require human conversation—e.g. large capital equipment. However, customers may depend on sales reps for other reasons, particularly for products which they actually could purchase on their own if the B2B eCommerce channel was meeting their needs.

The Digitalcommerce360 article notes that inconsistent information across digital channels is one reason why buyers need help from sales. For product lines which are good candidates for B2B eCommerce, you can eliminate that inconsistency with a strong integration between SAP ERP and your eCommerce solution.

More on that in #3 below…

2. Your customers need an empathic transition plan to help them adopt B2B eCommerce

In the midst of this stressful pandemic, your customers will appreciate care and empathy as you help them transition to B2B eCommerce. We recommend crafting an ongoing communication plan to guide customers into their new digital interaction with you. It’s best to structure it around 4 stages:

  1. Onboarding: You need to drive first contact with the B2B eCommerce website. You can do this with a series of messages explaining the digital transition, why it’s necessary due to COVID-19, and what value-add your customers will get from B2B eCommerce.
  2. Adoption: You need to turn that first contact with B2B eCommerce into the “new normal” for your customers. You can do that by offering clear, concise training on how to use the B2B eCommerce portal—and by offering total transparency on product availability, account standing, and more.
  3. Growth: B2B eCommerce offers all kinds of opportunity to increase your value to your customers (and, thus, to increase your revenue from each customer). You can grow the value of your B2B web channel through cross-sell/upsell, promotions, offering 3rd party products, and more.
  4. Retention: Both during the pandemic and beyond, you need to demonstrate increasing value and convenience in your B2B eCommerce channel. That means continually evolving your functionality, keeping your content fresh, and staying tuned in to the needs of customers through continuous feedback methods like surveys, interviews, analytics reviews, and more.

Read more about the stages of B2B eCommerce adoption here: The 4 Stages Of eCommerce Stickiness.

3. Your customers need 100% self-service capabilities within the B2B web portal

If you’re going to transition your customers to online interaction, your B2B portal should provide all the routine information which customers need to complete orders. Without this information, your customers will have to contact sales or customer service, whether they want to or not.

Here’s what your buyers need in the web portal—all of which are best achieved through SAP ERP integration:

  • 100% accurate contract/scaled pricing
  • Intelligent product recommendations to help buyers cover all their needs for the project at hand
  • Personalized picklists and catalogs to help buyers find the products they care about
  • 100% accurate, real-time inventory/ATP calculations (including any delays caused by supply chain disruption during the COVID-19 pandemic)
  • 100% accurate SKU substitutions for discontinued or disallowed products
  • 100% error-free order posting to SAP ERP
  • Full order history from all channels (not just eCommerce, but phone, fax, email, EDI, etc.)
  • Self-service invoice payment and credit management

If your B2B web portal can’t check these boxes, it may cause friction in the buyer experience, which will force buyers to call sales or customer service to complete the transaction or manage their account. Again, large, capital-expenditure products may require the involvement of sales anyway; but for lower-stakes purchases, your customers should be able to complete the transaction and their account management tasks within your digital B2B portal.

Moving forward: FREE case study

Want to see what digital transformation looks like in real life? Download this case study on Blount International. You’ll learn how this leading manufacturer of forestry and agricultural equipment got closer to their customers through B2B eCommerce—all with no additional IT investment.

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