Embracing the B2B omnichannel opportunity in 2021

Omnichannel adoption exploded during the pandemic, and shows no signs of subsiding. How should businesses take advantage of this new reality?
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The pandemic condensed a decade’s worth of digital adoption into a matter of months. Most B2B companies swiftly shifted the lion’s share their business to more digital self-serve and remote sales, and along with the vast majority of their customers, preferred the new model over traditional methods. Organizations that want to succeed in 2021 and beyond need to embrace the omnichannel model, because the future is here to stay.

During a recent Salesforce webinar, Jan-Christoph Köstring, senior partner at McKinsey & Company and Jennifer Stanley, partner at McKinsey & Company, discussed major changes in the B2B sales space and shared their insights on how organizations can boost their omnichannel strategy.

The B2B omnichannel model has arrived

A McKinsey survey of some 3,600 B2B decision makers revealed two key insights. First, the online transition was immediate, overwhelming, and successful. Only a month into the pandemic, more than 90 percent of B2B companies shifted to a virtual sales model. More than 70 percent of customers prefer doing business remotely, and a whopping 97 percent of them expressed a willingness to make digital, self-serve purchases exceeding $50,000, a once-formidable barrier. Second, some 90 percent B2B leaders say the digital model is here to stay, and 70 percent of them believe it’s at least as effective as pre-Covid ways of doing business. Only some 25 percent of B2B customers say they want to resume in-person interactions with sales reps. And sellers that offer outstanding digital experiences enjoy a strong competitive advantage, and are more than twice as likely to be chosen as primary suppliers.

The three keys to omnichannel success: speed, transparency, and expertise

Omnichannel success depends on the digital sales hat trick of speed, transparency, and expertise. Speed involves giving customers instant access to information when, how, and where they want it, including always-available video and live chat along all points in their journey. It also includes convenience and simplicity, such as one-click purchases and shortcuts for repeat orders. Transparency helps customers understand all their options and the total value of a solution, including the cost and benefits. Transparency can be as simple as an online product comparison tool, or giving buyers extra information about parts, supplies, or solutions. Expertise entails going beyond online information to answer technical customer questions, regardless of the day or time. Some 33 percent of buyers rate 24/7 live chat during the research stage of their journey as a top-three requirement for best-in-class suppliers.

Know your customers inside and out

Uncertainty is the new certainty. But customers are clearly thinking, feeling, and making decisions very differently versus several years ago. And their decision journeys have completely transformed during the pandemic. Providing a world-class omnichannel experience depends on a thorough customer understanding through analytics and granular data. It means asking yourself the following questions: What do their decision journeys look like? What do they value most? What inspires them? Where can you impress them? How could an outstanding omnichannel experience help you stand out?

But don’t try to be all things to all customers by attempting to meet the omnichannel needs of every customer at every touchpoint. Instead, focus on ways to strengthen your omnichannel capabilities and optimize meaningful interactions across the right touchpoints. And don't focus too much on digital channels and tools at the expense of building omnichannel capabilities within your organization.

Don’t neglect the human connection

Omnichannel is more than just innovating with digital tools and perfecting online touch points. It’s about maintaining the human connection in an increasingly digitized world, blending the human with the digital to give customers a seamless, personalized experience, both online and in-person. Companies need to figure out how to best dovetail sales reps and digital tools across channels to help customers—because those that add the human touch to digital sales consistently outperform their peers. And organizations that made more capital expenditures in digital technology are twice as likely to report outsize revenue growth. The trick is to identify and invest in areas where human interaction is most valued, be it live web chat, a rapid response to customer queries, or making sure a person picks up the phone when a potential customer calls.

Now is the time to fast-track your B2B selling model

The pandemic forced businesses to hit their digital stride last year, and 2021 represents a remarkable opportunity to capitalize on the omnichannel opportunity, with previously unimagined customer segments up for grabs. Even B2B buyers in stable markets are now more willing to change suppliers because of superior omnichannel experiences. Companies that invest to support current customers and win new ones stand to gain incremental market share. But it depends on how quickly and completely they embrace omnichannel to improve the overall customer experience, expand reach, and improve sales effectiveness. The goal is to delight customers in new and meaningful ways across every major touchpoint. And achieving that goal rests on four priorities: strengthening e-commerce capabilities, harmonizing physical and digital capabilities, retraining your salesforce, and putting the customer at the heart of your omnichannel strategy.