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These eight charts show how COVID-19 has changed B2B sales forever

New analysis makes it clear: For B2B sales, digital is the wave of the future.

The COVID-19 pandemic forced B2B buyers and sellers to go digital in a massive way. What started out as a crisis response has now become the next normal, with big implications for how buyers and sellers will do business in the future.

Recent McKinsey research on decision makers’ behavior globally across industries since the crisis began reveals that the big digital shift is here to stay.

Both B2B buyers and sellers prefer the new digital reality

More than three quarters of buyers and sellers say they now prefer digital self-serve and remote human engagement over face-to-face interactions—a sentiment that has steadily intensified even after lockdowns have ended.

Safety is one reason, of course. But self-serve and remote interactions have made it easier for buyers to get information, place orders, and arrange service, and customers have enjoyed that speed and convenience. Only about 20 percent of B2B buyers say they hope to return to in-person sales, even in sectors where field-sales models have traditionally dominated, such as pharma and medical products.

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Far from a local phenomenon, the shift to digital and remote engagement has been embraced by decision makers in all countries surveyed worldwide. B2B sales leaders have moved from being “forced” to adopt digital in reaction to the widespread shutdowns in the early stages of COVID-19 to a growing conviction that digital is the way to go.

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Customers are buying big online

The most notable sign that digital sales have come of age is the comfort B2B buyers display in making large new purchases and reorders online. The prevailing wisdom used to be that e-commerce was mainly for smaller-ticket items and fast-moving parts. Not so anymore. Notably, 70 percent of B2B decision makers say they are open to making new, fully self-serve or remote purchases in excess of $50,000, and 27 percent would spend more than $500,000.

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B2B decision makers globally say that online and remote selling is as effective as in-person engagement, or even more so—and they're not just talking about selling to warm leads. Sellers also believe digital prospecting is as effective as in-person meetings to connect with existing customers.

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Two breakout stars: Video and live chat

With the massive shift to digital resulting from COVID-19, video and live chat have emerged as the predominant channels for interacting and closing sales with B2B customers, while in-person meetings and related sales activities have dropped precipitously.

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The amount of revenue generated from video-related interactions has jumped by 69 percent since April 2020. Together, e-commerce and videoconferencing now account for 43 percent of all B2B revenue, more than any other channel. Customers also made it clear that, given the choice, they prefer video to phone.

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The future is digital—and optimistic

According to survey respondents, these pandemic-induced patterns are likely to become permanent. Close to nine in ten decision makers say that new commercial and go-to-market sales practices will be a fixture throughout 2021 and possibly beyond.

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Sentiment also remains upbeat for a significant percentage of decision makers. That optimism is reflected in a majority citing multiyear plans for increased spending or maintenance on opex and capex.

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The dramatic increase in digital adoption presents a seminal opportunity for B2B organizations. The shift to virtual sales can help sales organizations lower their cost per visit, extend their reach, and significantly improve sales effectiveness—while delighting customers who are demanding these new ways of interacting stick long term and who are likely to reward suppliers that do it well. 1 But while the opportunity is significant, so is the pressure to capitalize on it. B2B leaders that commit to further digitizing their go-to-market models should derive competitive advantage in the form of more—and more loyal—customers than their slower-moving peers.

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