Omnichannel in B2B sales: The new normal in a year that has been anything but

New analysis makes it clear: Omnichannel is here to stay for B2B sales.

B2B buyers aren’t just moving to omnichannel. They’ve arrived. Given the choice of in-person, remote, and e-commerce channels, purchasers have shown they want them all.

McKinsey’s research on B2B decision makers confirms that omnichannel is not simply a trend, nor a pandemic workaround—rather, it is a critically important fixture for B2B sales globally.

Omnichannel is the standard, not the exception

The pandemic has cemented omnichannel interactions as the predominant path for B2B sales. Even as in-person engagement reemerged as an option, buyers made clear they prefer a cross-channel mix, choosing in-person, remote, and digital self-serve interactions in equal measure.

The equilibrium is no accident. As B2B buyers flexed to remote and digital ways of engaging, they found much to like. The use and preference for e-commerce—self-serve, for example—has grown since August 2020. Buyers also moved easily between in-person and remote sales as quarantine restrictions shifted, with the choice of channel coming down to practicality and timing more than efficacy.

Omnichannel is the standard, not the exception

B2Bs say omnichannel works—and even surpasses past approaches

Omnichannel gained urgency during the crisis and will be imperative going forward. Eight in ten B2B leaders say that omnichannel is as or more effective than traditional methods—a sentiment that has grown sharply throughout the past year—rising from 54 percent at the start of the pandemic to 83 percent in February 2021.

Moreover, 83 percent of B2B leaders believe that omnichannel selling is a more successful way to prospect and secure new business than traditional, “face-to-face only” sales approaches—a notable sign of confidence, given the higher cost and hurdle of acquiring new customers.

B2Bs say omnichannel works--and even surpasses past approaches

This pattern held true across geographies, with decision makers in South Korea, China, and Spain among the most enthusiastic.

Effectiveness of new sales model in reaching and serving customers

Buyers will spend six figures or more digitally, and budget projections are equally robust

Despite the conventional wisdom that big ticket sales require in-person contact, 20 percent of B2B buyers said they would be willing to spend more than $500,000 in a fully remote/digital sales model. And 11 percent of all B2B buyers would spend more than one million.

B2B budget projections indicate a willingness to spend as well. Despite ongoing market volatility, six in ten respondents plan to maintain or grow their operating expenditure investments over the next five years. And nearly half (47 percent) plan to expand their capital expenditure over the same period, a six percentage-point increase since August 2020.

Particularly as the rate of digitization picks up across industries, companies may find that they need to upgrade their infrastructure and tool sets to keep pace, with investments in hardware, software, and marketing outpacing other spend categories.

Buyers will spend six figures or more digitally, and budget projections are equally robust

As purchasing goes omnichannel, sales models will go hybrid

Hybrid sales reps will soon become the most common sales role. With omnichannel established as the new buying norm, 64 percent of B2Bs intend to increase the number of hybrid sellers over the next six months, making this model—representatives who interact with customers via video, phone, apps, and occasional in-person visits—the lead sales role.

As purchasing goes omnichannel, sales models will go hybrid

Two go-to-market changes are driving this transition. First, while nearly all companies will be able to connect with customers in physical locations by the start of 2022, only 15 percent of B2Bs expect in-person sales meetings to be the norm going forward.

Expected return to in-person meetings and events

Second, e-commerce is now firmly entrenched in the omnichannel mix. As buyer interest and comfort with digital sales have grown, B2Bs have responded. E-commerce was the most popular route to market for B2B companies as of February 2021 (marginally outpacing in-person). And 41 percent of leaders say it is their most effective sales route, beating out in-person (37 percent) and video (31 percent).

In what ways is your company's product or service sold today?

To capture growth, B2Bs must overcome specific omnichannel pain points

The rapid ramp-up in digital and remote sales has come with a learning curve. Pain points include finding the most effective way for field reps to work from home, making remote interactions feel as intimate as in-person experiences, and providing proofs of concept and digital demos that give buyers an equivalent level of insight to physical walk-throughs.

Channel conflicts are another challenge, with two-thirds of decision makers saying their sales teams have encountered these issues. Others are worried about the risk of cannibalization and whether digital transactions are a zero-sum game or a catalyst for expanded sales.

While no standard playbook has yet emerged for handling these challenges, one common theme holds true: companies continue to innovate their sales approaches and pivot resources at speeds not previously experienced in B2B sales.

To capture growth, B2Bs must overcome specific omnichannel pain points

Omnichannel isn’t going away. And that’s a good thing. B2B sales organizations that lean into this shift and enable integrated interactions across the buying journey could turn the learning curve of the last 12 months into a new trajectory for growth.

Special collection

B2B Pulse: How B2B decision makers are responding to the coronavirus crisis

Through a series of recurring global surveys, we are tracking how customers’ expectations, spending, and behaviors change throughout the crisis, across multiple countries over time.

View the special collection

How B2B decision makers are responding to the coronavirus crisis

Explore a career with us