The way we conduct business has changed in a drastic way this year as a direct result of the COVID-19 pandemic. While the consumer side of this fundamental shift in behaviour tends to receive the majority of the coverage across various media outlets, the evolution that has been occurring beneath the surface is pointing towards even bigger changes in the realm of B2B buying.

As we have had to do in our personal lives, businesses across the globe have also had to rapidly adjust their ways of thinking in order to adapt their business models for survival in the current environment. What we may have initially forecast as temporary accommodations have apparently become more permanent practices that are here to stay for the foreseeable future.

Here, we will take a closer look at some of the changes that B2B companies have had to instate in order to not only survive the rapid evolution of the business landscape but also what adaptations they are focusing on in order to thrive in this new environment. We will cover everything from the increased importance of self-service channels to the emphasis on digital services and even the ways in which we will prefer to communicate going forward.

Ultimately, the changes that we are covering were expected to occur over the span of multiple decades, however, COVID has catapulted us forward and steepened the curve seemingly overnight. Now, let's examine a few of the major areas of this tidal wave of transition that is upon us.

1. A Shift to Remote or Digital Channels

Over the past couple of decades, while consumer-facing business operations have experienced a marked diversification out of brick-and-mortar and towards digital, the bulk of B2B commerce has remained largely unchanged. Sure, most companies have a website and e-mail for communication, but the vast majority of marketing, sales, services, consultations, and negotiations all still happened in face-to-face settings.

For example, a common practice for companies wishing to attract other businesses to their products and services was to send representatives from their organisation to various conventions and conferences via air travel. With the precautions taken against the pandemic, large events with hundreds of people in attendance simply do not happen anymore.

Conferences now take place strictly through digital forums such as virtual conferencing platforms, online video broadcasts, and high-capacity conference calls. While these technologies have long been viewed as a complement to in-person interaction, the shift to conducting business communications remotely through digital channels is now the primary mode of operation.

2. Increase In Online Order Values

As the disruption of travel and lack of congregation has affected the ways in which companies conduct business internally, it has also had a direct impact on the way sales are attained. Online order values have seen a parabolic spike across all industries which has resulted in a need for organisations to allocate more resources towards their e-commerce operations as well as increased automation of the entire sales process. Businesses have had to adapt to allow even the largest of transactions to be processed via online ordering.

The economic environment has led to a reduction in staff across a number of industries which ultimately means that there are fewer people to complete all of the tasks involved in processing the flow of orders that companies are receiving. This is especially true for smaller companies with limited resources. The automation of the sales process allows businesses to be able to keep up with customer demand while conserving their own resources.

3. Shifting Channels of Personal Interaction

Perhaps the biggest shift of all over the last 9 months has occurred in the area of personal interaction. Organisations all over the world have had to take precautions to stem the spread of the COVID pandemic by limiting in-person interaction among staff. If you take a look at current office space vacancies across a number of large metropolitan areas, the numbers are staggering.

As a result of this reduction in personal interaction, most companies have had to rapidly scale their internal and external communications models to accommodate advanced technologies such as video conferencing and instant messaging applications.

4. Speed of Communication

Another area that has seen a massive amount of change is the speed of communication that organisations are engaging in. Video conferencing has taken the place of in-person meetings, mostly due to the fact that most companies have their employees working remotely. This physical distance and lack of demand for conducting business face-to-face have meant a shift to digital communications, which happen almost instantaneously.

When combined with the aforementioned transition to digital ordering, self-service channels, and automation of account management, internal shifts to video-conferencing and instant messaging applications have all led to an increase in the speed of communication. This is apparent not only with internal interactions but also with regards to the ways businesses are communicating with their customers.

The lack of travel, as well as the absence of the daily commute to the office, are also in large part responsible for the rapid increase in the speed of communication across all industries for the time being.

Change is Here to Stay

As is evidenced by all of the points above, the business landscape has undergone a dramatic shift as a result of the impacts of the COVID pandemic that we are still currently in the midst of. Perhaps the best way for most firms to adjust their strategies with regard to B2B buying is to approach it in a similar manner to how consumer-facing brands conduct business online.

Going forward, it is in your best interest to invest in your digital channels to allow for increased automation of sales processes and place more control of the order process in the hands of your customers. Adaptation also must take place with regards to how your company communicates both internally as well as externally in order to foster smoother business operations in the current environment.

This change is here to stay, and the ways in which we do business will likely never return to what they were before this year.

Internally, it has never been more important for employees to have access to a well-designed, modern intranet so they are equipped with the tools and resources to do their jobs efficiently and effectively.

Learn more about how B2B buyers and sellers are managing the coronavirus crisis. This includes an analysis on how manufacturers and distributors are reacting to the pandemic, best practices on how to help customers during this time, and insights on how online sellers should rethink their B2B e-commerce strategy.

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