Where Do We Go From Here? Go Where Your Customers Are: Online
May 1, 2020
By Kevin Sarb, Principal
Robust eCommerce capabilities are essential to best promote and sell your offering in these unusual times. For example, as all types of large in-person gatherings are cancelled due to COVID-19, a nascent trend is developing for virtual trade shows to promote B2B offerings. Suppliers such as Fastenal are seeing record eCommerce sales. Nevertheless, the majority of B2B eCommerce executives expect inventory shortages throughout 2020, demonstrating how unprepared many are for these disruptions and shifts in demand.
Most recently in our Where Do We Go From Here? series, we discussed the need for a 12-24 month go-forward plan for the new normal. Within this plan it will be important and necessary to accelerate and refine your eCommerce strategy. Obviously, eCommerce has been growing in B2B marketplaces for some time. However, the requirements for social distancing have rapidly accelerated customers’ expectations for virtual and online interaction. As more and more business customers become accustomed to leveraging eCommerce channels, going forward we will likely see a step-change in B2B eCommerce buying behavior. Addressing eCommerce strategy now will ensure that you will remain competitively advantaged. To do this, you must start by examining the changes occurring in your customers’ buying journey.
Buying Journey Evolution
Understanding how your customers’ buying journey is evolving is critical as you update your eCommerce strategy for the post-COVID era. Consider the B2B buying journey Blue Canyon has described in 5 steps:
Each step in the buying journey is being affected significantly due to the pandemic. We have written in the past about eCommerce disruption in B2B markets but now, the sudden and accelerated speed of eCommerce disruption is transforming B2B markets even further. See the figure below showing an illustrative example of transformation and potential future state for each step of the buying journey:
As you can see, the post-COVID world is still a mystery, filled with much uncertainty. But we can make some educated guesses about the new and different expectations customers will have. Begin with a hypothesis about how customers will want to interact and do business with your company in the “new normal.” Then, use it as a jumping-off point for evaluating the changing buying journey expectations your customers will have.
For example, let’s examine the “discovery” step in the buying journey. In the current COVID-19 environment, customers have been forced to go online to find offering options and build a consideration set. Further, during this downturn, customers may defer capital expenditures for new equipment and instead look for aftermarket replacement parts to maintain the equipment they currently have. In the past, many of these customers may have relied on their trusted suppliers, visited them in person, and reviewed offerings in person. Being forced into virtual or online discovery can cause 2 things to happen: 1) customers realize that they can find offerings and build a consideration set of alternative suppliers effectively through virtual channels, saving time and effort; and 2) suppliers whose offerings are easier to discover, and which provide complete specifications and related information to ensure inclusion in the consideration set, will have an advantage.
Going forward, B2B companies will need to closely examine each step in the buying journey, understand how customers are changing their approach at each step, assess where you may be losing sales at each step, and build a strategy and capabilities to meet customers’ expectations at each step.
To quote Vladimir Lenin, “There are decades where nothing happens, and there are weeks where decades happen.” Our society, and more specifically B2B companies, find themselves in a time where decades are happening in weeks. Changes that had been slowly evolving have suddenly accelerated and will likely be forever changed in the new normal. eCommerce is a prime example of this. The future winners will be those who get ahead of competitors in responding to this disruption. If you were trailing competitors in eCommerce capabilities in the pre-COVID world, this disadvantage will be exacerbated in the new normal. Ensuring you have a sound, robust eCommerce strategy for the new normal by fully understanding and addressing changing customer expectations in the buying journey will be paramount to success.
This article is a continuation of our thoughts on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and the key strategic decisions B2B companies should be focusing on. You can find our other articles here: