Even as B2B marketers breathe a sigh of relief from the peak of the pandemic's early disruption, for many, their work to recover and readjust is just beginning.
Buyers are coming back, according to data released late last year from Google; in even better news, more than half of B2B buyers report COVID-19 won't have any influence over their software purchasing decisions.
The picture isn't completely rosy, however. Although B2B buyers seem willing and eager to spend, marketers are struggling to keep up in the altered marketplace.
Nearly half (45%) of marketers surveyed said their first foray into digital advertising happened during COVID-19—not exactly a simple time to launch untested campaigns into unproven channels.
And though buyers may have spending power again, marketers can't count on past loyalty to sell B2B: 65% of buyers said they are more likely to switch vendors now than they were previously.
How Marketers Can Retool to Make the Most of B2B Buyers' Re-Emergence
After withstanding the initial period of uncertainty and subsequent drop in performance in March and April of 2020, marketers are now well into their own recovery. But as budgets increase, traffic rebounds, and orders start coming back in, marketers cannot operate like it's business as usual.
Adapting to the new B2B buyer reality means rethinking KPIs, pivoting quickly, and getting creative to salvage every marketing dollar.
Regardless of the maturity of your marketing function, it's almost certain that your marketing playbook was rendered obsolete by COVID. However, by using smart testing that informs budget allocations, your marketing team will be able to not just adapt to the rapid change, but capitalize on it.
1. Buyers want a personal touch—make sure all channels can deliver
Buyer behavior has changed, even if buyers' budgets are recovering. Data compiled on customer phone call duration and volume showed a recovery after late April, and continued climb all the way into August.
Customers now use phone calls—a socially distant way to communicate intimately and directly with businesses—to get information or make purchases more often than before the pandemic, and marketers should take heed. Anything less than a seamless phone experience might detract buyers, who are more fickle in their loyalty.
Although we can't know with certainty how long COVID and its all-encompassing impact will last, expect higher customer call volumes to continue as customers seek safe ways to communicate directly with businesses.
2021 priority: Interested buyers are seeking more personal ways to make contact when they're ready to buy. Do the people you have on the other end of the phone, chat, or text message have the right information? Are there easy and seamless ways to take in your prospects' data properly?
2. 'Zoom fatigue' is real—re-examine live events
Typically, B2B marketers make big pushes for sales and customer engagement with live events, but most of those plans have been disrupted.
One of the biggest mistakes marketers made after in-person events were canceled was to expect webinars and other virtual events to perform in the same way or carry the same load as trade shows or conferences. Most learned quickly that was an incorrect assumption. Some larger companies, such as Slack and HubSpot, did a great job of pivoting their flagship events into virtual formats, but it isn't an easy transition for most businesses.
The most important thing marketers can do in this area is to focus on their audience: If you do make the shift to virtual events, make sure those events are at the right frequency, cadence, and length for your customers and prospects. Zoom fatigue is a real thing, after all, and it affects how you sell B2B.
2021 priority: A case can be made for larger, more infrequent events that include unexpected speakers and topics. Buyers may be back, but they won't be engaged by the same static pitch decks and panels.
Instead, marketers need to retool and consider treating prospects to unexpected speakers or surprise interactive elements such as a cocktail hour. That kind of thinking can be the right recipe for successful interest and engagement, especially when compared with weekly or monthly webinars that can feel like a chore— both for employees who run them and for your audience.
3. Let customer expectations dictate team learning and development
While tactics like in-person events and conferences are off the table, some members of your team may have some extra time on their hands. Hopefully, the recovery has ended the need for staff reductions, but every leader still needs to re-examine their marketing team's structure and responsibilities.
Investing in social media or email content training for your event teams to help them shift from planned in-person events when needed is a good way to refocus efforts. Or, if you're seeing a surge in phone calls from customers, provide marketing teams with training to improve their skill set with this particular communication channel.
2021 priority: The COVID disruption isn't temporary for B2B marketers. Buyers are already seeing creative, interactive marketing experiences from the biggest brands that have been reimagined for a remote reality. To compete, consider building out your teams with more digitally focused marketers that can determine the right KPIs and metrics to track.
B2B marketers are adapting. As spending grows, marketers need to make sure their efforts to maintain customer loyalty keep pace. Even though continued recovery is probable, no post-pandemic marketing plan or team will look as it did pre-pandemic.
More Resources on Selling B2B
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