A Catalyst for Change in B2B: Google and Ipsos COVID Survey

October 15, 2020

By Tarun Rathnam

MiniStocker/Shutterstock.com

Consider the routines consumers dealt with pre-COVID. The waiting room of a doctor’s office. Traffic commuting to work. The server who forgets to bring the check after dinner. But perhaps now with COVID, we’ve adapted to new ways of doing things and are reluctant to go back to the old ways.

Our research with IPSOS on B2B buyer and marketer behavior since COVID shows that these adaptations extend beyond consumer behavior — we've changed how we do business, as an outcome of changing buyer expectations, sentiments and habits.

  1. Buyers are more open to switching to new suppliers than they were before COVID. Since June, the likelihood of a buyer switching suppliers in the next 30 days has grown by 10 percent.
  2. Buyers are accelerating their purchase decisions. The use of digital channels for research, up 12 percent in the last 60 days, is speeding up purchase cycles. If this trend continues, almost two thirds of buyers accelerate their purchase decisions by the end of the year.
  3. B2B buyers want more digital communication from suppliers. Two in three buyers surveyed want more communication before, during and after their purchase.

These trends have a common through: a shift to digital. Buyers are looking for digital solutions, support and ways of doing things. The expanded role of digital in the buyer journey should impact the way marketers engage buyers — not just during the research phase, but also at time of purchase.

So how can marketers strategically respond to buyers evolving needs, learn from the B2C world, and stay ahead of the curve?

 

Digital Drives Discovery

Simply put, driving buyer discovery has changed. Buyers want to hear from brands about their response to the crisis, how they support their needs, and what options exist. Only one percent said they are not open to hearing from B2B brands during this time. In fact, buyers are equally as interested to hear about a brand as they are what they are doing about COVID.

Digital ads play a key role to this end, especially during the research phase. Almost all B2B marketers surveyed have increased their use of online channels for advertising. The accelerated use of digital is not limited to lower funnel tactics. There is an increase in use of digital channels across the full customer journey including online video, display and search. Our research finds that eight in ten marketers plan to increase their online marketing efforts in the next 30 days, enabling them to meet buyers online.

Their increased digital investment correlates well with ROI; marketers report that their online ROI continues to improve by two times compared to offline marketing. In fact, offline marketing is four times more likely to perform worse than digital.

 

Digital Drives Sales

Half of all B2B buyers surveyed say they always preferred to purchase online, with the majority saying they would prefer not to engage with a sales representative unless they absolutely have to.

Why is this? Buyers reported digital features as most important when deciding to purchase from a supplier, including: a user-friendly site, self-service options, a streamlined mobile app, and chat support.

As the pandemic limits more traditional, in-person sales engagements, this preference for online-only interaction will only accelerate. In our latest results, we found the use of e-commerce platforms to sell products and services was neck and neck with inside sales teams, rising four percentage points in the last 30 days. If we can move from sales reps to digital, we’re meeting users in the way they prefer to be met!

 

Buyers’ Support Needs Have Changed

While focusing on buyer research and point of purchase is important, there is a significant opportunity for marketers to better help buyers post purchase.

To understand why, let’s start by understanding buyer emotion. B2B buyer confidence was at 65 percent in Q1 of 2019, and is now down to 49 percent post-COVID. Emotional connections play a critical role in the buyer decision making journey. The decisions buyers make impact both their own job and the health of their entire company. That’s a lot of pressure, especially today.

Buyers want to feel supported. Almost 80 percent of buyers place post-sales support as very or extremely important in their purchase decisions. But we continue to fall short, with one in three buyers saying they feel dissatisfied.

If brands did check in more with buyers post-purchase, they would hear buyers are switching brands because they are not getting what they need after purchase. There are three clear opportunities for marketers to strengthen customer loyalty and reduce churn after purchase.

  1. Buyers switch due to product and service unavailability, and want information from brands on additional products and services. Marketers can align their sales teams to focus on their brand offerings to close this gap. Think of it as an upsell opportunity.
  2. Buyers switch when they perceive the products or services they’ve purchased to be low quality. One way to look at this problem is that customers need more post-sales support. Sales teams should drive education, training, installation and implementation support so end users fully comprehend the value of their purchase. Do not let a lack of education and support lead to customer churn.
  3. As their business needs change, buyers may not know how brands can meet their new needs, and they may choose to find a new supplier who can. How are they leveraging their sales teams and remarketing tactics to keep them fully informed on offerings?

Nine in ten customers report needing post-sales support, which may sound daunting. By focusing sales organization on supporting these often straightforward post-sales needs, B2B brands can unlock an untapped opportunity to delight customers and find new and even more profitable ways to meet their needs. Marketers will improve overall customer satisfaction, loyalty, and retention, and ultimately, the ability to keep and grow their customer base and product penetration.

 

Digital Replaces Physical

Our research powerfully shows marketers believe they can engage with a greater number of prospects through virtual events (78 percent). And believe virtual events are as effective at delivering a positive ROI (74 percent), driving more leads (73 percent), and engaging with target accounts leveraging a dual pronged “virtual” plus “in person” approach (66 percent).

Times have changed and we may never go back to the days of enormous trade shows, industry conferences, in-person lunches, and even the concept of account based marketing. Certainly not to exactly how they were before. We are in the beginning stages of a transformation, and a truly remote B2B work environment. Which is why now is the time to act.

Since COVID, we can virtually connect with a doctor, thereby saving time in waiting rooms. We can work from home with Zoom and Google Meet, saving hours in commute time. We can pay bills using QR codes at our favorite restaurants to avoid unnecessary waits.

My question to you is: why not B2B? What is stopping us from making this list? If we listen to our customers and embrace digital transformation, we can get through today stronger than we have ever been and ready for whatever comes next.

Tarun Rathnam is head of industry in B2B advertising at Google.


The views and opinions expressed in Marketing Maestros are solely those of the contributor and do not necessarily reflect the official position of the ANA or imply endorsement from the ANA.


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