BD tips and insights

By Adam Thorp

Better understanding B2B buyers – Part III – The changes in buying methods

October 14, 2020 | Posted in: Grow your business | Tags: , , ,

Just when sales seemed to be more attuned to changes in customer sentiment, shifts in demand, and the needs of different buying methods, along came the COVID-19 pandemic. As we covered in Parts I and II the ensuing uncertainty has seen customers accelerate their shift to digital engagement, leaving sellers with more channels to cover and more interactions to manage.

The pandemic has also exposed weaknesses in existing sales models and capabilities along with gaps in digital readiness. For sellers understanding which customers to focus on, their needs, and how they want to engage is seemingly random in this fluid and uncertain environment.

However, for businesses looking to not just survive but to grow and thrive the current economic conditions are driving a much greater focus on workforce automation and digitisation. The imperative for efficiency and effectiveness will grow too as a survival response through this challenging economic period. Post-coronavirus – this move towards automation, and the benefits it delivers, will accelerate further. Digital and sales capability transformation will be a critical lever to building business continuity, growth and resilience.

As digital transformation sweeps across the global economy, the ways in which businesses transact with other businesses are drastically changing. Once considered a ‘nice to have’ channel for making sales, digital B2B eCommerce has quickly become a critical must-have for all selling organisations as they tackle omnichannel buyer requirements.

The B2B omnichannel boom

B2B buyers increasingly want to engage with suppliers through digital and self-service channels and has accelerated off the back of coronavirus. Forrester’s recentB2B eCommerce Forecast stated 70% of B2B buyers find buying from a website more convenient than buying from a sales representative.

Further, Gartner’s The Future of Sales report predicts that by 2025 80% of B2B sales interactions between buyers and suppliers will occur in digital channels; and that 60% of sales organisations will transition from experience and intuition-based selling to data-driven selling.

Buyers are looking for:

  • Cost savings
  • Increasing efficiency in the buying process
  • Internal client satisfaction.

To support this shift to omnichannel buying requirements and the dramatic change in the number and type of touchpoints and interactions between buyers and suppliers, sales organisations will need additional skills and technology capabilities.

Core omnichannel buying methods:

As buyer preferences evolve, some sales roles will disappear, and new roles will emerge, however one thing is clear – things need to change at the sales organisation.

The rise of B2B digital eCommerce – how the B2C experience informs expectations from B2B buyers

Both Alibaba and Amazon have disrupted B2B eCommerce across industries, demonstrating the reach and impact of large-scale online marketplaces. The emergence of online B2B marketplaces offers new channel options that few sales organisations can ignore.

Now, more and more, B2B buyers influenced by the technology they use every day, and their personal shopping preferences, are increasingly expect a seamless, convenient online shopping experience. In fact, according to Forrester 82% of digital B2B buyers:

  • prefer to gather information online instead of interacting with sales,
  • are millennials (born between 1982 and 2000)
  • use mobile devices to research the products and services they buy for work
  • want the same convenient purchasing experience they have in their personal lives.

McKinsey’s B2B COVID19 Decision-Maker Pulse found that B2B eCommerce revenue was up almost 20% since the onset of COVID19.

Efficiency and effectiveness are the key to profitability, which is why B2B customers have turned to online procurement.

Before the pandemic, Forrester estimated that B2B eCommerce would reach $1.8 trillion and account for 17% of all B2B sales in the US by 2022. The same report forecasts a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 10% in B2B eCommerce over the next five years. Add in rep-assisted eCommerce, and the total of all eCommerce purchases is now equal to those made through traditional vendor sales reps, at 42%.

Post-pandemic, these numbers will likely double.

Supporting this is the growth in B2B digital eCommerce platforms. IDC forecasts a 23.6% CAGR for B2B digital eCommerce platforms through 2022, which is much larger than the 8.6% growth rate forecast for B2C.

Impact on the sales organisation

As the coronavirus crisis continues to create unprecedented uncertainty, it’s critical that companies figure out how to protect revenues – not default to just containing or cutting costs as the ability to grow will separate the leaders from the pack.

Response to the current economic uncertainty is driving organisations to make B2B purchasing more cost-effective and efficient. Increasingly, that means cutting sales people out of the process and consolidating their purchasing channels into a few online sources.

B2B sales leaders face a mounting predicament: how to ensure their teams meet sales targets while meeting the changing expectations of increasingly digitally focussed buyers. Omnichannel, or channel-agnostic, buyers expect efficient, effective and customer-centric experiences across all paths they decide to take, but many B2B sales organisations lack the capability to meet or capitalise on this.

To better align sales with buying, B2B sales leaders must understand that a full shift in the focus of the sales organisation, away from traditional sales professionals as the primary commercial channel and toward digital sales channels, especially as digital selling shortens buying cycles and reduces cost of sale.

What can you do to prepare your sales organisation

To have any chance of success, sellers and their organisations need creativity, consistency, and commitment beyond the typical maintain the status quo approach.

The following early actions will better align sales models, channels and capabilities around customers:

  • Review your capacity and capability to engage the customer everywhere – a shift to buyer-oriented integrated commercial channels is critical to meet customers’ expectations and preferences for digital and self-service channels.
  • Transition sales to facilitate complex buying decisions – sales needs to focus on helping stakeholders feel more confident in their own decisions.
  • Increase digital sales capabilities – sellers need to be able to ‘omnichannel’ sell and dynamically adapt to changes in the buying environment.
  • Recalibrate the sales technology roadmap – the current ‘stack’ needs to evolve to automate, through AI, as much of the sales process as possible, detect buying signals, prescribe solutions and predict outcomes.


Buyer motivation and behaviour is changing rapidly and the rate of change will continue to accelerate. Organisations need to realise that the best way to deal with market uncertainty is to take a proactive approach and that failing to take the first steps will already put them out of the race.

For organisations to successfully execute against this they need the right people, process and technology to keep pace.

Think about what you would do if you were to build your company today starting from scratch, for today’s environment. Would you build it differently?

Don’t wait to undertake the transformation you know you need.

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