Even as B2B marketers breathe a sigh of relief from the height of the early disruption to the pandemic, for many the work of recovery and adjustment is just beginning.
Buyers are coming back, according to data released by Google late last year. In even better news, more than half of B2B buyers say COVID-19 does not affect their software purchase decisions.
However, the picture is not entirely rosy. While B2B buyers seem ready and willing to spend, marketers are struggling to keep up in the changing marketplace.
Almost half (45%) of the marketers surveyed said their first foray into digital advertising took place during COVID-19 – not exactly an easy time to launch untested campaigns on unproven channels.
And while buyers may regain purchasing power, marketers cannot count on past loyalty when selling B2B: 65% of buyers said they are more likely to switch providers than before.
How marketers can retool to take advantage of the B2B buyer resurgence
After the initial period of uncertainty and the subsequent decline in performance in March and April 2020, marketers are now well into their own recovery. But when budgets rise, traffic bounces back, and orders come back in, marketers can’t do business as usual.
Adapting to the new reality of B2B buyers means rethinking KPIs, switching quickly, and getting creative to save every marketing dollar.
Regardless of the maturity of your marketing role, it is almost certain that your marketing playbook has been overtaken by COVID. However, by using intelligent tests that inform the budget allocation, your marketing team can not only prepare for the rapid change, but also benefit from it.
1. Buyers want a personal touch – make sure all channels can deliver
Buyer behavior has changed, even as buyers’ budgets recover. The data, which was compiled on the duration and volume of customer calls, showed a recovery after the end of April and continued to rise into August.
Customers are now using phone calls – a socially distant way to communicate closely and directly with businesses – to get information or make purchases more often than before the pandemic, and marketers should be careful. Anything less than a seamless phone experience can distract buyers who are more capricious in their loyalty.
While we cannot know for sure how long COVID and its widespread effects will last, we continue to expect higher customer call volumes as customers look for secure ways to communicate directly with businesses.
Priority 2021: Interested buyers are looking for more personal ways to get in touch when they’re ready to buy. Do the people you have on the other end of the phone, chat, or text message have the correct information? Are there easy and seamless ways to get your prospect’s data right?
2. ‘Zoom Fatigue’ is real – check live events again
Typically, B2B marketers are pushing for sales and retention at live events, but most of those plans have been disrupted.
One of the biggest mistakes marketers made after canceling in-person events was expecting webinars and other virtual events to be hosted in the same way or with the same load as trade shows or conferences. Most quickly learned that this was a false assumption. Some larger companies, like Slack and HubSpot, have done a great job of converting their flagship events to virtual formats, but for most companies this is not an easy transition.
The most important thing marketers can do in this space is to focus on their target audience: when you switch to virtual events, make sure those events have 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.
Priority 2021: A case can be made for larger, rarer events that include unexpected speakers and topics. Buyers may be back but they’re not kept busy by the same static pitch decks and panels.
Instead, marketers need to retool and consider treating potential customers with unexpected speakers or surprising interactive elements like a cocktail hour. This kind of thinking can be the right recipe for successful interest and engagement, especially when compared to weekly or monthly webinars, which can feel like a chore – both for the employees who run them and for your audience.
3. Let customer expectations guide the team’s learning and development
While tactics like in-person events and conferences are off the table, some members of your team may have a little extra time to spare. Hopefully the recovery has ended the need to downsize, but each leader has yet to review the structure and responsibilities of their marketing team.
Investing in social media training or email content for your event teams to separate them from scheduled in-person events if necessary is a great way to realign their efforts. If you see an increase in customer phone calls, offer training to marketing teams to improve their skills in this particular channel of communication.
Priority 2021: The COVID disruption is not temporary for B2B marketers. Buyers are already seeing creative, interactive marketing experiences from the biggest brands reimagined for a distant reality. To be competitive, grow your teams with more digital-centric marketers who can pinpoint the right KPIs and metrics to follow up on.
B2B marketers are adapting. When spending increases, marketers need to make sure their customer loyalty efforts are keeping pace. While continued recovery is likely, no post-pandemic marketing plan or team will look like it did before the pandemic.
More resources on selling B2B
Favorite content types and channels of B2B buyers
What B2B buyers expect from supplier websites
This is how you win buyers in the modern business-to-business market