The B2B industrial landscape is constantly changing. Companies should always keep an eye on industry trends. This is especially true in 2021, since the Covid pandemic accelerated the process of several trends.
What are the top B2B industry trends in 2021?
Industry 4.0 has revolutionised the manufacturing business and is still transforming the entire industry. There are new opportunities for companies to increase efficiency, produce faster, reduce production costs and better connect with customers.
As a manufacturer operating in the B2B space, companies need to explore the latest technologies and systems to stay ahead of the competition and gain market share in a changing industry.
Below are some of the key manufacturing trends that are transforming the global manufacturing industry:
- Shifting Spending Behaviour:
B2B sellers as well as buyers have had to change their expenditures and budgets on account of the Covid pandemic crisis. In April 2020, a survey found that most B2B businesses reduced their budget by 4% to 25%.
This was the result of uncertainty regarding lockdowns and Covid-regulations. However, not all B2B businesses were forced to decrease their budgets. Some companies were able to increase their spending by up to 25%, especially businesses dealing in pharmaceuticals and medical devices/instruments.
The reduction of budget has made B2B companies more risk averse. Companies in the B2B sector need to reduce costs – this leads to less spending by B2B buyers. As a result of this, B2B sellers need to reduce production costs and increase efficiency to compete in the market and offer their products and services at a reasonable price. Anything that decreases the spending costs and risks of buyers will help companies generate sales and increase their revenues.
The pandemic forced companies to adapt to digitalisation as countries went into lockdown. This is shown by the fact that in April 2020, 69% of B2B events had one or more virtual offerings, whereas in June of the same year, this figure grew to 81%. Many business leaders deemed digital channels more important than face-to-face interactions and companies were forced to digitalise. To achieve digitalisation, companies had to adapt new strategies to function. These include, working from home, hosting video conferences, hosting online events and webinars, as well as making online sales via video chat and E-Commerce.
In a survey by McKinsey in 2020, 66% of sales leaders in the B2B sector believe digital channels are more important than traditional sales channels while only 34% stated that they see traditional channels to be more important.
B2B businesses might have to re-adjust their strategies again once the pandemic is over. However, the use of digital sales techniques and the rapid digitalisation of B2B businesses may continue beyond 2021.
Moving more parts of the business online and simplifying digital buying processes can help greatly with generating more sales.
- User Experience:
Good marketing and a good website are not the only things companies need to drive sales: It has become important to create an efficient user experience for customers. Thus, it is important to consider the user interface and customer service processes.
Factors that create a positive customer experience in B2B industries include:
Products and services that can fulfil specific requirements of buyers must be easily identifiable by them.
- Selection process
B2B buyers spent more time comparing different suppliers of products before they make a purchase than the typical B2C buyer. The reason for this is usually that in the B2B markets, purchases are larger and therefore more expensive and often critical to the companies success.
B2B buyers have the option to choose from many different suppliers. Some buyers might chase the cheapest option but may be dissatisfied with the reliability and service. B2B buyers on the other hand award more importance to the quality of products as well as the customer service, a simple buying process and a long-term partnership with a supplier.
Selling companies should provide digital tools to increase customer service, such as practical websites that offer transparent quotation and a simple checkout process.
Many B2B buyers still find it useful to speak to people in person or on the phone prior to making a purchase. This makes them feel more secure about the purchase and increases trust in the selling company. Therefore, options for personal contact should be given to buyers during or before the checkout process.
The most important need of businesses in the B2B sector is a return of investment. They usually buy products that they need to run their business operations. B2B sellers need to offer buyers products and services that will benefit them in term of sales and growing their business.
In many cases, required products are very specific. To ensure the usefulness of B2B products, there is a trend towards Co-Development of products between the seller and the buyer. If B2B sellers can offer buyers specific products that are custom designed for them, it gives them a competitive advantage and an opportunity to form a long-term partnership with the buyer. This is especially important in B2B business as companies are relying more on return business than typical B2C businesses.
Thus, partnerships between the B2B business and buyers should be formed to co-develop products and help the buyer maintain their purchases and use them to grow their business as well.
- Dealing with unexpected events:
Like in all B2B business, there are times when the relationship with your customer does not go smoothly. This could be caused by delays or product breakdowns. Thus, it is important for B2B companies to be there for the customer when they require assistance.
To nurse long-term relationships with buyers, it is very important B2B businesses to offer customised customer service and customer relationship management.
- Customised customer service:
As many products in the B2B sector are highly specific, suppliers often need to offer technical assistance for buyers. This includes maintenance, fixing technical issues and preventing issues and damages.
Suppliers need to invest in communication tools to keep their clients updated, such as messages or email notifications. Integrating their software systems is another way of making buying and maintenance processes more efficient for both sides.
Many B2B businesses provide remote diagnostic tools that can predict serious operational breakdowns. Offering outstanding customer service is a great competitive advantage and will make it unnecessary from buyers to change their supplier.
- User Portals and Knowledge Bases:
These days not every process requires the help of an employee and many B2B buyers like to find relevant information themselves. B2B sellers can provide the following tools to assist customers and provide them with information:
- FAQ (Frequently asked Questions)
- Online Community
- Ticketing Service
- Getting Started Guide
- How to Videos
- User Manuals
- Help Documentation
- Search Function
Many customers prefer to resolve simple service issues on their own. Suppliers can assist customers with this by providing them with relevant information through the tools mentioned above. It is important that content is being optimised for SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) to help users navigate and find the right information easily. Provide media channels with relevant information.
B2B businesses have been slower compared to most B2C businesses when it comes to the implementation of analytics. However, about 50% of B2B businesses measure success using analytics.
Many B2B businesses struggle to create a cohesive customer experience. Analytics are a simple way to fix this. Analytics allow businesses to learn more about their buyers. They can show for example at which stage they close the website, which pages they viewed and what they are interested in. This allows businesses to refine marketing efforts, improve decision making, improve customer service as well as the efficiency of the sales process.
- Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality
Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality are new technologies that have emerged predominantly in the B2C business. They can be used to create virtual experiences for customers. This is a growing field in B2B business as well – B2B businesses can use this technology to conduct site tours, digital marketing presentations, test products or simulate complex structures and see them in 3D before creating physical prototypes.
These technologies can be used in a wide range of different industries, for example in construction, architecture, design, manufacturing etc.
Like most businesses, B2B businesses had to adjust their budgets because of the pandemic. Most industry sectors have seen a reduction in revenue, with few exceptions like the pharmaceutical and medical industries.
This has pushed B2B companies to make their business operations and processes more efficient to save costs and stay competitive.
Communication with the buyer has always been important in B2B business and has been taken more to the digital landscape over the last years. Digitalisation is an ongoing process and more businesses in the B2B business world recognise it as absolutely necessary to digitalise their business.
While digitalising their communications with buyers, businesses need to navigate between not losing touch with their customers and keeping the benefits of traditional methods and utilising new possibilities presented by digital technologies and the integration of systems.
As more digital technologies are emerging, more and more events are being held online and companies are using new technologies to get in touch with potential buyers and marketplaces. As a result of this, buyers are now expecting B2B companies to offer digital solutions and assist them digitally. To stay competitive, business need to keep up with these expectations.