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    March 23, 2021
    9 minute read

    5 Digital Commerce B2B Trends to Watch in 2021

    by: Justin King

    As we reflected on 2020, we realized the year challenged, accelerated, and defied a lot of expectations we had for business-to-business or B2B trends.

    Now, your buyers are likely more sensitive to issues of ease, speed, and safety. They need to be able to quickly research and purchase from you — whether it’s from their makeshift home office, their iPad while their son uses the computer for a Zoom class, or their phone while they wait curbside for grocery pickup. 

    Some big box retailers have thrived, while many B2B and business-to-consumer (B2C) businesses struggle to map their strategy to the new reality, according to Digital Commerce 360.

    With an uncertain economy and a global health crisis, businesses need to focus strategically to remain viable and competitive. This will be a critical year for many B2B businesses.

    To help you meet these challenges and opportunities, here are five digital commerce B2B trends we expect to see in 2021. 


    Trend 1: A Digital-First Go-To Market Strategy

    “Every B2B business is on the path to becoming a digital business. New forms of digital customer engagement ... are transforming B2B businesses, forcing them to fundamentally rethink how to meet customers where they buy and what the role of sales is when they get there.” — Forrester

    The Wall Street Journal reports that business travel has slowed or stopped for many companies, and the departure from traditional sales strategies will continue to speed up. Your sales team and customers aren’t going back to their pre-COVID work life. In fact, an expected one in four Americans will be working remotely in 2021, according to CNBC.

    As a result, your sales teams will continue to rely on phone and online sales channels. Your digital channels will continue to become the first and most frequent touchpoints for your sales business. By necessity, go-to-market strategies will become digital-first, moving away from traditional sales models to customer-centric digital experiences.

    Action Items

    How does your sales organization and go-to-market strategy need to change to meet this new reality? What systems, assets, and digital experiences do you need to arm your sales team to succeed? How can you make your digital platforms stronger tools for capturing sales?

    Trend 2: Expanding Self-Service Expectations

    “In 2021 and beyond, B2B self-service will become much more mainstream as organizations are forced to make the leap to digital selling to survive the impact of COVID-19.” — Digital360

    Your customers are well-versed in self-service in their home life. The Amazon experience easy researching, comparing, purchasing, and returning or reordering is the new expectation for both B2C and B2B.

    Offering in-depth product information, serving educational information, and providing quick access to online chat and customer service, allows your customers to complete their job tasks more easily and quickly. 

    Forrester research shows that two-thirds of customers want companies to value their time by providing them with easy, convenient self-service. Companies should empower customers with all of the knowledge they need for a successful self-service experience.

    For B2B self-service, this means asking yourself whether your customers can:

    • Easily navigate, search, browse, and compare products;
    • Get quick help via chatbots, online chat, or responsive customer service;
    • See real-time availability, accurate pricing, and promotions;
    • Easily create an order or purchase order;
    • Select their order payment, shipping, and fulfillment options; and
    • Manage their account, add users, pay invoices, track orders, set up returns.

    Action Items

    Identify and rank your top distributors online capabilities. What distributors provide the best discovery experiences for products? How do they get their product information? Can you collaborate with your distributors on product information?

    Trend 3: Touchless Training and Support 

    “We’re seeing  [AR and VR assistive tools] for repairs, depot repairs, for site surveys, for application support.” — Michael Blumberg

    For complex, highly technical B2B businesses, technicians and expert sales teams have historically provided critical education and information to customers. As travel is grounded, B2B businesses are rapidly evolving how they offer touchless support to customers and prospects.

    For some businesses, this will include developing training and servicing tools like video tutorials, podcasts, and virtual walkthroughs. For highly complex products, assistive technologies including augmented reality and virtual reality let technicians troubleshoot for your customers, according to Hitachi Solutions.

    This new approach allows manufacturers and distributors to provide highly individualized, high-tech support. Your customers are able to use AR- and VR-enabled devices while a technician from your company walks them through issues and how to resolve them.

    Action Items

    What tools and technologies can you use to offer quality, uninterrupted training and servicing? How can you leverage these to make programmatic, scalable solutions for educating and training customers?

    Trend 4: Contactless Order Fulfillment

    “Buy online and pickup at curb (BOPAC) is something consumers have fully embraced and will expect in the future. The service provides a higher level of convenience to the customer, the transaction can remain contactless; adding a level of safety many customers will expect and require.” — RetailDive 

    In 2020, new safety standards and regional requirements sped up the adoption of contactless order fulfillment. Customers quickly sought out businesses that offered curbside pickup and signature-less order delivery.

    These expectations are following in B2B, and businesses that embrace it will continue to capture market share and customer loyalty.  Watsco Inc. has had great success adopting this method, according to Digital Commerce 360

    Action Items

    In order to provide low-contact or contactless order fulfillment, where can you differentiate your business from local and national competitors?

    How can you provide buy online, pickup in store (BOPIS), buy online, pickup at branch (BOPAB), and buy online, pickup at curb (BOPAC) order pickup? Where can you provide no-contact, last-mile delivery?

    Trend 5: Refocused B2B Marketing

    "Effective spending in marketing and sales, however, means not pulling out the old playbook, but rethinking how to better use tools and capabilities to connect with customers." — McKinsey

    As B2B sales organizations align on a digital-first approach, marketing organizations will start focusing their strategies to support customer experience and online revenue. With economic uncertainties, marketing spends will need to be focused, strategic, and revenue-focused.  

    With digital platforms as the first points of contact for customers and prospects, tools like search engine optimization, content marketing, video, and social media, will become critical for building, nurturing and retaining your customer base.

    Personalized, timely, and customer-focused outreach through email, SMS, and social messaging can break through the noise. Analytics will become critical to help marketers effectively assess, iterate, and optimize their marketing programs.

    Action Items

    Where are your marketing activities directly supporting your digital business? Do you have tools and resources in place to economically launch, analyze, and scale a digital-first marketing program? 

    Adopting These Ecommerce B2B Trends

    2021 will be a challenging year, with local and national COVID-19 mandates, economic uncertainties, and a highly competitive digital landscape. How will your business differentiate itself? 

    Start with an understanding of your customers:

    • How can you enable self-service and buying?
    • How can you address their safety concerns?
    • How can you provide virtual education and training?
    • How can you market to them where they are and with the information they need?

    Watch the on-demand webinar, “Why Product Content Should Be a Top Investment for Manufacturers and Distributors,” to learn more about how your product content acts as the backbone of your digital channel.

    WATCH NOW

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