COVID-19: Key Drivers for B2B Online Commerce
Updated: Feb 21, 2022
The B2B business operations would look fundamentally different post pandemic depending on the strategies adopted by each business.
COVID-19 is an unprecedented event of this century. While the whole world is reeling under the effects of the pandemic, every business from small vendor to large multinationals have felt the impact in various ways and degrees.
With physical distancing and lockdowns as the primary methods adopted to combat COVID-19, almost all players of the supply chain ranging from manufacturers, distributors, suppliers, retailers have taken a hit. Economic impact of the pandemic is a widely discussed and debated topic from the onset of the pandemic among economists, analytics and global leaders. However, what is less discussed is how the B2B segment, an underdogs in digital adoption, will (could? Not sure) swiftly minimize the impact of the ever changing landscape.
Let’s talk facts first.
It’s a well known fact that the online B2C Commerce has been steadily growing. With the COVID-19 crisis, B2C commerce has gained more traction with consumers, thus creating opportunities for significant online business growth.
According to the “COVID-19 Impact on Global E-Commerce & Online Payments – 2020” report by ResearchandMarkets.com, many consumers have embraced the digital shopping for the first time during the outbreak, resulting in a double-digit increase in the growth rate of online shoppers. Considering many businesses have already invested in digital channels as part of their business strategies prior to the pandemic, such a trend is not surprising in the B2C segment.
But, is there a similar momentum in the B2B space?
To begin with, B2B and B2C e-commerce offers significantly different business propositions. B2B demands a more complex set of capabilities such as product configurators, custom catalog and price, request for quotation, procurement approval flow, offline payment settlements and reconciliation etc. Unlike B2C, B2B buying experience and business processes differs from industry to industry with little to no uniformity.
COVID-19 has raised the imminent need for B2B organizations to invest in digital channels. In a recent survey by McKinsey, B2B business leaders rates digital channels twice as important today, as compared to just 3 months back, prior to the pandemic. This change in outlook implies a shift in strategy that is required for B2B commerce transformation. As a result, there is steady increase in digital spending by B2B businesses and this trend will continue even after the pandemic.
Clearly, companies that invested in digital transformation prior to the crisis have an upper hand to tide through the pandemic in contrast to those who did not have a B2B digital strategy..
Another recent study by Frost & Sullivan has predicted that the global B2B online commerce sales will surpass the B2C online commerce sales in 2020. However, with more and more businesses rapidly adopting digital channels, this growth will hasten further.
Can COVID-19 turn into an advantage ?
As previously mentioned, B2B online commerce is much more complex and requires a fresh look at the strategies with a systematic approach to turn the covid crisis into their advantage.
#1: Begin your journey with conscious intent:
“Intent is the motivation to act. Intent is the result of decision. Conscious Intent, is the inner force that bridges between choice and action, guiding towards what you have decided to do.”
B2B businesses need to understand that there is no short-term panacea to bringing business online. Digital adoption is a foundation for long term business success and requires a conscious intent towards,
Understand your customer segments and their constantly changing expectations
Analysis of your market segments and competitive intelligence
Assessment of your current state of sales, marketing, technology, user experience and internal organization alignment
With these specifics B2B businesses are well equipped to chart out a clear online business strategy and a roadmap with directive milestones.
#2: Inform your transformation with continuous insight:
“A sound strategy is the one that constantly evolves to secure a competitive position in the market. Continuous Insight is all about using data to increase understanding of the current situation for the purpose of benefiting the business.”
Once you have a good understanding of your customers, markets and current state assessment gained through conscious intent, businesses need to leverage continuous actionable insights derived through various sources such as internal business stakeholders, external audiences and subject matter experts to define key components of your digital aspirations such as,
The right customer experience for your B2B segment including features and functionalities that are more relevant to your customers.
The right technology platforms enabling your current needs and that can scale as your business grows.
A well structured execution methodology empowering you to remain agile and make appropriate changes.
These are predominant paradigms to consider to ensure your B2B digital commerce experience is optimized and empowers your B2B customers.
#3: Utilize the power of technology to creatively innovate:
“With conscious intent and continuous insights, businesses can generate fresh perspectives and Creatively Innovate to inspire your teams and delight your customers.”
Your path to digital strategy does not end when you attain a future state solution, today’s digital economy requires continually evaluating market trends and adapt solutions to keep up with customer expectations. For all businesses, the most important step is to identify the sweet spot where the impact of innovation can be felt most significantly within a reasonable timeframe in conjunction with the desired customer experience. With innovative solutions, businesses can
Generate new revenue streams and attain new levels of profitability
Delight customers with personalised experiences
Attain operational efficiency through streamlined processes and modern technology systems
The need for businesses is to establish a channel to aggregate continuous feedback from all stakeholders, review, prioritize and address the feedback to yield results.
For those who thought they could wait on their eCommerce plans, the COVID-19 pandemic has clearly indicated that waiting is a thing of past, particularly given that digital sales are the only viable option at this juncture. COVID-19 is surely going to create a new business norm irrespective of industry and domain. In the case of B2B companies, the momentum that eCommerce is accelerating at as a result of the pandemic could potentially become a permanent fixture post-crisis as well.