Accelerating Digitalization in B2B: Brian Walker’s “Coronavirus: The Implications for B2B Commerce” [Bloomreach]

by: Nichole Gunn April 2, 2020

While we're all having to make snap decisions to adapt to the short-term impact of coronavirus on B2B commerce, it’s important not to lose sight of your long-term goals. This won’t last forever, and it’s up to us to use the current disruption as an opportunity for growth.

Today we’ll be sharing excerpts from “Coronavirus: The Implications for B2B Commerce,” published in Bloomreach. In this article, CSO Brian Walker explores the short-term impact of coronavirus on B2B commerce, as well as the long-term implications. As we look at this article today, make sure to pay attention to the trends and to ask yourself: How can I use this as an opportunity to start building the infrastructure that will set me up for long-term success?

Short-Term Strategies for B2B Commerce: Open Communication with Your Customers

Right now, your customers are counting on you for stability. Early in the article, Brian Walker outlines several things manufacturers and distributors need to focus on in the short-term to manage expectations and maintain the trust of their customers. These include:

  • Ensuring product information is “relevant, fact-based, and accurate.”
  • Clearly marking or communicating out of stock products.
  • Using fair market pricing and communicating accurate delivery dates.
  • Reassuring customers on “how products will be delivered or fulfilled.”
  • Finding ways to make a positive impact in their community.

In the short-term, make communicating any changes to your B2B partners your number one priority. Doing so will help both sides adjust to the impact of coronavirus on their B2B partnership. 

The Long-Term Impact of Coronavirus on B2B Commerce

Later in the article, Brian Walker begins exploring the longer-term impact of coronavirus on B2B commerce. These include the importance of:

  • Adapting to a rapid rise in B2B eCommerce;
  • Understanding the new buyer’s journey and replacing F2F (face to face) sales interactions; and
  • Finding new ways to keep customers engaged.

A Rapid Rise in B2B eCommerce

You’ll notice that almost all of these changes center on digital transformation. Although digital transformation isn’t a new trend, B2B eCommerce and digital customer engagement just became extremely important. With forced cancellations of sales events and social distancing practices affecting both manufacturers and distributors, B2B companies have no choice but to take their business online. To quote Brian Walker:

 “…even for highly specialized B2B manufacturers and distributors, online channels and eCommerce is going to play a critical role in the next phase of growth. That was true even before Covid-19 began to have an impact, but it is certainly more true now.”

Coronavirus has rapidly accelerated the timeframe in which manufacturers and distributors must adapt.

Depending on where you are in your transition to B2B eCommerce, this isn’t something you can do overnight. But you can start by creating digital channels to engage and communicate with your customers and to educate them about your products and promotions. Or, if you already have a B2B eCommerce platform, you can begin integrating your loyalty program with your online platform for a more rewarding customer experience.

Understanding the New Buyer’s Journey and Replacing F2F

Another major impact of coronavirus on B2B sales is that F2F sales meetings are no longer possible. However, this coincides with a customer experience trend that analysts like Jay McBain have been pointing to for some time: Today’s customers don’t want to interact with your sales team – until they’re ready.

Brain Walker explains this dynamic:

  “While salespeople will still have a role to play in B2B – reaching customers, being top-of mind, and capturing demand as it happens will require B2B’s to execute with excellence in their eCommerce channels and digital marketing efforts… If your business is without effective digital commerce channels – and a way to reach those customers and digitally engage them – you have a big problem.”

In short, customers want omnichannel, connected experiences that make it easier to learn more about your brand without having to take a sales call. Now is the perfect time to begin creating those channels. Investing in an online incentive platform may feel counter-intuitive in a time of decreased global spending, but the positive impacts for your B2B commerce will continue well past the coronavirus epidemic. Not only do they increase sales and build customer loyalty, online incentive programs provide an opportunity for more personalized marketing.

Finding New Ways to Keep Customers Engaged

Finally, both now and in the long-term, it’s important to find new ways to keep customers engaged. Now is the time to invest in your customers and to begin collecting the data you need to personalize your sales and marketing, and stay on the cutting edge of emergent digital technology like AI, RPAs, and machine learning.

Although one impact of coronavirus on B2B commerce has been accelerated digital transformation, this trend has no signs of slowing down – even after we return to normal. Remember, it’s not just about adapting to the short-term, this is about setting you up for long-term success! To quote Brian Walker:

Finally, it is important to realize that there will be winners here too. There is a silver lining there for some to take advantage of – to span the gap and build long-term growth. Those who can adapt fast and leverage digital channels at the core of their business will win.”

Overcoming the Impact of Coronavirus on B2B Commerce

If the impact of coronavirus has taught us anything, it’s that relationships matter. Now is the time to invest in your employees, your partners, and your customers. None of us can do this by ourselves.

It often takes adversity to show us where our weakness lies. Now is the time to be honest with yourself. Acting now to leverage the power of digital channels and B2B eCommerce will not only soothe today’s woes, but solidify your business’ future. Need help getting started? Incentive Solutions is here for you with free consultations. Let’s move through this together.

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About Nichole Gunn

Nichole Gunn is the VP of Marketing at Incentive Solutions, an Atlanta-based incentive company that delivers advanced, agile B2B customer loyalty and channel sales incentives programs.