How do businesses keep selling successfully in 2021?

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Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, we have seen the acceleration of digital selling, in large part due to the inability for customers and salespeople to interact in person to transact goods and services.

Digital channels, ready or not, became the priority method of engagement for all aspects of B2B commerce, including browsing catalogs, configuring goods to spec, setting up contractual terms and agreements and more.

Research conducted by PROS last year showed that 37 percent of companies were primarily purchasing through digital channels – up 29 percent prior to COVID-19, and this number is expected to rise to 40 percent post-pandemic.

Eight in ten B2B decision makers believe omnichannel sales is as or more effective than traditional methods, according to McKinsey & Company’s 2021 B2B Pulse survey.

In 2021, as the buyer’s desire to move to omnichannel operations accelerates, it is critical therefore that B2B sellers are able to provide content and engagement in a form their customers require.

It is imperative that they continue to prioritise the digital vision and programmes started in 2020.  With the growth in touchpoints and channels, consistent configuration and personalisation are vital to support successful end to end B2B purchasing cycles especially for multi-variant products and services.

Consumer online retail, and especially the purchasing process, has really set the bar for “easy” and has been streamlined year on year, to the extent that you can make purchases at the click of a button, delivered straight to your door, exactly as specified. B2B selling is far more complex and varied than B2C and yet many businesses lack full strength omnichannel capabilities. Factors such as unique product variants, purchasing cards, invoice terms, customer specific offers and more are brought into play, and make the buying process more complicated and intricate. If B2B businesses are to find and retain customers, they need the ability to enable product configuration and purchasing terms which can be easily accessed in order to meet consumerised expectations.

Perhaps the most urgent problem for businesses having to sell across omnichannel digital platforms is how they can personalise at scale. Personalisation is the most fundamental aspect of a great customer experience and is the fuel that can build deeper relationships with buyers – if done correctly. People, processes and technology must work in harmony to deliver meaningful experiences at every touchpoint throughout the customer journey. ML and AI technology deliver vast data insights and require the right people and processes to digest the data to deliver actionable results. By serving up dynamic product and service offerings across preferred channels to customers, companies deepen engagement, build stronger relationships and achieve better ROI over time.

Equipped for success in 2021 and beyond

Even the boldest of predictions for the tech sector in 2019 would not have foreseen what lay ahead in 2020. It’s been a tumultuous 12 months plus for businesses who have had to scrap existing plans and pivot to meet their customer’s buying demands through digital channels to survive. The saving grace, if there is one, is that it forced many to accelerate their digital selling transformation projects and, in the process, improve their customer experience.

As industries look to recover in 2021, successful business blueprints and strategies for this year will feature a combination of automation and AI to help evolve the digital buying experience. With automation to simplify complex B2B buying purchases and AI to deliver personalisation at scale, businesses have the opportunity to successfully engage buyers, and generate customer loyalty by consistently delivering – particularly during volatile times.

Let’s not forget that business relationships are still relationships – they still contain a human touch in-person remote, in combination with phases of the transaction supported by digital self-serve. This balance that leads to meeting customer expectations how and when they demand is what will drive the best customer experience and ultimately continue to build brand loyalty over time.

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Will Lovatt

Will joined PROS in January 2019, leading the B2B EMEA sales business. Prior to PROS he led and grew sales organisations in supply chain, manufacturing, publishing, defence, and the public sector. His experience spans three decades, including working at IBM and Peoplesoft.

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