Among other changes, the COVID-19 pandemic spurred the marketing and business industries to adapt quickly to an online-only working environment. This transition is something that B2B marketing has been hesitant to do for years, even though B2C marketing had largely already taken the leap. However, many of the changes to the industry brought on by the pandemic have proven successful, and so even as day-to-day private life may be returning back to the “normal” we saw in the days before COVID-19, it’s highly unlikely that the virtual evolution of the B2B marketing field, and business in general, will see a similar reversion.
What B2B Marketing has learned during COVID-19
The world has been slowly integrating the use of technology in many sectors of life over the past few years. Unsurprisingly, B2C marketing has taken advantage of this fact, transitioning the majority of its marketing materials online in order to target a population increasingly preferential to virtual business. As to be expected, this technological update has been met with great success. However, we never saw a similar shift in B2B marketing until the dramatic transition brought on by the demands of the pandemic.
This hesitancy to go virtual has largely been due to the assumption among B2B marketers that e-commerce is only feasible for small-ticket items, many of which you’d see in B2C online selling. However, as we’ve begun to see in the post- COVID-19 landscape, 70% of B2B decision-makers are willing to buy products worth up to $50,000 in a fully self-serve and remote setting, with 27% being willing to pay up to $500,000 (Mckinsey). The evidence here suggests that the once-dominant notion (that fully virtual buying and selling should be reserved for the B2C realm) may be unnecessarily limiting.
In fact, since the transition to virtual business, we’ve seen that the possibility for highly effective virtual B2B marketing may be a lot more promising than we once thought. Not only is virtual marketing the most efficient and cost-effective, but it’s also shown promising results in its recent debut in B2B marketing. On the seller’s side, 96% of sales teams have shifted to online remote selling since the start of the pandemic, 65% of which report it to be equally or even more effective than previous methods (McKinsey). B2B buyers also agree that remote selling is as effective as in-person interaction, with three-quarters of them reporting to actually prefer digital self-service and remote engagement over in-person communication.
Overall, around 43% of all B2B revenue today comes from e-commerce and remote communication, both of which cut down on travel costs and expand products’ reach of engagement. Unsurprisingly, 79% of the companies who were prompted to transition their marketing and sales teams fully online during the pandemic say that they plan to continue this trend for twelve or more months after it (McKinsey).
Why Virtual Business is Likely to Stay
Many of the changes we’ve had to make due to the pandemic will not outlive it, but this isn’t going to be the case for all of themー especially not for those that we’ve found work better than our previous practices.
In business in general, the virtualization of our work has proven efficient and effective. As discussed earlier, the implementation of virtual work has already shown success in B2B marketing, but there are plenty of other shifts in general work habits and practices that will also ensure that B2B marketing, and business more broadly, will continue its virtual trend even after the pandemic stops necessitating it.
For one thing, the transition to remote work has already displayed a number of benefits. On the finance side, studies have shown that switching to remote work could save companies up to $11,000 a year per employee (Forbes). Hearteningly, this transition wouldn’t likely come at the expense of efficiency; another study found that 94% of employers believe that productivity was not impeded by the switch (CNN).
Employees have also shown a preference for remote work that makes it unlikely that they’ll want to revert to in-person work once things go back to normal. A poll found that two-thirds of remote workers said that they’d like to stay remote even after the pandemic (Forbes), citing increased time for family, the lack of commute, and the comfort of being at home as prime reasons for keeping the new practices around. In addition, the flexibility of location that remote work allows employees has highlighted yet another unexpected benefit of virtual business that will presumably keep it relevant post-pandemic.
New data surrounding the efficiency of virtual interviewing and conferencing also provides promising evidence of its likely longevity. A study of hiring recruiters found that 74% said that video (as opposed to in-person) interviewing is more efficient for their work. Additionally, companies who held virtual conferences reported that they were significantly cheaper to organize than in-person ones, an efficiency that parallels the doubtless saving of travel expenses by those who attended the conferences.
Lastly, the recent increase of decision-making power among millennials in the workforce will likely influence the continued support of virtual business in the coming years; millennials are the most tech-savvy generation in business today, and seeing that they now hold 73% of the decision-making power in the professional world, their preference for virtual work will likely be a powerful driving force behind why virtual business will see continued support in the post-pandemic landscape.
What this Means for the Future
People rarely change old habits unless they’re forced to, and the pandemic certainly pushed the business world to change like it never had before. The switch to virtual work brought about new practices that will likely outlive COVID-19 because they’ve proven to be more efficient and effective than previous ways of doing things. Even as we start reverting back to the daily routines we held before the pandemic, these new practices will remain, precisely because of their recently proven success.
In the world of B2B marketing, this means that those who don’t adapt, or who try to revert to majority in-person business post-pandemic, will likely struggle to remain relevant. In a market fresh off an almost two year online-only stretch, decision-makers are going to be choosing those companies that function in the ways we’ve now found to be more successful and efficientー and that’s going to be, in many ways, through virtual business practices.