In this unusual pandemic-stricken year, B2B sellers need to think beyond traditional marketing techniques, Michael Mathias of Whereoware writes. He offers several tips on how to approach the 2020 holiday shopping season.

The global COVID-19 crisis has led to dramatic economic shifts and an upheaval of the retail landscape. Now, more than ever, it is important to evolve with changing behaviors and purchasing power to earn customer loyalty.

It is unclear how long the pandemic and its residual effects will last and continue to impact retail. Typically, holiday sales for B2B vendors would increase during the summer, as retailers purchase inventory to stock their stores for the busy consumer holiday shopping season. Postponed and canceled markets, store closures, and curbed spending call for a pivot in B2B (and B2C) holiday marketing strategies.

Under normal circumstances, B2B companies should consider proven holiday strategies—driving showroom sales, starting holiday promotional emails in October and in earnest throughout November, sharing merchandising ideas to support their retailers, and using order history data to target previous customers to restock their shelves with similar items to what they have purchased in the past. However, in these times of rapid change, uncertainty is the only thing you can certainly expect.

Vendors can no longer operate on autopilot and expect to cruise from summer to the holidays on a predictable cadence of holiday promotions. For many vendors, a light holiday sales season can be disastrous to their annual bottom line. It is time to start thinking creatively about your holiday marketing strategy and prepare for changing tides.

Don’t assume: Dive into your data

For many industries, online engagement remains high, as stay-at-home orders continue. To make sure you hit the right notes for your holiday marketing strategy, it is important to monitor your sales data and website analytics to determine what is resonating with your customers. Look at annual trends, but pay very close attention to changing trends since March (when COVID-19 stay-at-home orders gained traction).

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Michael Mathias, CEO, Whereoware

Review recent campaign performance to see what themes you could tailor and reuse for the holidays. Look at how product category sales have changed and create promotions around your most popular categories. For example, home and office products are gaining in popularity, with people stuck at home and home office use surging.

Website metrics, including traffic to specific pages, most searched keywords, abandoned carts, and orders, can all inform you on the types of products your audience is seeking, and can determine what holiday themes and merchandising to promote site-wide.
Next, review the most popular channels driving traffic and conversions to determine where to promote your sales. This deep dive will help you focus your efforts where your audience is engaged, reducing wasted marketing spend.

Take your showroom online

A large portion of holiday buying happens during summer markets, so these events getting pushed later into the fall or canceled completely provides a grim outlook for many vendors.

To mitigate this loss, bring the showroom online for a virtual “market.” Your virtual showroom can enhance and simplify shoppers’ experience, like offering pre-orders with special markdowns, reducing freight charges and order minimums, and extending earlier availability dates. Loop your sales team in, so they can personally invite retailers to the virtual showroom, curate collections for buyers over the phone, offer merchandising tips, and follow up on search or cart abandonment.

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The work you put in up-front to create a virtual showroom experience has benefits all-year-round. By enhancing product photography and videography, updating your product catalogs, and beefing up product details, you are investing in the digital shopping experience B2B buyers now expect. Your new assets will empower your self-service-driven buyers to purchase independently, as well as empower your sales reps with better assets and behavioral data for superior virtual sales meetings.

Don’t forget about your most loyal buyers! Boost your loyalty program with double points/incentives for virtual showroom online orders to show your support, while driving online traffic and sales.

Creative and contextual promotions

When developing your promotional strategy, think through the context of trends and themes before jumping on the bandwagon.
For example, you may see an uptick in purchases of lightweight items (as retailers try to reduce shipping charges) or inexpensive gifts (as retailers target consumers looking for small gifts to surprise friends and family they cannot see in person).

Last year’s gift-giving guides and curated collections will need to reflect the “new normal.” The travel industry has taken a huge hit, for example, so focus on “home for the holidays” products and experiences rather than “over the river and through the wood.” With big celebrations likely placed on hold, holiday athleisure or tacky sweaters may sell in larger quantities than party dresses.

A few promotions ideas to support the new normal:
• Buy now, pay and ship later
• Dating promos and shipping/freight discounts
• Easy-to-ship items
• Overstock after-season sale
• Home and self-care

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Many retailers are also shifting their priorities to non-seasonal items that can be sold year-round, since holiday performance is hard to predict this year. For this reason, we recommend offering incentives, like extra loyalty points, or a more flexible shipping schedule and return policy to provide some peace of mind for retailers making buying decisions.

Try to help your retailer audience whenever possible to strengthen this relationship for a post-crisis-era. Offering merchandising recommendations that align with social distancing requirements is one way you can make things a little easier on stressed retailers, or by sending digital assets like high-quality product imagery to help them sell your products online.

Get self involved

Every B2B buyer is a consumer once his or her devices are closed for the day. For a starting point on how to stand out, just look to yourself—what grabs your attention?

Pay attention to the emails you read or the web banners you click, and compare their approach to the masses of media you ignore. Whether its theme, copy, design, interactivity, or a dozen other tactics that grab attention, by taking a step back to notice, you can apply the best of what you are experiencing to your holiday promotional plan.
We are all in this crazy COVID environment together. What works for you, will work for someone else, too.

The best marketing is customer-focused

The remainder of this year is still up in the air for many people—buyers and their customers are being cautious and watchful to see how their lives, loved ones, and wallets are impacted, and no one is certain of what life after COVID-19 will look like. At the same time, people are eager to make the best of their circumstances, and for some, this may mean reallocating travel budget to holiday gifting, or updating their home office to improve their work-from-home lifestyle.

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The big takeaway here is to know your audience, how their lives have changed, and how their use of your products changes to fit this new lifestyle. Tailor your holiday promotional plan, copy, and imagery to their new normal and offer your retailers as much flexibility as you can to come out stronger in the end.

Michael Mathias is CEO of digital agency Whereoware. Follow him on LinkedIn. 

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