To survive the impact of COVID-19, B2B organizations must make a successful leap to self-service ecommerce that wins over customers as loyal online buyers, John Bruno of PROS writes.

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John Bruno

We all know the agony of searching for something online that you just can’t find. The frustration of navigating a poorly-designed website, no one to call for customer support, finally finding that product only to realize it’s sold out—the whole experience is utterly frustrating.

B2B salespeople in the future will need to take a deeper look at their customer relationships as self-service becomes the norm.

Consumers have always wanted more control over the sales process, and in the B2B world, it’s no different. With the pandemic disrupting the way we work and conduct business, B2B buyers have come to crave the “Amazon-like” experience they’ve become accustomed to in their personal lives. In 2021 and beyond, self-service will become much more mainstream as organizations are forced to make the leap to digital selling to survive the impact of COVID-19.

How COVID Exposed the Survivalists vs. Opportunists Headed into 2021

COVID-19 forced a “work from home” shift seemingly overnight, canceling all in-person customer meetings, trade shows and shutting down storefronts. While some organizations have been able to adopt an agile and nimble mindset to ride the waves, 2021 will mark a clear “sink or swim” moment for many. The companies that can embrace digital transformation will grow rapidly, while the laggards will find it increasingly difficult to keep up with the competition.

The B2B experience gets optimized when organizations are able to decrease the amount of time between a buyer’s intent and actions. By making information around product details and purchasing methods clear right on their ecommerce platform, sellers will be able to provide a seamless shopping experience that mimics the ease of use many buyers now demand in their B2C lives. While customers will ultimately be happier as self-service takes off in 2021, this means that B2B organizations will need to find new ways to stay relevant to customers as the selling process becomes digitized.

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Customer Lifetime Value: Sellers’ New Top Incentive

To start, B2B sellers need to reimagine the way they think about making a sale and what the true end goal should be. Instead of focusing on the sales transaction and persuading customers to buy products, customer lifetime value and long-term loyalty will become the top priority—meaning B2B salespeople in the future will need to take a deeper look at their customer relationships as self-service becomes the norm.

In the coming year, we’ll begin to see a mindset shift from, “How many sales was I able to make today?” to “How many of my customers or accounts have I helped onboard onto the digital self-serving experience?” One way that B2B salespeople can provide value is by taking on a more consultative role. Once the transaction is over, find ways to connect and engage with the customer on tips, best practices and use case scenarios for the product purchased when the time is right.

Identifying the Right Signals for Reaching out to Buyers

In the past, customers used to rely on catalogs or shopping in-store to make a purchase, making all interactions with salespeople hyperpersonal. In today’s B2B and B2C worlds, as more organizations start to digitize their ways of selling, it increasingly becomes up to the customer to decide when to make a sales interaction human. The problem is that from a customer perspective, it can feel intrusive if a salesperson reaches out before the customer is ready.

To avoid getting cut out of the sales process, B2B sellers need to find the right balance between giving customers what they want, when and how they want it. Signals that a customer may be open to a touchpoint include: going to an ecommerce website, utilizing certain keywords, spending a certain amount of time on a particular product page, or abandoning a shopping cart.

The road to 2021 is likely to be every bit as challenging and surprising as it was for 2020. The future of commerce lies in delivering a best-of-breed customer experience, and the role of the B2B salesperson will inevitably need to adapt and evolve alongside the new digital selling landscape. By reimagining the sales process and their role in it, sellers will be able to emerge as even more valuable consultants in the new B2B selling self-service era.

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John Bruno is vice president of commerce strategy, PROS, a provider of online pricing and selling technology and services. 

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