Digital commerce is contributing to the success B2B companies are having with revised sales models forged during the pandemic, McKinsey & Co. finds in a new survey.

More than 90% of business-to-business company executives say their new sales models arising out of the COVID-19 pandemic are more effective than their pre-pandemic sales models, thanks in part to a bigger role for digital commerce.

The more sales channels a B2B company offered to enable purchases, the more likely the company was to have gained market share during the pandemic.

That finding comes from management consulting firm McKinsey & Co’s December 2021 global B2B Pulse survey of nearly 3,400 decision makers in 12 countries, including the United States. The survey found 92% of B2B executives believed their sales models were as or more effective than their pre-pandemic models at reaching and serving customers. In fact, 33% of respondents said their new models were much more effective, and 37% said they were somewhat more effective.

“As more companies enable face-to-face, remote, and ecommerce interactions, satisfaction with the sales model has grown exponentially,” McKinsey’s recently released survey report says.

While growing before the pandemic hit in early 2020, digital commerce’s contribution in interacting with suppliers’ sales representatives has only increased since then. In a similar survey back in August of 2020, only 22% of respondents said they used digital self-serve models—company websites, ecommerce, chatbots, Internet searches, mobile apps and related technologies—for identifying and researching new suppliers, according to McKinsey. An identical percentage said they used digital self-serve for considering and evaluating new suppliers. Six months later, however, digital’s share had risen to about a third in both categories. For ordering and reordering, digital’s share was somewhat higher and has held steady; as of December 2021 it was 35% and 36%, respectively.

Meanwhile, about a third of B2B decision makers used remote human interactions—phone calls, video conference calls, and email—to communicate with their suppliers’ reps as of late 2021, down from well over 40% in August 2020. A similar percentage used traditional interactions, defined by McKinsey as in-person meetings, direct mail, and fax. “[Approximately] two-thirds of buyers in 2021 opted for remote human interactions or digital self-service,” the report says.


The survey also found that the more sales channels a B2B company offered to enable purchases, the more likely the company was to have gained market share during the pandemic. Only 46% of firms using just one channel said they had gained one percentage point or more of share in the past 12 months versus their peers, compared with 72% for firms offering seven channels. And digital channels are the ones customers are asking for.

“Many of the channels customers are clamoring for have digital roots, with video, chat, and ecommerce all seeing much greater customer adoption,” the report says. “For example, mobile apps first appeared on the list of most-used channels in 2019.”

Another notable finding is that B2B decision makers are increasingly comfortable making large purchases through digital self-service and remote human interactions. Just over a year ago, in February 2021, only 20% of nearly 3,500 respondents to a McKinsey survey said they would buy a product or service valued at $500,000 to more than $10 million through end-to-end digital self-serve or remote human interactions. By December that percentage had risen to 27%.

“Comfort with spending big over digital channels is particularly robust in China and the United States, where close to eight in ten buyers say they’re willing to spend at least $50,000 through digital channels,” the report says. “And roughly 20% of customers in China, India, and the United States are open to spending $1 million or more on fully online or remote transactions.”


Reflecting the growing role of digital commerce, some 62% of respondents reported a positive net change in the number of full-time-equivalent staff members on their digital-only sales teams in the past 12 months, and 60% said their hybrid sales teams had grown. In contrast, only 27% of respondents said their inside sales teams had a net positive change in the past year, and just 11% expanded their field sales groups.

In addition to the U.S., China, and India, the survey garnered responses from B2B executives in Brazil, Chile, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, South Korea, Spain, and the United Kingdom.

Jim Daly is a Mount Prospect, Illinois-based freelance journalist covering business and technology.

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