2021 B2B Marketing Insights and Trends

Founder of Orchid Agency
Mariya Finkelshteyn I
October 25, 2021

In the last 2 years, COVID restrictions and lack of in-person interaction made us all pivot to a virtual, digital-first world. While Digital-first has been the way of scaling revenues and customer loyalty for B2C startups, it is now requiring B2B startups to pivot as well, and they are still having a hard time!

In 2021 only 8% rated their digital-first sales and marketing efforts as excellent. There is quite a huge gap with the majority of the businesses here. 51% had a good rating while one-third rated their performance as adequate (33%). Grave improvements are still necessary.

Source: Virtual Selling Skills and Challenges

While the teams are performing ok, there is still a lot of room for improvement in the digital-first b2b sales and marketing models.

B2B Buyer’s Dilemma

The pandemic has forced B2B startups to take a step back and look at the weak spots of the whole business operation, even their relationships with their sellers and suppliers. According to a study on Virtual Selling Skills and Practices, the top most influential factors that affect buyer’s purchase decisions include: 

Source: Virtual Selling Skills and Challenges

While the issues listed have been present before, the shift to conducting buyer-seller communications almost exclusively online has intensified these concerns. The question here lies, are the sellers able to keep up with buyers’ demands in the virtual environment?

According to the buyers, there seems to be a huge gap in seller skills in addressing these buying factors. Only 3 out of 10 sellers are effective in addressing the top 4 factors that affect their buying decisions.

In the same study, B2B buyers assessed sellers’ skills at a 26% effectiveness rate in helping them discover their business needs. The same low-efficiency rate also goes for sellers’ ability to listen and understand buyer concerns. Sellers also fail to be efficient in making a case for buyers’ ROI (16%). This is an alarming buyer response in the effectiveness of sellers in addressing these factors.

In fact, these challenges are heightened by controllable factors that occur during virtual engagements: using poor or no visuals during online meetings, being non-responsive to buyers’ questions, and unpreparedness.

State of B2B Across Industries

In a McKinsey survey of B2B decision-makers in the United States, B2B supplier interactions have shifted to remote or digital self-service applications. Only 30% of B2B leads have in-person interactions with company suppliers. Even buyers seem to prefer this setup! Safety, ease of scheduling, and a faster buying experience are greatly beneficial for B2B buyers.

Overall, this new digital model has a 71-80% effectiveness rate for reaching and servicing customers as well as acquiring new customers across industries.

Consumer and retail, both SMBs and large scale businesses have the most success at 71-90% effectiveness rate for customer management and generation.

Unsurprisingly, businesses that require personal interactions and cross-border operations like travel, transportation, and logistics have the lowest rating in the implementation of new sales & marketing models. 

Notably, Pharma and medical enterprises, have varying ratings. Enterprises got over 90% effectiveness rate for customer reach and acquisition, small to mid-businesses scored only 61-70%. Customer acquisition for small to large pharma companies is still an area that needs much improvement.

The Fundamentals of Sales in the Virtual Space

At this stage, marketers still continue to maneuver around several challenges in developing effective and sustainable B2B marketing efforts. This is apparent in the decline of opportunities for both sales and marketing. In the On24 report, the most pressing challenges in organizations include fewer sales opportunities being generated (43%), few leads being generated from marketing (21%), loss of existing customers (18%), unsuccessful marketing leads at (14%), and even internal team layoffs and hiring freeze (14%). 

However, the most challenging shift for marketers is the cancellation of events and face-to-face sales activities. It is because basic sales techniques such as building rapport, listening, and offering solutions require both interpretations of verbal and non-verbal cues. More often than not, sellers are accustomed to applying these techniques much more effectively in personal meetings.

Source: ON24

Now that sellers are forced to shift these personal interactions in virtual spaces, cultivating seller-buyer relationships now is much more challenging. A seller’s ability to adapt in an almost exclusively digital space has accelerated the challenges in building and sustaining a relationship with their clients. Rain Group reports that the top seller challenges in the virtual platforms are:

Source: ON24

Setting New B2B Sales Foundation

The art of selling and forming client relationships has completely changed in the midst of the COVID Crisis. To attain success in the virtual landscape, B2B startups should take a step back to identify the differences between face-to-face and virtual selling. Furthermore, startups should understand the effects of these elements in the B2B buying journey.  

Sales would need to be more creative and explore virtual tools to achieve mastery of these technologies. With the increase of content consumption during the pandemic, it is much more challenging to sustain attention and maximize engagement with buyers. 

Ultimately, the goal is to create exceptional conversations and provide excellent services while maximizing the tools available in these virtual spaces. It is crucial to harmonize improvements on both tools and the team’s skills set to create a future-proof digital-first B2B marketing model. 

Final Words

The last two years have been a testament to how businesses can adapt fast and efficiently. It is evident that there is no shortage of resourcefulness in utilizing tools and setting up the structure on different virtual spaces. Now that new structures are in place, it’s time to shift our attention and assess and enhance the skills set of the teams operating in these spaces.