Lessons learned from Covid-19: how to protect your B2B business from the pandemic through e-commerce?
- 08 Jun 2021
The pandemic has accelerated the evolution of the business environment. Business leaders must adapt to an ever-changing environment, where the only certainty is change. What lessons can we learn from all this?
If recent experiences have taught us anything, it is that resilience and adaptability are essential for survival in this new environment.
More than ever, digital tools such as B2B e-commerce play a crucial and fundamental role in protecting your business from future disruptions and are a stepping stone to digital transformation.
Lessons learned by B2B companies
Even the best-prepared companies could not foresee the consequences of the pandemic. Contingency plans are usually extensive for natural disasters or data loss, but not for business interruption due to disease.
But companies are acting and reacting, and lessons must be learned. They are adopting technologies and new processes that can maintain continuity and even open up new markets. We asked B2B companies what lessons they have learned so far, and to what extent they have deployed new methods to continue their business.
1. Flexibility and resilience are essential
The business leader who goes through this crisis is the one who learns to adapt. It is not enough to monitor developments and look for ways to limit losses. You have to be creative and agile, and seize opportunities as they arise.
Of course, for some companies, an online presence is not an option. "It's hard to build trust with a Skype call alone," admits William Pinson, a B2B consultant in the energy sector. What has helped teleworking teams so far is that they are focused on trust, autonomy and accountability. This means timely recognition of objectives achieved, a passive approach to management, personal relationship-building initiatives, transparency, and even highlighting vulnerabilities.
Some companies take the opportunity to adopt new technologies and develop new skills. They emphasise their ability to adapt to new standards, to think about how to better meet their customers' needs, and even re-evaluate their operating methods.
2. Always look for new strategies
We all aim to sell and stay ahead of the curve in our sectors. For some, the crisis has changed the way they view customer relations. Even before the pandemic, the modern salesperson was focused on solving problems. This is a strategy that is developing in all sectors.
The economic downturn is also an opportunity to get closer to your customers. It is a good time to strengthen existing relationships and work on efficiency.
3. Online presence is essential
Although some B2B companies have already benefited from digitalisation initiatives such as B2B e-commerce software, others have been caught off guard. Companies that have given up on investments because of slow decision-making or channel conflicts now need to catch up just to start selling online quickly.
For those that are seeing an improvement in their online performance, this trend is likely to continue. Most of our clients agree that if it works now, it will work even better when they get back to normal.
For many companies, current budgeted costs will be deferred to later in the year. Once they start buying again, customers will expect real performance. This is a major shift in thinking, where digital investment has received little attention for B2B. But if there is one lesson to be learned, it is that you should never give up on a method that works.
4. Stay connected and listen with a listening ear
In difficult times, cooperation and collaboration with others - even if they are not your customers or in the same industry - can help you out of the darkness. Nellie Akalp, CEO and founder of the B2B document archiving service CorpNet.com, has just experienced this.
"We went back to basics and simply asked everyone how we could help.
With constructive feedback from our customers, we can find ways out and opportunities to launch new products," she continues. "This approach will allow us to stay open throughout this pandemic and generate new revenue in the long term, for the day when the country and the world are back on track."
5. The danger of data and siloed processes
In times of crisis, your decisions are as important as the data you use to make them. And that goes for every day of the week. But in a rapidly changing environment, those who spot trends first are better able to develop Plan Bs and create alternative ways to manage people, assets and services. If data is siloed, then the right data on customers, inventory, supply and demand may not be in the right hands.
After the crisis, companies will focus on improving the resilience and efficiency of their infrastructure.
6. Learning to work effectively remotely
Many employees in the production and distribution sector simply cannot work remotely. But for those who can, it is important to help them work better from home. This can be done by having materials delivered to their homes or by adjusting their working hours. These changes may have seemed insurmountable just a few months ago, but not anymore
"Employees and employers will enjoy working from home about 50% of the time," predicts Melissa Cadwallader of the public interest group ZenBusiness.
Now that even the "old-timers" have seen first-hand that their companies continue to operate with employees working remotely, Cadwallader believes that the business world will welcome these changes more readily.
7. Rethink your supply chains
In addition to the human factors associated with home deliveries, the crisis has also highlighted the inability to manage supply chains. Companies that rely on Tier 1 suppliers work with limited visibility in terms of inventory, production, orders and fulfilment. Secondly, it takes time to switch to alternative sources of supply.
The pandemic has accelerated pre-existing plans to reduce reliance on China in supply chains, particularly in the medical and manufacturing sectors. As we return to normalcy, discussions about domestic sourcing as an alternative to China will continue.
"The imperative to increase supply chain resilience to China's attractiveness as a manufacturing location is to define the tension that [brands] will need to navigate," says Manisha Mirchandani, Director of Strategy at Atlantic 57.
In any case, companies will need to stay alert during the rebound. Those that react quickly will benefit from demand that their competitors may have overlooked. Companies will need to keep a close eye on unexpected costs and supply chain disruptions while maintaining profitability.
Is your B2B e-commerce platform ready?
Let's face it: e-commerce has become the only channel to order anything and everything, from essentials to services, including B2B products. The companies that survive will start to explore new markets, new activities and new sales models, such as B2B2C, D2C and B2G. Lessons to be learned? This is the perfect time to review your existing B2B e-commerce processes in light of increased customer expectations.
B2B customers prefer to shop, order and pay with their mobile, especially if they are coming online for the first time.
Customers tend to shy away from sites that take longer than two seconds to load. Make sure every page is optimised for fast loading times on all devices. There are very good tools to optimise web performance, but a seasoned professional will be able to advise and support you effectively in this process, both on the technical side (loading times, anomalies in the sales tunnel, etc.) and on the front end.
As stocks evolve, make sure that this is correctly reflected "on the shop window". Inaccurate stock, pricing and shipping information will drive customers away.
Sales representatives who do not have access to customer accounts or who cannot quickly locate customer data may have difficulty maintaining their accounts. A single source of data helps companies maximize their performance and remain productive. Digital business systems need to integrate and synchronise ERP, PIM and CRM applications.
Lessons learned: ready to benefit from B2B e-commerce?
While the current pandemic has given traditional businesses many reasons to turn to e-commerce, established online retailers are also realising that simply having an online shop is not enough.
Companies are realising that their platforms must not only help them sell more effectively but must also help their customers buy more effectively. Most importantly, this crisis offers opportunities to expand into new markets locally and internationally and to sell to new customers through B2B, D2C, B2B2C and other e-commerce models.
So what can we expect in the future?
The return to normalcy will be difficult immediately after the eradication of the coronavirus. Business leaders will need to carefully assess their entire systems and plan the actions that will allow their organisations to grow again.
For B2Bs, e-commerce will continue to be an excellent revenue-generating lever, and a means of maintaining unique customer relationships and experiences that "traditional" wholesalers, distributors and manufacturers cannot guarantee on their own.