The COVID-19 pandemic has presented businesses with previously unthinkable challenges. Many will be overcome when the virus is successfully contained, although it is not possible to know when or how that will happen. Others may persist for the long haul, but will also give rise to new, exciting solutions.
One of the greatest and most widespread challenges across virtually all B2B sectors is uncertainty. Not knowing when COVID-19 obstacles will be alleviated makes it extraordinarily difficult, if not impossible, to make informed decisions. Surveys indicate that between 50 and 60 percent of B2B companies report worries about cash flow, sales, and revenues. There is also an extreme lack of clarity around potential federal stimulus programs. What happens in Congress will have a major impact on B2B, and the outcome could be positive or negative, depending on the nature of the stimulus. Add to that the looming uncertainty of an upcoming presidential election, which could have a dramatic influence on business.
Confusing Economic Signals
Another challenge is that it is difficult to accurately gauge the direction of the overall economy. The tech sector is having a surprisingly good year. The housing market is another key economic indicator, and low interest rates have given that sector a boost. The stock market did an about-face and turned bullish, but persistently high unemployment continues to threaten the broader market. On the other hand, scientists working on an effective COVID-19 vaccine are making rapid progress. A breakthrough on that front could alleviate most of the current economic problems and concerns faced by consumers and businesses.
Despite the absence of a clear prognosis for the economy, many businesses are experiencing increased stability, because they are more agile than they realized. Because they quickly adjusted and adapted to the challenges of COVID-19, they have discovered new ways to operate with lower overhead. The overall success of remote work, which was forced upon the B2B community, is a good example. Similarly, many brick-and-mortar businesses have pivoted into e-commerce and other digital business models that enable them to function safely, affordably, and profitably. A recent study by McKinsey found that nearly 90 percent of B2B sales have now moved to online models. A majority find these methods as effective, if not more effective, than traditional sales models relied upon prior to COVID-19.
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Prioritizing Customer Experience
While B2C has generally gotten high marks for fulfilling consumer expectations, B2B vendors entered the pandemic less prepared and capable. A vast majority of B2B buyers across North America now say they are willing to change vendors in order to receive faster, more personalized service. They express a strong preference for vendors who can ensure inventory availability and reliable digital purchasing platforms. Those demands, heightened by the pandemic, have inspired enhancements in B2B customer service to deliver businesses a much-needed competitive edge. B2B is also paying closer attention to the needs of employees. Companies are adopting time and labor-saving technologies that improve workplace morale and boost productivity, while lowering overhead. So the good news is that special challenges invite unique solutions. Those newfound solutions make B2B stronger and more sustainable going forward.