What Is The Future Of B2B Sales & Purchasing? Part 1 – Omnichannel, AI & B2C Style CX

The future of B2B is not spoken about as much as the B2C (Business to Consumer) sector. This is quite natural. It is easier to talk about the consumer sector as B2C brands have more of a presence in our everyday lives.

The B2B purchase funnel is also more complex, more specialized and not as exciting to the general public as new smartphones, clothes, TVs and cars.

But the more you find out about the B2B space, the more you see that it has a huge impact on our lives. TBut the more you find out about the B2B space, the more you see that it has a huge impact on our lives. FMCG supply chains, logistics and fuel prices are very much in the news right now. So the changes that are happening in the B2B space, and the effect those changes might have on us, are very, very exciting.

So we are going to dig into the changes that are happening in B2B buying and B2B sales. What is going on? What are the trends that are going to shape B2B in the future?

Let’s find out.

The Future Of B2B - Image of an open laptop to illustrate omnichannel processes.
Photo by John Schnobrich on Unsplash

The Future Of B2B Sales & Purchasing – Omnichannel Sales Approach

COVID-19 caused serious disruption to the B2B space. In person sales meetings went away. Video calls were in and we are still conducting a lot of business over Zoom.

While things are not “back to normal”, and recessionary pressures loom on the horizon, COVID brought new ways of working to B2B sales and purchasing.

To maintain operations during COVID, a massive shift had to occur in the B2B space. That shift seems to have become permanent.

B2B customers now want an always-on, omnichannel sales experience. The pandemic, ironically, enabled this evolution in the B2B space. Sales teams had to increase the number of channels they would use to engage leads. Pre-pandemic, sales staff may have worked via a mix of channels like in-person meetings with procurement teams, email, phone and networking at events. 

B2B sales staff will still be using those usual channels. But they will also be using social media, supplier/vendor websites, video conferencing, custom electronic interfaces, IM clients and more depending on the niche they operate in.

According to McKinsey, over “90% of sales organizations viewed today’s B2B omnichannel reality as equally or more effective in reaching and serving customers than it was before COVID-19.” 

B2B sales and purchasing teams now use far more digital channels than they did pre-pandemic. That means aligned sales teams that are happy to work in digital and in-person channels. It also means purchasing teams that expect digital, self-service purchasing experiences.

The Future Of B2B - A person holding a credit card and conducting an online transaction to illustrate digital self service.
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The Future Of B2B Sales & Purchasing – B2C Style, Self-service Commerce Experiences

The disruption from COVID also accelerated a trend that was there anyway; the implementation of self-service B2B commerce experiences.

B2B purchasing teams and B2B customers more generally now prefer self-service commerce experiences. There are a number of reasons for this. One, according to Gartner, is down to demographics; there are now more younger, digital-native decision makers involved in the B2B purchasing process. This is why this change was coming regardless of COVID. Customer expectations on experience quality were becoming more aligned with the B2C sector. B2B has always lagged behind in commerce experiences. So customers would force the B2B sector to evolve into something more in line with what everyone sees in B2C.

B2B has been resistant to this shift. The reasons for this vary. Some B2B purchases involve complex and intricate products with certain safety standards. Especially in the medical sector. But another reason often given on why self-service would not work in B2B is price. The argument was that B2B customers would not buy big, high cost items if the purchasing experience was self-service.

According to McKinsey, this has definitely changed. More than one-third of B2B business buyers are willing to spend over $500,000 or more in one transaction via a digital channel. 15% or corporate buyers are happy to spend over $1 million.

This is a huge shift. In the B2B space, big ticket items are more common. If B2B buyers are happy to spend that much via a digital channel, that is a gamechanger.

The Future Of B2B - Image of a motherboard that alludes to AI and Machine Learning.
Photo by Michael Dziedzic on Unsplash

The Future Of B2B Sales & Purchasing – What Can AI Bring?

AI and machine learning (ML) are disrupting the B2B space now. The level of disruption will only increase as technology improves. 

But AI and machine learning also present huge opportunities to B2B operators. This applies to both sales and purchasing teams.

AI in B2B Sales

From a sales perspective, AI and machine learning changes everything. AI and ML technology is relevant in almost every part of the sales funnel. AI is perfect for price optimization, suggesting the perfect price point for each customer on every deal. CLV (customer lifetime value) analysis can provide sales teams with actionable upselling insights. AI can score potential sales leads in an instant; helping sales staff to focus their efforts.

Content personalization can use ML to recommend personalized content. This will help support and nurture potential customers in a self-service procurement funnel. Mining for new leads also gets easier with AI and ML. Cutting edge AI and ML technology can help to find new segments and prospects for sales and marketing teams. Sales teams can also use AI tech to guide customer interactions. Either through a chatbot, or a system that helps sales staff talk to  potential customers in a way that aids conversion.

AI in B2B Purchasing

While AI and ML in sales affect lots of touchpoints, in purchasing its uses are a little more subtle. But no less revolutionary.

One current primary use case of AI and ML is insight generation. It is here that its benefits in B2B purchasing become obvious. ML models can give instant, relevant information to buyers for managing the procurement process. AI and ML can continuously test current pricing trends to make sure purchasing teams get the best deal from their vendors.

ML algorithms can also forecast future purchasing prices. Plus, if business leadership has overlooked purchasing needs, AI and ML algorithms could highlight that.

With AI and ML purchasing teams could have access to real-time market sentiment analysis. This will give them the edge when negotiating the best price. Using this technology in the correct way will bring real budget savings for businesses prepared to invest in it.

Read on for part 2 of our future of B2B sales and purchasing series! We will be looking at the challenges sales and purchasing teams face. We will also look at the role of analytics in both sales and purchasing processes.

Contact us via hello@maqe.com.

Talk to MAQE

Do your sales and purchasing need help adapting to new trends and technology? Talk to MAQE. We have a lot of experience in improving back end processes for B2B operators. We also have a track record of implementing new technology that increases efficiency. Get in touch via [email protected].