Our expert opinion on the top five key B2B sales trends for sales professionals and business leaders running purpose-driven companies to take note of during the coming year.
1. Traditional B2B Marketplaces In Decline
As we move into a new year many of us are secretly hoping against hope for the resurgence of those reliable face to face sales opportunities such as trade shows, conferences and networking events.
The lack of key annual events in 2020 had a devastating impact on the sales figures and growth targets of ethical businesses and their B2B sellers. The Centre for Exhibition Industry Research based in the U.S estimated that losses amounted to a $14-22 billion loss to the U.S economy during 2020.
However, not only are these marketplace events key revenue building and pipeline funnels but they are also enjoyable social engagements which enable long term relationships to develop and business innovations to take place. In short, many salespeople and purpose-driven business owners across the world are really feeling the loss of these events and will be impatient for some kind of normality to return.
Will trade shows and B2B conferences really make a comeback in 2021?
With new lockdowns in the UK and Europe, record case numbers in the U.S and warnings from pandemic experts that long term strategies must be adopted beyond vaccinations the Ethical Sales team predict that significant disruption is likely to be felt throughout 2021.
Worldwide trade show business contracted by a whopping 60% in 2020 compared to the previous year. The impact on losses to the exhibition industry itself stands at a staggering $180 billion. With hundreds of B2B show postponements and cancellations being announced in Q1 of 2021, such as Natural and Organic Products Europe, it remains to be seen whether any planned events will be able to go ahead at all this year and if they do, what will they look like?
Any conferences or shows given the go-ahead in 2021 face huge challenges in making their venues covid-19 safe with whilst offering great customer service. Venues will be required to be set up in socially distanced way AND fulfil the purpose they were intended from customer experience perspective, namely: hand shaking, close contact networking and business card trading activities on a mass scale!
Paid for Premium Participation
With the events and exhibition industry reporting such heavy losses it stands to reason that participation prices will rise from 2021 onwards. Whilst the pandemic remains at large across the world we forecast that large scale exhibitions are likely to be condensed into smaller, safer to run omnichannel events that will offer blended virtual and face to face experiences. These could offer perhaps more valuable opportunities for sales if delivered in the right way, perhaps offering a series of 1:1 meetings and a matching service for B2B companies to find their ideal partners.
Smaller networking events or conferences will face the same challenges as well as being able to create great customer experiences for safe B2B company interactions they will need to convince potential participants that their practices are sound before they agree to engage.
We feel that it’s going to be a tough ride into 2021 for face to face networking and relationship building opportunities, particularly with making connections with B2B buyers or retailers. And to top it off, many of us have simply built Zoom calls into our daily working lives in replacement of chats over coffee. So the loss is less keenly felt as we replace human to human contact with screen networking time.
B2B Sales Back Up Plans Are Needed
Our recommendations to clients and ethical business communities include ensuring a back-up sales plan for at least the first half of 2021 and to not rely on trade shows or conferences to plug their sales revenue targets. We fear that they could be very disappointed if they do.
Many of our clients are unlocking the power of their telephones to strategically target potential buyers or customers. Our team delivers telephone based sales campaigns on a daily basis which generate direct sales results and we also offer free online training on how to make a confident sales call. Not only is this sales tactic incredibly effective when done right, it is also significantly cheaper to fund than a stand at an international trade fair.
2. Virtual Sales Opportunities Grow and Diversify.
Hands up who had a zoom subscription in 2019? In December 2019 there were less than 10 million daily Zoom participants. In April 2020 this rose to 300 million daily live chat calls!
Due to the near total lack of B2B sales meetings taking place face to face, the virtual Zoom meeting has been a saviour for some and a curse for others. ‘Zoom fatigue’ is however a real issue, it is much harder to conduct a meeting virtually with more stilted conversations and gestures than it is to sit in front of someone or present a sales pitch to a group meeting.
If a Zoom B2B sales meeting is a new and scary prospect, we advise our clients to spend time properly preparing beforehand in terms of researching the business and creating some qualifying questions but most importantly to conduct a role play or two before the ‘real thing’.
The Ethical Sales team can provide strategy support and 1:1 training to clients who needed to raise their confidence on how to conduct sales meetings – either on the phone or on Zoom – including offering role play scenarios to talk tactics and troubleshoot potential issues which are very effective.
B2B Marketing Trends in a Virtual Sales World
Like it or not we have all had to get used to virtual meeting spaces in 2020 and we expect to be employing these methods just as much throughout 2021.
We’ve all witnessed a huge rise in online engagement opportunities to replace face to face networking or conferences. From real time social media events, two-day summits, 48 hour training marathons and hourly lunchtime webinars.
A big benefit of the virtual sales world is the reach, quality of engagement and sales data intelligence that it provides. No longer are skilled business leaders presenting to a half-full room of delegates in the post lunch slump of a conference timetable – they are engaging hundreds of people from all over the world who are really interested in what they have got to say about themselves and their businesses. After the event, with an automated approach to B2B marketing, a ready-made prospect list is immediately available for the sales team to follow up – which is a bit simpler than trying to grab business cards on the way out!
Virtual Marketing Favours the Brave…
Ethical Sales are strongly recommending to their B2B service based clients who need to develop a strong pipeline this year to take time to launch an online content marketing strategy (including an SEO review of their websites) and targeted prospect engagement plan which enables them to demonstrate their skills, expertise and mission in a meaningful way with the right audiences.
This could be in the form of regular bite-sized Facebook or LinkedIn Lives, weekly e-newsletters or a series of free downloadable guides designed to provide real value.
In addition to these event opportunities, many ethical companies are harnessing the benefits of highly intelligent AI platforms to enable them to reach out to the right type of prospect as part of their engagement strategies. Services such as Hubspot enable businesses to set up automations and rules that intelligently organise their pipelines for a better change of sales success.
By taking note of and utilising the latest B2B marketing trends, ethical businesses can build out their networks, funnel through interested participants to engage with their email lists and become a trusted, reliable source of information.
At Ethical Sales we are strong believers in ‘reciprocity’ as a key B2B marketing strategy. It is a proven, and also very satisfying way of engaging with your community – the more useful, honest and authentic expertise you can provide to people, the more you will get back – either in kind (referrals) or as new customers of your products and services.
3. Brexit Boosts British B2B Business – Or Not?
There is now a fundamental shift in the way the UK does business with Europe – and in the future the rest of the world, due to the newly signed Brexit agreement. Ripples are being felt across all sectors, from product-based businesses, suppliers, high street retailers or ecommerce ventures.
Early feedback indicates that there are issues with the new UK VAT and customs rules which require duties to be paid by customers on receipt of the product. This has even caused many well-established retailers such as John Lewis to halt shopping to Europe until they can navigate these changes effectively. This could spell real challenges for UK businesses and their customer retention plans for Europe in the short to medium term.
As one LinkedIn Poster in our network recently put it: #tellthetruthboris how is this a free trade agreement when our customers now have to pay duty on everything we send to Europe? This is a free trade agreement for companies that solely produce goods from scratch in the UK not for the majority of companies.
Sales and Competitiveness in the UK
One possible outcome of this situation is that during 2021 British businesses will be increasingly competing with one another for sales revenue as they find it easier to sell their products or services to B2B company customers within the UK rather than having to navigate the complex Brexit rules.
This could be challenge for some and a golden opportunity for others. An innovative and visionary sales strategy will be really needed to ensure your business is one step ahead of the competition.
We are no customs or trade experts however, and whilst there are teething problems there should remain the will on both sides to create new systems of commerce that suit both B2B companies from within the UK and Europe. It’s a case of ‘watch this space’ on this one!
4. The Black Swan Goes Natural, Organic and Green.
Mckinsey heralded the worldwide shutdown in Spring 2020 as a ‘black swan’ event from a consumer habits perspective. Essentially, consumer behaviour was radically (and possibly permanently) altered as priorities shifted to health & safety, trust, community and wellbeing. In their latest January 2021 Market Report: Covid-19 and the Great Reset Mckinsey and Company outline:
Other trends to ponder—none traditionally associated with recessions—include startling growth in the number of new businesses, an incredible rise in productivity, permanent changes in consumer behavior, and the “bio revolution,” which may soon create different mechanisms of production for 60 percent of the global economy’s physical inputs.
A YouGov poll reported that just 9% of people wanted things to go back to normal after the first lockdown:
Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the RSA, said that while it was right the immediate emergency was the priority, “we must use this time to imagine a better future”.
He said: “This poll shows that the British people are increasingly aware that the health of people and planet are inseparable and it’s time for radical environmental, social, political and economic change.”
Consumer Trends in a Pandemic World
This sentiment is also reflected in consumer trends. The UK organic market reported its biggest growth year for a decade. According to the latest Soil Association Market report the organic market was worth £4.5 billion by the end of 2020 with over £200 million a month being spent on organic food and drink. Unsurprisingly, organic wine was the biggest winner, with sales up 50% on the previous year!
We predict that purpose-driven businesses offering innovative solutions to common customer problems with a natural, organic or environmental focus will do really well in 2021 and beyond.
This is indeed a trend we are seeing amongst our own clients who are continuing to secure investment, market share and increase their customer base despite very challenging market conditions.
5. A Purposeful and Personal Approach to B2B Sales
Purpose-driven businesses are faring better in covid-19 according to the 3,500+ community of certified BCorps. A recent PWC report into UK BCorps included this illuminating evidence as a back up to this statement:
– Increased business resilience
– 47% reduced their management teams salary versus the UK average of 1 in 5 senior management positions.
Certified BCorps are businesses that meet the highest standards of verified social and environmental performance, public transparency, and legal accountability to balance profit and purpose. According to the certifying body of B Corps, these business are “accelerating a global culture shift to redefine success in business and build a more inclusive and sustainable economy.”
Public vs Private Engagement
In addition to this shift, the pandemic has moved the alignment of the personal and professional to another level altogether: CEO’s holding meetings with their babies on Zoom, parents of supportive employers encouraged to take time off to home-school children, regular posts about kindness, mental health and wellbeing at an all time high on professional networking platforms such as LinkedIn.
The good news is that if you are the sales leader or business owner of an ethical business driven by purpose (whether you are Bcorp certified, pending or just considering it) you are in an excellent position to benefit from some of the unprecedented changes that have taken place across the world since the pandemic began.
Leading with a Purposeful Sales Strategy
But, what does this mean? For us at Ethical Sales we distil it down to four key priorities when undertaking B2B sales activities or campaigns:
1. Extreme generosity with knowledge, expertise and networks.
2. Honesty and transparency in the sales approach.
3. Strategic and targeted prospecting methods.
4. A focus on building relationships first, sales second.
It’s a recipe for sales success! Please do contact us if you would like some expert advice on your sales strategy or business growth targets for the year ahead.
Best Wishes for a Great Sales Year Ahead
We wish everyone a great 2021 and we hope these B2B sales trends are helpful or provide some food for thought when planning your sales strategies this year.
The Ethical Sales team would love to hear your thoughts on the trends in this article please do comment below if you have any further information, insights or knowledge to share for our community.