Six B2B Trends to Adopt in 2021

B2B commerce was transformed in 2020.

As the coronavirus pandemic forced people out of offices and brick and mortar stores, and onto their smartphones around the kitchen table, browsing and buying shifted from an in-person activity to an at-home one.

This metamorphosis did not stop with the retail environment; it has and will continue to impact the B2B market as well.

By filtering out the noise and focusing on the trends that matter, B2B leaders can outperform their competition and capitalize on opportunities in the midst of the transforming marketplace.

1. Delegate or Die

Do you have a problem delegating? I know that I do; or should I say, I had a problem delegating. For years I knew I needed to delegate tasks if I was going to grow my B2B business, but as the founder of OBI Creative, a full service ad agency, I found it exceedingly difficult to let go.

What was my problem?

Learning to trust the talented people I hired to do work that they were, frankly, better at than me. I’ve since learned that embracing the call to delegate work reduces your workload and strengthens your team.

It may seem odd to call delegation a trend since it’s been something business leaders have known they need to embrace for decades, but in the wake of a year that upended the B2B industry, delegating is primed to become a trend that business leaders will need to adopt if they want to grow their businesses in 2021.

Leaders who stubbornly insist on doing everything themselves will find their teams and companies unable to adapt to the rapidly shifting business environment.

2. Consider Creating Vertical or Horizontal Marketplaces

As commerce shifts ever more online, B2B marketplaces have grown in popularity among both sellers and buyers. A recent study put marketplaces as the preferred purchase channel, above RFPs and digital channels. Buyers favor marketplaces for their convenience and wide selection of both suppliers and products.

If you don’t already have a marketplace strategy, now is the time to embrace the trend and adopt one. Decide whether a horizontal marketplace offering products and services every business needs, or a vertical one specializing on a specific industry, makes the most sense and begin gaming it out with your team.

3. Ramp Up a Retail-Like Online Presence

If B2B businesses want to gain ground in 2021, they will need to mimic the B2C experience. Online storefronts must be fast and problem-free. B2C commerce has raised the bar for all kinds of commerce. What customers experience on Amazon and Apple, they now expect from their B2B suppliers and partners.

Take a hard look at your customers’ journey and identify opportunities for improvement. Provide tools that empower customers to research your products and services painlessly. Make what you offer easier to discover on social channels and everywhere your customers are active online.

Beef up your catalog of detailed product information, photos, videos and downloadable content.

4. Make the Case for the Middleman

Brands are cutting out middlemen at an alarming rate in favor of a direct-to-consumer sales model. If your business is built on distribution, make the case to the brands you support that your channel should continue to remain part of their sales strategy.

Brands like Nike have seen success strengthening direct sales to consumers online while also profiting from distributors that provide niche experiences to customers who want something different than the experiences brands provide directly.

5. Prepare Personalized Ads

Personalization is the name of the game this year. As AI technology and facial recognition enable a greater level of targeted marketing than has been seen before, it will be critical for B2B brands to capitalize on this trend and get personal with their advertising.

Explore dynamic content and digital campaigns that respond in real time to customers’ queries, needs and concerns. And, if you don’t already have a content management strategy in place, complement your advertising efforts with one for a more effective overall marketing strategy.

6. Focus on Fulfillment

Similar to a satisfying online commerce experience, B2B brands must carry a positive experience all the way through fulfillment for their customers. This means re-examining back-end operations to ensure efficiency, accuracy and safety. Look at a BOPIS (buy online pick up in store) model for distributions to retail outlets.

While many more trends could be mentioned, and there more you will undoubtedly need to evaluate, keep your brand identity in mind as you do and make decisions that align with your core values as well as the concerns and needs of your customers.

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