B2B Omnichannel is the standard, not the exception

min read | October, 2021
B2B buyers aren't just moving to omnichannel, they've already arrived. Given the choice between in-person, remote and e-commerce channels, buyers have shown they want them all.
B2B Omnichannel is the standard, not the exception

A McKinsey survey of B2B decision makers confirms that omnichannel is not simply a trend, nor a pandemic solution, but a key enabler of B2B sales globally.

Results from this year’s McKinsey survey of 3,500 B2B leaders indicate that the pandemic has cemented omnichannel interactions as the predominant path to sales in the B2B segment. Buyers made it clear that they prefer a cross-channel mix, choosing between in-person, remote or digital interactions based on practicality and timing.

As expected, e-commerce usage and preference has increased since last year. In McKinsey’s August 2020 survey, the main means for the identification and research into new suppliers were remote, person-to-person interviews, reaching nearly half of all cases. In this year’s survey, that percentage dropped to 35% and is nearly matched by digital searches for information, at 34%, while traditional (in-person) interactions for identifying and researching new suppliers reach 32%.

This is true for the search for information on new suppliers, but what happens when it comes to making sales? Is there a preferred channel?

As far as orders are concerned, they are now also practically divided in thirds between traditional purchases in person (32% of the total), remote purchases by interaction between people (34% of the total) and purchases through e-commerce (34%).  

Adding it up, we then have that two-thirds of B2B buyers prefer remote interactions and purchases and those made through digital channels over traditional in-person interactions and purchases.  

The B2B leaders surveyed believe that omnichannel works and even outperforms previous approaches.

How important is this opinion? 

Eight in ten B2B leaders surveyed by McKinsey believe omnichannel is equally or more effective than traditional methods, and this sentiment has grown significantly from 54% at the beginning of the pandemic to 83% this year.

In addition, 83% of B2B leaders believe omnichannel selling is a more successful way to secure new business than traditional face-to-face-only sales approaches.

Respondent’s expectations for business investment are also reflective of the commitment to omnichannel and the growing digitalization space. Nearly half of the B2B leaders surveyed project that they will increase their investments over the next 5 years, with the top three areas of investment being technology hardware, software and telecom services, and marketing/advertising. 

Another aspect of omnichannel B2B commerce revealed by the McKinsey survey is that, in the opinion of respondents, hybrid sales reps will soon become the most common sales role. These reps interact with customers via video, phone, apps and occasional in-person visits. 

What underpins these forecasts? 

With omnichannel established as the new buying norm, 64% of B2B companies surveyed intend to increase the number of hybrid salespeople over the next six months, making this model the primary sales role.

Currently, nearly 30% of B2B companies have hybrid sales roles and 85% of respondents believe these roles will be the most common in their organizations in the next 3 years. 

Two main changes are driving this trend. On the one hand, while it’s expected that nearly all companies will be able to connect with customers in physical locations by early 2022, only 15% of B2B companies surveyed expect in-person sales meetings to be the norm in the future.

On the other hand, e-commerce is the most prevalent marketing channel for B2B companies surveyed this year, marginally surpassing the in-person channel. In addition, 41% of B2B leaders believe that e-commerce is the most effective sales channel, surpassing in-person and videoconferencing sales.

Looking ahead, what are the challenges for omnichannel sales in the B2B segment? 

Weak spots include finding the most effective way for sales agents to work from home, making remote interactions feel as intimate as in-person experiences, and providing proof-of-concepts and digital demos that give buyers an equivalent level of insight as physical walk-throughs.

Channel conflicts are another challenge noted: two-thirds of decision makers say their sales teams have encountered channel conflict issues, worrying about the risk of cannibalization and whether digital transactions are a zero-sum game.

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