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From Sales To Orders And Even Trade Shows, B2Bs Shift To Digital Is Expanding

With Zoom meetings replacing in-person business conferences and virtual events replacing the physical trade show, the way B2B organizations interact and transact with business customers has shifted dramatically in the last year and a half.

With a bit of trial and error, B2B firms are discovering that virtual events and content can be highly effective lead generators, and even act as a gateway for a client to seamlessly move from inquiry through a quote and into an actual purchase. Now more than ever, sales firms are driving the digitization of the entire order-to-cash cycle from the very beginning of customer interaction.

This paradigm shift has widespread implications for the role of the modern-day B2B salesperson, as well as the timing and method of B2B payment, says Adam Coyle, CEO of Digital River. Speaking with Karen Webster in a recent discussion, Coyle considered how the reframing traditional sales efforts in favor of digital interactions will shape the evolution of B2B eCommerce and payments for the foreseeable future.

An All-Virtual Order-To-Cash Cycle

With health hazards and travel shutdowns making in-person meetings out of the question, B2B sales teams got creative, and digital platforms stepped in to fill the trade show gap. But Coyle noted it wasn’t necessarily a seamless transition for everyone.

“The scramble everyone had in the early days of COVID when we were starting to work from home was particularly acutely felt for the B2B sales organizations who suddenly found themselves having to pivot their entire marketing spend, or entire go-to-market motion, to a virtual format,” he said.

Understanding how to attract potential buyers to a virtual conference or digital trade show became paramount, with varying levels of success. But an interesting trend emerged: even if attendance on these platforms was lackluster, recordings offered a long-lasting source of content that B2B salespeople could use to expand the discovery process beyond the time constraint of the event.

This digital content turned into a useful sales tool, and the finance leaders that acknowledged this potential were able to turn a disruption into an opportunity. Beyond the financial benefits of not having to spend funds on event planning and corporate travel, said Coyle, many chief financial officers understood the chance to redeploy resources to better respond to shifting buyer needs.

It’s about “recognizing that the world is changing,” he said, and the impact of this shift is likely to be felt long after the pandemic ends.

Digital Accompanies The Sales Rep

The opportunities found in digital sales content coupled seamlessly with the demand for digital sales and B2B commerce portals. Now, sales professionals could efficiently take the leads generated from those digital events and guide them to an online B2B store.

Much as the digital revolution of yesteryear raised fears that automated technologies would replace human talent, the rise of virtual events and B2B eCommerce platforms may have had sales reps assuming their jobs were in jeopardy. On the contrary, Coyle said, sales professionals have begun to use the online B2B store in strategic, and often creative, ways.

“‘B2B store’ can mean a lot of different things for different people,” he said, noting these platforms could support lower-value, one-off purchases, or high-value customized sales. Sellers in a wide array of product categories, from industrial equipment to configurable software, are exploring how to turn a B2B eCommerce tool into an enhanced experience for the buyer.

That versatility has also created significant changes to the B2B payment workflow. There is a growing trend of the B2B transaction “moving left,” said Coyle. That is, the transaction is becoming more deeply embedded in a sales workflow that increasingly begins in a digital setting, making electronic and integrated B2B payments a natural choice.

There is “tremendous opportunity,” Coyle said, to align digital events, lead generation, the configure-price-quote (CPQ) workflow, contracting and payment all online, and configure that B2B payments experience based on how a salesperson makes use of an eCommerce or eStore tool. Whether accepting commercial card payments for lower-ticket items, or facilitating a seamless purchase order financing experience for customized complex buys, the salesperson can have significantly greater influence over B2B payments than before.

A New Era In B2B Sales

While much of this change has happened as a result of the coronavirus crisis, Coyle said he expects many of these shifts to become the norm — or, at least, to remain in place even as in-person meetings return.

B2B sales professionals are now tasked with providing richer information and more impactful interactions with potential buyers in new digital settings, and with setting up their organizations at large to facilitate a seamless customer journey right from the start.

While early iterations of B2B marketplaces stumbled over resistance to sellers placing their products next to those of their competitors, today’s platforms can be a highly strategic partner to the salesperson if finance chiefs are willing to invest in holistic, integrated tools that prioritize user experience at every step of a B2B interaction — payment included.

“We see that support from the C-level to develop these types of channels and capabilities,” said Coyle. “I think it will continue to get scrutiny from the CFO, but not necessarily purely as a cost-savings measure. It’s truly about the transformation of the business.”

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