The COVID-19 pandemic has cast clouds of uncertainty in the business landscape and resulted in a shutdown of several economic activities. As a result, businesses are likely to witness a paradigm shift in supply chains, operating models, consumer behavior, and procurement and sales strategies.
It is vital to take proactive steps to put your business in a secure position and accelerate the recovery process. Business resilience can go a long way in adapting to unforeseen circumstances and ensuring sustainability. Especially for players in the B2B commerce supply chain, uncertain times like these could present a “cat on the wall” situation. You may face a slump in the market or find it difficult to meet a surge in demand. While both situations can be equally distressing, manufacturers and distributors can rely on sound business continuity and resilience to counter the challenge and ensure unhindered supply in a pandemic of this size and scale.
The current situation has compelled businesses to make structural changes in their go-to-market strategies. Here are some key focus areas that can help you ensure continuity and build a resilient front during the most devastating health crisis of the century.
- Disaster recovery: Businesses must estimate the impact of the pandemic on operational capabilities. As an immediate response, most businesses have established commercial nerve centers with cross-functional teams to mitigate the impact of the pandemic on sales operations. They have also made adjustments such as flexible credit terms to support their channel partners. While these initiatives can help meet immediate goals, careful planning and execution are vital for long-term recovery.
- Digital-first approach: B2B sales are likely to be fundamentally altered in the post-COVID-19 times with the focus shifting from offline to digital mediums. The pandemic has provided momentum to the ongoing process of sales digitalization. As B2B businesses foresee a massive increase in digital interactions in the near future, you must look at every sales activity to identify potential opportunities for digital automation. To improve the digital experience, ensure that buyers can find ready information on the website, and compare products and services. You must also fix any technical issues real-time and look for new and innovative ways to enhance the customer experience.
- Suppliers rethink their game: Suppliers providing a reliable and personalized digital experience with an increasing focus on speed, transparency, and expertise are likely to recover faster and grow their customer base. In this endeavor, you must leverage technology and introduce customer-friendly features such as live chats that can help understand specific requirements and respond quickly. In addition to interactions on the website, suppliers expect increased traffic on mobile apps and social media communities. Thus, in the new normal, you need to make radical changes in your sales strategy to be able to make the most of the opportunities in the virtual landscape.
- eCommerce and digital partnerships: The current crisis present an opportunity to expand your eCommerce and digital capabilities. eCommerce is expected to play a pivotal role in the recovery stage and in the next phase of growth. If your business lacks digital capabilities, you may miss out on endless opportunities in the online landscape. B2B businesses that have already invested in building eCommerce and digital partnerships can look to capitalize on increased footfall through virtual mediums.
- Remote selling: To minimize the impact on sales, most B2B businesses have witnessed a transition to a virtual sales model during the pandemic. The emphasis on remote selling and connecting via videoconferences, webinars, and chatbots has grown significantly. While some businesses rely completely on virtual mediums to replace field sales, others use their sales professionals in tandem with web sales. Most found remote channels to be equally or more effective for reaching and serving customers. Thus, the use of remote channels is likely to increase even as travel restrictions are eased and people return to their workplace.
- Alternative sourcing: Severe disruptions in the supply chain during Covid-19 have accentuated the need for businesses to implement changes in procurement strategy. Disruptions in the supply chain hampered sourcing of raw materials from contracted vendors, especially in cases where raw materials were sourced internationally. To overcome this challenge, businesses need to look at local vendors to procure raw materials. Securing contracts with local vendors can help avoid delays in production and distribution. It may also be useful at this stage to identify alternative products and materials.
- Continuity planning and long-term investments: For B2B sales, this is an apt time to nurture leads and make some long-term investments. Follow up and maintain regular communication with prospects in the pipeline and determine long-term opportunities. Inform them about your contingency plan and steps you will take to ensure continuity. You will gradually have to shift your focus from emergency response to a long-term model of operational resilience. In this process, engage in robust continuity planning to learn lessons from the current crisis. You must also assess operational risks on critical business functions and conduct scenario planning exercises. Developing resilience capability can help deal with unprecedented events and return to the original state of business with little impact on operations.
- Define the new role of sales reps: The shift to digitalization does not impact the role of sales reps who are now required to become familiar with digital tools such as Zoom, Skype, and Webex. Sales professionals working in a B2B environment must understand various online tools to deal with and respond to customer queries effectively. As you prepare for an increase in digital sales, understand how best to train and deploy sales professionals across multiple channels to provide customer service and support. Training and investing in your personnel are sure to reap rewards in the long term.
Do not Wait for the Pandemic to End
Experts suggest the coronavirus may remain with us for a long time and continue to spread till a vaccine is developed to eradicate it. As organizations look to rebuild and begin their operations with a limited workforce and necessary precautions, it is imperative to align all operations with the new requirements.
Businesses must adopt a proactive approach and follow a set plan to ensure continuity in operations and prevent supply chain disruptions. Keep a ready inventory and prepare beforehand to not to miss out on a sales opportunity. As economic recovery in the post-COVID-19 times may be faster than expected, you must use this time to prepare for the pent-up demand. Remember, if you do not start now, you may not be able to capitalize on emerging opportunities at the time is right.