What effect has the pandemic had on B2B marketing?

As we approach the end of the third lockdown in England, a raft of new statistics showing just how B2B marketing activities were affected by reaction to the pandemic have been published.

According to an IPA Bellweather report, marketing budgets dropped more in April-Jun 2020 than during any quarter since the company’s report was launched 20 years ago. The drop of 50.7% eclipsed the fall of 41.7% seen in Oct-Dec 2008 in the wake of the Great Depression.

During that same quarter, 86% of companies delayed or reviewed their spending on B2B marketing activities and nearly three quarters of firms paused a planned product or service launch.

Many company marketing departments in the Midlands and around the UK reacted with caution to the first lockdown.

The forms of B2B marketing whose budgets were reduced the least were direct marketing (email marketing, telemarketing, and postal marketing) and PR. And, as business started to return gradually to something approaching normality, the budgets which saw the greatest increase and recovery were direct marketing and web-based content/inbound marketing.

Finding new prospects during lockdown

The trend towards investment in web-based content marketing increased as a result of the pandemic. B2B decision makers and budget holders found themselves with comparatively light workloads and many used this time to carry out research into products and services they believed their companies might need.

B2B marketing teams invested in content containing the answers to questions prospective buyers were most likely to have in an attempt to persuade them to leave their contact details for follow up when they were at a company’s site.

Record levels of interaction were also reported by many B2B direct marketing teams particularly in the first wave of the pandemic.

B2B email marketing campaigns were achieving the types of open rates not seen since the mid-2000’s according to the sales director at More Than Words, a UK-based B2B marketing agency, Clare Tweed.

“Response rates to email marketing were incredibly high but so was the interaction our canvassers were achieving on B2B telemarketing campaigns”, reported Ms. Tweed.

“The secretaries who would normally block the calls just weren’t there – telemarketers were getting through to decision makers direct. Conversion levels were very high although, on many occasions, decision makers cautioned us that any decision to purchase may be delayed because of uncertainty around the pandemic.

“That’s to be expected of course however, when we booked video conferencing calls or generated leads and passed them onto our clients’ sales team, many managed to maintain near-normal turnover levels through the disruption.”

The rise of digital sales channels

A survey by international consulting firm McKinsey & Company backed up B2B buyers’ embrace of video calls in place of traditional face-to-face appointments.

They found that between 70 to 80% of B2B decision makers now prefer remote human interactions or digital self-service when interacting with potential suppliers’ sales reps.

Video and live chat gained massively in popularity among B2B sales reps and the targets they were trying to sell to.

Many companies relied on traditional, in-person interaction to make sales prior to the pandemic but that slumped to just 29% since the outbreak of COVID-19. In the year or so since first lockdown, B2B sales teams now reported that they had a “heavy reliance” on videoconferencing and online chat.

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