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Great Aunt Ethel’s buying groceries on Instacart. She’s streaming YouTube jazzercize videos from her living room. Great Aunt Ethel — best known for handwritten letters, pocketbook butterscotch and her love of polka records — now fills her days with Telehealth visits, Amazon Prime deliveries, and video chats with the grandkids.

COVID-19’s impact changed Great Aunt Ethel, ushering her into the digital age seemingly overnight. But this dramatic shift in behavior and preference isn’t restricted to consumers alone.

From the comfort of our quarantined couches, we’ve witnessed our communities, businesses and world assess startling conditions and restrictions, modify decades-old ways of doing things, and acclimate to a new normal — seemingly overnight. Believe me when I say, COVID-19 has irrevocably changed your B2B customers and capsized traditional buying cycles.

COVID-19 Changed B2B Buyers Forever

In a nutshell? Your buyers got used to researching and buying online — and they prefer it. They’ve shopped online as consumers for years, and now, B2B boundaries are gone. McKinsey found 70%-80% of B2B decision makers prefer remote interactions or digital self-service, due to its ease of scheduling, travel cost savings, and overall safety.

We’ve seen growing B2B adoption of self-service options for years now, but frequently restricted to lower cost purchases or reordering previously purchased items. This distinction is gone. Seventy percent of buyers in that same McKinsey study stated they are willing to independently purchase new items online in excess of $50,000, and 27% of buyers are comfortable purchasing in excess of half a million dollars.

This preference for self-service online options is here to stay -— 90% of B2B decision makers expect the remote and digital model to stick around for the long run.

The lure of the e-commerce siren is strong. As a consumer, once you experience the ease, personalization, and speed of ordering from Amazon, there’s no going back. Likewise, once a B2B buyer has a simple, seamless, and satisfying online business purchase, a new habit is cemented.

Related Article: 3 B2B Marketers Delivering Customer Experiences That Rival B2C

2020 Upended Traditional Sales Cycles

The traditional B2B sales cycle has been reliable and comforting. Unlike B2C whims and instant gratification, B2B sales cycles were often driven through trade events, decades-long relationships, and holiday cadences.

As COVID-19 postponed and reduced attendance at trade markets, it opened the floodgates to 24/7 online sales. Businesses fell over themselves to adopt self-service options — in just three months, ecommerce penetration in the US market grew more quickly than it had in the last 10 years combined.

The proliferation of ecommerce options enabled buyers to diverge from typical buying cycles. In the wholesale consumer goods space, for example, a company may gain the majority of annual sales revenue through the popular trade markets in July and then again in January. For the most part, sales flatten out in the months between.

Now, we’re seeing online revenue growing every month. In sampling our B2B clients, we see online revenue growing in the double digits (year-over year) every month from July through December. September alone saw a 72% increase in online revenue, compared to the year before.

This ecommerce acceleration empowers buyers with endless choices — they’re buying when they want to, how they want to.

Related Article: Design Ecommerce Experiences to Handle Increasing Demand

Can You Deliver on New Buyer Expectations and 24/7 Sales Cycles?

Closing the book on 2020 and growing closer to containing COVID-19 means optimism that things will return to normal. I look forward to a nice glass (cough: bottle) of tequila with friends, without two yardsticks of space between us.  

In many instances, things will not return to normal, because frankly, normal was restrictive.

Why shouldn’t your customers purchase from the comfort of their homes, in the middle of the night? Why shouldn’t you close a record-breaking sale in December, your slowest sales month?

Revel in the disruption and get ready to deliver on new customer expectations and always-on sales cycles. To do this, at a minimum, you need a strong B2B ecommerce website, built with powerful self-service features and designed for thoughtful user experience (UX) — making it easy for your customers to find products, complete purchases, and answer questions on their own.

Employ a smart, multi-channel digital strategy to turn your website into a customer acquisition, retention, and maximization machine, while empowering your marketing and sales teams with real-time insights into the inner workings of your customers. What grabs their attention and motivates their next action? When should a sales rep reach out and with what offer? Data will tell you.

Use these insights to tailor your digital campaigns and sales rep approach ongoing, and you have a repeatable strategy to win on customer experience, with the necessary agility to pivot through 2021’s inevitable challenges.

Related Article: B2B Buyer Loyalty Hangs in the Balance

The Irony in the Opportunities

While many businesses will fail to pivot and falter under unmet customer expectations, the recipe to succeed in a 24/7, self-service B2B sales environment is readily available.

The irony in the disruption is the endless opportunities to acquire, retain and maximize every customer. They want to buy from you, online and in-person, whenever and however they want to.

Let them.