B2B Marketing 2021: what the crystal ball might reveal

B2B 2020 had been a year of turmoil and, for many companies, of transformation.  Perhaps the most obvious change has been in the huge shift for employees learning to work from home, while at the same time business leaders have realised that they can trust their staff to work remotely and unsupervised, with benefits for both the business and employees. 

Other changes have been perhaps less obvious but are nonetheless fundamental.  These include, for example, the massive disruption that took place to global supply chains, resulting in a rapid switch to much more diversified models and, in many instances, a growth in reshoring and near-shoring, especially for companies in western Europe and North America. 

In the world of B2B sales and marketing we’ve seen an explosion in the use of online tools to facilitate sales meetings, with many companies switching almost their entire sales process to an online model.  In turn, this had led to a rapid change in the nature and use of marketing tools – exhibitions, events and conferences have vanished or been replaced by, in many instances, less than satisfactory online copies – while the focus on digital tools and channels has increased dramatically. 

So, what does the future hold for B2B sales and marketing? 

I think that it’s unlikely that we’ll return to the pre-pandemic world of 2019 any time soon – if ever.  The changes we’ve seen in 2020 have been too fundamental and deep-rooted to allow us simply to go back to the back the way that we worked in the past. 

Instead, sales teams are going to have learn how to exploit online tools far more effectively than they have previously.  Developing their presentation skills, their ability to listen and learn, even to negotiate, over Zoom or Teams is going to be key.  So too will be their ability to think and act as advisors and thought leaders, making far greater use of channels such as LinkedIn; of course, this runs the risk of there being even more self-serving, promotional posts that swamp the few original posts that actually offer fresh ideas, inspiration and insight – but that’s another story! 

From a marketing perspective, the long-running switch to online and digital tools will continue, with techniques such as Inbound Marketing and Account Based Marketing growing in importance.  This in turn is likely to drive greater uptake in integrated marketing and sales products such as HubSpot, that help to build customer dialogue and nurturing. 

Finally, I think that the use of printed media – trade, technical and business publications, and sales and marketing collateral – is likely to decline still further; if for no other reason that with vast swathes of employees working from home it’s virtually impossible to mail materials to them, especially without falling foul of GDPR regulations. 

In many respects, 2021 is going to be another tough year, as we emerge from the shadow of the Covid pandemic.  Despite this, there will be many opportunities for sales and marketing leaders to transform the ways in which their teams operate and the tools, techniques and processes they use to reach and communicate with customers.  Ultimately, I believe that this will drive even greater creativity and innovation, with new and exciting developments that help B2B companies rebuild during 2021 ready to grow into the future. 

Guest Post by Nick Brooks.  Nick is the Founder and Managing Director of 4CM Ltd, a leading UK based marketing, media and digital communications agency, Nick has over 35 years of experience in developing powerful and cost effective marketing, media and communications programmes that transform results and drive business growth (www.4cm.co.uk  ).

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