We’ve heard the phrase “digital transformation” bandied about so much, it’s almost lost its meaning. But the past two years have shown us that when the time comes, transformation won’t be gradual. It will be sudden and unforgiving. Businesses that have not already started the journey will need to move twice as fast to catch up. And those that hesitate may lose. 2023 will be the year that B2B firms must pick up the pace. B2B buyers expect to be able to access products and services quickly and easily, without having to deal with cumbersome or outdated technology. They want instant, automated convenience and they want it now.
For 2023, I predict that buyer demand will shape the new face of B2B sales and business models.
1 | Digitally-obsessed buyers will demand better
B2B buyers are changing. Unlike their predecessors, this group are more likely to discover new products on social media than through a salesperson. 60% of US Gen-Zs, for example, now use Instagram to explore brands, products, and services. Meanwhile, 44% of millennials would prefer not to deal with a B2B sales representative at all. Today’s buyers are also more likely to engage across multiple channels before making a purchase – often more than ten channels in total.
Of course, this new breed of B2B buyers expects digital perfection every time. They have low tolerance for clunky or slow tech – if they encounter issues with an e-commerce platform, 60% of Gen-Zs will abandon the purchase altogether. This creates an incredible opportunity for tech-savvy B2B providers to jump in and pick up despondent would-be customers. To date, just 9% of B2B supplier platforms are fully automated, so there’s plenty of room for new online players to make an impact. What’s more, a strong UX design is so powerful for B2B companies, it can elevate conversion rates by 400%.
There seems little doubt that the most successful B2B companies of 2023 will be those that embrace Gen-Z preferences. Those with strong digital presence – across apps, websites, social commerce and more – are likely to surge ahead.
2 | B2B firms will embed and upskill
As B2B sales become increasingly driven by technology, the skillsets of employees and partners will need to do the same. Over the next year, I anticipate that many B2B firms will embed white-label services to answer their most complicated tech needs. Value-adding improvements like BNPL checkout options, instant payments, cloud-based databases or even regulation technology will be left in the hands of experienced third parties.
At the same time, B2B firms will double down on technological training for their own in-house teams. 65% of large UK companies plan to invest in upskilling their employees over the next year and, tellingly, despite worrying business costs, supply shortages and the painful recession ahead, 96% of organisations are not slashing their training budgets. On the contrary, many are increasing them.
Creating a more tech-savvy workforce would open extraordinary opportunities for B2B firms. One of the most promising and exciting developments is the model of humans working together with AI in a “hybrid” intelligence system.
3 | Significant efficiencies will emerge as humans work alongside AI
By 2025, 50% of B2B buyers will interact with AIs and “Digital Humans”. As artificial intelligence picks up pace in the B2B world, employees can take these valuable new insights and run with them. 2022 has seen the meteoric rise of generative AIs working with natural language, like DALL·E 2 or ChatGPT. Suddenly, teams have innovative new tools to do their best possible work. 2023 will be when this movement really begins to gather pace.
There are many tasks that are simply not well suited to humans, and thus have held businesses back for centuries. People are not great at repetitive, mundane tasks like entering data into spreadsheets. They get bored, they make mistakes. By contrast, AI systems excel at this work. Advanced machine learning algorithms can analyse large amounts of data, learning the patterns and structures hidden inside. But they can still return nonsensical or incorrect results, so machines need human expertise, especially when it comes to reading human emotions and motives.
The B2B firms that encourage their human teams to work together with time-saving technology will future-proof their business. They’ll offer the best possible products in the most efficient ways. By 2025, 80% of all interactions will take place on a digital channel, so the B2B firms grasping this opportunity now will get further ahead, sooner. “Hybrid” or “mixed” intelligence systems truly are the future. As an example, this section of my article was partly written using suggestions from ChatGPT, from prompts by a human being and with some rework.
4 | Better lending technology will be transformative
B2B financing is going through a dramatic transformation, especially for smaller businesses. With machine learning and data harvesting, lenders are building accurate credit profiles. Now they can finally escape outdated methods, like whether someone has lived at the same address for more than three years or has a credit card. Instead, lenders can deep dive into the business model and needs of the company. If the old way of assessing credit was like a rough sketch on a piece of paper, the new way is more like building a detailed 3D sculpture.
Lending is getting faster too. Within a matter of seconds and a couple of clicks, a business can access credit online. This can mean instant cash flow for the merchant, as well as flexible payment terms for the buyer. What’s more, it levels the playing field between small and large businesses.
Promisingly, lenders are heavily investing in new technology around the globe. From now until 2028, LendTech is expected to grow by 25.9% (CAGR) each year.
5 | Mobile-first e-commerce will race ahead
There’s no denying that people are moving away from the desktop computer and towards their smartphone. The average person spends 4.8 hours a day looking at their mobile phones – that’s one third of all waking time! This trend is especially interesting for B2B merchants, where the digital shopping space is still evolving. Over the next year, we’re likely to see many more B2B apps, social media marketplaces and mobile-first sites. The B2Bs that race ahead will be those with the tech to support this demand.
Research shows that 55% of e-commerce page views will come from mobile phones, and – importantly – this will account for around 50% of sales. Just under half of shoppers complete their entire purchase from their smartphone. So, there is a white-hot opportunity for B2B merchants to reach new audiences and make more sales with this channel. One of the most popular mobile destinations is, of course, social media. Social media marketplaces are fast becoming the most visited shopping destinations.
In 2019, more than 130 billion people browsed and purchased goods on Instagram. In 2023, that figure is likely to be much higher. Facebook Marketplace is also a popular shopping hub. As of 2021, it had a reported 1 billion users. For merchants who want to capture this trend, embracing mobile-first technology will be essential in 2023. This means mobile- first integrations such as client relationship management (CRM), product information management (PIM) and enterprise resource planning (ERP) among others. Of course, a seamless payment experience, connected to mobile wallets with embedded finance is another must-have.
Tech is boosting revenue and saving costs for B2Bs
2023 offers a universe of digital opportunities, especially for smaller businesses. After all, for those operating on slim margins, every single efficiency matters.
Driven by the demands of buyers, I predict that many B2B firms will move online. This means joining social media marketplaces, adopting e-commerce apps and making the most of embedded finance. Those that don’t partake in this inevitable digital trend risk getting left behind.
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