How COVID-19 is Changing EMEA’s B2B Buyer Expectations

In this video, Nick Boyer, Director of Strategic Consulting – EMEA and Carl Smith, Senior Executive Account Manager at PROS, discuss the importance of, why now more than ever, businesses across EMEA need to focus on understanding B2B buyer’s needs. You’ll hear, Nick’s perspective on how buyer needs will change in 3 significant ways and how businesses need to use this time, during a global lockdown, to plan for the future, where e-commerce channels and personalised digital buying experiences will be key. 


[00:50] Nick discusses what we can learn from previous downturns 
[04:18] The 3 significant ways in which B2B buyer needs are changing 
[05:56] Nick and Carl discuss how to use your time in lockdown most effectively: discover your customers’ changing needs
[08:15] How to better prepare for the post COVID-19 future 
[10:10] A final note on how PROS can help businesses in the time of crises 

Full Transcript

Carl Smith: [00:00] Good afternoon, Nick, thanks for joining me and of course a warm welcome to any listeners who happened to be tuning into this podcast from wherever you may be. ...

My name is Carl Smith. I'm a Senior Sales Executive here at PROS and I'm joined this afternoon by Nick Boyer, Director of Strategic Consulting.

Nick, a lot's changed since we planned this conversation. I remember we talked about running a short podcast where we were going to look at how companies can use pricing to gain competitive advantage. But now instead of sitting in the office, we're like everybody else conducting this conversation online.

And it just feels like a whole world's been turned upside down. And I know these are challenging times for everybody on so many levels. I've never personally experienced anything of this in my lifetime but from a business perspective, can you think of any events historically that we can draw any lessons from?

Nick Boyer: [00:50] I think you're right, Carl, that this is nothing like any event that's happened in the past, but I do think we can still draw a few lessons from the past. There've been some quite severe recessions, but they tend to be due to declining consumer confidence caused by inflation or a collapse in the housing market or some other significant trigger.

This situation we find ourselves in now is very different due to actions taken by the government to combat the Corona virus. Many aspects of both demand and supply have been completely shut down almost with immediate effect. And this is impacting different industries in different ways. Some companies like airlines and restaurants have seen demand almost wiped out, whereas other companies I've seen demand shoot up.

I don't know if you've tried buying some exercise equipment recently. There's huge demand for that to exercise from home. So, there are lessons from the past that can be applied, I think, in terms of how companies can react depending on the specific situation that they find themselves in. For companies that are experiencing a significant drop in demand, they should have procedures in place that prevent price erosion, no point chasing volume that's not there at the moment, at the expense of longer term margin erosion, and they should focus on understanding what their customers now value and try and meet those underlying needs to remove the focus away from reducing price.

And for companies that are experiencing the surge in demand, that kind of opposite effect. Really, it's about being seen as a responsible, trusted partner, have controls in place to make sure nobody has been taken advantage of, but at the same time, be nimble enough to cut promotions and unnecessary discounts.

And I'd also urge companies to wherever possible, have processes in place to look after their loyal customers as well to make sure they're not the ones that are left with, with no stock and kind of a bad taste in their mouth from a bad experience at this time. 

Carl Smith: [03:09] None of us can predict when we might resume sort of normal business activities but do you think, given the experience we've had during this period, after all, many of us have got used to conducting meetings in this fashion, remotely. We certainly got accustomed to the idea of not having a commute or daily commute. So, do you think we'll ever go back to the old normal? I think some things will inevitably change for sure.

Nick Boyer: [03:32] I think more people will be working from home in the future as companies are appreciating that productivity is actually increasing in many cases and there will be more of a drive to exploit modern technology. As a result, even before recent events, we were seeing an acceleration towards e-commerce as a number of digitally native buyers is increasing all the time.

I think this latest crisis will further accelerate that trend. 

Carl Smith: [04:04] That's really interesting that now, just to flip it on its head for a moment, I'm thinking about it from the buyer's perspective. What are they likely to expect from the suppliers when they see some sort of resumption of business as usual?

Nick Boyer: [04:18] Well, I do think that the needs, the expectations of buyers will change. I think buyers will be looking for suppliers that can best meet their post-crisis needs, and I think their needs will change in three significantly important ways, buyers will want to be confident that they can use eCommerce channels and that they can still enjoy a personalized experience through this channel.

This means being guided to the right combination of products and services that matches their requirements and at a price that matches their willingness to pay without having to resort to time-consuming price negotiations through traditional channels. And secondly, I think buyers will want to work with suppliers that can provide them with confidence in a continuation of supply.

And I think, I think this will be a topic that we'll get a lot more focus in the future. And I also think that customers will value this sufficiently enough to be willing to pay more, to secure it and have that visibility of the entire supply chain that will give them the assurance that they need.

And thirdly, I think buyers will be more aware of the importance of having flexible and fair trading partners. Companies that look after their loyal customers and are flexible enough to adapt to changing circumstances. And, you know, they will remember how companies, how their suppliers, how their trading partners, have reacted and coped, during this, lockdown that we found ourselves in at the moment.

Carl Smith: [05:56] Nick, other examples of change and adoption, whether your think a gym workout or Pilates, we see some great online videos and tips on how to get fit or stay fit physically during this period. I know for me personally; I've used the opportunity to replace the commute with some yoga sessions. So, I'm hoping that when I go back to playing football, I know it worked for some professionals in the past and, whilst I'm nowhere near professional, I need every bit of help that I can get, but what are some of the things you think businesses could be doing now to ensure they're fighting fit, and that they're ready for when we enter that recovery phase? 

Nick Boyer: [06:35] Well, Carl, just like you seem to be working on improving your flexibility reactions, I think businesses will want to do the same.

Our research tunnels is that B2B buyers really value a timely personalized experience, and in fact that they're even willing to pay more for it. So, companies therefore, will need to focus on understanding what combination of products and services will appeal to each type of customer. Be able to generate these personalized offers across all of their channels.

Understand their customer's willingness to pay and make sure their systems and processes are dynamic enough to quickly adapt to changing circumstances in the future. 

Carl Smith: [07:19] That's interesting what you're saying, Nick, about customers being willing to pay a higher price when the price is personalized and delivered to them quickly.

I can relate to that. I can think of many of occasion where I've actually walked out of a store simply because I can't locate, you know, a price on the goods on the suit or the pair of shoes or whatever it may be. And rather than go and ask the assistant if it's not there and available to me immediately, I will walk away. So, I can definitely relate to that at a, at a sort of consumer level. 

Nick Boyer: [07:39] Yes. I think buyers want a more efficient process that they can trust. We find in our research that roughly 60% of buyers were willing to pay more for personalized products and service offers, and two thirds of B2B buyers also felt that prices that had been derived from artificial intelligence algorithms were preferable as they were perceived as fair and also more trustworthy.

Carl Smith: [08:15] Just for a moment, I'd like you to put yourself though, in the shoes of a product manager or a finance manager who hopefully has got a little bit more time on their hands in terms of, setting some time for some commute, and perhaps dealing with lower sales volumes. Are there any particular activities, you know what I'm saying is how could I ask you is how could they use the time available to them now, to get themselves fitted in shape and better prepared for when we start to come out of this crisis?  

Nick Boyer: [08:42] Well, going back to what we just talked about now is a good time, I think for businesses to make sure that they really know their customers and how their needs are changing.

I think by really getting to know their customers, will they be in a position to offer them the right products and services, artificial intelligence algorithms can also be valuable in helping to predict willingness to pay. But now it's probably also a good time when the sales team may not be as busy, as in normal circumstances, to reach out to their customers and just engage in a conversation, you know, find out how they are coping with the current situation, but also learn more about you know, what's driving them, what are their underlying needs and really try to understand how, we can change our offer, our kind of proposition to be even more value to them in the future. 

Carl Smith: [09:48] Nick, when we started our conversation, you were very open in respect to the fact that generic advice can be very, very difficult to apply right now.

But for those businesses that have now moved beyond survival and are starting to look forward and plan for the future. Is there anything that we can offer those companies now at PROS. 

Nick Boyer: [10:10] Yes. Well, we are aware that many companies are experiencing new challenges at the moment, and in some cases, they need to find quick solutions, and some companies may not even be sure what those solutions are.

So we therefore, happy to offer free pricing consulting advice, selling consulting advice to both customers and non-customers alike. 

Carl Smith: [10:30] Oh, I think that's that. That'd be very well received. Nick, I'm sure. I'm sure there's many customers out there that would have a listen to some of the things you've said today.

I'm sure some of the themes that struck a chord, so what you're saying is that if anybody wants to take that up further and look at how some of these things could apply to their business or just generally seek advice around the topic of pricing and how they get themselves ready for coming out of this crisis, then we'll make ourselves available and we're prepared to put some of our best people in front of the customers, on a free consulting basis, which, you know, I think everybody needs all the help they can get right now. So, that's a great offer. 

I know there's loads more questions I could be asking you. I'd love to continue this conversation on further. But in the meantime, thanks for joining me this afternoon

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