Business-to-business (B2B) has always been about relationships - shaking hands, big conferences and trade shows. Explaining typically complex solutions has always required some level of face-to-face engagement but earlier this year, that was turned on its head.
As Covid-19 spread aggressively around the world, marketers faced the reality that live events and conferences won't be an option for some time.
Those organisations that have been reluctant to transform the way they operate have had their hand forced.
Even the most digitally advanced marketers are having to rethink their strategy.
I believe what we're experiencing today just accelerates what was predicted to happen over the next few years.
Those companies that will adapt and innovate will be the ones that survive during the Covid-19 pandemic.
There is an opportunity for organisations to reinvest what they would spend on events into digitally activating their workforce.
Shifting towards developing relationships online can work just as well if done correctly.
I think it's fair to say that B2B marketing may never return back to it's traditionally 'event heavy' schedule again.
As organisations discover new ways to engage customers online, it will inevitably change the purpose of trade-shows and conferences going forward.
It might be that marketers engage with fewer live events but with a different objectives in mind. As we see more exhibitions move online, this will change the model forever.
I'm certain there will still be a place for events in B2B. After all, people like to work with people they know, like and trust and for that to happen you need to meet them!
However, whilst we will never replace face-to-face relationships, the digital shock wave we've just experienced will make us think about how we can do that efficiently going forward.
B2B companies in particular rely on the annual circuit of trade shows and exhibitions to network and build customer relations. In industries that are not digital-native, they may also be less sophisticated in their digital growth and customer relations strategies. For smaller businesses especially, used to getting new customers through word-of-mouth referrals or on the strength of a hard-won reputation, their loss is coming as a shock. Larger companies are also now finding themselves in the position of having potentially lost millions through cancelled events. Digital is likely to be the clear winner here, and companies – including ones that may not so much as had a Facebook page before – will need to move into social marketing, content marketing, SEO and influencer-led campaigns.