2020 has been an “interesting” year for for B2B marketers and buyers alike, to say the least. But now that companies have adjusted their processes and plans, what does the outlook for 2021 look like? How have plans changed since the third quarter? Two recent research reports provide useful insights.
Findings from Spiceworks Ziff Davis and Google generally indicate buyers have a cautious optimism about the year ahead, though the pandemic has clearly impacted both the level and type of technology investments businesses are planning for 2021.
Here are six of the most important findings about buying trends and plans for B2B marketers.
The revenue and spending outlook remains positive—though not as positive as recent years.
Despite the human and economic toll taken by the coronavirus, 59% of business buyers expect their company’s revenue to remain steady or increase next year. That finding, from The 2021 State of IT: The Annual Report on IT Budgets and Tech Trends produced by Spiceworks Ziff Davis (SWZD), is certainly positive—though down from more than 80% in 2019 and the beginning of 2020.
More optimistically, according to the SWZD report, “80% of businesses in North America and Europe anticipate year-over-year tech spending to stay the same or increase.”
The impact for B2B marketers is that there may be slightly less demand in the coming year, but still significant potential for those who truly understand and address buyer needs. And, of course, there are many factors could impact this outlook: a vaccine for COVID-19, another stimulus package, the economic policies pursued by whatever administration is in place after November 3rd, etc.. Stay flexible.
The pandemic has accelerated digital transformation initiatives.
Interest in digital transformation has been gradually increasing over the past five years. But the SWZD research found that COVID-19 has acted as a “catalyst” for transformation, with 76% of businesses planning long-term IT and business process changes. The 2021 State of IT report further states:
COVID-19 has driven businesses around the globe to transform to enable remote workforces, adopt digital workflows, optimize business operations, and innovate to meet the needs of a new market. Many of these changes will be permanent and will continue to influence tech purchases in 2021.”
Flexible work arrangements-—where employees spend some days in the office and some working remotely—will be permanent in many organizations. This is driving increased investments in software for data and network security, communications, and employee self-service portals.
Transformative does not necessarily, however, mean big, disruptive new systems and projects. As the report states, “In 2021, emerging tech adoption plans will cool off considerably, with many organizations grappling with optimizing existing operations…instead of trying to take on experimental projects that might not offer immediate return on investment. ”
Think less AI and VR, more practical investments in proven technology that can drive incremental improvement in service delivery and workflow automation.
B2B tech budget priorities are shifting.
Companies in the SWZD study plan to allocate close to 30% of their total IT budgets to software in 2021, in line with the past couple of years. They will spend relatively more on cloud services and managed services, and a bit less on hardware.
Within those software budgets, organizations will invest relatively more than recent years in productivity software, industry-specific applications, security apps, communication software, and developer tools.
These and many other findings from the SWZD report are summarized in an infographic produced by the publisher. Here’s a snapshot of one section:
Buyers are increasingly open to switching suppliers.
According to the latest research by Google on the emotional state and buying habits of B2B buyers, nearly two-thirds of those buyers (65%) say they are likely to switch suppliers within the next 30 days, up from less than 60% at the beginning of the summer.
They are also opening their wallets. 66% of buyers in the most recent survey say their budgets have increased in the 10% to 50% range for the near term, up 10 points from June.
Buyers want self-service options…
Consumer ecommerce sales have been growing and gradually eroding brick-and-mortar business for the past two decades. But the pandemic has transformed that growth to a surge, with ecommerce sales soaring 129% year over year in the U.S. and Canada.
Not surprisingly, those at-home shoppers increasingly expect a similar buying experience in their professional lives. Per the Google study,, more than 80% of B2B buyers make choices based on their experiences with vendor websites. And, “Self-service options impact their purchase decisions the most with 75% saying it impacted their decision in June vs. 76% in August.”
…but they also want to feel supported.
Self-service doesn’t mean less service, however. Google’s research also found that, “Buyers want to feel supported, especially after a purchase. One in three buyers still indicate that suppliers under-deliver on post-purchase support. They are also looking for reassurance throughout the purchase process.”
There’s much more to learn from both studies. But the bottom line is that as we’ve learned more about this virus, developed better therapeutics, understand better how to protect ourselves, and vaccines get closer to approval, the economy is gradually reopening.
Long-term changes from this experience will make B2B technology even more important going forward. The pandemic has shifted business practices (more workers will work remotely, even long-term) and processes (more need for innovative online communication tools and security software) in ways that will impact purchasing priorities significantly in the coming year.
Though fewer business anticipate revenue growth in 2021, B2B tech budgets will nonetheless increase to adapt to the changes and accelerate digital transformation. The year ahead brings significant opportunities for B2B marketers who are empathetic and able to quickly change plans to adapt to changing circumstances.