4 Ways the Pandemic Changed B2B Communication (From A Nationally-Representative Survey)

The COVID-19 pandemic changed every aspect of daily life.

Too many sales teams, though, are continuing to use the same general tactics they used pre-2020.

While we’re not yet able to claim victory over the pandemic, it’s time sales leaders think about what B2B sales might look like in a post-COVID world. We’ve witnessed a fundamental shift in how we all communicate at work. The sales teams that anticipate and meet the new landscape will be the ones who win.

How COVID-19 changed B2B communication

To get a better sense of workplace communications, Vyond partnered with TRUE Global Intelligence to conduct a nationally-representative survey in February 2020 of 1,000 adults in the United States. Participants were employed full-time at large organizations (500+ employees) and included remote and non-remote workers across industries with varying levels of seniority.

We’ve used those findings to explore exactly how the pandemic conditions have shifted the way we communicate at work. We conducted a follow-up survey in July 2020 and again in February 2021.

What emerged were some early insights into how B2B communication changed – and continues to change – in the face of our extraordinary new reality.

Getting personal is no longer taboo

Lockdowns and working from home blurred the divide between our professional and personal lives. As our partners became our deskmates, so did pets, kids, and the neighborhood construction crew. Disruptions that were traditionally inappropriate in a business setting became very tolerable, very quickly.

Prior to the pandemic, 62% of employees believed having loud conversations around others was a violation of workplace etiquette. After just 12 months, that number dropped to 16%.

Old taboos like prolonged chats with coworkers grew to not only be tolerated, but valued. Out of those surveyed, only 11% believe they are inappropriate during work hours – much lower than the 24% from the previous year.

Savvy sales teams should build on this integration between the personal and professional. The value of authentic human connection has long been proven in a B2B context, but you don’t have to wait for lunch at the driving range to achieve it.

By bringing personal experiences and a little dose of reality into our sales messaging, we can cut to the connection so much more quickly.

Email is no longer king

As recently as 2019, 39% of businesses reached for email as the go-to communication method between coworkers. That all changed with the pandemic-driven rise of video, audio, and instant messenger.

Email not only has grown less common, but less favorable among business audiences, too. Fifty-four percent of workers reported to us that they feel emails can cause miscommunication or cause unintentional offense. We also saw a marked preference for video communications over written formats like emails and blog posts.

While it’s reasonable to expect email to live on as a B2B sales channel, it would be foolish to rely wholly on it. That isn’t to say we should all revert to its predecessor, the phone, either.

Rather than adding to the noise of an inbox that prospects are already avoiding, we can spark meaningful engagement by employing rich media and unique channels for getting in touch.

How COVID-19 changed sales leadership

Sales leadership also saw a shift since the onset of the pandemic.

Leadership communication has weakened

Remote work tested how well leadership teams could communicate the plans they designed in an extremely short period of time. Unfortunately, the results weren’t positive.

Only 55% of women and 61% of men thought leadership communicated well with employees. These stats look positive on the surface, but flip them, and you’ll realize fewer than 40% of the employees were satisfied with how leadership shared information since the pandemic started.

Among the specific communication flaws, 73% of men and 63% of women believed their company’s return to work policies were transparent. Once again, these stats look good enough. But they aren’t – no one on your team should doubt their future work conditions.

Armed with this information, sales leaders should spend as much time thinking about what they communicate to their teams as how they communicate it. Build in mechanisms to help you check for understanding and alignment across your team. Be thoughtful about the tone of your messages, and consider delivering them in an on-demand format. Videos, for example, can be viewed by each team member whenever they’re most able to receive your message.

Meeting different needs for different team members

All of your team members might hold different communication values, and a one-size-fits-all approach may be ineffective at best, and exclusionary at worst.

For example, our survey found that 51% of Boomers struggle to spark new ideas through text-based messages. In contrast, 53% of millennials favor email over conversations.

Related: Don’t Call, Just Text: How to Sell to Millennials

That all becomes quite difficult to balance when you also think about how 44% of employees find it frustrating when coworkers share information via the wrong communication channel.

There’s that old expression that “you can’t make everyone happy,” and that’s absolutely true. Recognizing these preferences as deeply-seated behaviors is an important step in getting everybody on the same page.

Talking explicitly on your team about preferred communication norms can be powerful, providing an opportunity to co-create a working agreement with minimal intervention from you or other managers.

However you go about reconstructing your team’s communication norms, it’s important to think about a few different generational divides, like synchronous vs. asynchronous, and written vs. spoken. You may be able to get clever and find a middle ground, but other times, you might need to give team members the room to use whatever works best for them.

Communicate across a shifting business landscape

To successfully reach leads and audiences, sales and marketing professionals will need to reconsider their biases, assumptions, and habits of communication. As our preferences grow increasingly diverse, we need to meet audiences where they are with engaging multimedia content (like video) that gets your message across.

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