The new landscape of remote sales underscores the centrality of B2B buyers, making clear that to survive in the market, buyer-centricity isn’t an option, but a requirement. But it’s critical to understand that the pandemic has not been a one-off anomaly to the B2B sales ecosystem. Rather, this is a transformation that was inevitable, Covid-19 or not.
The traditional model of B2B selling – mass-customized collateral and vendor-dominated conversations – has morphed into one that’s much broader, more transparent, and personalized. Vendors no longer simply aim to “sell to,” but rather seek to “be a partner with” customers as they make purchasing decisions. Simultaneously, the pandemic added complexity by eliminating in-person visits, a critical relationship-building tool. Whereas field sales reps could previously expect to schedule face-to-face interactions and rely on at least some minutes of uninterrupted customer attention, days are now dominated by back-to-back calls that test the patience, mettle, and tech tolerance of every sales rep out there (and their customers). The soft skills of selling – skills that are a tried and true differentiator in moving prospects to sales – have been entirely transformed.
For B2B buyers, remote work and limited contact have highlighted operational inefficiencies and led to shifting priorities, and shifting preferences within the buying journey. McKinsey finds that 70-80 percent of prospects prefer remote interaction or digital self-service. But that shift brings a more discerning eye to the buying process; 51 percent of buyers report conducting more research before engaging sales, 50 percent also reported that more business justification is needed to close those deals. The number of decision-makers involved in purchasing decisions has expanded, and the need to see ongoing – not just initial – value is now standard. The proliferation of the field force, once a guaranteed go-to for sales results, has given way to the need for field force effectiveness.
These industry shifts are foundational. However, rather than making mere adjustments, B2B vendors have a real opportunity to entirely define a new sales process that seizes on what’s worked in the past and reimagine it with tools of today. Technology allows sales to reclaim the soft skills of selling for a new era, communicating value that deepens a relationship and moves from sales enablement to entrenched and effective customer engagement. Below are three strategic pillars for transforming your sales approach around competitive effectiveness against a changing B2B sales landscape.
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Content must be personal.
While technology has advanced, marketing collateral and messaging media largely haven’t kept pace. Yes, most vendors have moved beyond generic and mass-customization material as the buying process has centralized around customer experience and expectations that connections are available across all touchpoints and channels. But automating content goes deeper than simply which content tools to deploy at specific stages of sales conversations. Automation should also include the kind of data that is displayed within that content. For example, integration with CRMs and ERPs with AI engines can give reps tools such as personalized calculators or inventory counts within a single application. Customers are responding; 43 percent of B2B buyers report that vendors could improve the purchase process by providing tools that help show ROI. Beyond arming teams with the most effective collateral, digital customization initiatives have the added bonus of reducing costs by eliminating unnecessary printed collateral and the associated costs of bringing in digital agencies to produce it.
Contact must be smart.
Delivering the right message, via the right channel, to the right customers, at the right time is essential. Sales enablement boosts the process by integrating data, using conversion and revenue numbers to determine which specific marketing activities are most effective in driving sales. Soft skills, often formed by years of intuition and experience, can be supplemented with data insights. Real-time engagement data can give direction to future contact, and allows for customized engagement delivery and insight-driven interaction built on patterns of what worked with similar customers or within particular segments. Adding technology like voice analysis, sentiment analysis and gaze tracking can deliver even greater insight into which content effectively triggers specific reactions - and gets closer to the deal.
Pulling data and deploying machine learning or AI can enable sales teams to learn and categorize a buyer’s search behavior. Teams can then choose to deliver targeted content through a buyer’s communication channel of choice or create a personalized microsite for buyers that directs them to the products most closely aligned with their searches. Sales teams can collect and leverage data and predictive analytics to provide the exact information customers are seeking for both effective sales enablement and better customer engagement.
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Technology must be seamless.
Lastly, customers’ attention span is shorter and their evaluative posture is more sophisticated than ever. Each fumbled transition from application to application is just one more opportunity for prospects to mentally check out. That’s on top of a fundamental shift in the buying journey as B2C experiences have increased modern buyers’ expectations of flexibility and functionality within the B2B experience. In practice, this means sales teams should empower reps by simplifying the tools and technology they use. Under the new sales paradigm of condensed meeting times and with reps more dependent than ever on technology, keeping inter-app switching to a minimum eliminates interruptions and distractions. Unified application management eliminates inconsistent messaging and administrative burdens for reps, while increasing productivity, effectiveness, and continuity across enterprise workflows. This seamless experience needs to go beyond in-person meetings, so vendors should train and equip teams to communicate across the widest variety of channels so they can defer to individual buyers’ preferences.
As we shift into a post-pandemic world, vendors do not have to be threatened by new sales trends or the technology that’s transforming the industry. Rather, sales force effectiveness can be increased by deploying technology that paves the way for a personal, smart, and genuine interaction between buyers and sellers. By using technology to demonstrate their commitment to helping buyers along their journey, today’s teams can turn an antiquated sales process into engaging and authentic customer engagement.
Arik Brückner, Chief Revenue Officer, Pitcher