The B2B sales journey has seen seismic shifts over the last few decades, often due to the introduction of new technology. Salesforce and CRM in the early 2000s narrowed the focus to individual prospects and the embrace of customer segmentation. Years later, the increasing availability of sales analytics and tools reshaped B2B sales, focusing on numbers and away from long-followed methodologies or the soft skills of individual reps. And in the last few years, hyper-customization, personalization, and AI have assumed a central role as sales teams look for process efficiencies and outcome improvements.
Looking ahead, Gartner predicts that by 2025, 60% of B2B sales organizations will transition from experience- and intuition-based selling. With the rapid pace of digitalization, B2B buyers now prefer to engage with suppliers remotely or through digital self-service, and they plan to spend big.
Transitioning to the new model of B2B buying, one accelerated by the pandemic, requires a commensurate transition in the way sales teams approach B2B selling. Despite the evolution and availability of sales technology, many teams remain reliant on an anachronistic approach. Many enterprise teams are reluctant to give up a model of “vendor talks, customers listen” that proved useful and lucrative in previous eras, despite the changing makeup of B2B buyer teams. It’s no longer enough to “sell to” customers; sales teams must “partner with” them as they make purchasing decisions. The new sales funnel puts B2B buyers in the spotlight and requires demonstrated value communicated quickly and continuously.
Often sales reps view technology with suspicion, concerned they may be displaced or that the model in which they were effective has been replaced by one where their skills are not required. But the new map for navigating the B2B journey fuses the past and the future, merging expertise and intuition with technology and innovation that meet digital era demands.
1. Expand Your Tool Use, but Judiciously
Technology has revolutionized sales but can create major headaches when implemented poorly. According to the Time Management for Sales study show approximately 62% of a sales rep’s time is spent using sales technology (not actively selling). The top two frustrations of sales teams are doing repetitive administrative tasks that could be automated and updating multiple systems that ought to be connected. There are applications for CRM, sales and market intelligence, lead handling and prospecting, analytics and reporting, process and coaching, automation and integrations, and more, as new apps pop up every day.
Tools that are complicated and add friction to the sales team’s day mean sales teams ignore them and find workarounds. Same for buying the hottest tools without a clear plan for ongoing coaching and training. When considering new technology, be sure that you’re not:
- creating a process where there isn’t a need for one
- duplicating unnecessary steps
- displacing widely-used and familiar tools without communicating how to use them and why they’ll make the life of a sales rep better
2. Use Data Better
Though Salesforce finds that high-performing sales teams are 1.5X more likely to forecast on data-driven insights, only 46% of sales reps have data insights on customers’ propensity to buy. And while 81% of sales reps think it’s important to have a connected view of data across the entire journey, only 49% of businesses say they have fully integrated systems.
For sales reps, spend time on the front end to determine what metrics and other data will be useful to demonstrate value to each customer. Using AI to predict order needs or an interactive game isn’t useful if you’re lacking useful data insights into unique customer and market activity. For internal sales teams, enabling self-service analytics allows non-technical staff like executives and marketing to easily digest complex information for better reports and content and hasten the necessary move away from relying on intuition and toward data-driven insights.
McKinsey offers the following as examples of key analytics use cases: lead generation, lead scoring, coverage planning, field productivity, talent and people management, pipeline management and forecasting, cross-sell/upsell, churn reduction, dynamic pricing, dynamic deal scoring, and A/B price testing. The potential for analytics to boost sales and engagement exists across all parts of the sales journey, and integrating data capture and data use is critical to the future of sales.
3. Cede Control
It has never been more important to deliver the right message, at the right time, in the right channel. And with the shift to digital, sales teams have the opportunity to achieve this by letting go, leaning into the rising interest in self-serve options for B2B buyers.
AI, predictive analytics, interactive technology, and other innovations can effectively let customers lead themselves to a sale. At the customer’s convenience, marketers can capture audiences through highly personalized and effective content, leading to higher customer engagement and the generation of additional useful data. By leaning into digital initiatives, B2B sellers can create a better engagement cycle by using data-driven insights to personalize the journey, not just give a product-focused pitch. According to Mary Shea, former Forrester principal analyst, 74 to 77% of buyers are more likely to buy from a salesperson who has adjusted to these changing expectations — one who weaves customized data and insights into a conversation presents an interactive tool regarding how their product or service measurably impacts business performance or provides others kinds of new and compelling information.
This virtuous cycle gives sales reps direct insight into the pain points, needs, and wants of prospects and existing customers. And it gives customers the option to engage how they want when they want, and with what they want.
4. Improve Communication Channels
There are an ever-growing number of communication tools, and enterprises must consider how to incorporate these innovative channels while serving multiple purposes: delivering a premium customer experience, securing customer data, and maintaining compliance. Apps like WeChat, Viber, Telegram, Facebook and others offer non-work familiarity for B2B buyers who have little time and patience for being bound to channels because of vendor inflexibility. And the adoption of them is growing rapidly. Expanding communication channel availability not only increases the impact of customer interaction but can also help sales teams and customers achieve compliance. Businesses can manage all communications through a central hub (i.e., through ABC Inc. ‘s WeChat account) and route messages to and from individual sales reps (i.e., to John Anderson, a sales rep at ABC Inc’s WeChat account) to manage regulatory requirements.
5. Measure Effectiveness, Not Reach
Because of the onerous obligations often put on sales reps, logging information can often become an afterthought as reps move from one activity to another. And, due to the residual traditional sales processes of “selling to,” teams may not be capturing the data that makes selling successful in the digital era. On the sales side, move away from data about quantity (number of scheduled contacts, number of new prospects, number of contacts) and toward quality (what collateral saw highest engagement time, what pieces of material led to the highest conversion rate). Today’s (and tomorrow’s) buyers are more skeptical of sales reps’ claims than previous buyer teams, so commit to a metrics-based focus that demonstrates immediate and ongoing ROI.
The only constant is change, and sales teams ignore this lesson at their peril. To remain relevant in a digital world, sales teams need to adjust their approach to one that aligns with today’s digital demands.