Digital: The Deciding Factor in the New Age of B2B Sales

As we (hopefully) pull away from COVID-19’s dominance over the way we live and work, a new day is dawning in B2B sales. The pendulum that swung hard and fast toward 100% remote selling, prompted mostly by lockdowns and shuttered offices, has begun to swing the other way and achieve equilibrium. Sales models are still fluctuating, and sales leaders continue to grapple with the unexpected when it comes to buyer behaviors. But some aspects of the new sales environment are settling down.

For many companies, face-to-face client visits have resumed to some extent. The reskilling that outside field sellers needed when they were brought in-house has inculcated them with methods that have rejuvenated their sales capabilities. Sales leaders who embraced these changes are blazing new trails by restructuring their sales operations and revitalizing their sales teams to meet fluid situations. Overall, they are emerging stronger and are better positioned for long-term success.

Buying and selling habits are rebalancing, and there is no looking back. If your sales organization is still teeter-tottering between the past and trends that are foretelling the future, hold onto your hat. It’s time to venture into the new B2B frontier.

Hybrid Selling Strikes a Balance

B2B companies are opting for a balance between providing an all e-remote or all field sales experience. In fact, a McKinsey study finds that the “rule of thirds” reigns supreme. Global buyers show they equally prefer a blend of traditional, remote, and self-service interactions across the purchasing journey.

Discovering a happy medium among these three ways to serve customers is the basis for a new B2B sales model. And, according to McKinsey, sales leaders are happy with the shift, with 90% of B2B companies reporting satisfaction with the new paradigm.

According to McKinsey, roughly 40% of organizations added hybrid sellers to their ranks over the past two years, a trend they expect to expand over the next three years. This shift makes total sense because it serves the needs of today’s omnichannel purchasing journey.

All Channels, All the Time

Suppliers see the omnichannel sales model as omni-opportunity, providing an easier path to greater sales growth. Five years ago, there were just a few popular sales channels, compared to the current list of at least ten.

Chart with list of 10 sales channels

B2B companies are now well-entrenched in using videoconferencing, web, and other digital technologies effectively either to supplant or supplement live selling. And according to McKinsey, the more channels a sales organization deploys, the bigger their market share gains.

Meeting multi-channel demand takes more than just having a bunch of applications at your sales reps’ disposal. Both on- and-offline experiences must operate seamlessly, or else the customer experience suffers.

Despite the challenges, 91% of suppliers in McKinsey’s survey say post-pandemic sales models are as or more effective at reaching and serving customers as before the pandemic.

Digital Connections Reign Supreme

Realize that B2B buyers are relying on digitally available data throughout their journey, no matter the sophistication of the supplier’s product.

In 2021, two-thirds of buyers opted for remote human interactions or digital self-service. What’s interesting to note is decision-makers’ increasing comfort level making large dollar-amount purchases online. In McKinsey’s survey of Chinese and American buyers, eight in ten say they would spend $50,000+ through digital channels.

Buyers are much more likely to choose suppliers who provide exceptional digital experiences as a primary supplier than a company providing a poor experience. When a company “gets it right,” even through remote means, it can meet its clients’ needs efficiently.

Further, self-service information gathering is on the rise. This challenges sales reps to make up-to-date information accessible to buyers and to be proactive in sharing assets with prospects that will add value and drive the buyer’s journey. It’s not that companies are replacing human sales rep with digital constructs or bots; it’s that sales reps’ roles have reached a new plateau of modernization. Atop that plateau, sales managers now have a broader panorama of buyer connectivity opportunities that can be advantageous to both sales and revenue. And, according to a Forrester analyst, buyers are still looking to “partner with sales to get more in-depth answers and solutions to their business challenges.”

According to Salesforce, “Digital solutions allow sales agents to do what they do best: sell. This may seem like it shouldn’t be an issue, but the average salesperson spends over 65% of their time on non-selling activities. Using automation and introducing self-service options can let salespeople tend to their customers.”

The Advent of the Omnichannel Orchestrator

Whatever other changes you make in your organizational structure, keep in mind that the new omnichannel, always-on ecosystem has transformed sales reps into sales orchestrators. It starts with careful monitoring of each customer’s channel activity, noting patterns of engagement, using that intelligence to guide customers toward the most logical channel at their particular purchasing stage, and then sharing the right information at the right time that will lead to a purchase decision. Companies that are adept at doing this are in the best position to compete in the current B2B landscape.

But there’s another side to the story. While offering buyers their choice of how they want to interact is good for business, it puts additional pressure on organizations to maintain consistency across channels and to make sure each kind of interaction delivers valuable and relevant information. McKinsey’s research involving a survey of 3,500 decision makers in 12 markets reveals that while customers want more omnichannel experiences, they also want—and have come to expect—more of a lot of other things, too. Besides more channels, they also want more convenience and a more personalized experience.

The Human Touch is Still a Highlight

So, there is more to the omnichannel preference picture. While B2B buyers strongly prefer to conduct research digitally, and more than half of B2B decision-makers believe it is effective at serving customers before engaging a sale, B2B buyers still want a human touch. While they may be content to research information, learn about product features, and navigate much of the sale digitally and on their own, there are still times when they will seek human interaction.

One survey reports that half of B2B buyers say business justification advanced by sales reps is needed to close those deals. This reinforces, once again, the continuing evolution of the sales rep’s role. Decision makers, particularly when there is a group of stakeholders, rely on reps for confirmation not only of the true value of the purchase but also the assurance they are dealing with someone they trust. Buyers no longer just focus on the product and its features; they prefer to buy from businesses whose values align with their own.

Appeal to What Buyers Value Most

Clearly, today’s buyers are accustomed to the instantaneous nature of digital access to information and e-commerce. They are demanding more rapid responses to requests for specific information about your business, the product and/or service that interests them, and how they can acquire it. This can work in your company’s favor, as responding quickly can potentially shorten the sales cycle, which means greater speed to revenue.

It bears mentioning that suppliers who appeal to what buyers value most stand to gain more customers for life. On the other hand, if the supplier does not provide certain experiences, customers will seek an alternative supplier.

Percent of customers who would walk if suppliers don’t provide…

Performance guarantee
(full refund):

Consistent experience
across channels:

Product availability
shown online:

Ability to purchase
from any channel:

customer service:

Source: McKinsey

For the most successful results in this regard, McKinsey points out, “Suppliers may need to shift their online product mix and launch new pricing processes to streamline quoting and approvals for large-value purchases.”

Show B2B Buyers That You Know Them

Companies that personalized their marketing and sales to match the individual customer more closely were more likely to have gained market share in 2021. Buyers continue to crave personalization for one simple reason: because they can. They want to know who you are, what your company stands for, and how fast they can get your product or service, and they know you can provide that information instantly.

Essentially, buyers are in charge.

How can you meet them where they are? Use your data sources to understand them, their preferred channels, what they are interested in, how they have interacted with your company, and more. Then, personalize your communications to demonstrate that you know them and are engaging with them based on that knowledge.

Put Your Sales Tech Stack to Work

To facilitate diverse channel interactions, gather and correlate data, and meet customers’ needs effectively and efficiently in the new B2B sales frontier, a robust tech stack is critical.

Being able to customize communications requires tech tools that connect the dots between sales, marketing, and operations. It requires defining and gathering real-time data, analyzing it, and transforming it into personalized experiences across channels.

Yet, there’s no need to run out and buy the latest piece of sales tech. Evaluate the need for new technology against these four things:

Does it increase sellers’ skill and acumen? 
Does it eliminate wasteful steps?
Does it automate a process?
Does it provide sellers with useful information?

For more about how to evaluate your sales tech stack, read our blog How to Build a Kick-A$$ Tech Stack.

In order to remain competitive and assist sellers’ ability to uncover and win deals, B2B organizations must provide their sales teams with tools that support them in five key areas:

1. Intelligence 
2. Enablement
3. Engagement
4. Pipeline | Analytics | Measurement
5. Management | Coaching

Leading sales organizations know that investing in the right stack helps them sell more and pays for itself many times over. Many organizations don’t have the time and resources to develop, manage, and train on the wide range of technologies they may need, and look to a third-party partner. The right partner will have piloted the very best technologies available for each stage of the funnel. With their established sales tech stacks, well-trained user teams, and expert sellers, these companies can “hit the ground running,” giving you the agility you need to blaze trails toward success.

Consolidate Cross-Functional Data

No longer are sales reps working in a silo. And in fact, the sales process is no longer linear; customers are fluid in their interactions and decision-making as they interact back and forth among channels, and with sales reps. Data from your CRM, technology that monitors intent signals, website behavior, and sales engagement is immensely valuable when it is brought together to present comprehensive customer insights that allow you to deliver highly tailored, personalized experiences.

Forrester suggests that the ability for sellers to view buyer interaction data allows sellers to anticipate buyers’ needs and add value throughout the engagement cycle. Looking at the big picture, sellers can spot patterns and take more intentional next steps rather than merely reacting to the buyers’ next moves.

Revitalize Your Recruitment Strategy

The pandemic provoked an upheaval in the labor market, from which B2B sales organizations are still recovering. But going back to traditional strategies for attracting, hiring, and retaining candidates won’t win the war for talent. Especially as a result of the “great resignation,” competition for the best talent remains fierce. Take these steps to strengthen both the quantity and quality of your sales team:

Re-examine your pay scheme and benefits, and even your job titles, to ensure they are in line with the market.

Highlight your company culture and those things that make you unique.

Be open to attracting candidates whose resumes you may have ignored in the past. Move beyond background and experience history, and focus on ultimate potential based on soft traits such as comfort conversing, an upbeat personality, and an innate drive to excel.

Realize that you can always teach tech skills and product knowledge to a totally “green” candidate.

Focus onboarding and training on successful, role-specific selling skills.

Continually improve sales talent through a well-designed, ongoing development and coaching approach.

Set up a reward or recognition system based on realistic goal achievement.

Gartner researcher Danielle McKinley has said, “An overwhelming 93% of sales reps are experiencing significant challenges with virtual selling, but in spite of coaching, most of those sales reps are unsure what they should be doing differently to execute their jobs effectively in this environment.” Sales managers can unlock improved performance with consistent coaching and by investing in coaching and training technology.

6 Tips For B2B Sales Acceleration

> Adopt virtual platforms that support high quality, purposeful engagement.

> Invest in training and ongoing development to improve your sellers’ digital acumen.

> Align data to provide deep, meaningful insights and to drive customer engagement across all channels.

> Modify sales performance measurement goals to reflect digital-first behaviors.

> Arm sales reps with the data and tools to truly understand each customer and inform their conversations.

> Ensure your sales tech stack meets the precise needs of your organization, streamlines processes, improves selling time, and delivers exactly the right information and insights your sellers need.

The Bottom Line

Sales leaders who can adapt to what has already happened, use what they have learned to navigate through the present, and implement flexible sales strategies that make it easy to pivot in response to change, will be better prepared to compete. As long as your sales reps, sales managers, and sales tech stack are ready to support optimal value for the customer, you’ll have the foundation for success.

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Author: Karen Salamone

Author: Karen Salamone

Karen is Head of Marketing for MarketSource. She is a transformational B2B and B2B2C leader with a history of building marketing organizations, content teams, and demand generation centers of excellence from the ground up. She is recognized for delivering meaningful insights and fresh approaches and for earning best-in-class content, design, and multi-media awards.