The next normal for B2B sales is here. Buying behaviors that began to permeate B2B decision-making pre-COVID-19 have manifested in permanent changes to the B2B sales organization. Some companies brought their outside sellers inside but found that the skills that made sellers successful in the field are quite different from what is required for inside sales.
While the pandemic challenged companies in ways they never imagined, many took the opportunity to re-think the ways in which they do business, emerging stronger and better positioned for long-term success.
For many forward-thinking sales leaders, rethinking the structure of their sales organization has already borne fruit and continues to offer them a way to create a long-term, strategic advantage.
The Move to Hybrid Selling
“With the emergence of more sales channels, companies would do well to recognize that traditional sales roles, like field sales and inside sales, have evolved and settled into an overall hybrid role,” according to a survey of B2B businesses by McKinsey & Company. McKinsey found that across the board for survey respondents, these sales role changes have been beneficial. McKinsey also found that:
Hybrid selling—initially an adaptation to the pandemic—is expected to be the most dominant sales strategy by 2024 due to shifts in customer preferences and remote-first engagement.
Hybrid sales drive up to 50 percent more revenue by enabling broader, deeper customer engagement and unlocking a more diverse talent pool than more traditional models.
More than 90 percent of enterprises plan to sustain the changes made to their sales force structure over the past year to enable hybrid.
In a ten-channel world, buyers and sellers not only intend to continue engaging remotely; two-thirds prefer it to in-person interactions at many purchasing stages.
“Adjusting to this new dynamic requires B2B organizations to shift from “traditional” and “inside” sales to “hybrid” in order to move with the customer,” says McKinsey. This requires companies to equip sellers to provide the right blend of in-person and remote interactions (via phone or video) and e-commerce self-service across the buying journey.
“With the rapid evolution in sales team composition, organizations will need to ramp up hiring, training, and capability building to ensure they are not only bringing in net new hybrid sellers, but also equipping their existing field and inside sales reps to transition to this new role,” according to the McKinsey report.
Forrester’s 2021 B2B Buying Survey reveals that the number of self-directed buying interactions is greater than the number of human interactions (15 and 12, respectively). Where organizations may have resisted change and the adoption of a new paradigm in the past, buyers’ willingness to buy in this way has quickly eliminated much of that hesitation.
The quickly redesigned sales organization, dictated by the dual demands of changes in customer behaviors and rapid acceleration of digital trends, has caused many leaders to recognize the necessity of moving forward in a fundamentally different way than their pre-pandemic way of doing business.
While outside sales will likely never return to pre-COVID operations, traditional sales still has value. It will always have a place in sales that require more hands-on interactions (such as complicated technology).
As we settle into the next normal, sales leaders are grappling with the question of whether to maintain—or even grow—their hybrid teams – and how best to equip them. Instead of doing away with outside sales altogether, companies would be wise to train their hybrid sales teams in both digital and traditional sales interactions.
Reimagining the sales organization as a hybrid between inside and outside sales requires thinking about several other critical areas to ensure success.
Bringing the Outside Sales Team In
Before COVID-19, outside sales reps were already starting to do more of their work remotely.
There has been a migration to the inside sales model over the past decade with companies coming to the realization that inside sellers can be just as effective at selling higher-value deals and complex products and solutions. But this doesn’t mean that these sellers are equipped to sell in an entirely virtual environment. Or that sales leaders are prepared and able to manage a virtual team.
Inside salespeople must have the ability to sell from a distance, develop leads, move prospects through a sales cycle, and close deals without any in-person contact.
One inside sales manager shared with MarketSource that her most successful remote inside salespeople have been those who previously worked in outside sales. Those sellers have already learned to self-motivate and pursue performance targets independently. But not all field sales representatives make the transition to virtual selling so easily.
If sellers are working remotely for the first time, they may need more contact from their managers—and perhaps more group meetings than one might expect. Managers of these teams will need to touch base regularly, at least at first, and will need to continually monitor performance.
Management of a virtual or hybrid sales team requires the ability to set clear expectations, establish trust and team camaraderie, monitor performance, and coach. While sales leaders are often skilled at managing in an in-office environment, virtual management brings unique challenges, and often requires a greater time investment.
Every rep needs to know what’s expected of him or her. Setting clear KPIs, goals, and standards provides the kind of structure that teams often miss when they are virtual. Sales reps who know what they need to accomplish, how their performance will be measured, and how their goals connect to the organization’s success are more likely to hold themselves accountable. As well, defined and measurable goals give managers metrics against which they can track and manage progress throughout the year.
Building trust can be more difficult and requires extra effort when managing remote sales teams. When managers don’t see their teams in the office every day, communications become ever more important. Leaving room in their calendar, along with an increased frequency of planned and spontaneous check-ins, can go a long way toward maintaining open lines of communication and building trust.
The Right Tech Stack
With the right support, hybrid sales teams can perform exceptionally well.
Forrester found that 66% of high-performing sales enablement leaders recommend sales enablement should deploy new sales technology.
And don’t forget that virtual teams need time around the water cooler just as much as in-office workers. Managers who give their teams the opportunity to learn about one another and encourage conversations around non-work topics find that it combats workplace loneliness and builds healthy team relationships.
With more sales teams moving to virtual environments, we can only expect to see sales tech stacks expand and improve and usage continue to increase.
In order to remain competitive and give their sellers the best opportunity to uncover and win deals, organizations must provide their sales teams with tools to support all key sales activities. There are five key activities that sales teams depend upon to succeed:
4. Pipeline | Analytics | Measurement
5. Management | Coaching
And the technology to support each activity is robust and growing. Leading sales organizations know that investing in the right stack helps them sell more and pays for itself many times over.
But technology is not cheap. It requires significant investment. It requires experimentation to find what works for the organization. And it requires time to set up and train the team.
In the wake of COVID-19, companies have learned that the ability to move quickly and the agility to pivot are critical. Quickly pivoting teams to a virtual environment is one thing but having the sales tech stack to support them is quite another.
Companies that do not have the time or resources to build, manage, and train on the wide range of technologies needed to support remote sellers often look to third parties that specialize in virtual sales and already have their tech stack well established. These organizations typically have experimented with, and selected, the very best technologies available for each sales activity and to support each stage of the funnel. And since they are high-volume users of these technologies, they often receive early beta releases of new features and functions. With their established sales tech stacks, well-trained users, and expert sellers, these companies can “hit the ground running” and give organizations the agility they need in uncertain environments.
Don’t Forget the Customer
Before the pandemic, B2B buyers were already showing a strong willingness to buy in a virtual environment. In 2022, McKinsey reported that 71 percent of buyers are willing to spend big – more than $50,000 – in a single transaction using a remote or self-service model, and 27 percent would spend $500,000 or more.
Digital selling requires organizations to meet the needs of their customers in new ways. Whereas human interactions previously allowed for the development of relationships and other factors that are key to selling complex products with long sales cycles, virtual sales can do the same—and so much more.
Meetings that were once difficult to schedule based on calendars and travel schedules can now take place just as soon as there is a mutual calendar opening. What’s more, with just a quick check of calendars, the sales rep can bring together multiple members involved in the buying decision just as easily.
B2B buyers will continue to rely on digital for much of the buyer’s journey. According to McKinsey, suppliers who provided exceptional digital experiences for buyers were more than twice as likely to be chosen as a primary supplier than a company that provided a poor experience. When a company “gets it right,” even through remote means, it can efficiently meet the needs of its clients.
But the ‘consumerization’ of B2B sales means that B2B buyers will be unwilling “to accept less from their professional experience as B2B purchasers than they are accustomed to getting from their personal experience as consumers.” Indeed, McKinsey survey results demonstrate that suppliers who deliver outstanding digital experiences are chosen as the primary supplier more than twice as often than those who provide poor experiences.
Yet 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. At those times, sellers must deliver value. Using technology and data to better understand their customer and where they are in the buying journey will give sellers what they need to deliver that value—not simply a repeat of digitally available information, but true value.
The shift is happening, and the move to hybrid sales models is likely here to stay. Now, sales leaders must evaluate how prepared their organization is and what changes are needed to ensure their sales reps, sales managers, and sales tech stack are ready to support this shift today and in the future.
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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.