Future of B2B Sales

Future of B2B Sales

Most sales leaders agree that B2B sales are on the verge of a great leap forward, with a series of changes that will redefine what it takes to succeed in the market over the coming years.

The use of data and analytics as part of a sales transformation or sales enablement program is allows sales people to forecast with increasing accuracy, their most valuable sales opportunities. In fact, forward looking companies are using data and advanced analytics to drive their sales productivity alongside revenue growth without adding to their sales teams or costs.

future-b2b-sales

Future of B2B sales

The change in the B2B buyers journey where they self-educate via content, are technically savvy plus a preference for engaging via the digital networks, is leading the charge for a new breed of sales leaders who have digital expertise plus a strategic approach to engaging customers. The change in the buyer’s journey is also transforming the composition of sales teams with a move away from customer facing sales towards a growth in inside sales and social sellers supported by analytics functions.

Add in the shift towards subscription-based models and you can see why it is critical to re-evaluate how customer engagement is managed. The sales world of recurring revenues means that deals need to be won monthly, quarterly and yearly. Customer relationship salespeople will become increasingly more important and digitally connected sales teams are aligning themselves closely to the buying journey the customer undertakes.

Science is replacing Art in B2B sales

The disruption to the traditional buyer- seller model means B2B sales is becoming more science than art. Selling, customer acquisition and target selection is now more data-driven because of the range of digital tools and advanced analytics available to sales leadership. The focus is now firmly on really understanding the “what, why, and when” of the customer buying process. Research from McKinsey shows that organisations who have embraced “the science of B2B sales” are seeing over 2X times industry average revenue growth.

An interesting statistic from the research shows it is the CEOs of the leading pack who actively lead the sales transformation. They understand that redefining their go-to-market strategy require cross functional alignment and unified execution from sales, marketing, IT, finance and HR. The future of B2B sales will require sales leadership to fundamentally transform their go-to-market strategy around three defining pillars.

Pillar 1. Engage the customer the way they want to be engaged

The debate of salespeople v social v digital is over. Driving sales growth in the future means combining all these resources. However, digital assets (social media channels, content, social selling, data, digital sales tools etc) will be the glue that holds a successful multichannel sales strategy together. To support this pillar, research shows that while 76% of B2B buyers found it helpful to interact (via social media, phone or meeting) with a salesperson when researching a new product or service, this falls to 52% for repeat purchases of products with new features, and down to only 15% who want to interact with a salesperson when repurchasing the exact same product or service.

So, sales leaders will have to plan and cater to the different preferences of first-time and repeat customers.

Companies will use the social channels and digital sales tools alongside the more traditional sales interactions when targeting new prospects who seek direct interaction with salespeople. Examples here include sharing white papers, customer case studies, webinars and interactive product demos, which help salespeople engage customers in the awareness and consideration stages of their buying journey.

For the repeat customers who prefer the online channel, companies need to deploy “socially trained” inside salespeople to keep ensure retention plus speed up the sale process. The inside sales teams will focus on engaging this customer set via social media, email, live web chat, and even live video calls.

Pillar 2. Using data and analytics to make faster strategic and tactical decisions.

Forward looking organisations and leaders will use data and analytics to action key strategic sales issues, such as which market or set of customer profiles to target, what sales opportunities are worth pursuing, resources (and engagement) needed on selected accounts, and to identify sales behaviours required to increase sales productivity. Sales leaders of the future using science in B2B sales will use analytics to build a detailed profile, account and product plan for each of their customers and ideal prospects. These plans will then be enriched with external and social data such as news, financial information, management profiles and market trends to generate a 360-degree view of every customer.

Science will replace art or gut feeling for sales management to identify the sales behaviours that drive sales productivity or how to match the right people to the right deals. Sales performance will be linked back to actual sales habits (sales planning, time management, frequency of customer interactions, conversations, nurturing, prospecting, solution proposals, win/loss ratio etc) so management will be able to identify the best salespeople.

Pillar 3. Nurturing and Growing talent for the digital era.

The socially connect and digitally influenced buyer is increasingly sophisticated and interaction savvy, so sales leaders need to adapt accordingly. Hiring and training a new generation of cross-functional and multi-channel comfortable salespeople will be vital.

Finding the right talent will only be part of the jigsaw, companies will need to invest time and resources in nurturing and growing their sales force. Most current sales training is not fit for purpose, this is why you will see lots more articles on sales transformation or sales enablement.

Some interesting facts worth noting are that adults only remember 10% of what they heard and approx. 32% of what they saw, just three months after the training has finished. But an adult will remember 65% of what they learn by doing. This insight is driving a transformation in how companies deliver sales training. They are evolving from slow instructor lead classroom training to online digital modules and “on-the-job” training where coaches help the salespeople to learn from doing.

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B2B sales trends

Getting started with the science of B2B Sales

A few tips on getting started with the science of B2B sales include:

Understand your current position. Begin by looking at the customer and how their buying preferences will impact the business. How customers buy (will buy) should determine what investments the sales organisation needs.

Take a longer-term view. What will change look like in 12, 24, 36 months? Taking a longer-term view means that sales leadership can plan for and invest in the right sales capabilities based on customer driven road-map.

Use data to test and learn. Buyer habits are changing faster than sales are responding, so speed matters now more than ever. Use whatever data on hand to test and learn, keeping the business nimble. Break down internal silos and set up a sales war-room to launch new multi-channel campaigns and messages. Maybe implement an agile test-fail-learn-adapt model to engage more buyers and then refine the sales tactics to include social selling, social reach, digital engagement etc.

The future of B2B sales will require vision, strong leadership and focus from the CEO and the leadership team plus an investment in time and resources to win out. However, companies using the three pillars in the science of B2B sales are already racing ahead of their competitors and driving sales growth at a faster pace.

The What and How of Sales Enablement

Sales enablement is linchpin that a business uses to bridge the gap between their sales strategy and how they execute this on social media, the phone or face to face. In a fast moving digital world, common sales challenges (buyer interactions, longer sales cycles, declining win rates, slowing customer acquisition and shrinking deal sizes ) can be mapped back to the same source — the conversations between sales people and buyers.

The challenge for sales leadership is to equip the entire sales team(s) with the ability to consistently and systematically have a valuable conversation either online or offline with the right set of customers at each stage of the buyer’s journey to optimise the results of the selling system.

The goal of sales enablement is to ensure that every sales person has the knowledge, sales skills and behaviours to maximise every interaction with buyers.” In other words, how can sales leaders create the environment to “get all your ducks in a row to give the salespeople the best chance of closing a deal?”

sales-enablement

A sales enablement framework for the digitally connected buyers should include:

Targeting the Right Prospects

Reports show that only 3% of buyers are in a purchasing cycle when contacted by sales. This blunt sales effort can be extremely for all stakeholders when lead nurturing is directed at the wrong buyers, who are not ready to buy, or worse just are not interested in what you have to offer.

Sales productivity is impacted due to sales people’s efforts not being focused on buyers who are middle of the funnel or already in the “I may have a problem” mindset. A better use of social selling and social data combined with sales intelligence as part of a sales enablement program will go a long way to helping this challenge.

Aligning the Sales and Marketing Teams

Sales enablement cannot be correctly implemented without aligning marketing and sales. Both departments need to work together to arm the sales teams with the right assets to have the right conversations with the right buyer profiles at the right time and in the right channels.

The reality today is that sales people need to be engaging and holding conversations with buyers throughout the whole journey, even while the buyer is in status quo mode (not yet aware that they may have a business issue that needs solving). It is about bringing a level of consistency to the whole sales process as both marketing and sales work together to interact with customers across the entire buying journey.

A consistent approach from sales and marketing will help assess the sales cycle, identify problem areas, fix them, and achieve the sales goals.

Understand where content fits In

This involves developing relevant content to specific buyers during a specific stage of the buying process. Content is a “must-have” asset in successful sales enablement roll-outs. This includes blog posts, white papers, infographics, eBooks, videos and reports which are deployed to engage customers and potential buyers. During the sales process, the sales team need to understand when to use each type of content and how to position it with their buyers and prospects

Ask and answer questions like:

What are the online personas each prospect will display?

How do we create content that aligns with that persona?

How do we deliver content to the sales people?

Who will produce and supply this content to the sales team?

How will all sales people be trained to use content effectively?

Which is the right combination of company-created, curated and shared content?

How to match the content to the stage the buyer is in?

sales-enablement-graph

The role of social selling

For a whole host of reasons (which you can read in other articles on this blog), social selling is crucial for a sales enablement initiative in the sales 2.0 world. Once the content strategy has been mapped into the sales process, sales people can use these assets as 2nd click content to qualify prospects through the funnel. They can leverage the content to share with and engage buyers, showing that your company is already aware of their concerns and is ready to answer their questions.

A successful social selling program takes time to listen, share, post, nurture, engage and convert. Sales and marketing should work together to form concise messaging and offers that targets issues that buyers may be addressing now.

Measure your Results with KPI’s

If you can’t manage it, you can’t measure it, still holds true even if large parts of the sales conversations has moved online. Rather than try to measure too much, it may be more beneficial to focus on a small set of key performance indicators.

A tip is to separate the sales enablement metrics into two parts:

Performance metrics: How did we do?
How many new connections did we make last month or how much content did the sales teams share last week? How much reach, interest or engagement did we ignite?

Diagnostic metrics: Which is working/not working?

Which activities are working? What needs to be improved? What types of content are the salespeople sharing and with who? What content is not performing or which set of prospects are not responding?

These metrics will help all stakeholders make the right decisions; decisions which help the buyers engage and drive revenue.

Always prioritise the prospects

Too many times, businesses are thinking about “Me” and not “Them”. The focus can be solely on the company, the product, the messaging, the key differentiators, etc. They hone in on themselves and relegate their target audience and the audience’s needs. This internal focus impacts on true sales enablement.  So rather than helping the sales teams understand the buyers, the focus can be entirely on helping the sales team understand the products. Helping buyers through the buyer’s journey should the core of all sales enablement programs, from awareness to decision.

A quick summary

Sales enablement is critical as the business world in which we function has fundamentally changed. Out with the explaining the companies’ products and why buy messaging.  In is assisting prospects evaluate alternatives, helping and educating buyers. The focus becomes truly enabling the sales team to engage throughout the whole buyer’s journey, on their grounds and in the channels they choose.

The modern buying process means that different criteria have to be introduced. Using sales enablement as the guiding principle, sales organisations everywhere can set themselves up for success. The end result will be empowered and productive sales people, skilled in helping prospects across the buyer’s journey and bringing in more revenue, faster than ever.

Connecting Content Marketing to Sales

How to use content marketing for improved sales enablement is a big discussion point among sales and marketing leaders. Most B2B companies rely on selling by direct sales teams to generate a large percentage of their revenues. For these companies, improving sales performance is a critical business objective, and sales enablement alongside the use of social media is seen as the best method for delivering company revenue goals.

When executed correctly, sales enablement has the involvement of both marketing and sales. Content marketing resources such as research articles, whitepapers, e-books, testimonials, video content and case studies plays a vital role in sales enablement. The marketing department are the ones usually tasked with creating the content assets.

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Does your sales team understand your content strategy?

Research shows there can be a mismatch between the content that marketing produces and the content the sales people need to progress their sales opportunities. The findings included that:

  • Only fifty four percent of sales people and sixty five percent of sales managers understand their company’s content marketing strategy.
  • While 65 percent of sales people and seventy four percent of sales managers say the content their company publishes is valuable to their customers.
  • However, a full fifty two percent of sales people and forty three percent of managers say the content their company publishes helps improve sales effectiveness.

The results show that nearly 50% of sales people do not understand the content strategy. So what is the issue?

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Lack of Smarketing!! As sales and marketing are not aligned on how a buyer buys. They probably have not mapped out the buyer’s journey together leading to disconnects between the two teams. In fact Forrester reported that one-third of B2B marketing leaders acknowledge that their biggest problem is figuring out how to serve up appropriate content to specific buyers when the time is right.

In your business do sales and marketing define the buyer’s journey differently? Marketing may have segmented the buyer’s journey into 5 or 6 stages.

.Apart from some buying signals on social media (some social selling tools are starting to monitor early stage indicators of buyers journey), most companies see the buyer when they are about to exit the awareness stage and enter the consideration stage. At this point the buyer starts to identify the right people with the answers on how to solve their challenges. They are actively looking for solutions and are self educating by accessing content to help make informed decisions. They are socially active on the social media networks, reading articles, downloading reports, looking for research and interacting with different forms of content to shape their next movement in the buying process.

Social selling engagement and marketing technology can assist a business with this stage to understand and track buyers who are downloading and interacting with your content.

Now buyers move to engage with vendor partners, they will subtly seek out relationships with a select few, ones that can help solve the problems the buyer has identified as being critical.

According to IDC, 75% of B2B buyers use social media to research vendors. The majority of buyers are researching online where they should find you (as a sales individual who they value) and most likely your competitors. The research shows they are looking at product features, reviews, testimonials, pricing and company information. – Source: IDC’s Social Buying Meets Social Selling: How Trusted Networks Improve the Purchase Experience

The buyer has most likely now consumed enough content and the content produced from the companies which have proved they can provide the solutions to the challenges they face.

At the final stage, the buyer will choose a vendor as their preference with maybe one other as backup. If any business is waiting until the vendor engagement stage (which marketing may own up to now) then opportunities are being missed. Forrester has shown that 74% of B2B buyers conduct more than half of their research online before talking to a salesperson. If the content marketing strategy and sales enablement (social selling as an example) do not create value early enough and help guide the buyers journey then potential new customers are being missed.

You can bet that if the sales force feels disconnected from the marketing team, it also goes the other way. The marketing department can be frustrated that the sales teams are not sharing enough content. Maybe the reason is that marketing and sales have not had the conversations to figure out what type of content the buyers respond to at certain points of engagement. Marketing can only produce content to support the revenue goals if they understand the buyer’s journey.

Sales and Marketing Alignment is the solution

Create a revenue team, where sales and marketing come together and developed a unified version of the buyer’s’ journey. Segment the content tactics to mirror your sales pipeline and buyer’s journey. ACD content marketing focuses the type of content created to match the three stages in customer acquisition. These are Awareness, Consideration and Decision.

Awareness content: This is mapped to the buyers why (Why do I have a problem?). This type of content is aimed at top of the funnel where the prospect acknowledges that there is a potential problem that needs a solution.

Consideration content: This reflects the buyers how (How should I solve this?)  Where by consuming more information they have identified what that problem is and who could maybe solve it.

Decision content: Getting the buyer to identify the “who.”(Who has proven they could solve this) They have defined their ideal solution strategy and who they will engage with based on relevancy of data they have accessed.

By mapping the ACD content strategy on the buyers “why” and the “how” will give the sales team earlier opportunities to engage with prospects.

By aligning sales and marketing as a revenue team they can work together to create content that is relevant to buyers to match what stage they are at. The power in connecting content marketing and marketing to sales will create powerful assets that the buyer truly values.

Sales Strategy – Inbound Sales – Digital Sales Transformation – Social Selling – Sales Training

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