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.

b2b-sales-trends

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.

Matching Sales Training to the Buyer’s Journey

Matching sales training to the buyer’s journey is essential when designing not just your sales training courses but also as part of your digital selling strategy. Developing a deep understanding of your customer profiles and their buying journey is critical in getting a sales force to engage a company’s target audience. When done correctly, matching sales training to the buyer’s journey will improve the effectiveness of your sales strategy and dramatically increase sales growth.

sales-training

Sales Training Class

We know that social media and the digital channels provide buyers with self-education which leads to greater autonomy when making buying decisions. Which poses the question, “If most of the information they would need to make an informed decision when considering a purchase is available online, what is the role of the modern salesperson?

Sales leaders need to ask where does sales prospecting and customer acquisition tactics fit into engaging buyers in the digitally influenced sales process.

 Defining the buyer’s journey 

Defining the buyers journey is not so much about “what is it” but “HOW is it” enacted. A simple definition could be – The process a buyer goes through to become aware of, consider, evaluate, and then decide on purchasing a product or service.

In the buyer’s journey, the biggest change is in the “awareness’ and “consideration” stages. In these stages, social media now plays a bigger part than the traditional sales engagement. Is this a failure by business to address this in sales training (by providing better sales prospecting tactics) or have we just ceded a vital part of customer acquisition to the internet?

Matching sales training to the buyer’s journey

This will ensure a sales team that is skilled in using a multi-channel approach to nurturing a target set of customers throughout the buying process.  This is now essential for any business to attract buyers towards purchasing your product or service. Salespeople need to have a clear understanding of what the customer expects at each stage of the buying process. It is the responsibility of sales leadership to provide the training, coaching and guidance to help them interact with potential customers with relevant content and messaging at every stage.

There is no mystery in the digitally influenced buyers journey, the key to successfully engaging customers on their buyer’s journey is constant engagement. Digital sales transformation is being rolled out in sales training to teach salespeople how to skilfully engage with prospects throughout each stage of their journey. The goal is not just selling but to build trust and rapport between the business and the prospect. Research shows that the biggest differentiator in selling success may just be getting the prospect trust. So, if you can build credibility, usefulness and trust above your competitors in the chase to win business, it will give you the advantage when converting a prospect into a customer.

Stages in the Buyers Journey

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B2B Buyers journey

The buyers journey can be condensed down to a three-step process: The Awareness Stage: The buyer realises they may have a problem. Consideration Stage: The buyer defines their problem and researches options to solve it and then the Decision Stage: The buyer chooses a solution.

Awareness.

In the Awareness stage, a buyer will identify an issue, or challenge they want to address. At this stage they decide what priority this issue or challenge should be. So, does your sales training cover off:

How would the buyer describe his or her challenges?

Where and how does the buyer educate themselves on the challenges facing others or their industry?

What would be the compelling reasons when the buyer comes to deciding whether or not this should be prioritised?

Consideration 

Next is the Consideration stage, here the buyer should have moved to having clearly defined the issue or challenge plus a commitment to dealing with it. They have self-educated, read whitepapers, interacted with companies and sales people plus will have evaluated the different options available to pursue the end goal of resolving the challenge. Again, sales training needs to address:

Which categories of solutions do buyers investigate?

Where do buyers educate themselves on the various options or solutions?

How do buyers perceive the pros and cons of each solution?

How do buyers decide which option is right for them?

Decision.

The third stage is Decision. The buyer has arrived at a decision on which solution matches their need.  Some questions the sales training material should cover:

What criteria or other considerations will a buyer use to evaluate the available offerings?

When the buyers comes to researching you (yes, they will) and your company’s offering, what do they like about what they see or read compared to the competition?

What concerns will you need to cover off on your solution?

Is there a buying committee or who else needs to be involved in the decision? For each person involved, how does their perspective on the decision differ?

What is the buying process or will the buyer have expectations around sampling/trying your solution before they purchase it?

What is the true cost of acquisition, so outside of buying your solution, do buyers need to make additional plans around implementation, IT or training?

Some sales training tips 

It is important to break down each step in your sales process and then match your sales training to the buyer’s journey. Each sales training session should focus on a step in the sales process including what sales assets, content and information to use. For a salesperson, learning the next step in the sales process should be a reward for mastering the previous one.

The buyer to supplier relationship along with how buyers engage with salespeople is changing rapidly. Your sales strategy , sales process and  sales training will have to become more dynamic, multi-channel and digitally driven, just like our customers.

Is Digital Selling The Ultimate Sales Channel?

In a world where generating sales leads is now the biggest challenge facing companies, could digital selling including social selling be the ultimate sales channel for the foreseeable future. In the digitally connected world, to attract buyers attention, a business has to develop trust, this means starting with authentic interactions and engaging on social media.

Digital-Selling

There are lots of definitions as to what “Digital Selling” actually entails, but the main point to get across is that digital selling is about creating cohesion between sales and marketing in the areas of content marketing, inbound marketing, social selling, data, social listening and insights which are mapped to the buyer’s journey. All these “online” elements when structured together can be used to create a Digital Selling strategy. It is not just about the sales team trying their luck with social selling or the marketing department producing a stream of content. To make it work, leaders must create an organisational structure around the social media channels and KPI’s to measure buyer engagement.

Many companies feel that in-house created content reach (views, likes, downloads)  is the ultimate measure for buyer interest, however other measures like social reach, buyer connections, sales person profile/company page views, questions posed, questions answered and conversation engagement are other key measures worth considering. A key part of any Digital Selling strategy is everyone in sales and marketing should be involved in the creation, organising and sharing of content.  To succeed with the socially influenced buyer, remember companies with the best stories shared will win. In a way, a business needs to have a publishing department, one that concentrates on creating volumes of content or research which is mapped to a buyer’s journey

Let’s take a deeper look at Digital Selling

Digital selling is the use of social selling (1:1 buyer engagement on social channels undertaken by sales people) combined with the use of digital assets (videos, articles, whitepapers, case studies, infographics, webinars, online presentations) and supported by sales intelligence (data, ideal customer profiles, insights, triggers, CRM, social listening) to generated leads and revenue.

In a way, digital selling could be termed “closed loop selling” as it about matching your sales strategy to buyer behaviour which we now know is increasingly influenced by social media.  So in a way, it takes a holistic view of the buyers journey to bring together the assets and actions in order to be valuable to buyers on their journey, one that ultimately leads to better engagement and ultimately more sales.

There are many compelling reasons around this strategy, mainly driven by the fact that buyer behaviour has changed and there is no old way of doing things as most sales tactics such as cold calling have diminishing returns. Today’s connected buyer is more informed than ever before plus they have become expert at tuning out to all those interrupter sales strategies and tactics that worked so well in the past. They seek not to be sold to. They seek advice, knowledge, insights and someone to guide them to the right purchase decision.

The whole digital sales transformation is in full swing around us, whether it is inbound marketing, freemium models, social selling or consultative sales models, it is digital selling to step forward and take centre stage.

Digital selling is fast becoming main stream as forward thinking SaaS companies lead the way whilst many smaller or medium sized businesses must watch and learn fast.

digital-selling-strategy

So where does social selling fit in?

As I stated previously, Social Selling is the key sales person’s activity within Digital Selling. Again, there are many definitions but my own one is “Social selling is the sum of connected actions shared online when experienced by customers/potential customers will influence their awareness and consideration for your business.

It boils down to the influence an individual sales person can have on customers and prospects’, by sharing content on social networks which is consumed, shared, commented on and visible across multiple networks.

Sales teams deploy social selling as an activity that is proven to be valuable (sharing insights, articles, expert advice) to buyers as they move through the awareness, consideration and selection stages on the new buying journey via social media.

Social Selling uses three key elements: namely Insights, Triggers and Referrals to map the buyer’s journey, then supports these elements with articles, curated content, videos, whitepapers etc to engage a potential customer.

Summary:

A digital selling strategy acknowledges that the connected buyer needs education but they educate themselves. They have become blind to advertising and ignore slick marketing material. They value peer recommendations over sales jargon and they complete a large part of the buying process without sales interactions or taking calls. They want to be guided and expect insights from experts with an understanding of their business not yours.

So, pause, listen & engage to nurture relationships via social networks. Modern sales leadership know that the key to sustained success is to include digital selling alongside social selling and social media marketing so all departments and all employees can play their part in the online customer engagement process. When sales and marketing work together to engage someone from prospect to customer, the whole business from top to bottom can stay on the same page with critical contacts, conversations, conversions while measuring the resulting ROI. That is Digital Selling.

The Key Elements of Digital Sales Transformation

Digital transformation and digital sales transformation is much spoke about business strategy terms (there is even Kudos within management circles for mentioning them). But what is it and what can it do for a business is less understood. How can a business benefit from digital sales transformation strategy is a question being asked in many companies?

I think we all have to acknowledge that the sales profession is going through a major transformation. Social media, mobile, and digital information means buyers are better informed and rely less on sales people in the purchasing journey. And that same purchase process has become longer and even more complex within the consultative type selling models.

digital-sales-transformation

Digital Sales Transformation could be defined as “How sales capabilities and competences need to be developed to address the “Connected Buyer”, meeting changes in the industry facilitated by digital tools”. In a nutshell, transforming sales performance will involve a combination of better training for the new age sales person, better use of technology/data, and better customer content to drive conversations.

It is not just another business buzzword to be bandied about at management meetings. The buyers journey is changing fast (wait till Millennials make up the majority of buyers!!) so it’s important to focus on real business and customer challenges and changes now.  Now it the time to have a clear approach, prioritise action and involve the entire marketing and sales force in any digital transformation process. Where to focus in terms of market arenas (capture more business in the short term), what is the right offering (product to market fit) and value proposition for these markets, and how to manage customer relationships and sales to win in the digitally influenced market, are some of the questions to be answered.

The digital tools I mentioned above as part of the definition of sales transformation are invading the business ecosystem, bringing with them major changes in the way we work, communicate, and sell but most importantly the change in how customers buy. As with most things in like, this has brought both opportunities and challenges, and has triggered the Digital Transformation within companies for all aspects of customer touch points.

Sales enablement needs to focus on “value messaging”, “social selling” and “consultative selling” skills training.

The starting point is focused on improving the business awareness of the sales teams because the old sales methodology of selling product features to increasingly more sophisticated buyers will not cut the mustard.  Sales professionals must be able to map the buyer’s journey, understand “Ideal Customer Profiles”, deliver compelling insights (using a variety of content) to differentiate themselves (Why me!!)  And communicate this value to close more business without being dragged into the pricing discount race. So sales enablement leaders are looking to “value messaging”, “social selling” and “consultative selling” skills training using social networks to help the sales force communicate and influence buyer perceptions of value.

The development of these new sales or marketing competencies revolves around the capacities for sales people to be more agile, buyer-centred, innovative, connected, aligned and effective with present and future changes in mind. The digital sales transformation will have many connected goals, but in the end striving towards optimisation across sales processes, support divisions and the business ecosystem of the always-connected customer where building the right bridges with the right people at the right time during the buyers journey is the key to success.

A reminder of the buyer’s journey: Today’s buyers, from consumers looking for a new car to company buying committees purchasing software, can easily research and compare products thanks to the visibility offered up from a host of social networks.

digital-selling-impact

The positive news is that with re-tuning for this digital era, sales teams have significant capabilities to impact the buyer’s journey to become a valuable influencer, aided by big data, digital selling tools, and organisational changes to the buyers’ growing level of self education.

The major themes of Digital Sales Transformation:

  • Find growth in arenas before your competitors arrive
  • Sell the way customers want to buy
  • Optimise sales operations and digital tools
  • Sales and marketing as a unified team who challenge the status quo and manage revenue performance
  • Empowering sales enablement to make change happen

Look Ahead

The whole purpose of sales transformation is to drive profitable growth within companies. It is about using insights, social signals and data to anticipate buyer interests and map out where untapped potential lies. They focus on being useful and valuable to buyers in order to lock in new customers first (and out manoeuvre their competitors).

Find growth in Social Data

The use of social data as part of the sales engagement plan can open up amazing sales opportunities. Companies from all sectors, B2C and B2B can build insights from a wide array of internal and external sources and create tailored selling propositions based on prospect personalisation. However to maximise the benefits of social data, social selling needs to be at the very heart of the sales culture.

Selling that matches the Buyer’s Journey

Generation connected customers have discarded their participation in traditional sales models. They want self-determined, more seamless, and rewarding buying experiences; they want more of the right information at the right time, more value from sales interactions and they want on channels of their choosing. For sales leaders, getting their heads around this is hard enough but transforming sales models in mature or emerging markets is a major challenge. But leading sales organisations are finding ways to improve digital channels, the availability of content plus maximising direct and indirect channels. Using social data and social selling they are cracking the code of how to integrate them all. No company can win today using old sales methodologies, so the smart ones are using transformation to manage a multi-channel approach to ensure consistency, maintaining close contact with customers and raising the sales bar. The best sales leaders are transforming inside sales and field sales, integrating online with inbound with social selling, orchestrating direct and indirect sales and marketing teams and using data to drive activity.

The best test and tweak constantly to bring value to the buyer’s journey and turn conversations into sales conversions. They embrace social networks, mobile and understand the benefits of building deeper customer relationships across all platforms with quality content. Finally, they recognise that digital is an additive process, so they work hard at seamless integration with every other sales channel to win.

Mapping the Customer Decision Journey

“12% of all B2B sales in the US will take place online by 2020 – Forrester”

 digital-transformation

75% of purchases now start with an online search by the buyer. 90% of decision makers say that they never respond to cold outreach – (Harvard Business Review).  More than half the sales process has disappeared. B2B buyers are 57% of the way through their purchasing decision before they ever engage a sales person. In fact, a B2B customer will regularly use different interaction channels throughout the purchase process. The mapping of Ideal Customer Profiles and the Customer Decision Journey  around which marketing and sales collaborate has become standard practise in many progressive sales organisations. They also know that this journey is different by customer segment/profile, with varying needs and expectations at each point in the journey.

It is about ensuring the sales teams reaches the right people at the right time with the right offer.

Innovate Inside Sales

Cold calling is dying fast and some companies are still flogging dead horses. Sales transformation success can pivot on changing the inside sales approach. The leaders of the successful inside sales forces have recognised this. They use social selling to nurture customers early, long before any sales pitch. They seek to bring value and be a trusted source of information to unlock growth in key accounts which is the prerequisite for the consultative sale. Regardless of size or industry, there are always new ways for business development people to engage new customers.

 Blend your Sales and Marketing Engine

In transforming the sales engine, business leaders must ensure that marketing and sales teams work together to extract the full value of every piece of data or customer touch point. Despite their co-dependency, it can seem like marketing and sales are marching to a different tune. Successful sales leaders work with marketing (and vice-versa), benefiting from the market insight skills it brings and feeding these insights to the sales engine to maximise every campaign or lead. Research has shown that when the two teams collaborate to drive sales and revenue, companies enjoy higher sales growth.

Use Technology as an Advantage in Sales

The use of digital sales tools must evolve to keep pace with customer preferences.  Part of the role of sales enablement is to ensure the investment enables success instead being viewed as another big brother information tool. Appoint an owner whose focus is on acquiring and implementing the right tools to deliver the returns on productivity or performance the business expects.

Sales Transformation is about having the right Talent to Execute

Think “New Age Sellers”. Sales leaders can have all the social data, all the social selling training or all the digital tools available, but without having the talent who embrace this new progression, they will achieve little. Hard questions like do we have the right talent for our future sales plans or how many of our existing sales force can make the transformation we require have to be asked and answered.

 Make Digital Selling Part of your Sales DNA

Sales transformation is not about achieving some short term wins but embedding it in to the genes of the organisation for the long term. The companies who will win out in selling to the always connected buyer will create a culture that embraces social channels. They will prioritise sales training and throw the spotlight onto people who are playing a starring role as agents of change, and they focus on social collaboration between sales, marketing and support that goes way beyond the individuals skills to create sales capabilities embedded into the DNA of the entire organisation

Growth will be driven from the Top

Every sales leader has to step forward and be at the forefront of change. Because without strong leadership any transformation initiative will hit the rocks sooner than you think! Strong leaders will be given the platform to challenge the status quo or “the way it’s always been done “thinking. They will galvanise their team, they plan and map change while demanding results from the sales force who has been equipped to win. Senior sponsorship and stakeholder alignment is critical as well as a clear vision of where to prioritise the transformation effort.

A final thought

Undertaking sales transformation may sound brave but the insights to future buyer preferences remove it as optional. The rise of social channels and data brings enormous opportunities for value creation and sales growth, but there are many challenges along the way. Any companies planning to be in business five years from now should already be preparing for a major overhaul of how they sell, no business and no industry is immune.

 

 

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

Sales training and digital sales transformation including social selling strategy training in Ireland.