Whether you like it or not, it’s hard to ignore the evidence that digital technology is transforming consumer habits. Machine learning, apps, mobile devices, automation, and more are allowing customers to get what they want whenever they want it.
- B2B customers are changing
- Seeking experience that delivers
- Road Ahead
How Customers Buy is Changing...
The preferences, behaviors, and expectations of B2B customers are changing rapidly, influenced by their experiences with B2C brands (think intuitive user interfaces and near-immediate delivery). B2C has led the way with mobile, omnichannel, data access, peer reviews, and on-demand support.
These new digital technologies are causing a major shift in consumer expectations, leading to a new kind of buyer. These customers are constantly connected, app native, and now, thanks to COVID, keen to avoid any face-to-face interactions.
These consumers, many of them younger professionals, now seek the same experiences in their business interactions. Increasingly, B2B buyers are being influenced by their experiences as consumers outside of work. This is coupled with increasingly complex business reality.
These influences are shaping what customers buy and how they buy it—the B2B customer is now shifting from buying products and solutions to buying experiences that generate value from the first interaction to long after the order is placed.
Companies need to ensure that they’re ready to assist their customers in new ways. This is particularly important in an environment where renewal accounts are growing, but the churn rate is accelerating, too. We are entering the age of personal commerce, where consumers co-curate their experiences with brands to reflect their preferences — and the sales landscape isn't exempt from these shifts.
B2B customers seek experiences that deliver:
Personalization, including tailored interactions and offerings, including tailored interactions that help buyers navigate their complicated internal processes and customized offerings based on their specific needs and desires.
Business buyers expect companies to understand them, anticipate their needs, and make relevant suggestions. They want offerings that incorporate feedback and iterate with changing needs.
In addition to personalized offers, B2B buyers require interactions that offer the right level of engagement across the buying journey through a combination of human and digital channels that work together. Both buyers and the customers’ end-users should be left with a positive impression after each interaction. Sellers need to consider how their customer-facing digital tools and internal sales processes deliver on this demand.
The challenge with personalization is delivering it efficiently at scale. Organizations are using automation and predictive data science to direct personalized outreach campaigns as well as the next best actions. Nearly all B2B organizations are tailoring web and other marketing content in some way, with more than half tailoring content to individual buyer profiles (e.g., IT buyer, CFO). The degree of content personalization is increasing as organizations improve B2B customer analytics. They are also increasing job specialization and collaboration across roles to bring the right expertise forward at the right time. Finally, they are utilizing sophisticated configure, price, and quote (CPQ) solutions as well as offering a wider range of contracting terms from fixed multi-year to usage-based flex consumption models in order to personalize around the customer.
Speed, by delivering frictionless buying journeys and enabling self-service. A good buying experience is one that makes the process easier – and in B2B, this requirement takes on more meaning due to the complicated, non-linear internal processes B2B buyers have to contend with. They must navigate their organization's policies, various stakeholders, and unclear budgeting and procurement processes. They expect sellers to remove friction from the process by enabling their self-education journeys through relevant and easy-to-access online content that helps them manage their internal stakeholders. They want to receive quotes faster and be able to manage to contract and ordering online. They want simpler B2B transactions to be managed through eCommerce and want a single point of contact when they need human interaction. The majority of B2B customers are more likely to recommend a vendor with a simpler process.
Sales Digital Transformation 2021 & After
For sales organization, this means it’s time to make fundamental changes. . Modernize the sales operations function to be more strategic, agile, and analytical, transforming to deliver better experiences in five ways:
Reimagining the buying journey from the lens of customer experience (CX), focusing on moments that matter
Orchestrating selling motions that utilize both digital and optimal customer-facing roles to deliver the right engagement and interactions
Emphasizing the seller experience both internally and for channel partners
Doubling down on customer and sales analytics to deliver prescriptive intelligence to sellers
Modernizing the Sales Operations function to be more strategic, agile, and analytical
Five Steps to Deliver Better B2B Sales Experiences
Focusing on personalization, speed, and outcomes in their commercial workflows, reimagining interactions, and operating differently to create differentiated experiences.
Starting by understanding the customer and their buying process more deeply to design the right buying experiences, not narrowly focusing on sales efforts on the opportunity-to-order process, but also to better use of digital B2B channels.
Improving the experiences of the sales rep and partners to enable them to deliver better customer buying experiences. Fueled with data and actionable insights at the right moment of the step of the selling process.
Finally, evolving their siloed support functions to enable a Sales Operations function that brings together strategy, operations, data, analytics, and technology.
Digital sales transformation requires to reimagine the buying journey from the lens of customer experience (CX) and focus on moments that matter:
Typical B2B Buying Steps
Sources: Brent Adamson, “Win More B2B Sales Deals, Gartner.
- Identifying the right customers to target, understanding their unique buying processes, and then designing personalized experiences that make those efforts easier to navigate.
- Segment them based on buying pattern characteristics rather than size and geography, leverage scenario-based models supported with firmographic, economic, historical, and behavioral data to identify the greatest opportunities and segment.
- Utilize new human-centric design methods, such as ethnographic research, to better understand customers and their real-life buying processes. Identify the specific changes that must be made to enable these experience moments.
Orchestrate selling motions that utilize both digital and optimal customer-facing roles to deliver the right engagement and interactions.
Designing Selling Motions
- Engaging with newly deployed selling motions aligned to the buyer experience, including activating new digital channels, utilize this to create a unique customer buying process, focusing on the critical experience moments.
- Rethink Sales Investments - Emphasis on engaging customers earlier in their buying process through top-of-the-funnel digital investments, increasing investments in inside sales and partner channels, developing new hybrid marketing sales roles, and giving customer service and success organizations a prominent role in sales.
- Introduce new talent profiles to elevate the human experience and improve win rates. Finally, reconsider sales and annual incentive programs incentivize the collaboration and customer-centric behaviors to deliver a better experience. People who understand customer relationships, customer value, and customer adoption rather than the usual salespeople can create a one-time ROI.
Emphasize the seller experience both internally and for channel partners to improve the experiences of customers.
- Improve the human experience for sellers in addition to buyers. Make it easier for sales reps to navigate complicated buying processes by reducing administrative burden and improving speed and ease for critical points of the selling process.
- Select and build the right set of tools to optimize and digitize the sales process. Remove organizational barriers that keep siloed functions from operating as connected ecosystems with shared data, bringing in marketing, sales, and service together.
- Create a buyer and seller-centric view of the front-office architecture, to enabled Sales to provide more value at each stage and respond faster to customer needs.
Double down on customer and sales analytics to deliver better insights and embed them directly within the sales process along with supporting tools. integrating insights into decision-making in four key areas:
Single View of Customer through Customer Data Platform
- Customer Insights to understand customer behavior better, and improve segmentation, targeting, and customer engagement
- Partner Insights to better understand their channel partner landscape, including capabilities, reach, growth trajectory, and ability to deliver services and solutions
- Sales Planning analytics to help sales leaders deploy resources more effectively by optimizing coverage and territories and predicting accurate sales forecasts and quotas to improve ROI
- Deal Analytics to enable sellers to close bigger, better deals faster by focusing on the right leads and opportunities, recommending solutions and pricing, and predicting the next best action at each step of the selling process
Modernizing the Sales Operations function to be more strategic, agile, and analytical, by bringing together sales strategy with operations to support an insight-driven sales model and deliver improved seller experiences.
Sales Operations Activities Time Allocation
- To start, automate operational tasks, document process steps for administrative actions help identify opportunities to simplify, standardize, and leverage robotic process automation.
- Broaden Sales Operations to include strategy, operations, data stewardship, and sales enabling technology under one umbrella. Owning the end-to-end strategic planning processes and enabling capabilities needed to break down silos and enable connected planning between customer segmentation, sales coverage, territory management, quota planning, incentive design, and sales forecasting.
- Building new and stronger capabilities in data management, data science, and machine learning, Sales Operations must become the strategic owner and leader of sales-enabling data; thus, helping to drive the consistency needed to harness the power of data and drive predictive insights. On average, only 8% of Sales Operations time is allocated to business insights today.
- Finally, agile and human-centric design methods are helping leading Sales Operations teams improve end-user experiences and digitize more sales enablement capabilities than Laggards. Design thinking approaches are delivering better tools to sales by designing not from systems out, but from the narratives that describe the interactions inward towards the systems that enable them.
Achieving these goals is to require leadership alignment, new talent profiles, new ways of working with IT, a clear data vision and sales-focused architecture, and the right strategic KPIs for Sales
Digital Sales Transformation – How to get started?
The current sales environment today poses several new challenges but also presents many opportunities. There are a host of new tools, technologies, and techniques available that if implemented wisely offer great possibilities for increasing sales reach, decreasing sales cost, and driving differentiated experiences. Organizations need to think of digital-first growth strategies by taking three proactive steps to launch their transformations.
- Launch new initiatives to understand customer buying processes and sales and partner processes by conducting virtual interviews, surveys, and research through customer and partner advisory boards. Understand the buyer's internal processes as well as the seller's virtual sales day-in-the-real-life to transform and define a vision for the interactions in this digital "New Normal".
- Revisit operating models with a focus on bringing marketing, sales, and service together along with strategy and execution. In some cases, this means new organizational structures, while in others it means new cross-functional working groups with aligned goals, but the objective is clear – organizational silos are no longer acceptable
- To drive transformation, change talent models to build more agile and data-driven cultures. This means changing talent profiles for existing roles and developing new roles. Recruiting more tech and data-savvy individuals comfortable with not only digital tools, but also sales teams that can engage with empathy, analyze root causes, and build solutions to create trustworthy partnerships with customers.
As you formulate strategies for the next few years, you must understand how ready you are to operate in this new environment. You should ask these questions as they ascertain how ready you are:
- How well do you understand the buyer journey and investment allocation today?
- What are the buying journeys your customers take and what are the critical moments of that journey that sellers must enable for your customers?
- Do you deliver the experiences your sellers need at those critical moments, including your inside sales, channel partner, and customer success channels?
- What insights do we have and need across the buying and selling journey?
- Do we have the right skill sets and operating model to drive change in mindset and culture, digital tools and capabilities, and sales analytics and insights?
- What will the role of our Sales Operations team be to drive and support sales strategy and technology?
- Do our incentives support customer-centric behaviors? Answering these questions provides insight for crafting a B2B experience that’s human-centered and future-ready.
The sales transformation process is a collective undertaking that requires departmental alignment, full executive buy-in, strategic planning, and consistent execution.