The Future of B2B Sales

Megatrends such as demographic change, the increasing individualization of products and services, new mobility patterns, digital life, changes in the world of work, urbanization, climate change and environmental pollution, new consumption patterns, new political world order, globalization or the knowledge-based economy are also changing the world of sales.

Long-term planning and predictable results are becoming increasingly difficult. Ambiguity becomes the paradigm of the future.

To counteract this, the potential of artificial intelligence is increased. Precisely because the future is becoming more and more volatile and less predictable, large resources are being further developed and used in predictive models with high computing power.

In order to be able to face the globalized, complex and fast-moving world of business, more and more digitization and automation are taking place. However, it is precisely this digitalization and automation of the economy (see, for example, high-frequency trading on the world’s trading exchanges) that presents society and thus the economy with new challenges.

More and more tasks (not only in production) are automated in order to survive as a company on the world market. Terms like “Internet of Things”, “platform economy”, “Industry 4.0” etc. are well known. The idea of ​​outsourcing recurring tasks to machines and thus “freeing” people is well-intentioned on the one hand, but also harbors risks such as unemployment, poverty, etc. on the other, just a look at the financial industry shows that Automation not only affects people in factory buildings, but also well-trained people who have administrative or often repetitive tasks.

For a long time, sales as an organizational unit was not affected by automation, since “selling” is a strategically very important task in a company. But this will change, initially in small steps, and probably much faster in the future.

In the current study “The future of B2B sales” by KEARNEY (2020), revolutionary new possibilities for companies are shown through digitization, connectivity and virtualization, and traditional limitations are described.

Here are the key takeaways from the study:

Technology is equipping companies to set new records in the B2B sales race, but time is already running out.

Technological progress is bringing revolutionary new opportunities to companies engaged in business to-business sales. But there’s a catch: customers are already impatient for these opportunities, so companies must act sooner rather than later.

The B2B sales innovation race has already begun.

Getting into the B2B sales innovation race offers plenty of rewards. Leading companies have captured the inside track and convincingly pulled ahead in revenue and productivity growth.

The direction is clear.

The many companies that are already pushing the limits of B2B sales are modeling a promising suite of practices that can inspire those that are just getting off the starting blocks.

Your people will fuel the progress.

A clear purpose and a sense of direction are important to stay on track. Even more important is an inspired, motivated, and engaged sales organization resolved to grasp the opportunities and drive the change.

The opportunities are unlimited.

Although the final shape of B2B sales is still vague, companies that have a clear picture in mind of the direction they’re aiming for and stay focused will benefit from the sheer breadth of opportunity.

KEARNEY researched the B2B sales practices employed by these companies and found that they focus on nine emerging practices—shown in figure below — that can be grouped into three distinct waves:

Wave 1: Make buying simple and easy

Become the easiest partner to do business with. Make the customer experience easy, frictionless, and

anticipative. Eradicate all reasons for customers to choose other companies.

Wave 2: Maximize customer value

Optimize customer value by ignoring all product, service, and company boundaries. Bundle, unbundle, and reconfigure products and services. Partner, collaborate, and co-create with business partners and even customers.

Wave 3: Redefine customer value

Rethink the jobs customers are trying to accomplish and use this to create new value, enhance their current value, or increase their ability to derive value from offerings.

More about the study from KEARNEY:

In her study „What Ist he Future of B2B Sales?“, which was updated in 2020, Audrey Weber also comes up with six topics that are changing B2B sales:

B2B Sales Trends 2020

The complete customer makeover

In both the B2B and B2C markets, the power play between buyers and sellers is nearing its conclusion, and buyers are winning. In a world dominated by buyers, B2B sellers must respond to key changes:

How Buyers Are Changing

The Effects On B2B Sales

The buying process for businesses involves more (6-10) decision makers

B2B sales cycles are getting longer and more complicated.

Corporate decision makers demand high levels of personalization during the buying process

(similar to individual consumers)

For enterprise sales, account-based selling is the new normal.

More decision makers are millennials who want online access to information about your company (without talking to someone). They also tend to trust peer recommendations, referrals, and reviews

Customer reviews are gaining more weight, while B2B influencers are beginning to emerge.

B2B sales has ceased being an opaque, transactional interaction between buyer and seller.

Customers now know a lot more about your product and your people than you might expect. They now look for authenticity and genuine empathy before granting their trust.

Organizational revamp, retraining, and realignment

The game is skewed in favor of sellers who keep their skills and performance in a constant state of shine through continuous training and development.

In fact, McKinsey reported that serious investments in talent acquisition and sales training separate world-class organizations from the rest of the pack.

Never before in the history of selling has the bar for sales excellence been higher. Today, you need to get your sales skills, traits, and abilities reflected in closely tracked and data-driven performance metrics.

The digital economy favors highly optimized organizations whose component units have well-defined specializations.

Sales Operations and Sales Enablement are two teams that forward-looking sales organizations can’t do without. Propped up by technology and best practices, these support elements enable sellers to perform at their peak and generate optimal revenue for the company.

Sales Ops and Sales Enablement can also handle talent acquisition — hiring, on-boarding, compensation, and training — so that salespeople and management can stay focused on their goals while the team is growing.

Furthermore, all customer-facing teams — from sales and marketing to tech support and customer success — can no longer operate in silos. Instead, these units should share and execute a single customer engagement strategy.

The next tech update

Tech is arguably the strongest change agent and enabler in sales. Marketing automation, chatbots, B2B sales lead generation software, data analytics, and machine learning are just some of the varied applications of technology in sales. AI capabilities now include computer vision, natural language processing (NLP), deep learning, and intent classification. Some of the more recent entries into the field of sales technology include sales engagement platforms that can understand and classify the intent of customer emails, then make lightning-fast recommendations on the best action to take and the best reply template to use.

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Every channel matters

B2B customers want to be engaged in the manner and venue they prefer. And because there are multiple channels that B2B decision makers use, sellers should establish their presence in these channels to ensure every potential touch point is covered.

While voice calls and emails remain the staple communication tools of sales organizations, it doesn’t hurt to try other channels like mobile and social media.

Smart sales organizations optimize their content and messaging for mobile because they know B2B decision makers spend quite a lot of time on their phones.

Meanwhile, social selling is on the rise, with businesses and employees watching and commenting on LinkedIn and Reddit posts about their industries and brands.

The type of content that you’re sending or posting through each channel also matters in sales. Some messages can be sent via email, voice, or text. Others generate more impact when delivered as videos, infographics, interactive reports, and other formats.

A tactic for every team and terrain

In the shifting world of sales, there’s no such thing as a tried-and-true approach that will work in every situation all the time. An email sequence or call script that works for one company might not work for another, even if it is near-identical in terms of product features, company size, or target market.

This is where sophisticated technology also makes a ton of difference. The field of A/B testing makes it easier to verify which selling approaches work for your ideal customer (and which don’t).

Using A/B testing, sales teams can optimize their playbooks and overall B2B sales strategy on the fly.

Respect for data privacy

Since personal data can be both monetized and weaponized, the ethics of using and sharing user data must be more clearly defined from now on.

In the last year, we have seen new policies enacted in Europe (GDPR) and California (CCPA) in order to protect individuals’ data privacy. These measures will hopefully reduce the number and scale of the hostile data breaches we’ve seen affect several companies in the last few years.

The bottom line is: to improve data security, partner with businesses who share the same data mindset, and always approach customer data from the vantage point of diligent stewardship.//

@Alexander Eigner (2020)

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