B2B sales and buyer behaviors were changing well before COVID. In commercial insurance, the old way that insurance carrier field staff interacted with brokers and clients was through office or site visits.
Growth (via M&A) and automation at the broker made meetings more difficult. Broker-side agents simply didn’t need the carrier reps stopping in the office. Younger reps and brokers connected via social media (LinkedIn), text and email to learn what was new and talk about prospects. Older reps insisted on dropping into their broker partners’ offices to drum up leads even as those meetings got briefer and more infrequent.
Then COVID made office and site visits all but impossible.
B2B salespeople had no choice but to find a better way – a digital way. Still, they expected the crisis would someday end and conferences, events, office meetings in conference rooms and even golf outings would all come back.
The Future of B2B Sales is Digital
Two years in and the writing is on the wall, the floor, the ceiling – anywhere you look – the immediate future of B2B sales is digital.
Even after 6 months of COVID, McKinsey reported that 89% of B2B Sales leaders expected to sustain new go-to-market models for the next 12 months or more.
No Going Backwards
It’s time to embrace, skill-up and tool-up for lasting change.
Conferences and events won’t be as big in the future. They won’t be the selling events they were in the past.
Buyers won’t be as keen to attend social events making relationship development more challenging.
Not enough people will be in the office to even try to justify an office visit.
Staff churn will run high at both seller and buyer businesses making enduring personal connections more critical to sales.
Meanwhile the pre-COVID trend of business buyers researching purchases online and postponing salesperson interactions for later in the buyer journey will continue.
The #1 requirement for transforming the sales organization is senior leadership buy-in and active support. Seismic (maker of a digital sales enablement platform) organized sales organizations in four levels of maturity. The top are “Visionaries” who are doing the most to change their sales orgs and reaping the biggest benefit.
Once you have that, there is still lots more work to be done.
Here are 4 ways B2B selling organizations can adapt to lasting changes:
Map the new buyer journey and how you can help
Whether you are selling commercial insurance, software solutions, or an innovative construction material, you are solving customer challenges. Having clear insight into what your customer is trying to accomplish and their steps from needs-awareness to research to actual purchase is key.
Understanding the emotional drivers, not just the rational ones, will give you more to work with. Guaranteed they are doing a lot more of that journey online and via digital channels. Creating a relevant map of that journey that includes clear opportunities for you to deliver more value while helping the buyer to a purchase does not have to be hard.
Interview 3-5 customers on the steps they take and the technologies they use
Get an SEO consultant to do a simple scan of relevant search queries in your category that can reveal customer intent and behaviors (and the actual language they use)
Workshop inside your business with 3-5 people involved in sales, marketing and customer insight. You can build a current version of a Buyer Journey Map like these samples.
Convert your salesforce to social sellers
Younger salespeople automatically reach out to peers and customers via LinkedIn, What’s App, Twitter and other platforms. They don’t differentiate between building relationships online and in person.
Now it’s time to harness that energy and potential around intentional social selling practices. The endgame is to support a salesforce use the tools and platforms we all rely on our mobile phones and desktop.
We want to help them find leads, convert them to customers and strengthen their relationships with existing customers in a way that increases customer lifetime value and becomes a defensible advantage to the business.
Salespeople who understand their customer’s journey can share content that genuinely helps that customer just by posting great, useful content on LinkedIn. They can become the trusted expert that customer relies on. They can reach out when that customer gets a promotion or makes a job change with a simple “congratulations.” In short, they can become more than just a salesperson waiting for a transaction request.
Build a simple training program for salespeople to build their profile on LinkedIn, make meaningful connections, create and/or share relevant content, engage often with customers and stakeholders online
Commit to a coaching program with incentives to drive behavior change. You will never get all of your salespeople to become productive ‘social sellers’ but you should aim for 50%+ with increases over time (vs. settling for the 5-10% who will adopt these new behaviors anyhow).
Equip “super-sellers" with LinkedIn Sales Navigator or other tools to deepen the insight and intelligence they can gather on target accounts and customers.
Use content and measurement to integrate sales and marketing
We are all drowning in content – which makes great and relevant content more valuable. Brands can invest in creating content inspired by customer interests and search behavior – the stuff they need answers and knowledge about.
To help the seller earn a reputation as a trusted expert, the marketing and sales leaders can put that content in the seller’s hands to share online. To help the brand earn the role of helper or guide, these same leaders can publish and promote this content across their social channels online and even integrate into their paid media programs to reach more “look-alike” prospects.
Common and shared content can pull sales and marketing together such that their coordinated efforts leads to a compounded result.
Having a single common set of key performance indicators (KPIs) and a shared dashboard can do more to align selling and marketing behaviors than any fancy automated system.
Make the sales nurturing process easier via the right technology
Do you need a CRM system to track sales activities and outcomes with customers? Of course. Do you need to right incentives, coaching and nudges to ensure your salesforce uses it to their advantage?
Yes. This is not one you should hedge on.
Now there are new technologies that may create a significant advantage for your salesforce.
Sales content and enablement platforms. Services like Seismic and Showpad can greatly streamline the process of getting valuable content into the hands of salespeople and then giving them the control and measurement for using it.
Customer intelligence platforms. LinkedIn Sales Navigator is a great platform to research the interests of the individuals within an account and find timely ways to engage with them. Many companies have a “voice of the customer” function (based on tech like Qualtrics or Medallia) which essentially captures customer feedback when interacting with the company. This produces great intelligence for many functions including sales organizations and account managers.
Video-based selling. Sending a short video via email or LinkedIn messenger allows salespeople to make a personal connection. New tools like Vidyard are making easier for sales people to make succinct and helpful videos while humanizing the interaction. Here are some use-case examples.
Of course, the sales tech stack landscape gets chaotic quickly. Just look at the sales tech Lumascape. Taking on too much tech can be its own trap. A reasonable CRM system and a way to enable social sellers with content (tech + training + coaching + incentives + “nudges”) is a place to start.