By 2025, Gartner expects 80% of B2B sales interactions between sellers and buyers to occur in digital channels - and there are a number of factors contributing to this that all sales leaders need to be aware of.
Changing buyer behaviour and preferences for good experiences
Changes in buyer behaviour - mainly driven out of COVID-19 and the permanent shift to digital to make decisions and purchases, together with the market volatility and tightening of budgets - has meant more of the sales transaction is now happening online. It is not unheard of that traditional sales pipelines be close to zero with minimal in person meetings recorded and no leads due to these trends.
Buyers are doing more research online and choosing companies with optimal and integrated digital experiences to make their purchases. Buyers are rewarding rich virtual buying experiences with expectations on what is available digitally at all-time highs. Unfortunately, what we have seen is B2B organisations well behind their B2C counterparts; lacking in the seamless, easy, and informative platforms to entice buyers.
Buyers are not going to be as accommodating in the future as making comparisons to retail and media companies becomes the norm. In preparation, we are starting to see businesses invest heavily in lead generation forms, content marketing and salesTech to capture leads, score them and then move them into the sales funnel in a seamless fashion.
According to a study from various sources, in early 2023, 53% of marketers spend over half of their entire marketing budget on lead generation efforts, and according to Dr Yekemi Otaru, over 85% of B2B companies say lead generation is the most critical marketing goal, so it’s top of mind for most B2B marketers.
New skills sets and salesTech capabilities
To support this shift in buying, B2B businesses and sellers will require additional skills and technology capabilities. In their report on fhe future of sales 2025, Gartner suggests that there will be a permanent transformation in strategy, processes and resource allocation. This will move the sales organisation from seller-centric to buyer-centric and from analog to hyper automated, digital-first engagement with customers - with the need for sales leaders to build adaptive systems to engage the “everywhere customer.”
Supporting this suggestion, we are already seeing businesses transform their sales teams to support the shift to digital sales, with emergence of more experienced SDR teams and inside sales to qualify and sometimes convert leads from digital sales - where traditionally these teams only supported the low-end of the market. According to Zendesk, 59% of marketers say that digital inbound leads are of higher quality that traditional outbounds.
What we are also seeing is that B2B customers radically discount the value of sales reps. Gartner research shows that customers perceive little distinct value (beyond their own learning) from sales reps. Generational preferences are compounding the trend. Millennials, the first digital natives, are now decision makers and are far more sceptical of sales reps than their predecessors.
Data and more data...
These trends have meant an increased need for data. Naturally, digital buying means more data. More data then means more information on customer behaviour, buying patterns and usage trends offering business more richness and understanding of the buyer than ever before.
More and more sales organisations have deployed sales analysts to be able to interpret this information - but sadly, B2B sales teams are still lagging behind marketing teams in the capture, organisation, and cleansing of data systematically to make decisions or maximise efficiencies through the use of automation tools and AI.
So, what does this all mean?
These trends require a shift in the focus away from sales reps and outbound sales as the primary commercial channel, to sales enabled by digital. I do believe that the role of the sales rep will still be critical to close deals, but it has changed. B2B businesses need to be ready to engage the “everywhere customer” which means a shift to buyer-oriented (not product-oriented) integrated channels to meet customers’ changing expectations and preferences for digital and self-service channels.
So with digital playing a critical role to drive and enable sales for the future, how can brands better orient around the opportunity and transform in the digital age...?
1) Understand the digital customer and their behaviour
Understanding your customer’s digital behaviour helps to understand what they want and need, so you can offer products and services that are appealing and engaging in the ways they prefer. Having clarity over your ideal customer profile is an important first step, followed by identifying the customer journey across online and offline touchpoints to optimise engagement. Once mapped, it's far easier to develop a plan to optimise the sales process, leveraging digital to influence the moments that matter. This may involve engaging marketing and other teams to align on the new sales process vision and ensure the process for the customer is seamless.
2) Invest in lead generation on your website
According to HubSpot, 74% of companies use web forms for lead generation, with 49.7% stating their online forms are their highest converting lead generation tool. In the same article it was quoted that outbound leads cost upwards of 39% more than inbound leads and aren’t nearly as effective. Integrating capabilities into your website to enable lead generation and then moving more leads into the sales process to online activation and purchasing builds trust and empowers the buyer through the sales process. Investing in an experienced copy writer to create the right messaging also play dividends. From personal experience we saw an uplift of leads converting through our new form upwards of 11% in the first month. You then need to train your sales team to support these transactions and provide exceptional online customer service.
3) Implement a robust CRM tool
According to an article by LinkedIn in 2020, the global market for Customer Relationship Management (CRM) was valued at $52.64 billion. The impact of the pandemic in the same year accelerated the demand for CRM significantly. Companies needed a new way to connect with clients in a digital age. By 2028, CRM technology is forecasted to be worth around $128.97 billion worldwide. It recommended that in today's digital age, all B2B sales businesses implement a robust CRM system to centralise customer data and track interactions. Businesses can then leverage CRM insights to personalise communication, build stronger customer relationships and focus attention and energy on the most valuable prospects. This leads to heightening sales team productivity, higher customer conversion rates and quicker potential purchases. While I won't go into the 'dos' and 'don'ts' of implementing a CRM system, I will say that it's an organisation-wide initiative. The entire business needs to start, progress and finish the journey together.
4) Diversify digital sales tools and channels
Provide your sales team with digital tools to build engagement with customers, particularly decision makers. Some of these tools include sales automation software, email marketing platforms, and virtual meeting solutions. These tools are necessary to replicate the traditional form of selling in a digital world. Sellers also need to be able to use these tools effectively. Best practice usage should be incorporated in your sales playbook and training the team continuously on maximising effective use is recommended. In my sales team we used to have a 5 minute “teach me” section of our sales meeting where a sales rep would teach the rest of the team something that worked well in using a sales tool which helped them to convert a sale.
5) Increase digital skill sets in the sales organisation
These innovations create a need for new sales skills and roles. Gartner talks about building two key capabilities: Virtual customer engagement This includes tactics for presales call planning and preparation, as well as in-meeting practices for ensuring a productive and engaging dialogue with customers during virtual sales interactions. Virtual seller enablement This includes actions for sales enablement in areas such as sales skills, training delivery and onboarding to support sellers in a virtual sales environment and equip them to effectively sell in a remote setting. Both capabilities also involve building digital literacy and enhancing sales teams' digital literacy and skills. Some hot topics could include consumer trends, digital channel, analysing data, managing your online profile and new and emerging sales technologies.
6) Build a future-forward sales technology road map
Over the last couple of years, I have seen a lot of sales tech stacks - in particular CRMs - incorporate AI to better enable sales teams to work more efficiently and effectively (e.g. to support hyper-automation objectives to execute basic sales tasks, detect buying signals and predict business outcomes). Similarly, a lot of sales businesses are relying on these tools to ensure revenue and growth is maintained as we face changing consumer buying behaviours and challenging market conditions - and sales teams are having to contact many more leads to convert a sale. These tools can be very effective but should be carefully aligned to your sales objectives prior to selecting the right one and then onboarding. Clarify your business needs and consider how technology aligns with your sales strategy and objectives, then invest in technology to support hyper-automation objectives. Starting with the tech first can go horribly wrong!
7) Deploy data-based decision-making
According to Harvard Business Review, today’s sellers must have a willingness to incorporate technology, data, and AI-driven insights into their sales activity. By encouraging data-driven decision-making and by using analytics to track sales performance, customer satisfaction, and conversion rates - you have a greater chance of delivering your revenue objectives and capitalising on the benefits, such as cost effectiveness of digital channels (i.e. data that allows you to use insights to optimise your sales strategies and marketing / lead generation activities). Having said this, businesses must continuously monitor and measure the effectiveness of making adjustments based on performance metrics and feedback.
8) Evolve customer support and service
Customers are increasingly powerful. You need to provide a continuous feedback loop to enhance the way you do business. Allow them to speak out, and for you to communicate directly to them in manners that are tailored to their needs. You need to readdress the way you manage the funnel and customer engagement process. As mentioned previously, to deliver excellent customer service, you must first understand your customer. Hotjar, Google Analytics, HubSpot, and Hootsuite are just a few of the analytics tools that may help you better understand your customers' online behaviours. Furthermore, you can also use Net Promoter Score (NPS) surveys to get feedback on your client service. Once you understand your customer, you can then enhance your customer support and service capabilities in the digital realm to address enquiries and issues promptly. Tech can certainly help you deliver this and the task of engaging with customers becomes a lot simpler and more convenient.
Lastly, remember that the digital transformation of your sales team is an ongoing process and it's a business wide commitment and opportunity. It’s not just a sales problem. Technology and customer expectations will continue to evolve, so staying adaptable and open to change is key to long-term success in digital sales. Regularly review your strategies, watch and review your competitors and what they are doing in the digital world, and make adjustments as needed to stay ahead of the curve. This is an ongoing program of work; to reap the rewards, you need to commit to it long term.
Need help with digitising your sales team, upskilling your sales team on digital capability, and salesTech strategy? Talk to us to find out how we are helping brands to build maturity and deliver a scalable sales organisation.