Most companies would agree that the main B2B learning from the pandemic is that you need to change. Almost every company within the B2B sector are still heavily reliant on a very analogue way of doing business and depend on salespeople being able to work, as expected, going out on sales calls, going to events and exhibitions. The fact is that this does not work in an increasingly digital world, especially if we have a lockdown in the world and can't meet physically. So the main conclusion is that we need to change, and we need to become more digital in how we conduct business.
The main B2B sales trends also support this need for change we are witnessing now and have seen over the last few years: remote selling continues to advance. Before the pandemic hit, it was still a considerable discussion about whether people would buy remotely and went something like this: Will they close these big deals in a remote setting? Will they do any business that involves a more complicated kind of negotiation? And certainly when it comes to spending a significant amount of money, surely you need to meet in person?
Remote selling and buying is preferred
Now, according to research from LinkedIn's Global State of Sales report, about 36% of salespeople globally say that they have closed deals that are on top of $500.000 without ever meeting the buyer in person. If you look in some specific countries, e.g., the US, this is closer to 50% of salespeople reporting deals of more than $500.000 entirely remotely.
Meanwhile, buyers are pretty happy to buy remotely now. It's becoming the norm in how you do business within B2B. According to research from McKinsey, 33% of buyers report that they are comfortable doing deals between $50.000 and up to $500.000. Another 12% say $500.000 to a million is fine, and even 15% say spending more than $1 million entirely remotely by self-serving or doing remote negotiation is fine.
B2B decision-makers prefer remote human interaction and digital self-service over that kind of personal meeting. So even early in the sales process, when it comes to identifying new suppliers, 69% of buyers prefer doing that remotely or entirely on their own. About 80% of B2B decision-makers report choosing remotely or digital self-service when ordering and reordering. Why is that? Well, one reason is that it's much easier to schedule meetings - if you can do it remotely and digitally, it's easy to fit into the calendar. It is also about saving on travel expenses, and for some people, it might be about protecting the environment. And in this day and age and in this climate, obviously safety, the ability not having to meet physically worry about getting COVID (or ordinary flu for that matter). So it's becoming the norm in terms of how people today prefer to do their B2B business interactions.
So what does this mean for you and your company?
If you don't have digital at the core of your business strategy in 2022, you don't have a business strategy. Suppose you don't have digital at the centre. In that case, you either disregard research on how business is conducted or are in such an isolated industry that digital doesn't come into play. But for the vast majority of companies, you need to put it at the core; that's the basis of how you should think about conducting business now and into the future. And as a complement to that, you might still do analogue sales processes and analogue interactions, but the vast majority of your business needs to be digital now.
Can you change without really changing?
The other thing that's happened because of this abnormal situation we have all been in for the last few years is that many companies think about changing and becoming more digital. But if we look at the RFPs we have been part of the last year, the vast majority of RFP (about 80%) tend to be based very much on how companies are currently working, how they are set up, and they want to get a new modern system in place that is tailored to their old way of working. So the companies want something completely new, but they don't want to change. When most companies think about change, they think about the technology or the platform rather than how we can change; How do we need to change our processes? How do we need to change the way we are working?
At the same time, everyone is now investing in sales technology. Based on the same LinkedIn survey mentioned above, 74% of global sales professionals say their organisation are investing in more sales, intelligence tools and other kinds of sales technology to help sales become more digital in their way of working. That makes perfect sense because 94% of these sellers say that digital sales tools help close more deals, and 93% say that tools enable them to build stronger relationships with buyers. By having everything digital stored, the ability to follow up from a top-level and keep that data and that interaction going with buyers are helping to build stronger relationships over time.
Now, everything isn't just rainbows and sunshine, though, because many people say they have challenges with data or getting access to it.
80% of sellers say they lost or delayed at least one deal in the past year because a stakeholder had changed jobs and wasn't aware the system didn't alert them. 36% of sales reps say they have lost at least three deals due to stakeholders leaving. Part of this is due to incomplete and inaccurate CRM data. You only have part of the picture of how the sales process is progressing, what the stakeholders are doing, and aren't getting the kind of feedback you can act on.
So the issue then becomes how do we need to think about picking a digital platform or a digital system for our organisation? What is the best approach for us?
What to think about
The most important thing is to try to think about it as a single source of truth and have one database become the reference and the most accurate and up-to-date data on a specific customer. And that means that you need a single data card for every customer. Suppose you, like most companies, have a bit of data here, a bit of data there and a very siloed structure where you can't complete that picture of your customer and your customer journey. In that case, it becomes almost impossible to work smoothly with taking the customer from the very first touch down to being an existing and trusted customer that has good interaction with your company.
This means that you should probably be looking at an all-in-one platform approach rather than having best-of-breed solutions from different tech ecosystems. Taking the shortcut to an all-in-one platform, adapting your process and way of working to fit the system you choose, and making that happen smoothly within the organisation is a much more cost-effective and faster way to get and become more digital.
Creating this accurate and complete picture for every customer journey should be at the root of how you think about what you need. Why is that?
First of all, by having that, you can become much more personal in how you interact with your customer. Having an accurate and complete picture of customers makes it much easier to utilise the data to add that extra level of personalisation in your communication that makes you stand apart from the competition.
Secondly, you can create a consistent experience across your company's touchpoints. By having one system and a complete picture, you can ensure that the customer feels the same way from the first interaction with your company through your marketing process to your sales process to secure your customer service and support interactions with your customers.
And thirdly, by having a complete picture, you can do much more advanced analytics, create much better insights, and segment your database much more accurately. You can look at the whole picture, and you can get into those likely to close customers or prospects, focus on those, and make sure that you are serving them when they want to be served.
Fourthly, it's much easier to do predictive forecasts by having one system. So utilising things like machine learning and artificial intelligence to have the system work and prompt you with alerts for a customer that seems close to buying something or, for that matter, seems to be unhappy with something, the more accurate you predicted forecasts would become.
Adapting your process and way of working to fit the system is much more cost-effective and sustainable in the long term. So when you think about change, you need to first think about how you work and, secondly, what system and tools you need. Because the key is really to think about how can we change our way of working and fit a good enough system and platforms to do that?
Today, this ability to cope with change is front and centre for most sales managers. Having an organisation that can deal with the fact that we might be in lockdown for a couple of months, we might need to change. We might need to go into a new market. We need to do it fully digital. All that ability to manage change is at the core of how we think about sales going forward. As a result, B2B companies have started measuring sales processes and outcomes differently. Historically, you might have been looking at how many sales meetings do you have, how many calls you made, how many doors do you knock on? And now, you might be measuring more in terms of your average response time to incoming RFPs, your conversion rate for qualified leads to sales qualification, and the frequency of sales outreach and eventually close deals?
Today, most businesses are adding new technologies to help everyone cope better, finding new digital processes for selling remotely, and instituting new hiring processes. Realise that you might need new types of people within the organisation who are comfortable and excel at actually closing deals remotely, can do virtual demos, and do the whole sales process without ever meeting a person.
Remote sales work continues to increase
Remote sales work is practically how most sales professionals sell and interact with potential customers.The share of salesreps reportingthat they do remote work 50% or more of the time has increased significantly over the last couple of years, from 28% in 2019 to about 50% in 2021. People tend to prefer this, and it seems to work. So again, it's not something that we expect to go down dramatically in the future - it will be the new norm to work most of the time remotely. And if you turn to the other side, it works even better for buyers. 55% of buyers responded that remote work has made their purchasing process much more manageable. So again, both salespeople and buyers say that this works better and is preferable. Hence, this is just going to continue to increase even if we go into a post-pandemic world where we could potentially do everything as we did before. As both sellers and buyers prefer this way of doing business, this is here to stay.
To quote Gartner, "the future of sales is the permanent transformation of organisation sales strategies, processes and allocation of resources, moving from a seller centric to buyer-centric orientation. It involves moving from an analogue sales process to a hyper automated digital-first engagement with customers."
We're already seeing this increase in how business is becoming increasingly digital and conducted today. The future sales focus is increasingly on the digital scalability of how can we make sales digital? How can we hyper automate things? How can we become even more personal? How can we make sure that we are predicting when a potential buyer wants something, even before they know it themselves? And this is then eventually also leading to utilising machine learning and artificial intelligence to make sales a much smoother process for everyone involved.
What does this mean for you and your company?
If you can't close deals virtually and remotely in 2022, you can't really make sales. It needs to be at the core of your skillset as a salesperson to conduct sales remotely and digital. It doesn't mean that sometimes in certain circumstances, it might still be that you need to meet eventually in person. But it's saying that it's not the core skill set; the core skill set will be the ability to conduct and close deals remotely.
To sum up, most companies realise that they need to change. The question then becomes, how do we change? There are four major areas you need to think about:
You first need to have a unified top management team committed to change, communicating a compelling vision and clear objectives of what needs to be done. Otherwise, what will happen is that uncertainty will trickle down through the organisation, and chances are then that the whole organisation will grind to a halt when it comes to changing.
Secondly, redesign the organisation and way of working before defining or deciding on a solution. Do you need to think about how you should be working? What are the processes, what are the skill sets you need? How will you be working? And then, choose a good enough system to match that and be willing to change how you work. It's a quicker, much more cost-effective way of doing things than trying to mitigate different solutions that aren't built to fit together and custom-build a solution for the way you have been working.
Thirdly, for most companies, choosing an all-in-one platform (e.g., HubSpot) that works is much more important than trying to tailor something specifically for your current needs. Because the chances are that you will change the way you're working and your process regardless. So unless your current way of working is core to how you do business, you most likely don't need a tailor-made solution just for you. The vast majority of companies will be much better off choosing an all-in-one platform.
Fourthly, and I can't stress this enough, it's setting aside time for onboarding and education. Realising that if people need to change, you need to let them have the time to do that. They need coaching. They need to have the time. There's a learning curve for them to change into new behaviour. You need to focus on that!
If you want to learn more about sales enablement, we have a guide that can help - it covers the whats, whys, wheres and hows of this effective tactic.
Chief Analyst & Digital Strategist since 2011. Advise businesses on how online and digital impact their business and plan a strategy to achieve maximum results. Inofficially top lumberjack at Zooma, officially top trendspotter.