Why is it that buyers are changing faster than the companies who sell to them? This is proved every day when you are in your buying process, in B2C and B2B. But why, and how can your organisation adapt?
The importance of digital for B2B companies has grown significantly in the past year, and since the COVID-19 crisis began, their ways of working have radically changed. B2B companies often say that they rate and prioritise digital now more than ever before.
This shift in the importance of digital and digital interactions is reflected in customer behaviour. When researching products, customers' preference for digital sales and support interactions has increased significantly, since many prospective customers are working from home and meetings can't take place physically. As a result, most B2B companies' online stats show a sharp increase since 2019.
Buyers have now applied their digital B2C behaviour to B2B. In making purchases, buyers have a strong preference for self-service, with, e.g. suppliers' mobile apps. To consistently get the right options matters a lot for them. Buyers are no longer willing to accept less from their B2B experience than what they are used to from their personal experiences in B2C. Suppliers who provide outstanding digital experiences to their buyers are more likely to be chosen as a primary supplier than those who offer poorer, more traditional experiences.
With this in mind, I claim that you need to prioritise providing and enabling speed, transparency and expertise. To deliver the expected digital experiences and encourage loyalty, you and your company need to address your customers' most critical pain points and frustrations. Some of the most common ones are:
The length of the ordering process
The difficulty of finding products
Technical glitches with ordering
Confusing websites and portals
Lack of information on delivery
Lack of speed in technical support
Payment and invoice difficulty
COVID-19 affected has sales organisations
Wherever you and your company were at the beginning of 2020, you, like everyone else, were impacted in some way by COVID-19. What the last 12 months of pandemic have done is to give us all the possibility to accelerate transformational journeys.
It has forced some of us to make some of the things we had planned for later to happen right now. It forced us to explore things like handling the whole business online, and how to use video to engage with all stakeholders and target groups on a one-on-one basis.
From the business perspective, adopting new things and moving to virtual business was valuable. It gave companies and individuals a chance to realise that the change needs to happen right now.
Changes that will remain after COVID-19
From a seller's process perspective, much more is needed to engage with potential customers. Most companies likely do a decent job with existing customers, but what is the best way to engage with potential customers?
Do you wait for them, or do you go after them? Do you send them an email and wait for them to download an ebook? I believe that you and your company should do much more. It would help if you make online and digital a core part of your business and your way of working way, look at enhanced data and analytics and implement things with speed.
If you call yourselves customer-centric, you need to be sure that you try to orient all services, solutions and products around your customers' needs and challenges. That means you must listen and interact with all your senses, not just to what they're saying; look at what they're doing and why. Look at how the customers are being impacted right now, what they were doing pre-COVID, and what they say they're going to do post-COVID. Pitch less, and instead pay attention to what they say they need and help them get it.
Build a sales tech stack
To adapt to new behaviour, you need to build a solid CRM foundation. CRM is no longer a tool that requires your sales reps to become data entry reps. Instead, you really want your CRM to be as interactive and as productive as possible. A CRM without inbound data doesn't make any sense right now, and you need to have an AI-driven CRM approach.
Your CRM foundation needs to be a solid, interactive CRM, likely integrated with your ERP. On top of that, you need something that gives your people faster access to the information they need, so they can better serve potential and existing customers. One of your sales reps' biggest pain points is probably figuring out the relevant past interactions contacts have had with your company. Have they bought from the company, who have they interacted with, or have they browsed the offering lately? How many eBooks does a potential customer need to download before you actively engage? All of that information must be available in one system.
Build trust with prospects
Building trust right now might be hard for businesspeople who are used to handing relations through physical face-to-face interactions. These interactions don't exist right now, so you have to be very good at doing it virtually. The steps are the same. Start with basic research — try to actually understand who the person is. You want to talk about them first, not about you or your company, to open up a safe space for the person you meet to start talking.
You don't want to go and pitch; you want to learn about the business, learn about the person, and understand how it is to be them so you can see if you can help in any way.
The biggest change
Buyers change faster than the companies who sell to them. They have the ability to research and discard whatever they don't like, and keep what they want. Once the buyers have gone through their decision process, they want to buy with one click. They don't want to talk to anyone; they want to click and come to the next step. Customers have changed their way of making decisions faster than salespeople have adapted, especially in the B2B space.
Does this sound familiar to you? If it does, you need to become faster, because customers need you less and less every day. You need to understand that your job with a customer is to advise, pay attention, learn, and become their trusted advisor. The guys on the top stay at the top because they are still making customers their number one priority.
Analyse your sales operations
There's so much more information about your sales available now compared to before - by this I mean data, bits, and bytes. You need to become specialised in understanding this information, and you can't do that if your mind is on selling, marketing, training or supporting someone.
It would help if you had someone who can look at this data and translate it to real life information that you can actually use. If you are a sales manager, it helps you make the necessary outreaches, and if you are a sales rep, it helps you assist your potential and existing customers in a better way.
This can lead to a big transformation that I've seen happen in sales operations — they've gone from crunching sales numbers and working on remuneration plans and have become a key partner in understanding how the customers and the market moves and how sales reps operate.
How to use data
Data helps you understand what your potential and existing customers' buyer journeys look like right now. There was a certain kind of pre-COVID buyer journey, but the new one that most of us are experiencing right now will be ongoing for a very long time. We need to know if existing customers are buying, how they are buying, where they are buying from and what they expect of the buying experience. By looking into the data, you can understand how to reach your customers and how to guide them through their buyer journeys.
The key metrics
Most of us are still revenue-based companies. We want to know where the money is coming from and whether the pipeline is being filled. Of all the things that COVID-19 brought, it has posed one question: are you visible enough? Is your company and its sales professionals, experts and marketers really relevant and visible? Would potential customers find you if they ran a quick search on Google or LinkedIn? Do they understand your offering and how you can support and help? Questions like these have to lead to discussions that make you create new KPIs and CPIs.
All of these changes and the ways you should deal with them are linked to digitalisation. I believe that your company needs to get onlinified and digitalised as soon as possible — but to do this, you need to know what these terms involve. My colleague Martin has covered them in a free presentation that explains digitalisation, digitisation, digital transformation and digital readiness and what they mean for you. Click below to get it.
Founder, CEO & Strategist since 2001. Anders provides thoughts and reflections about what and how to think about onlinification and digitalisation in B2B. Asks a lot of questions, and knows what to do with the answers.