In the face of rapid and dramatic changes in recent B2B buying behavior, organizations must reinvent how they sell to restore and reinforce their value to buyers.
Sales has forever been changed by technology, the digitalization of society and the COVID-19 pandemic that has many employees now working remotely.
To compete in today’s marketplace, organizations must prioritize their adoption of technology, faced with the challenge of digital transformation to how customers want to do business. Those companies that make the shift will be equipped to succeed, while those that do not will be left behind.
Ticktock, ticktock, ticktock.
That’s the sound of the countdown that begins every day, a clock ticking for companies working hard to leverage digital tools to fill their sales pipeline, with opportunities to nurture and close.
Ticktock, ticktock, sell, sell, sell.
The average B2B sales cycle has been extended by 22% with more decision makers involved. With 68% of buyers agreeing that the number of sources used to research and evaluate puchases has also increased over the last couple of years.
The changing B2B sales process
Digital transformation isn’t a new concept for business leaders, but COVID-19 has made it more urgent, with companies looking to enhance their working practices and decision making.
There are a number of sectors that have long drawn out sales cycles such as in manufacturing, engineering, construction and utilities. And with the increase in the numbers of B2B buyers “self researching”, its important that your business stands out so that you are on the buyers radar when they need you.
With so many touch points in the sales process the time it takes to nurture a sales prospect from lead to customer is taking longer:
- Budgets are tighter so money needs to go further so more questions are asked, and proof required of a suitable ROI.
- Fear of making a bad decision by those involved means decision makers need to assess every option against a shortlist of vendors.
- Buyers have more options to choose from as more vendors are added to give as wide a choice as possible.
- More stakeholders involved so different agendas and an increased level of complexity. Even with a relatively small buying group, there are going to be different agendas at play which impacts the sales process.
- Reaching a consensus is a challenge with more people involved in the decision making process.
- Each member of a buying group probably has their own preferences on how they want to interact, so you cannot reach them all in the same way or with the same sales arguments.
What can you do to generate leads?
Cold calling — working your way through a purchased list or contact data base — seems like the easiest way to compensate for a lack of leads.
So how do you cold call effectively?
Cold calling is tough and full of rejections. It has an extremely low conversion rate, can be a negative experience for the prospects. It also undermines your status as a trusted advisor from the first call. In addition its an experience that most salespeople if they are honest would want to avoid.
Experienced salespeople can expect to spend 7.5 hours of cold calling to get one qualified appointment, according to a Baylor University study.
So how do you generate leads for your B2B sales pipeline?
Today, it’s much more difficult for the B2B sector to get the attention of their target audience, which translates into weaker revenue streams and a higher cost of sales and customer acquisition.
Many B2B companies are still harping back to a time when it was easy to interact with customers by calling and booking meetings and attending conferences.
Gone are the days of the traditional ways of developing face-to-face relationships, to be replaced by the “new normal” a wholly new way of showing the value that your product generates.
Organizations risk getting left behind as B2B buyers become far more self-sufficient, mainly sourcing knowledge themselves online. Only using a direct sale contact for help making a purchase decision when they are nearing the end of the sales process.
This means, to stay relevant in today’s dynamic marketplace, companies need to embrace the principles of digital selling.
Digital selling requires new tools to leverage a new way of working and reaching out effectively to a remote buyer audience.
And that can be a big change for a sales organization used to the “tried and tested” approach of picking up a phone to book a meeting or attending the annual trade fair, etc.
With customers increasingly educating themselves online the most effective salespeople are those who develop a more consultative role.
Using their digital tools to enable a different format for dialogue. Showing how their product can fit their customers’ needs, providing solutions that can be effectively assessed remotely.
As customers adopt different information consumption habits, they’re also increasingly moving to digital commerce. A digital savvy salesperson is able to cater to the needs of the new buying process.
Digital technologies and sales strategies will all play a major role in helping companies seamlessly sell and operate across multiple direct and indirect channels.
Companies that excel in creating a seamless omni-channel experience will be in a good position to reap the rewards. Selling is evolving rapidly to encompass a blend of traditional and digital channels.
And as we’ve all experienced, sales efforts are dictated by two limited resources:
- Researching, finding, reaching out and engaging with connected leads.
- Nurturing and closing sales prospects in sufficient numbers over the shortest period of time possible to be able to move on to the next sales prospect.
It is possible to save time and grow sales by investing in the right digital processes, actions, and skills.
We know that the reality is that for many companies they don’t have enough sales leads to fill their pipeline and often the no.1 priority is to close more sales deals.
For the salesperson the first question to ask is whether they can add value beyond the information a buyer can find on their own.
If not, then the buyer has no reason to engage and is already far along the process of making a decision themselves before talking to a vendor.
Recent changes to the marketplace
In-person corporate events typically make up a large portion of sales leads for B2B companies.
In the current COVID-19 environment sales teams are going to have to be more creative on how to supplement the loss of leads, not only in terms of the number of leads but also the quality.
A recent survey from McKinsey indicated that companies think digital interactions will be twice as important as they were pre-COVID.
As we continue to lose opportunities for face-to-face meetings the gap needs to be filled with scalable, digital processes to help you set your product and its value apart from the rest.
As buyers – before we make a purchase decision, 60% of us rely on Word Of Mouth, friends, and social media, 49% on customer references, 47% on analyst reports and recommendations, and 44% on media articles (HubSpot Inbound Sales Report 2016).
But before a salesperson has even started their preparations to make contact with a prospect, they are already 57% of the way through the sales process.
The new wants and needs of buyers
Now, it’s becoming more and more important for sales teams to put the needs of their buyers foremost. Think about some of the changes to how we as consumers approach buying goods and services today –
- Buyers can now find most of the information they need about a company’s products or services by self-research before they ever engage directly a salesperson.
- Buyers employ numerous tactics now to avoid unwanted calls and emails.
- Buyers want to control the buying experience, and enter it under their own terms.
These shifts are just some examples of how buyers have taken control of the sales process. With these changes in mind, it’s important for sales teams to adopt a more helpful, human approach to selling.
A few guiding principles would be:
Selling is personalised.
Throughout a sales process, you are gathering data through conversations about how to answer specific problems for the prospects – if you prematurely start to sell before you understand the full scope of the problem your prospect will lose trust in you.
Times have changed, it is no longer ”buyer beware”, the power lies totally with the seller. For sales professionals to be a part of a buyers’ process, they need to demonstrate how they can add value over and beyond what the buyer self-researches, by contributing as a trusted advisor.
Selling is advisory.
Sales professionals need to build trust and a relationship with buyers to keep the lines of communication open. Become a thought leader or reference point for questions from your leads, as you build up this advisory role you will also increase the level of trust by educating rather than selling.
Where are you on your sales transformation journey?
Regardless of size and industry, companies cannot ignore the urgent need to change how they do business, how they sell and interact with their customers.
Most businesses now need to transition from the traditional way of selling face-to-face to remote selling via digitally enabled tools and platforms.
Although the move to digitally transform the sales process can be difficult and lengthy, it can also be broken down into small, incremental stages, just like the sales cycle.
Taking each stage of the sales cycle in turn, transforming the approach and then moving to the next stage.
To succeed, sellers need to be enabled with tools to enhance their digital selling prowess.
Looking at the tools available to most salespeople, they are outdated, paper-based and static. Today’s digital savvy B2B buyer is looking for the opportunity to be interactive.
So, if salespeople are to be empowered to match buyer aspirations, they need to digitally transform their focus on how to present the value or their solution.
Once sales have a solid understanding of the sales lifecycle, its possible to identify areas for improvement for sales engagement at the different stages. These insights will help you decide what engagement tools and processes can be implemented or optimized.
So, to help you fill that sales pipeline!
- Prioritise buyers that are active in a buying journey.
- Build trust through digital interaction with buyers.
- Shift into exploration mode when a buyer expresses interest and you see an opportunity to offer advice.
- Personalise content in response to each buyer persona and adjust to the buyer’s timeline.