A recent McKinsey & Company study reports that we are at a digital inflection point, where B2B sales operations will fundamentally look different due to the prolonged pandemic.
The McKinsey study further reports that the importance of digital interactions reflects the shifting of customer behavior. Customers’ preference for digitally-enabled sales interactions has increased significantly, with social media, mobile apps, and online communities displaying their sharpest increase since 2019.
The past few months have been earth-shattering, but are sales organizations moving quick enough to keep up with digital technology, digital channels, and customer behavior.
The COVID-19 outbreak has upended the B2B salesforce worldwide with unprecedented speed and scale and creating the opportunity to [digitally] transform.
The short term opportunity for sales leaders is to embrace the new dynamics of virtual selling and technology to help their sales team engage prospects more effectively, remain relevant during the shifting landscape while maintaining a competitive edge.
The long term opportunity offers a more significant change effect to survive where B2B sales leaders may have to reinvent how their salesforce interacts with customers fundamentally.
The New Normal means innovative engagement is replacing the traditional ways of selling and communicating with businesses. With a rattled economy, how do organizations evolve without breaking the bank?
So, how is the COVID-19 crisis currently reshaping the future of B2B sales?
In this article, I highlight three3 accelerating trends and why it’s vital for you as a B2B sales leader to adopt.
Trend #1: B2B Sales professionals need new and different skills to be successful in selling digitally.
Eight months into the COVID-19 crisis, most B2B companies have dramatically shifted their go-to-market and digital strategies and selling remotely.
In a Mckinsey study, two-thirds of B2B decision-makers indicated that their new digital GTM model is working, if not more so than previous models. In the future, respondents also noted that digital interaction is two to three times more important to customers than traditional selling interaction.
Also, the shift to digital selling means that B2B sales leaders need to consider the impact of which soft and hard skills are necessary for new remote-based sales reps to be successful. For example, experience using CRM and Marketing automation software is almost a requirement for the digital sales environment. Below is a list of skills that should be under consideration for sales leaders:
— CRM and Marketing Automation
— Social media & social selling
— Sales automation
— Digital marketing
— Stakeholder Communication
— Willingness to learn new skills
Why it’s crucial for B2B sales leadership.
As the market continues to evolve, your sales team’s skills need to grow. Sales organizations need to continually invest in training and education because of the digital ecosystem and consumer behavior shift. This kind of commitment and investment reinforces their value status and helps them perform successfully for your firm.
The bottom line is remote selling and digital is here to stay. And these new realities will continue to evolve rapidly. The more focused on sales reps skills and leveraging technology and digital marketing channels will help them engage prospects and customers more effectively.
For example, one crucial area of focus is leveraging data and buying signals to prioritize selling activities. This could mean using “all-in-one” marketing automation and CRM software to engage prospects along the buyer funnel (Awareness, Consideration, Decision) with personalized drip email campaigns and prioritizing outreach based on behavioral lead scoring. If the lead’s score reaches a certain scoring threshold, the sales rep can follow up.
You can retrain field sales reps to adopt and support social media (LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram, etc.) and website channels (via Live Chat) to engage prospects and service customers actively. The digital options are numerous, depending on where your customers and prospects exist.
Trend #2: B2B buyer and customer priorities are continually shifting
The Covid-19 crisis has triggered a sudden and sharp decline in almost all industries. July experienced a 54% jump U.S. companies’ layoff announcements. With infections and deaths on the rise, government-mandated shelter-in-place, and social distancing guidelines re-treading businesses are forced to cut and stop spending. The focus is on how do we survive and continue operating the company remotely.
As a result, sales leaders are naturally feeling frustrated and defeated. As their customers scramble to figure out their new business model and revenue streams, the domino effect makes for a highly challenging marketplace.
Your customers are rethinking, reprioritizing, and re-strategizing how to optimize their online presence, create immediate and long-term value for their customers. If they are not thinking long-term, they should be. They are also concerned about bringing employees back to the office or how remote working might offer new opportunities.
The bottom line is that buying from you may not be top-of-mind right now, so, as a sales leader, how do you adjust what your company offers as a suitable alternative.
Why it’s crucial for B2B sales leadership.
With the support of the C-suite, focus on your customer’s needs, and guide your sales team to solve immediate and intermediate problems. Drive customer needs to current value-based solutions.
How can we implement this strategy?
— Proactive customer outreach
— Empathetic, customized and consistent messaging
— Concerted and coordinated efforts
— Drive customer needs into value-based solutions
CSO Insights reports B2B companies that effectively align their sales process to customer buyer journeys have 18% higher win rates and 12% more quota attainment. These numbers are consistent with many businesses that leverage marketing automation and CRM software to engage marketplaces.
Sales cycles are changing and slowing, so sales leaders need to adjust, modify, and adapt to these shifts. It also helps to track the changing attitudes by modifying your CRM to produce reports that point feedback received from prospects and customers.
Businesses are rightly slower to making purchase decisions right now, especially for big-ticket, non-essential items. However, can you see trending data of how you can help them near term?
— TARGET ACCOUNT FOCUS — Circle these opportunities and continually stay in touch, whether it is a former customer or older prospect. Every opportunity should be treated as if it just entered your sales cycle. Develop a nurture track (e.g., multiple emails) to remain top of mind and relevant until they are ready to buy.
— TARGET ACCOUNT TACTICS can include inviting to virtual events, webinars, useful blog articles, video, case studies, testimonials, with emphasis on personalized content. Acknowledge the current environment, and continue to call and digitally follow up.
— MEANINGFUL CUSTOMER INTERACTIONS & INSIGHTS – Crucial for surviving and possibly thriving in the changing times ahead will be your sales reps’ ability to connecting with prospects/clients and becoming their advocates.
The better lines of communication your sales organization has with your potential customers and their ability to provide feedback to your leadership can mean the difference between failure and survival as things playout. You must adapt your role and value-prop to the changing marketplace to address short, mid, and maybe long term goals.
Trend #3: B2B sales operations must go digital — faster.
Change is difficult, but you either change and adapt or look for a new employer. Business and sales operations have dramatically shifted to virtual selling and increased their reliance on digital. And, these trends will continue. While many sales leaders embrace reality, it’s not as easy as merely shifting to digital.
Sales Reps and Sales Managers often rely on domain knowledge and instinct to execute their sales plans. Technology tools such as CRM and marketing automation platforms often bring transparency to the selling process and are also viewed as administrative roadblocks. This is one of the many obstacles of sales user adoption and compliance with new procedures for lead and prospect data collection. This is a pervasive problem, and research from CSO indicated that more than 80% of CSOs are not confident about the success of their sales technology rollouts.
Why it’s crucial for B2B sales leadership.
With the rise of importance and use of digital channels, companies and sales leaders need to collaborate on training sales reps to use the new digital tools—focusing on the full customer journey and touchpoints create enhanced customer experiences. This challenge isn’t only a sales problem; it requires marketing, product management, client service, and sales to develop a holistic strategy and plan.
Key points for digital strategy rollout
— Customer Journey development
— Sales Cycle assessment in new environment
— Marketing, Sales and Client Service Alignment
— Marketing Automation-to-CRM workflows
— Prospect and customer behavior data collection
— Training, Coaching
Sales leaders need to set employee expectations within the new operating model as almost a new employee onboarding process. Monday-Friday daily activities are much different now before the COVID-19 pandemic. How much time needs to be committed to hunting and gathering activities on a daily basis. With marketing automation-CRM tools, sales reps save time hunting by focusing on low-hanging fruit (i.e., prospects that show a high propensity of interest). These tools also help customer service provide high-touch engagement automatically.
Sales leaders need to provide active coaching on social media and digital channels by bringing in experts vis-a-vis marketing to discuss best practices for using LinkedIn and other channels to generate leads, engage customers, and increase conversion rates. Sales enablement tools for digital and social best practices paired with company guidelines (i.e., including how to share articles, hashtags, groups, etc.) are extremely valuable for consistent market engagement.
Sales enablement tools, and having easy-to-use technology platforms, well-planned roll outs with ongoing training, empower sales organizations to act fast and capitalize on the few opportunities that exist. It also helps if a nurture strategy with personalized communications is on autopilot to support the sales team.
Getting started to lead the digital shift
One of the top failures of any change program is the failure of leadership in supporting the program. As a sales leader, you must be the visionary, practice manager, and head coach for innovation. Every day! You’re responsible for helping your sales reps keep a pulse on the market, trends, and customer needs as they evolve. You need to spearhead which technologies are best suited for your team and give you the best chance for success. You also need to collaborate with other departments to help your organization through this challenging time.
During this troubling time of uncertainty and unpredictability, all businesses are effectively having struggles. Product pivots short-term may turn into long-term strategies. Company acquisitions and business exits are happening every day. Markets are drying up, but providing new opportunities for the innovators. All of your sales conversations should bring optimism and resilience.
Aside from the monetary aspect, the mission of selling hasn’t changed as you’re trying to help your customer’s business solve a problem – get stronger, mitigate risks, lower costs, and drive more efficiency. The key is adapting your product’s value-prop to the unique challenges of this moment in time.
As a sales leader, you need to embrace new approaches, narratives, and possibly terms and conditions. Merely meeting your customer needs is no longer acceptable; you need to exceed expectations by repositioning existing product and service offerings around unmet needs.
You need to calibrate your response and drive your organization through the three phases of the COVID-19 response:
1) How to navigate the current crisis with resolve and resilience
2) Beginning to plan for the recovery, and
3) Reimagine the next normal.
There’s no doubt that sales leaders amid the COVID-19 pandemic must take care of their teams and customers. The reality driven by changes in customer behavior preference for digital interactions requires marketing and sales teams to work closely and align along buyer journeys.
There is a great deal of uncertainty, but there plenty of signals that indicate an acceleration of previous trends—omnichannel selling, inside sales, marketing automation, tech-enabled selling, e-commerce—rather than entirely different behaviors.
Many sales leaders are already moving quickly to navigate the crisis, with the best ones focusing on making targeted changes that help their businesses weather the storm and start preparing for the recovery. Continue to believe, inspire, and innovate. That’s what we expect from our leaders.
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