Driving B2B sales is being redefined by new technology. Most successful B2Bs are using a three-pronged approach to understanding their marketplace, and they are all based on using data and technology to develop strategies for success.
Advanced analytics and machine learning have given sales executives access to historically unprecedented amounts of data and computing power, allowing them to predict with a high degree of accuracy the most valuable sales opportunities. Advanced analytics have radically improved sales productivity and have driven double-digit sales growth for some of the most successful B2Bs, with minimal additions in their sales teams and cost base.
Buyers have also changed. They are increasingly content-driven and technically savvy, meaning that they are comfortable engaging with sale teams using digital channels. This has led to a need for sales leaders who bring technical expertise and a strategic mindset to the sales strategy. Sales and marketing are no longer separate departments working toward a common goal – they are now closely aligned with roles blurred and expectations of responsibility often misunderstood.
There has also been a significant shift towards subscription-based business models, which has redefined how customer relationships are managed. No longer is a sale a one-time “won and done” deal. In a world of recurring revenues, sales need to be won every month, quarter, and year. Customer-relationship managers are becoming increasingly more valuable, and sophisticated sales teams are aligning themselves closely to the long-term success of their customers.
The science of B2B sales
These disruptive changes have seen B2B sales evolve. Sales have become data-driven; enabled by digital tools, underpinned by advanced analytics, and focused on understanding the “what, why, and when” of the customer. Companies that have embraced the “science” of B2B sales have seen revenue growth registering 2.3 times industry average revenue growth rates, profitability of between 3 to 5% additional return on sales and shareholder value about 8% higher total return to shareholders than the industry average.
Market leaders have realised that securing B2B sales in the next five to 10 years will require the fundamental transformation of their go-to-market engine around three defining principles:
1. Engaging customers the way they want to be engaged
Investing in a great sales force and great digital assets are essential to B2B growth. Research indicates that market leaders view digital investments as the glue that holds together a powerful multichannel sales strategy. A survey of more than 1,000 large organisations across international industries to better understand their preferences in buying goods and services from B2B sellers showed that the ideal way to reach B2B customers depends heavily on whether they are making a first-time or repeat purchase.
- 76% of B2B buyers found it helpful to speak to a salesperson when researching a new product or service.
- 52% of repeat purchases of products with new or different specifications wanted to speak to a salesperson.
- 15% indicated a desire to speak with a salesperson when repurchasing exactly the same product or service.
This shows that having the ability to engage with customers in the future will require a multichannel sales strategy powered by smart digital investments, which caters to the different needs of first-time and repeat customers.
When targeting first-time customers who are looking for direct interaction with sales teams, the fastest-growing companies are using digital tools to help their sales teams address customer needs at each stage of their purchase journey.
- Interactive product demos powered through tablets or browsers to help salespeople engage customers in the research stage of their journey.
- CMS to track customers’ past questions, allowing salespeople to anticipate future inquiries and offer fast responses when customers compare their products with competitors.
- Customer analytics that empowers sales reps with price recommendations based on analysis of deals other sales reps have closed with the same customer in the recent past.
When catering to repeat customers who are comfortable being online, the fastest-growing companies are using digital tools and inside sales to keep them loyal, speed up the sales process, and encourage higher spending.
- Online comparison engines that allow customers to seamlessly compare products and services with competitors’ offerings.
- Supplement that with inside sales teams to answer customer questions via email, live chat, and video conferencing.
- Next-product-to-buy algorithms that send customers relevant recommendations of complementary products based on their purchase history to grow customer share of wallet.
2. Using advanced analytics and machine learning to make better decisions faster
The fastest-growing companies will be using advanced analytics and machine learning to address fundamental strategic issues, such as what sales opportunities to pursue, what resources to allocate to which accounts, and what behaviours to prioritize to drive sales productivity.
These analytic tools are enabling marketers to generate a 360-degree view of a potential customer and their needs. Lead-scoring algorithms can then use these detailed customer profiles to predict which customers to target, when and how to contact them, and what factors truly drive lead conversion rates.
AI-enabled agents that use predictive analytics and natural-language processing to automate early lead-generation activities, such as handling basic customer questions and automating initial presales questions, are also fast being implemented by ambitious B2Bs. While these predictive lead-scoring algorithms are still relatively nascent, some companies deploying them are already experiencing 15% to 20% improvement rates in their lead-conversion rates.
3. Investing in world-class talent
The right person in the right position can make all the difference. While you might have a talented salesperson on your team, they need to be nurtured and guided towards the goals of the company to be a valuable asset. Employees are interested in what they can learn from their job, how much satisfaction they derive from their work and what opportunities you can offer them in terms of career growth. If you have a top talent you must now nurture that person, respect their needs and encourage them to want to devote themselves to your company.
The fastest-growing companies invest significant time and resources in nurturing and growing their talent. One survey showed that 48% of fast-growth companies indicated that they invest significant time and resources in sales training versus only 22% of slow-growth companies.
Behavioural economics and social psychology have revealed powerful insights into how to nurture high-performing individuals who thrive on independence and entrepreneurship.
- Adult learners only remember 10% of what they heard and 32% of what they saw three months after a learning program concludes.
- They remember 65% of what they learn by doing.
Teaching people how to do something is more valuable to your business than a training course, and when a person feels successful they are more likely to want to stay loyal to your business, which means that your staff retention rate is improved.
How to embrace the science of B2B sales
Companies who embrace the science of B2B sales generally begin with a three-part journey:
- They make an honest assessment of the status quo.
- They plan for the long term.
- They move fast and get quick wins.
Driving market leadership in B2B sales takes an undivided focus from the CEO and their team, as well as a significant investment of time and resources. Companies that have achieved proficiency across the three dimensions of the science of B2B sales are already outpacing their competitors and driving disproportionate growth, profitability, and shareholder value.