On paper, generating sales may seem a simple process. You spot an issue or a need, you introduce a great product or service that offers a solution, and you make sure it gets in front of the right people. Sadly, it’s not always that easy and the relationship between B2B buyers and suppliers is a complex one.
The most successful companies are the ones who can keep up with the changing nature of the buyer-seller relationship. They are always moving and staying ahead of the game. They can react and adapt quickly when they need to, and can innovate to exploit new methods, technologies and channels of communication.
But even the greatest product or service needs a solid sales strategy behind it, if it’s going to be successful. So what is the secret to a winning B2B sales strategy? And what are the top teams focusing on?
We’ve trawled the web to pull together the most cutting-edge ideas and insights from some of the world’s top business analysts. From meeting customers’ growing expectations, to using technology and data to strengthen the sales process and understanding the buyer journey, they reveal the latest trends causing waves among B2Bs.
Adapting to more sophisticated buyers:
According to global management consultancy, McKinsey&Company, there are some key trends at work now that are "rapidly dominating the B2B landscape as both customers and vendors seek to maximize returns and minimize costs".
- Customers are more demanding
They expect more complex and more customized solutions on the one hand, but cheap, quick and easy transactions on the other. What this means for companies is that they increasingly need to develop a multichannel model.
- Customers want to see proof of a commitment to adding value
In particular, this applies to large-value transactions, which are getting more complex. Companies are needing to prove they are committed to adding real value, such as by offering risk-sharing and service-level agreements.
- Customers want to speak to specialists
Teams are now faced with more sophisticated buyers, who expect sales reps to have high levels of specialist knowledge on every product they are pushing. This is changing the sales room dynamic and leading to decisions over whether to add a layer of specialists to support them and the process.
- Customers are open to receiving information and support in different ways
Companies are now exploring lower-cost ways to make clients happy, as customers become more open to technology in the place of face-to-face. This includes things like virtual and interactive support, and video conferencing. Reduced travel time allowing for an increase in actual support time, when done remotely.
- Companies are using data to strengthen the sales process
The value of data for helping to streamline the sales process is being fully recognised. B2B sales teams are taking the lead from retailers like Amazon and using customer data and analytics to predict behaviour, drive sales and deepen relationships. Sales models are being shaped around insights and learnings.
Success is about more than just hiring star sales people:
According to the Harvard Business Review it’s no surprise that companies who want to grow tend to focus on hiring more sales people. But actually, if companies want to scale up improving their sales processes will make the greatest impact.
- Companies need to understand sales tasks
To be successful a company needs to understand every sales task and tailor a sales approach for each different one. It’s not enough to just know the personalities and generic selling skills of reps, different tasks will need a very different approach. The sales process also needs to be constantly updated to keep up with industry changes and developments.
- Understanding a buyer’s journey is critical
Companies need to understand the stage that each customers is at on their buyer journey and to interact with them appropriately depending on that stage. This is about knowing when is the right time for different reps to get involved in the process.
- Companies are using tools to turn information into actionable data
A CRM can be a goldmine of untapped information. Companies are starting to use this data to help them make better strategic decisions. That calls for teams to decide what they need to know and what they want to measure, and to ensure they have the right tools in place to do so.
Invest in content marketing and new technology:
In 2016 Inc. wrote about the widespread innovations in B2B sales. With buyers now having greater access to data and information, they feel less of a need to ask companies, and as a result sales are working more and more on the buyer's own terms.
- Content marketing can be a key sales driver
Over 75% of B2B sales and marketers are planning to create more content in the coming year than they did in the year before. Video content is an increasingly popular tool and continues to change the way that sales teams sell their products to new prospects.
- Buyer behaviour is changing as information becomes more available
Buyer behaviour continues to change. Potential customers can now search and find information about products and solutions themselves, making them well informed long before they even speak to a sales person. Sales strategies are recognising this and seeing where they can have influence earlier on in the process.
- Marketing is changing and breaking new boundaries
It is predicted that 3D marketing will also play a significant role in B2B sales for the first time very soon. Virtual reality helping to evoke more intense emotions than traditional commercials.
- Software and technology plays an ever increasing role
Technology and digital tools are advancing and offering more and more opportunities for sales teams. This includes intelligent CRMs and lead generation tools that give sales people greater awareness of their pipeline and a greater understanding of the stage each buyer is at.
Help sellers get back to selling:
According to CEB giving sales reps more support and getting savvy with content marketing are two of the key issues likely to affect B2B sales strategies.
- Find ways to make it easier to sell
Sales reps are finding their roles are becoming more and more complex. They need to know about more products, more solutions and more industries, while working with stakeholders and complying with regulations. Plus using new technology. Companies are looking at how to best aid them in getting back to concentrating on selling, such as by identifying and cutting away time-wasting activities and offloading admin.
- Early-stage identification of strong leads is important
Companies are focusing on strong qualification methods to filter out the strongest leads, so sales reps can concentrate on only the best ones. The reps will pursue customers who are likely to buy and manage a small pipeline of highly selective opportunities all the way to the end. This is described as a sales funnel that’s shaped more like a nail than a wedge.
- Develop a better purchase path that recognises buyer overload
Buyers have access to lots of information, often too much, which can lead them to feel overwhelmed. Sales teams have to find a way to help customers travel through the sales process, by guiding them to the information, decisions, and options that matter most for their purchase decision.
- Introduce a talent strategy
As the baby boomers head towards retirement, the next generation of sales reps is poised to step up. But surveys show sales employees in the 18-29 age bracket have the lowest level of engagement among all B2B sales employees. That means trouble for retention levels unless teams develop stronger talent management strategies.
- Rethink content strategies to improve lead generation
Leading marketing teams are rethinking their content marketing strategies to build and track what content is being consumed and may indicate an imminent readiness to buy. B2B marketing efforts are also focusing on answering the key questions customers will typically have at each stage of the buyer journey.
And the best of the rest from across the web:
- Social selling is being supercharged with the increase in use of social media and is a powerful tool that should be fully exploited
- Digital tools that can automate steps in the sales process can help make life easy and ensure nothing is missed, or not followed up
- Marketing insights can help shape sales strategies, through consideration for who is interacting with what along the journey
- Predictive analytics should be used to make data-driven decisions
- Moving a process of closed-loop reporting can help increase the visibility of marketing campaign success
- Online reputation is more important than ever as more and more buyers spend time searching online and investigating their options
- Joined up thinking is needed between sales and marketing. The buyer journey should be treated as one path from start to finish, so sales and marketing teams need to be aligned and to work together to create a strong sales strategy that pools all of their insights and ideas
The most successful sales strategies will recognise and respond to the changing nature of B2B sales, and the informed and digitally savvy buyers companies are now facing. This new sales landscape will help shape the approach that is needed across all levels - from having sales and marketing teams work together to define the buyer journey, to assessing what will be the best way for the company to interact, what content to offer and when, and putting steps in place to monitor and measure marketing effectiveness.
The overall message is that modern sales strategies need to place customers firmly at the centre of the process. The power is in their hands. Your challenge is to influence them.