5 key shifts changing the face of B2B sales

by Marty Nicholas

I recently published a post with a topline recap of the latest in our series of thought leadership events – Sales Transformation for the Digital Age. In this post, I’ll give you an in-depth look at the first key takeaway from the event by exploring the main reasons why B2B sales must change to stay relevant in an ever-evolving environment.

Consider the story of Nicola, a sales rep with 9 years of experience. Historically a high achiever, Nicola’s recent performance has been declining. She’s finding customers are either less willing or too busy to meet her, so closing deals is much harder than before. When she does meet customers, they’re more interested in broader conversations outside of her solution expertise. As a result, her regular collateral and proposal tools are no longer enough to engage customers. She’s spending far more time preparing for meetings, which she is finding difficult to balance with her other responsibilities. With no obvious solution to arrest her decline, and mounting pressure to hit targets, Nicola is considering leaving the company.

For many leaders in B2B enterprises, Nicola’s challenges are an increasingly common story. Unprecedented changes in the buying environment are rendering legacy sales models increasingly less effective. This has brought about a need for business leaders to build a rationale for significant sales transformation within their organisations. To do this however, we must first understand and educate the business on the headwinds that are driving the change.

So what are these shifts? The following are the five key dynamics which we observe impacting the approach to selling in B2B enterprises:

1. New buying behaviours and preferences

Customer conversations that would have once happened with salespeople are now increasingly occurring online. As a result, if an organisation’s digital presence and content aren’t strong, they risk being out of the consideration race before sales are even invited in. Upon being brought into the buying process, the sales interaction itself must also step up a level to go ‘beyond the brochure’ and add more strategic value to a highly informed customer.

2. More customer-facing channels and functions

While salespeople have been the CEO of the customer relationship in the past, customers now traverse across a far broader array of channels, so sales can no longer exclusively own this relationship. Closer integration of customer-facing functions is required to ensure a cohesive customer experience and provide effective support across the buyer’s journey.

3. More digital interactions and data than ever

The proliferation of material online has provided the customer with a substantial information advantage. However, digital has also provided organisations with more information than ever before on what their customer is doing and thinking about. Sales need to be empowered with this data, as well as the skills required to leverage these insights, in order to be more relevant to customers and better equipped to advance buying opportunities.

4. The need to do ‘more with less’

With many organisations encountering cost pressures, leaders face the distinct challenge of delivering growth and improving the customer experience, all whilst simultaneously reducing the cost of sale and service. A complex set of trade-offs and careful adjustments to the channel mix are required to realise these benefits.

5. Changing competitive dynamics

With the end-to-end customer experience increasingly defining the outcome of the sales process, the race is on to transform the business around the customer faster than the competition. Organisations need to evolve at the right speed for their buyer, whilst remaining ahead of both traditional competitors and non-traditional, disruptive new entrants.

Given all of these shifts, there’s a sense of uncertainty amongst salespeople as to what their roles will be in the future, or if they’ll even exist. Business leaders are also struggling to understand how to adapt sales appropriately, or in some cases whether this is the right channel to invest in going forward.

Our view is that the future is assured and very bright for sales - particularly in complex selling environments - however salespeople and the businesses supporting them must be willing to evolve. Educating the business on these key shifts, and building buy-in for transformation, will be the first critical step for leaders to ensure that sales can be relevant to customers, as well as drive growth in an increasingly digital future.