PHOTO: Callum T.
The pandemic is having a profound impact on the business-to-business (B2B) sales process. Customer demands on digital interaction have increased – and it is unlikely that things will return to the way they were, at least anytime soon. McKinsey’s B2B Decision Maker Pulse found that the preference for digital versus traditional interactions has doubled. Buyers are twice as likely to choose a company with a great digital experience as a preferred vendor. More than three-quarters of B2B companies (79%) said they are likely to continue the move to distance selling well after the pandemic ends. The Gartner Future of Sales 2025 report predicts that 80% of B2B sales interactions will take place in digital channels.
That’s no surprise. The B2B sales process was already moving in this direction before the pandemic. The events of the past year have only accelerated the shift to digital interactions.
Now is the time to streamline your B2B sales process
Many companies are under pressure to expand the digital channels and experiences that B2B buyers have come to expect. It’s not just about replacing personal interactions with digital interactions. Indeed, this is an opportune time to review and optimize your entire sales process in the light of the changes – rather than simply introducing new technology into the process. Our customers are asking as many questions about process change as they are about technology as they are looking at a more digital B2B sales process.
When optimizing your B2B sales process for the new normal and enabling it with technology, it is important to balance technology and process improvements. Here are some key considerations about this.
- Understand the “new” buyer journey and what has changed in a more virtual environment. For example, we already knew that there was an increasing tendency for buyers to do their own research online, limiting interaction with sales reps as the primary source of information (Forrester). How has the pandemic affected research and decision-making processes? How and when do shoppers prefer to interact based on their experiences during the pandemic? Determine how well (or not) your current sales process is supporting today’s B2B buyer journey. Find the separations and prioritize them when redesigning or optimizing your sales process.
- Listen to your sales organization. What do you believe to be successful in this new normal? Prioritize what your sales organization sees as the bottleneck to its success – for example, the ability to improve the quote-to-cash process to keep up with competitors who have accelerated these functions. Continuous feedback is important to keep your finger on the pulse of an evolving process.
- Increase the focus on customer loyalty. In many industries, most of the sales effort has traditionally been devoted to winning the customer. However, the growing popularity of subscription product models is forcing a greater focus on selling across the entire customer lifecycle. This is not just a software industry phenomenon. Aspects of this model permeate other industries as well. For example, a manufacturer of large commercial printers may sell printing services in lieu of printing equipment. In this product-as-a-service model, the manufacturer installs the printer based on customer specifications, ensures it is operational, stores it with materials, and maintains it – but also retains ownership of the asset. Accordingly, the organization must continuously sell the value of the service to the customer, which requires new touchpoints and functions in the overall process.
- Strengthening cross-functional collaboration. In a virtual environment, success requires better coordination between functions that are usually performed more in silos. For example, having customers do more of their own research, as Forrester found, requires better coordination between marketing and sales to create sales touchpoints or interventions in marketing processes as companies try to grow their lead-to-quote process. You also need a strong feedback loop between the sales team and the product teams. As markets and customer needs change, you need to make sure that what the sales team hears feeds into the product development cycles.
- Make sure you have clearly defined process steps. As processes change and employees perform virtual handovers that may have been previously coordinated in a physical environment, new gaps can emerge. In addition, virtually managing a lifecycle approach for the customer is likely to require a higher level of process definition and discipline than your sales organization may be used to. By providing clear, yet flexible process management, the sales cycle can be shortened and total sales increased.
- Rethink sales promotion. Sales teams need to know and involve their customers as well or better than they have in the past – but without the benefit of a physical presence that may allow more control over the presentation. Individuals may need to develop new skills in order to thrive in a digital or remote world. This may require new sales training or coaching processes. Additionally, considering data and tools that can help them be more effective should be part of the streamlined sales process. The Gartner Future of Sales Report predicts that by 2025, 60% of B2B sales organizations will transition from experience-based and intuitive-based sales to data-driven sales. For example, banks can now equip relationship managers with analytics tools to help them recommend the “next best” product and the ideal time to conduct relationship reviews to their customers.
- Maximize the use of the technology you already have. Many companies have invested in sophisticated platforms but are not taking full advantage of their capabilities. In our experience, companies do not take full advantage of the most basic features of their technology and may have unrealized potential to improve the promotion process. Before investing in new technology, make sure that your current systems and platforms do not have features that can fill gaps in your process.
Related article: COVID-19 has changed your B2B customers for good
Learn from experience
The high-tech and software industries, which have been driving the move to a Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) or subscription model for some time, provide a good source of insight into the holistic nature of changes needed to optimize the sales process for a digital world. Technology has certainly been key to building digital channels and enabling interactions to the extent that software companies need to be successful in this model. However, activating this model also required important process changes and optimizations for lead-to-cash and back-office operations.
As your business builds effective digital sales and sales support capabilities, you need to make sure you are balancing technology and process improvements.
Amy Fletcher is a Senior Director at West Monroe Partners and the head of the Seattle customer experience practice. She has more than 20 years of experience in global management and technology consulting in various industries.