We’re all now accustomed to a faster pace of shopping. Events in 2020 have accelerated a global shift to purchasing online, and it’s not just for clothing and furniture through the likes of Amazon and boohoo.com.
Indeed, disruptive startups such as Airbnb and Uber have also changed the way in which we consume services.
It’s a well-told story that two of the most successful startup unicorns of recent years hold no stock of their actual product – Airbnb has no hotels or properties, Uber owns no cars.
What they do own though is a business model that connects customers with what they want, whether that’s for holidays, day-to-day purchases or covid-friendly trips to the theatre.
But here’s the thing – the business model isn’t new. In fact, it’s a model pioneered by Amazon and Alibaba quite a few years ago and that continues to thrive on 4 key things:
- a central platform that brings together customers and products/services,
- a culture of ‘uber convenience’,
- a backdrop of borderless supply chains,
- a focus on seamless customer experience.
Simon Torrance, one of the world’s leading experts on platform strategy and this ‘platform business model’ tracks the real pivotal point for these businesses back to 2016. How it has developed since then has been through what’s known as the ‘Network Effect’.
The question is – what’s next for this business model?
And how has it started to creep into the B2B world?
How B2B Sales is Changing
Yes folks, in case you hadn’t noticed recently, B2B sales is changing. The days of the 12 to 18 month sales cycle is over and customer expectations are being increasingly influenced by the B2C world and the experiences they’ve come to know and love in their personal lives.
Successful SaaS companies are leading the way here – from CRM software such as HubSpot and Salesforce, to eCommerce platforms such as Shopify and WooCommerce, these companies recognise the importance of customer experience and build applications that are easy to use and that make the connection with end customers smooth and hassle-free.
But what does all this mean for the good old sales team?
If the product is so easy to use, why does the sales team have to spend time selling?
And if the sales cycle is driven more and more online, and only takes a matter of weeks, what role does a kick-ass salesperson play?
Build a Different Type of Sales Org
Leading B2B companies have already seen the writing on the wall and are building distinctly different sales organisations.
This new breed of sales team stay close to the customer, understand their pain points and challenges in minute detail, and reflect those in the way they ‘sell’.
Because despite the nature of B2B sales changing, studies show that customers still want to talk to sellers. In fact, a report by Rain Group claims that 82% of buyers will accept meetings with sellers who proactively reach out.
The key lies with that word ‘proactive’. If you’ve done the legwork of understanding who your customer is, what their challenges are and where they are in their buying process, then reaching out at the right time with the right message can land you a deal in no time at all.
Take another stat from Rain Group: 49% of buyers who are satisfied with a product would still consider switching providers.
Flip that on its head and there’s an opportunity wide open for a new provider to swoop in and sell.
But Seller Beware! Being in a position to know when that right time is and what that right message is needs a new type of sales organisation. Not an organisation reliant on old-school networks and golf outings, rather an organisation reliant on customer intelligence and real-time data.
- Gathering customer intelligence on an ongoing basis and sharing it ‘intelligently’ throughout the organisation.
- Having a tech stack in place that can capture necessary data points related to things like customer intent and buying signals.
- Empowering sales teams to be more agile, react to customer needs more quickly and ‘help’ those customers fix their problems more conveniently.
Which therefore means…
A New Role for the B2B Salesperson
The Association for Talent Development states it very well – we’ve got to stop thinking of ‘sales people’ and think more of ‘value based consultative agents and idea drivers.’
This encompasses a whole gamut of skills – from uncovering needs to crafting solutions, from developing strong relationships to negotiating value-based deals. It’s an opportunity for the humble salesperson to step up and drive the business agenda, especially when it comes to solution and product development given that the salesperson is closest to the customer!
The repercussions of this are immense and open up a vast new world in terms of career progression too.
However, it doesn’t come without its responsibilities. In fact, sales teams need to be thinking more strategically and contributing to bottom-line numbers in more ways than one. Being on the front line with customers can give them unique insights to drive product, growth and even financial strategies.
And leadership teams need to seize upon this opportunity and reconsider the old-fashioned comp plan too!
Personalisation in Sales
No one in B2B Sales can have missed the recent trend towards personalisation – from email automation to website chatbots, every touchpoint along the sales journey has been hit by the personalisation craze!
But before running a mile, it’s worth thinking about how sales teams can strategically adapt personalisation for their own scenarios, and leverage the plethora of tools and resources out there too.
Another way of thinking about it is as ‘individualisation’. It’s a way of connecting with customers on a 1-2-1 basis in an authentic and respectful way such that the customer reciprocally connects with you on a more personal level.
As Chief Growth & Revenue Officer and Invigorate Advisor, Lisa Addison, explains:
“Sales is about respect and testing yourself. Have respect for the process and delivering a quality service. Do the right thing and respect your customer.
The more salespeople show dignity, surety and empathy in their roles, the faster they will succeed. Knowledge matters, but honesty, assertiveness and ethics when negotiating is priceless. It brings authenticity and rapport with the client; and ultimately, victory for both sides.”
Once you’ve got that understanding nailed, then you can start to take advantage of the many tools available – from data augmentation tools such as RocketReach, to personality profilers such as Crystal, the tech options are endless if you start from a place of authenticity and understanding.
The Sales Opportunity
The world of buying has changed – we all know it and we all experience it every day in our personal lives. So there’s no doubt that this shift will continue to encroach on business sales driven not only by customer demand, but also increasing stakeholder and investor pressure too.
But whilst 70% of the sales cycle now takes place online, with customers self-serving more and more, there is still an opportunity for sales teams to grab if they want it. Indeed, sales teams that don’t jump on this chance will soon be left behind.
The advice for now?
Build a new type of sales organisation that facilitates greater agility and enables closer customer contact. Then empower your sales team to connect with customers in a more authentic, personalised and helpful way.