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Sales Futurist and Former Principal Analyst at Forrester Joins the Outreach Team!
Mary Shea explains why she’s joining Outreach as our first Global Innovation Evangelist.
As technology evolves, drastically accelerating the globalization of sales, we find ourselves in a market brimming with opportunities like never before.
Long gone are the days of going door to door, spouting elevator pitches to annoyed homeowners. The art of the sale has become a complex and intricate matter that requires unique strategies for success—and the art of the B2B sale, specifically, demands even more distinct techniques.
Business-to-business (B2B) sales is the process of selling goods or services from one company to another. Unlike business-to-consumer (B2C) sales, B2B sales are often more complex, requiring a longer sales cycle, more evolved sales strategies and techniques, and more decision-makers.
B2B sales require more intricate sales techniques than those commonly used in B2C, as products and services sold to companies usually have a larger effect that impacts multiple departments and can influence a company’s profit margin. And while B2B has always been quite complex, there have been some drastic changes to the practice over time.
In the past, the process of B2B sales was relatively straightforward: A company would have a particular need, identify potential solutions providers (generally through word-of-mouth references by their peers), and contact one or more providers to discuss their services. A few phone calls or meetings later and voila! A purchase would be made and the buyer would either be satisfied enough to continue its agreement with the provider or dissatisfied enough to start the sales process over with a competitor.
But the internet’s impact on B2B sales has been, to put it mildly, colossal. Globalization—along with the increased competition it provoked—has created a marketplace chock full of options. Add to that the impact of social media, crowd-sourced review sites, and never-ending paid ads, and the result is a B2B labyrinth that can be difficult to navigate—both for the buyer and the seller.
The characteristics of buyers have also radically changed. As an abundance of information is easily accessible, buyers are more informed and skeptical. In fact, a recent study showed that when considering a new purchase, 27% of a B2B buyer’s time is spent doing independent research, while only 17% is spent meeting with potential suppliers.
That trend is set to stay, as 77% of buyers report spending more time on research in 2020 than they did in 2019. This led B2B sales teams to adopt new strategies and work more closely alongside marketing to stay relevant.
Advanced communication channels is another considerable effect of technology; the availability of online meeting software, like Skype or Zoom, makes it easier and faster for buyers to shuffle through a large sum of vendor meetings without wasting time or having to travel.
These online meetings, although having enhanced communication opportunities for sales, also deprived sales teams of that crucial social touch with prospects. The buyer already conducted the research and knows exactly what they want and, more importantly, what they want to hear. Sales teams have to adopt new online presentation skills that will instill confidence of their product or services in decision makers.
This changing landscape forced the B2B sales process to become multi-faceted and—to put it bluntly—messy. But the ideal process is as follows:
This process is practiced by most buyers in a bid to mitigate risk and avoid inadequate, dissatisfying purchases. To be successful and remain competitive, B2B sales teams have to adapt to this new cycle, evolve their approach, and look out for some of the most common mistakes that can throw a wrench in the process.
As the modern buyer becomes less susceptible to overt advertising and sales messaging, more reliant on word of mouth, and is more focused on the customer experience, B2B sales become more difficult. This complexity of B2B sales means the road to success is littered with potholes that sales teams can unknowingly fall victim to. Here are some of the most common mistakes to avoid:
A US-based study showed that a whopping 96% of consumers do not trust ads. This shows that buyers are far more reliant on their independent research than on sales messaging. Skepticism of ads is especially common for B2B buyers, whose purchasing decisions can affect their company’s reputation, customer experience, and overall business.
One solution to this wariness is investing in informative marketing material such as educational videos or comprehensive ‘how-to’ blogs. Educational content helps the B2B buyer organically conclude that your product suits them best on their own. Pushy or sales-y ads can alienate potential buyers; giving them free, valuable information about your products or services, however, builds trust and fosters understanding.
Today’s B2B buyer has increased reliability on product or service reviews from their industry peers. It has become easier than ever to find reviews online for any given product or service and buyers will scrutinize those reviews prior to any potential purchase. Crowd-sourced, consumer review sites enable buyers to access thousands of reviews and product comparisons from people of similar backgrounds or needs before even reaching your website.
Another important factor at play here is the interdepartmental decision-making process that accompanies some B2B sales. A buyer may include various departments, all of which do their own research and have frustrations they want to address through the new purchase. A certain critical review may not affect a finance department, but may raise a red flag in the logistics department.
Make sure to fully understand who requires your product, including each persona’s unique pain points, and then address those personas through comprehensive content that speaks to each.
As the market becomes more competitive, each company fights to find its edge. This drive to out-perform competitors throughout the entire customer journey has led to greater expectations of customer service. In fact, 84% of buyers consider the quality of customer service before committing to a purchase.
Honing your customer experience process is crucial for remaining competitive, as is incorporating a “human touch.” Map out your customer’s journey and find any potential gaps to fill, or areas of strength on which you can capitalize. Remember that buyers don’t just look for a solution: B2B is more of a partnership than it is a one-time sell. After all, your clients are human beings, and ensuring an enthusiastic, supportive interaction every step of the way will keep customers coming back for more.
While there are certainly some landmines you’ll need to sidestep, there are also some key best practices you can incorporate into your B2B sales process to ensure success.
Optimizing your sales engagement process is critical to enhancing your B2B sales performance. Sales engagement includes the interactions between buyers and sellers; a set of touches and timed communications that drive the sales process. Calls, views of a presentation deck, and even checking an email are all examples of sales engagement.
Engaging clients successfully and purposefully, however, is not something that occurs organically; it is planned, precise, and deliberate. To do so effectively and efficiently requires a strong sales team and a strong sales tech stack.
Enter the sales engagement platform, a comprehensive—even revolutionary—solution for elevating sales engagement practices. A sales engagement platform sits at the heart of your tech stack. It is the system of action that brings together all your workflows in a single place so that sales reps can focus on customer engagement.
By integrating all your sales channels, the right sales engagement platform frees up your sales team to do what they do best: sell. It streamlines communication and automates sales engagement activities to increase efficiencies and output. It also tracks progress, enhances the customer experience by keeping the flow smooth and consistent, and centralizes data—making it easily accessible so your sales team can make informed decisions.
By utilizing a sales engagement platform, your team will have less administrative work to do and will be supported 24/7 by a predictive, data-driven system. Customers will also notice the consistency of your streamlined approach, as the right platform can ensure that nothing falls through the cracks and no delays occur. In short, investing in a strong sales engagement technology makes for a shorter and more efficient sales cycle.
Everything clicks when all parties work in tandem. If marketing and sales align their goals, processes, messaging, and overall strategies, they can achieve wonderful things; otherwise it becomes a tug of war. By adopting a smarketing (sales + marketing) process, you’ll be able to nurture leads efficiently, provide a better customer journey, and shorten the sales cycle.
If marketing and sales are not aligned, you are at risk for losing an optimal buyer due to the gap in the information they receive. Let’s say, for example, your marketing team posts content that differs from the material your sales team uses when contacting a client. That discrepancy or contrast in information can lead a customer to become confused, frustrated, or—worse yet—assume your sales team is intentionally trying to mislead them.
Agreeing on a buyer persona is another smarketing goal. But in misaligned teams, marketing may set the optimal persona as having dominant trait X, while sales target customers with trait Y. This will result in an abundance of marketing qualified leads (MQLs) and a shortage in sales qualified leads (SQLs)—in turn, wasting resources, time, and money.
It's all well and good finding a sales methodology that garners results for the time being, but leading companies always look to improve and dominate the market. By continuously monitoring, evaluating, and improving your process through data-driven analytics, you can speed lightyears ahead of your competition.
Choosing the correct metrics is the first step, as these data points will affect your decision making. Sales conversion rates, or closed-won opportunities rates, for example, is a great metric to analyze your sales team’s performance in closing deals. Measuring this rate over time will provide visibility into areas for potential improvement. If the rate is low, you can address the reason: It may be pricing, pitching to the wrong type of client, or a deficiency in your sales engagement process. Understanding these missteps will help you to adapt, evolve, and improve moving forward.
Enhanced data management and analytics can drive your performance, and taking advantage of their value leads to better B2B sales outcomes. Collecting and analyzing metrics over time allows you to measure the effectiveness of your sales teams and make any necessary tweaks to processes, workflows, and strategies. Even better if you have a strong RevOps team who intricately align your sales, marketing, and offered services through meticulous data management and analytics. This approach boosts your bottom line by enabling you to close more deals while simultaneously giving you the visibility needed to cut unwarranted costs.
In addition to measuring the performance of your own team, don’t forget to consistently gather and analyze data about your buyers. As B2B buyers become more educated and enlightened, you’ll find that understanding the mentality and pain points of your customer can go a long way in closing a deal. Collecting research in this area can help you identify your ideal client and perfect your approach to selling.
While B2B sales remains a complex and delicate practice, the proper processes and tools can help your team ensure success. Coupling best practices along with a powerful sales engagement platform can take your B2B sales to the next level. The Outreach platform leverages your unique sales data and maps it to outcomes that help you improve operations, engagement, and efficiency—all while keeping your data secure. Learn more about how Outreach can make your B2B sales team more effective, or request a demo today!