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You don’t need a crystal ball to see where B2B sales is going. For its most successful practitioners, B2B sales is fast becoming a fusion of technology, transparency, and talent — all optimized to pamper customers with decision-bending experiences.
Since a few years back, technology has been the prominent item on annual trends-related forecasts, with artificial intelligence, machine learning, and data science consistently topping the list.
And why not?
As sophisticated tools such as sales engagement platforms prove, all you need to break through is to discover the right insight about your prospects and your processes. And once you’ve updated your playbook — boom! — you then scale up using an array of smart automation.
Of course, even the best technology crumbles when the human talent behind it falls short. Never before in the history of selling has the bar for sales excellence been higher. Today, you need to get your sales skills, traits, and abilities reflected in closely tracked and data-driven performance metrics.
Moreover, the all-time record volume of deals you’ve set last quarter won’t matter in the next one. Back to zero for you, my friend!
Whether it’s fair or not, the game is skewed in favor of sellers who keep their skills and performance in a constant state of shine through continuous training and development.
Finally, B2B sales has ceased being an opaque, transactional interaction between buyer and seller. Customers now know a lot more about your product and your people than you might expect. And the last thing they’ll need is another salesperson out to make a fast deal just to meet quota. They now look for authenticity and genuine empathy before granting their trust. This baseline demand coupled with a robust data compliance environment (as established by GDPR, CCPA, and other similar legislation) underscore the business imperative for transparency and accountability.
In both the B2B and B2C markets, the power play between buyers and sellers is nearing its conclusion, and buyers are winning. In a world dominated by buyers, B2B sellers can profit only by being responsive to key changes:
The net results are already apparent. B2B sales cycles are getting longer and more complicated. The adoption of Account-Based Selling is on the rise. Customer reviews are gaining more weight, while B2B influencers are beginning to emerge.
The traditional sales organization is a lumbering giant with a lot of moving parts that don’t really add value to the whole. The digital economy favors highly optimized organizations whose component units have well-defined specializations.
Sales Operations and Sales Enablement are two teams that forward-looking sales organizations can’t do without. Propped up by technology and best practices, these support elements enable sellers to perform at their peak and generate optimal revenue for the company. Sales Ops and Sales Enablement can also handle talent acquisition -- hiring, on-boarding, compensation, and training — so that salespeople and management can stay focused on their quotas while the team is growing.
Furthermore, all customer-facing teams — from sales and marketing to tech support and customer success — can no longer operate in silos. Instead, these units should share and execute a single customer engagement strategy.
Tech is arguably the strongest change agent and enabler in sales. Lag indefinitely behind your competitors in tech fundamentals and your business is as good as gone.
Marketing automation, chatbots, B2B sales lead generation software, data analytics, and machine learning are just some of the varied applications of technology in sales. AI capabilities now include computer vision, natural language processing (NLP), deep learning, and intent classification.
Some of the more recent entries into the field of sales technology include sales engagement platforms that can understand and classify the intent of customer emails, then make lightning-fast recommendations on the best action to take and the best reply template to use.
B2B customers want to be engaged in the manner and venue they prefer. And because there are multiple channels that B2B decision-makers use, sellers should establish their presence in these channels to ensure every potential touch point is covered. While voice calls and emails remain the staple communication tools of sales organizations, it doesn’t hurt to try other channels like social media and trade shows.
Smart sales organizations optimize their content and messaging for mobile because they know B2B decision makers spend quite a lot of time on their phones. Meanwhile, social selling is on the rise, with businesses and employees watching and commenting on LinkedIn and Reddit posts about their industries and brands.
The medium also matters in sales. Some messages can be sent via email, voice, or text. Others generate more impact when delivered as videos, infographics, interactive reports, and other formats.
In the shifting world of sales, there’s no such thing as a tried-and-true approach that will work in every situation all the time. An email sequence or call script that works for one company might not work for another, even if it is near-identical in terms of product features, company size, or target market.
This is where sophisticated technology also makes a ton of difference. The field of A/B testing makes it ridiculously easy to verify which selling approaches work and which don’t in a certain scenario. Using A/B testing, sales teams can optimize their playbooks and overall B2B sales strategy on the fly.
Since personal data can be both monetized and weaponized, the ethics of using and sharing user data must be more clearly defined from now on. In the last year, we have seen new policies enacted in Europe (GDPR) and California (CCPA) in order to protect individuals’ data privacy. These measures will hopefully reduce the number and scale of the hostile data breaches we’ve seen affect several companies in the last few years.
The bottomline is: to improve data security, partner with businesses who share the same data mindset, and always approach customer data from the vantage point of diligent stewardship.
So what do you get when you fuse technology, talent, and transparency to solve the problems of corporate buyers?
You get nothing less than the future of B2B sales.
Sales transformation will happen whether a company welcomes it or not. Driven by customer behavior and technology, the changing tide will drown any business without the agility to ride the wave.
The lifeline for sales organizations is to make an honest self assessment and to identify the elements and tools that will enable them to regain control of their own journey.
The next step, as always, is to take action.