B2B Success in the Digital Age Means Updating Your Sales Strategies
This was first published in Martech Advisor on May 20, 2019.
It’s trendy to talk about the “B2C-ification” of B2B sales strategies, and there’s a good reason why. It’s because consumers and channel partners, not sales reps, are now in control of the sales process. Today’s buyers treat B2B purchasing decisions the same way they approach B2C buys: They research online and only reach out to vendor sales when they have questions and/or need specific answers to complex questions. They also want to set the pace of the buying process and complete their purchases online.
When enterprises don’t deliver that experience, today’s buyers get frustrated. Why can’t they find product information for heavy machinery or SaaS solutions as easily as they can for clothing or electronics? Who wants to fax an order or wait for a salesperson to respond on pricing or delivery timeframes when consumers can get items delivered with a few taps via the web or mobile device?
The stakes are high for B2B enterprises. Nine out of ten customers say they’ll buy from another supplier if they can’t use digital tools to research and purchase what they’re looking for. Three-quarters of those buyers say they’ll choose another vendor even if it costs them more. B2B decision making isn’t about price anymore. Instead, it’s about the end-to-end purchasing experience.
It’s a challenge for enterprises to ensure that the B2B purchase process is user-friendly. However, it’s also an opportunity for organizations to satisfy the demands of existing customers and win new ones who want a streamlined digital B2B buying experience. The B2C digital transformation offers a roadmap for B2B companies to improve the customer experience and to redefine salespeople as expert advisors who weigh in later in the purchase process.
Upgrade Your Customer Experience
Mack Truck is one of the companies that’s pulling ahead in digital B2B sales strategies, and this complements their established partner marketing. Mack’s vice president of global marketing, John Walsh, told The Drum that one goal of Mack’s B2B digital transformation is to support customers’ desire to self-educate before they contact a dealer. Mack has spent a year adapting B2C strategies, including personalized video and influencer content, to educate customers at each touchpoint along the purchase journey. “The successful companies going forward will be measured by CX; you’ll hit revenue goals by focusing through the CX lens and by making every experience as personal as you can.”
It’s not just big-rig buyers who now do their homework before they get in touch with salespeople. Think with Google found that 89% of B2B buyers use the internet to learn about products during their research phase. And more than half of B2B decision-makers shopping for industrial manufacturing products and supplies say the last point of influence before they buy is online.
That engagement is more likely to produce results if it meets buyers’ expectations for finding helpful information and making purchases online. Among B2B buyers, 87% say they want e-commerce options that match the B2C experience. For example, B2C digital chat tools have trained today’s decisionmakers to expect immediate answers to their product questions. AI chatbots can deliver responses to basic questions faster than your sales team usually can. This satisfies potential customers and frees your sales team to develop what today’s B2B customers expect – expertise.
Transform Your Salespeople Into Expert Advisors
Using digital tools to reach your customers where they are doesn’t mean cutting your sales teams out of the picture. These days, B2B buyers look to salespeople later in the buying process for beyond-the-basics education and problem-solving expertise. This new role requires the same sort of relationship-building mindset that good B2B sales strategies and salespeople have always cultivated. It’s just that the timing and nature of the relationships are changing.
To fill the role of expert advisor, your salespeople need the right tools to cultivate the product and market knowledge that customers want. Product specs, CRM records, market data, and your marketing content library can help sales reps answer customer questions quickly—if the information is visible and easy to access without hunting through multiple systems. If your customers must contact a salesperson for a quote, make sure your people can build those quotes quickly, so prospects don’t have to wait.
Ultimately, this is what the B2B digital transformation requires: give your customers the online experience they expect so they will engage with your sales team. Give your sales team the resources they need to deliver the expertise your customers need. By building a digital sales approach centered on the customer experience, your B2B sales strategies can survive and thrive in a new landscape where customers control the sales process.