Digital Buying Part One: How Digital Challenges Are Rewriting The Future Of B2B Sales
The digital world continues to play an important role in B2B buying processes. Changes during the pandemic led to a tremendous growth in digitalized sales strategies, both for consumers and for business markets. This shift caused significant changes for businesses’ interactions with potential customers. Combined with the new generation of decision-makers’ increased preference for a representative-free sales process, sales functions will need to change in the upcoming years to meet these digital challenges.
Developments Leading To The Rise Of Digital
Buying processes initially took place offline between a buyer and seller. Trust was essential to this custom, and it was built during in-person interactions. Nowadays, due to further digitalization, we are seeing a shift toward online communication, resulting in B2B purchases without human intervention.
1. Technological Improvements
Buying processes became a complex undertaking with the rise of smartphones and tablets. Social platforms, widely accessible information and a multitude of opinions have greatly affected our buying behaviors. Technological devices bypass physical distance and give consumers anywhere and anytime access to the digital world, opinions of others and suppliers located on online platforms.
2. Social Media Innovations
Social selling has emerged as a trend on online platforms. This method focuses on developing engagement as part of the sales process. Social media platforms already imposed influence on customers’ buying processes, though I believe lockdowns strengthened social media as an important and useful online channel for businesses to interact with their target audience. The pandemic forced many entrepreneurs to digitalize most parts of the sales process. This was a great success, as it turns out, to influence the online part of the customer journey. And now even livestream shopping has become popular in the western parts of the globe, which was a trend originating in China. Social media makes it easier to purchase online, without switching between apps or experiencing intervention from third parties. This trend is no longer only visible in the consumer market.
3. Different Preferences Among Millennials
A generational shift is taking place. Millennials are taking over decision making positions, which means an increase of virtual selling practices. This new group is more critical about direct contact with sales professionals than Baby Boomers. Millennials in B2B roles often prefer online buying experiences through a digital-first approach, without contacting sellers. According to Gartner’s report “The Future of Sales: Transformational Strategies for B2B Sales Organizations,” more than 44% of millennial B2B buyers prefer closing a deal without interacting with sales professionals. At most, 17% of the total buying process occurs in direct contact with sales, according to Gartner’s research in “5 Ways the Future of B2B Buying Will Rewrite the Rules of Effective Selling.”Organizations should consider rearranging their sales department to support virtual buying processes. This way, you meet the representative-free preferences of the new generation of decision makers.
Now the question for businesses remains: What is the future of sales? For 2022, I believe the focus is shifting to a “digital-first” buying experience, supported by experienced sellers who use personal contacts in the last phase of the buying process to complete the customer experience.
To align your sales process with improved, online, multi-channel buyers’ journeys and digital interactions, the sales department must adapt. To support the new generation of rep-free sales seekers, accustom your sales team to the new digital environment. The following elements will be important:
• Target account manager: In this position, sales will focus on prospects via account-based selling, through both online and offline means.
• Market development: Use a combination of online and offline media to strengthen the positioning in a broader market/target audience.
• Inbound marketing: Salespeople should use online channels and the website as a contact and qualification resource; only follow up with qualified leads with specific online behaviors.
Organizations should build these roles from both a marketing and traditional sales perspective, with the goal to serve potential customers. Here we see the merging of sales and marketing; together these departments make up the process of the buyers’ journey.
Sales professionals will become sales supporters within the buyers’ journey, in which meaningful and relevant assistance and customers’ preferences guide the buying process. There is one important condition for your commercial team: They should have a high degree of digital expertise for sales to be able to embed the right data for follow-ups.
In Gartner’s “5 Ways the Future of B2B Buying Will Rewrite the Rules of Effective Selling” report, they found that around 80% of customers feel uncertain when it comes to making decisions. Therefore, it is important for prospects to feel the value and relevance they are looking for directly within digital touchpoints. Gartner also found that high-quality purchases could increase up to 160% when sales is able to take away these customers’ doubts.
Sales teams have to grow with online strategies to meet the “everywhere consumer” on the platform they use, and combine this with personal contact at the right time. The new skills essential for this adjusted approach are, for example, the expertise to add unique value to the digital customer journey, whereby sales supports the customer in the decision-making process, and knowledge from the market that is digitally available on all fronts.
Sales And Marketing Focus
The new sales and marketing standard is to gain insight and manage the entire customer journey, both offline and online. Considering the ways we operate differently due to the pandemic and new preferences for a representative-free process are important for success with this new sales approach.
To achieve success in this new sales world, new expertise is needed for sales teams because online processes are changing the angle of sales in the upcoming years. Knowledge must be re-arranged to meet the B2B buyer via online channels, because the millennial buyer is here to stay. These changes will require the smart use of data and tool sets, which we will cover in the second part of our series, to hyper-automate the digital sales processes. Is your sales team prepared for the digital future?