B2B Selling in the Era of the Digital Buyer

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The B2B marketplace is evolving faster than ever. In an increasingly automated world, sales representatives must leverage technology and analytics to adapt to changing customer needs and drive higher-value strategic sales through digital selling. Emerging research from McKinsey shows that B2B sellers often struggle between choosing a great sales force and great digital capabilities. In today’s digital age, they will need both.

What is Digital Selling?

The new era of B2B sales is defined by digital selling, the integration of AI technologies and/or predictive analytics that enhance the productivity and effectiveness of a company’s sales reps. 

In the past five years, sales productivity continued to decline by 14% despite billions invested in sales operations.1 Digital selling technologies give companies new opportunities to add value in customer experience and overall business growth as more traditional outreach channels become obsolete; 92% of B2B decision makers do not respond to cold calls and 53% of B2B buyers prefer going online to interacting with salespeople.2 Providing consistently high-quality customer experiences is now a telling competitive differentiator in the B2B market.3 Ultimately, digitization has become a sales team’s key to managing sale profitability, optimizing customer analytics, and prioritizing actions based on insights about top priorities.

The rise of digital selling can be attributed to recent changes within the B2C industry. With the emergence of Google, Amazon, and Uber, companies have completely reshaped customer interactions within their industry, and those changes are spilling over into B2B companies. Now more than ever, B2B customers expect the same level of personalization and frictionless interactions.4

From Selling to Digital Selling

The B2B digital selling experience is relatively low in maturity, especially when compared to B2C businesses. While 73% of companies recognize that new and returning customer expectations for more meaningful services and sales experiences are much higher than before, only a little over half of companies have initiated efforts towards digital strategies that address customer acquisition and retention in the past three years.5 Furthermore, only 10% of companies surveyed by McKinsey stated that digital was a top investment priority.3 This continued reliance on a SDR’s personal client relationship puts incumbents in a disadvantageous position against digital natives who prioritize customer expectations. 

The fastest-growing companies will harness the power of advanced analytics and machine learning to address fundamental strategic issues: new high-value sales opportunities, effective resource allocation to existing clients, actions that directly result in sales productivity, etc. These digital leaders are expected to generate 3.5% more in yearly revenue and average 15% more in profits than the rest of the B2B field.3

Leveraging Human and Digital Capabilities

The emphasis on digital selling can also be attributed to a disconnect in buyer needs and seller actions, which can compromise even the strongest B2B relationships. Sellers who solely focus on digital updates can find themselves disconnected from long-time customers; those who solely focus on traditional sales cycles lack initiative on digital investments critical to modern commerce.6

To be successful, it is important for companies to leverage both human and digital capabilities to provide an intelligent, personalized level of service. A 2019 Accenture study found that companies who adopted this service-over-sales mindset saw quick benefits, with over 95% reporting higher profitability or increased market share. Additionally, companies were almost 20% more likely to employ new technology platforms to help overcome service barriers, and twice as likely to store centralized data sets that personalize customer offering and engagement across omni-channel selling.6

Digital selling strategies can complement B2B companies by standardizing a sales approach that provides more control over allocating resources and investments to high-value opportunities. The rise of service-first and self-service selling can not only give buyers autonomy over the sales experience, but also optimize the usage of customer data in the sales process.3 Combining these digital tools with traditional sales intuition can modernize a business’s process in a constantly changing market with shorter product life cycles.2

Drivers of B2B Sales Growth

The top two priorities that are driving B2B sales growth are empowering customer-facing sales teams and integrating digital technologies.7 AI and data analytics are common denominators in both of these processes.

Empowering Customer-Facing Sales Teams

Digitization gives customer-facing sales teams more data—and consequently more information—on how to better acquire new clients and engage existing customers.

This shift towards human-AI collaboration enables sales teams to pivot towards higher-value opportunities by automating tedious and repetitive activities. Representatives can then use advanced analytics to help potential customers understand how products or services provide added value by augmenting their knowledge on successful sales tactics; an example is using deal analytics to enhance pipeline and opportunity management. Through these processes, companies can harness customer data about sales efforts and modify behaviors to better optimize revenue growth.

Advanced analytics also helps sales teams achieve results in an increasingly crowded market. Propensity modeling and automated forecasting can intelligently identify where high-potential sales opportunities are for new and existing clients. On a higher level, analytics support the evolution of new sales models. By understanding the profile of high-margin digital sellers and identifying their strong points, companies can change employee experiences to see results in recruitment and compensation KPIs.

Integrating Digital Technologies

Digital technologies are the gateway into developing new business models and empowering sales teams to drive higher-value strategic sales.7 Again, the greatest benefits are realized when both human and digital capabilities are used to their full advantage.

Search-engine marketing activities, performance analytics, and digital assistants can be used to collect a “Golden Record” view of customers that continuously feeds into AI and machine learning algorithms. Information is then reanalyzed to make targeted marketing automation offers, such as personalized landing pages. With the potential to cut an SDR’s time spent on sales administration by 60%, significant reductions in cost per sale can be achieved. 

True digitization in the new era of sales is a continuous process and faces the strong challenge of legacy pradigims.4 However, it is imperative for companies who have not prioritized digital to begin now. The B2B sales process is defined by digital selling, and those who have already invested in digitization will continue to do so at a more aggressive rate.5