There has never been a more opportune time to be in business-to-business (B2B) sales. Businesses across the globe are adopting digital technologies at an accelerated pace. A lot of this current change is due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which accelerated the need to begin this process, creating change more quickly than many companies had anticipated.
Whether an organization’s digitization process began before the pandemic or as a result of the pandemic, the process has begun for everyone — in a big way — and will continue for the foreseeable future. For some, it’s a transformation. For others, it’s a transition or modernization of their business infrastructure. The bottom line is that the degree of change that is happening today and will continue moving forward is opening tremendous potential for B2B salespeople.
To capitalize on this opportunity, salespeople must shift their approach to reflect what customers need — and even expect — in today’s complex business environment. Sellers who can adapt and bring insight to their customers will be able to differentiate themselves. The ones who don’t will be left behind. The question is …
Will B2B Salespeople Modernize Their Sales Methodology to Take Advantage of This Opportunity?
When people speak about how technology and digitization are changing B2B sales, they typically start by referring to leveraging tools such as customer relationship management (CRM) software, data companies or social networks for access to data, social selling or even the ability to work remotely. While these tools are part of the digital environment, none of them addresses the huge opportunity salespeople are faced with.
Organizations will be rethinking the strategies they use to move their business forward based on technology, and a company’s entire value chain will be affected in some way. Products will evolve and new products innovations will occur as companies try to monetize on investments in digitization, processes will evolve or be replaced by technology, human work will shift as technology replaces many of their traditional tasks, digital marketing and big data will drive decisions, and people will work differently and from different places (it’s already happening).
Change Drives Opportunity
What does all this change mean for salespeople? It means opportunity — and plenty of it — if they are ready to take it on. Unfortunately, traditional sales methodologies are outdated or insufficient for success in this environment. Here are some examples.
A traditional sales methodology places a strong emphasis on late-stage selling (presenting solutions, overcoming objections, negotiating and closing). While these stages are still relevant, they are not the highest places of leverage today. The most important part of the buy/sell process is the early stage, where opportunities are developed and sellers can distinguish themselves through their sales strategy.
We already noted that digital transformation will occur across multiple functions of a company. Most organizations will have many opportunities for a seller to pursue if he or she looks in the right places and thinks strategically enough. It is no longer sufficient to be happy with a single opportunity inside an enterprise account. Gaining access to the lines of business inside a company is necessary for a seller to understand the customer at a level that enables him or her to creatively bring value.
Another early-stage selling capability that needs to change is the notion of “finding” opportunities rather than “creating” them. Gartner research speaks to the difference between established and emerging demand. High-performing sellers can create demand within their accounts, and that solution selling process starts long before they speak to someone inside the company. It’s OK for salespeople to find an existing opportunity, too; just remember that an existing opportunity comes with the fact that the customer already has opinions, assumptions and criteria that the salesperson must address.
With emerging demand, sellers are bringing a unique perspective to shape their customer’s thinking and identify opportunities or challenges the customer will likely want to address before he or she even knows they exist. This approach puts the seller in a position of guiding the customer forward instead of reacting.
One of the most significant changes in early-stage selling is the sheer number of conversations required. In today’s business environment, sellers need to be multi-threaded inside their accounts. Positioning with one contact is hardly effective; digitization affects many functions, and the salesperson’s ability to conduct both strategic and tactical conversations about a customer’s business is critical to success. Furthermore, tactical conversations are not about the product or service but about how work happens inside the customer’s business. Having different types of conversations with various stakeholders requires a flexible and situational capability set.
Perhaps the most overlooked part of the buy/sell process is the middle stage of selling, which comes after the salesperson has identified an opportunity and before he or she sends the customer a proposal. Most salespeople can’t wait to reach the proposal step. Customers ask for proposals, and many sellers immediately send one. While this approach may sound familiar and, in some cases, may be appropriate, most often, it is an ineffective approach.
The middle stage of selling requires both a solution selling strategy and a sales strategy. The ability to navigate the buyer landscape and identify alignment and misalignment among stakeholders is a success factor for sellers. This skill includes engaging the multiple influencers for each enterprise deal. Everyone knows those stakeholders are there, but, unfortunately, most traditional sales methodologies do not pay attention to how to engage them in the interest of a seller’s solution and sales strategies.
“Just as established products and brands need updating to stay alive and vibrant, you periodically need to refresh or reinvent yourself” (Mireille Guiliano, author and former president of Clicquot Inc.).
Digitization is driving a great opportunity for B2B salespeople to enhance their customers’ business and to differentiate themselves from their competitors. It will not come naturally, and the majority of salespeople will need to develop new selling strategies, models, skill sets and ways of thinking in order to fully leverage this opportunity. But the business world is changing; wouldn’t it make sense that salespeople need to change their approach, too?