Are you adapting well? Are you adjusting to the changing way B2B prospects are nurtured through the sales funnel? That’s the main question a B2B company is to ask itself. The speed with which the world of B2B sales has been recently changing is at breakneck speed. A customer-centered B2B sales approach is named one of the key components of the shifting digital landscape. But what does it really mean? Haven’t we all been servicing customers all that time?
If you’re a sales professional with many years of selling under your belt, you must name a dozen of B2B sales techniques and methodologies off the top of your head: MEDDIC, SNAP, SPIN, value selling, inbound selling, you name it. A customer-centered methodology has always been one of the many. The fact that it has suddenly come to the fore must point out to multiple factors fueling it.
To figure out how to proceed in the shape-shifting B2B landscape, let’s first understand the driving factors and the context we’re now finding ourselves in. Narrowing it down to the essential terms, we see two fancy words – digitalization and multiplexing – that neatly sum up the new reality for customers as well as businesses. And Belkins will break it down for you.
What is so new about today’s B2B sales?
The first context-changing factor is digitalization. There’s hardly anyone left in B2B sales who sticks to the bricks-and-mortar sales model. We have irreversibly transitioned from a need to sit in person or connect over the phone and arrived at a model when we can be anywhere in the world and connect at the same time through messaging and Facetiming.
A shift toward digitalization has been around for some time, though. Millennials tend to choose digital interaction over any other one at any time. And many companies have already successfully adapted to new demands. They have well-developed websites and chatbot technology to engage with customers in real-time.
Yet, it was the Covid pandemic that pushed us all to remote work and highlighted the fact that things could never be the same. It meant the digitalization of the B2B sales strategy for businesses: providing remote workers with more digital tools, simplifying and accelerating their digital sales platforms, and finding ways to grow their pipelines with B2B leads digitally.
In turn, for B2B customers, digitalization means a better understanding of what experience they want to get from their engagement with B2B companies. The latest shift to mobile became evident for B2B as much as for B2C.
The real-time desktop-driven era is giving way to the mobile era. Mobile has brought about a completely new model of behavior and, therefore, a service delivery model. It’s not just that in-person demonstrations and phone calls have been switched for emails and F2F virtual calls. Mobile has introduced multiplexing.
Defined as a sharing technique in telecommunications and computer networks, multiplexing happens when you break up and distribute the time available to you among a number of activities. We all constantly switch between a myriad of different activities – writing an email on the desktop, sipping tea, initiating conversations in a bunch of messengers, and requesting a ride on the Uber app.
If you think that our daily experience of multiplexing hasn’t affected our buying behavior, think again. Netflix, Uber, Amazon, UPS, and local food delivery apps have introduced convenience into customer service. Now, any time consumer services take place, it’s on customers’ own terms at customers’ convenience.
Even if your business is not yet ready to adopt this multibillion-dollar business model of customer engagement and interaction in an app, it is worth contemplating it because multiplexing and mobile give you an idea of where the money is and what direction your business should be moving in.
What’s a customer-centric approach to today’s B2B sales?
Having passed from the bricks-and-mortar retail era to the real-time era to the mobile era, B2B sales is driven by customer needs and customer experience.
So, how should we as sales professionals shift our thinking in terms of generating business-to-business leads and establishing long-lasting relationships with customers?
Teaching instead of pitching
Credibility and trust are essential. It goes without saying. But how are credibility and trust established in a time of such rapid change and knowledge growth? When prospective clients conduct research online without a need to contact a seller, how can you, as a sales professional, build your credibility? Stop selling.
Experts refer to this new B2B sales approach in a number of ways. Some say that modern salespersons are more of consultants now than sellers, emphasizing the educating role of sales professionals. They need to understand what potential customers are looking for and help find a solution. Others point out that empathy is as vital as never before. Customers want to feel that at the other end of their conversation line, there’s another human being who also feels exhausted or lonely.
If it starts to feel that sales reps are losing a grip of the sales process, it is true that customers are in control of buying now. But it’s better for salespeople to go with it. Otherwise, your pushy B2B sales approach will backfire and mess up your quota altogether.
Showing your empathy is possible not only by listening closely to what a customer has to say but also by offering discounts and payment plans or even changing your outreach messaging. During the Covid pandemic, many companies reinforced trust with their customers by stopping thinking about value and taking an interest in their customers as human beings.
Loyalty and credibility aren’t enough, unfortunately. Today’s customers are asking for a better experience. They want a personalized service that addresses their needs and pain points. They want an experience that meets them where they are, which is what we define today as customer-centricity.
Better customer experience can be created in multiple ways. First of all, it’s finding digital venues for sales. For some companies, switching from in-person meetings to messaging via LinkedIn was a recent step. But now is time to step it up even further. Sales and marketing teams need not only tools and applications to share documents and videos and manage time. They also need more elegant and streamlined digital sales platforms.
It is tiresome for both customers and SDRs to juggle over 10 different solutions to move one customer from end to end of the business management cycle of their order, or their inventory, or a support request. Ultimately, convenience will be a decisive factor. The B2C business models of Uber and Amazon are pushing us to step up our B2B service game.
You can personalize your outreach without research. Even if you’re still in the industry where cold calls work, you can’t expect to decide whether to pursue a lead based on an unresearched and non-personalized call.
Check out a lead’s social media pages, look them up in your BI and AI-empowered tool, and see if there is relevant industry news you can use as an icebreaker. You don’t even need to write too long. Lengthy cold emails are a thing of the past. In Belkins Growth Podcast (S2E7), Oliver Kaczor from 1Huddle recommends to “Hop on a video and become human.” Kaczor says that many executives he reaches out to respond better to a 30-second video embedded in the email rather than a short message.
If you know a bit of the professional context of a lead and you see a connection with your product, it’s enough for personalization. If your intelligence tool brings info about a lead’s downloads or browsing on your website, here’s hyper-personalization. Any piece of real-time behavioral data can be an insight into what a potential customer needs and wants.
Top 4 things that stopped working long ago
We all can get too wrapped up with our internal processes and minutiae that we forget to look around and see how much it is relevant. When reading about changes, some might think that it’s not for them, their niche won’t accept this degree of change, and so on. Whatever is your intention regarding an impending change for your business, there are potential pitfalls that you shouldn’t fall into.
Don’t return to old sales habits
Old habits are like a pair of comfy shoes that are out of style but don’t cause bunions. Sometimes you just need to flex your willpower and get rid of them to welcome footwear that is more relevant to your lifestyle. Don’t use outdated sales strategies to train your SDRs. Train them for the future now, and you will pave the road to your success. Switch to digital, modernize your sales stack, and think about creating an app. Use only what works here and now.
- Don’t be too salesy. All our tips and recommendations are about how to stop pitching and selling and start giving value. Executives have over 100 work-related emails in their inboxes daily. Each new email feels like an attempt at selling. However, if you spend some time to feel the lead you’re messaging with, you will find the right words and establish the right sales process that teaches and consults more than sells. Also, consider adding social selling to your sales toolkit.
- Don’t underestimate listening. Active listening is the Number One soft skill any sales professional has to master. Sales managers use it in their communications with customers as much as employees. Being in close contact with potential customers on a day-to-day basis, your employees also know a lot about customer-centricity. Listen to your employees for crucial feedback.
- Don’t be stingy with marketing technology. Many businesses are struggling through tough times. Another tool seems like one investment too many. But is cutting back on expenses is a way out? Probably, not. It will rather undermine your success than gain more revenue. Better explore the world of technological possibilities and make better purchasing choices. Find a sales enablement platform that will eliminate the need to have a barrage of customer relationship management and file-sharing tools and messengers. Make sure your sales team has the right data to follow the customer journey and personalize outreach.
Adopting a customer-centric sales approach
Now is the time when the once-popular sales models are not working anymore. The age of technology gave us all the new tools and opportunities to change the brick-and-mortar sales experience. The COVID pandemic has uplifted remote work to an unprecedented level. It has left its mark on the way consumers are interacting with the product and the company that sells it. There’s been a drastic shift in B2B customers’ expectations too. They want their B2B experience to be as easy, convenient, and personalized as their daily experience with Netflix, Uber, Amazon, and other SaaS apps. Therefore, revisiting your B2B sales strategy and making it more customer-centric seems like a good idea.
In the world of business sales, pitches are not working the way they used to. The buying process is now led not by salespersons who provide relevant information and advice but by prospective and existing customers who want convenience, personalization, and empathy.
Consider new avenues, target customers in a new way, and add some tweaks to your selling process here and there. Make sure your team is on the same page regarding researching customers, finding relevant content for cold outreach, and funneling high-quality leads into the sales cycle.
As leaders in sales marketing and lead generation, we hope our insightful wisdom and deeply felt experiences ring true to you. If you have something to say about what deep customer-centricity means in practice, send your comments our way. And if you’d like some help, don’t hesitate to reach out.