The lines between B2B and B2C buyers are blurring at a torrid pace. The modern buyer is armed with more information and is more digitally-driven than ever. Without the right strategy and sales tools, opportunities are lost and customers move on.
Almost three out of four B2B customers told Forrester Research they conduct more than half of their research online before making an offline purchase.
A digitally-equipped sales team is better suited to deliver an exceptional experience that today’s digital buyers expect. Here’s three things that tech-savvy sales teams should focus on to close the deal.
Map the Customer Journey
The B2B buying process shouldn’t be viewed as a series of obstacles. Consultancy McKinsey argues the decision-making process is now a “circular journey” with four steps: initial consideration; active evaluation; closure; and post-purchase (Figure 1). The good news is that the purchase path is no longer a one-and-done scenario. Sales teams now have opportunities to engage with clients throughout the customer journey, with the key word here being “engage.” Figuring out how to deliver value — whether information or a tangible solution — at the right time can be tricky. It puts the onus on salespeople to not only understand customer profiles, but to get the timing right as well.
In other words, product managers and VPs of marketing require different data at different times along the path to purchase. Sales leaders should look broadly at each touch point to help teams decide how best to engage. This is also where sales technologies and collaboration play a critical role. Make it a point to understand your client’s culture and environment. Are they digitally-savvy? Don’t overwhelm them on day one with a full-blown collaborative sales portal with digital contracts and eSignatures if all they need is a simple pilot and product sheets. Again, become intimately familiar with each step in the customer journey. The point is to tailor everything based on timing and need.
(Figure 1 – McKinsey)
Break Out of the Commodity Trap
For years, too many B2B sales teams have made a living being loss leaders or selling on price alone. Even in the consumer market, it’s easy to spot the low-cost providers. They lure us in with potential savings instead of quality or longevity. In B2B environments, there’s more research now that proves there is more to the sale than just price. In the most recent Harvard Business Review, business leaders at Bain & Company mined decades of customer studies and came up with 40 “elements of value.”( Figure 2)
They whittled them down to five categories: table stakes, functional, ease of doing business, individual and inspirational. Remember the loss leader point? Here’s what they found about “cost reduction.”
“..IT infrastructure vendors still have plenty of room to differentiate by delivering on elements at all levels. Even though the respondents stated that cost reduction was most important in their decisions, their answers to other questions suggested otherwise. When we calculated how much each element influenced NPS (by analyzing the impact of the 36 elements on whether respondents were promoters or not), product quality, expertise, and responsiveness emerged as the strongest predictors of customer loyalty. Cost reduction was not even among the top 10.”
(Figure 2: Bain & Company)
The other takeaway from Bain’s finding is more far-reaching.
“As B2B offerings become ever more commoditized, the subjective, sometimes quite personal concerns that business customers bring to the purchase process are increasingly important. Indeed, our research shows that with some purchases, considerations such as whether a product can enhance the buyer’s reputation or reduce anxiety play a large role. Recognizing the full range of both rational and emotional factors behind business purchases—and tailoring the value proposition accordingly—is critical to avoiding the commodity trap.”
After sharing the above diagram with their sales teams, every sales VP should challenge their reps to populate the pyramid with relevant information. For instance, how hard would it be to research your buyers on LinkedIn and figure out what “inspirational value” or “individual value” pieces might apply? Social media, in general, should be a gold mine for sales teams armed with Bain’s data. If nothing else, it once again proves your B2B buyer is more approachable than ever. Like them, all you need is the right information.
Understand the Buyer’s Environment
The modern B2B buyer rarely makes a purchase without involving others in their organization. A recent CEB study found that an average of 5.4 people are now involved in a B2B purchase. A deal that may have once involved only a VP of sales may now require buy-in from a sales operations manager, the chief operating officer, the chief financial officer, legal counsel and so on. Further, every member of the buying team will likely have different priorities, and the seller will need to get creative in order to get them all on the same page. Generally, the more stakeholders involved in an agreement, the longer the cycle time — as well as smaller deal totals, lower margins and, worst case, customer deadlock.
Sales teams who understand the modern customer journey, as well as their customer’s buying environments, can use those insights to create a smooth purchase experience. Investing in sales tech that can connect all members and stages of the buying process is one way to ensure a seamless and efficient B2B sales process. Contract management solutions, for example, keep everything needed to close the deal all within one convenient platform. And with a larger group involved in the buying process, there’s a higher chance the deal will close if reps can keep everyone on the same page.
Sales reps can create and send accurate, branded contracts to buyers; receive notifications when prospects are viewing and working in the document; collaborate and negotiate from one online version; sign digitally with eSignature and store completed documents from a searchable cloud-based repository. By cutting out clunky, inefficient steps like email attachments and eliminating version control issues, the right sales tech can provide the seamless experience the modern customer expects.