General Business Strategy
Rewind any further than a decade or so, and the ability to build personal relationships was probably the most important skill for a salesperson, and a company’s ability to grow. It’s what many businesses exclusively used to build their business.
Now, although we’re not denying it’s still an important part of the B2B sales process (and a ham-fisted sales attempt can still derail a sale), in the past decade or so the dominance of the internet and all things digital has significantly reduced the influence of a single individual, no matter how skilled they may be. And as we all know by now, the pandemic simply put this trend on steroids.
Many businesses that used to thrive in the B2B sales environment, are struggling to adapt – and suffering stagnation as a result.
In this article we’ll give you an overview of what’s changed and what you can do about it.
The two biggest changes in the B2B Sales Process
- The growth of pre-purchase online research and the “death” of the sales meeting
61% of all transactions start online, and buyers are 57% of the way through the process before they even meet a salesperson. – Accenture Insights study
Where previously a salesperson would track down a prospect and meet to educate them on the benefits of their product, the situation has flipped almost 180 degrees. Most prospects now do their own product research, weigh up their options and only then contact the business to ask a few well-informed questions, or simply to negotiate price.
A big factor driving this is of course as time goes by, more and more B2B buyers are digital natives, in fact sixty-four percent of today’s business buyers were born after 1980 according to Forrester’s most recent Buyers’ Journey Survey and by 2025 they will be 75% of the total workforce. They naturally reach for their phone or laptop whenever they need anything. It’s a classic case of needing to adapt to a changing market.
- The importance of being found, looking great, and a willingness to share like never before
The rise of digital pre-purchase research, of course, means you need to be found when people are looking. Google figured out long ago that sites offering better quality information would give searchers more value, and so they created and algorithm that rewards such sites by listing them first in search results. (Happy searchers = more users = more advertisers = more revenue for Google). A whole industry appeared – Search Engine Optimisation or SEO for short – to help businesses comply with Google’s wishes, but the purposes of this article all you need to know about this is the main SEO tool is quality information, or content as we marketers call it.
80% of B2B buyers have a shortlist before they even start researching, and 90% will buy from that initial list. – Bain & Co.
Because potential buyers are looking for it and Google rewards it, it’s imperative to generate and distribute content for your prospects to read, view and listen to because if you’re not out there (digitally) informing, educating and impressing prospects with a great website and prolific articles, videos, white papers and case studies that offer genuine value to them, then someone else will be, and that’s where the sale will go. So, it better be good!
Quality content doesn’t simply mean it’s well put together; however, it also means going into greater depth than you’ve ever done before, except, perhaps, in the middle of a sales meeting with a prospect. The difference now, is that ‘meeting’ is happening online without you ever knowing it, so you might have to share IP that you previously kept close to your chest.
Some business owners get a little uncomfortable about sharing so much, so freely to strangers, however every single time we’ve worked with an organisation to overcome this and reveal ‘enough but not too much’, it has paid dividends in the end.
The internet always promised “the democratisation on information” – well here it is, embrace it.
More Changes in the B2B Sales Process
- More stakeholders, more people to persuade
The number of stakeholders involved in the decision-making process has also increased considerably in the last ten years, often from different departments too.
The typical buying group for a complex B2B solution involves 6 to 10 people‚ each armed with four or five pieces of information they have gathered independently. – Gartner.co.uk
And whilst you might have looked to the CEO to make the decision, these days it goes further down the ladder; in its major Path to Purchase study, Google found that 81% of non-C-Suite employees have influence over purchasing decisions.
So, unless you refine your targeting, the messaging, pain points and communication channels you might have used in the past, are not quite doing the trick anymore.
All of this has made the B2B sales process more complicated, and as a result, the decision-making process is a lot more drawn out.
2. More competition, more difficult to impress, brand more important than ever
As the cost of market entry has lowered for numerous industries, the level of competition has increased accordingly, making it all the more difficult to cut through, impress and even hang onto your customers in the long term. The sector where this can be seen most clearly, perhaps, is in SaaS, where a recent survey of 34,000 businesses revealed the following:
Over the last three years, growth has slowed by 50%, customer acquisition cost has increased by 50%, and customer churn is up 29%. – Paddle.com
So how do you approach this new B2B sales landscape..?
The great thing is, if you want to succeed in this new B2B world you probably have everything you need, right at your fingertips already.
1. Invest in your brand to make sure you stand out and build a connection
Why should anyone pick you? First, ensure that the face you’re presenting to the world helps to differentiate you from your competitors. You don’t have to be all things to all people, focus on your most valuable customers, ensure your brand talking directly to their needs in a way that distinguishing you from all the competition.
86% of B2B buyers find it hard to differentiate between competitors. – LinkedIn Study
Secondly – and brace yourself for this – you need to get emotional. We like to think of organisations as rational and logical. The truth is, there are people within them, and those people are just as, if not more, influenced by emotion than everyday consumers. Google research found that on average, B2B customers are significantly more emotionally connected to their vendors and service providers than consumers.
If you think about it, this high level of connection with B2B customers makes a lot of sense. When a personal consumer makes a bad purchase, the stakes are low. Best case, it’s returnable, worst case, it might require an explanation to a spouse. Business purchases, on the other hand, can involve huge amounts of risk: a multi-million dollar software acquisition that goes bad can have severe consequences. The business customer won’t buy unless there is a substantial feeling of security (i.e. an emotional connection) to help overcome this risk.
B2B brands that connect personally, create purchase intent, pricing power, brand advocacy and, most importantly, happy customers.
2. Turn your best salesperson’s pitch into the best content around
If you’ve been successful in the past then you’re probably a pretty good salesperson, or you have one working for you. That being the case team them up with a good marketer and use this teamwork to turn all their knowledge into the best content marketing your prospects have ever seen.
Extend this seamless teamwork from beginning to end of the sales process, making sure marketing, customer service, sales and everyone in between is on point with your new brand and content messaging.
3. Personalise everything as much as you can
We talked about the number of people and rage of roles in an average sale, and this highlights the need to create messaging streams that’s custom to as many of them as possible. Yes, the IT person needs to know your product will integrate with existing systems, the finance person needs to know about your flexible buying terms and ops need to know how what demands it will put on peoples’ time.
The fact that personalised messaging is extremely effective is not exactly breaking news – it’s exactly what every salesperson does for every prospect – however it is becoming easier to do digitally as well, so if you’re not there already, then you’re getting left behind.
The InsideOut Solution
If you’re thinking all this can get a bit complicated, then you’re right, which is why we’ve developed a new way for SMEs to access the senior marketing talent they need to grow their business, without paying for a full-time employee.
Not doing marketing just isn’t an option, and doing it badly wastes your time, and your money too. So please, contact us instead. You won’t regret it I can assure you.