woman working from home, sitting  in the front doorway working on a laptop
PHOTO: Callum T

The pandemic has had a profound impact on the business-to-business (B2B) sales process. Customers’ demands for digital interaction have increased — and things are unlikely to go back to the way they were, at least anytime soon. McKinsey’s B2B Decision Maker Pulse found that preference for digital versus traditional interactions has doubled. Buyers are twice as likely to choose as a preferred provider a company with an outstanding digital experience. More than three quarters of B2B companies (79%) said they are likely to sustain the shift to remote selling well after the pandemic has subsided. The Gartner Future of Sales 2025 report predicts that 80% of B2B sales interactions will occur in digital channels.

This isn’t a surprise. The B2B sales process was moving in this direction even before the pandemic. The events of the past year have simply accelerated the shift to digital interactions.

Now's the Time to Optimize Your B2B Sales Process

Many companies are feeling the pressure to ramp up digital channels and experiences that B2B buyers expect. But this isn’t just about replacing in-person interactions with digital interactions. In fact, this is an opportune time to review and optimize your entire sales process in light of the changes taking place — rather than simply introducing new technology into the process. Our clients are asking as many questions about process changes as they are about technology as they look ahead to a more digital B2B sales process.

As you optimize your B2B sales process for the new normal and enable it with technology, it will be important to balance technology and process enhancements. Following are several key considerations for doing so.

  • Understand the “new” buyer journey and what has changed in a more virtual environment. For example, we already knew that buyers had an increasing propensity to conduct their own online research and limit interaction with sales representatives as a primary source of information (Forrester). How has the pandemic affected research and decision-making processes? Based on their experiences during the pandemic, how and when do buyers prefer to interact? Determine how well (or not) your current sales process supports today’s B2B buyer journey. Find the disconnects and prioritize these as you redesign or optimize your sales process.
  • Listen to your sales organization. What do they feel they need to be successful in this new normal? Prioritize fixing what your sales organization believes are bottlenecks to their success — for example, the ability to improve the quote to cash process in order to keep up with competitors that have accelerated such capabilities. Continuous feedback will be essential to keeping your finger on the pulse of an evolving process.
  • Increase emphasis on customer retention. In many industries, the bulk of the sales effort has traditionally gone toward winning the customer. However, the growing popularity of subscription product models is forcing more focus on selling across the customer lifecycle. This is not just a software industry phenomenon; aspects of this model are permeating other industries as well. For example, a manufacturer of large commercial printers may sell printing services rather than the printing equipment. In this product-as-a-service model, the manufacturer installs the printer based on the customer’s specifications, ensures that it is operational, stocks it with materials, and maintains it — but also retains ownership of the asset. Accordingly, the organization must continuously sell the value of the service to the customer — necessitating new touchpoints and capabilities in the overall process.
  • Strengthen cross-functional collaboration. In a virtual environment, success will require greater coordination between functions that have typically operated more in silos. For example, if customers do more of their own research, as Forrester has found, this will require greater coordination between marketing and sales in order to create sales touchpoints or interventions in marketing processes as companies look to increase their lead to quote process. You’ll also need a strong feedback loop between the sales team and product teams. With markets and customer needs changing continuously, you’ll need a way to make sure what the sales team hears gets into product development cycles.
  • Make sure you have clearly defined process steps. When processes are changing and people are executing handoffs virtually that may previously have been coordinated in a physical environment, new gaps can emerge. Further, managing a lifecycle approach to the customer virtually will likely require a greater level of process definition and discipline than your sales organization may have been used to. Providing clear, yet flexible, process guidance can reduce the sales cycle and increase overall revenue.
  • Rethink sales enablement. Sales teams need to know and engage their customers just as well or better than in the past — but without the benefit of physical presence that may allow more control over the presentation. Individuals may need to develop new skills for being successful in a digital or remote world, so this may require new sales training or coaching processes. Additionally, considering data and tools that can help them be more effective should be part of the optimized sales process. The Gartner Future of Sales Report predicts that by 2025, 60% of B2B sales organizations will transition from experience- and intuition-based selling to data-driven selling. For example, banks can now equip commercial relationship managers with analytical tools that enable them to recommend the “next best” product for their customers, as well as the ideal timing for conducting relationship reviews.
  • Maximize use of the technology you already have. Many organizations have invested in sophisticated platforms but don’t make full use of their capabilities. In our experience, companies aren’t fully utilizing the most basic features of their technology and may have unrealized potential to enhance the sales enablement process. So, before investing in new technologies, make sure your current systems and platforms don’t have capabilities that can help you fill in gaps in your process.

Related Article: COVID-19 Changed Your B2B Customers for Good

Learn From Experience

The high-tech and software industry, which has been navigating the shift to a software-as-a-service (SaaS) or subscription model for some time, offers a good source of insight about the holistic nature of change required to optimize the sales process for a digital world. Certainly, technology has been key to establishing digital channels and enabling interaction at a scale that software companies need to succeed in this model. But enabling that model has also required important process change and optimization across lead-to-cash and back-office operations.

As your organization moves to build effective digital sales and sales-support capabilities, you’ll need to make sure you are balancing technology and process enhancements.