How the Modern, Digital Buyer has Changed B2B Sales
- What is B2B sales?
- How B2B sales has changed
- How to overcome modern sales challenges
It’s no secret:
Selling to B2B customers is hard…
At times, it can feel almost impossible.
Of course, selling has never been easy.
But, the days when a salesperson was in charge of the process are long gone.
Today’s buyers prefer to conduct the research and select what to buy on their own, without any influence from a vendor:
- Only 29% of people want to talk to a salesperson to learn more about a product
- 57% of buyer decisions are made before buyers even pick up a phone to speak to a supplier
- And, 34% of salespeople admit that closing deals is getting harder
But, does this mean that the days of reaching your sales quotas are gone?
No, of course not!
However, to keep closing new deals, you first need to understand the dynamics of modern B2B sales. Then, you need learn the sales strategies that will help you achieve it.
And that’s exactly what we’re going to share with you today.
In this article, we’ll discuss modern B2B sales challenges, and the strategies you can use to overcome them.
What is B2B sales?
B2B sales, also known as business to business sales, refers to companies who primarily sell products and services to businesses, rather than direct to consumers (B2C). B2B sales typically have higher order values, longer sales cycles and are often more complex than B2C sales.
B2B sales has changed dramatically in recent years and sales strategies that used to work are no longer effective.
How B2B sales has changed
B2B sales used to be a lot easier, didn’t it?
If a person needed a product or solution, they’d reach out to a potential vendor and deal with a sales person, who’d pitch them with the best options to choose. And if they were happy with what they heard, they would make a purchase.
It was a relatively straight forward process, in which marketing was responsible for filling up the funnel with leads, and sales for getting those leads into a sales pipeline and moving them down the funnel and into a sale.
It was predictable.
Now, compare that with the buying process B2B buyers go through today:
- A person identifies a problem,
- They research it online, then,
- They also conduct further research to discover all potential solutions,
- They reach out to friends for recommendations, and check what others say about a particular solution on social media, forums, and other online sources,
- They Google this particular solution and read online reviews,
- During the process, they might also click an ad offering a solution, finally,
- Based on all information make a buying decision, and only then
- They might reach out to the company to complete the sale.
That’s a big change!
So, instead of the predictable nature that sales used to be, it’s now more like this:
As Millward Brown Digital point out in their “Navigating the New Path to Purchase” report:
“The traditional purchase funnel diagram, one which any marketer could sketch from memory, is officially dead. The singular, orderly sequence of purchase stages has been scrambled, and marketers need to conform. In today’s world, where consumers have access to constant information through computers, smart phones and tablets, each person’s path to purchase is complex and unique.“
And so, businesses have changed how they purchase new products or services. They now base a buying decision on internal research, which includes anything from Google search, friend recommendations, and scouting many other web sources.
Today, buyers can research a product digitally through websites, forums, social media, and free trials.
In fact, buyers can go as much as 60-70% of their decision-making process without ever having to engage with a salesperson!
As a result, the roles of sales and marketing has significantly changed, with marketing teams taking over many aspects of the sales process. This means the role of sales has been reduced to assisting in the final stages of the process – evaluating potential alternatives, and making the actual purchase.
This is a big shift and it brings a number of challenges for modern B2B sales teams to overcome.
A new B2B buyer has emerged
According to Hanne Tuomisto-Inch, the B2B Industry Head at Google, many younger professionals, between ages 18 and 35, now occupy positions that give them the decision-making power in the buying process.
These younger professionals are prone to using digital technologies in the buying process, in turn revolutionizing how they purchase products or services.
For one, they prefer to conduct research themselves, and avail of the wealth of content available to help them on their journey. In fact, according to Accenture study, 94% of B2B buyers admit to conducting online research before making a buying decision.
And this number is continuously growing year on year.
And as Accenture points out, buyers reply on a variety of online sources to make a purchase decision. These sources include websites, search engines, third-party review sites, blogs and social media.
Modern buyers are also highly skeptical about sales and marketing messages they encounter.
According to a Forrester report, 59% of buyers prefer to do research online instead of interacting with a sales rep because the rep pushes a sales agenda rather than helps solve a problem.
At the same time, salespeople continue to focus on selling, rather than helping prospects along their path to purchase.
It’s no wonder that 68% of buyers prefer to interact with salespeople who listen to their needs and provide them with relevant information. And that 57% admitted they’d prefer to purchase from a salesperson who “doesn’t try to apply pressure or hassle them when following up.”
It’s also no surprise that sales teams who incorporate social selling into their strategies tend to perform better than those that don’t.
Here’s another thing that’s changed in recent years:
Today’s buyers now take longer to make a purchase decision.
Did you know that the length of the average sales cycle increased by 22% in the last five years?
One reason for that is more people involved in the process. Another, the wealth of information available buyers can use to base their decisions on.
This, combined with the shift in the sales process, forces organizations to try and connect with customers and start nurturing them as early in the process as possible.
Modern buyers pay a lot of attention to peer recommendations.
Today, you can find an opinion about pretty much anything online.
Therefore, it should come as no surprise that modern buyers use social media, forums, and other channels to learn more about potential solutions they evaluate.
Recently, Forrester discovered that B2B buyers find 3 pieces of content about your firm for each piece of content your organization has created. And what’s more, they put huge trust in that information.
Google/TNS and Ogilvy discovered that word of mouth is the most powerful influencer in purchasing decision, beating other channels like a company’s website and interaction with the vendor.
Finally, they are also aware of risks associated with purchases.
Modern buyers want to feel confident that they’ve made the right decision, and try to do as much as possible to mitigate post-purchase dissatisfaction during the sales process.
As Shelley Cernel writes, “Prospects often second-guess themselves over making the right choices or are afraid to commit and potentially missing out on a better vendor. B2B buyers are also increasingly seeking out ways to identify and reduce risk factors, including damage to professional credibility, reduction in job security, inability of the software to technically perform as promised, and loss of monetary investments.”
All this results in a wide range of challenges for the modern B2B sales teams to overcome:
- The increase of available information allows prospects to go through the sales process by themselves, without any need for interaction with the vendor. This resulted in a diminished influence of salespeople over the buyer’s choice.
- Sales and marketing teams become more misaligned, often confused as to their roles in the new sales process.
- Buyers become skeptical about marketing and sales messages, and the trustworthiness of sales in general.
- And social media and peers, instead of salespeople, hold a strong influence over buying decisions.
How to overcome modern sales challenges
Luckily, there are ways to overcome these sales challenges, and here are 3 of the most effective ways to help you generate better quality leads.
1. Embrace sales enablement to help prospects make better buying decisions
Just because today’s buyers prefer to conduct research online themselves, it doesn’t mean that they can’t interact with you during the process.
Quite the opposite, in fact.
You see, B2B buyers rely on the content to guide them through the buying process, and gain the knowledge necessary to make an informed decision.
And although they can easily find the information, it isn’t always the right kind of information.
Create a content library including all your assets that answer the most common questions your target audience asks at different stages of their buying journey.
Once you have created a content library, you can then ask your salespeople to proactively share them with their prospects.
But, what kind of content should you share?
Research from Live Hive found that decision makers are much more responsive towards sales reps when they include case studies, industry articles and white papers in their sales outreach.
And if you still doubt how effective this is, consider the following:
- 95% of buyers select a vendor who provided them with ample content to help navigate through each stage of the buying process
- 68% of customers feel more positive about a brand after consuming content from it
- 82% of buyers viewed at least 5 pieces of content from the winning vendor
- And companies that develop sales enablement strategies typically win 13.7% higher contract value
Once our sales teams started using content from our library and sharing it with their network on LinkedIn, they saw an increase in reach (impressions) grow from 1,600 views per month to now more than 45,000 views!
Prospects are seeing more of our content than ever before and as we are sharing the right kind of content, we are able to generate better quality leads.
2. Make salespeople the spokesmen (and women) for your brand
Sending your prospects relevant content will help you close more deals.
But, that’s not the only way to use content to overcome modern B2B sales challenges.
Another way is to position your salespeople as experts in the field.
We know that modern B2B buyers are becoming increasingly skeptical about sales and marketing messages.
And that many B2B buyers want to interact with salespeople who listen to their needs and provide them with relevant information.
Now, imagine how buyers would feel about a sales rep (and in turn, the brand they work for) that has shared insights and information relevant to their pain points?
Yes, you guessed it – as expert’s worth paying attention to!
Here’s how you can achieve this.
Have salespeople create and share content that’s helpful, informative and relevant to the buyer’s pain points, and allow them to publish articles on your company’s blog (and repost on their LinkedIn profile).
Stein Ove Sektnan, Managing Director at SuperOffice UAB has been sharing original content on LinkedIn since 2014. The content he creates covers CRM, customer service, data management and strategy – all related to his experience.
In this piece on customer complaints, the post received 46 likes and 15 shares.
Based on average number of LinkedIn connections (approx. 900), this means his content was seen by 50,000 people!
When your sales team create content, make sure that the content they publish provides a unique perspective on prospect’s challenges, and then provide them with actionable insights they could use to progress through the buyer’s journey.
3. Align sales and marketing teams to work towards the same goal
According to various studies, sales and marketing misalignment can cost companies 10% or more of revenue per year.
Then again, it’s not that surprising, is it?
Think about the typical problems arising from misalignment:
- Lack of common definition of a qualified lead, resulting in marketing delivering contacts salespeople simply can’t close.
- No unified content library, meaning that sales teams can’t find assets to forward to prospects. And we’ve already discussed how crucial that is to the sales process.
- Irrelevant KPIs that fail to assist in improving each team’s performance
At the same time, 56% of companies with both teams aligned met their revenue goals, and 19% exceeded them.
Other benefits of aligning sales and marketing include increased brand awareness, an increase in average deal size and annual company revenue.
And do you know what the secret is to be achieving this?
Use content to align both teams.
Here’s how you can get started:
- Create a content library, and get marketing teams to regularly contribute assets salespeople can then use to generate better quality leads.
- Let marketers educate sales teams on when and how to use the content
- Allow salespeople to guide new content development by contributing their ideas.
- Host regular meetings between two teams to coordinate their efforts.
We use this exact approach at SuperOffice when it comes to using content to align sales and marketing teams.
- Marketing create content around a specific challenge or pain-point
- Marketing share the content with our salespeople
- Marketing and sales share the content through email and social media
- Salespeople take the content and create a PowerPoint presentation to use in a webinar
- Salespeople invite all leads that downloaded the content to a live webinar
The reason this approach works is that salespeople not only take the content that marketing have created and use it to host a webinar, but they use it to move prospects further down the buyers funnel by addressing specific needs they have that our product can solve.
By now, the prospect has read the content, attended a live webinar and seen how our product solves their challenges – resulting in a better quality and more qualified lead for our sales team.
B2B sales has changed.
It’s no longer as simple as waiting for prospects to come to you.
Instead, you need to be proactive and find the channels where potential customers are and share relevant content with them that addresses their needs. You also need to work closely with your marketing department and use the content they create as a sales tool to move prospects further down the sales funnel.
By doing this, you will start building relationships with your buyers and, more importantly, you will gain their trust – and that’s the the key to succeeding in modern B2B sales.
What’s your biggest challenge in B2B sales?
Sell more by measuring the key performance indicators (KPI’s) that matter.
Download the free sales KPI guide (below).