It is less of an irony, and more of a paradox: as businesses in the B2B space strive to provide customers with a simplified, streamlined and “omnichannel” experience, the sales process itself is taking longer and becoming far more complex than in years past.
A big reason for this is, contrary to how it is often depicted (especially on infographics), the buyer’s journey on the B2B landscape is hardly a linear step-by-step process. Customers connect and re-connect through various touchpoints and channels: exploring product documentation through a knowledge portal, browsing a social media community, having a web chat with a sales rep, watching a demo video, and so on.
What’s more, there is rarely just a single customer type in the mix. For example, high pressure homogenizer supplier BEE International must successfully engage, develop and obtain the approval of lab researchers who will use the machines in their day-to-day work, business managers who need to see how the machines fit into product development process, and executives who will ultimately sign-off on the deal and, as the saying goes, “pay the freight.” Failure to win over each of these buyer personas — independently, and then ultimately as a group — can, and usually will, bring the buyer’s journey to a sudden, permanent end.
With this being said, not all organizations are finding today’s longer and more complex B2B sales process frustrating — or futile. On the contrary, some are thriving and deepening their competitive advantage by implementing an evolved set of best practices that include:
1. Adopting a consultative sales process.
Waiting for customers to ask the right questions is simply no longer an option; both because customers expect a much more personalized experience, and more pragmatically, because many customers do not know what questions to ask. What they do know, however, is that they have problems to solve. Businesses that lean forward and replace “what can I sell you?” with “tell me about your needs?” stand out for all of the right reasons, and establish a strong, trusting relationship from the outset.
2. Recruiting active customer stakeholders.
As mentioned above, unlike the B2C counterparts, most businesses in the B2B space must engage multiple buyer personas. Indeed, Gartner notes that in an average organization of 100-500 employees, seven different customer types are involved in a single purchase decision (e.g. executives, finance, administration, risk, IT, InfoSec, etc.). An effective way to bring order to this chaos is by recruiting a single customer type customer who, in effect, becomes an active customer stakeholder that champions a B2B vendor laterally and vertically through their organization.
3. Using automation to drive responsiveness and engagement.
Technically automation cannot (and should not) replace B2B sales professionals. However, it should certainly augment their efforts by, among other things, providing content and collateral recommendations based on each customers’ profile (e.g. deal size, deal stage, products of interest, level of engagement, etc.). For example, while speaking with a customer on the phone, sales reps can use their CRM or sales enablement platform to quickly get answers, or put together a curated and customized package of information (e.g. videos, infographics, articles, ebooks, etc.).
The Bottom Line
The B2B sales process is only going to get longer and more complex in the future. And at the same time, customers are going to demand more and more simplicity. Businesses that embrace this paradox and adopt these (and other) best practices will continue surging. On the other hand, businesses that continue using tactics and tools built for an old world sales landscape that no longer exists, will find themselves failing further behind — and in time, being forced out of business entirely.