For many in B2B sales, from senior leaders to sales representatives, it may be a discouraging time. If you follow conventional and social media closely, the storied demise of sales has been told many times. You probably could buy a few lunches if you collected a dollar for every time you heard that buyers are in control and don’t need sales. To you, this sentiment seems like it is taking on mythical proportions. I am not so sure. If I ask myself three simple questions, I think my answers are clear:
Have buyers changed? Answer: Yes
Does B2B Sales need to change? Answer: Yes
Will buyers still require the assistance of B2B Sales? Answer: Yes
I suspect many of you will answer the same way. B2B Sales will continue to matter very much and it will go through periods of redefinitions and transformations over the next few years. Although, in the Social Age, it may seem that people want to be devoid of actual interactions with others in such buying settings, I for one believe buyers are actually seeking more. However, more of what has not defined interactions and relationships in the past.
5 Ways B2B Sales Are Affected
New buyer behaviors are emerging and evolving. The rate of change will, without a doubt, continue to take place at a significant rate. B2B Sales will have to charter a new course that gets them rethinking about how interactions, engagements, and relationships are changing. Let’s take a look at new buyer behaviors and how they are affecting B2B Sales in particular:
Buyers Have New Knowledge Expectations
The instantaneous availability of information and knowledge at buyer’s fingertips puts pressure on B2B Sales to match their expectations when it comes to what we can call knowledge readiness. If buyers are truly able to access information and knowledge for researching as well as assessing potential opportunities and resolutions, then B2B Sales needs to bring more to the table when an actual engagement takes place. B2B Sales needs to pick up where the buyer left off. Let an actual buyer voice be heard:
“Okay, so what gets my goat more than anything is that after I do all the research and such, I finally get to talking to a sales rep. And what happens? They just regurgitate all the stuff I found online. They are not telling me anything new. Just telling me what I already know.”
For B2B organizations today, not only is sales readiness important but so is knowledge readiness.
Buyers Seeking Advisement, Not Ready-Made Solutions
A generalized assumptive statement can be made, based on numerous surveys conducted over the past two years, that buyers are generally 50% to 60% into the buying process before having direct engagement with sales. They’ve done the spade work in looking at potential solutions, scoping out what might be a good resolution, and approximating budgets. This changes the game significantly for B2B Sales. Buyers already know about your ready-made solutions found in their researching. What they seek is skills and knowledge in advising them on how solutions – modified, customized, and most definitely altered – will help them to achieve the specific goals and outcomes they seek. The implication for B2B organizations is B2B Selling organizations must have talent that reflects excellent advisory skills.
Buyers Including More People in Their Ecosystems and Networks
Driven by social and Enterprise 2.0 technologies, buyers are able to expand their ecosystems and networks in complex situations. The degree of interdependencies between not only users and influencers but partners, suppliers, and their customers as well makes for more complexity. And once again – more knowledge needed. Decision-making is getting more participative within ecosystems and networks. B2B Sales will need to adapt and address complexity as well as possess knowledge that makes them an important participant within a buyer’s complex ecosystem and networks. I believe this will be B2B Sales toughest challenge over the next few years. Why? I believe wired into the DNA of selling organizations are systems, training, processes, and the likes all oriented towards the tunnel vision of a single buyer making a non-sophisticated decision. Today’s realities tell us otherwise.
Buying Cycles Are Getting Longer
Counterintuitive to today’s hyper-connected and hyper-speed world is the acknowledgement that buying cycles in complex B2B Sales situations are actually getting longer. Increasing need for more knowledge, more advisement on problem-solving, more modifications and customizations, more participants in buyer networks, and more complex global environments all point towards why buying cycles are getting longer. This means B2B Sales will need to exercise patience in serving in the advisory role and slow down the train on ready-made solutions selling. What we will see here is boiling tension points begin to emerge. Many organizations are still wedded to pipeline thinking and management. Mandated for decades has been to push sales opportunities fast and furiously through the pipeline to meet quarterly projections. Readjusting thinking around this tension point is very much akin to turning a freight ship around in a harbor – it’s going to take a while and some tug boats are definitely going to be needed.
Buyers Are Relating Differently
Emerging generational differences are beginning to sprout into the workforces. A generation is rising that has little knowledge of a world without an Internet, email, social networks, ubiquitous smart phones, and always on connectivity to their social and professional networks. How interactions takes place and how relationships are formed are undergoing major transformations. The implications for B2B Sales is that it will need to look at their buyer groups and determine how advanced they are along these lines and are they impacted significantly with generational differences. Causing a reexamination of what the coveted ratio between field and inside sales should be in the future. Which is better suited to interact with and relate to the social buyer will be the new determining factor on this ratio – as opposed to some arbitrary cut off line between large accounts and small accounts.
Where Is B2B Sales Headed?
These emerging new buyer behaviors will contribute towards the changing face of B2B Sales. They will impact traditional vanguards such as sales planning, sales strategies, pipeline management, sales training, and sales hiring. Solving the decades old marketing and sales alignment issue will need to be reexamined as well. Much of the debate has been around functional definitions as opposed to how an organization best coalesces around changing buyer behaviors and dynamics.
There are three things we can be sure of in the future. One, new buyer behaviors will continue to impact B2B Sales. Two, how we define B2B Sales will undergo drastic change. And lastly, B2B Sales will continue to play a vital role in how organizations engage with buyers in the future.
How is your organization being impacted today? What changes are taking place that you see?
(Image by Kenny Madden © All rights reserved)