With the changes that organizations and markets have been subjected to in the past couple of years, it comes as no surprise that B2B buyers’ expectations continue to change too. It’s no longer enough to know your buyers – the ideal scenario is one in which you have built a genuine seller-buyer partnership that allows buyers to make more informed purchase decisions.
Buyers expect sellers to anticipate their next steps, which is no mean feat.
Changing buying habits and the adaptation of new and improved technologies has meant that the way sellers engage with B2B buyers has changed forever. As we adapt to the new normal, sales organizations must deliver on the expectation of creating better experiences, not just for buyers, but for sellers, too.
Data and insights are still key elements for improving decision-making and creating deeper and more meaningful buyer-seller relationships. Another key factor is establishing alignment across revenue teams.
It’s up to sales leaders to recognize, and then act on these new buyer and technology trends, so that sales teams can start selling the way their buyers need them to.
B2B sales leaders need to rethink how they manage their sales organizations in terms of talent, content, knowledge and more. The following are the nine main trends (or focus areas) that we have seen for B2B sales in 2022, and some specifically for sales enablement.
1. Adopting a customer-first sales strategy
The major trend for sales enablement in 2022 is the shift to a customer-first sales strategy. Although this might not sound like news to anyone, it is critical for businesses to be “future fit”.
According to Forrester research director Matthew Guarini, this approach “enables companies to quickly reconfigure business structures and capabilities to meet future customer and employee needs with adaptivity, creativity, and resilience. We call this future fit”.
The pandemic favored those companies that were equipped (with the right attitude and resources) to adapt to a wildly changing sales environment. There is a clear advantage to an adaptive approach, and it is not something businesses have the luxury of ignoring now that the acute crisis is over.
The paradigm has shifted and companies that are content to remain reactive will find themselves devoting an increasingly large percentage of resources to playing catch up. “Our data shows that future-fit companies outperform their peers by 2.8 times,” says Guarini.
Only 40% of businesses are future fit, according to Forrester research, so there’s still time to get ahead of your competition, particularly if your industry has been slow to embrace digital transformation.
Customer-first selling means rethinking the entire sales process so that every interaction is designed to meet a key customer need. It may be a transformative idea for B2B, but that doesn’t mean implementing it has to be disruptive.
So, how can you achieve this? The following advice will help you to create a customer-first sales strategy:
2. Cross-functional alignment is crucial
True growth can only be achieved when there is cross-functional alignment between B2B marketing and other revenue teams. B2B marketing leaders should ensure that their strategy lines up with the wider business strategy, the revenue plan, and the plans for sales and product/service delivery.
3. Leverage your existing data
Most B2B buyers are now digital natives and as such, they are perfectly comfortable interacting with sales teams online and via a wide range of remote platforms. The pandemic accelerated this shift, which is excellent news for sales teams.
Why? Online interactions are a valuable source of buyer behavior data and make designing customer-first strategies easier than before. However, everyone has individual preferences, so buyers will have different preferences for information delivery, sales team interaction and making purchasing decisions.
As an example, data from a sales enablement platform can help your team identify things like purchase probability, opportunity prioritization and the next best opportunities. Once you know those factors, you will be able to create the right type of content for every stage of the sales funnel.
4. Establish an insights-driven sales system
According to Forrester, an insights-driven sales system is a key differentiator for leading sales businesses. The importance of using data for accurate business forecasting needs to be recognized. This may sound like common sense, but getting the data you need can be challenging.
Here is what Forrester recommends: “use data and insights to architect the go-to-market strategy and optimize route-to-market selection, direct sales coverage, partner coverage, and sales assignment models”.
Further, they advise to “go beyond total addressable market and use information on purchase probability to inform optimal market coverage”.
Data and insights can tell sellers which opportunities should be prioritized and what to do next to move opportunities along the funnel. Sellers can also find better ways to interact with buyers by using existing insights (which can, for example, be collated in a CRM or sales enablement platform) to identify any opportunities for coaching.
Chief sales officers and sales executives must build insights-driven sales systems to achieve business outcomes.
Today’s B2B buyers are digital-first, and the data available from digital interactions can predict which companies, opportunities and actions are most likely to yield the best outcome.
5. Automate, automate, automate
Automation is nothing new in B2B sales. However, to a larger extent, not taking full advantage of automation will negatively affect organizations.
Forrester recommends ensuring that “sellers are able to view buyer interaction data, so they can anticipate the knowledge and needs of the buyer and provide value throughout the engagement cycle. Automate this wherever possible”. This includes linking all relevant contacts to a buying opportunity.
94% of B2B buying decisions are made by groups of three or more people. When sellers can see the bigger picture, they are able to see patterns and anticipate next steps more effectively, triggering funnel events instead of just reacting to them.
6. Just in time content
Effective content is a vital part of the purchasing process and buyers are demanding it more than ever. The difference for 2022 is that buyers are happy to gather information without interacting directly with a sales rep. According to Forrester’s 2021 B2B Buying Study, purchase interactions* have jumped from an average of 17 in 2019 to 27 in 2021.
Companies that find ways to shorten the time between seller requirements and content delivery have a huge advantage. A sales enablement platform can help collate data around how many times a piece of content was downloaded, watched or read.
A major potential bottleneck in content delivery is when marketing and sales have different ideas for what materials are needed and when, as well as what format they should be delivered in.
Optimizing the content pipeline is all about communication. The marketing team should listen to what the sales team needs and optimize its own processes to create it as efficiently as possible. Sales needs to get better at anticipating buyer behavior and automating the early stages so that marketing has enough time to make targeted, quality content.
7. Embrace centralized revenue operations
More than 40% of decision-makers have already implemented a centralized revenue operations function, which the Harvard Business Review defines as “unifying teams, eliminating friction, discovering efficiencies and freeing up bandwidth for innovation”.
Marketing is often overlooked in core function discussions. Forrester research indicates that in 2022, it will become more critical than ever that “[marketing] strategy and action plans synchronize with the business strategy, the revenue plan, and the sales and product functional plans”. Companies that don’t transition to this harmonious way of working will soon find themselves left behind.
8. Develop leadership and coaching strategies
When customers demand change, the sales and marketing teams need to change with them. The shift from short-term, last-minute thinking to long-term, sustainable improvements based on AI insights is a major one. And sales teams – reps and leaders alike – will need help adjusting.
Managers need individualized learning paths for development, focused on creating a coaching mindset that allows them to mentor and empower their teams. Gone are the days of being a high-performing individual contributor working alone.
A robust sales coaching program and the learning and mentorship mentality it develops is already a hallmark of a future-fit sales department. Gartner reports that 40% of companies already have an effective sales coaching team in place. And, with 93% of reps reporting that they are having trouble being effective in a virtual selling environment, companies that don’t invest in coaching will be at a serious disadvantage.
9. Diversify your sales team
Buyer behavior is changing and so are the buyers themselves. They are younger, technically adept and coming from a far wider variety of backgrounds and ethnicities than before. Not taking this into account when hiring new sales reps is a mistake.
Forrester research found that “sales leaders have trusted their instincts on who is the right fit instead of defining a set of competencies for selling success”. Relying on referrals to fill roles results in a homogenous workforce. Your buyers didn’t all go to the same schools, play the same sports or come from the same country. Neither should your sales team.
2022 is the year to be bold. Let’s get started.
*A purchase interaction refers to one individual’s buying journey to obtain information about competing offerings or providers. In the total number, we include self-guided interactions (mostly done via internet research) and personal interactions, which refer to a conversation with a person from either a provider company or third party. Almost all of these conversations took place virtually last year.
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