Deloitte: The Future of B2B Sales is “Experience Selling”

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Late last year I received a copy of an excellent paper reviewing the results of Deloitte’s research into the state of “experience selling.”

I wanted to share some highlights from the report and my discussion with Harry Datwani, a Principal at Deloitte Digital who leads their US Sales Transformation offering.

And yes, sales needs some transforming! My take is that sales orgs have been dragged kicking and screaming to the CX party (by customers) because old habits die hard. Especially in B2B, where the macho “sales makes it happen” culture is hard to change. Many sales reps still believe their company should “speak to me through the compensation plan” and then “get the #[email protected] out of my way”!

My research has found that “winning” CX initiatives have a more consistent focus across the entire journey, including marketing/sales interactions. Less successful CX initiatives tend to focus more on improving customer service (because that’s where problems get reported) and lose sight of the bigger picture that buyers want the complete experience improved.

B2B Buying is Changing

According to Datwani, the study was conducted because the B2B buying process is changing rapidly — driven by customers/buyers. The report notes that “B2B buyers are being influenced by their experiences as consumers” and that the “B2B buyer is shifting from buying products and solutions to buying experiences that generate value from the first interaction to long after the order is placed.”

As a result, B2B customers seek experiences that are personalized, fast and easy, and deliver the outcomes that deliver value to their company. Something like this:

None of this is new news, of course. While the research found that most B2B sales organization are not ready to “compete on experience,” winning sales organizations tend to focus on these actions (quoting from the report):

  1. Reimagining the buying journey from the lens of customer experience (CX), focusing on moments that matter
  2. Orchestrating selling motions which utilize both digital and optimal customer-facing roles to deliver the right engagement and interactions
  3. Emphasizing the seller experience both internally and for channel partners
  4. Doubling down on customer and sales analytics to deliver prescriptive intelligence to sellers
  5. Modernizing the Sales Operations function to be more strategic, agile, and analytical

What’s the Hold Up?

To me, the most interesting question is: Why has progress been so slow? Datwani’s take is that sales and marketing leaders are still spending too much time on old problems. It’s hard to transform when you’re preoccupied with quotas, sales talent management, and so on. In others, making your numbers.

He agreed that culture is a big part of the problem. While sales reps and leaders may see buying patterns shifting to de-emphasize the role of sales reps, if the sales organization is making its numbers then why change? Keep in mind, Datwani argues, that these models were developed in the industrial revolution.

Market dynamics are the key to disruption. For example, margins are coming down in financial services, which force a serious re-thinking of how to serve customers. Newer “digitally native” companies don’t have the baggage of old models, so they’re freer to innovate and disrupt.

My take: most companies don’t change until they have to. If sales teams are making quota there’s very little chance of sales leaders embracing CX thinking. New business models and new leaders running them will be required for such a major transformation.

Products and Customer Success

None of this suggests that B2B companies can take their eye off the ball of creating highly competitive products. However, Datwani argues that’s not enough — companies need to offer a “competitive product wrapped in the right experience.”

That experience-wrapped product needs to deliver outcomes — the business value or ROI used to justify the acquisition and implementation. Datwani sees the current “Customer Success” trend as a key part of B2B CX, which is expanding from its start in B2B tech to many other industries.

I agree. Too often CX initiatives are consumed by improving CSAT and streamlining processes, losing sight of the outcomes (success) that matters most in earning loyalty. Ideally, CS and CX thinking need to merge, especially for B2B organizations.

The Road Ahead

To make “experience selling” work requires leaders to take a walk in their customers’ shoes. The right incentives and KPIs are key, says Datwani.

Put another way, if the only thing driving sales reps is quota attainment, don’t expect them to change!

For the brave few that make the leap to a new way of selling, the Deloitte research found a huge difference in performance: 3 times growth at lower costs. The following steps are recommended:

To make this work, CEOs and sales leaders must recognize that B2B buyers are human beings, and they do care about the experience they get wrapped around the product. Here are some practical steps to get started (paraphrasing the report):

  1. Launch new efforts to understand their customer buying processes and sales and partner processes by conducting interviews, surveys, and field research through customer and partner advisory boards.
  2. Revisit operating models with a focus on bringing marketing, sales, and service closer together along with strategy and execution. Get rid of org silos!
  3. Change talent models to build a more agile and data-driven culture that will drive the transformation.

You can learn more in Deloitte’s blog post here.

1 COMMENT

  1. Bob,

    I agree with you that “CS and CX thinking need to merge, especially for B2B organizations.”

    In your opinion, besides mapping buyers’ journeys and conducting respective CX surveys, what else are customer experience professionals more appropriate or effective than customer success executives to perform in a B2B company?

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