The Future of B2B Buying is Closer Than We Think

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B2B Sales and Marketing Executives Need To Adapt to Digital B2B Buying

I recently read a thought-provoking article on the future of B2B buying by Brent Adamson, the author of the Challenger Sale and The Challenger Customer. Brent also serves as Distinguished Vice President for Gartner. He has been one of the brightest thinkers when it comes to B2B sales and marketing. His recent article in the February 01, 2022 issue of Harvard Business Review, Traditional B2B Sales and Marketing Are Becoming Obsolete, echoes similar sentiments about the future of B2B buying I have had for a while. Specifically on the shift to digital b2b buying.

The linear thinking and the associated qualifying, handoffs, serial, and nurturing processes still exist says, Adamson. Even in account-based marketing, you see linear thinking and progression prevalent. From buyers’ point of view, based on buyer interviews I have conducted in the past year, it is painfully obvious that sales and marketing may even be doubling down on this approach.

What Adamson and his Gartner colleagues have noted in various reports the past two years is the rise of digital B2B buying. Leading to this profound statement by Adamson in the article:

For years, however, B2B buying has dramatically evolved to a far more digitally dominant buying behavior, rendering much of that commercial model not only out of date, but nearly obsolete.

Out of date and obsolete. Let that sink in. Here is what I have seen.

While the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated a shift to the use of digital tools, B2B sellers are using them to double down on linear thinking. Accelerating their linear approaches and processes. Still attempting to do the same. As it was on the ground pre-pandemic but now digitally. I liken it to sales and marketing upgrading from a Chevy Malibu to a scooped-up turbo-charged Chevy Camaro. Believing they will be able to get down the buyer highway faster.

Years ago, I wrote about the danger of looking through the lenses of a single buyer. Brent makes a case for adapting to a shift of multi-channel buying. Not only do B2B organizations need to be wary of the single buyer syndrome but also that of the single interaction channel syndrome.

Recently, I wrote about The Great Buyer Resignation that prompted a good discussion on LinkedIn. Stemming from inadequate and painful buying experiences, buyers are simply resigning from engaging in seller processes. Brent says the same this way:

And customers are “voting with their feet,“ leaving many sales reps struggling to provide sufficiently unique value to merit the additional time and effort of person-to-person sales interactions.

Buyers are preferring a sales rep-free buying experience according to Gartner surveys. Brent does point out that in complex sales, this is unrealistic. However, it doesn’t diminish the desire for such. From a behavioral science and buyer research perspective, the fact that the desire is present means that unsatisfactory experiences are just going to amplify the desire even more. Or as Brent notes:

“Simply put, suppliers aren’t selling the way many customers prefer buying.”

Brent and Gartner offer up the remedy of shifting to Unified Commercial Engine thinking. Brent provides a superb example of the company SMART Technologies making this shift. Including a jobs-to-be-done mapping approach sometimes found in product development and the use of user personas. People who know me know I would recommend a more nuanced situational mapping approach – but hey – this is a great start.

It is a bold move by SMART Technologies that appears to be paying off. Impressive numbers have been realized. Such as 48% year-over-year revenue growth. Driving up engagement willingness on the part of buyers and the quality of leads. Kudos to Jenna Pipchuk, head of sales, and Jeff Lowe, head of marketing for being bold in this regard.

Two years of the pandemic have accelerated the shift to digital B2B buying. Before the pandemic, I use to think of the Future of Buying as being 5 to 10 years out. Brent’s article, as well buyer conversations I’ve had in the past two years, tells me the Future B2B of Buying is just about here.

It looks like SMART Technologies is getting ready for the future of buying. Are you?

(You can find Brent’s article here at this link – article. It is well worth the read and augmented by survey data. As well as the Smart Technologies example.)

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