Sales is Never Going Back – How should Sales Enablement Change? Yep, Start With the Buyer.

“There’s no going back to the future and no new normal. This is a watershed moment. B2B sales leaders must embrace change and plan for a very different buying and selling landscape.” 

Mary Shea, PhD, Forrester

“If you think the world will return to field selling after the 2020 pandemic subsides, you will be waiting a long time.”

Sales is never going back.

David Boyce, Chief Strategy Officer,

“The world has evolved. Buying decisions are evaluated by digital natives, and they think differently.”

-Richard Sgro, Modern Sales Pros

As much as you are missing the vendor conferences, onsite visits to customer sites, casual conversation on an elevator ride to the conference room to find out your customer’s favorite Sports team, the 2020 pandemic has accelerated many trends, virtual B2B selling is one of them.

Sales is never going back.

Why not?

In a well researched article Future of Buying, David Boyce explains, an important consideration is buyer preferences.

Our buyers don’t want to go back to how it was.

Workforce is now composed of Digital Natives, or millennials and many of them are in the position of decision-makers (Manager, Senior Manager or Director/VP level). Many Gen-Xers, already adapted to digital know-hows, also don’t consider themselves as Digital Immigrants.

So, when the time comes to on-board a B2B SaaS software, digital natives do Google search, watch product demos, visit vendor sites, read user reviews. By the time a buyer engages with a sales rep, she is already 70-80% of the way to her purchase decision based on self-guided exploration.

The COVID-19 pandemic forced B2B buyers and sellers to go to digital in a massive way. What started out as a crisis response, is here to stay. Last year, October, McKinsey research showed B2B customers are not hesitant to buy big online. The prevailing wisdom of buyers are comfortable buying smaller-ticket items or low volume $/user/month group/team software online does not hold anymore. 70% of B2B decision makers say they are open to making new, fully self-serve or remote purchases in excess of $50,000, and 27 percent would spend more that $500,000.

“The dramatic increase in digital adoption presents a seminal opportunity for B2B organizations. The shift to virtual sales can help sales organizations lower their cost per visit, extend their reach, and significantly improve sales effectiveness—while delighting customers who are demanding these new ways of interacting stick long term and who are likely to reward suppliers that do it well. McKinsey’s 2018–19 Omnichannel Sales Insights Survey revealed that companies offering customers “outstanding digital experiences” alongside “traditional sales experiences” are 1.5–2x more likely to become primary suppliers”. – McKinsey research.

What Are Forward-thinking Sales Leaders Doing?

Some of the most thoughtful revenue leaders are taking advantage of slowdowns to invest in the future.

Build value-selling capabilities. In this remote environment, sales reps need new tools and new skills, in particular those that position and articulate value in a virtual environment.

If you are thinking of teaching sales reps the value of your product or services (dozens of features, anyone?), you got it wrong.

Start thinking from the buyer’s perspective. What is most valuable to your buyers?

Is it Time?

Velocity of getting work done?

Cost due to Covid related Budget constraint?

Stability and peace of mind?

Empowering others / human connection?

Customer-centricity is about starting from the buyer’s point of view. Many companies have accelerated the conversion of in-person value selling training into a combination of video-based training and iteration. They are taking advantage of the stay-at-home sales-rep-model to build skills that are often overdue. They are mapping technical features and benefits of their products compared with their competitors into buyer’s value.

Digital adoption by sellers at breathtaking rates. Digital adoption is not only about being able to have conversation with buyers via Zoom video call or being Always-online with Slack/WhatsApp/WeChat/LinkedIn DM as a trusted concierge to the buyer. Those capabilities are table stakes already.

Enabling sellers with proper technology is an initiative savvy, forward-looking revenue leaders are embarking upon.

Today’s buyers are incredibly busy and overwhelmed with information. Unsurprisingly, over 90% of B2B Tech buyers say they are “not likely at all” to respond to non-personalized messages and cold calls (source : TrustRadius).

Personalization of content for buyer engagement, interactive buyer experience, self-guided product tours, visually attractive prospect and customer experience to enable multiple stakeholders to make decisions – these are some of the strategies that will see widespread adoption.

Several SaaS companies (think Slack, Atlassian, Expensify, and Dropbox) have witnessed tremendous success with Product Led Growth, a GTM strategy that relies on product usage as the primary driver of acquisition, conversion and expansion. Can some of PLG principles be applied to complex B2B sales in a remote environment?

Minimizing friction (complex sign-up process, lack of on-boarding), soliciting customer input to in-app actions, demonstrating value from the product as quickly as possible – these are the key components that led PLG companies forgo spending large sums on traditional marketing and sales activities.

Product-led growth is not for everyone. But, digital adoption by sellers could mean innovative ways to generate pipeline by self-serve content, up-sell and cross-sell based on measuring accurate buyer intent.

Aligning Revenue Team with Buyers. If your buyer is an individual or a small group (say, a small Engineering team using Trello or a startup CEO purchasing Carta), these targets can be sold via marketing solely. But if you are selling Atlassian or Box-like products (which can be delivered online) to larger organizations where significant assistance is required due to multiple stakeholders (IT, Engineering, Product, Marketing, CFO, Security etc) – sellers are facing a buying committee with sometimes conflicting requirements. Recent studies found that buying groups have almost doubled in size to 10 or more people on average.

If the sales reps are talking to VP of Product and the same VP of Product is self-searching on the website and coming up to a different conclusion – both the credibility and deal closure are at risk.

Virtual selling is an opportunity to align revenue teams with different buyer personas via appropriate messaging. Forward-looking Revenue leaders are focussing on comprehensive training and consistent reinforcement to prevent remote teams speaking different languages and conflicting messages, particularly when the GTM team has to deal with a large number of remote buyers.

In second part of this blog, we will look into Sales Enablement changes needed to align with revenue leadership.