The Future of Sales

Highlights

  • Buyer-led trends will shift the future of sales. Customers are more connected, informed and empowered, and will continue to exhibit more control in the purchase process.
  • The most successful sellers will adjust their selling process to align with how buyers want to buy. They will respond to buyer trends with increased transparency, data-driven customer insights and a selling process that puts the customer at the center of everything they do.
  • Sellers that ignore unmistakable buyer trends are at risk of disintermediation; not just from buyers but from new digital channels.
Johnny Grow Revenue Growth Consulting

Welcome to the Future of B2B Sales

The sales profession is in transition. It's shifting from an offline, seller-driven push-based model toward a digital-first, data driven and buyer-focused response. Those sellers that adjust to accommodate buyer preferences, behaviors and purchase processes will outperform those that don't.

Here are the market shifts that are defining the future of B2B sales.

Future of Sales

The Future of Sales is Customer Centric

Most organizations are behind in adopting a customer centric operating model. And that's in large part because customer centricity is still more talk than action. It has crossed the chasm in marketing literature and company tag lines but not in company cultures and actual customer engagement.

What company doesn't say they are customer centric? But saying it doesn't make it true. For goodness sake, Comcast says its customer centric. Yea, Comcast. It's crazy.

A revealing study from Bain & Company found that 80% of companies believe they deliver "super experiences." However, the same research shows only 8% of customers agree (Source: Bain & Company, Customer-Led Growth report).

Companies do not get to decide if they are customer centric, customers do, and customers will make their experiences known in public websites and social networks. There is no escaping the truth.

The future belongs to those sellers who apply a customer-first, outside-in focus and shift from a product-centric sales model to one that puts the customer at the center of everything they do.

The Future of Selling Aligns the Buyer and Seller Process

Business to business (B2B) buyers want to use online search and discovery to educate themselves with on demand, accurate and unbiased information. They want more transparency, convenience, and a rewarding browsing experience. They want information parity. And they now get these things from some, but not all sellers.

That creates a strategic opportunity. Sellers that facilitate and compliment the buyers' journey will outperform those that don't.

Be clear, the future will not be kind to sellers that want to negotiate information exchange or hide behind gated content, complex pricing schemes, manipulative practices or sales gamesmanship. These things may be tolerated when there are no alternatives, but there will be even more alternatives in the future.

Customers are more connected, informed, empowered and demanding, and that has forever changed the balance of power. Customers have the upper hand. Fail to give them what they want and you will be replaced by a competitor that does.

This doesn't mean buyers will not engage sellers. They will, albeit later in the sales cycle. This doesn't mean sellers will not execute prescriptive sales processes. They will, but those processes will be aligned with buyer purchase processes and designed to solve for the customer.

The Future of Sales is Digital

In the future, most customer engagement will occur on digital channels.

Sales Interactions on Digital Channels

That stands in contrast to the status quo. Most sellers recognize the rise of digital channels but fail to adapt their selling processes to this customer preference. They continue to push an in-person, offline, single channel communication.

These sellers will be displaced by more progressive competitors who promote multi-channel, multi-experience engagement. It's a massive opportunity for sellers who meet customers on their preferred channels and engage pursuant to their terms.

The future of B2B sales belongs to companies that adopt a digital first customer engagement model, shift from growing salespeople to growing sales channels, harmonize marketing and sales processes, and deliver rich content that facilitates buyer enablement.

Let me emphasize the point of harmonized processes. Digital buyers navigate a combined marketing and sales process. They more quickly collapse what were previously separate marketing and sales functions. And they do not distinguish among separate company departments and will not accept mixed messaging or disjointed processes.

It's critical that disparate data siloes be integrated. It's essential that cross functional business processes be connected, and customers receive consistent messaging and experiences regardless of which department they engage.

The Future of Selling is Insights Driven

B2B buyers increasingly discount the perceived value of most sellers. Generational shifts will exacerbate this trend. Millennials are much more skeptical of salespeople than their generational predecessors and now permeate middle management and lead purchase evaluations. They will be making the final purchase decisions soon.

An increase in skepticism means sellers must step up their game or be marginalized.

Customers still need help but not in the forms of data, facts and vendor information they prefer to get online or from other customers. And they don't need more information to cloud an already complex purchase decision. They need help to make sense of the information and apply the information. They need insights.

Insights are not data, facts or statistics; these are all information. Insights are the reasons, behaviors or learning behind the data, facts or statistics. The dictionary defines an insight as "seeing below the surface". Insights deliver new learning and something that teaches and induces action.

Sellers that understand what each buyer role wants to know, can convert data into insights and can eliminate sources of friction will be valued by customers and gain valuable customer engagement.

The future of B2B sales belongs to sellers that facilitate customer self-learning and compliment that learning with insights that compare alternatives, minimize decision risk and increase buyer confidence.

The Future of Sales is Data Driven

More digital selling will create a lot more data.

Early stage customer digital footprints reveal buyer intent, product interest and purchase timing. That data can be applied to update nurture marketing campaigns or create highly relevant and personalized offers.

Accumulated data can be used to show interaction preferences, track buyer behaviors, measure customer sentiment, determine buyer readiness, calculate lead scores and develop rich customer profiles. It can then be used to supplement sale opportunity strategies or strategic account management plans, deliver highly relevant messaging via mass personalization, and be appended to the 360-degree customer view for even more downstream uses.

At a macro level, tabulated data will show how to best allocate sales resources, how to better align products with customer markets, show what products to promote and which products to retire. When product interest patterns are combined with product utilization measurement, the company can shift from reactive to proactive product innovation.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) will become the sellers primary technology enabler. It is the tool to extract the most valuable nuggets from a goldmine of customer data.

AI will highlight the most important buyer signals. It will predict which accounts can be won and which cannot. It will prioritize which sale opportunities to pursue on any given day based on their propensity to close. It will suggest the next-best-action to advance each pursuit. It will trigger real-time variances such as a decline in customer engagement or an opportunity that becomes at risk. It will then suggest best practices or provide a link to the Sales Playbook to resolve those variances.

AI will not replace salespeople. It will make them more successful.

The most successful sellers will be those that can harvest and apply data to create insights, deliver differentiated customer experiences, solve for the customer and build customer relationships.

Here are the 5 unmistakable trends that will define the future of sales.

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The Point is This

Undeniable buyer-led trends will reshape and reinvent sales strategy, execution and technology. They will also rearrange the vendor pecking order in competitive markets.

Shifts in buyer behaviors and how buyers buy require compensating shifts in how sellers sell. Not all sellers will make the transition but those that do will achieve even greater levels of success.

The future of B2B sales belongs to those professionals willing to leave business as usual behind and adopt a customer-first overarching strategy. That includes aligning their selling process with the buyers purchase process, replacing the delivery of generalized product information with customer insights, and applying a Data Driven Operating Model (DDOM) to convert data into action.

For most companies this will be a wholesale sales transformation. The challenge is significant but the failure to act is fatal.