A day of reckoning is fast approaching for nearly 1 million B2B sales representatives who could be displaced because of the consumerization of B2B sales. At least, that’s what Forrester[i] is predicting will happen if B2B sales organizations don’t broaden their conventional approach to selling and adopt a digital strategy that assists the sales professional in aligning with customers’ context and needs.
The reality of our digital commerce ecosystem is that customers are more informed than ever before – this doesn’t just apply to the B2C marketplace, either. The buyers of B2B products and services are doing their due diligence, too.
While most B2B sales organizations are making efforts to automate sales processes and promote digitally enabled commerce, there are critical elements that must come into play to drive meaningful customer relationships that ultimately grow businesses bottom line.
Many industry experts predict that sales automation will turn the B2B sales profession into a fleet of robots. That just won’t happen – automation is not an optimal substitute for the emotional connections that are forged through social interactions. Scientists agree – we are social animals and our brains are wired with the need to connect with others.
The best B2B sales approach leverages technology as a means to make their people more empowered.
Technological developments are enabling the collection and analysis of greater amounts of information, but that can never replace the need for the human touch – rather, it should support humans in their efforts to connect more deeply and efficiently.
Current machine-learning technologies can bring significantly more insight to B2B sales professionals – not only by giving sales reps transparency into the buyer’s history with the business, but also by establishing product and customer relationships that can predict what the customer will purchase next. Through this deeper level of understanding, sales reps can efficiently serve every buyer while providing additional value-add opportunities early on.
A 2016 McKinsey and Company poll of B2B sales organizations reported “only 15 percent of B2B companies feel they have a complete view of their customers (versus 20 percent of consumer companies), and only 19 percent say they understand the customer journeys that matter most to core segments (versus 31 percent of consumer companies).”[ii]
Making a Commitment to Your B2B Purchasers
Going forward, many B2B businesses will need to reconfigure their selling processes more effectively and efficiently for each buying stream. Time should not be spent debating whether to be online or in-person, interacting via the web or through sales reps, digital or human. They need to do both, and create the right mix for their go-to-market programs.
Technology alone cannot strengthen customer experiences. Take, for example, a system powered by artificial intelligence (AI). It can utilize real-time insights to dynamically alter product recommendations and site search to personalize a buyer’s immediate online experience. This approach is fulfilling and necessary for purely transactional relationships; data-driven recommendations can drive additional sales as customers are more likely to find supplementary products that align with their preferences, while collecting additional buyer data. However, without a technology solution that can surface those insights to B2B sellers, it falls short in supporting the human interaction – a component that is integral for complex purchases and that sits at the heart of B2B sales.
Sales organizations must marry the intelligence of predictive suggestion with intuitive, human knowledge to enable collaborative dialogue that is impactful and meaningful enough to deliver positive results and build brand loyalty.
Integrating these intelligent product recommendations and comprehensive insights into a one-to-one interaction allows B2B sales reps to engage customers and improve their experience by delivering a truly individualized buyer experience.
4-Tell’s Smart Commerce Platform is an example of a technology that supports these data-driven interactions. The platform uses a predictive machine-learning engine to reveal product bundling suggestions to sales reps based on buyers real-time ecommerce behavior and comprehensive history – ultimately, creating value-add opportunities for the B2B sales team. These types of platforms combine the best features of both data-driven predictive AI and the nuance of human connectedness to meet purchaser’s expectations and drive stronger customer relationships.
Using this powerful combination allows B2B professionals to go into every conversation with comprehensive information, predictive insight, increased confidence, and higher closing probability. I’ve worked with B2B organizations such as Deny Designs and 2Modern who are successfully implementing this strategy. I firmly believe the 1 million potentially displaced B2B sales professionals will create irreplaceable value through the empowerment and marriage of data analytics and human connectedness.
[i] Forrester Updates “Death Of A (B2b) Salesman” Report: Two Years Later, March 28, 2017[ii] McKinsey and Company. How B2B digital leaders drive five times more revenue growth than their peers, October 2016