The B2B sales landscape has shifted, and the way businesses buy from and sell to each other has been undergoing a massive change. As this landscape of business-to-business sales continues to evolve along with technological advances, one thing remains the same: nurturing customer relationships will always help close sales.
Relationship-building isn’t the only aspect of successful selling. Buyers in the B2B market are highly educated, have growing expectations in terms of digital commerce, and new perspectives on effective relationship selling. Luckily, a new set of tools have emerged to help sales professionals make the most of both the technology they’re already using and data to which they have access to boost sales productivity.
These seller enablement tools are part of the new landscape of B2B selling, and as sellers adapt they should embrace the technologies that have been designed specifically for their roles.
B2B landscape has shifted, and customers are leading the charge
A huge part of the change in B2B selling is that potential buyers no longer rely on the salesperson as the most important resource in terms of product research. Buyers are doing independent research online and have access to far more information than ever before.
By 2014, according to a buyer preferences study by ITSMA, B2B buyers were already spending more time online than offline to keep up with industry trends and research potential solutions.
It’s been reported that the top five sources of information in the B2B buyer’s decision-making process include:
- Subject matter experts from industry and third parties
- Past experience with a vendor
- Vendor websites
- Industry events, conferences, and trade shows
- Peers or colleagues
Vendor salespeople were number nine on the list. B2B buyers are for the most part identifying their own needs, and involving vendor salespeople much later in the buying process.
This is where customer relationships come in. Although buyers might be researching on their own and engaging with sales professionals later in the buying process, it’s still the customer-vendor relationship that will influence sales outcomes.
It’s the responsibility of the salesperson to build trust with the buyer—they are still the face of the sale and the human point of contact. According to a 2018 survey, four key customer expectations shape B2B buyers’ perceptions of sellers:
- Understanding their business and them as individuals
- Listening, not just talking
- Focusing on the post-sale relationship
- Providing useful insights and perspectives.
B2B buyers have changed
The global pandemic saw a significant shift to digital and remote solutions, and B2B sales trends followed suit. Constellation Research reported substantial growth in digital commerce in B2B companies, often even outpacing growth in business with B2C companies. In a global Salesforce study of B2B organizations, 30% of respondents said their companies generated more than half their revenue through digital channels in 2020. And 55% expect digital channels to account for at least half of their business by 2023.
These figures, along with a report by Bloom that showed the volume of traffic to B2B commerce sites increased more than 33% over 2020, indicate that B2B buyers are interested in more self-service options for transactions. This again reiterates the importance of the human aspect that a B2B salesperson offers: they must become an irreplaceable, trusted advisor.
How do sales teams adapt? (Tech)
As with every other industry, B2B sales professionals had to adapt to the remote workplace. Connecting with customers got a lot more challenging without in-person interactions. Sellers depend on the ability to assess buyers’ needs and navigate the trade-off options and administrative tasks to meet those needs. Now, the challenge was accessing as much insight into their buyer’s needs as possible, without actually meeting them face-to-face.
Many looked to their customer relationship management (CRM) system, which holds all the customer data. Isn’t CRM supposed to make navigating client data easy? It was supposed to be the daily tool helping sellers organize their information, and sales leaders and executives manage the pipeline. Sadly, though, many were let down by their CRM, which in its current state didn’t seem to address the challenges that sellers were facing because it was rife with inaccurate data, and was time-consuming to use. Sellers more than ever needed more time spent on customer relationships, not data entry.
Solution: Make your CRM work better
Sales teams who leveraged their CRM data by adopting seller enablement tools turned out to be the most agile during the shift to remote work. Because these kinds of tools help salespeople maintain data with minimal effort, clean up dirty data, and give valuable insight into client relationships, they offered a real solution to the challenges salespeople were facing. Seller enablement tools fundamentally differ from most CRM systems for one simple reason: They are designed for sellers and the way they actually get work done.
The B2b sales landscape has indeed shifted, and to learn more these changes and the technologies that are supporting them—and even a few tips for navigating your purchase decision,—watch our on-demand webinar The Shifting Landscape: B2B Selling & Sales Tech featuring myself and L. Nicole French, VP and Principal Analyst at Constellation Research.