It’s no secret that B2B selling has always been difficult. But it may be even more so today. Salespeople feel they no longer have control over the sales process. As studies show, B2B buyers increasingly prefer to research and select products themselves, without being influenced by a seller:
- Only 29% of buyers want to speak to a seller to learn more about the product.
- 57% of purchasing decisions are made before any telephone contact.
- 34% of sales reps agree that B2B sales have become more difficult.
But this is not inevitable. If you want to continue selling as much as you did in the past, you must first understand the new dynamics and trends in B2B selling. Next, you need to familiarize yourself with the new sales strategies that will help you achieve your business goals.
This is the subject of this article. Find out how to evolve your B2B sales processes.
Today’s B2B buying process is not the same as it was yesterday
The B2B sales process has continued to undergo great changes in recent years. The business strategies that worked in the past, for the most part, no longer work today. If you are in B2B sales, you will surely have realized that the processes are much more difficult today. Before, when a decision-maker needed a product or a solution, he contacted different salespeople to be presented with the proposed offers and negotiate. If he was satisfied with an offer, he would buy. The process was pretty straightforward. Marketing was responsible for generating the leads, getting leads into the conversion funnel. Salespeople were responsible for turning leads into customers. It was a predictive model.
The B2B customer journey has changed dramatically. Today, a B2B decision-maker goes through an impressive number of steps before buying:
- The decision-maker identifies the problem.
- He is researching the internet to qualify his problem.
- He continues his research on the internet to identify all potential solutions.
- He asks those around him for recommendations and analyzes what Internet users say about the solutions offered on social networks, forums, etc.
- For each existing solution, he types his name in Google and reads reviews.
- He tests the proposed solutions during a trial period.
- During this process, he may need to click on an advertisement offering a solution to his problem.
- After he has drawn all the available information, and only afterward, he contacts the companies offering the selected solution (s).
In short, the B2B decision-maker has become much more independent. A study has shown that when the decision-maker first contacted the company, between 60% and 70% of the decision-making process had already been completed. B2B sellers seem to have a lot less hold. It is the decision-makers who are in a strong position. These changes in the B2B buying journey have increased marketing. Marketing teams have a lot more work than before! They are the ones who can influence potential buyers in their research phase, particularly through content marketing. The role of salespeople has been reduced, although it remains decisive in many cases for closing sales. These changes imply profound changes in the way of considering the B2B sales process.
Portrait of the new B2B decision maker/buyer
In a video posted on YouTube, Google B2B director Hanne Tuomisto-Inch recalled that the average age of B2B decision-makers has fallen significantly over time. Today there are a significant number of people between the ages of 18 and 35 who have the power to make purchasing decisions within their company. These young decision-makers have grown up with new technologies. They use them daily to feed their decision-making process. These sociological developments have led to a revolution in the act of buying B2B products or services. Many of these young decision-makers have become accustomed to researching the internet themselves, obtaining information, and reading content on their own rather than contacting companies. An Accenture study showed that 94% of B2B buyers admitted to researching the internet before making a decision. The same study shows that decision-makers use a considerable number of digital sources to make their decisions: websites, search engines, media and blogs, social networks… This is the first big development.
Second observation: the modern decision-maker has become much more skeptical of marketing and sales messages. A Forrester report showed that 59% of buyers preferred to do their research online rather than interacting with a salesperson, figuring that a salesperson’s goal is to sell more than to provide real solutions. The same study indicates, unsurprisingly, that for 68% of decision-makers, the priority is to be in contact with a salesperson who listens to their needs and provides them with relevant information. The study also shows that salespeople who include a social selling dimension in their strategy tended to perform better.
Another important change is that modern decision-makers are taking, on average, longer than before to make their purchasing decision. The length of the sales cycle has increased by 22% over the past 5 years. There are several explanations for this. First of all, there are usually more people involved in the decision-making. Another explanation is that, again, decision-makers have access to much more information. Consulting all the available information takes time.
Another development lies in the role of recommendations. Modern decision-makers place great weight on the recommendations of their peers. They increasingly use social networks, forums, and review sites to find out what others think. A recent study from Forrester showed that decision-makers can discover 3 pieces of content about your business for every piece of content you create. And decision-makers attach great importance to this third-party content. Word of mouth is the biggest influencer more than ever.
All this to say that companies must completely review their B2B sales approach and face the new challenges that are needed:
- The increase in available information allows prospects to move forward through the sales process on their own, without needing to interact with salespeople. As a result, the influence of sellers on the buying decision is much less than in the past.
- Marketing and sales teams tend to be less and less aligned. The evolution and complexity of B2B sales processes lead to confusion of roles and responsibilities.
- Buyers are increasingly skeptical of marketing and sales messages. More generally, they have less and less confidence in the speech of company representatives.
- While the influence of salespeople has decreased a lot, that of social networks and peers has increased a lot.
How to develop your B2B sales processes to meet the new demands of decision-makers?
Faced with these new demands from decision-makers, how to adapt? How to develop your B2B sales process? Let’s say it right away: you can face these new challenges, it’s possible. Here are 3 effective approaches to generate better leads and achieve your business goals.
# 1 Support prospects in their purchasing decision with content marketing
Just because modern decision-makers prefer to conduct their research on the internet themselves, doesn’t mean they can’t be brought in to interact with you during the process. It is even the opposite. B2B buyers are heavy consumers of digital content. They research and read content throughout the decision-making process. If the information has become easily accessible thanks to the internet, it is not always easy to find THE right information.
It is precisely here that your role begins, that you can enter the scene. Create content to respond to the issues your prospects have at different stages of their journey. We encourage you to create a content library, a resource center listing your guides, articles, white papers, case studies.
All this content can be shared by your salespeople to prospects when the time comes to provide them with the necessary information and encourage them to move forward in the conversion funnel. You are not convinced by this approach and the role of content? Here are some statistics that may make you change your mind:
- 95% of decision-makers prefer sellers who are able to provide them with content and information to help them navigate the different stages of their journey.
- 68% of consumers have a more positive feeling towards the brand when they have had the opportunity to consume content offered by it.
- 82% of buyers read at least 5 pieces of content from the selected seller.
- Companies that implement a content strategy achieve better business performance.
# 2 Turn your salespeople into experts in their field
Sending your prospects relevant content will help you make more sales, that’s for sure. But that’s not the only way to use the content. Another approach is to turn your salespeople into experts in their field. As we have seen, B2B buyers have become more and more skeptical of marketing and sales messages. We have also seen that decision-makers were eager to interact with salespeople who were attentive to their needs and able to help them by providing them with relevant information.
Imagine salespeople able to transform into advisors and share content created by them for your business blog? Imagine CRM advisers capable of producing and publishing articles with high added value on developments in Customer Relations and giving their advice on optimizing customer dialogue? The content not only allows you to provide information to your prospects but also to position your various salespeople as experts. This is the best way to seduce your target customers and give them confidence in your brand.
# 3 align your marketing team and sales team
According to several studies, a poor alignment between marketing and salesperson can cost 10% or more of a company’s annual revenue. It is no wonder. The problems resulting from a misalignment of the two functions are numerous:
- Inability to agree on the definition of a “qualified lead”, resulting in the transmission through the marketing of leads that salespeople cannot transform.
- Lack of content library unification, preventing sales reps from delivering relevant content to prospects at the right time. However, we have seen the importance of content sharing.
- Inappropriate choice of KPIs that prevent teams from progressing and improving their performance over time.
Conversely, 56% of companies with aligned teams succeed in achieving their business goals (and 19% of them exceed them). Apart from the revenue issue, aligning marketing and sales offers other benefits in terms of brand awareness, average order amount, etc.
How do you get marketing and sales aligned? The answer may not surprise you: thanks to the content! Here is how in concrete terms:
- Create a content library, bringing together all the content for your target created by marketers and your salespeople.
- Have your marketing team educate the sales team on the best way to use the available content to generate engagement from prospects, moving them up the funnel.
- Get your sales team involved in content creation, whether that’s providing ideas to the marketing team or having your sales reps write content.
- Hold regular meetings with both teams to better coordinate efforts on both sides.
B2B selling has changed dramatically over the past 5-10 years. Gone are the days of just waiting for prospects to arrive. You must be proactive, identify the channels on which your prospects are, and make them come to you by offering them quality and relevant content (= responding to their issues, their needs). More than ever, salespeople need to work hand-in-hand with the marketing team and leverage content to move leads through the pipeline. In an age dominated by information and its free flow, the key lies in the ability of the company to create content and exploit it.