The pandemic radically changed business-to-business (B2B) sales. It accelerated digital and remote selling, turning “outside” sales reps into “inside” sales reps almost overnight. One positive outcome is the emergent “hybrid” sales model that can be less constrained, more nimble, and more efficient. If designed correctly, this hybrid model enables sales teams to better align with customers, stages of the sales funnel, and different sales channels, including video, phone, apps, and occasional in-person visits. And this shift in sales alignment is needed when you consider that the average number of contact attempts required to yield a quality conversation has more than doubled in the past decade, according to recent research from the Bridge Group.
But this more collaborative, team-oriented sales model involves many more potential touch points, resulting in the possibility of fumbled handoffs and inconsistent buying experiences. It also may dictate slightly different sales rep profiles and skill sets that require sales leaders to retrain or upgrade their teams. That puts pressure on organizations’ often overstretched training capabilities.
Even with a potential recession looming, sales leaders are still facing labor shortages and heavy competition for top sales talent. Some of the best performers are leaving the workforce as part of the Great Resignation or heading to a better opportunity in a competitive job market. Sales leaders must find innovative ways to source new talent with the right skills while also investing in existing team members to upskill and retain them.
Buyers are also changing. Recent data show that a significant growing number of B2B customers are expressing a strong preference for a “rep-free” buying experience and do not want to interact with a salesperson at all. Thus, in addition to a new selling model, a new buying model that offers a B2B portal and omnichannel purchase experience is also needed to be competitive.
Given these trends, where should sales leaders be investing to position their organization for sales growth? Here are five areas where we believe you can make a difference.
Rethink sales roles and responsibilities to align with the sales funnel. The old “inside/outside” sales model typically depended on “lone-wolf” field sellers who were expensive, hard to find, and difficult to develop. The newer hybrid sales model creates more of a team sport that brings specialized sales skills aligned to each stage of the sales funnel.
This more modern hybrid sales alignment helps sales teams better focus their tactics on prospecting, qualifying, and closing, and sales leaders can better focus on hiring the specific skills they need at each stage of the funnel. For example, a person focused on digital-lead generation will have a much different skill set than someone focused on deal closing, which can involve specific knowledge of terms and conditions as well as addressing unique customer objections. This trend is supported by Forrester research that found companies with alignment of the people, processes, and technology that directly influence demand across sales and marketing achieve 36% more revenue growth and up to 28% more profitability.
This more modern hybrid sales alignment helps sales teams better focus their tactics on prospecting, qualifying, and closing, and sales leaders can better focus on hiring the specific skills they need at each stage of the funnel
To prevent prospects from falling through the cracks, sales roles and responsibilities must be well defined and good communication practices established around key customer handoffs. If you are still using a traditional sales model, you should consider taking steps to modernize your roles to be more collaborative along the sales funnel to capture these key benefits.
Redefine your sales organization’s structure and coverage. Moving to a “hybrid” sales model has implications for your sales-organization structure, as well as account and territory coverage. Historically, many sales organization were aligned by geography—given the efficiency of being physically close to the customer. But in today’s digital world with fewer geographical constraints, companies can be more specialized in how they align their resources whether by vertical / customer segment, customer size, or by sales-funnel stage. For example, aligning resources by sales-funnel stage enables you to bring the right experts to the table at the right point of the sales process.
Many companies are also using predictive analytics to determine the buying potential of both prospects and customers. This can help sales managers equitably distribute opportunities and focus sellers on targets with the highest potential.
Invest in sourcing new talent and retaining the salespeople you have. With the battle for talent and the Great Resignation in full swing, sales leaders need to be more creative about sourcing talent while also retraining existing salespeople for the modified “hybrid” sales role. In the current competitive environment, a key benefit of the new hybrid model is improved work/life balance, with less travel and more team collaboration, which can improve job satisfaction and retention. A focused training program enables sales leaders to bring in experienced or lateral hires who may not have all the skills they need and quickly fill gaps with targeted training.
Focus on digital-lead generation and qualification. The pandemic lockdown underscored how important it is to source and qualify new leads beyond the relationships you already have. It also accelerated digital-lead generation toward high-value customer segments. Traditional lead generation tactics like cold calling are being replaced or supplemented by lower-touch digital leads focused on meeting customers “where they are.” Sales should work closely with Marketing to source leads from typical digital sources (such as Google and LinkedIn), as well as from relevant third-party affiliates (such as LendingTree for mortgages, Trivago for travel, and Buyerzone for B2B services) that are becoming initial destinations for shoppers. Leaders in digital-lead generation can cost-effectively source and qualify leads as well as automate the lead-generation process to support their sales teams with higher propensity leads.
This can energize a sales force. For example, a private-equity owned B2B company was recently challenged with high turnover of entry-level salespeople who lost energy after months of cold calling. Focusing on a digital lead-generation strategy helped them to source more qualified leads with a higher propensity to purchase. This was a huge boost for newer salespeople and helped to supplement their other lead-generation activities, positioning them for greater sales success and reduced salesperson churn.
Invest deeply in a B2B portal and other digital tools. The “Amazon effect”—great user experience and one-click purchasing—is changing the expectations of B2B buyers. A growing number of B2B buyers prefer a rep-free buying experience without any salesperson interactions at all. This has tremendous implications for sales leaders because adding more salespeople won’t address this trend. But providing customers the ability to purchase with ease from your B2B sales portal will. Many B2B companies invested heavily in digital portals during the pandemic lockdown due to necessity, and we see this trend continuing. B2B portals provide the ability to scale fast without adding salespeople. While this can be overwhelming, start by prioritizing the customer journeys that matter most to your target customers and show the most potential for automation. Focusing on renewals and repeat purchasers typically pays big dividends.
Invest for success in the digital age
Sales leaders today are facing significant challenges, both in team building and meeting the changing needs of buyers. But those who make smart investments now will be well positioned for future sales success. Making these investments in a new sales culture can attract the next generation of sales talent to a more modern sales organization that’s more nimble and team-oriented. If you take the right steps now to transform sales, you can deliver significant impact and better position your sales organization for future success in the digital age.