Having borne the heavy brunt of pandemic-forced historic lockdown the world will never be the same again. It still feels unimaginable how the wheels stopped, and the streets wore a deserted look when the human touch had been declared equal to death! Experts opine that the COVID-19 global recession is the worst since the end of the Second World War. According to the April 2021 World Economic Outlook Report published by the IMF, the global economy shrank by 3.5% in 2020, which was a 7% loss compared to the 3.4% October 2019 forecast. The IMF projects that in 2024 the World GDP will be 3% below the no-COVID scenario. For low-income countries (LICs), the GDP is projected at 6%.
The B2B sales industry too has not been able to insulate itself from this global disruption. The industry which is predominantly about human connections and personal touch has undergone a massive shift. As per McKinsey and Wise Marketer surveys, up to 40% of US employees are currently working remotely. Traditional in-person sales calls have dropped by over 50%. 70% of B2B buyers are inclined to spend $50,000 through e-commerce or remote interactions with sales executives and 27% would spend more than $500,000. And, 70% to 80% of B2B buyers prefer remote human interactions or digital services.
The inclination to digital was very much there even before the pandemic. But, pandemic-driven sudden and rapid digitalization is going to change the dynamics of B2B sales operations forever. Apart from adapting to this new normal, sales leaders must reorient their sales operations to navigate these trying times. Let’s explore what are the ways sales leaders can take to make this navigation smooth.
How to Overcome This Tough Situation?
● Rediscover Your Customer
The pandemic has not only affected the buying preferences of a B2B buyer but has also changed his pain points. Sales leaders need to spend time finding out what are these new pain points that their product is expected to solve. Empathy-driven communication that includes both human interactions and advanced technology is the key to understanding the new normal of your customers.
● Redefine Your Sales Operations
Establishing a sense of trust with your customers has been at the core of B2B sales. At a time, when in-person human interactions are diminishing, redefining your sales operations is the way to adapt to this digital-first new normal. Companies need to encourage sales executives to adopt technology faster to connect with customers effectively and quickly. Following are some other tactics that sales leaders can use to redefine their sales operations:
o Establish a sales culture that focuses on people and their emotions
o Make the marketing and sales team work together closely
o Explore new and relevant lead sources
o Focus on forging virtual relationships and not just a digital presence
o Be ready to capture early demand
o Keep updating your strategies and sales materials that promise to address new customer needs and expectations.
● Implement Omnichannel Sales Strategies
While it is true that the pandemic has increased online sales, B2B sales are no longer restricted to just one channel. Buyers are exploring more than one channel such as e-commerce, face-to-face, and remote video conference channels. It is no longer just about buying a cost-effective product but about buying a solution that truly makes a difference to their business.
As per, November 2021 McKinsey B2B Pulse Survey, 94% of US-based B2B decision makers consider B2B omnichannel a reality. Also, B2B customers now regularly use 10 or more channels to interact with sellers. In 2016, the number of these channels was just 5. When it is hard to create customer loyalty which is traditionally considered a mark of business success, sales leaders must make options of face-to-face, remote, and self-service channels available to their customers for better customer engagement.
● Diversify Sales Roles
As the number of sales channels has increased, sales leaders need to diversify sales roles that fulfill the new customer expectations. The same McKinsey B2B Pulse Survey suggests that companies are focused on developing hybrid and digital sales teams as a net 70% of companies increased their hybrid sales team resources in 2021 while 76% of companies grew their hybrid teams. Though the responsibilities of a hybrid sales executive remain the same as those of a field sales executive, he is equipped with more tools in his arsenal such as video conferences, online chats, and e-commerce support.
The decision-makers have reported improvements in sales costs with this diversification of sales roles. Sales leaders will not only have to hire new hybrid sales executives but also have to upgrade their present sales executives to adapt to the new reality.
● Invest In Digital Tools And Upgrade Analytics Engines
Many industry insiders believe that the industry is not yet as digital as it assumes to be! There are examples of companies that have not been able to address the increased consumer demand for digital channels. Urgent investments in digital tools and up-gradation of analytical engines would be the need of the hour for sales leaders to overcome the tough economic situation. As the customers want personalized buying experiences and a tech-based response, sales leaders would need to invest in predictive analytics, virtual sales, pricing, promo thresholds, and sales effectiveness to improve decision-making processes and sales activities in an era of the new normal.
We are all in a generation-shaping moment that would give birth to a new world. While massive digital shift and remote working are significant developments of this moment, going digital or working remotely would not be enough to sail through this transition. Sales leaders need to commit to establishing a sales culture and a mindset that understands the challenges of the new normal and tries to address them with ease, empathy, and elan.