B2B sales has undergone a dramatic and accelerated digital shift over the past six months. This quick-read draws on conversations we’ve had with sales leaders from across the investment banking and independent research provider (IRP) sector and new analysis published by McKinsey to assess the implications of those changes and identify how technology can be used to the thrive in this new B2B sales environment.
“2020 will be remembered as a watershed moment when B2B buying and selling changed forever.*”
B2B sales has transitioned from being an environment where face-to-face interactions form the large part of relationship building and maintaining, to a discipline which requires an increasing number of high-frequency, high-value digital interactions to manage constantly evolving relationships and opportunities. The move to remote working caused by the pandemic has accelerated a trend which was already becoming apparent in an increasingly digital world. According to new analysis published by McKinsey, B2B sales has undergone a “big digital shift which is here to stay”. This entirely aligns with many of the conversations we’ve been having with sales and operations leaders from investment banks and independent research providers across the City.
Traditional CRM systems which rely on time-consuming, often inaccurate, or inconsistent manual data entry were feasible in the last B2B sales environment. Looking back to the pre-pandemic sales environment (and even before that), pushing prospects down a sales pipeline or maintaining existing client relationships typically required far fewer digital interactions and relied upon face-to-face interactions with fewer stakeholders. The new digital ecosystem which a sales professional now operates in requires a much larger number of digital interactions across a variety of communication channels which results in an undeliverable amount of client interaction data logging. As any sales professional will know, CRM systems are only as good as the data they hold. Poor data in, poor insights out.
Concentrating on the quantity of data alone, however, is a fairly one-dimensional approach. Building, maintaining and nurturing a client relationship is about more than just frequency of interactions. The inter-personal relations which result from face-to-face interactions allow for a far greater level of nuance and understanding. The question for sales leaders who are managing this shift is therefore: how can we continue to measure and understand the human-to-human signals which this new digital B2B sales environment is threatening to obscure?
An excellent case study written by Michael Hagelo, who spent 22 years at Apple and premiered the company’s “I” products, documents the sales strategy which Steve Jobs implemented among Apple’s sales executives. Jobs trained his sales team to use the “storytelling” approach, focussing less on a rigorously scripted sales-pitch and instead empowered his team to listen empathetically and truly understand what their customers were asking for. Jobs was himself renowned for hearing the subtext of what people want, which may not necessarily be what they say; Jobs focussed on the “unspoken clues” of his customer base.
In today’s increasingly fast-paced multi-channel sales environment, listening empathetically, understanding client requirements and managing and maintaining client relationships is becoming more and more of a challenge. As the focus has shifted from face-to-face interactions to digital channels, the customer relationship management systems which we use to support our sales activities also need to shift and adapt accordingly.
A recent Forrester report introduces a new segment of software vendors who are specifically addressing the challenge that today’s B2B sales professionals and leaders are facing; they call it the sales engagement sector. The report opens with the sentence “2020 will be remembered as a watershed moment when B2B buying and selling changed forever” and details how the sales engagement vertical has emerged to address this shift. Forrester does not aim to provide a comprehensive list of providers but does highlight three deliverables which sales organisations should look for when choosing a suitable vendor:
Synapse is the ERI system that delivers on all three of these counts. Leveraging the latest advancements in AI technology, Synapse captures, analyses and understands communications data in real-time and provides analytics which empowers front-office sales personnel, operations and sales managers with actionable insights on client behaviour and trends. Relata specialises in the communication streams that are used for the consumption and dissemination of financial research, providing bespoke NLP deep learning algorithms which can be fine-tuned according to each client’s requirements. Finally, Relata is founded on the belief that data capture and analysis should be automated and AI-driven. We empower users by removing the need for manual data inputs and equip them with client insights which otherwise would remain hidden.
The absence of face-to-face interactions has restricted our ability to measure client relationships using inter-personal signals and “unspoken clues”. Managing a sales pipeline across myriad different communication channels, stakeholders and geographies in today’s environment requires a strategic overhaul in sales approach. Enterprises need to unlock the hidden insights which lie within their unstructured client engagement data, or risk losing significant market share and revenue generating opportunities.
Forrester, The Forrester Wave: Sales Engagement, (Q3 2020)