Mckinsey published some interesting research last month, The Future of B2B Sales is Hybrid, reviewing how the pandemic has changed the nature of B2B selling over the last two years. The research has some good data that confirms what we all already knew:
The pandemic has accelerated changes that were already happening in the way B2B customers want to engage and purchase products. And they won’t be going back anytime soon.
This new world is hybrid, self-serve, and multi or omnichannel. And the channels of interaction will continue to increase, not decrease.
Mckinsey notes that the number of channels that customers want to interact with B2B vendors has doubled in the last 5 years, in part driven by the pandemic. But most tech companies were well ahead of this curve, adding chat, mobile apps and video engagement years before the pandemic hit.
There are a few key principles that should drive your B2B sales and GTM strategy and resulting organization. And these principles are not always complimentary, and can conflict and create some tension. Finding the balance of these principles is key to nailing your GTM plans.
Make it as easy as possible for buyers to buy your product however they want
This is so fundamental, and so easy to figure out, but I see too many companies doing this poorly and making it unreasonably hard for their customers to actually buy their products.
Most are putting totally arbitrary rules and demarcations in place that inhibit sales rather than promote them. Any friction you put in the buyer's journey will slow it down and render it less productive.
Customers should be able to buy your products however they want. Don’t force them to buy online if they want to talk to a sales rep. If they are too small for that personal touch, create a low-cost transactional sales team that can take their order profitably. Don’t force customers to talk to a different sales team or partner because of their size (too large or too small), industry or location. Where the opportunity started is where it should be closed (assuming they are capable). Which also means you need to get really good at getting opportunities to the right channel as soon as possible to avoid any handoffs. Handoffs to other teams cause friction and hurt conversions. Don’t force someone happy to video and transact online to meet with your team in person even if they are located nearby. It’s a hybrid world now. Meeting in person is not a measure of commitment.
Many sales teams are organized based on deal sizes and/or channel in order to optimize acquisition costs. This is good in general, and acquisition costs are important for sure, but they should not be hard and fast divisions. Make it super simple for customers to buy. That should be your overriding goal.
When you have hard and rigid rules around organizational divisions, people start to play games to get around them. I’ve seen sales teams try to up-sell a customer to meet an arbitrary bar for minimum deal size so they can get credit for the deal, and wind up losing it since it was not in the customer’s best interest. Their attitude was nonchalance since they would not get credit for the smaller deal anyway. And I’ve seen sales reps try to break one large deal into smaller deals to slip under their max deal size threshold in order to get credit for it. Neither one of these represents a good customer experience.
Focusing solely on acquisition costs can create a very rigid sales model. Remember the LTV of every deal you lose is zero, regardless of the CAC. At least if you win the deal even at a high CAC, you still have the ability to sell more products, more seats, more services over time to improve the LTV and make it a profitable customer long-term.
Make it as efficient as possible for sellers to sell to buyers
But wait, isn’t that totally contradictory to the above core principle about making it easy for customers to buy? Yes it can be, if you focus on one at the expense of the other. The key is to balance the two and find the optimal medium.
Yes you want to organize and direct your sales teams at the opportunities that they are most likely to close. And this often means segmenting the sales team into different groups and focusing them on the market segments where they’ll have the best chance to succeed. I’ve been at companies where the sales team could chase deals of any size and segment. And it was a disaster because sales reps tend to focus on the larger opportunities at the expense of smaller ones regardless of their ability to close larger deals. So they were losing the larger deals and ignoring the smaller deals. If you sell to a wide range of company sizes, it is hard for one sales team to be good at selling to customers of all sizes because the sales motions are so different for different sized companies. Some specialization makes sense.
I’ve also been at a company that had five different sales teams to handle sole proprietor accounts all the way up to enterprise accounts. Each team was focused on a segment with a dramatically different sales cycle, evaluation and decision making process. So separate teams made sense and it worked well. There does need to be some judgment about which teams of sales reps are able to attack and close which deals. That will increase your conversion efficiency. It does, however, put a lot of pressure on the opportunity routing process to get the right opportunities into the hands of the right sales team.
Be careful about restricting your sales team to a specific acquisition channel. I.e., a digital team, a chat team, a phone team and direct or in-person team. Customers don’t restrict themselves to specific channels in their evaluation and engagement and your sales teams should not either. If a chat team needs to get a prospect on the phone and that means a different sales team, you’ve just introduced friction via a handoff into your sales cycle.
Divisions are ok but try to avoid arbitrary rules intended to keep certain sales teams focused on certain customer segments or certain deal sizes that make it harder for customers to buy. There has to be some flexibility in the divisions if the flow of a sales engagement calls for it. Customize sales teams to meet customers' needs, not the other way around. They may require extra tech help, an executive presence or other domain expertise or experience, or more services engagement. Formulaic sales models that can’t be tweaked will be out-performed by those less rigid and more flexible to meet the customer’s needs.
Many vendors have a set path they want to force you down. This does not work and presents you as a vendor that is insensitive to the customer’s needs and will be hard to work with down the road. If I can’t get you to listen to my needs during a sales cycle, what are the chances you’ll listen when the deal is done?
Self-Serve will become your most important channel
So much of the buyer's journey can be automated, but most companies are still trying to engage their sales teams as soon as possible rather than let the journey proceed via self-serve engagement. Understand the buyer's journey in detail for each of your typical customers and figure out key points in that journey that can be facilitated automatically rather than manually.
So much of that journey can be facilitated via self-serve resources and a well-thought out step by step process. And self-serve supports all channels and all sales teams. It can be a force-multiplier.
Make as much of the content a prospect will need available on your website. Post customer success videos. Post both short and quick and long, detailed demos. Post technical specs. Clear competitive differentiators. Analyst reports. Pricing where appropriate. Webinars on key content areas. Typical configurations. All of it will help prospects move through the journey at their own pace. Which will likely be much more rapidly than your sales team can move them by setting up a series of sales calls.
A huge benefit of this is once your sales team does engage, they are now working opportunities well along in their journey, where some high value personal selling and attention is warranted, rather than spending time on low-value early stage qualification and information exchange.
Sales teams can mis-construe the importance of face to face meetings and direct conversations and often hold up progress trying to schedule them. It's not that important nor a critical milestone for most deals. And less so today given the last two years of adaptation. Granted, it is tougher to read the room remotely via video or phone, but a well presented value proposition to solve a critical business need works every time regardless of delivery channel.
As a CMO and CEO, I would get so many cold-calls and email solicitations for technology and solutions of all sorts. Talking with a sales rep is the last thing I want to do when evaluating a vendor’s solution. I knew what our needs were, and tended to investigate technology directly and talk to peers who had experience with it to sort out solutions. A good 5 minute demo video, some customer videos and a clear value proposition on a website can go an enormous way towards helping potential buyers understand the value you can add. It's amazing how few vendors have these simple sales tools available on their websites today.
In this post-pandemic world we now live in, optimize your B2B sales efforts and GTM motions for the new normal by adhering to these basic principles that are valid in any environment. The B2B buying process has changed for good. Be the first of your competitors to optimize for it.