The global pandemic accelerated long-standing digital buying and virtual selling trends, but many sales organizations – like the rest of us – were not fully prepared for the overnight change. As sales organizations scramble to adjust to an environment where how they sell no longer aligns with how customers buy, only 6% of chief sales officers (CSOs) are extremely confident in their team’s ability to meet or exceed revenue goals.
Three specific changes in buying and selling dynamics are making it difficult for sales organizations to succeed:
- The buying journey is remarkably nonlinear: While most suppliers still use a linear pipeline to represent deal progress, 96% of buyers revisit at least one buying activity.
- Digital channels are more important than ever: Buyers switch between self-service digital and seller-led channels throughout the purchase journey with 33% indicating a preference to not engage with a sales rep.
- High-quality information is a commodity: Thought leadership, long seen as the best way to differentiate yourself, has become table stakes with 89% of buyers saying the information they encounter is high-quality.
To help sales leaders adapt and thrive in this new sales environment, Gartner examined survey data from thousands of B2B buyers, sellers, and sales leaders and had in-depth discussions with more than 250 CSOs.
During this process we identified four areas where the traditional approach to selling is holding back success, and where forward-looking commercial leaders are creating customer purchase experiences that increase confidence and reduce buying effort. Sales teams that succeed in creating such an experience are 3.6 times more likely to win high-quality deals.
#1 Unify Sales, Marketing and Service with a Parallel Go-To-Market Strategy
Most organizations’ go-to-market strategies have not kept pace with shifts to non-linear buying and are still built around serial engagements where siloed teams help customers at different stages of the customer life cycle.
Adapting to non-linear buying requires moving from a traditional serial approach to parallel engagements. A parallel structure replaces vertical functional silos with horizontal teams where marketing, sales, and service resources work together to help buyers complete critical buying tasks, simultaneously.
SMART Technologies’ is an example of a company that recognized the need to adapt; it rebuilt its commercial operations around parallel engagements and was rewarded with a 48% year-over-year increase in revenue. Sales, marketing, and service leaders worked together to understand and realign commercial resources around the key activities where customers needed help.
When this exercise was complete, SMART ended up with five new roles aligned to discrete stages in the customer journey:
- Learn experts help customers realize a need and understand how it translates into a purchase.
- Buy experts support the purchase — from reviewing alternative solutions to testing the different options.
- Order/Ship/Install experts are responsible for channel enablement.
- Adopt experts help with implementation and technology usage.
- Support experts assist customers with day-to-day product issues.
Employees formally report to managers in their functional stage of commercial expertise, but are also organized into regional “pods,” where their day-to-day activities are coordinated by a pod leader. This matrixed structure fosters teamwork at scale among pod members who previously would have been on different functional teams, while giving pod leaders access to cross-functional resources.
#2 Ensure Consistent Information Across Digital and Human Channels
Buyers moving between digital and human channels frequently encounter conflicting information. This creates a disconnected experience where customers must reconcile competing claims, often derailing purchase decisions.
To better reflect customers’ channel switching tendencies, CSOs must develop a customer engagement strategy that takes into account all possible buyer touchpoints and creates a unified experience where the information customers encounter is consistent, connected and complete.
Creating coordinated customer engagements starts with conducting a ‘red team’ information review where a small number of sales, marketing and service employees act as mock customers scouring engagement points looking for inconsistent information or gaps.
#3 Help B2B Customers be More Confident in Their Decisions
Successful sales execution today doesn’t focus solely on providing more information, but rather on helping B2B customers feel more confident in their purchase decisions.
Increasing decision confidence – a customer’s belief and affirmation of sound judgment when making a purchase – is key to driving revenue growth. Organizational complexity, not a lack of information, is the key roadblock most buyers face as they cope with conflicting priorities and high levels of uncertainty. Buyers don’t need more information from sellers; they need to feel more confident utilizing the information they have to navigate the decision-making process to make a purchase.
To overcome this challenge and help drive customer confidence, sales organizations should pursue two strategies to support buyers:
- Sense Making — help customers evaluate and reconcile overwhelming or conflicting information by elevating customers’ perspective on the information they’ve encountered and simply make sense of it.
- Buyer Enablement — help customers manage the complexities of an end-to-end purchase decision and navigate the implications for their business.
#4 Use Analytics Today to Prepare for Tomorrow
Many organizations only see the promise of AI to aid data-driven decision making and grow revenue, but most are struggling to leverage its full potential. AI’s low adoption is often due to foundational issues, namely insufficient data quality, talent gaps and functional misalignment preventing CSOs from taking advantage of the technology. Correcting this requires maturity in four foundational areas:
- Data quality guidelines are standardized throughout the organization, and include automatic and manual data quality checks.
- Sales analytics talent has the technical skills to conduct advanced analytics, and the business acumen necessary to work with stakeholders.
- Analytics teams are structured to influence senior stakeholders and capitalize on efficiencies across commercial functions.
- Tool investments take into account process and talent limitations, and include a careful impact analysis.
When CSOs prioritize these four growth areas they are able to differentiate their organization from competitors by delivering a customer-centric experience that more closely aligns with buyers’ evolving preferences. This is the key to unlocking revenue growth in today’s uncertain times.