B2B Sales Still Needs A Human Touch

Barry C. Collin

We can easily get lost among the sexy, disruptive and company-changing analytics, automation, customer-driven content exploration and social selling tools that seek to own sales today. As both a heavy tech user and, previously, a software developer, all that innovation does excite me. But as new tech grabs much of the news, we’re letting ourselves become so focused on the digital side that we’ve forgotten it’s only part of the equation.

First, sales can feel subsumed by predictive analytics and other data-driven tools. The goal of these systems is to increase your efficiency and effectiveness by helping you focus on which customers and prospects appear to be the best candidates.

The challenge for these systems is B2B sales is complex in a way individual consumers aren’t. For example, in the mass-appeal B2C world, ever-improving algorithms like those at Amazon.com or Netflix go far to infer and predict what a buyer likes and doesn’t like.

But in our B2B world, companies are internally unique and comprised of groups of buyers and customers that frequently change. That makes understanding a particular sales journey difficult to get a good read on from the outside. It’s nearly impossible for predictive analytics to get things right if there isn’t sufficient data over time to build a digital profile on the company.

Even then, changing groups and complex interchanges between who signs off further degrades the capabilities of algorithms to make accurate assumptions. Unlike binging on Netflix, businesses provide little exposed data on their internal operations. Each purchase is different. It isn’t that these predictive systems are faulty. Misinterpretation of data is where things go wrong.

Sales stays in the picture
B2B sales can also feel increasingly displaced by the new customer-led, content-based journey. Customers frequently believe that by the time they connect with sales, they know more about your offerings and what they can do with them than any sales professional.

The right content delivered well is absolutely required today. But even the most optimized content can’t replace sales because of the inevitable gap between marketing intention and customer retention. Essentially, what you want to communicate isn’t always what’s heard — and that causes huge problems.

When customers consume content, they project their own previous experiences, ideas and biases onto it. Without some interaction with sales to ensure everyone
is aligned, misunderstandings are likely to occur.

Sometimes it’s just about specific applicability for a transaction. Customer self-selection of products may not reveal issues that will arise and derail a sale or cause nightmares post-delivery or install.

Regardless of who is at fault for that miscommunication, who will be blamed? Exactly.

And in a social world, problems quickly leak out to other current and potential customers, trade news and your competitors. That affects your future sale.

No panacea
New technologies and approaches enable both sales and your customers. If your content is done right, your customers have never had a wider array of tools to help them make the informed decision to buy from you.

Likewise, if implemented and interpreted correctly, new analytics for sales can help bring tremendous efficiency to connecting with the right people and closing sales.

But these systems are still simply tools. They aren’t a panacea for the challenges of winning and retaining unique groups of enormously complex human customers.

The solution to today’s data-driven, customer- and content-directed sales journey remains, as always, sales involvement. We don’t relinquish the reins to tools. Your sales force’s abilities to probe, interact and, most importantly, understand your customers and buyers — 
often beyond what they’re aware of — remain the very human sales capabilities we need now more than ever.

We need to be able to address what challenges may arise, which offerings might be a better fit than those requested by the customer, and how to move forward quickly to ensure the greatest possible customer experience and success. Really, isn’t that what we’ve always done?

Today, we have powerful partners in technology. But as long as our customers and buyers remain human, we’ll need to remain very human for them.

Barry C. Collin, IDSA is the CEO of Collin Group, Inc., The Customer Commitment Company™.  He blogs regularly at BarryCollin.com.