The Future of B2B Sales

Author: 
Brad Soper, Andree Radloff and Mark-Daniel Rentschler

What will sales divisions look like in the future? With increased competition, the rapidly expanding role of technology in the sales process, and factors such as digitalization impacting every step of the process, we expect things will be significantly different from the way they are today. There are five developments that companies should pay attention to if they want to be competitive:

  • Traditional sales forces will be cut in half.
  • Sales will become too complex to stay a one-man show.
  • Customized responses will become essential.
  • Close management of the sales team will be crucial.
  • Every process will be standardized and digitalized.

Different users need different sales strategies

The B2B market needs to become as customer-centric as the B2C market. With cutting-edge digital tools, considerably smaller sales teams can gain much more knowledge about their customers and how they intend to use their products. The data gathered through customer relationship management (CRM) solutions and web analytics along with service and usage information from networked machines help sales segment their customers by user profile.

Why should companies do this? Customer segmentation is a tried-and-tested strategy to achieve sales excellence. However, in the future, customer segments will be defined according to customers’ needs and the way they use products, e.g. customers who want real end-to-end solutions vs. customers looking to buy a standalone product.

The first group is more lucrative but requires time-consuming consultation. Dedicating sales teams’ time and energy to managing direct, personal relationships with these customers is key to increasing sales. Contact with the second group, on the other hand, should be as automated as possible. Self-service tools and a well-designed online shop help cater for this segment much more efficiently and free up resources for higher-paying customers.

Team effort, not lone fighters

Selling solutions, not products, is one of the main pieces of advice to win with digital transformation. B2B companies are under pressure to make their offering more holistic and combine their product hardware with user-friendly software to create end-to-end solutions. Sales teams need to fully understand the value provided by these solutions and communicate this value effectively to customers. Simply “selling products” isn’t enough.

Value selling shouldn’t only happen during sales talks. A large number of customers make their purchasing decisions very early on in their customer journey, such as when visiting the company website, skimming a product brochure, or seeing advertising materials. That’s why it’s important to incorporate value selling techniques into online shops and at the other touch points. To do so, companies need to seek the advice of dedicated specialists. Teams that used to just consist of key account managers and “farmers” will be joined by web shop specialists and customer journey advisors.

Standardize and digitalize: Strategic marketing to the rescue

The data used to divide customers into different segments should also be used to steer sales efforts. A large database incorporating internal and external sources can determine, among other things, which sales strategy suits each customer (personal or automated), when the best time for a sales visit is, which kinds of products the sales person proposes, which value story will be the most effective, and whether any up- or cross-selling potential exists.

With this approach, companies will be able to significantly reduce the number of salespeople they need. They can take it one step further by using data to divide sales territories more efficiently. This not only reduces the distance sales reps have to travel, it also increases the amount of time they can spend with their most important customers.

Based in Simon-Kucher & Partners’ Atlanta office, Brad Soper specializes in sales force transformation and pricing excellence in the B2B sector.

Andree Radloff is a Partner in Simon-Kucher & Partners’ Technology and Industrials Competence Center and is based in the Zurich office specializing in sales transformation in the B2B industrial sector.
Mark-Daniel Rentschler is a Senior Director based in Simon-Kucher & Partners‘ Bonn headquarters, specializing in strategy, sales excellence, pricing excellence, and product development.