Changing for the Better in 2020

There are silver linings to almost any bad situation. Here in the year 2020 (for which “bad situation” is an apt overall descriptor) this certainly applies. 

While many changes are being thrust upon us, and the disruption is often far from welcomed or ideal, there will be long-term benefits in the adjustments and adaptations being implemented by the B2B sales community in response. 

Embracing these silver linings can help your team fend off frustration and fully lean into the positive impacts ultimately yielded by their efforts. Let’s take a look at some of the developing trends that will make life better — for both sales teams and customers — when we come out on the other end of this challenging ordeal.

4 Positive Long-Term Changes for B2B Sales Surfacing in 2020

Focusing on Current Customers

When times are good, it’s not uncommon for sales teams to become narrowly focused on expansion and growth. This is understandable — we all have quotas and goals, and everyone loves landing a big account. But it’s critical that we not set aside our current customers and their needs in the quest for new business.

When the pandemic struck, derailing the economy and causing companies to scale back spending, many sales teams took the opportunity to get back in touch with their existing accounts — inquiring if they can help in new ways, or even just checking in.

“For sales leaders, an emphasis on hypergrowth in late 2019 and early 2020 quickly shifted to a greater focus on serving current customers,” notes the recap of a new podcast episode from Forrester featuring Lessons From The Pandemic For B2B Sales And Marketing Leaders. “The greatest opportunity the pandemic has offered sales and marketing leaders … is to reimagine their processes to be truly customer- and buyer-centric.”

This means, first and foremost, being sure that we are taking care of those who’ve already bought from us. Keep sharing helpful content, just as you would with a prospect you’re trying to win over. Verify that customers are having a good experience with your solution. Work to perpetually strengthen trust and rapport.

This practice can uncover new growth opportunities on its own — be it upselling or cross-selling within the account — but it’s also crucial for retention and renewals. B2B companies are widely scrutinizing their current vendors in this environment.

“Too often, sales teams approaching competitive bids have a false sense of security about clients’ desire to renew,” write Brandon Barrett and Sharon Mullen O’Keefe at Gallup, in discussing Ways to Improve Win Rates in B2B Sales. “The truth is that clients hold incumbents to higher standards — they expect them to be intimately familiar with their business.”

“The best leaders give their sales teams a major edge by continuously gauging impact on the customer’s business — long before the bidding process starts again. They constantly look for ways to improve the relationship and serve as a trusted adviser rather than a transactional vendor.”

Coordinating Around Customer Insights

Because so many companies have seen their business models thrown askew this year, B2B sellers are smartly reacting by digging deeper into data and insights. Rarely has there been more pressure to understand a customer’s specific circumstances. 

The steps we take now to empower data as a driver and guiding force in our strategies will ultimately make us better at resonating with prospective accounts and converting business. 

“Right now is the time to understand how your organization captures the voice of the customer to fuel insights and action,” argues Denzil Samuels at Customer Think, as he outlines 3 Ways to Improve the Post-Pandemic Customer Journey Experience. “Where are there gaps? What are customers asking for? How is the sales pipeline working across the entire organization to maximize visibility and identify red flags and opportunities? When all of these pieces aren’t working together, businesses aren’t just hobbled in attending to their customers, but they blind themselves to new innovation and growth opportunities. Regardless of the pandemic, customers are your greatest asset, and they need to be treated as such.” 

Aligning B2B Content with Buying Stages

It’s one thing to ensure you have content customized for various personas and customer segments. The next step is tailoring sales content to distinct stages of the funnel, so you can speak directly to a buyer’s mindset at the time they’re consuming it.

In her latest article for ClickZ, Jacqueline Dooley lays out the B2B content that can help your sales team close. One of her key points is that, as the buyer’s journey becomes increasingly self-guided, content needs to speak to them where they’re at.

If your customers are still generally in a holding pattern at this time, it might behoove you to tap the marketing team for more upper-funnel content, which informs prospects and assists them as they seek out stability. If the information is impactful and of high quality, it can make a lasting impression and contribute to the formation of a trusted relationship.

Then, as things start to rebound, those buyers may be more primed for lower-funnel and late-stage content. Here, Jacqueline sees a real opportunity.

“Only 14% of content produced by B2B marketers was late-stage or end-of-funnel content. That is, case studies, webinars, and online or offline events,” she writes, referring to the results of a survey from Content Marketing Institute. “You will gain a competitive advantage if you produce more mid-to-late stage content, the kind of content that creates deals.

The Consumerization of B2B Sales

Mike Dickerson, CEO of ClickDimensions, wrote about this subject last week at Forbes.

“B2B companies have a huge problem, and it started years before the global pandemic disrupted the business landscape,” he opens. “Until recently, legacy sales teams have relied heavily on physical sales presentations, happy hours and networking to seal the deal. In the current landscape, however, with the face-to-face component of sales no longer a viable option for most, digital interactions have surged in popularity. As such, the consumerization of B2B marketing and sales efforts is now a priority, and the shift to digitization continues to ramp up.”

What does this “consumerization” entail? Mainly it’s about taking cues from B2C companies in terms of simplifying digital transactions (i.e., ecommerce), leaning harder on personalization and data segmentation (think Amazon and Netflix), and aligning siloed strategies. 

“For B2B companies, it’s important to recognize that they may not ever see the high volume of leads or purchases that a B2C company may experience,” Mike explains. “However, with digital and social marketing, a small budget can go a long way to capture a lead, often connected with a higher price tag than your B2C counterparts.”

Take the Good with the Bad, and Build Upon the Positives

I saw a story recently that brought a smile to my face: Several airlines that have stopped the unfriendly practice of charging hundreds of dollars in flight change fees during the pandemic announced that they’re making the move permanent going forward. It’s a great example of a (perhaps long overdue) improvement to the customer experience rising from the challenges of 2020. 

As B2B sales teams become more buyer-centric by adopting and enhancing the cornerstones mentioned above, customers will benefit. And for that very reason, those organizations that excel in these areas will be positioned to thrive in a post-COVID world.

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