In this segment of “Office Optional with Larry English,” Larry discusses the future of hybrid B2B sales.
Before 2020, B2B sales of complex solutions and services were conducted almost entirely in person. All that changed with the pandemic. Now, much of the process from lead identification to close is done virtually, requiring organizations and salespeople to hone new methods of connecting and communicating with potential buyers.
Like so many other aspects of work, B2B selling isn’t going back to a pre-pandemic normal. In a late 2020 McKinsey survey of B2B buyers, just 20 percent said they’d prefer returning to traditional sales models. The rest favor the new approach, with the option of using digital sales tools and channels.
Benefits of Digital B2B Selling
Efficiency is perhaps the biggest benefit of digital B2B selling. A HubSpot study found that 64 percent of companies that switched to virtual sales in 2020 met or exceeded revenue goals, compared to just 50 percent of organizations that stuck to traditional models.
In-person meetings eat up a lot of time, especially when you factor in travel for sales reps and subject matter experts (SMEs). It tends to be easier to schedule virtual meetings, too. Everyone has immediate access and control over their calendars these days, whereas previously, it could take a week or more to coordinate time with a C-suite executive’s assistant.
Centric Consulting experienced a spike in sales activity when we transitioned to virtual B2B sales during the crisis. Freed from spending hours on the road traveling between meetings, salespeople could pack more into their day and respond to customers in real time. One study found that when they’re remote, salespeople can interact with four times as many accounts in a given period.
Finally, digital selling allows more people to join sales calls and a recording to be available after the fact for those unable to attend. No more spending valuable time bringing the right SMEs up to speed or details getting lost in translation. In-the-moment course correction is possible on digital sales channels — SMEs can chat privately with salespeople to offer their perspective on questions to ask. All this adds up to more effective sales calls and more efficient communication between sales and SMEs.
Challenges of Digital B2B Selling
When sales activity switched from in-person to digital, the pool of potential customers expanded. No longer constrained by geography, you can target anyone, anywhere. The problem: So can all your competitors.
Salespeople must be able to cut through the constant noise with creative, compelling, personalized messages. Sales teams must become experts at using data to create razor-focused buyer personas, and they must have numbers to back up any claims—it’s no longer enough to simply list your strategy and offerings. Bombarded by options, customers require solid, data-based proof points to make decisions.
Additionally, before reaching out to a solution provider, today’s buyers have already done research into the company and its offerings. The integration between sales and marketing is more important than ever before; the departments must work together to ensure they’re publishing relevant content and enabling prospects to find them in their search online.
For all the efficiencies gained by virtual sales meetings, some things can be lost. Face-to-face conversations allow salespeople to use body language and other nonverbal cues to instantly build rapport and tailor their messaging. It can be difficult to achieve the same level of rapport through a computer screen.
And although everyone surely appreciates the shorter (and more informal) nature of virtual meetings, this also places a burden on salespeople to impress clients in a more concise, compelling manner. Relying on a sales script or detailed sales methodology can help sales professionals stay on track and make the best use of virtual sales calls.
Optimizing B2B Sales With a Hybrid Approach
According to McKinsey, hybrid selling, which will be the most dominant approach by 2024, can drive 50 percent more revenue than traditional selling methods.
A hybrid sales approach utilizing multiple channels to reach and interact with prospects allows organizations to get the best of both worlds—the efficiencies and convenience of digital selling and the interpersonal benefits of face-to-face time with clients. After all, the importance of relationships to sales is never going away, and there’s simply no replacement for in-person meetings to build rapport and trust.
A hybrid sales approach also gives buyers what they want: The ability to customize their relationship with a vendor. Buyers are looking for long-term partnerships. They want their solution partner to understand their business, culture and industry and build personalized solutions that meet their unique needs.
To succeed under a hybrid sales model, sales professionals must be adept at leveraging all forms of communication—they must be able to meet the buyer where they prefer to interact at different points of the sales cycle. Social skills such as having an executive presence in a room and reading body language remain essential in a hybrid sales world.
A research paper from Sandler, a sales methodology, puts it this way: “We foresee the arrival of a hybrid frontline sales professional, who will totally embrace all the advantages that technology provides. At the same time, they must also be prepared for face-to-face sales events, when their prospect/customer/client requires.”
Organizations can optimize their sales cycles by identifying what parts of the process can effectively be done remotely, and which are best completed in person. The right mix will vary from company to company, but at Centric, we’ve found it’s best to meet in person whenever we’re reviewing a proposal or statement of work, introducing our team of experts and going over the budget.
B2B sales was forever changed by the pandemic. By embracing a hybrid approach, companies can continue to build deep, trusting relationships with prospects and clients while also optimizing the sales cycle with more efficient digital tools and channels.