How B2B Sales Leaders Can Separate from the Pack in Today’s Dynamic Markets
By Garrett Rutledge
February 14th, 2022
It’s no secret that the selling process in B2B markets has changed drastically over the last few years. This tangible shift comes as a result of a number of converging factors. Even before the pandemic hit, the need for digital adoption and transformation was notably increasing. Younger, digitally-savvy generations continue to enter the workforce. Growing competition has diluted the traditional methods of selling and increased the need for digital transformation to differentiate how buyers are engaged. Plus, as we've all experienced, COVID-19 put the need for digital business initiatives into hyper-drive. However, this once necessary digital adaption has created a new reality. Thus, B2B leaders find themselves at a decisive moment, will they be in the front of the pack in this new reality or desperately trying to catch up?
The New B2B Normal
Employees, customers, and stakeholders now prefer digital-first approaches, and as a result, new norms, attitudes, and expectations have emerged. According to Gartner, “74% of CSOs have recently or are currently updating their seller competencies for virtual selling.” CSOs are also allocating a greater percentage of their sales budgets into emerging tech, as “88% of CSOs are considering or already executing investments in new technology.” But perhaps the biggest change we’ve seen in the B2B sales markets has been the decreasing need for in-person interaction. According to McKinsey & Company, “more than three quarters of buyers and sellers say they now prefer digital self-serve and remote human engagement over face-to-face interactions.” As a result, B2B companies are shifting their go-to-market strategy approach, as seen in the graphic from McKinsey & Company below.
Amidst the shifting landscape, CSOs have formulated new priorities for 2022. This year, it’s all about growth. In the “2021 Gartner CSO Priorities Pulse Survey,” the following hierarchy of priorities for the year were presented:
Sales pipeline growth is a key initiative in 2022, likely because of the opportunity and hiccups the evolving B2B sales market has created. Relationship management is also essential this year, as is evident in the second and third highest priorities. Each of these areas of focus directly relates to the changes being felt across the board and the impact they’ve had on relationships, engagement, and driving conversions. As mentioned before, we can expect a greater allocation of sales budgets to go towards emerging tech, which can directly help address these problems. But we also can expect budgets to grow, as, in this same survey, Gartner found that 73.1% of CSOs expect an increase in sales budgets for 2022. Regardless of the allocation or size of sales budgets, the main focus has and will continue to be towards investments that'll position B2B organizations to be better equipped for the ever-changing marketplace.
Change is Never Easy
Though leaders have identified the key initiatives to move forward, the drastic shifts in B2B markets have created notable pains for sales teams and leaders. It’s easy to acknowledge change is needed, but it’s much harder to pinpoint where to adapt and how to do so. The decreasing need and availability of in-person interaction have diluted other forms of demand generation and engagement. There are diminishing returns on pipeline and relationship-building activities across the board, from cold-calling, email outreach, and even social media initiatives. In the face of a dynamic environment, leaders are also experiencing shrinking pipelines, reduced seller effectiveness and confidence, difficulty forecasting future revenues, and much more. As the hyper-digital landscape settles in, B2B leaders find themselves at a crossroads, but with that comes great opportunity. The question becomes whether key decisions and actions will lead to an opportunity gained or an opportunity lost.
The Opportunity Crossroads
For leaders who’ve experienced some of the pains mentioned above, the good news is that the other side of fast-changing environments is a rare opportunity. B2B organizations across the globe have been attempting to manage the exact same shifts, and most have likely felt the same pains. So, as we enter a more settled state of affairs, it becomes a matter of who can, and can't, separate from the pack. The opportunity is tremendous, but so is the pressure to capitalize on it. A failure to act and ‘separate from the pack will likely result in lost market share and revenue loss. Plus, it’ll positionB2B organizations in the endless game of catch-up, which, in a landscape that's constantly evolving and increasingly competitive, could result in dire consequences.
This line from a McKinsey & Company article sums up the situation perfectly: “B2B leaders that commit to further digitizing their go-to-market models should derive competitive advantage in the form of more—and more loyal—customers than their slower-moving peers.” Simply put, action is needed and it’s needed now.
How to Capitalize on the Situation
Given the need to act quickly and produce results, B2B leaders should increase investments in emerging tech. However, the path to sustainable revenue growth isn’t exactly as straightforward as it would seem. In the Gartner CSO Priorities Pulse Survey referenced above, they found that 82.6% of CSOs say tech is important/very important to achieving targets, and 28.9% are satisfied/very satisfied with their current sales tech stack. Yet, just 39.1% are likely/very likely to evaluate new sales technology vendors in 2022. This is the dilemma that B2B leaders everywhere are facing. The value in emerging tech can’t be denied, but past experiences have proven less fruitful and fuel skepticism.
Nevertheless, failure to act on the emerging tech that can drive digital adoption in today’s world is likely to produce an opportunity l than an opportunity gained; this is an opportunity B2B leaders cannot afford to lose. The focus now should not simply be about investing in tech, but investing in the right tech to fuel sales pipeline growth and seller effectiveness.
Note: in the graphic above, the top section represents the opportunity for CSOs, the middle is the challenge, and the bottom is the suggested action to take.
In this graphic from Gartner, they outline key opportunities and actions for CSOs to drive growth in today’s digital era. Enhancing the virtual selling experience and creating an AI-augmented sales solution are critical points of emphasis for CSOs. In regards to virtual selling, they mention seller competency and hiring the right sellers to deliver exceptional experiences. However, the other key element here is the tech itself that’s enabling these sellers to deliver “rep-mediated digital experiences.” From a usability perspective, it’s important any new tech brought into the sales stack or selling process will empower sellers to deliver a quality, end-to-end digital experience for potential buyers. The customer experience has to be a symbiotic process between tech and reps, and many tech providers make it challenging for reps to be seamlessly integrated into the digital experience being provided. Thus, it’s imperative not just to prioritize a seller’s capabilities to sell virtually but also the capability of the tech itself and how it integrates into existing workflows.
Leveraging an AI-Augmented Sales Function
The second key action outlined above was creating an AI-augmented sales function. There’s often a misconception that AI is automatically an overtaking force, that it’ll replace reps with automated bots. In reality, an AI-enabled tool or AI SaaS service should be more supplemental in nature. Where AI should take over, would be in the repetitive, non-value-adding activities that gobble up rep’s time and keep them from the direct selling activities that drive results. As was the case with the ideal virtual selling approach, the goal is empowerment, not a replacement of the sales team. Which, in today’s dynamic B2B landscape, is more important than ever.
AI can notably help in pipeline build and hitting growth targets via its remarkable ability to handle mass amounts of data and instantly translate the information into real-time insights. To leverage such capabilities, as Forrester notes “B2B orgs must have well-defined, buyer-centric, and integrated processes and infrastructure.” Though the digital frontier and its many customer touchpoints have often presented challenges for B2B sellers, the benefit is buyers leave behind wells of data to be responsibly leveraged. This data should be used to deliver personalized experiences for potential buyers at every touchpoint. Only AI can manage data at such a scale to enable hyper-personalization for each buyer and foster better relationships with target markets.
Ideally, AI can serve as an organization's one-stop shop for a comprehensive, tech-enabled, and fully integrated solution built specifically for selling in the digital world.
Leveraging an AI-Augmented Sales Function
B2B organizations, and particularly sales teams, find themselves in a unique situation. The risk is high, and so is the reward. But in the dynamic B2B markets of present-day, the organizations that’ll find themselves on top will be those best suited for flexibility and agility. Whereas the organizations that’ll end up on the bottom will likely be those who failed to act or evolve fast enough. Further digital adoption and investment in emerging tech like AI, is the best approach for establishing a modern regime and capitalizing on the opportunity at hand.
At Aptivio, we’ve been bracing for this evolution. We’ve created a disruptive Buyer Intent AI engine that delivers an all-in-one AI-augmented sales function that’s built for the future of sales. To learn more about our approach, view our brief demo video.