March 10, 2021
March 10, 2021
Contributor: Rama Ramaswami
Disruptive buyer dynamics are rewriting the rulebook for B2B sales, demanding digital-first engagement with customers. Five key strategies can help sellers adapt.
Sales leaders must prep their sales organizations to respond to the widespread shifts in B2B customer buying behavior likely over the next five years.
Leading B2B sales organizations will rapidly implement digital selling models, moving away from the long-standing model of sales reps as the primary commercial channel. The Gartner Future of Sales in 2025 report reveals that 50% of chief sales officers will shift their focus from being leaders of sellers to being leaders of selling.
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“Digitally enabled customers, facing dramatically more difficult considerations, are mismatched with today’s sales model,” says Brent Adamson, Distinguished VP, Advisory, Gartner. “The model underserves the customer’s most critical need — confidence in making the best business decisions possible.”
Five strategies are essential to establish a digital-first sales model that helps customers manage the complexities of an end-to-end purchase decision.
Gartner research shows a steady shift of customer preferences from in-person sales interactions to digital channels. B2B buyers spend only 17% of the total purchase journey with sales reps. Because the average deal involves multiple suppliers, a sales rep gets roughly 5% of a customer’s total purchase time. And 44% of millennials prefer no sales rep interaction at all in a B2B setting.
This doesn’t portend the eventual “death of the sales rep,” but it does signal drastic changes needed in the seller role. Sales leaders must deliver significant value through digital and omnichannel sales models, aided by sales professionals who can steer self-learning customers toward more confident decisions.
B2B sales channels need to match the seamless, easy and informative standard of B2C digital platforms. Such transformative change takes time, but it is beginning to happen. For example, complex interactions that traditionally required in-person site visits, such as commercial real estate transactions, are moving into virtual reality.
Customers can demo real estate space, digitally try out their preferred configurations and lease floors in a building without a single personal interaction. In the next five years, sales leaders who fail to create rich, immersive digital experiences risk alienating customers and losing business as a result.
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Customers’ increased digital buying behavior creates a slew of opportunities for analytics- and data-driven sales organizations. Only in the past few years have progressive sales organizations tapped customer data to analyze funnel trends, generate forecasts, qualify opportunities and proactively engage customers.
Over the next five years, high-end analytics will quickly become commonplace, and leading sales organizations will employ dynamic customer engagement models fueled by data sources from all buyer interactions.
Most B2B purchases involve many decision makers and follow a complex, nonlinear path, making it a struggle for customers to make buying decisions. To win deals predictably and consistently, sales leaders need to mitigate this uncertainty.
B2B purchase decisions also depend on customers’ ability to navigate complex institutional change, which may include disruptive operational barriers and market considerations. Such uncertainty leads to a 30% decline in customers’ ability to reach a purchase decision at all, and a 42% reduction in the likelihood of their purchasing a premium product.
Successful sales leaders will need to address both buying uncertainty and change uncertainty. Over the next five years, the best sellers will support organizational change in addition to supporting purchasing decisions.
While the majority of B2B buyers consider supplier information high quality, many find it contradictory. This lowers customer confidence, which greatly reduces the chances of a customer making a significant purchase.
Over the next five years, the best sales organizations will equip their sales professionals to engage customers with supplier information in a different way. Sellers will pivot from being the source of information to helping customers make sense of the information, irrespective of its source.
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Recommended resources for Gartner clients*:
5 Ways the Future of B2B Buying Will Rewrite the Rules of Effective Selling by Brent Adamson and Nick Toman.
*Note that some documents may not be available to all Gartner clients.