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Future of Sales 2025: Why B2B Sales Needs a Digital-First Approach

September 23, 2020

Contributor: Kelly Blum

To meet customers’ new buying preferences and succeed at virtual selling, sales leaders must adopt a digital mindset.

B2B digital commerce, accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic, is now top of mind for most sales organizations. Over the next five years, an even greater rise in digital interactions between buyers and suppliers will break traditional sales models.

The Gartner Future of Sales 2025 report predicts that by 2025, 80% of B2B sales interactions between suppliers and buyers will occur in digital channels. Chief sales officers (CSOs) and other senior sales leaders must accept that buying preferences have permanently changed and, as a result, so too will the role of sellers. 

“ Sales organizations must be able to sell to customers everywhere the customer expects to engage, interact and transact with suppliers”

Gartner defines the future of sales as the permanent transformation of organizations’ sales strategies, processes and allocation of resources, moving from a seller-centric to a buyer-centric orientation and shifting from analog sales processes to hyperautomated, digital-first engagement with customers. 

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“As baby boomers retire and millennials mature into key decision-making positions, a digital-first buying posture will become the norm,” says Cristina Gomez, Managing Vice President, Gartner. “As customers increasingly learn and buy digitally, sales reps become just one of many possible sales channels. Because of this, sales organizations must be able to sell to customers everywhere the customer expects to engage, interact and transact with suppliers.” 

New ways to engage digitally oriented customers

The shift toward Sense Making for today’s digitally focused customer fundamentally changes the skills expected of sellers. Gartner research shows buyers typically only spend 17% of their time meeting with potential suppliers when considering a purchase. With less and less customer face time, virtual selling via digital channels will predominate.

B2B sales reps need to embrace new tools and channels as well as a new manner of engaging customers, matching their sales activity to their customers’ buying practices and information-collecting needs.

To enhance their virtual selling strategies, CSOs and other sales leaders must consider these actions:

Diversify digital selling tools and channels

Sellers need digital tools that build engagement with customers, and particularly with their customers’ decision makers, in a way that replicates the traditional forms of selling. These digital engagement tools are necessary to overcome the challenges of aligning larger groups of internal stakeholders virtually and asynchronously. Furthermore, sellers have to be able to use multiple, different and simultaneous digital sales channels. 

Rethink B2B sales enablement

To learn how to align selling activity to customers’ preferred engagement channels and purchasing journey, sellers will need entirely new methods of sales enablement. Our 2019 survey of B2B sales organizations indicates that sales enablement was the most critical priority last year. The pandemic has accelerated this priority as CSOs seek new techniques to reduce the risk of lost sales. 

Prioritize the seller experience and coaching

To keep sellers engaged and executing sales, CSOs must find the right balance between the technology deployed and the volume of content that sellers interact with to do their jobs. In addition, CSOs and sales enablement leaders must train sellers both synchronously and asynchronously to better optimize virtual sales enablement practices.

The rise in digital interactions will lead to more interdependence of people, processes and technology that will render traditional sales models less reliable over time — something for which most sales organizations are unprepared. To stay relevant and drive revenue, sales leaders need to build adaptive systems that optimize digital interactions.

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