Changes in B2B Sales

Dave Kinnear 1-On Leadership, 4-ExtPost

Slow Messaging

When I was in the corporate world, we had an understanding that a human being would answer the phone no later than the second ring. Even when I had an executive assistant, she was to pick up the call. And, if she was not at her desk, I had to pick up the call. Those days are long gone, but phone-tag is still a great B2B pastime.

I was also required to see salespeople and get the detailed technical information I needed for product design. It was the salesperson who brought in all the latest semiconductor product manuals. I had rows of those books on my desk from all

the different vendors on our approved vendor list. The books were their ticket to seeing other engineers responsible for product development and me.

With the pandemic, things have gotten dicier when contacting our B2B customers. Many decision-makers are working from home. They get to let the office phone “screen” their calls and choose when to pick up the messages. Then they can further screen by returning the phone call (or not) when they find the time. And, of course, we can not just “drop by their office” in hopes of them taking a minute to see us in person. All product and service information is available online, so salespeople are even less integrated into the sales process now.

Social Media to the Rescue

Before the stay-at-home orders, most marketers were already moving their programs to find where their corporate customers were on social media and finding ways of putting their content in front of them. The hope is that the decision-maker will see that content and remember to contact the vendor when the need arises.

This trend, to pull selling rather than push sales, is accelerating. Purchasing agents are finding that they do not need to speak with salespeople anymore. They can do their research, chose the product that will fit their needs, and place the order without speaking to anyone.

That sales process has been in place for the B2C world for quite some time now. But B2C pull selling too has expanded to include some of the older generations that have found that the computer is not as scary as they thought. Out of necessity, they have learned to order food, clothing, and products online and have it all delivered to their home. So, that trend has also accelerated these past few months.

Artificial Intelligence

Marketers are employing AI to comb all kinds of marketing data from many different sources. The purpose is to connect the dots on the consumers of products and services. Armed with the information about where a target audience is getting their knowledge, which social media sites they are using, and which competitors they might be considering, a vendor can more effectively place content that adds value for the consumer.

Also, marketing teams are using information from AI to improve the product offering itself. Thus, not only are they able to better place product content information, but they can pass along the customer’s insights to the development team. It is a win-win for everyone in the new sales process.

Accelerating the Accelerating Change!

It is a cliché to say that change is accelerating. We all know that. As business leaders, we live with it every day. I find it interesting, though, how the drastic economic shutdown and the work-from-home environment has forced trends that existed previously to be advanced even more.

I view this as a good thing. While there will be mounting business losses as time goes on, this trial by fire will make the survivors stronger in the long run. There are many new opportunities for growth, business model changes, and marketing message tune-ups. The business leaders I know are up to the challenge and digging in with cautious optimism.