Modernizing Your B2B Sales Journey

Redefining the B2B buyer’s journey isn’t a sales challenge – it’s an information challenge. The companies that best provide customers the information they most urgently seek, specifically through the channels they prefer, are in a far better position to drive commercial success. We’ve worked with some of today’s most notable B2B brands to redefine the role of digital and here’s what we learned...

We know digital has had a profound impact on marketing, but a lot of brands and agency partners are still trying to reconcile it with decades-old ways of working. No place is this more apparent than the world of B2B. It has a long history of being so relationship-led that the role of digital has been pushed to the side because “it just gets in the way of good relationships”. But now, as digital-led experiences are on the rise and Amazon is just a click away, B2B brands are finding themselves in a place where they need to catch up to customer expectations in a big way.

Digital B2B buying is on the rise

When we take a step back we can see that opportunities to interact directly with prospects are increasingly harder to come by. In a report by Gartner (prior to COVID), it was reported that only 17% of a buyer's time was spent interacting directly with sales reps. It’s important to note that 17% wasn’t just for your sales rep, it was for all sales reps that were in consideration. Meaning, if a B2B buyer was considering three possible vendors, a little of 5% of their time is spent with your sales rep. In comparison, they spend 27% of their time researching online. Gartner expects the gap between these to be even more significant in the future.

Buyers are using more channels

It used to be that the rep experience was the channel for acquiring information, but now it's become a channel as buyers are interacting in new and different ways – which are increasingly digital. For the better part of a decade, brands have been responding by offering new communication channels (web, chat, mobile, SMS, etc.) and people are using them. Multi-channel buying is now the norm.

Your prospects want to research on their own terms – not your reps’

Prospects don't reach out to reps for the sake of conversation, but rather, as a practical means of gathering information. Now that digital has stepped into the forefront, more and more buyers have shifted away from rep conversations to a preference for a rep-free experience – and they're trending younger.

In a Gartner report from 2021, 29% of Baby Boomers preferred a rep-free experience to 54% for Millenials. As buyers get older, the need for a digitally-led sales experience is always going to be more important.

It’s not about digitizing the sales process – it’s about the sales process in a digital world

It's easy to react to the data we're seeing and just double-down on digital channels, but the conversation needs to be bigger than that. The reality is that the introduction of digital has ushered in a whole new set of consumer expectations, access to alternatives, and more pressure on sales reps to add value into the process.

These aren't inherently digital challenges.

Relationship-Led, Digital Supported

Reps – and the relationships they're able to develop – are not (and should not) go away. In fact, we believe reps are absolutely central to the B2B sales experience. If you're looking to modernize your B2B journey, it's important to work closely with reps to identify where their pain points are and introduce digital innovations to help them do their jobs better at scale.

Turn to digital for scale

Growth is a wonderful thing. It’s why we show up to work everyday. It’s what supports our livelihoods (and our families). It gives us purpose in the work we do. But with growth, comes new challenges. The biggest challenge for most successful B2B companies is learning how to scale a model that’s highly dependent on great service.

Digital is our most effective tool in helping B2B brands scale indispensable service. We improve our customer portals (both pre-purchase and after). We can identify content that’s constantly being requested. We can improve search on the website. We can give prospects and customers visibility into the timely parts of the process. There’s a myriad of ways digital can help successful B2B brands increase top-line revenue and reduce bottom-line costs.

Put plan design in the hands of prospects

We’ve developed digital Northstar projects for some of today’s biggest B2B brands and we’ve almost always seen customer self-service opportunities during the plan design phase. This is the phase where we learn a bit about our customers (i.e. capture data), provide helpful recommendations that prospects can share with their internal stakeholders, and put that data in the hands of reps before the first call. It’s preferred by customers, allows brands to capture more data earlier, and lets reps spend more time selling and less time capturing emails and addresses. It’s a win, win, win for everyone involved.

Support internal consensus building

In the Gartner report referenced earlier, we mentioned 17% of a buyer’s time was spent interacting with reps. In that same report, 27% was spent researching online and 33% of their time was spent building consensus internally. One third of their time. Consensus building is a time consuming activity for buyers that most B2B sellers aren't supporting because it's out of their hands and out of their sight. We need to lean into though if our goal is to maintain influence in the most crucial parts of the sales process. Shareable content, self-service plan creation, and collaborative features – these are things B2B sellers can deploy to tap into opportunities that others can’t.

Growth is a double-edged sword. It’s what we’re all working towards, but growth also puts more pressure on the business to scale – especially when the sales journey it’s so relationship-driven. It’s a common challenge we’re brought in to solve. How might we lean on digital to

Tips for Transforming your B2B Sales Journey

If you're in the process of understanding and/or modernizing your B2B sales process, it can be daunting. It's ok though, we’re here to help. Here are some lessons that we learned in helping shape the B2B buying journey for some of today’s most notable brands:

  • Buyers are spending up to a year identifying the need to choose a vendor and gaining consensus before they even consider reaching out to you. Look for opportunities to create useful content channels to help them understand the opportunities and challenges of switching. It will help keep your business top of mind when the time comes to build their shortlist.
  • When buyers do begin their online journey, they're likely only spending 1-2 minutes on your site as they cast a wide net for options. Prioritize content that's simple, credentializes your brand, communicates your benefits easily, and works well on mobile.
  • There's a good chance your prospects aren't just comparing you to competitors. They're bringing in customer expectations from their B2C experiences with brands like Amazon, Apple, and even Chick-Fil-A.
  • As buyers narrow in, the availability of more channels will become increasingly important. If possible, elevate options for chat, phone, and even SMS.
  • Be thoughtful about content sharing. Remember, 33% of their time is spent building consensus so supporting a journey that lets buyers share content, benefits, and resources will make their jobs that much easier.
  • Online Plan Design tools that users can play with on their own present an amazing opportunity to capture data and put that in the hands of reps ahead of the first phone call.
  • The transition between sales and service teams is one of the hardest to get right. Digital and a sound data strategy can shape an onboarding experience that starts the relationship off on the right foot. You can read more about designing a better onboarding experience in Improve Your NPS with Digital-Led Services.
  • Selling doesn't stop when they become a customer. Looking for marketing and brand moments after they become a customer can help with retention and account growth.

The world is changing at a fast pace and nearly every brand is struggling to keep up, but transformation and building a learning culture can be easier with the right plan in place.

Modern brands run deep.

Profile Photo: Ryan Mulloy
About the Experience Design Lead

Ryan Mulloy, Head of Experience Design

Ryan leads up CeCo’s experience design practice and has led engagements for some of the biggest brands in food and beverage – including brands like Keurig, Dunkin’, Toast, Panera, Bai Beverages, and more.

Connect with Ryan