Modernizing Your B2B Sales Journey

Helping today’s B2B buyers buy isn’t a sales challenge, nearly so much as 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'll uncover what we learned and how to shape a new B2B purchase journey...

We know digital has changed marketing dramatically, but while we typically refer it's impact as having more channels or letting people interact directly with brands, the conversation is much bigger than. Digital has given prospects and customers something they didn't have before – choice. The choice to use alternatives. The choice to interact with brands on their own terms. The choice to work with brands that share our same values.

Traditional B2B Marketing is Becoming a Thing of the Past

The impact of alternatives, choice, and access to information is no more apparent than in relationship-led sales processes. Mostly seen in B2B sales practices (but also found in car and home sales), sales rep traditionally manage the cadence and visibility of the process leaving the customer powerless for a large part of the purchase journey. It's unnerving for prospects and customers. But the introduction of digital has shifted the control back to consumers and its ushering in a whole new set of expectations for B2B buyers.

Digital B2B buying is on the rise

When it comes down to it, the opportunities to interact directly with prospects is 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. Keep in mind, that 17% was for all potential suppliers so many B2B sellers may only be able to capture 5-7% of that time at most. In comparison, they spend 27% of their time researching online. We expect the gap between these to be even more significant in a post-pandemic world.

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, on 29% of Baby Boomers preferred a rep-free experience to 54% for Millenials. As buyers age, 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 is bigger than that. The reality is that the introduction of digital has ushered in a whole new set of consumer expections, access to altnernatives, and more pressure on sales reps to add value into the process. These aren't inherently digital challeges.

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 the real value and introduce new ways of working, digital tools, and access to data so they can be better at what they do.

Put plan design in the hands of prospects

We've seen a common digital opportunity with the B2B brands we work with around the Plan Design phase of the customer journey. Traditionally its held entirely in the hands of reps which requires a lot of rep attention and incoveniences buyers. Digital Plan Design tools can add immediate value to buyers and put more prospect information in the hands of reps before the first phone even starts.

Suppport internal concensus building

In the Gartner report mentioned earlier, we mentioned 17% of a buyers time was spent interacting with reps, 27% was spent researching online...and 33% of their time was spent building concensus interally. This is a time consuming activity for buyers that most B2B sellers aren't supporting because it's out of their hands. But digital content and sharing functionality can help support your buyers in one of the biggest obstacles in choosing the right vendor.

Turn to digital for scale

One of the most common challenges we're invited into as partners is helping our clients scale customers sales and service functions by leaning more on digital. By putting more content and tools into digital channels, and by capturing data more effectively, digital can be a great opportunity to do the heavy lifting with non-value-add activities that suck up the most time while letting sales and service reps focus on what they do best – support their prospects and customers.

Tips for Transforming your B2B Sales Journey

If you're in the process of understanding and/or moderning your B2B sales process, it can be daunting, but here are some recommendations in shaping your new customer journey...

  • Buyers are spending in upwards of a year identifying the need and gaining concensus for change 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 brining 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 concensus so supporting a journey that lets buers 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 pace and nearly every brand is struggling to keep ahead, 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