Welcome to 2022. Most of the conventional wisdom about how to succeed in sales still has significant value. But today it is also essential to stay on top of new ideas and sales trends that are changing the way top companies sell to their customers, especially in the B2B world.
The concept of putting the customer first has been around for a long time. And while many organizations talk a great game in this department, far fewer are putting it into practice in a meaningful way.
Our experience shows that, when done well, moving from a “seller-focused” to a “customer-focused” culture is a surefire way to grow your top line.
It’s not a secret that the current state of sales continues to move in a more consultative, relationship-driven, customer-first direction. Here, we’ll dive deeper into how to help your organization make this shift and reap the benefits. Read on to examine some of the key sales trends that are front and center today. You’ll notice that more than a few of them connect back to the customer-focused theme.
Game-Changing B2B Sales Trends
1. Utilizing AI to Boost Sales
Artificial intelligence (AI) has great potential to boost sales due to its ability to churn through vast volumes of data to identify actionable insights and predictions of customer behavior, and recommend sales actions. Salesforce reports that its research with the McKinsey Global Institute found that “40% of tasks within the traditional sales function can now be automated,” and that “with projected advancements in technology, especially in natural language processing, the research suggests this could top 50%.”
2. Using Chatbots for Conversational Customer Experiences
There are many statistics that suggest chatbots are an effective sales tool for B2B organizations. NetHunt reports that “79% of consumers prefer to use live chat over other modes because it provides instant responses.”
3. Combining Human and Digital Interactions
Make sure your chatbot functionality includes human backup because, as reported by Finances Online and McKinsey “a whopping 76% of B2B buyers find it helpful to speak to someone in person or on the phone when they want to purchase a completely new product or service.”
4. Learning Lessons from B2C
“B2C companies have mastered the art of delivering customized recommendations from the moment a customer interacts” with a supplier, reports lead-generation firm Qualified. “When you log in to Netflix or Amazon, there are recommendations based on your order history and browsing behavior. This makes it easy for a customer to find relevant products, enabling them to make a purchase.” Today, there are automated marketing tools and strategies — some likely built in to your customer relationship management (CRM) system — that help B2B companies get more personal with clients.
5. Delivering Personalized Customer Experience
Remember that the customer experience starts even before you speak to a potential customer. According to statistics cited by Elastic Path:
72% of B2B buyers only engage with personalized messaging
69% of B2B buyers are willing to pay more for a personalized experience
67% of B2B buyers will provide personal information to get personal service
6. Using Self-Service Knowledge Portals
McKinsey promotes this B2B sales trend in an article titled “Finding the Right Digital Balance in B2B Customer Experience,” reporting that 86% of survey respondents said they “prefer using self-service tools for reordering, rather than talking to a sales representative” and that some companies are now “providing self-help guides or a tracking-and-tracing system for resolving issues.”
7. Tapping Social Media for Sales Insights, Lead Gen and Relationship Building
It is now possible to use social media platforms to develop relationships with targeted prospects. In addition to lead-generation and nurturing possibilities, Salesforce notes that social media can help B2B organizations “understand who the individual customer is, who the buyers are, who the decision-makers are, who the influencers are, and who owns the budget,” etc.
8. Capturing Value Through Data Analytics
Across the business world, companies are generating more data of their own, and also have easier access to publicly available data that can be distilled to yield actionable business insights. Using your CRM to take better advantage of your data is part of the equation. Forbes offers an informative look at how B2B companies can reap significant benefits using “self-service data analytics tools.”
9. Using Webinars as a Lead-Generation Tool
Producing a thought leadership webinar designed to offer solutions to exactly the type of pain points your company specializes in can be a highly effective way to literally speak to current and future B2B customers. Since they also give your audience the opportunity to interact with you and ask questions directly, well-produced webinars can serve as both valuable resources and sales tools. In “5 Ways to Generate More Webinar Leads,” business growth services provider Zoominfo reports that:
- 79% of buyers say they will share information in exchange for webinars
- 44% of marketers have hosted or participated in a webinar, and 87% of those found it to be an effective strategy
10. Outsourcing Sales Entirely
Wait. What? OK, this may not be a good fit for many companies just yet, but Salesforce identifies a disruptive trend in which automation now enables third-party vendors to “run a company’s entire sales process … all the way from demand generation to customer acquisition and fulfillment.” Such companies “use big data to identify leads,” market to target segments with different offers and different platforms, then “match their own sales reps to individual customers” based on optimal odds for conversion.
11. Emphasizing Customer Success
To do this, you must think beyond focusing solely or primarily on your own success — that is, on selling your own products and/or services. Today it is essential to truly focus on how you can best contribute to helping your customers achieve success. Our company strives to be a trend-setter in this arena.
12. Prioritizing Customer Empathy
Harvard Business Review encourages companies to “operationalize customer empathy,” which it defines as follows: “Essentially, customer empathy is the ability to identify a customer’s emotional need, understand the reasons behind that need, and respond to it effectively and appropriately.” Empathy is at the heart of adopting a customer-centric philosophy. For some B2B companies, this can mean using so-called “empathy maps” to better understand their customers’ motivations.
13. Gaining Sales Value from Your Service Teams
B2B companies that have field service teams should look at your service professionals as underutilized assets who interact with customers 10 times more frequently than your sales team. When equipped with advanced customer relationship-building skills, field service personnel can employ proven strategies for moving from break-fix scenarios to developing insights and taking actions that are more focused on overall customer success, ultimately earning credibility as trusted business advisors. It is not hard to imagine how enhancing key customer relationships in this manner connects to sales opportunities.
Recent TSIA (Technology and Services Industry Association) survey responses reveal some eye-opening data related to this trend:
- 69% of respondents report generating leads for sales from service interactions.
- 36% responded that their service teams are engaged in “prospecting and pipeline generation”
- 78% said yes when asked: Do you charter your direct field service engineers to participate in cross sell/up sell programs?
- 46% responded affirmatively when asked if they provide certification or training before field service engineers participate in cross sell/up sell initiatives.
- 74% reported that their field service engineers now “assess customer utilization of products” and “solicit information about desired enhancements.”
14. Making Sales Less Sales-y
You may also see this trend characterized by the words “stop selling.” Of course, you’re definitely going to keep selling. The key takeaway here — especially when dealing with senior-level executives to lay the groundwork for future deals — is to focus more on engaging in ways that build the relationship rather than just focusing on the sale.
You can do this by incorporating many of the other trends and strategies discussed here — especially those that involve active listening, empathy, personalization and stronger emphasis on building your relationship as a trusted business partner rather than just closing deals. Smart strategies for making sales less sales-y can be found at our Engaging Up™ sales training page.
Curious about the details? Consider watching this brief video about how investing in next-level sales training helps build “trusted partner” relationships that unlock value for you and your customers.