The Evolution of B2B Sales Part 1: The People, Process, and Consumers

Arthur Miller's play, Death of a Salesman, discusses Willy Loman's inability to accept change within himself and in society, ultimately leading to a harsh ending. Similarly, many businesses today are stuck and sinking in similar circumstances due to their inability to comprehend and adapt to changing trends in their respective industries.

The B2B sales landscape is a dynamic one that is constantly changing. As such, Sales Reps and Consultants need to be able to quickly adapt to changing buying behaviours, instead of ignoring or resisting them. This poses a challenge for firms whose organisational processes reflect traditional assumptions about purchasing and selling.

Previously, several organisations employed the AIDA (moving a prospect from Awareness to Interest to Desire to Action) model. The premise is simple – if you think of AIDA as a game, the consumer essentially goes through the following three “levels”:

Level 1 – Suspect, where through the sales funnel marketing leads get identified.

Level 2 – Prospect, the lead then gets qualified and becomes a prospect.

Level 3 – Customer, this is essentially where you wish your prospects to end up, converting them into sales.

The above sequence is achieved through a series of tasks done sequentially by salespeople, in order to close a sale. Today however, the rules of the game have changed as consumers get more savvy and discerning. The IoT and digitisation has changed how customers interact with data and make decisions; naturally, the model changes as well, with the addition of a “bonus” round:

Stage 1 – Explore: where consumers identify a need, want or opportunity to be fulfilled. This normally happens through vendor interactions or more commonly, internet research.

Stage 2 – Evaluate: where they look at various organisations and their people, products and services for comparisons. Consumers then move on to options and make a “shortlist.”

Stage 3 – Engage: this is where potential customers initiate contact to find out more. At this stage, more communication takes place, either through contacting providers, or calling for proposals.

Stage 4 – Experience: buyers then choose a solution and form perceived values about it. The decision is made based on “proof of concepts” and all data collected from the previous stages.

Based on the above, it is clear that understanding which stage customers are at, and how to interact with them accordingly, are more important than ever to effective selling. This also means that the sales force still plays a very pivotal role within the buying experience as interactions remain the most influential part of the decision making process.

One should bear in mind that the B2B space is different from B2C. The above shows that social media is low in the priorities list of how consumers are influenced to make their purchase decision, but we know that in B2C, it is one of the more effective channels. However, one must bear in mind that platforms such as LinkedIn are challenging this norm with its potential for growth, particularly within B2B. That being said, the human element is still more important and relevant every step of the way.

Why, you might ask? Especially as everything is now online and digital? One main reason why the sales force remains important to the B2B customer is because “most products and services sold to business organisations are components in a wider usage system for that buyer, and customer value ultimately resides in that usage, not just the individual product.”

Add to that the fact that business buyers must justify a decision to others in the organisation, especially capital expenditures that require justification to management. In short, sales people are more intuitive, and able to specifically ask questions or provide the right information/insights sought by customers. Being able to do self-research for solution identification, product application and risk management is one thing; having someone with in-depth knowledge explaining things or jargon to them in person, is another. Imagine you’re a buyer – what would you rather have?

Sure, the buyer’s purchasing journey can now be handled predominantly online, but it should simply be viewed as a convenient and useful tool that complements knowledgeable and savvy sales help. So what’s a Sales person to do, and how can you ensure that your business doesn’t get left behind? I will discuss this further and provide tips in part 2 of my blog.

Have a question or wish to find out more about maximising your sales team’s potential? Comment below or connect with me on LinkedIn today.

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