Today’s customers are more digitally connected, socially networked, and better informed than ever, putting control of the buying process squarely in their hands. This makes your job as a seller increasingly complex. What’s the best way to orchestrate your team? How do you find and focus on the right leads? Which strategies really work to help you win customer loyalty and turn satisfied buyers into advocates for your brand?
While there are no hard-and-fast answers, understanding how the sales landscape has changed—and embracing the right techniques and tools to help you adapt—are crucial to selling more efficiently so you can survive and thrive in the B2B marketplace.
The brave new world of B2B sales and marketing
Gone are the days when customers followed a predictable, linear process through the sales funnel, depending on sales teams to get the product and service information they needed. Steeped in social media and online shopping in their personal lives, B2B customers now complete at least 57% of the buying process before making a first contact with sales,[i] and upwards of 70% go online to research purchases.[ii] This transformation calls for a similar shift in your sales and marketing strategy.
Rather than customer relationship management, success now depends on customer engagement: finding ways to adapt and respond to the needs of a customer-driven market by connecting with buyers consistently and effectively across myriad entry points in their purchasing process. Instead of the “inside-out” orientation of traditional CRM—with its tactical focus on measuring sales performance to drive front-office efficiency—the new environment demands an “outside-in” lens on the overall customer experience, with solutions that map the enterprise world to the customer’s buying journey.
Engage with customers: Success strategies to guide your team
It sounds good in theory, but how do you make this “awareness to advocacy” approach the unifying vision of your sales department? The following guidelines can help you get started.
- Don’t just talk, listen. While broadcasting a high-level message may be useful to drive awareness, that’s only one piece of the pie. With 2.4 billion brand-related conversations happening online every day,[iii] customer engagement requires you to delve deeper with techniques and tools that let you:
- Fully understand customer sentiment and needs by monitoring and participating in customer conversations about your brand as they compare, share, research, and shop. This means tapping into social networks as well as blogs, wikis, and other digital forums that your customers frequent so you can provide value and influence long before any cash changes hands.
- Shift your sales perspective: it’s not me, it’s you. Equip your sales team to employ a new multi-disciplinary kind of thinking—one that emphasizes customer guidance over overt selling and is built on first learning each customer’s wants, needs, and concerns, then tailoring interactions to address those requirements.
- Avoid commoditization. If the threat of commoditization keeps you up at night, take heart: customer engagement gives you a powerful new weapon to wield against it. For example, a growing number of B2B sellers are taking their cue from B2C by creating emotional content based on the comprehensive customer knowledge they gain from listening. The result? Their brands stand out as unique, memorable, and valuable—evoking stronger customer loyalty and ultimately, higher sales.
- Turn customers into advocates with exceptional service and support. Crafting a great customer experience extends far beyond creating good feelings about your brand—it pays off in real financial value for your business. For example, recent American Express research shows that 86% of buyers are willing to spend more for a better customer experience,[iv] and a study by Watermark Consulting based on Forrester Research data has found that the stock of companies with a high-ranking customer experience significantly outperforms that of companies whose customer experience ranks poorly.[v] What’s more, today’s social forums give your customers a giant megaphone to proclaim their opinions long after the sale is complete. By delivering exceptional service—then engaging happy customers to provide reviews and act as references—you can attract more buyers and turn satisfaction into sales.
- Get creative with business networks. While you may view business networks as a way to transact with buyers or find leads, they can also play a vital role in your customer engagement strategy (check out this blog post for details). And don’t be afraid to go beyond the network. For example, if you’re already using the Ariba Discovery™ service to connect with new customers, think outside the box: when prospects or customers give you their contact information, use that as a springboard to create a dialogue that helps you better understand their specific challenges and compete more effectively for their business. Or if you win a spot buy bid, explore ways to offer the buyer a better experience than their current contract supplier so you can turn your one-off sale into a long-term relationship.
- Obtain the right tools. Especially if you’re a smaller seller, embracing customer engagement may sound like a tall order, but there are plenty of resources to help you get there. Look for innovative, cloud-based solutions that capitalize on the key areas of social, mobile, and predictive analytics—and integrate to your existing systems—to give you the agility and capabilities you need. With the right tools in hand, you can:
- Target customers where you deliver the most value. Predictive technologies can help you capitalize on information gleaned from diverse sources so you can identify leads with the maximum chance of success—those whose profile, requirements, and behavior fall within your company’s sweet spot—and avoid unprofitable or high service-drain accounts. They can also empower your salespeople in different ways—for example, giving them real-time information that provides a complete picture of a customer in seconds, helping them anticipate customer needs so they can deliver personalized offerings that add real value.
- Guide customers through their buying journey. Analytical technologies can help you replicate success and engage effectively with customers by enabling you to reinforce your sales methodology, receive recommended activities for each buying stage, propose the right solutions, and identify cross-sell/up-sell opportunities. Real-time collaborative capabilities keep everyone informed and unified, so you can sell as a team and accelerate sales cycles. They also make connecting with customers easy so you can exchange information, answer questions, and bring the right internal experts into the deal. And mobile apps can save you from ever having to say “I’ll get back to you” by putting all the information you need right at your fingertips.
- Win together by helping your sales team go the extra mile. The right tools can provide the visibility you need to run sales territories better, identify sales best practices, and make forecasting bullet-proof. They also enable you to coach sales teams in real time to move deals forward faster, and scalably share sales best practices to groom B reps into A players. Last but not least, they help boost sales productivity by being easy to use, personalize, and integrate with your existing solutions.
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[i] Source: Corporate Executive Board, “The Digital Evolution in B2B Marketing”
[ii] For example, this MarketingProfs report, “B2B Buyers Prefer Short Content; Rely Heavily on Google Searches,” says 72% of B2B buyers start their purchasing process with a Google search.
[iii] Source: Keller Fay Group, “Brands Mentioned 3 Billion Times a Day in US”
[iv] Source: American Express, “2011 Global Customer Service Barometer”
[v] Source: Watermark Consulting, “2014 Customer Experience ROI Study”; see 2012 summary of research details in “The ROI of a Great Experience” (the 2014 report adds two more years of data that support the same conclusion)