The past year has redefined the way businesses world over operate. While the pandemic led to restrictions on mobility and social distancing in general, several aspects of the business-to-business (B2B) sales cycle—pre-sales, stakeholder coverage, communication tools, contracting processes and after-sales—have also transformed. What started as a response to the crisis has now become the norm and is changing the way organisational buyers and sellers interact with each other.
How the pandemic has transformed the B2B model
The pandemic has ‘digitised’ B2B client engagement for good. The restrictions on travel and savings on daily commute time to and from the office has freed up time for enhanced client coverage and improved sales productivity. Video conferencing platforms such as Microsoft Teams and Cisco's Webex have allowed us to connect with a wider swathe of clients, both large and small, across different geographies and to engage with multiple stakeholders within these clients for product pitches, presentations, group discussions and data sharing. The rapid adoption of these platforms for webinars and e-conferences have also kept networking alive and helped in building thought leadership, establishing connections and remaining top of mind with one’s clients. Last but not least, with employees working remotely, digital contracting tools like DocuSign have become the go-to solution for closing deals and getting clients on board.
B2B sales post Covid-19
While the mode of engagement and business processes changed significantly, the key tenets of B2B sales—understanding client objectives, identifying pain points, account planning, pipeline management, multiple stakeholder buy-in, and the give-and-get in commercial negotiations remain much the same. In fact, given the current climate of uncertainty, there has never been a better time to adopt a consultative approach to B2B engagement and sales, using industry and client level insights to discover new opportunities, appreciate constraints (e.g. expense control or IT prioritisation), propose solutions and negotiate terms that drive win-win outcomes for buyer and seller alike, thus building the foundation to both energise and advance the relationship.
It is however important to realise that the pivot to digital is not merely a response to the pandemic but one that heralds the future of B2B sales. According to a recent report, about 70-80 percent of buyers and sellers prefer digital self-serve and remote human engagement rather than face-to-face sales interactions; digital buying provides customers with easier and faster access to information, considerably simplifying and speeding up the buying experience while also reducing operating expenses e.g. those relating to travel and entertainment. Businesses in the future will thus look to set up hybrid engagement models for enhanced efficiency while regaining a semblance of normalcy. Face-to-face client interactions will return but are likely to be limited to strategic discussions or managing serious escalations with larger clients; for most day-to-day and operational interactions, the digital-virtual model is here to stay.
Impact on B2B sales teams
As the pandemic spread and digital interactions became the norm, employees in general but especially those in client-facing roles, worked overtime to establish and maintain continuity for their customers, with an unfavourable impact on work-life balance and well-being. But that doesn’t necessarily need to be the case; many organisations are looking at reimagining work, offering their staff the flexibility to work from home or office or via a hybrid model based on their roles. For B2B sales, given that any successful ‘deal’ typically requires the involvement of many cross-functional units or stakeholders, there is also an opportunity for both buyers and sellers to create cross-functional or even cross-regional cohorts that work in an ‘agile’ manner leveraging tools like MS Teams to drive ideation, collaboration, prioritisation and execution of specific initiatives.
The new B2B digital-virtual sales and engagement model will present both opportunity and challenge; while on the one hand, it allows businesses to expand client reach, improve sales productivity and lower costs, on the other, it can also lead to issues with employee motivation and burn-out. Business leaders must balance the two and manage their go-to-market models optimally to maintain their competitive edge.
The author is a Head of Business Development at Visa India