Today’s post is by Sharon Gillenwater, founder and editor-in-chief of Boardroom Insiders, which maintains an extensive database of the most in-depth executive profiles on the market – from Fortune 500 companies to independent non-profits – to help sales and marketing professionals build deeper relationships and close more deals with clients. Gillenwater is a long-time marketing consultant with expertise in marketing strategy, account-based marketing, and CXO engagement programs.
What was once perceived as the simple task of convincing someone to buy something you’re selling has snowballed into a very complex , tech-driven process that few – including both the sellers and the buyers – completely understand. In the B2B world, there’s so much at stake that, according to CEB, there is added pressure on companies to seek more revenue from existing customers.
CEB has identified the following five sales trends for 2017.
Trend #1: Emphasis on cross-selling and account growth with current customers
According to CEB, the shift toward added services and digitization is increasing focus on recurring revenue streams – and the higher costs of new business acquisition are putting pressure on existing accounts to fuel growth.
Trend #2: More disciplined spending on sales enablement
Sales organizations have been bingeing on sales enablement tools, spending an average of $4,797 per quota-carrying rep annually. Is it helping? Not so much. These tools that are supposed to boost sales productivity, in fact, slow reps down by adding complexity. In a September 2016 report, CEB noted that 62 percent of seller burden can be attributed to overly complex internal processes and procedures that reps are asked to follow. And sellers are frustrated about being held back by their own sales organizations. In a survey of more than 2,000 reps across a range of industries and regions, sellers report that a full 20 percent of stalled and lost deals are the result of internal complexity.
Our belief is that technology-based sales tools can also create a false sense of security that you know more about your customer than you actually do. And it creates a false sense that you’re engaging with your customers, when you actually aren’t. You know all those automated, “personalized” emails that go out under your name? Many of your prospects are deleting them. So, maybe you aren’t connecting the way you think you are.
Beyond this ROI problem is something very fundamental. People buy from people. Tools can be a great aid but relationships matter, and keeping up with what is truly important to your customers is critical to growing these relationships. If you don’t do it your competitors will.
Trend #3: Customer centricity
This is something we’ve preached about a lot over the years – the fact that the sales process isn’t about you, but about the customer. CEB couches it in terms of improving the customer experience to make it as easy as possible for customers to buy your products, with a focus on the aspects of the purchasing process that customers struggle with even before they engage with a specific supplier: All these decisions we have to make! What do we need? How does it fit into our strategic plan? What’s the budget? Their point – and ours – is that sellers should work hard to understand a customer’s business goals and buying group dynamics.
Trend #4: The continuity of marketing across the sales funnel
According to CEB, progressive B2B marketing companies now manage a portfolio of marketing technology that deals with all aspects of the commercial process. They’re doubling efforts to develop customer buying journey maps to better support sellers with content and improve the customer purchase experience. And more firms are creating a sales development representative (SDR) role that reports directly to marketing to improve lead qualification and sales productivity. CEB believes we’ll see more organizations do this.
How could they improve on this alignment? We believe that one of the best ways marketing can support sales is to spoon feed them the kind of customer and CXO insight we are always talking about – and then create programs designed to reach and engage customers more meaningfully.
Trend #5: Simplification will be at the heart of sales strategy
The most successful commercial teams will be those able to simplify both internally and for their client. CEB warns sales teams not to assume that customers are automatically empowered with information and options. Like you, they are overloaded with them.
Our advice? Don’t you pile on, too. Keep it simple by doing your homework and then homing in only on the solutions that address their specific challenges. Stop trying to sell them stuff they don’t need. Be patient by building your own credibility over time. Then you can upsell. Learn what is most important to them, grow the relationship, and consistently make it about them.
It’s always a good feeling to see your advice and perspectives validated by another set of experts. The findings of CEB make it clear there’s no one-size-fits-all solution to sales – not even great technology. We’ve long been advocates of that perspective. If you’re going to achieve great things in 2017, you’ll have to get back to basics. Focus on your customer. Learn what drives them. Make it simple for them to make good decisions. Then repeat.