COVID-19 has changed people’s buying habits, and that’s just as true for B2B buyers as it is for individual consumers.
As we begin 2022, B2B buyers are more digitally inclined than ever. They’re researching business products and services online, purchasing via websites as much as they can, and foregoing interactions with sales representatives whenever possible.
Of course, the shift to digital sales tactics has been underway for years. In 2019, B2B buyers ranked access to self-service tools as the most important factor in a positive customer experience, according to a survey by B2BecNews. And 70% of respondents planned to increase their online buying in the following year.
But the pandemic has shifted these trends into overdrive, highlighting the need for digital strategies in a way companies can’t afford to ignore. The old way of doing business doesn’t work in the new normal, with buyers taking longer to make decisions, sales meetings happening mostly virtually, and the line between inside sellers and field sellers blurring.
With so much for sellers to navigate in this new landscape, it can seem daunting. Where’s the best place to begin?
What sales investments should you focus on in 2022?
To help companies prioritize, here are three areas in which to add strength in 2022 and three where it makes sense to hold steady. A new year is a perfect opportunity for businesses to take stock of their sales tactics. It’s time to embrace what’s working, ditch what’s not, and innovate with new approaches.
Where to ramp up
Companies that want to succeed in the new sales world need to embrace new technologies, especially ones that harness the power of data and analytics.
Tools like speech and text analytics and other voice-of-customer technology can produce meaningful insights. Companies can’t have a clear picture of customer interactions or customer intent and behavior without them.
These tools use language processing to capture unstructured data from remote spoken conversations that occur between buyers and sellers. The added benefit of artificial intelligence then analyzes that data and illuminates insights that can support decision making, inform management coaching, and inspire reps to adopt best practices.
When a global social media platform wanted to measure how successful its holiday ad pricing promotion was, it needed to know whether customer service associates were promoting the relevant products to customers and if their doing so led to a boost in sales. But leaders knew that manually listening to calls wasn’t feasible; that wouldn’t be an efficient or cost-effective way to get the information they needed.
An AI-driven speech analytics solution was the answer. With it, the company could convert call recordings into phonetic text files, which could then be queried by keywords. The insights gleaned from this process – what was being said on calls, what led to conversions, and what didn’t – resulted in more efficient calls and more conversions.
Once it put this solution to work, the company saw a 214% increase in associates mentioning specific holiday pricing topics, along with a 233% jump in customers taking action based on agents’ recommendations.
A good sales engagement platform also needs to be a key part of the mix in 2022. Having one boosts efficiency and effectiveness by automating and orchestrating simple, repetitive tasks through AI-enabled tools.
This leads to better experiences for employees and customers alike. With mundane tasks off their plates, representatives can focus on the more important task at hand: selling. This results in better customer interactions and all the benefits those bring, like increased sales and customer loyalty.
When a leading carmaker’s sales associates were spending too much time manually entering information from callers, an AI-powered automated solution streamlined the process. It monitored live calls with customers and scanned relevant data to deliver the right information to associates in real time. The results? A 10% decline in average handle time, a 4% increase in first contact resolution, and a 4% rise in Net Promoter Score.
Revenue intelligence is a developing area when it comes to this, and one to watch.
It uses technology to automatically capture data about engagement activity between buyers and sellers and uploads that data to CRM systems. This is important because, typically, only a small fraction of information about customers makes it into CRMs – meaning businesses are leaving a lot of insights and money on the table.
With revenue intelligence technology working for them, companies have a much more complete picture of their customers, which always boosts ROI on any sales initiatives. The AI power in these systems can produce powerful insights throughout the entire revenue cycle, shaping how leaders make decisions about deal management, forecasting, and other revenue-generating activities.
Where to hold steady
While it’s important to ramp up in certain areas, there are some where simply holding steady is the best approach.
As in-person sales meetings continue to be either impossible, unpopular, or both, it makes sense for businesses to maintain investments in remote engagement platforms, which give sellers and customers an engaging way to meet virtually.
Remote meetings appear here to stay well into the future, at least to some extent, so having a secure and user-friendly platform is still going to be crucial for businesses this year and beyond. Many companies made great strides in their ability to engage customers remotely over the past two years, and they’ll continue to reap those benefits.
Revenue operations (RO)
Revenue operations platforms also still have high business value in the new normal, by once again tapping into the power of data and analytics. These platforms centralize data and analytics across opportunities, accounts, and pipeline, which helps companies optimize how their revenue engines perform.
This sort of capability is important and will continue to add value when it comes to managing revenue forecasting and performance.
Uncontrollable and unforeseen external events can lead to widespread disruptions and market volatility. Strong pipeline management, deal optimization, and accurate forecasting are going to become even more essential to B2B organizations’ sales success.
Sales force automation (SFA)
These platforms help automate functions like contact and account management, lead management, sales forecasting, territory management, and incentive compensation – and they continue to play an important role in this new sales environment.
While SFA demand may be losing some steam among B2C businesses, which tend to encounter less-complex situations, this kind of sales automation still holds great value for B2B companies. It helps businesses standardize sales processes, manage leads and pipelines, and forecast – all needs that will continue.
Where to pull back
Like any investments over time, businesses may find as they take stock of their strategies that there are certain areas they should start to de-emphasize. Times are changing, and it may be time for some investments to change, too.
Sales social engagement (SSE)
SSE tools may look good on paper, but it’s difficult for B2B companies to gauge the ROI on these investments. In fact, many companies that have tried to assess their value actually believe the ROI on such tools is neutral or negative. Why devote so much of a company’s time and resources to something that’s not driving sales?
In the past, as society has become increasingly omnipresent, it seemed to many that this was a good area in which to focus. Afterall, SSE tools help sellers facilitate seamless interactions with contacts over various social channels. And the really good ones even incorporate analytics, reporting and management functionality.
But the problem is widespread adoption has been low. B2B sellers have been using social channels like LinkedIn for years in attempts to reach customers, but social engagement still hasn’t proven to be the most effective way to jump-start sales. It makes sense to scale back in the new year.
Ensure sales and marketing are aligned
The technologies mentioned here can all bring great benefits to business – to workflows, EX and CX, and bottom lines – put they’re only as powerful as the strategy into which they’re integrated.
Just as companies need to take more innovative approaches to their use of data and technology, it’s time to rethink the old, traditional ideas around big-picture strategy as well.
To succeed in 2022 and beyond, it’s imperative that businesses align their sales and marketing teams. For some, this will mark a radical shift. Traditionally, marketing and sales teams have had two separate, distinct roles – marketing works to generate top-of-the-funnel leads, and sales focuses on closing leads at the bottom of the funnel.
But this siloed approach is no longer effective in an era where customers are savvier, in more of a hurry, and increasingly seeking digital interactions. Rather, to meet the needs of today’s customers, businesses should integrate their sales and marketing into a unified team that is aligned around shared goals.
This new way of thinking will take some introspection. It will force many brands to rethink and re-tool various aspects of how they do business: their people, their technology, and their processes. But taking the time to make this strategic alignment now will pay dividends well into the future.
Technology needs to play an important part in this new way of working, but so too must people. Consider designating employees who work at the intersection of sales and marketing – but who aren’t part of either team – and have them focus solely on improvements. With no biases or allegiance toward either sales or marketing, these people can more objectively, and strategically, look at what is working well and where improvements should be made.
As we embark on a new year in the new normal, continuous evaluation and improvements remain critical. Stay agile, constantly assess how strategies are performing, and be ready to make quick adjustments when the unexpected happens. The right mix of technology and people can lead to great sales growth this year and beyond.