Understanding the New B2B Sales Cycle
In this blog post, we are going to discuss what has become of the B2B sales cycle in 2020 and how you can adapt to make the best of the new status quo!
It is apparent that over these past years, almost everything has changed concerning B2B sales. From the buying journey, through the experiences B2B customers – yes, they are customers, too not shapeless entities with the company logo in place of their face – want, to the role of both marketers and salespeople in the whole story. As such, it is of no surprise that B2B sales strategies of old are no longer effective.
But what were they exactly? Even if we have to let go of them – which isn’t a bad thing in and of itself – we could still remember their general methodology to understand what has changed and how.
Generally, the biggest difference between old and new stems from the fact that the former was fully offline, while the latter is mostly online-only. Offline sales cycles tended be a lot easier. As a customer, if you needed a product or solution, you would look for a sympathetic, promising provider and work out the details with their salesperson. If you were happy with your options and the potential enclosed in the solution, you would make the purchase.
However, the method of learning about the solution and its provider was vastly different back then. There wasn’t much competition between companies in that era. If your company performed well, word of mouth and hearsay were the tools for increasing brand awareness, which means the way people learned about your company or recommended it to their fellows would happen on its own most of the time. Everything was about offline presence: visiting trade shows and conferences, advertising (offline) on the right channels. Marketing as we know it today didn’t exist yet.
Then the transition from offline to online began, and modern marketing appeared along with it. The widely taught concept of sales cycles was established. Marketing fills up the sales funnel with leads so the sales team could take over and continue working those leads down the funnel: into a sales pipeline that concluded in an eventual sale. The two teams synchronized their efforts to get leads, qualify them, and get them to buy the product or service. They took a prospect from point A (mild interest) to point B (sale).
Yet this was still in the time when offline and online coexisted. When there weren’t as many companies competing within a single sector as there are now. When people were not as exposed to the wonders of the internet as they are today. The concept is not wrong at all but is in dire need to reflect on just how digital and online our world has become in less than a decade.
Let’s take a look at the purchase process B2B buyers go through today:
- Identification of a problem or problems
- Online research
- Further research to discover all alternatives and solutions (checking out competitors)
- Reading reviews, googling the solution, checking feedback on social media, forums, and other online sources
- Contacting friends and close business acquaintances for recommendations
- Once in the sales process, at least a single click on a solution-offering ad is likely at that point
- Accumulation of all information to make a buying decision
- Contacting the company with purchase in mind… and eventually complete the sale (if negotiations go badly, it may still not happen even then!)
The order for the stages of the buyer’s journey can be changed around, but the layout stays the same. The B2B buyer zigzags around the problem for a long time before making up his or her mind, like busy bee in a flowery field. They are exposed to information through their digital devices for almost the entirety of the waking day; as such, each of their paths to purchase will be unique… and a lot more complicated than before.
The roles of marketing and sales is still in the midst of adaptation, transition to a new status quo where buyers research the solution they are interested in though Google, social media and other websites, as well as free trials. Don’t make the mistake of assuming that this applies only to B2C! According to an Accenture study, 94% of B2B buyers admit to conducting online research before making a buying decision, with the percentage increasing year after year. B2B people reply on a variety of online sources to make a purchase decision. These sources include websites, search engines, third-party review sites, blogs and social media.
Furthermore, when we consider just how remote the buying process has become, it also comes as no surprise that 60-70% of a buyer’s decision-making process proceeds without engaging with a salesperson. Faced with such circumstances, the way salespeople do their jobs must change dramatically.
And we are not done yet; here’s one more argument in favor of changing your sales team’s mission and way of operation! With 59% of buyers being wary of sales representatives because of the sales agenda they’re pushing, yet 68% of them wanting to interact with them if they listen to their needs and provide them relevant information (without exerting pressure during follow-up), it is without a shadow of a doubt that sales has to change in order to perform better.
Before elaborating the solutions, let’s summarize what we have learned so far:
- Prospects go through much of the sales process by themselves due to the increased amount of available information. Since they no longer require interaction from a salesperson, the result is a diminished influence over the buyer’s journey.
- Instead, social media and peers are far more likely to influence their buying decisions.
- Increasing skepticism of marketing and sales messages, wariness and weariness of sales representatives pushing sales agendas.
- Marketing and sales teams often get confused about their new roles in the sales process.
All this results in a wide range of challenges for the modern B2B sales teams to surmount. And while the B2B sales cycle is undoubtedly more complex and longer than ever before, like any other challenge in life, they can be overcome with the right mindset and some effective methods. Let’s see what they are!
Create a Content Library
As we have established by now, B2B buyers use content to navigate themselves through their journey towards a potential (and hopeful) purchase. They use content to gain the necessary knowledge for making an informed buying decision, but it’s never guaranteed that they gain the right kind of knowledge. Furthermore, their independence concerning online research does not mean that they cannot find everything they need and want on your site!
So build up your own content library, which will include all your assets that answer the most common questions your target audience asks during each step of their journey. Also, put free resources in there, too! Free trial is a huge selling point.
What should be the content about? Well, according to a recent research from Live Hive, decision makers are much more responsive when case studies, industry articles, and white papers are included in a sales outreach.
So now you have a content library filled with items containing information and knowledge relevant and useful for the prospect. And you have told your salespeople to proactively share these with their prospects. Is it going to be effective? What will be the result?
We’re glad you asked!
- 95% of buyers select a vendor who provided them with ample content to help navigate through each stage of the buying process
- 68% of customers feel more positive about a brand after consuming its content
- 82% of buyers viewed at least 5 pieces of content from the winning vendor
- Companies with modern enablement strategies typically win 13.7% higher contract value
In general – and we always emphasize this to our clients – the key to generating high quality leads is sharing more of your content with them, focusing on those that give them value and relevant knowledge.
Make Your Salespeople Part of Your Brand
At the heart of this approach is the intent to make your salespeople become experts in the field.
We have seen how skeptical people – especially younger generations, who are predominantly filling up the decision-making positions year after year – have become of standard sales and marketing messages, and how they yearn to interact with salespeople who listen to their needs and give them relevant information. So the logical next step is to transform your salespeople into experts who share insight and knowledge about the pain points of prospects. They will listen to an expert’s opinion, after all.
In practice, get your salespeople to create and share content that is helpful, informative and relevant to your prospect. Have them publish articles on the company blog, then repost those on their LinkedIn profile. Apropos LinkedIn; they should maintain a steady and professional presence there, too, writing and sharing brief but insightful posts that help cement their image as experts in the field.
A general but highly important piece of advice: any content your sales team publish in the future should yield a unique perspective on the challenges your target audience struggle with. And within the same breath, discuss actionable ways that they can harness – and incidentally push them onwards in their customer journey.
Re-synchronizing the marketing and sales teams
In the beginning of this blog post, we mentioned how sales and marketing worked together in the old sales cycle to turn as many leads into sales as they can. Well, throw in the wrench of having to adapt and conform to transformed roles within the new sales cycle, and they will be confused enough to figure out what to do with their new, expanded tasks, let alone see what the other team is doing differently. And that could lead to a series of problems:
- Lack of common definition of a qualified lead. This can easily lead to a delivery of contacts from marketing that the sales team simply can’t close.
- No unified content library: the sales team can’t find assets to forward to prospects. And we have discussed already how critical that is to the sales process!
- Irrelevant Key Performance Indicators (KPI) that fail to assist in improving each team’s performance.
Such a misalignment costs companies 10% or more of revenue per year. However, in the case of companies that have both their teams synchronized, most of them meet their revenue goals, and quite a few even exceed them. What is more, increased brand awareness as well as an increase in average deal size are also benefits a well-aligned sales and marketing constellation can yield. So what to do exactly?
Use your content to align both teams!
- Create a content library (if you haven’t already) and get marketing to regularly contribute assets that your sales team can then use to generate higher quality leads.
- Let marketers educate sales teams on when and how to use this content.
- Allow salespeople to guide new content development by contributing their ideas.
- Host regular meetings between the two teams to better coordinate their efforts.
So Let’s Begin!
Nobody says the change from old to new has made sales easier. On the contrary. It’s more complex, more diversified than ever, with much more independent, curious, and skeptical prospects to entice. They will look into you, research you, and if they don’t find the information relevant to their pain points, you have already lost them: the busy bees have flown off in the direction of more intriguing flowers, perhaps ones their peers have told them about.
The only way to convince them to stay with you, hear you out, and eventually make a purchase is through content. Be proactive, find the channels where your target audience communicates and the platforms where they spend time, and share your insightful, useful, actionable content with them. Try to pick on their pain points, only to offer them the soothing salve that is your solution.
At the same time, you, your sales team, and your marketing team all have to work in concert. Sales must be involved with content creation; they must become public faces of your brand on relevant platforms, providing content that marketers create to both generate high quality leads and move those down the sales funnel.
If you do this, you will connect with your buyers in a meaningful way, gaining their trust. And trust is the second half of the key to success in modern B2B sales. The first is content.
If you have questions on how to overcome the challenges of the new sales cycle or would like to talk about implementing the methods laid out in this blog post, contact us! With our expertise in the fields of online content marketing and lead generation, we can support you in any endeavor to adopt the methods necessary for success in the new cycle.