Five Ways to Gain a Competitive Advantage in B2B Sales
The business-to-business sales environment of today is highly competitive. Buyers have independent access to virtually unlimited information and often do not engage salespeople until late in the purchase process after having extensively researched their purchase decision.
According to a Corporate Executive Board study of 1,400 business-to-business customers, buyers are now at least 57% through their purchase decision before they even first contact the seller. The research firm Gartner surveyed 700 buyers based on recently completed enterprise purchases who reported they spend only 32% of their journey interacting with supplier-side providers or their partners, spending two thirds of the purchasing process with internal assessments, peer networking, and the recommendations of external experts.
Given this era of the educated buyer, sales organizations need to find ways to gain a competitive advantage in the fast paced business-to-business sales environment. This requires organizations to effectively embrace the technologies, data science and analytics to define a proven, effective sales process; while remaining agile – able to respond to a prospective buyer’s needs and reacting quickly with well-informed decisions. The following explores five areas of focus to gain such competitive advantage.
1. A Defined Sales Process Based On Data and Science
Organizations in business-to-business sales must approach the sales process with data and science rather than emphasizing ad hoc or intuitive decisions. The first step is to collect, access and analyze historical data to inform, define and refine an effective sales process proven to achieve successful goals. Technologies allow an organization to analyze such data to architect the steps of a defined sales process based upon a company’s unique and specific historical experience with prospects, customers, outcomes and patterns, which is then repeatable and much more predictable of success.
2. Data Driven Decisions
Management and sales teams must also be able to use data to make and inform the quick decisions that are often required in today’s sales environment.
With sales acceleration and automation technologies and tools, management and the sales team can see a wide variety of metrics and key performance indicators on an ongoing, real time basis. Managers can have the visibility to see potential issues or trouble spots developing early on and intervene before problems escalate whether for the sales people or in the sales process. The sales team is able to see current activities of prospects and customers to know how to respond, as well as current performance indicators showing progress toward attaining individual and company sales and performance goals.
3. Speed of Response
In a competitive environment, the speed with which a seller responds to a potential customer can be crucial. Sales acceleration solutions can enhance responsiveness in a number of ways with real time analytics and automation.
Real time analytics allow the sales team to see and monitor a prospect’s behavior – for example, the opening or forwarding of an email; visiting a specific webpage such as pricing or delivery term sheets; or downloading product specification sheets. With this information visible in real time, the sales team can respond immediately in the most effective way relevant to the prospect.
The tools can automate and streamline repeated tasks performed by a sales person, automatically entering data on the tasks into the system so it is quickly available to the sales team and management. These tasks may include basic activities such as call tracking information or follow-up calendaring. With a well-defined sales process, these may also include scoring and prioritizing prospects for quality based upon a matrix of characteristics or behavior; or triggering a specific email response tailored to a discrete action on the website such as a specific document being downloaded.
4. Sales Optimization
A sales organization constantly faces decisions of where to allocate available sales resources – money, time and effort. There are always opportunity costs and resources assigned to certain accounts cannot cover others. Sales optimization, the decision process of determining the best resource allocation, can be a significant driver of revenue growth. Sales optimization encompasses actions such as the alignment of sales efforts with business strategy, the selection of customers and how the sales team is deployed across opportunities. A study by the Boston Consulting Group indicates that sales optimization techniques (e.g. targeting high-value customers or deploying sales resources by strategic criteria) can impact revenue growth more than three times sales efficiency practices (e.g. CRM, training or KPI dashboards).
5. Evaluate, Validate, Refine and Innovate
Sales organizations exist in a dynamic world with continuous inputs of new data and must consistently validate and refine even a well-defined sales process. Data driven technologies allow the precise evaluation of a wide range of historical and current metrics, as well as the ability to A-B test specific changes in the process, content or responses to customer behavior against each other and measure the outcomes so that organizations can innovate their processes based on actual data and analytics.
In this day of the educated and empowered buyer in business-to-business sales, organizations must make their sales processes more data and science driven to maintain a competitive advantage. Such techniques include employing technologies and analytics to develop a defined effective sales process that is repeatable and more predictable of success; having visible data in order for management and sales to make data driven decisions; using automation and real time analytics to make quick, informed responses to customer behavior and events; sales optimization to best allocate resources; and consistent validation and refinement of processes.
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