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Five Ways Business Leaders can Capitalize on the New Era of B2B sales

By Maria Valdivieso, Partner, McKinsey Growth, Marketing & Sales Practice

A new era of sales is here. Sales are becoming increasingly digital, operating models more hybrid, and the remote sales environment presents unique challenges for B2B companies. Customers now want seamless buying experiences and greater value for their money; they are more technically and digitally informed than ever before. Add to that the ongoing difficulties of retaining talent, rising inflation, and savvier customers, and the pressure mounts.

Despite the challenges, great opportunities exist and businesses that turn these jolts into a competitive advantage will lead the change. But how do you clear these hurdles and meet customer needs while ensuring growth?

McKinsey outlines five key must-haves to help navigate the challenges and ready your organization for what’s next.

Put the customer at the heart of growth

To satisfy customers’ needs for simpler, on-demand, and omnichannel experiences, B2B companies need to develop customer-centric approaches in which they ensure that they target, attract, excite, and convert customers across the full cross-channel journey. Best-in-class players keep customers front of mind, as they are quick to move on if they don’t get the experience they want.

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Break the channel mindset

However, if customers do get what they’re looking for, research shows that they are willing to pay up to $500,000 without even meeting the seller in person. Leading organizations respond to this new behavior in three ways. First, they adopt a hybrid selling model. With hybrid representing 70 percent of sales roles and digital 64 percent, companies need to offer the mix at each stage of the sales process to reach customers’ needs. Second, their go-to-market strategy focuses on reaching customers where they want to be met by designing personalized buying journeys. Third, top players drive sales through unexpected channels—these include influencers and buying communities, as well as their own customers who, when incentivized to suggest new referrals, become channels of their own.

Create a scalable sales engine

Successful deals have to be replicated again and again for meaningful growth; this is what distinguishes the great from the good. Leading companies focus on three levers. They set up cross-functional win rooms: these comprise teams made up of people from sales, marketing, technology, product, delivery, and finance, which use a structured cadence to prioritize deals and find solutions quickly and efficiently. Top organizations also work hard at getting the right tech-stack intensity (the combination of technologies required to implement change). They intentionally lead with the desired outcomes, and invest in the relevant data and analytics. Further, companies broaden the role of commercial operations by adding analytical and strategic value. Research shows that organizations that do this perform significantly better than those that use simplified sales operations functions.

Rethink the people strategy

The talent game has changed. People no longer just look for financial compensation in their work; they want it to be meaningful as well. Leading companies are changing their talent strategies in a number of ways. They are reimagining the sales rep: in the new customer-centric, hybrid era of sales, modern sales reps need to have a range of competencies from data analytics to digital skills. Incentives are being redesigned; for example, a leading tech player now offers multi-year incentives, not quarterly or annual ones, which helps sellers focus more on the customer and develop a sense of ownership. Lastly, top organizations are using analytics (such as behavioral and relational) to drive team performance—this informs decisions from whom to hire to what skills to train, and how to predict and prevent attrition of leading performers.

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Make change stick

For success, change needs to be long lasting. There are various practices that best-in-class players use to accelerate the process. First, they define a clear, compelling vision that encourages everyone across the organization to embrace the transformation. Second, change comes from the top. Sales leaders are seen to be using the new concepts; sales managers then model the behavior in their own sales pods, and change moves through the company. Third, top organizations create small cross-functional teams that are empowered and motivated to make quick decisions to implement the change. Lastly, top companies measure everything that matters. Employees might be more involved and cultivate a sense of ownership in the transformation, but leaders make sure that every action is measured, tracked, and accountability is in place.

The new era of sales has created a host of opportunities, despite the challenges. Leading companies that employ these five key actions can drive real organizational change that makes for happier customers, satisfied talent, and boosts revenue.