B2B Sales: Follow the Digital Trail

It must be nice to know everything. Along with teenagers and toddlers, today's business buyers are falling into this know-it-all group - challenging how enterprises acquire their business. See, the Internet has made experts out of us all and business buyers do their homework before talking to sales professionals (if at all).

They are downloading whitepapers, asking their peers for advice, browsing websites, watching videos, and, in essence, leaving breadcrumbs for sales professionals to follow.

Let's explore ways that enterprises can pick up on that digital trail.

Be Notified

If the customer journey is no longer linear (where one may have in the past gone to channel x, y or z independently in that order with no visits to other touchpoints along the way to make their purchasing decision) then all the departments that the prospect "touches" need to work together.

Shalini Mitha, head of solution marketing, sales audience at SAP Hybris, suggests that marketing and sales collaboration is one of the first things that needs to be fixed to better support decision-makers in their buying process.

A marketing team can publish a whitepaper, for instance, but if the sales team is not notified immediately when a qualified lead comes through the funnel, the opportunity will likely be lost. Prospects can download assets all day long, says Mitha, but if they are contacted three days later, chances are they will not recall the action they took to initiate the follow up. This will leave the prospect maddened rather than motivated.

Instead, follow-up needs to happen in real-time where a "switch" activates, indicating to the appropriate sales representative that reaching out to prospect is a high-priority as they took a qualified action to suggest interest. In fact, Salesforce's most recent "State of Sales" report indicates that over the past 12-18 months, 70 percent of sales teams have become more focused on providing customers with real-time response and feedback as a result of changing customer expectations.

Sales shouldn't go at this process alone. Whether it's a manual notification (worst case) from marketing to sales or an automated one through a customer relationship management system (desktop or app), marketing automation software or a sales accelerator platform (see sidebar), personnel within sales departments need in-the-moment capabilities to engage in real-time just as much as the marketing team.

Essential Enterprise Sales Software

Don't get left behind, discover what tools you absolutely need to close leads today at wsm.co/salesoftware.

Get Analytics

Savvy business-to-business enterprises are treating their buyers' journeys similar to their business-to-consumer comrades.

Best case, they are tracking consumers' digital footprint, segmenting them at will, serving relevant content to them, reminding them about their visit and proactively offering service to win conversions (repeatedly). With the right content or Web experience management solution, this is an automated process. Sales, however, needs access.

Salesforce reports that high-performing sales teams are 2.4 times more likely than underperformers to rate their analytics capabilities as "outstanding" or "very good." In other words, marketing can't have all the fun, collecting and interpreting data. Companies need to employ technology (e.g., Sitecore, SAP Hybris, NetSuite/Oracle, Episerver, Adobe) that provides sales with that coveted "single view of customer" that marketing is after.

Salesforce reports that 76 percent of sales teams say analytics have improved their ability to provide customers with a consistent experience (e.g., personalization, timely response, etc.) across every channel (e.g., in-store, online, email, mobile), while 70 percent say analytics have improved sales velocity.

With much of the sales process automated, however, why even bother bringing sales in the loop?

Get Intelligent Help

Sales teams are questioning their professional mortality particularly with the rise of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning, which help enterprises focus on deals that will close and the optimal path or approach to get there. With solutions like SAP Clea, Salesforce Einstein and IBM Watson, sales teams are receiving suggestions on the next-best steps.

SAP Clea, for example, can recommended what a sales professional should do based on historical information, like "these last 10 deals closed when a rep went through these exact steps."

Stay Involved

The mere mention of analytics and AI can make it seem that sales processes are no longer about relationships, but more about collecting and following breadcrumbs. To a degree, that is true, but even though lot of steps can be taken online, people still want human interaction - sales teams just need to be equipped with the data to intelligently support those exchanges.