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Since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, customers aren’t buying the way they used to. While buyer journeys were certainly changing before, the transition to an all-virtual world drastically altered customers’ buying habits and preferences. McKinsey reports this digital growth is making waves in the B2B world, where 20% of buyers are willing to spend more than $500,000 in a fully remote or digital sales model.
When buying habits change, so do business practices. Good business has always been rooted in the idea of knowing your customer, but the pandemic has caused this to be even more critical. The buyer decision-making process has drastically changed; people want to build personal rapport and relationships with others — including brands — after feeling isolated for so long.
Thanks to high-touch pandemic shopping experiences, brands are expected to leverage data and analytics to provide exactly what customers want, when they want it. The pandemic accelerated digital transformation seemingly overnight, causing expectations for brand experiences to skyrocket. Customers are now comparing the experience your company provides to the best, most personalized brand experiences they’ve ever received. It’s time to ensure you’re able to deliver.
Trauma changes people as well as businesses
These changes are easily mirrored on a personal and individual level. Any time you go through a traumatic event, it changes you. Think of 9/11; as a country, we found ourselves reexamining our lives, jobs and family commitments. The pandemic has created a similar response, with everyone realizing just how quickly our entire world could change.
As a result, business owners who were operating companies that were seemingly doing well found that their businesses suffered. According to Gartner, 41% of B2B buyers spent less as a result of the pandemic. Business owners don’t want to be in that position again, which is why they are trying to pave the best path forward in an agile way.
If you’re in this position, here are five ways to reexamine your sales infrastructure to protect yourself — and incent new behavior from your buyers — moving forward.
1. Document your current buyer’s journey and sales process
All companies need a consistent, documented selling process — but a process is only as good as your ability to implement it! If your company is like most, different salespeople might conduct the sales process in completely different ways.
Documenting your process helps you standardize your processes and assess how the sales process and buyer’s journey align. Companies that reinvent their customer experiences to be more aligned are able to grow their year-over-year profits about six times more quickly than their peers, so it’s a worthwhile endeavor.
You might have a great email drip campaign designed to educate prospects on the way your company does business and your key value proposition, but that campaign needs to hit prospects’ inboxes at the right time in the buyer decision-making process. Maybe it gets launched after an initial intro call, giving your sales rep a good reason to follow up. This is just one example of sales and nurturing aligned with the buyer’s journey.
2. Ask current and future buyers how they prefer to buy
Just as entrepreneurs are working hard not to repeat the past, so are buyers. Companies are trying to run a lean model, avoiding any chances of layoffs or terminations due to budget crunch. Beyond the B2B space, consumers generally prioritize value and convenience — to the point that 75% of Americans abandoned brands they previously had been loyal to during the pandemic.
Many factors (new competitors, new technologies or shifts in the economy) can impact the buyer decision-making process. By constantly asking your buyers what their preferences are, you’ll keep a finger on the pulse of their tendencies and be in a position to adjust your strategy accordingly.
3. Rethink how you sell to stay current
There has been a shift to virtual buying since the start of pandemic shopping, but 44% of B2B companies say it’s difficult to connect with prospects in a virtual environment. Despite these challenges, savvy businesses are finding new ways to connect in a digital landscape.
One of our clients believed the key to its sales success was face-to-face demonstrations of its software. With Covid-19, that in-person experience wasn’t possible. This particular company wasn’t sure buyers would feel comfortable enough to buy software without seeing all of the functionality. It was reticent to give prospects access to the full version of the software, yet the team struggled with how to bridge the gap.
Eventually, this client realized it didn’t make a difference whether a prospect experienced full functionality or saw a face-to-face demo; audiences just wanted to understand the product’s value. The company started to conduct online demos and, to maintain the level of personalization prospects expected, began sharing corresponding videos and marketing collateral that focused on the impact the software makes on the lives of buyers.
4. Focus less on you and more on the buyer
In each stage of the funnel, challenge your team to think of tools, resources and content that might be helpful to the buyer. What could you be doing to help the buyer make an informed decision?
HubSpot, for example, has a hugely successful content program that it uses to drive sales and guide buyers through the journey. The company creates content for every step of the sales process, allowing it to nurture prospects through to the point of purchase in an engaging and educational manner. This keeps buyers connected and ensures that their individual journeys feel tailored to them.
5. Validate and iterate your new sales process
Don’t make the mistake of thinking your new sales process is a one-and-done decision. Test it to measure whether your assumptions are correct — and, if not, continue to iterate.
Talk to your best reps and gather feedback to determine where you really need to focus to enable sales success. Perhaps you focused on letting sales reps make their own creative decisions and customize their selling processes post-pandemic, but maybe they wanted you to focus on implementing a standardized, automated lead-tracking system in your CRM. The important thing is to keep everyone on track, giving your salespeople the tools they need to support your prospects and customers in their preferred ways of buying.
The pandemic created obvious, seismic shifts in buyer behavior, such as ultra-high standards for personalized digital selling. It also created less obvious shifts, such as a preference for convenience and value. The way people buy has changed so much that it’s time to reexamine your sales infrastructure to protect your company and create buyer demand for the buyers of today — not the buyers of the past.