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B2B sales in the post-COVID 19 world and increasing role of marketing
Siba Satapathy Senior Vice President , Aerospace & Defense sector, Engineering R&D services | July 17, 2020
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It’s been three months and counting. There has been a deeply adverse impact on B2B sales, and COVID-19 has been the reason. The suits are gathering dust in the closet, the shoes are not shiny, the carry-on bag is tucked somewhere in the basement, and the airline URLs are not in cache anymore. The road warriors are grounded—at least for the time being.

While the panic around COVID-19 is slowly fading away, the economy is slowly crawling back into action. Thanks to the pandemic, the world is changing for the thousands of direct salespeople around the world. While some changes are temporary, others are here to stay, e.g., the use of collaboration technologies such as Teams, Skype, Zoom, and WebEx replacing physical meetings. Regardless, the sales teams must prepare to have conversations with their existing and new customers sooner than later.

Complex technical B2B sales thrives on personal touch time. I have come across several types of salespeople but would put them into two broad categories when it comes to their customer interactions and effectiveness in B2B sales:

  1. Content-driven: These are the orators who can articulate any proposition with absolute clarity and mostly sell purely based on merit and content. However, I have also seen this category struggle to connect with their customers at a personal level.
  2. Relationship-driven: This category may struggle to get their message across in a boardroom but come across extremely believable in physical interactions or in a casual dinner meeting.

I believe, the content stars will have a slight advantage over the dinner champions who will have to find a friend to compliment in this world of WFH, virtual meetings, and remote selling. Enter the marketing team with all their creativity and tools and the technical SMEs that were not always available to you.

Historically, marketing teams in B2B businesses played a rather limited role with their biggest contribution coming from organizing conferences and webinars. Marketing now has a great opportunity to play a more front and central role in the business acquisition process. The role of marketing in B2B business has to step up and be the partner to the sales team in the virtual world. Content has to speak for itself. The other partner in such meetings would be the technical team, which was earlier a challenge because of cost of travel, their location, availability, etc.Marketing now has a great opportunity to play a more front and central role in the business acquisition process. They have to step up and be the partner to the sales team in the virtual worldHere are 10 suggestions to the B2B sales folks to be effective and successful in this new normal:

  1. Take bigger bets on existing customers: Your existing customers could use all the help from their existing partners. Also, given the constraints and the business environment, one may struggle to connect with a net new customer at this time.
  2. Research: Thoroughly look up your customers’ organization as well as people you reach out to. Sales folks will have to understand and get used to the digital persona of their customers/prospects.
  3. Rethink your value propositions: The value-add you provided yesterday might be irrelevant in the new world.
  4. Overhaul old PPTs and hyper-personalize the content: It’s very easy to lose the audience in online meetings where they may get easily distracted with emails, texts, and many other things. Replace your me-too PPTs, filled with text, with relevant POCs, demos, infographics, videos, etc., to keep your audience engaged and excited.
  5. Switch on the camera: Now is not the time to be camera shy and do dress well even while working from home. It forces all participants to stay focused on the meeting; being able to observe body language is key to a successful interaction as well.
  6. Sit on the customer side (digitally) and contextualize the conversation: Since these are virtual meetings, one may tend to invite more colleagues than a regular physical meeting. While it’s a good idea to have a content star articulate the topic, the salesperson must moderate the sessions and connect them to the customer’s needs and personality, else you may lose your credibility and personal touch.
  7. Don’t sound desperate or appear like a predator: Ask a lot of questions and gather insight. Offer to solve a problem and not push something you have, even if it means introducing your customer to another company, or your competition, if that genuinely solves their problem.
  8. One-on-one phone/video calls are never going to die: Call even when you may not have a specific transaction. Demonstrate empathy and patience. Let them know that you have called not to sell but just to have a chat, share market news, and your views, let them know your fears and concerns if you feel comfortable. Research and provide industry insight that will be of use to your customer.
  9. Product-ize your services if you haven’t done so already: Create a road map, brand them, change the role of pre-sales and marketing folks to brand/category managers, run campaigns on multiple digital channels.
  10. Learn, learn, learn: Go deeper into your products and services, understand your customer's business, products, value stream, trends, etc. Embrace new technologies, and better yet, commit yourself to some online courses.

As they say, never waste a good crisis. We didn’t cause the crisis but can certainly choose to come out of it stronger than before.

"When written in Chinese, the word 'crisis' is composed of two characters. One represents danger and the other represents opportunity."

--- John F. Kennedy ---

Looking forward to your comments and your suggestions. Happy selling.