Handshakes or hands-off: Managing the B2B sales experience

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When I was a kid, my dad was a traveling B2B salesperson for millwork and textiles. We’d get in the car with his briefcase, sample book, and our thermoses (of coffee and hot cocoa respectively), and head off to meet customers. At the sales calls there would be laughter, talks of kids and vacations, and then writing up orders on carbon paper-all finishing with a handshake.

Customer relationships were a huge part of my dad’s success.

Fast forward to today’s B2B sales experience. There’s much debate about the role of salespeople in a digital world. But as B2B organizations are deciding their sales strategies, there are several points to consider about how, where and when to leverage sales relationships (handshakes) vs. digital self-service (hands-off).

B2B sales experience: 3 core elements

According to McKinsey & Company, three traits have emerged that should be core ingredients of every B2B sales team’s optimal human-digital blend:

  1. Speed
  2. Transparency
  3. Expertise

Let’s unpack these elements in the contextual order of the sales funnel to help you prioritize how to invest time and resources into creating the right digital/interpersonal mix for B2B sales success.

For speed’s sake: Getting digital right

For a majority of customers, digital is the preferred method for when they want quick access to top of the funnel activities or self-service product support such as:

  • Product research, including specifications, videos, reviews, product comparisons, and FAQs
  • Simple purchases & replenishment
  • Asset tracking

Lesson learned from experience: Don’t try to overdo your digital presence. This is where many B2B organizations fail or falter. Get to know your customers and find out how they’ll use your online tools.

You don’t have to keep up with the B2C environment when it’s not reasonable or your customer’s don’t expect it.  Ask them what they need before over-engineering and adding complexity to your digital tools.

B2B sales experience: The human factor

In B2B, sales professionals are the face of your brand.  As your customers move through the sales funnel, they can heavily influence conversion by offering expertise and focusing on:

  • Brand confidence, including partnership, personalization, and customer understanding
  • Deep product knowledge such as custom solutions and industry application
  • Answers to specific customer business challenges

From my experience, it’s best to empower your sales team and encourage them in their roles as experts and brand ambassadors. So many articles and internal discussions suggests eliminating sales teams, but they are a critical element of B2B interactions and transactions.

The shift to digital channels shouldn’t make sales reps feel like they’re being replaced. Instead, they should feel that they’re being funneled into more meaningful, value-added activities that directly touch customers. Not every customer will need the personal interaction, but many will.

Tying it all together for the best CX

The back office ties together your online and interpersonal sales interactions with customers by ensuring:

  • Document accuracy of contracts, orders, and invoices
  • Real-time information of inventory and pricing 

You risk killing customer experience if the front office doesn’t have back-end integration. This often happens when business units involved in the activities listed above are not included in digital and sales strategy planning.

Including them in customer experience mapping and digital transformation efforts will allow them to feel their connection to the customer journey and create better integrations to support your sales objectives.

As you work to define your sales customer experience, this hybrid sales framework can help you shape and prioritize where to invest in digital and where to leverage the expertise of your sales and support teams to amplify your brand.

B2B sales are changing fast. How can you keep up? Find out HERE.

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Jodi Simmons

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