Last updated: The first rule of B2B sales success: Know your customer

The first rule of B2B sales success: Know your customer

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The B2B world has experienced tremendous change in the past few years, including a massive shift in buyer expectations. Today’s B2B customers want it all – a better overall buyer experience plus more control, flexibility, channels, and support.

In a survey conducted by Harvard Business Review Analytic Services, 79% of respondents said buyer expectations have undergone moderate or significant change.

Savvy companies are trying to deliver what buyers want. In fact, 72% of the survey respondents reported that they’ve adjusted their B2B sales strategies since 2020.

Yet for most companies, these adjustments aren’t enough. Only half of the survey respondents said that their organizations have been successful in meeting customer expectations. That isn’t very encouraging.

What keeps B2B companies from meeting buyer demands? Here are the top three key challenges:

  • Gaining a complete understanding of buyers
  • Empowering sellers and managing complexity
  • Automating processes to reduce friction

How B2B companies can better understand prospective customers? How can they adapt to meet their needs?


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Digital natives want it their way

More than ever, companies need to know who their buyers are and what they want. The demographics of B2B sales are changing, with a growing number of millennials and Gen Z taking over buyer and influencer roles in many enterprises.

These customers tend to be digital natives who prioritize autonomy and control. And many of these buyers prefer a hands-off buying experience. They’d rather engage with suppliers using digital and self-service channels.

In response, leading companies are developing omnichannel sales strategies that give buyers a choice of communication methods, including:

  1. Face-to-face
  2. Telephone
  3. Videoconferencing
  4. Self-service online options
  5. Social media
  6. Apps

But it’s not just about having a lot of sales channels. In order to be effective, the channels must share data so that buyers can access information, communicate with suppliers, and have a good experience from any touch point.

Make every customer interaction count

Digital natives tend to do research, learn about products, and read reviews before they talk to your sales reps. Your first communication with one of these buyers may occur when they are well into their buying journey. Knowing where customers are in their journeys is essential to communicating effectively, without wasting their time.

Once customers make a purchase, they expect to receive orders quickly. They also want suppliers to remain available to them after the sale.

In the survey, nearly half of respondents said they want post-sale services and support from vendors. More than a third of respondents also indicated a desire for products delivered as a service – whether through a lease, subscription, or a consumption-based service.

Top B2B companies are building on the need for customer knowledge and service. By collecting and aggregating customer data, they can help sales and service reps instantly know critical information about the customer’s previous contact with the company, preferences, purchases, and complaints.

This knowledge can help reps personalize and streamline customer interaction, creating better results and a more satisfying experience for buyers.

Listen up: Customer knowledge is power

B2B customers expect you to make it easy for them to buy your products or services. The best way to do that is to understand what buyers want and how they prefer to interact with your company.

For some companies, this may require further change. You may need to update the role of sales representatives from simply selling products to diagnosing and solving customers’ complex challenges. Or you may need to revise your sales models and processes to better match the way that buyers want to do business.

I recently heard one customer relationship pro say that the number of digital interactions at his manufacturing company grew by triple digits since the pandemic, yet the actual time speaking with customers declined. This initially seemed counterintuitive to the company’s seasoned sales pros. Yet by embracing buyer preferences, the company satisfied its customers and boosted its results.

Although change can be difficult, B2B companies must follow the path.

Enterprises that fail to develop an intimate, dynamic understanding of their customers won’t be able to meet their needs or develop innovative solutions to pressing business issues. And digitally native customers who feel that they are being “sold to” – instead of truly heard and understood – will inevitably pivot to suppliers who meet their needs.

By listening to your customers, you can reshape B2B sales and create a brighter future for your business.

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Better outcomes.

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