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Digital selling: reinventing sales to stay relevant to changing B2B buyers

It’s time for a new approach to sales: digital selling

In the face of rapid and dramatic change in buying behavior, sales organizations must reinvent how they sell to restore their value to buyers. Broadly speaking, this means embracing the concept of digital selling. At its essence, digital selling empowers sales teams, allowing them to gain appropriate insight on and relevance to customers — winning their trust and, ultimately, increasing revenue and reducing sales costs.

A wave of new competitors trying to eat our lunch forced us to become innovators, too.” - Phil Lurie, SAP’s Vice President of Sales Technology

A center of excellence is vital to digital selling’s effectiveness

Digital selling is not simply a new twist on old sales approaches. Rather, it encompasses myriad skills, tools and processes that, in many companies, likely don’t already exist.

That’s why, in our experience, companies need a dedicated entity — in the form of a center of excellence (CoE) to — truly excel in digital selling. At its most basic, a CoE can be defined as an entity that provides leadership, best practices, skills, processes, technologies and other kinds of support to a specific focus area.

A digital selling CoE melds the necessary capabilities into a finely tuned machine that serves as the foundation of all selling efforts.

We’ve found that a Digital Selling CoE can enable a company to excel in six key areas:

  1. Identifying leads and the right decision makers
  2. Leveraging data to build relationships
  3. Producing marketing content that aligns with the customer’s agenda and buying process
  4. Delivering a consistent, seamless omnichannel experience
  5. Boosting the sales force’s “digital sales confidence”
  6. Gaining a clear picture of the company’s digital selling performance

Identify leads and the right decision makers more effectively with social networking

Social networks are now a force to be reckoned with. LinkedIn, for instance, has over 500 million members, and Facebook has about 2 billion monthly active users. They’re also a veritable goldmine of valuable insights that can help sales better understand customers and their agendas.

Salespeople also can use  social networks and their insights to shorten “time to trust” by leveraging common interests, experiences and connections; establish, foster and maintain trusted  relationships at scale; and engage with buyers much  earlier in the decision-making process.

Use relationship intelligence automation (RIA) to leverage internal and external data to understand relationships and relationship strength

Relationships have always been at the core of selling. And so much data now exists for salespeople to use to establish and strengthen relationships with buyers. However, the sheer amount of data available, not to mention the myriad and multiplying data sources, can make it very difficult for sales to harness that power.

That’s where RIA can help. At its core, RIA enables salespeople to connect insights from existing sources of data to build an intelligent, holistic view of each customer that can form the foundation of a strong relationship and deliver a one-on-one experience at scale.

Data is extracted from several key sources:

  • Sales transaction data and contact master data from the CRM system
  • Customer agendas, interests, affiliations and contacts from social networks
  • Customer and company news from the Internet
  • Customer interactions and meeting information from the email server
  • Customer transactions from the company’s ERP system

Tightly integrate sales and marketing integration to produce marketing content that aligns with the customer’s agenda and place in the buying process

As buyers increasingly help themselves to the wealth of material and knowledge available online, sales must reinvent its role in the demand-generation process, and it needs active help from the marketing team to do so.

According to a 2017 Edelman-LinkedIn report, 9 in 10 business decision-makers find thought leadership important or critical to their decision process, and 82% said that thought leadership increased their trust in a vendor organization. Marketing plays a critical role in developing the right content to progress the sales process.

Marketing sees its role as producing a great deal of content that will generate leads, and sales sorts through those leads to determine which will be most likely to turn into opportunities and, eventually, lead to sales.” - Phil Lurie, SAP’s Vice President of Sales Technology

Deliver a consistent, seamless omnichannel experience to maximize revenue opportunities and cost efficiency across channels

As customers adopt different information consumption behaviors, they’re also increasingly moving to self-service portals, ecommerce and other digital channels. Thus, regardless of which interaction pathways they follow, a company must be able to deliver consistent messages and offerings across all platforms. Digital technologies and capabilities — including analytics, platforms, processes and strategies — play a major role in helping companies seamlessly sell and operate in multiple direct and indirect channels.

Companies that excel in creating a seamless omnichannel experience reap the rewards. They not only gain access to broader revenue streams but also can use the data that digital channels generate to create a much more detailed and useful view of their customers.

Boost the sales force’s “digital sales confidence” by integrating digital capabilities into sales motions to understand a customer’s agenda and most effectively position the company’s offerings

Digital selling requires new digital tools and new ways of working. And that can be a big change for a sales organization used to the “tried and true.”

Gone are the days of cold calls, referrals, Rolodexes, chain email, purchased lists and CRM to identify prospects and spark conversations. Traditional ways of developing relationships — such as face-to-face meetings, events and clubs, dinners, gifts and generic marketing collaterals — will live on but will be augmented by wholly new relationship development capabilities.

The fact is, selling is evolving rapidly to encompass a blend of traditional and digital channels, as well as a mix of human and automated interactions. With customers increasingly educating themselves online and purchasing directly via digital self-service channels, the most effective salespeople are those who can make the transition to consultative sellers: digitally savvy guides who make themselves indispensable by deeply understanding customers’ needs and providing solutions that meet them.

Connect marketing and sales activities and performance to financial outcomes to gain a clear picture of the company’s digital selling performance

To gauge and continually improve the effectiveness of their digital selling efforts, sales organizations need to measure their performance, behavior and outcomes across the digital selling lifecycle.

Four types of metrics are critical:

  • Marketing metrics
  • Social media metrics
  • Relationship metrics
  • Sales metrics

Addressing digital disruption head-on

There’s no stopping the digital train. It’s gaining momentum every year, and no industry or discipline is
Immune to its effects. That’s why it’s so critical for B2B sales organizations to enthusiastically embrace digital.

As buyers continue to turn to digital channels to learn about and purchase solutions, traditional sales tools and approaches grow ever closer to being obsolete. In fact, many already are. Without a concerted effort to infuse digital into sales operations, B2B companies risk drifting further away from buyers and ceding customers and revenue to more digitally savvy enterprises.

Contacts

Woody Driggs

Partner
EY Americas Digital Leader Ernst & Young LLP

Chris Hergesell

Executive Director, Sales
Efficiency and Effectiveness Ernst & Young LLP