7 Sep 2018
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How digital selling can keep your business relevant

In the face of rapid and dramatic change in buying behavior, organizations must reinvent how they sell to restore their value to buyers.

B2B buyers are changing and the sales organization is struggling to keep pace. Today, it’s much more difficult for B2B companies to get customers’ attention, build relationships with them and sustain brand loyalty. And that translates into less-certain revenue and higher cost of sales. Many B2B companies still inhabit an analog world, interacting with customers by calling them, going to meetings and attending conferences. Organizations risk getting left behind as buyers become more self-sufficient, purchase directly via online channels and use salespeople only for help with their most complex purchasing decisions. This means, to stay relevant in today’s world, companies need to embrace digital selling.

What is digital selling?

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. 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.

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

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 omni-channel 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. They’re also a veritable gold mine 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.

Deliver a consistent, seamless omni-channel 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, e-commerce 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 omni-channel 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 life cycle.

Four types of metrics are critical:

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

The old adage “If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it” is just as true – if not more so – in a digital world.

Addressing digital disruption head on

As buyers continue to turn to digital channels to learn about and purchase solutions, traditional sales tools grow ever more obsolete and B2B sales organizations risk losing out to more digitally savvy enterprises. By shifting to a digital selling model, fortified by a robust center of excellence, B2B companies can develop the tools, technologies and processes they need to develop stronger relationships with and relevance to customers in an evolving digital world.


Digital selling empowers sales teams, allowing them to win customers’ trust and, ultimately, increase revenue and reduce sales costs.

About this article

By EY Global

Multidisciplinary professional services organization

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