Market research shows that business-to-business selling continues to evolve and the purchasing journey has changed drastically in recent years, hence the need for a customer-centric distribution sales strategy. B2B buyers are smarter and understand more about their procurement needs than ever before, requiring sellers to be more agile and adaptable to meet their needs.
Research from Gartner shows that B2B buyers don’t want to be sold – instead they spend as much as 45% of their time doing more research to identify the solutions that they need and the best sales partners to meet those needs. They also place a heavy focus on having multiple touchpoints between themselves and suppliers, forcing reps to play a different role in educating potential buyers and expediting digital interactions.
Even though sales reps enter the buying journey later than they have in the past, they have never been more valued because of onsite assessments, the ability to drive decisions with multiple stakeholders and successful implementation of solutions. A customer-centric distribution sales strategy at work.
The new digital buyers’ journey
The role of any sales rep is to reduce friction in the sales process, but research from Challenger shows that 89% of B2B buyers start their buying journey independently. Prospects aren’t reaching out to sales reps early in the process like they did in the past, forcing companies to invest in the research needed to help reps understand the new buyers’ journey and how to inject themselves at pivotal decision points.
The companies that are most successfully adapting to the needs of the new B2B buyer with a customer-centric distribution sales strategy are aligning internal marketing and sales, external sales distribution support, and customer service to deliver the right information at the right time. In fact, companies that successfully synchronized information through social media, advertising and email campaigns increased conversion rates by 64%. To be successful, sales reps have to utilize marketing resources to educate buyers both in person and digitally at the right inflection points in the buying process through the right channels.
Engaging in consultative selling
As prospective buyers continue their investigations and narrow their search, they start evaluating a smaller pool of suppliers who can solve their problem. This is when the sales team needs to be ready to step in with solutions tailored to solve the prospects specific pain points such as cost control, increased productivity and higher safety and quality compliance. The real challenge in developing a customer-centric distribution sales strategy is engaging with prospects before they are too far along in the decision-making process.
Challenger research also shows that almost half of B2B purchasing journeys result in no decision and no purchase. That’s usually because of the complexities of the internal buying team’s evaluation and decision-making process. Each stakeholder in the buying process has unique criteria, and the only way to overcome objections and build consensus is by working with those prospects to develop a deeper understanding of their needs, identify objections, and manage individual stakeholders’ expectations throughout the decision-making process. To close a B2B engagement requires consultative selling that leads to buying consensus.
Consultative selling not only helps buyers make decisions and purchases, but it also continues beyond the close of the sale. B2B customers report that fewer than 30% of sales reps remain involved in post-sales support. Many companies rely on customer success teams to handle onboarding, training, and support, but it is crucial in a customer-centric distribution sales strategy that sales reps stay involved in post-sales activities and oversee fulfillment. The overall customer experience has a significant impact on contract renewal and upsell opportunities, and the sales rep remaining involved is instrumental in shaping that experience.
Today’s B2B buyers are looking for more from their suppliers and business partners, and successful B2B sellers are migrating from a transactional to a more consultative sales approach. Sales and marketing are coming together to identify new ways to inform and serve customers and investing in an ongoing engagement rather than just closing the next deal.
Gary Clark is president and co-founder of OneSolution, a company comprised of manufacturing representatives who work with suppliers in industrial/MRO, construction, safety, utility, food processing, metalworking, welding and fabrication, and other related industries. He has more than 35 years of experience with industrial distribution and channel management.