Digitalisation is rapidly changing the B2B business. Sales are hardly changing at all. As a result, companies are wasting their potential these days.
The digital transformation in industrial goods and software (B2B business) is in full swing. Everyone is talking about Industry 4.0, meaning the digital transformation, especially in terms of products and production processes. New technologies from the cyber world are being linked with traditional production systems from the physical world. Among others, manufacturers in mechanical or plant engineering, automotive suppliers or providers of industrial software solutions are engaged in digitalising value chains.
The hype surrounding the topic of Industry 4.0 should not hide the fact that the digitalisation of B2B business is still in its infancy. Especially the interface to the customer is neglected. Often, the advantages of product-based innovations do not find their way to the customer because they are not yet backed by the appropriate marketing and sales processes.
The answers indicate that B2B providers partly underestimate the strategic importance of sales or are not able to effectively implement the transformation process in their companies.
The demands of the competitive environment are changing: new digital players – mostly from the B2C business – are already claiming parts of B2B sales for themselves. They use their experience in customer handling and operate with their own business models, for example as online-only distributors.
Customers develop higher demands
The so-called Millenials are the new decision-makers on the customer side. In the USA, 46% of those who influence B2B decisions are already under 35 years old, in Germany the number is only slightly lower. Their information, communication and relationship behaviour differs significantly from that of the previous generation. They prefer to get information on the internet (“googling”) rather than in person with the contact person in the sales department or in the catalogue. They communicate via Skype, Whatsapp or Google Hangouts, they are always approachable and expect answers at any time. Through their experience with online shopping of consumer goods (Amazon, Zalando, etc.), they already have high expectations of the convenience of a purchase. These change their professional decision-making behaviour.
Sales must rethink in order to use the potential of digitalisation. The customers determine where the journey goes.
For many companies, digitalisation provides the reason to upgrade a traditional process with new technologies or to add another channel to the existing ones. However, the change is more far-reaching. For the traditional model followed a “push logic”: sales provided the impetus for the flow of information – direct acquisition, sending out marketing material, meetings with potential customers, sales presentations and arranging meetings of higher-ranking executives. The new model has a “pull logic”: the impulse comes from the customers. They decide when and where sales comes into play and in what form they want to interact with them.
For this, information must be provided centrally. According to research, 90% of B2B buyers search for keywords on the internet, 70% watch videos to get information before making a purchase. 57% of the purchasing process has already taken place when a sales representative is contacted for the first time. So if you are not present in the information and initiation phase, you may not even make it to the shortlist of suppliers in the future.
The good news is: digitalisation can pave the way to the customer much more directly than is possible with traditional sales structures. In addition to the company’s own website, a new universe of digital channels is opening up: e.g. communities in social networks where exchanges on specialist topics take place. There, product experts can exchange information directly with users about desired features, technical specifications or suitable services and even competitors’ offers. Whereas the previous contact base was limited to a few contact persons in technical purchasing, in the ideal case, hundreds of engineers working with similar technologies and products can be reached digitally. Trust and customer loyalty can thus be established at a very early stage, and the subsequent formal purchasing process also becomes more efficient as a result of the preliminary work.
Sales also benefit from new devices and applications. With their help, customers’ preferences can be recorded much more precisely – for example via tracking technologies and algorithms. They create transparency about how prospective customers come to one’s own website, what kind of information preparation they appreciate and what options they use to contact the company. The centralisation of information and the networking of data open up opportunities to use this knowledge to conclude contracts. Apps and mobile devices enable the sales employee – assuming an optimally integrated system – to access the entire product portfolio directly in the sales talk. He can configure offers interactively and also include relevant customer data. The price for the offer tailored to the customer can be compared in real time with that of other providers.
Find out in our white paper how to digitalise your sales and successfully position yourself for the future.
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