Arthur Miller’s 1949 play Death of a Salesman explores what happens when a salesman fails to accept the changes happening within himself and the society around him.
When Arthur Miller penned Death of a Salesman no-one could have imagined just how pressured and complex the world of B2B sales would become – and how technology would change everything!
B2B companies today struggle to build an operating model putting the customer at the heart of the business and mapping optimal, dynamic, intelligent customer journeys.
Many companies are fighting against obsolete, fragmented technology, hugely competitive markets, ever-increasing customer expectations, social media and multi-channel outreach.
This is coupled with a relentless drive to engage customers faster, deliver solutions faster and close deals faster is leading to a fundamental shift in the world of B2B sales, marketing & customer success over the last decade.
Many companies try incremental change without the end vision of customer utopia – this is a recipe for major IT setbacks, internal ‘turf wars’, customer attrition, sales and marketing misalignment and CEO frustration.
In short, B2B ‘sales & marketing’ is in the Emergency Room.
So what does the next decade hold for B2B sales, marketing and customer engagement?
Look to the future – The Augmented Seller
Come 2030, it’s easy to paint a picture of a robotic dystopia, where sellers will be replaced, dehumanising the nature of customer engagement. But will it really play out that way?
My answer is no – don’t raise the dystopia alarm bell. But B2B sellers today must realise that the best performance will be achieved through collaboration between human knowledge, big data, behavioural insights and repeatable machine logic.
Technology will not fully automate the seller’s role, it will, however, automate certain skills and processes – the augmented seller.
Yes, sales jobs will be redefined and mundane activity is undertaken flawlessly by intelligent customer engagement systems, but the biggest threat faced by B2B sellers over the next decade will be a failure to embrace the benefits technology can bring and embedding them within the complete customer lifecycle.
Five Catalysts for Change
Living in the future, I believe there are five key things that will shape the future of B2B sellers over the next decade:
- Simplicity from complexity
Thanks to advances in technology and the convergence of big data, AI, and machine learning sellers will no longer grapple with manual processes, or be dogged by poor intelligence and insight from disparate (un)structured data sources delivered from proprietary systems and legacy technology.
Indeed the convergence of these technologies will become mainstream and B2B sellers will be furnished with accurate, reliable customer insights extracted and analysed from a vast wealth of sources, customised to their needs.
Sales technology today is already facilitating this, by collecting and analysing customer data, identifying prospects, qualifying leads and directing next best actions to optimise a sellers chances of success.
Over the next decade sales technology will continue to break through the complex to optimise sales effectiveness and efficiency, acting as a catalyst for a profound re-imagining of B2B sales and enabler for the seller to deliver real impact at every stage of the customer journey.
I remember when Don Peppers (1to1 Marketing fame) did a speaking tour in the late 1990s – I am so excited that now the technology landscape is ready for primetime. This brings me nicely on to point two…
- Customer obsession
B2B sales success in 2030 will be underpinned by customer obsession. This is more than another buzzword – it is the essence of the Culture of top-performing companies.
It will become part of the seller’s DNA, and the epicentre of the role of sales, marketing and customer success with Sales at the vanguard.
Customer obsession will become embedded deeply from the beginning to the end of every relationship – defining use cases, engagement touchpoints, processes and behaviours to share mutual value with customers – it will be a living, breathing relationship.
Thinking with the future in mind, sellers today must start with the customer and build out from there – how to grow revenues via new customers, how to drive long term value from existing customers and how to turn customers into raving fans.
Your customers are your biggest advocates and if you anticipate their expectations and deal with them authentically, they will create a movement for your company.
You could argue that Apple enjoyed this in the early days of the iPhone, as did HubSpot in the B2B space – educating their buyer on a new way of doing things, not just selling software.
Sales technology and the advanced customer insights it delivers will drive this customer obsession. Organisations are mostly internally structured for the old world where there are chasms between sales, marketing and customer success – the world of tomorrow will merge functional disconnects and put the customer at the heart of driving your company – think how you organise and create the incentives for this future world.
Organisations today must harness technology in a customer focussed way – not only must they invest in the right technologies, but they must invest in the sellers using them and ensure they are widely adopted.
Likewise, sellers must embrace change/feedback and the opportunities provided by insight as they focus on achieving the mutual goals of putting the customer first and creating awesome customer experiences.
- Sales is Science
B2B Sales used to be an art form, however, the evolution of sales as science has already happened. As we move through the decade ahead, the pace of that evolution will pick up as sellers realise that gut instinct, hindsight, serendipity, luck, bluebirds and ambiguity have to take a back seat in the customer interactions of tomorrow.
Data is currency and therefore sales as a science is a necessity. Sales will inevitably be increasingly driven by advanced analytics and cognitive-based AI solutions that utilise machine learning and natural language processing. This will not serve to dehumanise but instead upskill the human aspect of sales.
With machines crunching data, finding prospects in target markets, uncovering opportunities, deciding how a customer should be onboarded, identifying risks and taking on administrative tasks the seller is free to focus on the uniquely human skills such as creativity, empathy and relationship building, but with deeper level of understanding, better prediction of outcomes and so on.
Organisations today must invest in the science of understanding their customers, and the future of their sales teams by adapting to changes, investing in technology and developing data-driven sales behaviours – the science of B2B sales.
What does this mean for the Chief Revenue Officer – they can be confident of over 99% forecast predictability – a platform of confidence, investment and growth.
- The Magical Convergence of technology solving real problems for sellers
Where the biggest transformation will come is where the convergence of multi-channel technologies such as AI, machine learning, data analytics and predictive algorithms answer real and immediate needs for sellers.
As we proceed through the next decade we’ll see tangible developments – a wide range of AI’s and bots, designed to address clearly defined needs and problems, will emerge fuelled by increased investment and experimentation.
This will go much further than simply automating manual or repetitive processes for sellers. Technologies will advance to assist sellers at all stages of the customer journey for optimised success.
Whether it be providing a pre-formatted pool of qualified leads, nurturing leads with automated hyper-personalised content, acting as a virtual assistant to answer queries or equipping sellers with accurate, actionable and up-to-the second relevant customer insights that put them in a prime position to close a deal. Seller and machine working together flawlessly and complementing each other.
- Social on Steroids
We already live in an age where one bad viral review can burn down an entire relationship. Social media puts an ever-increasing onus on sellers to create and deliver great customer experiences. Brands are built and amplified on social media.
Over the course of the next ten years, social media platforms combined with traditional channels will become even more critical to sales success. Offering up opportunities to truly hear the voice of the customer – their expectations, preferences, comments and discussions, as well as accelerate sales cycles by amplifying their own voice and brand.
My advice to sellers today is that they must catch on quickly to the fact that business metrics only tell a small part of the customer story.
Start investing in technologies that make use of social and the vast quantity of unstructured data out there to truly understand the customer perspective and you’ll get yourself ahead of the curve.
To win, you are likely to be a recognised “Thought Leader” on social media.
The dawn of a new decade of opportunity
We are at the dawn of disruption and B2B sellers today must start thinking and behaving with the future in mind.
I wrote this blog to start the conversation. I would love to hear your views – what do you think the role of the B2B seller will look like in 2030?
What will be the biggest disruptors in B2B sales, marketing and customer engagement over the next decade?
What do you think organisations and sales teams need to do now to prepare and stay ahead of the field by 2030? What’s the biggest enemy of the future vision?
You can shape the 2030 vision and create your growth company of the future.