By Colin Linneweber
Business-to-business (B2B) salespeople can all admit what is obvious: The coronavirus pandemic has changed everything, including how they approach their jobs. Nevertheless, as renowned British author Alan Watts once said, "The only way to make sense out of change is to plunge into it, move with it, and join the dance." Some B2B salespeople have taken Watts’ advice, adapted to the “new normal,” and even managed to prosper since COVID-19 battered the U.S. economy and caused it to plunge into recession in February 2020. But the question is this: How have they stayed afloat, nonetheless thrived, during this unprecedented period? Paige Black spoke to a few industry professionals to receive answers to this query and others.
How has COVID-19 changed B2B lead generation?
Somewhat surprisingly, considering the severe economic downturn, Research and Markets reports that B2B buyers have purchased products more frequently, and the average amount they spent on them has risen substantially since the onset of the pandemic. With face-to-face conversations at best minimal, and at worst nonexistent, B2B salespeople had to get creative and use a variety of digital tools to connect with clients and prospects. Bill Caskey, who in 1989 founded a company, Caskey Achievement Strategies, that focuses on developing B2B sales and leadership teams, discussed his experiences over the past 18 months and advised businesses to fully integrate digital technology into their existing processes.
“I think, as we look back, (the pandemic) will be the thing that has helped us get into the 21st century when it comes to digital lead generation,” Caskey said. “I believe we all got a little lazy in that leads were either coming to us or they were pretty easy to uncover. But COVID changed everything. So, now it's up to sales and marketing teams to be much more creative about how they use social media and all of the digital tools that are available to them to open new discussions with prospects. So, yes, the pandemic changed B2B lead generation, but for the better for people who have embraced digital technology.”
What are the best B2B salespeople doing to stay ahead of the curve?
Fortunately, although recently there has been an uptick in coronavirus cases across America, the pandemic seems to be waning. Plus, the economy has rebounded, is stronger than it was pre-COVID-19, and economists predict that the recovery will continue through the remainder of the year and into 2022. Still, uncertainty lingers, and because leading B2B salespeople realize this, they always attempt to stay ahead of the curve. Chris Bozic is the vice president of marketing and business development of Broomfield, Colorado-based Vivos Therapeutics, Inc. Bozic contends that elite salespeople “do their homework” and become familiar with their prospects by preparing in advance.
“The best salespeople invest time in doing research and making preliminary discovery conversations before engaging with their targets,” Bozic said. Mike Black is the CEO of Denver-headquartered marketing agency Paige Black. Black believes that the pandemic, ever-changing business world, and surging resignation rates will present both challenges and opportunities for B2B salespeople. To capitalize on potential opportunities, Black recommends that B2B salespeople purchase LinkedIn Sales Navigator, a sales management tool designed specifically for lead generation and sales.
“The challenge is that your key contact may leave the business they are in,” Black said. “This may provide a gap for a competitor to start conversations with important clients. Great salespeople are connecting and building strong relationships with multiple influencers at each of their clients. The opportunity is that the contacts that have moved to a new company may provide an opportunity to start a conversation with their new employer. LinkedIn Sales Navigator is a great tool to help you stay on top of these relationships.”
Ryan Lee, a commercial banking market leader at Community Banks of Colorado in Boulder, Colorado, agreed with Black and emphasized the importance of strengthening relationships with existing clients and prospects. Lee also stressed the value of serving as a confidant for business owners and C-level executives.
“The best salespeople are finding how to meet their prospects in comfortable settings, whether in person or remote, and figuring out ways to establish strong rapports while helping business owners overcome their biggest challenges during a turbulent and ever-changing landscape,” Lee said. “Every industry is affected differently coming out of COVID, which makes understanding each particular business especially important. By helping take a key decision or problem off an owner’s plate, the best salespeople are acting as trusted advisors to help the business owner succeed.”
How can marketing and sales teams collaborate better?
Flourishing businesses have sales and marketing teams that are seamlessly aligned to maximize revenue. To ensure effective collaboration, a marketing team must fully comprehend an organization’s sales strategies and initiatives, and a sales team should possess valuable marketing collateral that they can use to drive growth. Regrettably, discord and misalignment between sales and marketing departments are relatively common, and subpar communication can hinder a company’s bottom line. Bozic noted how closely intertwined the two departments are and opined that their joint efforts are presently more instrumental than ever.
“I think that marketing and sales teams are realizing that they need each other more than ever to succeed,” Bozic said. “Feedback from sales will be critical in the coming year as organizations wrestle with turnover, COVID spikes, and uncertainty in the marketplace.”
Caskey expounded on the relationship between sales and marketing departments and explained how they can optimize their partnership for growth and efficiency.
“The collaboration needs to be focused on the process of moving people along that continuum from A to B,” Caskey said. “Salespeople must rely on marketing to create content and branding that helps that process along. Marketing people must use their knowledge of data and all of the social media and measurement tools to get the right content out there for prospects at various stages of the journey.”
While “salespeople must rely on marketing to create content and branding that helps (the sales) process along,” Caskey believes that brochures are outdated and have minimal use. Rather than featuring a brochure as marketing collateral, he thinks that case studies and testimonials are more advantageous because they better resonate with clients and prospects.
“I think the sales brochure should be replaced with case studies and testimonials of how the company has transformed people's businesses in the niche that they are focused on,” Caskey said. “It needs to emphasize the power of the solution and real people who have used the solution to radically improve their business. Tell great stories in the brochure.”
How are the best salespeople closing deals?
Job site Monster.com conducted a poll in June that found a startling 95 percent of U.S. workers are considering quitting their jobs. Of the 95 percent, a third of these individuals cited burnout as the reason why they may seek a different line of employment. There is no denying that sales can be a trying profession and mental exhaustion can setback even dynamic sales professionals. Conversely, some salespeople are seemingly unflappable, relish chasing prospects, and bask in winning new business and customers. A “seemingly unflappable” salesperson is somebody who industry insiders often refer to as an “A-Player.” Among other qualities, Caskey believes that A-Players deftly leverage their marketing team-infused knowledge and insights to make emotional bonds with their clients and prospects.
“A small percentage of your people are A-Players, and they need to be thinking about their assets differently,” Caskey said. “I think personal branding of an A-Player is a strategic ‘must’ for every B2B sales organization. A-Players need to see themselves as thought leaders in the industry and publish accordingly. Any A-Player who has been in the business longer than five years has something worthwhile to say to the audience they are pursuing. It positions them much better along the sales cycle when the personal brand of the salesperson is in the market, speaking to prospective buyers in a more personal way. This is where your marketing team can offer input.”
Bozic agreed with Caskey and added that A-Players expertly ask questions to uncover helpful information.
“A-Players naturally know to ask the difficult questions that get to the need behind the need,” Bozic said. “In other words, identify the root cause of the business challenge and make sure that you are aligning your offering to demonstrate a preferred future and not just a short-term functional benefit.”
Has the pandemic made it easier or harder for salespeople to close businesses?
The coronavirus pandemic has radically altered how B2B salespeople interact with their customers and prospects. To respond to the shifting business landscape, B2B salespeople needed to become more agile to address challenges and prepare to overcome future obstacles. Consequently, with normalcy upended, the vast majority of sales analysts agree that while some B2B salespeople excelled during the coronavirus pandemic, others floundered. Ultimately, a salesperson’s success or failure amounted to their abilities and the products and services that they offer.
Caskey, who thinks that COVID-19 has mostly made it more difficult for salespeople to close business, reiterated the importance of constructing a digital strategy to generate discussions with existing clients and foster new, long-term relationships with prospects.
“I believe that every sales organization needs to develop a digital strategy for how they will not only introduce themselves to prospective buyers but also guide them through the sales journey,” Caskey said. “There are tons of examples of this, but podcasting, video, publishing articles, and interviews with successful clients using your solutions are at the top of that list.”
Contact Paige Black for any B2B sales-related questions
COVID-19 is the first pandemic to emerge since the Spanish flu in 1918. Thus, it’s understandable that many B2B salespeople are uncertain how to proceed during this difficult era. For advice or assistance, contact Mike at Paige Black. With some help and guidance, you may be able “to make sense out of change, plunge into it, move with it, and join the dance."
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