Why B2B Needs A Digital-First Marketing and Sales Strategy

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By Gavin Finn, Ph.D., President & CEO

Estimated Reading Time: 5 minutes

Ricoh using 3D Product

Hybrid Buyer Engagement

There’s a saying that the definition of sales is “the transfer of enthusiasm.” This is the driving force behind why – up until now – pivotal B2B sales meetings predominantly take place in-person and not in virtual meetings or over the phone. As the world has become more complex, and with the increasing pace of change, however, it has become more challenging for salespeople to ensure that these meetings are effective. In fact, according to SiriusDecisions research, the primary reason why B2B companies lose deals that they should win is that sales teams are unable to consistently articulate the relevant differentiated value of their complex solutions.

Now, imagine the increased difficulty that companies are encountering with the recent elimination of face-to-face sales meetings and events, leaving only online conferencing tools. Without the ability to connect on a personal level, and with only the use of admittedly boring slide presentations as their primary communications tool, achieving that “transfer of enthusiasm” has become exponentially more difficult.

Accelerated by the COVID-19 lockdowns, sales representatives have been realizing for some time now that they can no longer rely on simply discussing their products’ features in order to convey competitive differentiation. Nor can they rely on their personal relationship-building skills to transfer the kind of enthusiasm that connects with decision-makers. A true transformation in sales and marketing is now required. Rather than “presenting” to prospects and customers, sales and marketing teams are compelled to engage their audience directly. This transformation is extremely challenging for many companies, because it involves both a behavior change (give the customer control, rather than to always be presenting) and a technology upgrade (slides and videos are no longer sufficient – interactive applications are required).

Having worked with Fortune 1000 companies across the globe on transforming their digital-first marketing and sales strategies, I’ve collected key takeaways from some of the world’s top executives on how this digital interactive strategy helped their sales and marketing teams better demonstrate value and convert conversations into sales.

One of the key insights from these global companies is that just focusing on the mechanics of running the virtual sales or marketing meeting as a digital version of an in-person meeting is insufficient and ineffective. It’s imperative to focus on the attendee/customer experience. Virtual meeting attendees are only paying attention 23% of the time (the remainder of which is spent emailing, surfing the web, checking their phones, etc.). The most effective way to engage customers is to involve them – let them control the digital experience. Putting them in the driver’s seat ensures that they keep their focus on the story that they are revealing to clearly understand how your company’s unique value proposition will help THEM overcome THEIR business challenges.

When asked how adopting a digital-first marketing and sales customer engagement strategy helped them quickly and effectively adapt to a remote sales and marketing model — and move from vendor to strategic collaborator – these executives shared the following learnings:

“When working at home isn’t a choice, staying productive, secure, and focused is of critical importance. Our interactive solutions have helped us engage and educate buyers virtually, tell our value story better, communicate technology differentiators, and uncover new opportunities. The agility of the platform has given us a competitive advantage and helped our sellers pivot quickly to a digital-first world. We use this for our service organization, our marketing organization, our customers use it to communicate to THEIR customers. Our entire organization can now have a 9.5-ton printing press sitting in their office and interact with it [virtually, with augmented reality]. It solved a transformative problem and that is how we get our entire organization to engage with a product that they may never be able to physically stand in front of.”

— Ricoh USA Director Global Marketing, Production Inkjet Technologies Mike Herold and Executive Briefing Center Director Roger Serette

“We used to follow standard industry practice in manually developing specifications and proposals to design systems configured within our customers’ environments. Today, we have automated much of that process, improving the customer’s solutions and dramatically reducing the sales cycle and customer lead time. The system automatically creates consistent visuals to represent a common and correct understanding between the customer, sales, our inventory system, all the way through delivery and installation. The pandemic has highlighted the value of this digital strategy, because the efficiencies and interactive nature of this application have brilliantly transformed our sellers’ ability to effectively engage customers and communicate complex product offerings. It is a game changer.”

— FÖRCH Business Unit Manager Digital Business International Alexander Emmert

“When we looked at reevaluating how we would go to market, we knew we had to have some sort of digital expression… not only for the physical hardware; our innovation cadence was really focused around quality of life improvement. How do you change what you’ve always done, how do you disrupt that muscle memory? We have to get out of talking and deriving value from speeds and feeds and getting into telling stories and articulating business outcomes, and, in order to do that, you have to have a different avenue in which you communicate. This digital interactive platform is key in that transformation.”

— NetApp Director, GSI Solutions Engineering Lee Howard

“We can reach customers that we may not have been able to reach in just the physical, in-person events. This platform gives us a content hub that we can continually refresh and send our customers back to.”

— Juniper Networks VP of Marketing Sally Bament

Regardless of how the business environment evolves in the future, remote/virtual meetings and events will be a major part of how business is done. In order to transfer enthusiasm in a virtual environment, B2B marketers and sales professionals must raise the bar to create engaging experiences that evoke emotion, are multi-sensory, and reveal relevant and useful information. A long-term digital-first marketing and sales customer engagement approach can change the competitive dynamics forever, leading to more sales and longer-term profitable business relationships.

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