The pandemic has forced companies to rethink how they do business. Remote work, digital-first learning, and eCommerce have become the new normal. Preparing for the post-pandemic era requires companies to weigh their options for the future. What are customers and employee expectations as we move forward? How to combine old and new ways to match these expectations?
I have asked these questions to founders and revenue leaders of several unicorn companies based in India and the USA. One company founder I spoke to has his company HQ in Mumbai, India, and has ~1000 employees across several offices in the USA, Europe, India, and Australia. They have decided to go fully remote (knowing well that there is no easy way back to the office), i.e., they will no longer have any physical office. Another AI unicorn company based out of San Francisco, USA, has decided to let employees choose between office and WFH. Interestingly ~20% of people have been coming to the office 1-2 times a week (and the other 80% do not want to return to the physical office space). Finally, a Fortune 500 company with ~14000 employees are considering a take-it slow approach, but less than 25% of their employees have visited any of their offices in the last 18 months. Their SKO for ~4000 sales professionals was done in a hybrid model with ~50% turning up.
What does this mean for revenue leaders, especially when your buyers are quite likely remote and are talking to their peer buying stakeholders primarily over Zoom, Slack, or MS Teams? Do your champions know how to navigate the buying complexity? More importantly, can you continue to trust your sales team forecast? Especially when they probably have <20% visibility into the buying process, according to multiple research by Gartner, Forrester, and Salesforce.com.
As leaders, you need to develop a strategy for a future that has been reshaped by the pandemic. You need to rethink fundamental assumptions about how your frontline sales, services, and support teams work, what your customers want, and how to drive change in your organization. Here are 4 trends you need to consider as you define your 2022 customer engagement strategy:
#1 Customers want personal service, just not from humans
Consider this, only 17% of the buying journey is spent meeting potential suppliers, and at the same time, 33% of buyers prefer a seller-free buying experience (rising to 44% for millennial buyers). While at the same time, Customers are 34% more likely to buy and 32% more likely to renew a contract with B2B-leading suppliers that master customer experience.
What does that mean? Companies that rely on "human-only" powered sales should consider whether that approach will remain viable for their products in 2022 and beyond. As face-to-face meetings continue to decline and buyers prefer to do their own research, sales teams have to elevate themselves to be facilitators of complex buying decisions instead of being the only channel of customer experience.
Most revenue teams think content = digital, but digital buying experience goes well beyond content. I look at digital buying experience = seamless information access to buyers + aligning sales process with your customers' buying process + transparent collaboration, i.e., a systematic approach to help buyers uncover their business needs, key milestones, drive alignment with all key stakeholders, and identify how to realize value quickly. Obviously, your sales and customer success teams will play a significant role in this, but so does digital self-service.
#2 Customer preference triumphs your sales approach
If you ask anyone in sales, they would argue that meeting customers face to face is critical to winning customers' trust. But when it comes to personal life decisions - visiting gyms, school, doctors, and so on - we have swiftly moved to digital. Why is it that we prefer digital when we are buyers/customers, but when we are selling, we prefer face-to-face? Perhaps it is our own convenience.
I am not saying in-person is going away. When we think about back to "normal," we should consider a combination of physical, virtual, and hybrid approaches so that customers can make their own choices. As salespeople, we should be flexible to work with customers in their preferred way of doing business.
#3 Customers want measurable value
One of the biggest challenges with remote working is that our buying teams don't meet each other informally as much as they used to. This means that your champions find it extremely easy to gauge if her boss agrees with her or if any of her peers need more convincing. In the face-to-face setup, the water cooler conversations and board room discussions would build a lot more trust through radical transparency within buyer organizations. This is no longer possible (to the same extent).
So our buyers naturally go to what they know best - numbers. As suppliers, your ability to provide measurable value is fundamental to your ability to win, expand or retain customers. In the pre-pandemic world, anecdotal evidence was sufficient primarily as proof of value realization. This shift could mean a more significant role for your value consulting team in the post-sales cycle to demonstrate the business impact of your solution and connect it back to the value promised in the sales cycle.
#4 Go beyond sales enablement
If you are like most revenue leaders, you have spent an inordinate amount of time and money on improving sales productivity and effectiveness. Your sellers have the best training, coaching, content, and enablement at their fingertips. This is no longer sufficient since buying behavior is fundamentally changed in the post-pandemic world.
How you enable your buyers to buy from you will be critical to your ability to win more customers or even retain your existing ones. Buyer enablement is built on a strong foundation of intelligent and contextual self-service. In the new world, buyers aren't waiting for sellers to send them content or information, nor are they spending hours online trying to find answers to their questions. You make it easy for them - give them all they need in one place, and sellers, instead of finding and sending content to buyers, are now looking at engagement insights to make decisions.
A key thought process for the future is to question deeply embedded philosophies of how B2B sales work and assess whether they are still true. Not everything from the pre-pandemic era needs to be rejected. But, learning from the changes over the past two years and considering how the future should influence your decision-making processes as you think about the 2022 customer engagement strategy.
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