As business-to-business buying moves online, companies must develop a fundamentally different approach to the sales process and how they interact with buyers. Buyers are researching products and services before contacting a salesperson which, depending on how sales leaders are collecting and analyzing data, can provide a roadmap for how to understand the buyer’s journey.
Accurate sales metrics have never been more important, and sales executives are feeling the pain of inaccurate and inconsistent data. According to Accenture, 94 percent of sales executives believe timely and accurate metrics are critical to sales strategies. But advances in data science are delivering a better way for sales to optimize the buyer’s journey and close the deals that matter.
This new approach provides sales leaders with meaningful insights into sales team performance and the patterns in buyer behavior that can make forecasting more accurate. The most successful sales leaders know that operating on intuition is no longer enough: sales leaders and their teams need tools that accurately measure buyer engagement, empower salespeople to exceed buyer expectations, and close more deals.
The Buyer’s Journey Is Changing
Today’s B2B buyers are reshaping the sales funnel. They’re are taking matters into their own hands, using the Internet to research products, communicate with colleagues and influencers, and narrow down choices before they ever contact a vendor. The job of sales then becomes interacting with a buyer in a way that doesn’t just answer questions – it must build trust. Gartner writer Hank Barnes asks the following questions:
“Do those interactions confirm or clarify insights [buyers] learned from providers? Do they demonstrate that you understand the buyer’s business challenges? During this time, they continue to look for validation from external influencers but the balance is leaning more closely toward your organization.”
—Hank Barnes, Gartner
Like marketers have learned that data can take an unknown person to a known prospect, sales leaders are learning that data can also move a prospect to a customer. Sales leaders must take cues from the buyer’s journey to build relationships and close deals faster. That means determining how buyers interact not just with salespeople, but with the content your company creates: the presentations, proposals, contracts, and other sales materials your prospects receive and engage with online. Most companies already have this data; it’s collected in CRM, CPQ and other systems. By analyzing existing data and identifying patterns, sales leaders and their teams can respond more quickly and competently to each stage of the buyer’s journey.
The Role of Sales Is Changing
While sales will always center on the human element and relationships, buyers are demanding different kinds of interactions from sellers: according to Accenture, just 12 percent of buyers want to meet in person with a sales representative. That means salespeople must be agile and creative in how they engage with buyers and how they present their products’ differentiators.
And differentiation matters: 52 percent of participants in a recent Gartner poll said it’s hard to see competitive advantages of one vendor over another. Because buyers are more educated than they’ve ever been, it’s now up to sales to demonstrate who they are, what they do, and why they’re different – and to do it more quickly than the competition. The ability to know when and how a prospect interacts with the sales materials they receive gives salespeople the insight they need to reach out at the right time and advance the buyer’s journey.
This also presents an opportunity for marketing teams to gather valuable insight from data sales materials and determine which content is most engaging and effective. When sales and marketing teams work together to identify the assets necessary to accelerate the buyer’s journey, the entire organization benefits. Companies like mobile app pioneer DoubleDutch understand that sales-marketing alignment can accelerate the buyer’s journey, and worked together to provide their sales team with valuable insights to close deals.
The Relevant Metrics Are Changing
To measure and optimize sales in this new era, organizations have turned to sales analytics. But many existing solutions are based on a model that offer limited utility for sales teams – the people who actually close deals. Those sales analytics solutions focus on salesperson activity, often relying on salespeople to enter data and activity into multiple systems.
But companies have an opportunity to optimize sales by examining the content they already have. Online documents provide salespeople real-time data on how buyers interact with the sales materials they’re sent. Documents in a connected, mobile-first environment can also save sales valuable time and deliver the real-time insights sales leaders need to forecast accurately.
More importantly, a sales process built around mobility and connectivity prioritizes the buyer experience. A recent IDC report says that 50 percent of people surveyed need to exchange documents with organizations that use different systems or applications. Choosing solutions that integrate well with existing technology – or use universal platforms like HTML – make it easy to share information with buyers and collect buyer engagement data. Buyers who can view presentations, proposals, contracts and other sales materials online can engage and make decisions more easily.
Marketing technology has developed and refined prospect analytics; it’s time for sales to do the same. As buyers move the sales process almost completely online, customers will determine from whom, how often and when they buy. That means it’s more important than ever that sales leaders learn to read the digital interactions that show when and how a deal is moving. By moving analytics and forecasting from intuition to science, sales leaders and their teams can identify exactly how to navigate the buyer’s journey and close more deals.