The meetings. The trade shows. The conferences. The coffees. Traditionally, building and developing relationships into sales has required getting close to the customer. In the age of social distancing, however, COVID-19 has drained this lifeblood of business-to-business deal-making, forcing the meetings, trade shows and other networking opportunities into a virtual setting. Getting close to your customer now requires a digital-first approach. 

As with many macroeconomic quakes, this charred landscape also gives way to opportunity for brands ready to become disruptors in the new normal. B2B companies that can withstand the pressure to slash marketing budgets and continue to champion a steady drumbeat of communications during a crisis not only recover faster but also accelerate their growth in the leaner post-crisis market.

Similarly, while the intersection of an urgent revenue mandate and feeble demand can test the mettle of any sales leader, investing in a digital-first model can help businesses replace and rebuild pipelines that are critical to their long-term viability.

Facilitate digital discovery.

As global leaders resuscitate economic activity, demand is returning cautiously. For sales forces, this means adapting to the seismic shifts in technology and business by grounding your approach in the fundamentals of effective selling. In a recent survey on the changing landscape of sales, LinkedIn reports that buyers rank trustworthiness, active listening and a thorough understanding of their needs as the top traits among salespeople from whom they ultimately buy. While sales meetings once conducted as boardroom luncheons may have transformed to home-office Zoom sessions, there remains no substitute for a relentless focus on understanding the customer and building relationships founded on trust.

In a rapidly changing environment, it’s more important than ever to meet your customers where they are. With the move to a virtual work environment, anticipate the shift in customer expectations to a virtual discovery process. Sales teams accustomed to in-person meetings must now adapt to curating an online experience that establishes trust and credibility, delivering the virtual equivalent of a confident handshake and warm smile. New visitors exploring your website should come away with not only a thorough knowledge of your product and service offerings but also a strong impression of your brand as a trusted advisor. 

Empower your buyer with information.

Today’s B2B customer spends more time researching and identifying potential solutions on their own before engaging with sales. According to a survey by CSO Insights, more than 70% of B2B buyers approach sales only after fully understanding their needs, and nearly half (44.2%) engage sales after identifying solutions to meet those needs. In their shift to a self-driven buying process, today’s customer expects details and demands transparency. Information on your products, services, competitors and customers must be readily available at their fingertips.

While this purchasing process might stymie traditional sales efforts, it aligns more closely with the real goal of selling: to guide the customer to a solution that exceeds their expectations, delights them and, ultimately, maintains their loyalty as an advocate. To engage the new self-selecting B2B customer, serve up curated and compelling marketing content that helps them discover the solutions they seek.

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Try a digital-first Account-Based Marketing approach.

Like any good business, a successful sales strategy needs diversification to mitigate risk and yield sustainable returns. Particularly in the face of supply chain volatility, companies can no longer rely on longstanding relationships to feed their revenue stream. This also means that providing an excellent digital experience to attract active buyers should not be your only approach to (re)filling your pipeline.

Now is an ideal time to implement account-based marketing (ABM) strategies, combining your broad-based inbound tactics with laser-focused outbound targeting. Chief Growth Officer Steve Halsey refers to this dual strategy as fishing with a net and a spear. Where a traditional marketing funnel fills with self-identified leads, ABM begins by understanding your company’s ideal customer profile – that is, one with the greatest lifetime value – and using it as a lens to identify your best-fit target accounts. By crafting personalized sales touchpoints to directly engage key decision-makers at those targets, your ABM strategy allows you to digitally take your prospect’s hand and lead them through a tailored customer journey. It also focuses your efforts on winning those accounts with the greatest potential for long-term ROI.

Sales goals might feel elusive under these unprecedented circumstances. Yet despite the disruption, a successful sales process relies on the same functional elements: fueled by customer preference, forged by relationships and finalized by trust. Sales forces with the agility to adapt these strategies to a new set of tools – and the discipline to stay the course in a difficult market – will distinguish themselves in the digital business landscape.


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