There has been a sea change of late in B2B enterprise marketing and sales functions thanks to COVID-19. From events and travel to entertainment and in-person presentations, the emergence of remote collaboration and the new sales tech stack supporting these functions is replacing what was previously a cumbersome and often expensive on-site sales funnel.
Recent studies have shown that most B2B seller interactions have gone remote and that the overwhelming majority of buyers (70-80%) prefer it that way. Globally, the efficacy of the remote sales model at reaching and servicing new customers has increased across the board, with a net change of 9% in the US and upwards of 20% or more in places like France, the UK, and Brazil. And it’s not just for small-ticket items, either. Among B2B decision-makers, 70% are open to making new, fully self-serve, or remote purchases worth more than $50,000. And 27% would spend over $500,000.
While safety concerns were the initial primary drivers, self-serve and remote interactions have demonstratively eased the B2B sales process while also helping to change mindsets. Everything from product information management to order placement and backend customer support have been made easier and more convenient by going digital. Customers across sectors — even those dominated by traditional field sales models — have embraced this new normal. According to a Mckinsey report, only about 20% of B2B buyers say they hope to return to in-person sales.
The new B2B sales tech stack
The key pillars of the new digital sales enablement tech stack revolve around platforms whose abilities remotely advance deals, mitigate risk, and analyze prospects and customer success. They feature future-prospecting platforms, including account-based marketing (ABM) and sales outreach companies like Terminus, 6sense, Sales Loft, and Outreach. These platforms accelerate brand awareness and engagement by aligning marketing and sales teams around data-driven strategies that target and prioritize quality accounts (and the key decision-makers therein) with personalized messaging and content while eschewing more general branding and lead generation tactics.
In a work-from-home world with tight marketing budgets these types of platforms have become vital. According to a recent ABM report, 94% of respondents indicated they now have an ABM program. That’s up from 23% last year. Not surprisingly, 63% of teams indicated in the same study that ABM programs had become either “important or absolutely critical to their business goals.”
Secure enablement of virtual and video conferencing is also now a vital (and ubiquitous) component of sales in the age of COVID-19. Video conferencing — and Zoom, in particular — was the most visible beneficiary driving remote communication early on, but embedded conferencing technologies like Amazon Chime are now powering companies such as Salesforce and Slack to enable this capability. Additionally, the repositioning and emergence of streaming event platforms like Convene, SplashThat, and Bizzabo are upping the video conferencing game.
Sales tech stacks that allow for the continued intake and application of data have also taken on greater significance over the last eight months. Specialized B2B CRM and CDP platforms — like Salesforce, Pipedrive, Zylotech, and Lytics — are helping to secure the fundamentals of sales technology while also providing data-building platforms and new approaches to customer recruitment and management. (Disclosure: My firm has an investment in Zylotech.) These platforms offer highly personalized approaches to customer relationship management through data platforms tailored to the meet the unique needs of B2B businesses, whether it’s though defining specific B2B customer profiles and sales journeys, identifying key personnel to target with messaging and ads, or optimizing conversions at all stages of the sales funnel. These platforms help to not only automate account management but increase contextual sales intelligence to provide more effective conversations and engagements.
Lastly, analytic and customer support platforms have moved forward as the key drivers of sales enablement and customer success. The increased demand and need for data to drive remote sales is one reason why B2B sales leaders consider companies like InsightSquared and Zendesk more important than ever.
While the opportunities for these platforms were largely ushered in by the pandemic, they now seem likely to outlive COVID. Enterprise customers are optimistic about this new sales landscape and their enthusiasm shows little sign of waning. Capital and operating expenditures are both expected to experience multi-year surges. Close to nine in 10 decision makers now say these new commercial and go-to-market sales practices will be a fixture throughout 2021 and possibly beyond. Stock market valuations reflect this trend, as well. B2B software valuations are soaring, and there’s also been an uptick in M&A activity. Salesforce’s recent emblematic acquisition of Slack and TechTarget’s acquisition of virtual event platform BrightTALK, are just the latest examples.
Taken as whole, the reimagination of the digital sales funnel represents a unique opportunity for B2B companies. Virtual sales help organizations lower costs while also extending reach. The fact that customers are also leaning in and rewarding those sellers who embrace digital likely means these changes will, in large part, become permanent fixtures. In fact, it’s not hard to imagine all of these factors prompting a kind of tipping point where the pressure to capitalize on the transformation of the B2B sales funnel leads to a competitive advantage for those early adopters of remote models and the technologies that enable them.
Joe Apprendi is General Partner at Revel Partners.
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