What the Hell Just Happened? B2B Selling in 2020

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2020 has been everything we never wanted in B2B selling. We had a killer sales strategy backed up by a rock-solid marketing strategy. We had budget. We had B2B conferences and lead gen plans. We had a sales team family that we loved to talk trash with around the water cooler in between closing deals. Then it all came crashing down.

Sales reps around the world saw purchase decisions pushed, price points challenged, longer sales cycles, and decision-makers in hibernation well into summer. Halfway through this great insanity, we turned to Phoebe Conybeare and Dan Gottlieb fromTOPO to get some data that, ideally, will help us make sense of what the hell just happened – and what to do next. TOPO started surveying B2B sales organizations at the beginning of the crisis – so they have an amazing wealth of knowledge they’re sharing with us today.

(If you’re not already following TOPO, Darryl thinks you should check out theDouble Funnel.)

What Just Happened?!

This started a seemingly simple pipeline issue. The canary in the coal mine stopped singing when events started being canceled in the name of public health in March. Then deals started pushing or dying without any net new leads from events to replace them.

Three months later, we’ve seen some interesting changes and trends:

  1. Contraction is here and will continue. Over half of businesses are forecasting at least a 25% contraction. This has a cascading effect that will be felt for a long time.
  2. Virtual everything happened overnight, and sales leadership doesn’t hate it. Is it here to stay? The answer is unclear right now.
  3. Target markets are shifting. Organizations are having big strategic shifts around who is included in their Total Addressable Market (TAM) and how they’re approached as their target’s needs shifted radically nearly overnight in March.
  4. Marketers have shifted to a 100% digital focus for demand generation. This approach is driving both a busy marketplace for digital content and driving a lot of innovation. At the same time, with the playing field level, consumers are inundated with digital content, so it’s increasingly difficult to break through the “noise.”

“It is a cultural moment of reckoning with the relationship that we have with digital everything,” said Dan Gottlieb. “It’s now gone from stepping in front of a firehose to sitting in front of a firehose all day long. So now, this is turning into a battle for quality.”

The Current State of B2B Selling

b2b sales process

A lot of things are changing in B2B buying – you can’t sell in B2B if you don’t understand how the buying process has changed. Already TOPO has identified:

  • The significant change in the role of CFO and finance office. They’re being brought in as the ultimate decision-maker and involved more in later stages with increased frequency.
  • The definition of “value” for buyers has changed. The intensity of focus on this varies wildly depending on the business and role of each person involved.
  • Everyone’s priorities have shifted. Buyers are looking for new ways to achieve their mission-critical goals of today.

The only way to adapt to the needs of buyers today is through extreme value and adaptation. None of this is necessarily new – but extreme value and adaptability have gone from a “nice to have” in salespeople to table stakes. This will be the difference between sellers and systems that can adapt to 2020’s realities, and those that die.

Companies who made this shift early are weathering the storm well enough. Companies that waited are feeling significant pain as we enter Q3.

This shift to extreme value has to be company-wide. Marketing teams are getting hyper-specific with their content and going deep into topics. Sales scripts and emails are being re-tooled to reflect new messaging and positioning.

Tolerance for poor messaging, positioning, pricing, and tactics is thinner than ever. Buyers expect companies to show not just your willingness to earn their business but specific value ads to their business. As Darryl said, “I don’t have the money for a Cadillac. If you’ve got a Cavalier that will help me get through this next couple of months, I’m interested in that Cavalier!”

Companies that are adapting are utilizing deep discovery instead of pushing for the next steps. It’s essential to have detailed buyer personas that reflect the needs of that persona right now. Some companies are taking their persona docs from two to six pages! Anyone prospecting needs to be clear on what the current pain points are for their buyers and speak to those immediately.

SDR teams are also being leveraged as sources of market intelligence for the entire organization. Phoebe shared a story of a high-growth sales team who was able to identify a trend in inbound messaging during a weekly SDR team meeting and adapted it to outbound within a week. This iteration will be key to any improvements in conversion percentages.

New Revenue Growth Framework

Gartner identified two types of companies who weathered the 2008 recession – one group who hunkered down and waited to resume business as usual, and another who thought there was a new way of doing business and adapted.

This framework is designed to help individuals and companies identify where they are in the:

  1. Stabilization – Large organizations are just starting to exit this phase. Smaller organizations moved out within a month. This is when a lot of the pain of contraction is felt the strongest.
  2. Reinvention – This is the most exciting phase – and we’re seeing the results already in the market. Companies are redefining how they go to market. They now focus on product expansion, self-service, and e-services. Metrics and targets are changing, too.

    The requirements to have meaningful conversations, build significant deals, and build great relationships. Some things will stick – some won’t. Reinvention is an incredible opportunity for small companies to leapfrog their competition and big companies to work together in entirely new ways.
  3. Growth – We don’t know when this will happen – but every company must figure out how to keep the best things from the reinvent phase and integrate them into the new way of doing business.

REINVENT

B2B sales is at the top of the “Reinvention” phase – and what’s already happening is very exciting despite the overall frustration and challenges people and businesses are experiencing. So, what do sales professionals need to do to meet the new needs and reinvent their business? (Don’t feel alone sales pro – this is a company-wide challenge. Every department is having this conversation!)

Some companies are smashing down the walls between sales development, client services, and engineering to create entirely new products. Others are leveraging digital-whiteboarding technology to get prospects more in remote demos, which is proving to be more engaging than what used to be done in-person.

One theme is breaking down silos and improving internal resource utilization. Clients are responding to requests for meetings that include something tangible and valuable they can walk away with.

Sellers have been getting creative for a while – but now that creativity is being encouraged and rewarded. Dan shared that one of their high-growth clients shifted their fiscal 2021 goals and added two new focuses (neither of which was in the original plan) – employee engagement and employee retention. It’s exciting to see how this reinvention will impact sales teams in the long term and if these trends around employee care stick.

How Do We Pivot?

b2b sales

Okay – now it’s clear we need to pivot. But how do you do it? Start with strategy. Recognize how your TAM and personas have shifted. Act fast – iterate later. Make decisions more quickly with smaller deal sizes.

Now is the time to create the system processes and decision-making processes that will dictate future success. Challenges will keep coming. Pivoting means changing how decisions are made and empowering those changes. Leadership needs to stress iteration and speed – without strong leadership, everyone will sink to the lowest common denominator.

What Does the Future Hold?

Dan: The way that we work is going to shift. It’ll reflect fast-decision making and more data-driven decisions because that’s the only way sales and marketing leadership has been able to make decisions in 2020. This will be the most significant shift we’ve seen in how companies are run we’ve seen in our lifetimes.

Phoebe: Revenue Operation takes all of the big ideas discussed above and much more and turns it into processes that break down silos and enable fast decision making. Revenue Operations will be the secret sauce.

What do you think?

How have you and your company pivoted? Are you still stabilizing or reinventing, or have you entered growth? What do you think Darryl, Dan, and Phoebe got right? Did they get anything wrong? Jump into the comments and let us know.

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