B2B Account-based Sales and the Role of Collaboration Platforms
As consumers, we are accustomed to the efficiency and effectiveness of digital buying experiences. Amazon has set a bar. We search for products using almost any device, shop online, read product reviews, compare and contrast pricing information, review product descriptions, chat with customer service, access Q&As, watch videos, evaluate specs, and consider reviews and ratings. We are conditioned to getting everything we need for our buying process – right at our fingertips. So why don’t we have similar buyer experiences in B2B account-based sales?
Obviously, B2B buying is different:
- B2B typically involves large dollar purchases often with more complex terms and conditions requiring a customization
- Buyers may need to articulate business and functional requirements to ensure they get the right solution.
- Purchases involve institutional risk and, in some cases, personal career or job risk.
- Buyers need to justify decisions with a group consensus and companies often form committees to make significant buying decisions.
- Confidentiality is often vital, and the level of security required varies. Typically, a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) is put in place early in the process and sellers will be sharing confidential materials and information as the buying process evolves.
- Salespeople are intrinsically associated with customer success. Buyers want to access knowledgeable people and they expect these people to be involved beyond the sale.
- Formal purchasing processes or RFPs may require that all vendors are treated similarly, and it is more likely that the buyer structured buying process controlled by the buyer.
B2B buyers value digital experiences.
Account buyers expect their suppliers to offer modern digital buying experiences to facilitate their research and education, enable collaborations with team members, resource sharing and access and facilitation of purchasing and contracts. With the availability and convenience of digital engagement, buyers enjoy fingertip access to personalized content, helping them navigate account relationships, consider propositions and evaluate solutions.
Of course, self-directed buyers engage resources from across the web, including from competitors. Yet, delivering an effective and easy to use digital buying experience can differentiate a supplier and better showcase their offerings.
Selling to strategic accounts adds additional dynamics.
Account-based sales is a focus is on named accounts instead of single buyers. Account-based sales for strategic accounts may involve team selling to a committee of buyers and quite often the relationship between the seller and the buyer goes well beyond the first sale or transaction and involves long-term collaboration and mutual value.
Account planning and management might include:
- Identifying, selecting and prioritizing the target addressable market and specific accounts
- Evaluating account “whitespace” to identify offering coverage gaps and opportunities
- Building account-wide awareness of our strategic offerings
- Creating personalized experiences, custom messaging for contacts / personas
- Organizing account and account team contacts
- Assessing and coordinating personal relationships and face offs
- Understanding account and buyer needs, strategic goals and the “CEO agenda”
- Identifying decision making units (DMUs) for opportunities
- Engaging DMU buyer teams around specific interests
- Developing requirements and addressing stakeholder concerns
- Orchestrating the sale and the buying process
- Ensuring customer success / product/service delivery
Without digital engagement tools, sales teams have less visibility and productivity to organize the sale and manage the cadence of communications. Traditional channels create bottlenecks. Phone calls go unanswered, emails get missed, email overload hampers productivity (did they get my email?). Attachments are lost and are not secure or are forwarded and shared with others in the buying team without visibility. Conversations are difficult to manage at the same pace and depth or with a consistent messaging across the DMU.
The typical tech stack often fails to include B2B digital buyer engagement.
The typical B2B technology stack includes marketing-driven ABM tools for orchestrated buyer engagement yet lacks account team collaboration tools. ABM tools are often focused on top-of-funnel awareness and engagement to develop leads or MQAs (marketing qualified accounts). Often missing are capabilities that complex account teams value to manage sustained account relationships across multiple opportunities with features that include content sharing and orchestrated personalized messaging that facilitates selling and account governance.
It is understandable that these tools have been slower to adopt. Strategic account relationships have long centered around human relationships. Digital tools, when not used effectively, can actually create distance between the selling team and the buying team. Email and phone remain “common denominators” for communications and are universally accepted and easy for buyers to adopt. Engagement on a digital platform between the buyer and seller requires a level of mutual commitment or obvious convenience. The principle of “equitable exchange” applies here. The value of the relationship must be sufficient in order to warrant engagement on any channel beyond these common denominators. Yet, when buyers and sellers are both committed to a collaborative buy-sell process or engaging in a productive long-term relationship beyond an initial transaction, digital buyer engagement collaboration tools pave the way to a more effective relationship.
“Smart Rooms” enable complex B2B account team sales.
Given the expectations of the modern buyer, are their solutions that are up to the challenge? There are a range of marketing automation, ABM and CRM tools yet, few support collaborative B2B digital buying or fully enable strategic account B2B digital buyer engagement.
Digital collaboration tools can deliver better experiences for both buying and selling teams. They provide buyers with convenient private site access to content and resources and helps ensure that sales teams are fully apprised of business needs, resulting in better solutions. Account teams value these tools to organize their account teams and engage with multiple account contacts and influencers and to deliver tailored messages and content. They gain visibility by tracking interactions, run sales plays to manage interaction cadence with te extended customer stakeholders and they take advantage of productivity tools and automaton to keep execute account sales activities on track.
There are a range of tools that contribute to digital B2B buyer engagement.
- Website Personalization can help engage buyers at the top-of-the-funnel. It offers customized experiences for website visitors. Marketing automation can also support dynamic content to know visitors and personalization can be applied in emails and on landing pages. Rather than providing a single, broad experience, website personalization allows companies to present visitors with unique experiences tailored to their needs and desires.
- Bots and Conversational services including bots and online chat, file sharing and tools with low barriers in setup process can be a better fit in these environments or early in the relationship. Any web service, app or platform must be perceived by the buyer team as adding value to their process – not as just a convenience to the seller.
- Digital File Sharing tools have a low threshold for adoption and buyers need to perceive value from using any digital platform. The friction of adoption for a tool like Dropbox, Google Drive or OneDrive is often less than the benefits the buyer expects to gain from the engagement experience.
- Traditional CRM tools are not oriented to two-way collaboration or enabling self directed buying. However, core CRM functionality will go a long way toward organizing and tracking the contacts in the account and the account team as well as track account opportunities.
- Account Sales Enablement tools go beyond the traditional CRM functionality. Some are more focused on internal sales enablement while others are beginning to deliver on true B2B digital buyer engagement. Tools (in no particular order) include Revegy is a sales platform for key account management. It helps you navigate changing relationships, competing interests, and corporate politics. Altify helps sales teams win opportunities, grow revenue in key accounts and improve sales execution by aligning the extended revenue team. Kapta offers a process and platform for Customer Engagement. It “removes busy work and guesswork” so key account teams can manage customers. Showpad is a sales enablement platform that integrates sales content management, training and coaching to help drive sales. Seismic is B2B sales enablement and marketing enablement software that lets teams find sales content and optimize the sales process.
- Account Collaboration Tools, like Journey Sales Smart Rooms, take a different approach with a greater focus on external account team engagement. Smart Rooms are private digital collaboration spaces where a sales team and a customer team can work together. It helps buyer teams engage with content, invite colleagues, and collaborate to reach consensus. Digital engagement helps sales teams track, organize and orchestrate the account buyer engagement experience to better retain and upsell existing business and to cross-sell new offerings to impact revenue performance.
An objective solution selection should consider the “buy-sell architecture”.
While buyers and sellers are often committed to a joint process, there remains an arm’s length relationship between buyer and selling teams. The perceived mutual value of the account relationship and the size and complexity of the product or service decision serves as valuable input to the selection and use of a digital B2B buyer engagement platform.
How committed is the DMU or buyer account team? When buyer teams are working with multiple suppliers in a decision-making process, they may value digital tools, but may only be willing to engage for basic information sharing and self-directed research and learning. Adoption will naturally increase as the buyers move further down the buying process and actively considering or deciding on a solution. Clearly, further down the funnel, buyers are more invested in the process and want to ensure they select the best possible product or service. When the buying team engages in a collaboration platform, it is an indicator that the opportunity is more qualified.
What are the individual user adoption thresholds? Each individual in a DMU will bring different personal acumen and interest in using digital tools (We all know people who struggle with technology!). Deeper functionality often brings with it additional user complexity. In buy-sell collaboration, the more simple and intuitive the interface and UX, the better.
What is the velocity and complexity of the sales process? In high volume and high velocity B2B account sales, marketing automation, account-based marketing and automated sales outreach tools play an important productivity role. Deeper collaboration platforms may not fit as well. Simple document sharing may fit, but deeper digital collaboration requires a bigger commitment. In high velocity B2B sales, digital experiences must be entirely frictionless and deliver obvious productivity and convenience for self-directed and more transactional buyers.
What is the customer lifetime value? Is this a one-time sale or a long-term multifaceted account relationship? For high dollar and high value account-based sales with multiple offerings and sub teams, and when a mutually valued long-term account relationships is in place, digital collaboration tools can significantly improve the buyer experience. Collaboration platforms work best when both teams are invested in the buy-sell process. A typical DMU may have 6-8 decision makers or influencers and activities happen in parallel. An account may have 100s of stakeholders. Active commitment from the extended buyer account teams and consistent use by the sales account team is vital.
What functionality is important for digital buyer engagement?
Orchestrating account relationships involves a number of activities that can be enabled by the right set of tools:
- For account buyers functionality may include:
- Accessing high value and personally relevant content in a self-directed way
- Sharing documents and files
- Accessing educational materials
- Scheduling interactions with the team
- Sharing requirements and needs
- Collaborating with colleagues
- For sales teams functionality may include:
- Organizing selling teams and experts for different opportunities
- Messaging different buyers with the right cadence
- Deepening relationships with buyers and influencers
- Organizing and engaging with different members of the buyer team
- Expanding account visibility and number of contacts
- Organizing account plans and identifying product and service portfolios
- Understanding the political map
- Qualifying specific opportunities
- Capturing business and functional requirements and understanding buying criteria
- Understand the competition and developing a customer value proposition CVP
- Architecting solutions and preparing a bid.
Many of these capabilities are enabled by different tools in the tech stack. Web personalization, chat, marketing automation, meeting software and CRM tools all provide elements of B2B digital buyer engagement experience. By first understanding your sales operating model and functional requirements then mapping technology components, you can determine the sales tech solutions you need and begin an overall architecture.
Take advantage of B2B digital buyer engagement and collaboration tools for high value account sales.
We have an opportunity to enhance the digital experience for the B2B buyer and enable key account teams. The “Amazon effect” has raised expectations for all of us. We need to recognize how B2B buying differs from consumer buying and right-size the experience we deliver. It is vital that the B2B sales technology stack supports experiences that your buyers expect and want. We know buyers value self-directed digital experiences, yet any friction must be less than the value derived. Once you understand the B2B buyer engagement experience you want to deliver, you can assess the range of tools that exists in your current stack and consider additional components for a complete solution. The components should all work together for account team sales enablement and to facilitate effective digital buyer engagement.