Modernizing B2B sales: Here's a formula for winning the race

Today's Formula 1 car is a high-speed data hub covered in sensors that measure every performance detail as well as the driver's biometrics. Meanwhile, B2B sales is stuck in first gear. Here's how to get to the top step of the podium.
Written by Paul Greenberg, Contributor

When I met Giles House, he was the CMO of Callidus Cloud -- and he was a terrific CMO. He became the chief product officer of Callidus Cloud -- and he was terrific at doing that, too. Then, Callidus Cloud was acquired by SAP, and now, Giles is the General Manager of SAP's Sales Cloud -- and (I'm sure you see what's coming) he is doing a terrific job.

But aside from being great at his job, he is a sharp and knowledgeable observer of what sales people in today's B2B environment need to do. He can present those ideas in a clear way: You will understand what he is telling you about how to sell in that environment. 

Plus, he's a Formula 1 racing fan and a big car guy. I've driven with him, and let's just say that if he wasn't such a good driver, it would be very scary.

So, folks, pay attention to Giles...

I'm an avid Formula 1 fan -- the speed, the personalities, the data! Yes, the data.

The modern F1 car is a high-speed data hub throwing off three terabytes of data every 90-minute race and it's fascinating what they do with it. But it wasn't always this way. Back in the 1950s and 1960s, the cars were deathtraps on wheels. A fuel tank, a big engine, and skinny tires. A recipe for disaster that sadly served up just that all too often.

Also: Customer engagement: Context, meaning, and measurement

But it also yielded some incredible drivers, arguably one of the greatest of all time -- Juan Manuel Fangio. A true legend of the sport who won the world championship for four different teams -- something that has never been repeated. It was he who made the difference, not so much the car.

Today, it's all about the cars and only a fraction about the drivers. The cars are covered in sensors measuring every aspect of their performance and the biometrics of the driver. Mission control centers with armies of people at the track and back at the factories analyze this digital exhaust to seek that hundredth of a second that separates them from victory!

The same evolution is currently underway in B2B sales, but it's stuck in first gear.

Stuck in First Gear: Modernizing B2B Sales

In some respects, sales is still stuck in the 1960s. It's basic and relies too much on the individual to make the difference. The human touch must be blended with contextual, digital touchpoints to drive the customer through the path to purchase.

A recent McKinsey survey found that a majority of B2B customers want both human and digital interactions on their buying journey. The key is knowing when to use which one. When customers are researching a new product or service, two-thirds of those who lean more toward digital still want a human connection. After the purchase, when discussions are about renewal, cross-selling and upselling, the opposite is true, with the majority wanting it digital.

Also: ABM is good, but CBM -- courage-based marketing -- is better

It's clear that customers want options and everyone is different. You must be able to adapt and respond to each individual on their terms. But if your sales team is stuck in first gear, and they can't see what's going on across all the different channels, then how can they keep up? They can't!

Unlike in F1, we aren't giving our drivers -- the salespeople -- access to the data they need. Without it, they're driving blind. They have no way to anticipate the customer's next move. We're also not using that data to analyze the performance of the sales person. In F1 and pretty much all sports now, there are sensors everywhere and hours are spent pouring over data to look for every edge of extra performance to win and keep on winning.

In sales, more often than not, this is at best an ad-hoc conversation. Often it simply doesn't even happen. By ignoring this valuable data, we are not setting ourselves up for victory.

The need for the Win-Win

At the center of most sales technology strategies, you will find a CRM or salesforce automation (SFA) platform to be more precise. The theory is that it will help management see what's going on and provide guidance and help where it's needed. For sales, it's a place to organize and store contacts, tasks, and plans. Sounds good in theory, but in practice, it is only of limited help to sales people. Where it would truly be a win for them would be if they didn't have to enter all the information themselves, and there was a real-time view of the customer -- including their activity, bills, invoices, shipments, support tickets, and how they feel about you!

If you knew they were interested in a couple of specific products, how well prepared could you be to answer all their questions, and build that trusted advisor relationship? If you could capture their feelings about your products, your people and your company, wouldn't that give you that missing edge to make them feel like this is a personalized experience, tailored to them? If you had a true billing history for that customer, then wouldn't you be able to make a better decision about discounting and price?

Also: The state of digital transformation and the work to be done

This sort of information is what sales is missing, and why customers are having lousy experiences. If sellers don't have the experience they desire, how can they give the customer the experience they demand?

A Race to the Bottom

To wrap up, I want to share a nugget from one of our great customers. They do a lot of business online and their customers love it. It's fast and easy. Their brand is very strong and instills a strong sense of loyalty. They expanded from just being online and introduced sales people into the mix. The feedback from their customers was terrible. The process became slow. The the sales people were ill-equipped. The customers hated it.

In every aspect of our consumer lives, we're accustomed to almost immediate responses. The Spotify song recommendations, the suggestions on Amazon, the one-click purchase on Apple -- these are raising the bar for all buying experiences. I believe that we are already seeing experience trump price and that brands solely competing on price are on a race to the bottom of their market with eroding margins and plummeting prices.

Also: Conversational experiences: Building relationships one conversation at a time

When you think about the experience, don't just think about the customer experience. Think about the people who are fostering that experience for the customer, including the sales people. Focus on providing a great seller experience, so they can answer the questions of the customer, anticipate their interests and respond instantly. If you do, then you'll find yourself on the top step of the podium.

Thank you sir. 

My new book on customer engagement, The Commonwealth of Self Interest: Business Success Through Customer Engagement, is finally officially out. So, interested? Here's the link. Not interested. OK, ignore that. See you all soon.

Editorial standards