New research suggests that, by 2025, 80 per cent of business-to-business (B2B) sales interactions between suppliers and buyers will occur via digital channels.
The exponential rise in digital interactions between buyers and suppliers over the next five years is anticipated to break traditional sales models, meaning that sales leads in the B2B market need to adopt a digital-first approach to meet new buying preferences.
This is according to industry analyst firm Gartner, which claims that 33 per cent of all buyers desire a seller-free sales experience – a preference that climbs to 44 per cent for millennials.
“As baby boomers retire and millennials mature into key decision-making positions, a digital-first buying posture will become the norm,” Gartner Sales Practice managing vice president Cristina Gomez said. “As customers increasingly learn and buy digitally, sales reps become just one of many possible sales channels.
“Because of this, sales organisations must be able to sell to customers everywhere the customer expects to engage, interact and transact with suppliers,” she added.
Gartner research shows that buyers typically spend only 17 per cent of their time meeting with potential suppliers when they are considering a purchase.
With less customer face time, virtual selling via digital channels will predominate, the analyst firm suggested.
“Sales reps will need to embrace new tools and channels, as well as a new manner of engaging customers, matching their sales activity to their customers’ buying practices and information collecting needs,” Gomez said.
So, what do sales teams need to do in order to keep customers engaged as they adopt a more digital-first approach to selling?
According to Gartner, sellers need to look for and use digital tools that replicate the traditional forms of selling. These digital engagement tools are necessary to overcome the challenges of aligning larger groups of internal stakeholders virtually and asynchronously, the analyst firm said.
Moreover, sellers must be able to use multiple, different, simultaneous digital sales channels.
Gartner also suggested that sales teams should rethink sales enablement. Broadly, sellers will need entirely new methods of sales enablement if they want to align selling activity to customers’ preferred engagement channels and purchasing journey.
Additionally, sales team leaders should keep sellers engaged and executing sales by finding the “right balance” between the technology deployed and the volume of content that sellers interact with to do their jobs.
With this in mind, the analyst firm suggested that sales enablement leaders must train sellers both synchronously and asynchronously in order to better optimise virtual sales enablement practices.
While Gartner's research does not focus explicitly on the IT channel alone, when taken in conjunction with predictions made earlier in the year by Forrester Research’s principal channel partnerships and alliances analyst Jay McBain, the future of channel sales looks like it will rely heavily on digital engagement mechanisms across multiple sales channels.
In January, McBain investigated the emergence of a so-called 'trifurcated' channel model, which essentially breaks channel sales activities into three defined engagement channels: an emerging ‘influencer channel’; the traditional ‘transactional channel’; and a new ‘retention channel’.
According to McBain, creating an ‘influencer channel’ made up of affinity partners, referral agents, affiliates, advocates, ambassadors, and alliances is becoming critical to success, and any partner program will need to serve these early digital influencers in a nonlinear fashion.
“With buyers spending 68 per cent of their journey digitally before speaking with a salesperson (direct or partner) and an astounding 71 per cent of them reaching vendor selection after a digital-only journey, brands are wising up to the importance of getting in front of customers early and often,” McBain said.
At the same time, because almost every company in every industry is thinking about, or actively converting, to a recurring, subscription-based model, a new ‘retention channel’ is starting to take hold.
“Knowing that the customer journey never ends in a subscription scenario and that brands will need to re-earn a customer’s business every 30 days, partners that can drive adoption, ongoing customer experience, and the ability to upsell and cross-sell become critically important,” McBain said, adding that these partners appear as consultants, integrators, adjacent ISVs, accountants, digital agencies and other such organisations.
However, McBain also stressed that the traditional ‘transactional channel’ won’t go away under the 'trifucated' channel model.
“In fact, those partners that have spent years on the ‘long-tail’ list may actually find a home somewhere else in the program that has, up till now, only pushed them to resell. Tweaking channel data management, automation, insights, onboarding, incentives, co-selling, and co-marketing will determine winners and losers here,” he said.