As contributor to the recent report, “2021 Predictions for Sales Leaders: The Year of Value,” I proposed that technology will become increasingly important to the entire commercial side of the business. Now, that may sound a little trite in a paper coming from a technology company, so here are some further thoughts to that prediction.
In 2021, unlike 12 months ago, sales teams no longer can take people to hockey games, golf courses, or even dinner meetings, to close a deal or build rapport with buyers — the role and routine functions of a seller have been transformed. Many B2B buyers are discovering the benefits of eCommerce and doing digital research. Buyers and their employers have also discovered that working from home is beneficial and that may even become routine in the future, with ramifications on most aspects of selling: attending and presenting at meetings; extending invitations and socializing; organizing knowledge transfer; right down to valuable personal account manager skills such as working a complete buying center of multiple people during one customer visit by “walking the corridors”.
DIGITAL ENGAGEMENT BECOMES THE PREFERRED NORM
It should come as no surprise that digital marketing and digital selling are now established as the modus operandi of B2B interactions. According to this report by McKinsey, 89% of companies are expecting the changes to stick because buyers have discovered they prefer this way of working. If everything now happens online, making every conversation count requires that businesses must now be good at leveraging digital technology to facilitate and inform sales meetings.
This group of technologies is commonly labeled “sales engagement,” assisting sellers in several aspects of their role,
- Presenting and sharing information
- Distributing important content throughout the buyer’s company
- Providing important insights to sellers about their buyers’ needs and preferences (predictive analytics)
- Coaching and training sellers on the fly
The sales engagement applications market is already rich with innovative vendors. These vendors have the technology to support all the processes listed above. Some sales engagement vendors also offer “value selling” functionality to help the sellers present or calculate some sort of value proposition, though often this is more about adopting a sales methodology.
But there is even more going on with B2B sales at the moment – parallel to the dramatic adoption of sales engagement technology is a more fundamental business-model transformation to an “as-a-service” interaction. This is most prevalent in the adoption of business software applications, but it is quite apparent that almost every industry is now touched by this trend of digital transformation. This means that many sales meetings are not about negotiating a one- off capital investment but are more focused on evaluating the current state of a software or service license and whether or not it should be renewed, increased, or canceled.
The topics discussed are no longer price and costs versus benefits and, perhaps, return-on-investment (ROI). No, these meetings cover data about usage and adoption of a software/service; the user or customer experience; and the business success achieved through the use of the software/service – i.e. the value received from the subscription.
FROM VALUE SELLING TO CUSTOMER VALUE MANAGEMENT
One important sales engagement technology not listed above, and not offered by the sales engagement software vendors, is a platform that helps sellers to promote and measure the real customer value of the product they are representing. Value Selling playbooks and workaround technologies such as spreadsheets, bespoke applications, or ROI calculators written by the vendor themselves will not be good enough for these new meetings.
Curiously, one logical consequence of an “as-a-service” offering is that the value can be monitored continually as usage and deployment of the service fluctuates over time. So, ROI is no longer a one-off forecast based upon estimates and assumptions, it can be modeled and set up in a system which is able to collect actual data and provide ongoing reporting. SaaS is, by design, more easily measured and monitored than on-premise software, including value-relevant data about usage and relevant business outcomes.
So that is the most valuable technology we envisage in this new age of selling: setting up a customer value management collection and reporting system – usually as a collaborative effort between buyer and seller because both companies can benefit from the data collected.
This is an emerging technological paradigm and there are just a handful of vendors offering customer value management software. The vendor with the most experience and the greatest suitability to the SaaS model is DecisionLink – probably one of the reasons that several venture capital and private investors have joined the recent Series A round worth $18.5M. DecisionLink solutions can be established in most cases without custom programming and extensive investments, by small and by large vendors, and they can be deployed for customers of all sizes.
Peter O‘Neill is an IT industry veteran with more than 39 years of experience in advising vendor and end-user clients and performing research-based consulting, combining strong research capabilities with comparative vendor assessments and actionable advice. He is most known for his 12 years of service at Forrester Research as industry analyst and research director. Most recently Peter managed Forrester’s research on B2B Marketing organization, process, and automation topics, a worldwide team of 11 experienced analysts. Prior to his time at Forrester, Peter had worked for 20 years at Hewlett-Packard in Germany and the USA and then joined META Group (2001 – 2005) where he led the company’s Vendor Consulting Group across EMEA.