Sales in the Changing Digital-First Landscape of Buyer Behavior
If your company was selling a product priced at over 60K, the average sales process used to go something like this:
- The customer became aware of your product through some type of marketing or demand generation activity.
- A sales development representative or account executive had a qualifying call with the prospect.
- If the prospect was qualified, then your account executive set up a meeting with key stakeholders to sell the prospect and align them on KPIs for success and the buying process.
Human touch and individualized attention were key and in-person whenever possible. The higher the price point, the higher the need for this personal touch. It’s safe to say this personalized, in-person approach to sales isn’t happening anymore, and even if it is, it’s certainly not happening in the same way. COVID-19 has changed the way organizations function in a number of ways forever. Despite the pandemic-driven rapid changes, largely out of our control, Go-To-Market teams all over the world still face KPIs and OKRs set long before the pandemic. Still, there is an opportunity to exceed those goals for organizations willing to adapt to the ever-shifting economic landscape.
When lockdowns began back in March, we started to feel the true economic effects of COVID-19. If you’re anything like me, you likely had a lot of questions and found that answers were hard to come by. The ground seemed to be moving under our feet. I, like many of you, was uncertain about how long the virus and stay-at-home-orders would last, yet anxious to find out who and what would be most impacted. Every market has been touched by the pandemic in what seems to be a feast or famine dynamic. Here are a few examples
- Remote work has distributed teams and forced organizations to transform
- Restaurants, air travel, mass transit, and hospitality have been hit hard, but RV sales are up 600%
- Ecommerce has fast-forwarded online and mobile retail by 5 years
- Online education is booming
- Due to massive shortages in core products like paper and aluminum, the supply chain has been exposed as brittle and a need to diversify has left innovation teams scrambling to increase redundancies
Due to the record high level of economic uncertainty, companies needed to tighten their belts to extend their cash until they found solid ground. Organizations needed to reflect on the impact to their Ideal Customer Profile to make sure they were pursuing prospects that were not going to be negatively impacted by the shifting landscape, in many cases forcing organizations to revisit their product and positioning. Without the ability to meet in-person and in the early days avoid direct marketing, marketing, and sales needed to prepare for a digital-first acquisition funnel.
According to a Hubspot Data Report, it took 3 months from the beginning of lockdown for pipeline creation to return to where it was in March. This was especially interesting given that June through mid-Aug are typically slow months for B2B sales due to vacation patterns, but with people home due to government-mandated lockdowns pipeline creation actually accelerated. By July, pipeline creation and close sales had surpassed pre-COVID levels and have remained at those levels ever since.
Market dynamics have changed and so have your customers’ buying patterns. According to an October 2020 Report by McKinsey, 70-80% of customers and prospects prefer the new reality of digital interaction and self-serve buying. The effectiveness of digital selling is up 9% in the US, and between 2-13% globally. Video sales interaction is up 41%, chat is up 23%, and 76% of customers prefer this digital format to in-person.
The most interesting piece of information from this report is the amount B2B decision-makers are willing to spend on fully digital sales – “ 70% of B2B decision-makers say they are open to making new, fully self-serve or remote purchases in excess of $50,000, and 27% would spend more than $500,000.” On top of that, close to nine in ten decision-makers say that new digital-first go-to-market sales practices will stick around for at least the next 12 months, more than likely indefinitely for many organizations.
How does this translate into digital behavior?
According to Hubspot, Ad spend is up roughly 15%. Email marketing is up almost 50%, but open rates have remained relatively flat. Sales emails are up almost 100% since March. Open rates have declined 30%, but with all the time at home, web traffic is also way up – by almost 30%. Adweek reports an impressive 86% spike in email marketing revenue and a 22% jump in click-through rates. Companies are trying to get in front of their buyers, but inboxes are full and noise is abundant. It’s time to look at different channels!
Remember how we said online education is booming, well this isn’t just because students are learning from home. Like me, I’m sure all of you are trying to make use of the extra time at home. This means more educational content is being consumed and what’s the #1 type of content B2B companies publish? Educational content!
47% of buyers still view 3-5 pieces of content before engaging with a sales rep, companies with blogs still get 67% more leads than those that don’t, and inbound close rates are still 8-10x those of outbound efforts. CAC Ratios for content tends to be roughly 30% better than the paid side, because of the compounding nature of content according to Profitwell
Most companies have a blog or Medium channel at this point. Here are some additional channels that are worth checking out.
- 55% (155 million) of the US population has listened to a podcast – up from 51% in 2019 (Podcasting Insights)
- 37% (104 million) listened to a podcast in the last month – up from 32% in 2019 (Podcasting Insights)
- 24% (68 million) listen to podcasts weekly – up from 22% in 2019 (Podcasting Insights)
- 81% of podcast listeners pay attention to podcast ads (podcasting.org)
- 60% of podcast listeners have bought something from a podcast ad (podcasting.org)
- Quora is number 80 in the global traffic ranking. (Digital Marketing Jobs)
- You could estimate that, on average, a question with 30 views will receive 1 upvote. (Digital Marketing Jobs)
- With 72.4 million followers Technology is the most popular topic on Quora. (Digital Marketing Jobs)
- On average, each question posted on the site will get at least 5 answers. (Digital Marketing Jobs)
- 65%of Quora users have college degrees and 28% graduate degrees. (Digital Marketing Jobs)
- In 2018, only 300 companies advertised on Quora. (Digital Marketing Jobs)
- Quora ads generate up to 4 times more conversion as compared to other platforms. (Digital Marketing Jobs)
- YouTube isn’t just the go-to destination for video content; it’s also the second most visited site after Google. (Sprout Social)
- Video is one of the top five most used content types among B2B marketers, with 71% of them using it. That means YouTube should be a part of your B2B marketing mix if you’re going to keep up with the competition, but only 24% of Marketers were planning to create a strategy for YouTube Live in 2019, leaving a huge opportunity for those who do. (Sprout Social)
- 64% of B2B marketers increased their use of audio/visual content like webinars and live-streaming between 2018 and 2019. Record your webinar sessions and republish them on YouTube to attract an even bigger audience. (Sprout Social)
- Between 2017-2018 there was a 2X increase in watch time for “which product to buy” videos and that’s only increased. (Sprout Social)
- 78.8% of marketers say that YouTube is the most effective video marketing platform, beating Facebook, which got 58.5% votes. (Sprout Social)
- 90% of ads on YouTube drive a lift in brand recall. (Sprout Social)
How do I operationalize a digital-first strategy?
Sales ops orgs have been in place for decades now. Marketing Ops orgs are quickly growing. However, there is a new function in organizations I’ve been hearing more and more about that has become essential in revenue organizations moving to digital-first acquisition models – Revenue Operations. I first heard about this role in early 2019 at a SaaStr panel-prep dinner I hosted for Jeanne Dewitt Grosser, Head of North American Sales for Stripe, and Aliisa Rosental, VP of Mid-Market Sales for Walkme. Veins of how Stripe and Walkme operationalized revenue ops ended up being topics within our panel.
According to The 2nd Annual State of Revenue Operations Report by LeanData and SalesHacker, the adoption of a dedicated Revenue Operations group between 2018 and 2019 grew from 20% to 31%, a 55% increase YoY and those building a Revenue Operations function grew from 15% to 27%, an 80% increase YoY. It’s a growing trend amongst revenue teams, so what is it? Revenue Operations is a group that reports to the CRO within organizations to analyze, report on and ideally support alignment amongst marketing, sales, and customer success organizations across the customer acquisition, retention, and expansion journey.
The function of Revenue Operations has been growing due to the trends towards consumerization of enterprise tech, adoption of bottoms up acquisition models, and increasing complexity across marketing, sales, and customer success tech stacks. In a digital-first age of acquisition and B2B buyers wanting more flexible offers, frictionless buying, and faster sales cycles, I expect the adoption of Revenue Operations organizations is only going to increase.
What does this mean for Sales Teams?
It’s time to get creative and think outside the box! Your customers’ needs and behaviors have likely changed, your value propositions, benefits, and buyer’s journeys probably need to change as well. Talk to the customers where good relationships exist to understand how their market has been impacted and pass that information along to your Product, Marketing, and Demand Generation teams. This will help them serve your customers and fill your pipeline! If you’re not running regular marketing and sales innovation meetings it’s time to start. Here are some ideas SDR and Sales teams can try immediately.
Personalization is QUEEN!
- I’m not talking about market trends and names, though these are helpful. Since click-through rates are up on content, try creating a video for your specific customer using a tool like Loom or small GIFs around specific benefits that lead to a more in-depth video.
- Instead of sending everything via email, try new channels like Twitter, Slack groups, or community forums like Elpha.
- Popular channels are where everyone is. What channels are specific to your customer and market? Is there an industry group you can participate in? Are they speaking at a smaller webinar where you can ask questions? Have they written a piece of content you can engage with? Create conversation to follow up on later via email or Linkedin.
Work your relationships!
- If you’re selling into enterprise organizations, there are likely other departments or companies under their corporate umbrella you can sell to.
- If you’ve been at your company for a while, dig into your old pipeline and take a look at companies you’ve spoken within the past. Most sales require 2-3 sales cycles to purchase, and it’s possible their industry has been positively impacted by COVID.
- Dig into your Linkedin. People move around a lot – may be one of your old colleagues has started a company, or one of your contacts has moved into your ICP.
- Don’t be afraid to ask for intros, but be sensitive to the relationships. Ask how well they know them and gauge their comfort level before sending a request.
- Pull a list of all of your customers and don’t just Google for competitors. Google key terms they use to describe their offering. Go to sites like G2, Capterra, and Craft.co and look up those listed as competitors. Then buy a list on Clearbit for look-alike companies.
- After you’ve done that, look up the people who’ve purchased the product on Linkedin. Have they moved? Maybe there’s a chance to sell to their new company. There’s also a handy sidebar on Linkedin that shows other people like the one you looked up. Is there a potential new prospect in there?
- If your CEO has written a book, like Nick Mehta from Gainsight’s books, or Tien Tzuo from Zoura’s book – Send them the book with a personal note if it fits their business model.
- Instead of simply scheduling a Zoom, can you repurpose your former travel budget to send a prospect a nice pound of coffee orr tea before a morning meeting, a lunch at the end of a lunch meeting, or a bottle of wine for a happy hour catch-up? You can still do nice things for your customers while remote (TIP: you can also do these with your team).
- Online learning’s rise is an indicator people are trying to be productive with their time. Instead of hosting webinars like everyone else, can you curate small group discussions between customers and prospects to discuss industry trends and best practices? Plan to create content on the discussion afterward, but be sure to get permission for quotes.
- Think about your customer journey, not just pre-selling, but post. Is there an online learning course you could work on with your marketing and customer success teams to drive engagement, streamline onboarding, increase upsells, and boost retention?
- Utilize your executive team. According to Scott Edinger, founder of Edinger Consulting, accounts with executive-level relationships produce 38% more revenue than those where no executive-level relationships exist. Is there a COVID-safe physical event you could host, maybe a golf tournament?
- If your company sells multiple products, is there an opportunity to upsell your existing customers or sell two products instead of one?
- Can you sell a longer contract?
- If you sell a physical product, is there a way to allow your customer to physically experience the product by visiting another customer or sending a sample?
- Utilize technology! Pretty much any repeated behavior or process in sales has been digitized these days. Think through all the activities that are monotonous, frustrating, repetitive that cause you to lose time. If you look hard enough, in almost every case a startup has created a solution to address the pain. Here are a few sales tools to check out (Full disclosure these are companies I invested in or advise):
The biggest takeaway here is to remember the single most important concept to business success: Adaptation. It’s that simple. We’ve all heard it again and again, but it’s not the strongest or most profitable businesses that boast longevity, it’s businesses that are able to adapt quickly, and now is as good a time as ever to act on that characteristic. As more of the customer acquisition process moves digital, adapt. Use every tool at your disposal to keep up with customers’ ever-changing buying patterns. Those businesses that adapt most effectively will be in the best position as the larger economy recovers post-COVID, and I know you want to be in that club.
Whitney Sales is the creator of The Sales Method and a General Partner at Forum Ventures Venture’s Seed fund. Prior to The Sales Method and Forum Ventures, Whitney helped four companies gain entry to the Inc. 500 Fastest Growing Companies list, including LoopNet (IPO), Joby (acquired), Meltwater (acquired), and Tallie (acquired). The Sales Method is Whitney’s winning analytical process that looks at Sales-Market fit to align to a target market’s buying process, to ultimately help companies scale to market faster.