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How to pivot your B2B business away from F2F Field Sales

30.03.2020

How to pivot your B2B business away from F2F Field Sales.

#Social_Distancing Here are some highlights from someone experienced in orchestrating transitions from face-to-face lead generation & sales into hybrid and/or fully inside-sales driven companies.    

Skyscanner workers in Senzhen returning to the office– still very different.

Inside sales is the fastest growing segment of sales (along with eCommerce).  When inside sales works, it is far more efficient and scalable than traditional approaches.  That was true long before social distancing became a term in our vocabulary but In a social distancing world, many companies that imagined great difficulty in making the transition find themselves in a need to make an extreme ramp-up for their very survival.  The most difficult transitions are companies that:

  • Use referral based and relationship based selling.  This includes nearly all services.
  • Sell regionaly products or services.  If your customers are geographically centralized, face to faces was likely a big part of your sales approach.
  • Sell products or services that require a big commitment of money or attention from a buyer.  When a big expense is at stake or the cost is not just money, lots of people get involved in the decision– at-a-distance selling is difficult when decision making is complex..
  • Sell into Industries with strong face to face preferences– eg. hospitality.
  • Sell to early adopters– they buy ideas (not full solutions or products) that are often developed together.

Difficult and impossible are shades of grey.  Hybrid and parallel transitions have usually been recommended, but these are atypical times….  As you embark on your transition, here are some learning highlights.

With inside sales (vs field sales) we need to dramatically lower the risk/investment on the buyer side.  500K€ of combined product purchase cost and/or business disruption cost requires at least 25K€ of customer side due-diligence … thus the typical need for face to face meetings and field sales.  To shift this to inside sales, we need to radically reduce buyer side risk & expense. For this, we start with the product.  

Product:

  • Simplify your product.  Find the one killer benefit/feature and put all your focus on that.  Eg. if you sell ERP software, time to think of your product as an inventory management / cashflow preservation tool rather than a business platform with unlimited flexibility.  One is a simple evaluation while the other involves an undetermined number of people in an unknown decision process.  
  • Reduce the on-boarding effort on the customer side.  In the ERP example, shift to cloud-only deployments (perhaps offer to let people transition to on-premise a year later if they want) and enlarge customer success onboarding support for new clients.
  • Find an entry point offer )  For our ERP example, an ideal entry point offer would be some assessment of an existing inventory system.. Here’s some guidance

… notice, we are necessarily going to loose some deals with these changes.  Our lead generation is going to be extra strong if this is to work.

Sales Operations:

Your sales game needs to be far more process driven in an inside sales driven organization.   Efficient inside selling organizations have multiple handoffs– if your sales process is not exactly repeatable or your messaging is not precisely repeated by everyone, prospects will never have the confidence to take any risk even if you have radically reduced that risk.  The risk of the key sales operations concepts are the same good sales concepts you have heard about for years, just they become 10x more important when you shift away from face to face selling.

  • Clearly define your ideal customer profile, what you fix for them, and how they might describe the pain.  With field sales, this is far less important as their is a long nurturing process and so much of the sales process is driven by an assigned account manager with experience and intuition. There is less room for improvisations in inside sales. No backstage information from the guy bringing you back to the reception, no informal dinner the day before the meeting, …
  • Why is your product valuable?   Less than 4% of companies truly need to change their ERP– ‘need’ is the extreme version of ‘want’ or ‘should’.  Who needs to be ‘rescued’?
  • Why is your product relevant?  Why now? What are the triggers that my problem area cannot be deferred further.  Notice that my focus is on pain removal– this is far more powerful than opportunity.

Up your Digital Game

As we lose networking opportunities used in typical sales, something needs to replace it. Content strategies and your online presence are important in all types of sales, but when we shift away from field sales, we need to level up.

  • Look for keywords that trigger important and relevant (described in the previous section).  
  • Build a content funnel that answers the questions your prospects are asking.  Remember, early stage content must be far more informative and avoid looking too ‘salesy’.  This is especially important to product spaces where customers are used to face to face discussions rather than something “transactional”.  You need them to trust what they are reading rather than rely on reading the face of the person talking to them.
  • Lead magnets work for large scale B2B as well.  They need to feel less click-bait like, but they will work far better than most people used to F2F sales think. My colleague Martin Weiss at BizXpand does an excellent job using lead magnets and the nurture campaign that results once you get their email in return for the lead magnet.
  • I have seen LinkedIn organic techniques have worked great but paid content less so; however, this is always a moving target.  

Lead Generation is more of the same

Beyond our digital presence lead funnel described earlier, we also could / should:

  • Sales Development Rep (SDR see article at Predictable revenue) is still working, but like any successful technique, it is getting overused and prospects are starting to respond less. 
  • Asking for introductions is still critical to many large solution sales or service sales.  Your initial meeting just moved to video instead of in person.
  • Kick off research teams that look for former customers or even former prospects that have moved to different companies– this is especially useful in insular industries like automotive or marketing..
  • Cold calling gets even more difficult but email prospecting experiences a new revival since #workfromhome becomes the new normal.
  • In times when conferences, fairs, physical networking events are cancelled and business lunches are not possible,  the only way to work and increase your personal network is through digital channels.

Time for a Video meetings level-up.

Some tips when transitioning to video meetings.

  • Go professional: get a good camera, microphones, lighting, and pleasant backgrounds. Pro tip: Good sound is 10X more important than good video. 
  • Learn your tools.  Seeing faces is important, knowing how to add users, reset….
  • Have a backup service.  Choose a high performance one like Zoom and a dinosaur one like Skype for Business (Teams) as a backup.  Your confidence with the tools says a lot about your ability to deliver in your business area. You don’t want to waste 15 minutes of their precious time to find out how to make them the “presenter”.
  • Try to get a larger block of time.  You might need to earn this with a pre-qualification meeting; however, this lack of extra time is one of the main weaknesses of tele-conference selling.  Most face to face presentations are ‘sold’ during the dinner or the coffee leading up to the presentation when everyone is relaxed. In a video setting, you need enough time to get past the formalness and into real, meaningful conversations that establish trust and confidence– this one is really hard.  The more transactional your product offering is the easier the mission.
  • Get everyone talking.  Asking questions is slow and awkward when remote, but it is essential to keep people from reading their email at the same time as listening to you team speak.
  • Avoid classic product demos. Ask upfront what they want to see – what use cases they have in mind. Start with the end – show the results (analytics, dashboard, KPIs, achievements, success stories, …) and then explain how to get there. I’ve seen SaaS product demos where they started the demo with “How to add users to the tool”…  

Invest in Technology

  • Sales tech not only makes your sales professionals more efficient, it guides you toward best practices. 
  • The best companies are often using 5+ tools / salesperson (SDR and inside sales) and spending 1500€/person or more each month.  
  • Look at browser extensions for linkedIn, email workflow & personalization, social media etc tools.  Not just CRM.
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