Trending This Week: Applying the New Science of B2B Sales

January 12, 2018

science equipment

I’ve always loved the term “cutting edge.” It’s so hip, so sleek.

It is defined as “the leading position in any field,” and what organization wouldn’t want to be described as such? To be on the cutting edge is to be at the forefront -- paving the way, blazing the trail, setting the trends.

But with so much conflicting information out thee, and so many different views from different sources on the true direction of the discipline, determining the right path to a cutting-edge B2B sales strategy is hardly a clear-cut proposition.

In this regard, extensive new data shared by McKinsey & Company may prove illuminating. As one of the world’s largest business research and consulting firms, any significant study from McKinsey is worthy of attention. Over the past couple of years they’ve surveyed more than 1,000 organizations -- as well as interviewed more than 400 sales executives -- to get a definitive handle on the state of B2B selling from both sides.  

The resulting analysis of the future of B2B sales growth is, I might argue, the first absolute must-read article of 2018 for professionals in the field. Today we’ll break down some of the key actionable takeaways we distilled from this forward-looking rundown.

Five Essential Components of a Cutting-Edge B2B Sales Strategy

“B2B sales has evolved from an art to a science,” according to authors Tim Colter, Mingyu Guan, Mitra Mahdavian, Sohail Razzaq, and Jeremy D. Schneider. They point to a number of developments and innovations that are changing the very nature of the profession. And as their data bears out, sales teams that are embracing this transformation are outperforming those that languish behind the times.

The overview from McKinsey & Company suggests that “buyers being more content-driven, technically savvy, and comfortable engaging via digital channels, has led to the rise of a new breed of sales leaders who bring technical expertise and a strategic mind-set.” These findings align almost exactly with the core premises we recently laid out in our eBook, The Future of Sales: Rise of the Strategic Seller.

It only makes sense that implementing a cutting-edge approach would be reliant on embracing the systematic and experimental principles of science. Here are five steps to ensure that your business is doing so:

1. Learn About Your Customers and Their Preferences

It’s a fundamental imperative of B2B selling today, and one that’s reinforced by McKinsey’s research. Specifically, the authors call out this critical focus: engaging customers the way they want to be engaged. This refers to timing, channel, and circumstance.

To this end, the more relevant customer data you can compile, the better. Keeping logs of past interactions, identifying primary purchase intent cues, and deeply studying the types of accounts you value most will help reps bring an anticipatory understanding into prospect engagements.

2. Use Technology to Become More Nimble

Robots aren’t coming to take our jobs but new sales tech can augment our processes, making us more directed and swift in the actions we take. The article points to advanced analytics and machine learning as important components of a modernized B2B sales strategy. The most successful companies are building out comprehensive customer profiles and even using predictive scoring to boost conversions.

3. Invest in Hiring and Training

Hiring salespeople who bring a strategic mindset and some level of tech savvy should be a recruiting priority for B2B sales leaders everywhere. A surprising number of respondents acknowledged that they don’t feel they’re equipped with the right sales talent to bring them into the future, and this was especially prevalent among slow growers:

It’s not just hiring where many of us need to step our games up. Training and enablement can be just as vital if not more so. The authors note that per their survey results, “48 percent of fast-growth companies indicated that they invest significant time and resources in sales training versus only 22 percent of slow-growth companies.”

Additionally, they mention a striking statistic you might’ve heard before: adult learners remember only 10 percent of what they heard three months after the fact, and 32 percent of what they saw; however, they remember 65 percent of what they learned by doing. With this in mind, experiential training models are rightfully gaining prominence.

As the Chinese proverb goes: “Tell me and I’ll forget. Show me and I may remember. Involve me and I’ll understand.”

4. Take a Big-Picture, Strategic View

It needs to start at the top. The McKinsey article states that “a key feature distinguishing market leaders from the rest of the pack is that the CEOs of the market leaders actively lead the sales transformation, rather than leaving it to the head of sales.” Buy-in and participation from the full C-suite is a crucial aspect of actualizing a comprehensive strategy that permeates an organization.

Make decisions in the scope of a long-term view. Align every tactic with a defined overarching strategy. Ensure that every member of every team is on the same page and working from the same playbook.

5. Develop a Culture of Continuous Improvement

The scientific method is all about experimenting, learning, and refining. Your sales engine should operate around these very fundamentals. One of the final takeaways from the team at McKinsey:

“Winning sales organizations are using test-and-learn strategies to become more nimble. Some set up a sales war-room model to launch new digital campaigns and messages. Others adopt an agile test-fail-learn-adapt operating model to rapidly ideate and refine sales tactics.”

Achieving true innovation and growth requires some level of risk. There’s a reason the term “cutting edge” carries connotations of daring and danger (ouch!). But as long as you take smart gambles, react quickly, and make the proper adjustments, you’ll be on the fast track to a promising future.It’s just science.

For regular insights on future-proofing your B2B sales strategy and staying on the cutting edge, make sure you subscribe to the LinkedIn Sales blog.