Sales Journey Acceleration: the Five Most Effective Ways to Meet the Needs of the Modern Customer

Manpreet Wadan
Jul 25, 2019 · 8 min read

Sales is one of the oldest professions, one that has been evolving and adapting for centuries now. Since the 1950s, sales and the sales journey has evolved drastically, first because of the technological and business changes and now due to digital disruption, and every decade is enduring a new dimension to this change. If you think its evolution has reached a saturation level, you are mistaken.

Sales AI is next stage in the evolution of sales. Automating and augmenting sales flow processes enables companies to better respond to buyer needs in the moment.

Welcome to the age of the customer

We have entered a new sales paradigm. With customers having greater control over information, they are less dependent upon sellers. In 2011, Forrester termed this modern sales environment the ‘age of the customer’. Customers in the business-to-customer (B2C) segment have always been fickle and difficult to predict, an uncertainty that only increased with better access to information.

The business-to-business (B2B) customer, on the other hand, was believed to be predictable in their buying decisions. This has been changing rapidly over the past few years, and sales organizations are having a hard time adapting. It is now more difficult to gauge a B2B customer’s needs and information gathering patterns. Growth of digital markets, enhanced information dissemination and social media has empowered the B2B decision maker to bypass salespeople altogether. A recent Forrester report explains that ‘B2B buyers are behaving more like customers every day’ and their expectations differ significantly from the traditional B2B buyers across four key dimensions: brand experience, sales interactions, purchase influence and post-sales engagement.

B2B sales in the age of the customer requires new approaches to the sales journey. The complexity of the needs of B2B customer requires complex tools that don’t fit into traditional sales paradigms. AI, automation and augmentation enable companies to better understand and address customer desires immediately and accurately.

The era of the super informed buyer is here

As more and more millennial digital natives make business decisions, businesses need to adapt to provide buyers with the right content in real time. According to a recent publication by Lori Wizdo of Forrester, “74% of business buyers conduct more than half of their research online before making an offline purchase”. Another Forrester study revealed that 68% of B2B buyers prefer to conduct their own research online, and a staggering 63% use mobile devices to do so.

These modern, empowered customers don’t have the time to seek out content, wait for information from drip campaigns or sift through irrelevant content. They need the right information right away.

Customers are increasingly applying the B2C yardstick to their B2B buying journeys. Because customers are less dependent upon sellers, buyers seek short and streamlined sales processes and tend to purchase directly from the digital market. The salesperson has little opportunity to influence the buyer’s decision and has become the customer’s last resort. To augment the sales journey and address buyer needs, companies must be able to provide up-to-date and relevant content automatically and on-demand.

These changes to the sales landscape cause significant uncertainty and increase the cost of sales for organizations. B2B organizations are finding it difficult to command brand loyalty, build sustainable relationships or retain the attention of their decision-making customers. Engaging the informed buyer requires personalized, targeted content, a feat that is nearly impossible to accomplish manually. Because modern buyers know what they want, companies need to provide them with relevant and impactful content to move them toward a purchasing decision. Irrelevant content only frustrates the B2B customer.

Five ways to engage the modern B2B customer

The writing is on the wall. Businesses must embrace a new way of selling to B2B customers or fall behind. Forrester suggests five ways for marketers to engage the new B2B customer. Though buyers behave more like B2B customers each day, there is no B2B or B2C customer; it is human-to-human (H2H) now.

Organizations persist with their old ways of communicating ̶ mechanical and cold messages, a far cry from how humans speak with one another. H2H connection is the most effective way to view the sales journey, especially in the era of social media and user generated content. Cultivating human-to-human connection is now necessary for the survival and growth of any sales organization.

1. Update brand image to meet shifting customer needs

Conventionally, companies have followed an ‘inside-out’ perspective. Rather than focusing on the needs and desires of customers, companies focus solely on what they bring to market. To keep up with the age of the customer, companies need to shift their focus to customer experience. If you want your customers to be loyal to your brand, you must listen to them and meet their needs.

AI driven sentiment analysis through intelligent AI assistants are great ways of ensuring that customers feel heard and are understood. Make sure your brand:

· is centered on customer experience

· resonates emotionally with your customer

· creates the right first impression with your customer

2. Provide relevant information to the informed buyer

Start with personalized content for stellar customer experience. The belief that more content is better drives sales down. Today, the focus needs to be on the quality of content, not the quantity. Forrester has found that 66% B2B buyers say vendors provide too much material, much of which is irrelevant. Provide your customers with relevant, accessible and interactive content to help them in their buying journey.

AI automation can provide highly personalized content based upon demographic, behavioral and intent information to ensure that only the most relevant content is presented to your customers.

Content should be:

· Easy to find

· Easy to access

· On the right topics

3. Personalize content with limited personal information

Millennial buyers are selective in filling out forms or sharing details. B2B marketers need to be nimble enough to engage them without relying on too many details upfront. Easier access to relevant content and personalized engagement will ensure better customer experience. While it might sound paradoxical, automated tools can curate personalized user experiences without knowing personal details.

By relying on smart segmentation along anonymous information such as interaction information and user location, AI tools can determine the most relevant content via user-matching. For a meaningful conversation with anonymous customers, Forrester suggests:

· Delivering the content they’re already expecting

· Personalizing at the industry or company level

· Giving them a reason to return

4. Listen with empathy to customer needs

Conventional hard-sell tactics do not work with the new B2B customer. Marketers need to follow a more empathetic approach to engagement. Learn to help the customer drive the sales journey. Customers say much more than we are accustomed to hearing. We humans are only capable of processing so much information, much of which is subject to shifting hierarchies. We might focus on the tone of voice, and then the body language, and then the gist of linguistic meaning of a conversation.

AI tools using natural language processing document customer language non-hierarchically, enabling analysis of entire conversations. This enables companies to pinpoint affective shifts in conversations so that the causes of emotional changes can be identified easily. Customers who get what they need will say yes when making the purchasing decision. The most successful B2B marketers are those who:

· Listen to learn

· Are everywhere

· Enable intelligent outreach

5. Engage your customers as brand advocates

There are two important factors to post-sale engagement: B2B customers prefer hearing from their peers; and customers ask for personalized attention after purchase. If B2B marketers can demonstrate their commitment to the customer experience post-sale, then B2B customers will go the extra mile in advocating for your company.

Automated AI assistants can follow up with buyer’s post-sale, ensuring that concerns can be remedied, and satisfied customers can be motivated to evangelize for your brand on social media sites. According to Forrester, marketers should:

· Learn loyalty from B2B masters.

· Cater to different advocate personalities.

· Enlist employees as brand ambassadors.

How to get a leg up in the modern B2B environment

To beat the competition and adopt the new way of B2B marketing, Forrester recommends you commit to the B2B customer wholeheartedly and treat buyers as you would customers. If you want to stay competitive in the age of the customer, engagement with B2B customers must change. Whether you begin with an overhaul of your brand promise or improve content quality, make changes now.

Lead with your best content and personalize access to relevant content to accelerate the sales journey. Your content is the lead. Ensure that it engages the B2B customers intellectually and emotionally. Determining what your customer needs can only be determined by analyzing their intents, behaviors, preferences and emotional connection to your brand. AI automation and augmentation ensures that you lead with the best content and keep your buyers satisfied.

Automate and augment to accelerate B2B sales in the intelligent transformation era

Digital disruption is inevitable across all industries. If marketers embrace digital transformation, they will be at an advantage. Buyers are increasingly turning to digital channels for purchase solutions. Traditional sales channels and the influence of sellers are waning. B2B marketers risk alienating their buyers and revenue sources if they don’t go digital in their marketing efforts.

As buyers move away from traditional information gathering habits, companies need to follow suit to meet buyers where they are. That’s why we developed the Social27 Playlist.

With Playlist, your sales team doesn’t just get a “lead” they get the insights they need about content engagement, intent, sentiment and purchasing propensity so that they can spend their time building the right H2H conversations, relationships and subsequently meeting the needs of the buyer.

Partnering in your AI automation projects

Automation and augmentation in sales is only one of many impactful applications of intelligent AI. Whether you’re looking for a no-code intelligent automation solution yourself or the right information to evangelize and train your workforce for this fourth industrial revolution, taking the time to understand intelligent transformation is an important first step.

At Social27, we strive to understand your business needs and jointly develop the right AI automation strategy with the help of a step-by-step framework and best practices from across the industry. Subsequently, our automation products and solutions can enable rapid deployment and value realization.

Please visit social27.com for more information. We would appreciate the opportunity to partner in your intelligent automation journey.

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AI Automation & Augmentation

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