Sink or Swim: New Tricks for B2B Sales

In an increasingly complex marketplace, how can B2B sellers stand out? Today’s customers use an average of six (and sometimes more) channels when buying, and thanks to digital trends, they aren’t contacting suppliers directly until 57 percent of the buying process is complete.

So what does that mean for sales leaders? Simply put: sink or swim. The old way of doing things doesn’t work anymore, and effective leaders must reassess how they source leads and manage pipelines.

Rather than being overwhelmed, be empowered. Marketing and sales experts Daniel Birke, David Sprengel, Jochen Ulrich and Michael Viertler of McKinsey & Company analyzed 73 B2B tech companies and found that the top 25 percent of those surveyed are banking twice as much return on investment as the bottom 25 percent. 

In a recent Harvard Business Review article, Birke et. al identify how you can mimic their strategies.

1. Use a fresh approach to sales ROI metrics.

Good data will illustrate where the best ROI is—this is a necessity for smart investing. However, the most successful companies measure sales efficacy not by the typical “sales cost versus revenue” scale, but by the “sales cost against gross margin or profit (EBIT)” scale. This allows leaders to effectively align the number of accounts per sales employees with actual and potential revenues, Birke et. al write.

2. Keep you sales costs lower than your peers’.
The study found that 72 percent of the top sales ROI companies also have the lowest sales costs. To keep costs low, leaders must have a clear understanding what is profitable by channel, product and customer—this will allow him or her to prioritize higher versus lower value orders.

The best leaders also invest in training their salespeople to develop multiple skills, or in technologies that increase efficiency—both of which help to maintain lower sales costs in the long run.

3. Allow your best salespeople to sell.
Your top salespeople should be focusing on customers, not administrative tasks. The study found that higher performing companies employ 30 percent more sales staff in support roles, allowing top-notch sales reps to be three times as productive as their peers.

To help free up top sellers, consider which sales support functions could be outsourced, automated, streamlined or removed altogether. Again, Birke et. al note that this entails a comprehensive assessment of what’s low-value-add and what’s high, and how much energy is being spent on each.

4. Use a variety of channels.
Using sales channels isn’t like being married (in the traditional sense, at least)— the more channels you have, the better. If your company is loyal to a one-channel model, your multi-channel competition may be achieving 40 percent higher sales ROI.

Diversify your channels—you will have greater success. But to manage those channels successfully, you must prioritize the value of the opportunity over its volume, and be strategic when matching a product with a channel—not all will be a good fit.

Don’t be afraid to experiment with different strategies—if your competition is upping their game and reassessing their methods and priorities, you can’t afford not to. 


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