60 percent of sales executives assume that the digitization of the sales operation will be crucial to business in future. This was one of the results of a study titled “The Digital Future of B2B Sales”, for which the consulting firm Roland Berger and Google Germany surveyed 2,745 individuals working in sales in German manufacturing companies. The concept appears to be on people’s radar. At least theoretically. But practical reality shows a different picture. According to the study, 22 percent of companies currently have no plans for digitization, while 21 percent do not follow a strategy in developing their digital activities. And this is the case even though they are starting from rather a low base. One third of the B2B companies do not allow their customers to order products or services from them digitally, for example. Less than half the respondents stated that their customers could not only place orders but also configure products online.
It therefore seems that B2B companies aren’t particularly ambitious. This is remarkable insofar as digitization promises enormous potential. The above-mentioned study cites the example of one telecoms equipment provider that increased the number of deals closed by each salesperson by 41 percent through the use of a mobile product configurator. In the light of dramatically changing customer demands – also in the B2B sector – digitization has long since stopped being a mere option. It is an absolute must there days. Customers are moving in a digital world, and any company with whom they cannot easily interact will drop off their radar and be left out of the “relevant set”.
The fact that many companies are still holding back is partly due to the complexity of sales digitization. This is caused in part by the vast numbers of technologies and devices, channels and services involved. And the smartphone has changed people’s buying behavior massively. The Internet of Things will bring about the next step change. In addition, customers are now more proactive, and sales staff will have to adjust to that. There is also a trend for other operating departments becoming involved in sales activities. Service staff, for instance, can use information gained from the digital machine data management to recommend alternative spare parts that may improve performance, thus performing a sales function.
To gain a good insight into the field it helps to look at it first from the customers’ perspective and then from the perspective of the sales department or sales staff and answer a few key questions.
- Which digital channels do our customers use to obtain information, to make decisions, and finally to order products?
- How do the individual phases of our customers’ purchasing process follow on from each other and at which points do discontinuities tend to occur?
- Which aspects of communication with companies are particularly important to customers – from the initial search to placing the order – and what needs to be in place for the entire communication to be conducted digitally?
- How can we create added value for our customers in the sales process by digital means?
- What tasks do our sales staff have to perform and what digital support exists already?
- What regular challenges do our sales staff face and how can new digital tools help to meet them?
- What additional requirements will result for our sales staff from digitization and which digital solutions are there available to meet them?
- Which digital solutions are there for our sales staff to generate direct added value for the customers and thus differentiate us from the competition?
The concrete answers will differ in each case. For some companies, a product configurator may be the killer app, for others an app enabling the sales staff to access all relevant data easily. One thing is certain: without a high-performance technological platform it will not be possible to realize the strategic digitization of sales. The authors of the study conducted by Roland Berger and Google consider an “IT backbone” to be essential. The choice of terminology is probably no accident. Because sales digitization is not limited to the optimization of individual channels or services, such as the online shop or the CRM system. The winners in this game will be above all those companies that organize and manage all their activities with a clear goal in mind. The free flow of information is crucial to this. It requires a platform that acts as the interface between customers and sales staff and that is seamlessly integrated with the existing corporate applications at the same time.