A Digital strategy for your sales channels was once considered a “nice to have” or a long-term goal. Enter COVID, and Digital Transformation and Customer Experience are now front and center topics for Sales Leaders as more and more customers shift to using digital platforms. It has now become a rush to find out how to align channels to the new Digital normal as we approach Annual Planning for 2021.

If you are reading this article and you work in the B2B space, you have most likely been inundated with buzzwords surrounding Digital and how it is disrupting your industry: Digital strategy, digital transformation, eCommerce, big data, IoT, AI, and the list goes on…

 

Your boss, your bosses’ boss, and the boss above them probably have heard these buzzwords as well, which has then cascaded down to you and your strategic planning and how you are thinking about 2021 and beyond.

 

 

If you are a B2B sales leader, you might be thinking that this is not something that has really impacted my industry or has not been a priority. It also might be something which is seen as a “nice to have” or long-term goal due to the internal bottlenecks. A recent survey found that B2B leaders believe that two of the biggest bottlenecks to change within an organization are long-term customer resistance to change (64%) and inconsistent use of online buying options (54%).

 

Enter 2020, and a little thing called COVID-19 came along and completely changed everything. To sum up what COVID has done to strategic planning in 2020, I will reference the former Heavy Weight Champion Mike Tyson, “Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.”

 

Digital has been disruptive, but COVID and digital disruption together has forced businesses to put Digital Evolution plans into hyperdrive. Your customers are remote and most likely on Digital platforms, so it now becomes a rush to find out how to align your channels to the new Digital normal.

 

So before going through recommendations, let’s take a deep breath and align on the impact this has had on Sales Channels today. Before jumping into the article, take some time to review the SBI Revenue Growth Approach Tool to help ground you on how to think about strategy during this time of disruption.

 

Download SBI's Revenue Growth Approach Tool Here

 

How COVID Has Impacted Digital Evolution

 

Statement 1: The Indirect Sales Channel has been disrupted and will have to cope with a new normal.

 

If you are a predominantly Indirect Sales Organization, you probably have realized this reality for quite some time. As a younger generation of buyers steps into key decision-making roles, the channel model will need to evolve with these buyers. COVID has made this gradual transformation toward digital/self-service into a reality overnight. It is crucial to understand your Partner’s plan to deal with this change as well as identify any gaps in their digital offering where your company can provide support.

 

  • Indirect sales are seeing year over year declines. In a recent Forester report, 73% of B2B buyers report that they buy through eCommerce, web direct, or marketplaces because it is very convenient. Brands are looking to expand the capability to sell and fulfill directly to consumers, and this will extend to their B2B buyer as well.

     

Statement 2: COVID and the Rise of Digital native customers have fundamentally changed how we serve our customers.

 

Believe it or not, as a Sales Leader, you are currently part of the largest Inside Sales experiment ever conducted globally. So how did it go? You might have noticed some bumps in the road or difficulty early. During these difficult times, there has been a lot of learning, often through trial and error. But in some cases, it has forced sales organizations to evolve and rethink how they reach customers.

 

  • A Forester report found that Buyers spend 68% of their journeys digitally before speaking with a salesperson (direct or partner), and 71% of them reach vendor selection after a digital-only journey, emphasizing the importance of getting to customers early and often.

     

Statement 3: Customer and Partner experience was important; it now more than ever, should be the number one priority on how you shape your Channel Strategy.

 

Some of the best B2B organizations today have a complete view of the Customer Journey and how they want to interact with the organization. Buyer preferences have dramatically shifted over the last 3-5 years due to the availability of more digital and self-service purchase options. COVID has had a significant impact on this trend and has even influenced how traditional B2B buyers purchase. This trend has forced companies to rethink both Customer Experience and Partner Experience to improve ease of purchase and self-service capabilities.

 

None of these statements should be shocking, and most likely, you have been trying to think through all of them already. Well, let me give you a different way to think through the next steps and the approach.

 

Make Digital Front and Center of Your 2021 Annual Planning Process

 

Business as we know it is at a crossroads, and a small change is not going to move the needle for your business or your customers. As a Sales Leader, it is time to rethink your Route to Market Strategy and how aligned the organization is on making the necessary changes to survive in 2021.

 

A lot of B2B organizations we have worked with are proactively thinking through how they will serve their customers through a Digital platform to support a more robust GTM strategy.

 

  • Look at disruption as an opportunity to shift the organization to a lower cost-to-serve model, which leverages lower-cost resources and digital platforms to reach your customers and prospects. Review your current coverage model and make sure that your sales team is aligned to the highest priority opportunities to ensure you have an optimized Customer Acquisition Cost (CAC) and productivity per head.
  • Rethink the use of Inside Sales and its role within the organization. The traditional B2B organization is made up of highly compensated salespeople focused on getting in front of customers is changing as we know it. A high-quality inside sales organization that has a digital platform can handle a higher volume of touchpoints and generate more activity than ever before.
  • A review of your strategy cannot be done in a silo. It will take every group within your organization. Communication and Cross-functional alignment need to be anchored on a cohesive plan focused on driving change within the organization.

     

Traditional routes to market are being replaced with innovative ways to reach customers. As a Sales Leader, you must continue to be agile and evolve as your customers do.

 

Prioritize Your Resources Through Segmentation

 

Resources are tight right now, and making sure they are aligned to the best opportunities and on the most profitable channels will be crucial. No matter what your industry is, COVID has had an impact on your industry and how your customers transact.

 

  • Look at how your accounts and Partners are segmented today. Ensure your sales team is aligned to the new opportunities a Digital landscape has brought during the time of COVID through an update to your Account Segmentation
  • Look at your Point of Sales (POS) data and review what COVID has done to the buying behavior of your customers. Review if there needs to be an adjustment in how you are servicing customers based on recent data. You might find that there is a portion of your customers and prospects that can be serviced through an eCommerce platform to lower the cost-to-serve.
  • Look at ways to support and enable your channels to align to the age of the digital buyer. Your Partners are also trying to navigate this disruption and will need your support to grow with you in 2020 and beyond.

     

Customer Experience

 

It will come as no surprise, but you must put your customer front and center during this transition. Along with the experience of your customers, if you are predominately an indirect selling organization, Partner Experience becomes just as crucial.

 

  • Map the End-to-End Customer Journey and align it to your lead management process today. Ask yourself:
    • Where are there bottlenecks?
    • Where can we optimize/automate?
    • How can we increase velocity?
    • How does Digital impact this?
  • Take your view of the entire end-to-end process and go out and test it. Mystery shop your organization and your competitors, and experience what your customers are feeling. Test multiple scenarios to get routed to different parts of your organization and your competition to get a comprehensive view of the customer experience.
  • Assess the results of your experience. Align internally if your company has both the capacity and capability required to deliver and maintain the ideal experience for your customers. Make this a gap analysis that your organization can leverage when thinking about strategy in 2021.

     

The New Execution Plan

 

Often organizations will confuse tactics with the actual strategy itself when they are rolling out a plan. Even though the two are interrelated, there needs to be clear delineation when thinking strategically for 2021.

 

If we stick to what we reviewed above, this starts to shape our Strategic Plan. The shift towards a more customer-centric and digital strategy will become the foundation of this plan. The activities, the RACI, and the timelines become the tactics that support the overall objectives. 

 

  • Investment in Digital capabilities and Ecommerce used to be an aspiration; it now must become table stakes for the organization. This should be infused into every part of the organization.
  • Every process that touches a customer must be aligned to the customer journey. Document and map out your processes and identify ways to reduce friction between channels to improve the customer experience and help support the roll-out of your strategy.
  • Build metrics and KPIs that can measure this Digital Evolution and provide real progress updates to Senior Leadership. Set SMART goals and have measurable outcomes that can be tracked and socialized with leadership to give your team and leadership visibility into the plan.

     

Closing

At SBI, we have had the privilege to work with some fantastic Sales and Marketing leaders during this difficult time. One thing that is clear is that there is no magic playbook or crystal ball to get us through this challenging time, only innovation and perseverance. There is not a lot of clarity on what is next. But one thing that is for certain is that once we get through the Economic Trough of 2020, all signs point to Sales Recovery and Expansion, which will be driven through a new Digital Reality. Take time to review the SBI Revenue Growth Approach Tool and to document out how Digital will be a part of your Annual Planning for 2021.

 

Download SBI's Revenue Growth Approach Tool Here

 

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Ben Durst

Working with clients to drive sustainable change in their organization and make their number.

Prior to SBI, Ben spent his career in a variety of strategic roles in both consulting and corporate strategy.  He uses a data driven approach to tackling complex business problems while utilizing his diverse industry experience and strategic background.

 

Ben has worked on a variety of global product strategy projects focused on sales and marketing related initiatives including; branding and market positioning, market entry strategy, market segmentation, and market analysis.  He brings creativity and passion to every engagement coupled with his demonstrated skill sets in data analysis, marketing strategy, and business development. With a diverse background across multiple industries, Ben is able to quickly provide market driven decisions which result in his clients making their number.

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