ABM Insights:

Do we still need enterprise sales teams?

How sales teams can make an impact when the enterprise buying process is almost entirely virtual and digitised.

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed everything about the enterprise buying process. 

With both buyer and seller teams working remotely in a virtual world, with so much information available online, and with so many parts of the buying process now automated, the landscape of enterprise sales today is unrecognisable to that of a decade ago.

A pre-pandemic Gartner study illustrates this point perfectly by demonstrating that when B2B buyers are considering making a purchase they can spend as little as 5% of their time actuallymeeting with any given potential supplier. 

With vastly more time spent researching independently online (27%), meeting with their buying group (22%), and researching independently offline (18%), it seems seller-buyer interactions were already becoming less frequent even before the pandemic. 

Another survey – this a more recent one from Bain & Company – found that 80% of B2B buyers said they “believe there will be a sustained increase in virtual interactions” after the pandemic, and a Gartner study from earlier this year found 43% of B2B customers would prefer not to interact with a sales rep at all in the buying process.

The human touch

These statistics demonstrate a profound shift in enterprise buyer behaviour and raises the question: if sellers have less and less opportunity to impact a buying decision and buyers don’t want them, are sellers even necessary at all?

My instinctive answer to that question – and one that is based on working with enterprise buying teams at some of the world’s largest organisations – is that there will always be a need for human interaction in the enterprise buying process. Here’s why:

1.The differentiated experience

It’s inarguable that much of the buying process has become automated and digitised – and, for buyers at least, that is a good thing. The process is smoother, they can work at their own pace without feeling pressured, the information they need is easy to source, etc. 

However, as a buyer, it is very hard to differentiate when buying solely based on internet reviews, through a website, through digital channels only, or through chatbots. What do you as a buyer do when every supplier you look at has a nicely designed website with flawless UX, a great chatbot service, or they all have sparkling online reviews?

This is where sellers have their chance. Though the opportunity for sellers and buyers to interact is small and diminishing, there is still an opportunity to make an impact. And to do this, sellers must be aware of what their role is in this process and the value they can bring.

That value lays in insight, in understanding what the buyer needs to move forward in the buying process. 

Put simply, if you as a seller can’t help your buyer make progress along the buying journey more than an automated solution can, then you are bringing no value to the process. 

But if you can provide some insight that helps your buyer move forward you instantly add value.

The job for sales enablement teams is to ensure their sellers have that insight and know how and when to use it. 

2.A risk aversion to AI

Despite artificial intelligence becoming increasingly prevalent in driving the enterprise buying process, there reaches a point in the process when people would rather deal with people. And that point comes when risk is at its greatest.

This is a uniquely human trait and one that was discussed in an interesting study in the Harvard Business Review that examined why humans would still rather deal with a human doctor than an AI-driven medical software, despite the software outperforming the doctor in every test. 

Why deal with a human when there is a greater risk of getting a diagnosis wrong? It’s because when there is an element of risk involved we humans like to have the reassurance of another person. 

This can be applied to the enterprise buying process because there is a large element of risk in making a decision about which vendor to use. Jobs, livelihoods, even whole careers, can depend on getting a buying decision right – and so there is a need for sellers to be on hand to reassure buyers they are making the right choice. 

Again, this is about sellers providing some value that an automated process cannot. But it is also about creating joined up, seamless experiences for buyers throughout the buying, implementation and usage phases that best provide buyers with the reassurance they need.

3.The need for connection

Underpinning the above point is a need for humans to connect with humans. If people want reassurance, if they want to know you will be by their side throughout the buying process and beyond, then that is what you as a sales team need to provide.

After all, people buy the personal relationship, not the product, not the brand name, not the track record, not the previous history between the two companies – they buy you and what you can offer. Your credibility, your understanding, your insight, your personal relationship – these are the things you’re really selling.

If there is to be a human element in the B2B buying process then sellers must not focus on selling more. Instead, they must focus on empathy, on helping the buyer, on understanding them, and removing the hurdles preventing them from buying – the things that create value. It must be noted that one of those hurdles may be you – the seller – so recognising how you can remove yourself from certain parts of the process and automate it is a key skill in itself, but there is more to it than that.

Sales teams must also essentially become the enablers themselves, providing the information buyers need to progress through a highly complex and non-linear buying process.

The support network

To give sales teams the best chance of creating those personal connections that will determine whether a sale is made or not they need the support of their organisations.

To give sales teams the best chance of creating those personal connections that will determine whether a sale is made or not they need the support of their organisations.

On a practical level, this comes in the form of the way the organisation is structured and in the tools sellers have at their disposal.

On a structural level, sales teams need the support of their entire organisation behind them. To create truly lasting personal relationships, it must be recognised that everyone in an organisation is customer facing and available to be called upon should the buyer require it. Product teams, implementation partners, marketing teams, and leaders from within the business should be as connected to sales teams as possible and ready to join customer conversations to provide that human value element.

The creation of these multi-faceted, hybrid teams that are set up around the buyers’ requirements are how organisations will get the best out of their sales teams in the digital world.

But it is not on structure alone. Sales teams will also need the best tools to be able to do their job – and the importance of sales enablement teams has never been greater.

Their roles is to source and provide the insight sellers need to forge a genuine connection with a buying team – to provide the information that will help sellers demonstrate their value over both the competition and an automated part of the process. 

For more information on how sales enablement can power your growth agenda, click here.