Building a Modern B2B Sales Organization with Digital Knowledge
“KNOWLEDGE IS POWER.” Francis Bacon
The business world is accelerating. The digital age is driving change at an unprecedented rate leaving B2B companies with a simple choice to make in the current digital age:
- EMBRACE CHANGE NOW: You will become recession proof and competition proof as your customer relationships become more solid than ever. Your agility will be unmatched and you can enter new markets with ease. You will enter an era of unparalleled growth in revenue and profitability.
- BE SLOW TO CHANGE: You put the viability of your company at risk to the detriment of your shareholders and employees. You will not be able to compete.
What is the magic bullet that companies can embrace now to compete in the digital age? It’s leveraging new knowledge based platforms to close the gaps in how knowledge flows to your buyers and employees.
Years ago, I ran a company that profiled network health and made diagnostics in a new way. We had to sell our products through the “channel”, an indirect route to market using distributors and their reseller network. One quarter we missed our sales goals by a small percentage. When we tried to figure out why, we realized that sales reps at the resellers did not know how to attach options and services to our products. I realized I couldn’t succeed unless the resellers were as smart as possible about my products. To overcome this problem, it became clear I had 5 bad choices to “Enable the Channel”:
5 TRADITIONAL METHODS OF ENABLING SALES with KNOWLEDGE
- DIRECT: I could try to sell direct which was not an option because these companies already had all the relationships with potential buyers.
- FUNDED HEADS AND ONSITE SUPPORT: I could hire as many people as possible to stand over the shoulders of the sales reps at resellers. This is what all the large companies do today. I found out that this was not a great solution because not only is it very expensive but even a group of people can only cover a small percent of the opportunities a small percent of the time.
- CENTRAL SUPPORT: I could have a central phone based support pool that took inbound calls from resellers. I found that this didn’t work because the sales people a) couldn’t remember the right qualifying questions or b) couldn’t ask their customers to hold on the phone for answers.
- LUNCH AND LEARNS: I could do lunch and learns in the field using static power points and pdfs to teach each rep how to sell our products. I found that the training was often forgotten minutes after they left the training room.
- “SILOED TOOLS”: I could provide “tools” for reps to use. I quickly found out that the problem wasn’t providing a “tool” but there are too many “tools”. Sales reps can’t learn dozens or hundreds of different siloed vendor tools and user interfaces. Moreover, tools were immediately useless if they didn’t:
- blend with other complementary vendor products
- blend with the reseller services
- blend with reseller information such as SKUs, Pricing etc.
Some of these methods seemed disable sales rather than enable them.Also knowledge transfer was a one-way street.I could deliver knowledge but not gain insights about how it improved sales.All of these methods are extremely expensive but no one could calculate the ROI - resulting in even more knowledge gaps!
Modern B2B Companies Close Knowledge Gaps to Fuel Sales Growth
I came to see that my business had a “Knowledge Gap” in sales – I couldn’t efficiently transfer the knowledge and rules about selling my products to either the seller or the buyer. Even after the company was sold, my realization that the B2B sales process was too manual and often broken kept nagging me. I couldn’t stop thinking about the B2B sales process.
Closing these Knowledge Gaps in the B2B sales process has been my passion ever since. Now with the advent of new digital technology B2B companies will have to leverage digital in every aspect of the sales process starting with strengthening the customer experience, gaining unprecedented agility and removing vulnerabilities from lack of buyer insight.
Closing Knowledge Gaps to fuel sales growth is not hype - it works. It has worked for numerous industries in diverse settings.
Amazon’s destruction of traditional B2C companies is one excellent example. Amazon has closed the knowledge gaps its customers can encounter with a digital customer experience. Purchases and inquiries begin and end digitally. Customers can research their purchases on the website independently with ease. There is no need to call because all knowledge and information are at their digital fingertips!
Here is the irony – Amazon is closer to its customers than any traditional company that uses the phone!
Amazon also has built a digital business that has almost infinite scale. As the traditional B2C competitors die off Amazon can absorb their sales without adding substantial headcount. Instead of their business being a network of human knowledge and communication it is a platform of digital knowledge and communication.
Defining the Modern B2B Sales Organization – Best Practices
Now imagine that your B2B company can become the Amazon of your industry by closing all the knowledge gaps with a digital customer experience:
- You become trusted advisor - THE place buyers go to research and purchase without delay and error.
- Your company gains unlimited scale by cutting high touch manual effort and dramatically improving profit with sticky customer relationships.
- Unlike home grown IT built websites offering simple catalogs, your digital advisors help buyers build multi-vendor solutions without delay.
- Your sales staff is freed up to work on larger and more strategic deals.
- Finally you have insight – the digital pathways you built remove blind spots and you understand your customers better than ever.
The future belongs to companies that remove knowledge gaps in sales and embark on a path toward profitable customer engagement. Modern B2B sales organizations have implemented the following best practices:
- Starting the customer the experience with digital interaction as early as possible
- Democratizing knowledge and placing it directly in the buyer and sales reps hands
- Empowering buyers and sales reps to solve problems not just select products out of a catalog
- Transforming human high touch processes to digital rules based processes to gain unlimited scale
- Gaining buyer insights from digital pathways to shape demand
Summary – Unique Window of Opportunity Can Be Captured with Knowledge Work as a Service
We are in a unique time in the B2B market where B2B sales is in a growth mode while the number of B2B resellers is in a consolidation mode. The North American Reseller base continues to face 10 percent to 15 percent annual attrition for the foreseeable future while an estimated 40 percent of the entire channel will retire in the next 10 years. (CompTIA/IPED) This means that companies that improve customer experience, agility and customer insight by closing Knowledge Gaps will be the biggest winners. They can grow their own business and easily scale to capture incremental business from less agile and exiting competitors without the traditional barriers of additional fixed cost.
There has never been a better time to grow profitably and scale. But this window of opportunity will not stay open for long. Companies must put their knowledge into a Knowledge Work Platform as soon as possible to gain a competitive advantage.
Have I forgotten anything? Please let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org.