By Dave Irwin, Founder & CEO of Polaris I/O
Given the pace of change during the pandemic — an accelerated digital economy, in addition to the current economic climate, supply chain issues, ESG initiatives, and world events — there are constantly new and shifting needs for any B2B company. Different groups of people across departments, regions, divisions, and elevation levels are having to adapt daily to new challenges. Fixed demand for products and services is being overrun with new demand for solutions to emerging problems. This shift in demand is both a threat and an opportunity for suppliers needing to protect, retain, and grow these valuable account relationships. And everyone knows it.
B2B Buyers Want Relevant Information Fast
When you combine constantly changing needs with a fundamental desire of B2B buyers to make most buying decisions without the involvement of salespeople, the threat to the traditional sales-and-marketing model becomes even more pronounced. According to a Harvard Business Review article, “Traditional B2B Sales and Marketing are Becoming Obsolete,” from last year, “Helping today’s B2B buyers buy isn’t a sales challenge, nearly so much as an information challenge (or, alternatively, an information opportunity). The companies that best provide customers the information they most urgently seek, specifically through the channels they most clearly prefer, are in a far better position to drive commercial success in today’s rapidly evolving digital commercial landscape.”
From a traditional go-to market perspective, the historical focus of sales and marketing, the information a buyer is seeking has been about your product and services. But that has changed. What about unknown demand and the unmet needs of today’s business executives who are bombarded with new challenges every day? This is a fundamentally different dynamic to understand, and critical for effective cross-selling in key accounts. In a buyer journey of unknown demand, it isn’t the channel you deliver the information to that is the issue, but rather the very information itself you are delivering.
What Information Do Buyers Seek When Facing New Challenges?
We know the threat of disintermediation of sales, but what’s the opportunity? In the case of unmet needs and challenges, buyers need information that helps them understand, frame, and articulate their problem in a way that is relatable to their situation. In other words, empathy and understanding with buyers goes a long way in today’s complex world. When a supplier works with a buyer to articulate their problem, they are in a position to collaborate and co-create new initiatives to address the problem together.
This is the key to effectively cross-selling in today’s business climate. Understanding buyer challenges is the first step and mining these challenges continuously to effectively co-create solutions is the next step. Finally, the formula for sustainable growth is where the capabilities and resources of a supplier can effectively be combined in a way a B2B buyer can clearly drive desired outcomes.
This sounds straightforward, but it is not easy because the biggest challenge suppliers typically face is their own silos of products, and departments, that literally create internal obstacles that do not align with changing buyer needs. Research shows buyers feel only 11% of sales conversations with suppliers are valuable, coordinated, and orchestrated. How do suppliers overcome their own siloed operations and engage customers in addressing desired outcomes and latent challenges effectively?
Adapting to the Changing and Latent Demand of Key Accounts
Latent demand, or “existing but not yet developed or manifested” needs, are a massive opportunity for suppliers to become a trusted and preferred vendor who proactively addresses customer problems. Studies have shown that when businesses are first to solve a customer problem by envisioning success and co-creating a solution, they win business over 70% of the time. In fact, buyers prefer to just go to those suppliers that can understand their business and work with them quickly and effectively. So how do suppliers become adaptive to the changing demands of their customers’ businesses, the associated outcomes, and the specific roles involved in a buying decision? How do you create a never-ending pipeline of new opportunities and fortify it so you are on the inside as a primary trusted partner?
First and foremost, it is essential that suppliers can convert raw information about customers’ businesses into tangible opportunities that can actually drive the desired outcomes. Similar to a patient that has a painful condition, businesses experience something similar that is hard to articulate and solve quickly. In fact, businesses experience conditions across many “patients” simultaneously, and a problem can often affect different parts of the organization in different ways. Being able to catalog conditions and match them to known solutions and capabilities to solve them, based on the requirements and desired outcomes of affected stakeholders, is the critical success factor.
To do so, here are the process steps to follow:
- Discover and clarify the need.
- Model the need.
- Map the right capabilities.
- Match the right outcomes and messaging to each decision maker.
This is a repeatable process that enables suppliers to continuously adapt to changing needs, and stay relevant in the context of the buyer’s situation.
Modernize Your Approach to Key Account Growth
The current state for most businesses when it comes to growing key accounts is manual activity, which is incredibly time-consuming. Separately, the same people with the burden of manual research are trying to create relevant sales conversations while managing a decentralized group of resources.
Additionally, they have to coordinate communicating internally fragmented material without centralization. And they also have to manage information updates in their CRM. It’s overwhelming!
Alleviating this manual process requires an automated and centralized approach that facilitates opportunity identification, alignment of capabilities, messaging, and team collaboration. Automating these activities will uncover insights, context, and information relating to customer needs and the stakeholders associated with solving those needs.
Trust is established when a supplier can show up as one voice and one message, proactively, with relevant solutions to a problem they understand. The only way to do that in a coordinated way is to centralize and modernize where the account teams are working and collaborating. The significant productivity gains enable more time with their customers creating solutions, which ties directly to account growth. In our current economy, modernizing internal capabilities to drive key account growth is quickly becoming a top priority. This is feasible today for the leaders among you.
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