Press release

Nearly 90 percent of B2B marketing & sales executives feel ill-prepared to address the new reality of selling to digitally savvy customers

Nearly 90 percent of B2B marketing & sales executives feel ill-prepared to address the new reality of selling to digitally savvy customers

New Bain & Company research identifies three capabilities that underpin leaders’ ability to thrive in the digital environment

  • October 08, 2015
  • min read

Press release

Nearly 90 percent of B2B marketing & sales executives feel ill-prepared to address the new reality of selling to digitally savvy customers


New Bain & Company research identifies three capabilities that underpin leaders' ability to thrive in the digital environment

New York – Oct. 8, 2015 – When it comes to reaching today's digitally savvy B2B customers, traditional marketing and sales models have reached their expiration date. According to a new Bain & Company survey of nearly 400 global marketing and sales executives in technology and industrial companies – Bought not sold: marketing and selling to digitally empowered customers nearly half of respondents said digital capabilities have significantly changed their customers' behavior. However, only 12 percent feel well prepared for the new realities of selling to digitally enabled customers.  As traditional models run their course, companies that hesitate to employ a new approach will likely see declining sales productivity and won't recognize missed opportunities. Those that move quickly will be able to capitalize on the opportunities inherent in their customers' new digital buying behaviors.

Bain identified two major challenges that B2B marketing and sales executives across all industries face. First, a company's digital footprint now serves as its showroom and helps determine whether it makes the short list of vendors, long before it even knows a potential customer is in the market. Yet, the digital footprints of traditional B2B companies often fall short of demonstrating how their products actually solve customers' problems and, therefore, do little to define a compelling value proposition in prospects' minds.

The second challenge is that the products and services portfolio for many B2B firms has expanded to the point that front-line sales representatives cannot understand and credibly sell it. These hurdles are creating a significant sea change for which many B2B companies are not prepared.

"Over the last several years, we've seen B2B firms falling further and further behind in adapting to and accommodating changes in their customers' buying behaviors," said Mark Kovac, co-author of the research and global head of the Sales & Channel Effectiveness group within Bain's Customer Strategy & Marketing Practice."Marketers and sellers can now no longer rely on simple sales collateral or traditional lead generation methods, which have a low return on investment. Instead, they must focus upstream."

The B2B companies that have already made strides in responding to the shifts in customer behavior are quickly realizing the payoff, particularly around financial outcomes. Based on Bain's analysis, market leaders have a much higher degree of readiness, compared to companies that are financial laggards. Leaders ramp up to full sales productivity faster than the laggards. They also report a greater preparedness to deal with digital disruption along every element of their organization.

Bain has identified the three capabilities that underpin the leaders' ability to thrive in the digital environment:

  1. Create and deliver relevant, insightful contentLeaders take control of their positioning to bring to life how their offerings address customers' business priorities. Moreover, skillful marketers syndicate their content across the relevant digital channels where prospective buyers are likely to engage. Adobe Systems, for example, made deft use of the website as one of its tactics to reposition Adobe from its core desktop publishing market to an expansion into digital marketing analytics, which has different buyers and a different sales process.
  2. Build a comprehensive, "smart view" of customers' behavior and capitalize on it. Many B2B companies sit on a trove of customer data, yet it often resides piecemeal in unlinked databases. Leading companies take an integrated view of each customer – valuable intelligence that allows them to predict with greater accuracy what else the customer would likely buy based on the individual profile and interactions. One equipment manufacturer collects data on its product usage, customer satisfaction with products, and dealer service and financial data. The company analyzes the data and, with guidance from sales and marketing staff, makes recommendations on how to improve sales visit timing, product development and dealer training.
  3. Provide a tailored, dynamic experience throughout the buying process. Business customers want faster, effective ways to engage with their suppliers. Deeper engagement with decision makers within target customer firms, Bain has found, improves the quality of opportunities, all the way from lead generation through higher closing rates. One enterprise software provider designed a more tailored sales model in response to unwanted salesforce attrition and revenue declines for bookings.  For a few hundred of its largest IT spenders, the company began assigning a dedicated account manager plus product line specialists who could work with key decision makers on their business issues. To pursue new prospects, it adjusted salesforce compensation to accommodate the long sales cycle involved. Finally, for midsize and smaller firms, the software provider built a "see, try, buy" model that allowed prospects to download free product trials. A new sales team focused on these high-potential leads.

Building the three capabilities described here clearly has implications for how B2B companies shift their marketing and sales focus, make their next wave of investments and deploy resources. Executives committed to evolving their sales and marketing approach for the new digital customer behaviors can ask a set of high-gain questions:

  • Are your marketing and sales teams aligned and focused on your company's "sweet spot" in the marketplace?
  • Do you know which marketing activities have the highest ROI?
  • Does your digital footprint allow you to reach and influence target customers who engage in self-discovery?
  • Have you assembled predictive customer data, so that your marketing and sales teams can anticipate customer needs and raise the odds of being considered?
  • Have you reimagined how customers will engage with your company throughout the buying process, in a way that they prefer and that creates a memorable experience?

Editor's Note: To speak with Mr. Kovac, please contact Dan Pinkney at or +1 646-562-8102

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