The traditional business-to-business sales game is changing as more digitally enabled business customers are doing much of their decision-making research before even contacting a sales rep. Tobias Umbeck, a partner in Bain's Customer Strategy & Marketing practice, discusses how B2B companies are updating their approach to tailor the selling process to the customer.
Read the transcript below.
TOBIAS UMBECK: We're seeing a lot of change in the area of business-to-business sales and marketing. And whether it's CEOs, chief marketing officers, or heads of sales, they're certainly talking a lot about the mounting pressure. And what they're referring to is oftentimes the mounting pressure that comes from digitally-enabled customers who are increasingly getting ahead of the sales force of the respective companies and changing the traditional sales game.
And just one data point from a recent study that we did is that two-thirds of the decision-making research is actually done prior to engaging with the sales force. So that's why we say digitally-enabled customers, because they're pretty well-informed once they face the rep.
And there's no doubt that most of the traditional sales and marketing models that I'm seeing have built-in expiration dates. And there's also no doubt that many of the leading companies are already pretty good at getting ahead in that game and rebooting their approach.
Overall, I think the key theme is that these B2B companies are increasingly acting like business-to-consumer companies, like B2C. And two capabilities maybe that these leading companies build, and are increasingly good [at] is first, they build what I call a "smart view" of customers, so integrating all of their databases and really getting sharp at almost a "segment-of-one" level in terms of predicting what these companies are going to buy and the behaviors.
And I'm thinking of one industrial company that combined that with a real-time view of their installed base. So think of tens of thousands of machines [that] are feeding back information real-time on an hourly basis to a central server that then does the centralized analytics and informs the service and sales teams with very tailored information so they can then go to the customer with a very specific tailored engagement.
The second capability is content marketing. Deep, thoughtful, meaningfully tailored content through the right channels, digital included. And that really means something for the customers. So not your standard kind of sales leaflets.
I'm thinking of one industrial company that gave out so-called sales pads to their sales force, so iPads. And at the push of a button, these guys could basically call on information that was tailored to their respective counterpart in that specific situation. So you're really tailored—you come with relevant fresh content into that discussion. Totally different game.
And I think there's many more capabilities to talk about, but I think net-net, this is a big change and we're already seeing companies that are doing well and that are capitalizing on that and realizing sales gains, revenue, EBITDA, and so on. So it's exciting times.
Read the Bain Brief: Bought Not Sold—Marketing and Selling to Digitally Empowered Business Customers