Digital transformation hastened by COVID-19 can be a great success for B2B sales teams, with a special strategy.
Digital transformation (also called digitalization) means deep and wide change to technology use in all areas of a business, including sales. Every organization had to face this critical reality during lockdown.
Organizational change experts McKinsey & Company’s recent survey of over 3,600 businesses in B2B sales showed they thought the COVID-19 crisis had roughly doubled the importance of remote selling. 90 percent had either moved or were moving entirely to remote sales.
Corporate culture and mindsets must also shift if this change is to work. It’s a big ask in a small timeframe. So, how?
Strategy for transformation in little time
Each company treads its own path, but good digital transformation strategies have a few things in common. They clearly define the goal and high-level processes around it. They show understanding of what each team does, recognizing how their daily work will change. They have milestones along the way and show how things will change when each is reached.
As 2020 dawned, companies were discussing long-term strategies for digital transformation. A few months later, “how and when” had become “just do it.”
Under lockdown, businesses faced losing the personal touch. Employees couldn’t meet customers or partners to build a relationship or negotiate face-to-face. The need to take sales online was acute. Familiar for B2C, it was now a challenge for B2B.
But we also know there are many potential benefits. To name just a few, customer expectations of the sales process are changing: Some prefer not to meet with vendors, and many want to do their own research. Analyzing digitalized sales data means we can make more evidence-informed improvements to what we do.
In 2020, my team at Kaspersky planned to increase our use of digital tools in selling smoothly. COVID-19 forced us to implement our framework in the first few months. We kicked off a system of transformations. By the start of April, we were running a successful, worldwide pilot, communicating with enterprise customers and partners using social media. It meant we could fast organize remote PoCs (Proofs of Concept) leading to contracts for thousands of licenses and the odd one-day sale.
Change how you sell, change the culture
Digital transformation also means changing your company culture, like how people communicate or manage processes. How they adapt to change influences how the sales ecosystem develops. Starting a big project gets more challenging when your team is in a surprise new setting, as happened with the rapid global shift to working from home.
At these times, it becomes more important for leaders to set the direction, embrace change and inspire.
To support sales managers in a digital environment, give clear guidance on how they should use their new options.
I’ll give you an example. As part of our program to go digital, my team began a campaign to give our regional home-based sales teams new skills for digital selling and social networking. We showed how the skills and know-how they used in person worked just as well for their ‘new normal.’ We united the team by showcasing everyone’s efforts. The result? Sales went up.
Understand your customers are facing the same change
We knew our partners and customers were going through rapid digital transformation too. We wanted to make sure the fast transition didn’t become ‘scary’ for them, associated with risks and the unknown. The COVID-19 pandemic meant digital transformation became inevitable, but they could take comfort in having choices.
To make sure transformation was a success, our team worked with other departments, like HR, IT and Communications, to provide managers and partners with insights about how to work remotely with customers. They needed to be able to build bridges and trust to make sure they were giving customers the right advice. No matter the tools you use, in the real world or online, it’s professionalism and expertise that seal the deal.
The past six months have shown digital transformation is a must. Before, businesses had some discretion over the speed of change. Now, circumstances have made it urgent. Together, the efforts of companies, their partners and customers to embrace the ‘new normal’ can make the buying and selling business-to-business work better for all.