Change in B2B sales: Customers want to be advised digitally and yet individually

The digital transformation in B2B sales is taking place right now and places particular emphasis on rethinking the purchasing process in line with customer needs. A brief outline of the market changes in consumer society and what this means for today's B2B sales.
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Individuality. Sustainability. Digitalization. Buzzwords 2021. Everyone is throwing them around, demanding change, progress. In modern B2B sales, the three areas go hand in hand, but not just for a few years. The consumer society, which has been talked about in Germany since 1960, has radically changed sales. First in B2C, then also in B2B. The perception that everything is available at any time means that the focus of consumer interest is no longer individual products or the brand, but the added value offered, in the spirit of improving the quality of life. A few decades later in the consumer society, Amazonization and the expansion of consumption options due to digitalization brought new challenges.

Consumer society: The Foundation for Sales 2.0

For a long time, the weekly market and corner shop were the central places to shop. In the second half of the 19th century, forms of distribution emerged that now appealed to specific social classes: department stores, mail order companies and shops specializing in certain products. At the same time, branded goods emerged that were intended to create trust and thus generate customer loyalty. In the 1960s, new forms of distribution developed that increasingly focused on the point of sale. Shopping increasingly became an experience and the place of shopping became the stage for customers to display their social status.

Door-to-door sales also worked according to the same rules. After entering the front door, not only a product catalog was presented, but a real show was put on. The potential buyer received the attention and confirmation of his individual right to exist that he so desperately wanted in a consumer society. It was similar in B2B. A sales talk was often accompanied by a coffee or sometimes a beer. In a one-on-one conversation, the buyer received the attention he wanted and a solution tailored to his individual needs. Self-presentation from both the perspective of the customer and the sales representative is a central feature of the consumer society. As is the desire to be perceived as an individual and to be given individual advice.

Too much information is confusing, the customer needs guidance

In the consumer society and with the expansion of retail space, a number of problems have emerged: confusing aisles, a lack of orientation, long search times. The requirements on the World Wide Web are no less simple. No, quite the opposite. Here, in particular, it is important to provide orientation. Websites are often designed to be little or not at all user-friendly and offer no orientation; instead, potential customers get lost in a maze of information. The abundance of information and products also has an impact on B2B sales in other ways.

The excess of information is a key feature of consumer society. "A crucial skill in the information society is to protect yourself against the 99.99 percent of information offered that you don't want."[1], summarizes the psychoanalyst Erik H. Erikson.

Customers need guidance online much more urgently than in a physical store. Every company faces the same problem that the abundance of information often ends up overwhelming consumers. Digital solutions are therefore required that reduce the information without leaving out the important things and that provide advice without loss of quality. And it is required to Purchase decision process to understand the customers.

Digital transformation brings out new customer needs such as online consulting without contact with sales

The buyer is taking on an increasingly stronger position and is less likely to make hasty, incorrect decisions, because the buyer alone can now decide when and, above all, which purchase button he wants to press. This is a consequence of the oversupply on the market. This also means that marketing and sales must work more closely together, new sales arguments must be presented and new sales channels must be used, because the fact is that companies must engage in more dialogue with consumers in order to avoid falling into decline.

Digital change also means recognizing and acknowledging the new power of consumers. In addition, buyers expect the same level of convenience in B2B as in B2C. They expect to be able to complete their bulk orders quickly, easily and digitally, and ideally without having to contact B2B sales. This can only be achieved if easy orientation and individual advice are also available online. Two points that are not easy to implement on a website or in an online shop.  

The fast pace of life and the flood of information mean that more than ever before there is a desire for easy orientation and advice, or in other words: the digital transformation is bringing to light new customer needs for digital self-service, individual advice without contact with sales, and sustainability. The aim is to inspire customers through positive experiences along the point of sale.

This is how B2B sales can react

The attention span of a visitor on a website is usually very short. The first ten seconds on the website are particularly important for convincing the customer and even if they get past this time, they often only stay for 2-3 minutes.[2] If a potential customer does not find the information he or she is looking for within a short period of time when visiting a website or webshop, he or she will often switch to the competition.

As difficult as it may seem to acquire new customers online or even to build customer loyalty, there are numerous ways to activate the point of sale using digital means. New software, for example, enables customers to gain access to relevant subject areas. In recent years, four key characteristics of modern and digital B2B sales have emerged, shaped by consumers and implemented by entrepreneurs.

1. Self service

The customer wants to be able to research the product that best suits their needs flexibly, regardless of location and independently. Sales is only contacted once the purchase decision has already been made with a high degree of probability. Self-service means above all being able to make a purchase decision quickly and easily, as well as having the option to make changes to later issues even outside of service hours.  

2. individuality

For B2C customers, factors such as flexibility, information and sustainability are crucial when making a purchase decision on the World Wide Web. But the individual needs and expectations of the searcher also play an important role in B2B. Authenticity and singularity characterize the digital consumer society. In other words, customers want to receive individual advice online in B2B and to be able to make the best possible decision for their company. One way to implement this is through guided selling software.

3. sustainability

New information technologies offer more and more alternatives between which consumers must choose. In order to find their way around this excess of information, new criteria are being added to the decision-making process. In Germany, there is a clear trend towards more sustainable consumption. Digitalization offers companies better planning of production - and thus a more sustainable product policy.

Companies benefit from the digitalization of B2B sales

Not only do customers want new digital touchpoints, but B2B sales employees also strive for greater efficiency and time savings. In addition, three advantages of digital sales channels for the company should be mentioned here: increased efficiency, shortened sales cycles and market insights.

Data provides exciting insights into customer needs and can show market trends in real time. This enables companies to respond to the needs of potential customers more quickly and sustainably, which can also support a certain agility in the company. Digital Sales tools and new technologies create new access to information and goods, simplify work processes and are happy to take over the tedious work.

Sustainability and digitization are becoming more important in all areas of life, including in B2B. Digitization offers exciting and promising opportunities for B2B sales. Companies that do not adapt their sales and purchasing processes to customer needs run the risk of falling behind. Digital B2B sales are expected to grow immensely, so it is best to digitize sales today.

[1] Erikson, Erik H.; Hylland, Thomas: The Tyranny of the Moment. Finding the balance between speed and slowness, Freiburg im Breisgau 2002, p. 34f.



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