B2B sales: trends for 2022 and sustainable success strategies

What constitutes successful B2B sales has changed massively in recent years as communication preferences have changed, new technological capabilities have emerged, and new ways of working have had an impact. It is not to be expected that things will be quieter in the industry in the future. But those who understand the ins and outs of B2B sales and take advantage of big trends like augmented reality and artificial intelligence can expect high close rates in the future.

What is B2B Sales?

What is meant by sales is quickly summarized: The term describes all measures that are intended to ensure the sale of products or services. In a narrower sense, it means communicating and building relationships with prospects with the goal of motivating them to make a (repeat) purchase.

In most cases, sales are differentiated by target group. A distinction is made between B2C and B2B sales. While B2C (Business to Consumer) deals with the business relationship between entrepreneurs and individuals, B2B (Business to Business) deals with sales between companies.

The special challenges in B2B sales

The two sales orientations have the same goal at their core: to generate sales. However, because they target different audiences, their strategies differ. What generates sales in the B2C environment does not necessarily work in the B2B environment. These characteristics distinguish B2B sales:

  • Buying Center: Business expenses are usually decided by several people, especially for larger investments. In addition to the project manager, the department head must give his approval, and purchasing and IT may also have a say in the decision. B2B sales must consider all stakeholders in its argumentation, regardless of whether the communication is direct or indirect.
  • Longer sales cycles: A new sweater is bought spontaneously. With six-figure investments in products that will (or should) remain in use for years, responsible parties invest more thought, research and consideration into product selection. From the first contact with the supplier to the actual purchase can therefore take several months, depending on the industry, with a series of personal meetings.
  • Relevance of the customer relationshipDue to the longer sales cycle and the resulting higher financial outlay for lead generation, maintaining existing customers is more important in B2B than in B2C. Successful sales place at least as much emphasis on upsells and service as they do on new customer wins.
  • Individual solutions: Particularly in industry and the distribution of complex machines, products are often individually adapted to the corporate context. There needs to be personal coordination between the salesperson and the customer. The service and advice provided by sales staff is therefore – more than in B2C – decisive for the purchase decision.
  • Critical customers: If the new smart TV turns out to be a bad buy, that’s annoying, but it can be gotten over. If the multi-million innovation project does not achieve the expected results, this may jeopardize the company’s own career. As a result, B2B customers tend to be more personally involved in the buying process and more critical in their selection and appraisal of products than end consumers.

B2B sales trends for 2022 and beyond

B2B sales are subject to continuous change. Societal developments and events such as the recent Corona pandemic have an impact on best practices in B2B sales. Digital transformation is rendering formerly effective strategies ineffective and opening up new opportunities. What strategies will work in 2022? Despite all the uncertainty, some metatrends can be identified that will shape the industry this year and in the years to come.

Inbound Marketing & Consultative Selling

Half of the purchasing decisions in B2B companies are now made by Generation Y representatives. The under-forties differ significantly from older generations in their communication and purchasing habits. B2B communication must adapt to this.

Millenials have grown up with Google and are used to next-day deliveries from Amazon. They react angrily to unsolicited sales calls and are far less receptive to manipulative sales rhetoric than previous generations. That 33 % of B2B buyers According to a Gartner study, the number of people who would like to have a purchasing process that does not involve any sales contact at all is therefore hardly surprising. Generation Y informs itself about products when it feels a concrete need and begins its research digitally. Once decided, Millenials then expect prompt delivery and first-class service. They also enter into business relationships with this attitude.

In practice, this means that outbound marketing is becoming less important. The contemporary alternative, inbound marketing will become even more important in the future. Marketing provides informative content that motivates prospects to get in touch. In this context, sales staff are transformed into trustworthy partners who offer customers comprehensive and individual advice that goes beyond a mere product presentation. Instead of a quick sale, the focus is on building a long-term customer relationship.

Hybrid distribution models

So does the future belong to digital sales? As a result of the Corona pandemic, many companies had to establish digital B2B sales processes in a short period of time – and were able to achieve some surprising successes. Even after the pandemic ends, many of the new structures will remain. Gartner predicts that 80 percent of sales interaction will take place via digital channels by 2025. Nevertheless, analog B2B communication remains important.

Webinars and video calls do not replace on-site customer appointments. However, they serve as a low-threshold contact option in the first phase of the sales process, and digital formats are also suitable for maintaining relationships after the sale has been concluded. The future belongs to companies that succeed in linking traditional B2B sales and digital B2B sales in a meaningful and effective way. Each company must find out exactly what these hybrid sales models look like on a case-by-case basis. Best practices will emerge in the months and years ahead.

Social selling

Digital dialog on platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, Xing and LinkedIn is now a natural part of marketing and sales communication in B2C. In B2B, companies are still acting cautiously. But as the younger generation moves into decision-making positions in the B2B environment as well, it’s time for B2B salespeople to abandon this reluctance.

Professional networks such as Xing and LinkedIn in particular open up opportunities for B2B communication if employees use them not for one-sided announcements but for genuine professional exchange. This is because the discussions increase the visibility of the brand and are often an entry point for customer-initiated consulting and sales discussions. Organizations in the DACH region can take their cue here from the U.S. market, which, as is often the case, is already much further ahead in comparison.

Networking of marketing and sales

Another development that will continue in the coming years: The boundaries between marketing and sales are blurring. You have to if companies want to do effective inbound marketing.

For marketing to provide relevant information to users, it relies on the experience of sales. Sales managers know customers personally, their interests and work circumstances. If salespeople want to get hot leads, they need to overcome their silo thinking and develop campaigns together. For example, marketing then generates to registrations for a webinar in which a sales representative gives an online demo. Afterwards, marketing takes over again, further qualifying participants via email series. The better the dovetailing, the higher the close rates and the lower the cost per lead.

Artificial intelligence and automation

Especially on digital channels, companies can collect detailed information about their leads and measure the success of their marketing and sales activities. Which online ads perform best? Which webinars attract the most leads? What content is most effective at motivating contact? In the future, sales will be less and less intuition-based and more and more data-based. The advantages are clear: lower costs and faster decisions. According to Gartner, 60 percent of B2B companies will will switch to this method.

However, data alone does not create a competitive advantage. The decisive factor is their smart evaluation. This is where artificial intelligence will transform the industry in the coming years. Today, companies can already predict customer behavior, calculate optimal prices and reduce the costs of their sales processes. Automation is gaining in importance in the operating business. Bots will write many messages and systems will take over many administrative tasks. This leaves salespeople more time for strategic work and personal consulting.

Augmented Reality & B2B Sales

Augmented reality with the smartphone in industry

So far Augmented reality not very common in everyday life. No special data glasses are needed for this. All it takes is a smartphone or tablet to look through the display and enrich the environment with virtual elements. In industrial maintenance and repair, the technology is currently spreading at a rapid pace. Its use in marketing and B2B sales, on the other hand, is still in its infancy. In the next few years, however, AR is likely to establish itself in the communications mix in a similar way to QR codes. Because technology achieves what is becoming increasingly difficult for sales in our digital and stimulus-flooded everyday life: It provides emotionalization.

Want to learn more about the application areas of augmented reality? Click here for the guide.

The possible applications for AR Sales are manifold: sales staff can embed QR codes in their online presentations, allowing participants to call up virtual models of the presented product and view them from all sides in their office. But companies also leave a lasting impression at trade fairs and customer meetings with AR: Instead of looking at 3D models of buildings and plants on a laptop display, customers can use AR glasses to directly experience how the objects look in their original size in the room. In B2B communication in particular, AR also simplifies consulting, as sales staff can demonstrate complex functions and processes in AR rather than explaining them in theory.

The Future of B2B Sales: Optimal Cooperation between Man and Machine

Trends come and go, but some fundamental social and technological changes are lasting. Successful B2B sales take these developments into account, which means above all adapting to the digital usage and communication habits of Generation Y, which is increasingly taking on leadership roles.

Successful B2B sales strategies in the future will be more hybrid, consultative and experience-oriented. They use digital channels in the early stages of the customer journey and focus personal consulting on qualified prospects. To increase purchase readiness and select appropriate leads, companies will increasingly work with automation and artificial intelligence. In this way, sales employees in B2B gain time for the tasks that require human qualities such as empathy.

Creating emotional experiences is essential if companies want to positively differentiate themselves from competitors. The constant multimedia noise of our everyday lives makes it difficult to trigger a wow effect in shoppers, to be sure. But with a high quality of service and an appealing customer experience, it is possible. New experience-oriented technologies such as augmented reality can provide valuable support here and convert prospects into customers. So far, AR is still a secret weapon in the sales arsenal, but this is likely to change in the coming years. What remains is the challenge of getting people and technologies to work together as effectively as possible, combining their respective strengths.

Want to test AR in your B2B sales processes? Looking for advice on what hardware and software is best for your use case?

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