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Year in Review: B2B Sales Trends 2021

Being successful in sales requires flexibility. Without a willingness to adapt to new trends, changing customer preferences, and growing markets, you’re bound to fall behind your competition. With new products and processes popping up every other week, change isn’t just welcomed in sales, it’s expected. But even the best prepared reps weren’t ready for the changes we saw in 2021.

B2B Sales Trends 2021

10 min. read

The pandemic uprooted almost every aspect of every industry, but it was especially devastating for sales. When COVID hit, conferences and handshakes were quickly replaced by webinars and Zoom meetings. Remote sales became common almost overnight, managers were forced to coach their teams from afar, and leaders had no other option but to rethink their processes entirely. Needless to say, it had a major impact on selling.

While we don’t mean to dwell, it’s impossible to talk about the current and future state of sales without acknowledging the transformation brought on by the pandemic. With all of the changes that have occured over the past couple years, we wanted to wrap up the year with a roundup of some of the top B2B sales trends in 2021.

Digitalization

With restrictions on in-person contact, travel bans, and gathering limits, it comes as no surprise that people are buying more online. And we’re not talking just about B2C. B2B online sales have been on the rise for a while, outpacing retail sales in 2019 and only continuing to grow.

On top of that, Millennials, a generation that makes 60% of their purchases online, now account for 73% of the people involved in B2B research and decision making. Needless to say, one of the biggest sales trends in 2021 is the push towards digitalization, which has resulted in some major changes to the industry.

Customer-centric sales processes

B2C customers have it easy. They’re showered with product information, customer reviews, personalized interactions, and unique offers to earn their business, and they’ve become accustomed to it. Well, as it turns out, B2B customers also have experience as B2C customers, and they’ve realized that there’s no reason they shouldnt receive the same treatment when purchasing B2B products and services. In 2021, customer-centric sales processes are crucial for connecting with customers and winning their business.

Better user experiences

As more B2B sales transactions are completed online, the shift to digital marketplaces has caused a rise in website expectations. Simply put: if your website is not up to scratch, you can forget about winning your prospect over. With less hands-on help from sales reps, B2B customers expect you to find other ways to make buying your product easy. In order to win more business in 2021, you need to ensure that you’re providing an exceptional user experience with an easy-to-navigate interface, fast loading and visually appealing web pages, and reliable customer service.

Technology

In order to meet the needs and expectations of B2B buyers, tech is quickly becoming essential for any successful sales operation. It makes the sales process more efficient, helps teams track and manage customer interactions, and allows them to unlock the full power of their data. Plus, with up to 70% of the customer journey now happening before they even interact with sales, it’s crucial that you use it to your advantage. There are four main types of essential sales tech.

Automation

Some aspects of the sales process can be tedious, but they don’t have to be. Automation technology (like proposal automation or marketing automation) takes care of manual inputs and tasks so that reps can focus on selling. It can help build and send proposals faster, input and track customer information, deliver personalized messages, and more.

Artificial intelligence

AI is no longer a far-fetched idea that only exists in sci-fi movies. It can be used for a number of applications, like digging into demographic data to identify potential leads, analyzing rep activity to replicate winning behavior, and leveraging buyer intent data to deliver a better customer experience.

Customer relationship management

A CRM is at the core of any successful sales operation, as it gathers customer data from various silos of the business into one place. It pulls info from sales, marketing, customer service, and social media, allowing reps to access important sales data from one centralized location. If you want to understand your customers, manage interactions, personalize your approach, and scale your sales process, you need to be using a CRM in 2021 and beyond.

Analytics

Each sales activity generates data, and with thousands of activities occurring each day, most sales teams are sitting on mountains of extremely valuable data. Sales tracking and sales analytics applications can help you harness the raw data and turn it into actionable insights. Rather than digging through spreadsheets to find out what’s working and what’s not, analytics does it for you. The more effectively you can collect and interpret your data, the more successful you’ll be in the digital era.

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Operational shakeups

In order to keep up with the competition, sales teams must adapt to the changing landscape. The capacity to shift to remote selling was crucial in the early stages of the pandemic, but as it has become clear that many of the changes are here to stay, it is essential for teams to make some larger-scale adjustments.

Customer success

The probability of upselling to an existing customer is 60-70%, a great opportunity compared to the 5-20% chance of closing a new one. Tack on the additional cost of new customer acquisition, and it becomes clear that the key to sustainable growth is ensuring that existing customers are not just satisfied, but delighted.

A customer success team is crucial for sales success in 2021, as it can help improve relationships and grow revenue through strategies like personalization, loyalty programs, 1-on-1 support, upselling, and more.

Internal alignment

With the shift to remote selling, the emphasis on team success, rather than individual success, is on the rise. Bigger and more efficient teams are in greater demand, creating a mentality of ‘everyone is in sales’. But if their goals and processes aren’t aligned, information can be lost and campaigns may fall short. In order to succeed, sales and marketing teams must align their efforts using marketing automation and sales enablement to increase productivity, maximize content utilization, and boost customer engagement. After all, organizations whose sales and marketing teams are aligned are up to 67% more efficient at closing and generate 38% more revenue than their competitors.

RevOps

Breaking down the silos between sales, marketing and customer success has been a major challenge for many. However, the ability to share and extract insights from that data is a major driver behind revenue generation and growth. While the term RevOps (revenue operations) has been around for years, few companies have a designated person in charge of that function. In 2021 and beyond, organizations are putting more emphasis on aligning the three in order to enable better long-term revenue performance. This requires shared revenue goals, metrics, and KPIs across all revenue teams, along with a leader who can harness data, tech, and coaching to create more value.

The customer makeover

Beyond the many adjustments made to sales teams and processes in 2021, there have been a number of changes to the customer side of the equation to reflect shifting demand, new priorities, and updated buying processes. In order for B2B sales teams to succeed, they must respond to key changes in customer behavior.

Longer sales cycles

According to a study by Gartner, the buying processes for businesses involve six to ten decision makers, each armed with four or five pieces of information they must address with the group. This, combined with the increase in available solutions on the market, makes for a longer sales cycle as it takes more time to make a decision.

More personalization

As the lines between B2C and B2B continue to blur, corporate decision makers are beginning to demand a much greater degree of personalization throughout the buying process. This has led to an increase in account-based selling.

More information

With a content-hungry generation in charge of buying, a greater reliance on social proof, and a much larger selection of solutions available, B2B customers are demanding more information before they buy. Whether through blogs, sales enablement materials, or knowledge portals, successful sales teams need to ensure that buyers have immediate access to any information that can simplify the buying process.

Multi-channel approach

Before COVID, many organizations relied on outside sales as their primary sales channel. But as travel restrictions and gathering limits were imposed, face-to-face interactions quickly became a thing of the past. While in-person selling still has its place now that people are returning to the office, the pandemic accelerated the shift to digital and brought virtual selling into the spotlight. With the increase in digital interactions and changing customer preferences, virtual selling is no longer an alternate approach, it’s at the core of selling in 2021 and beyond.

In the online sales world, buyers enter the funnel at any stage, and they’re not tied to any single channel. Some prefer to read blogs and ebooks, while others want to use chatbots or watch videos. And of course, there are still people who prefer traditional methods like calls and emails. The point is, buyers demand to be engaged with in the channels they prefer, so if you want to maximize your sales potential, you need to ensure that every potential touch point is covered. To do this, you need to adopt a multi-channel approach.

Social selling

If you’ve visited LinkedIn even once over the past year, it should come as no surprise that social selling is on the rise. With people spending a larger chunk of their workday online, buyers are turning to social media platforms to discuss their industries and brands. As a result, there’s a huge opportunity to create meaningful touchpoints organically.

On top of blog posts and ebooks, social selling can position YOU as a resource for potential buyers. By sharing relevant, high-value content with your contacts, you can establish yourself as a thought leader in your space, which can help you gain a massive amount of organic reach. And it doesn’t just have to be about your product or company. Sharing industry insights, career experiences, relevant news, and other genuinely helpful content allows you to establish a dialogue with your audience.

Content

Now more than ever, the lines between marketing and sales have been blurred. Buyers are consuming a ton of content before they even consider making a purchase, so if you want to close more deals, you need to give them what they want.

A few years ago, the term “content” was just another term for blog posts, but with buyers now digging for deeper insights, there are a number of other formats you need to cover. Resources like eBooks and white papers provide extremely valuable information that could prompt initial contact, while case studies and customer reviews offer social proof that helps build trust with your customers. On the other hand, videos, infographics, and social graphics are easily digestible mediums that can help get customers excited about your brand. Like your multi-channel approach to selling, you need to diversify your content offering to reach different audiences at different stages of the buyer journey.

Mobile

Mobile device usage has skyrocketed in recent years, and it’s not going anywhere any time soon. In fact, according to a study by HitWise, over 60% of all online searches are done on phones. So if you want to engage with potential customers, you need to adapt your approach to cater to mobile users.

That means your website needs to be responsive so that it doesn’t look like a mess when mobile users visit. It also means that you need to optimize your content and messaging for your mobile audience. Mix it up with various content formats to cover both short and long-form content that users can easily consume on their phones, and ensure that your copy is just as impactful on a phone as it is on a computer.

Traditional methods

As useful as modern tactics like content, chatbots, and social selling are in the digital sales world, it’s important not to forget about good old fashioned calls and emails. Whether you’re trying to identify their pain points or clear up any objections to your proposal, there’s virtually no better way to connect with your prospect than to reach out directly. While your message might not be as polished as an article that went through six rounds of editing, having a conversation with your prospect is essential for setting your deals in motion and keeping them moving.

Final thoughts

After another unpredictable year, there have been a number of sales trends that have emerged in 2021. From changes in customer preferences to the channels in which deals are made, it’s clearer than ever that sales teams in 2021 must adapt in order to keep up with -- and beat their competition. As we move into a new year, we’re curious to see how these sales trends will evolve and which new ones will arise.

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