8 Ways Digital Will Improve B2B Sales in 2012

Media Inquiries: Contact Karen Budell, CMO

Media Inquiries: Contact Karen Budell, CMO

How B2B products and services are purchased and sold is rapidly changing. Some call it the consumerization of IT, but perhaps it's the consumerization of B2B in general.

Buyers are demanding cloud-based products that are user-friendly as well as social and mobile capabilities, with as little sales involvement as possible. A good example is purchasing from iTunes: web-based self-service with instant gratification.

Below are eight predictions for B2B sales in 2012.

1. Social Selling Will Go Mainstream

Ninety-two percent of prospects almost never book a meeting from a cold call or email, according to a study by UNC's Kenan-Flagler School of Business. In 2012, rather than make cold calls, sales executives will first seek connections through social media networks, and then increase response rates with warm introductions.

Aside from personal networks, sales managers will also find ways to leverage the networks of colleagues, partners, customers, executives and former employees during the sales process.

2. Companies Will use Facebook as a Sales Channel

Facebook was originally viewed as a network for personal communications in which direct selling was frowned upon. In 2012, more companies will experiment with the social platform as a sales channel, beginning with employees who sell or advocate to their friends.

Home Depot has already asked store associates to post helpful do-it-yourself tips on their personal pages. Farmers Insurance encourages local franchisees to build relationships with customers via Facebook; the company won a Guinness World Record doing so.

3. Sales Executives Will Adopt Big Data

In 2012, sales leaders will embrace big data to increase sales performance. Some will use it to identify the most profitable customers and find more leads with the same characteristics. Others will analyze customer usage patterns during trial and production to find the hottest prospects and to up-sell targets.

Combining analytics and sales automation, B2B companies will target prospects and customers with personalized offers triggered by specific behaviors.

4. Customer Engagement Becomes a Top Priority

Sales managers will no longer be able to drop off software and drive away. With the rise of subscription-based pricing models, unhappy customers who are not actively using a product or service will simply cancel their subscriptions.

This will align organizations behind their customers’ success, and encourage them to increasingly monitor engagement throughout the customer lifecycle. Some B2B companies, like Yammer, will even appoint a dedicated VP of customer engagement, also responsible for up-selling and renewals.

5. Outside Sales Reps Will Use iPads

The iPad is finding its way into the enterprise. Some are calling it the most important new sales tool since the invention of the cellphone. In 2012, most outside sales reps will start to use an iPad or other tablet for work. They will use it for shipping, product documentation, demonstrations, to capture leads at a trade shows or to quickly research a prospect before a meeting. 

6. Most Sales Tools Will Move to the Cloud

The average sales organization already uses more than 24 software tools in the sales process, based on a poll conducted by Gerhard Gschwandtner, publisher of Selling Power magazine, at the 2011 Sales Strategies in a Social & Mobile World conference. This number is growing every year. In 2012, the majority of these applications will move to the cloud.

Many companies, for example, will adopt cloud-based versions of subscription and billing software. This is a boom for sales executives, who will now have more visibility into a customer's billing cycle, which is helpful when growing or renewing an account. Also, the more applications to move to the cloud, the more streamlined the process.

7. Sales and Marketing Will Converge

The sales process is becoming more self-sufficient, and customers are driving the pace. Outside sales are becoming inside sales, partly because of online conferencing tools. Inside sales is being replaced with self-serving website resources. As this happens, the lines between marketing and sales continue to blur.

In 2012, more organizations will appoint chief revenue officers in recognition of this trend. Overall, there will have to be closer collaboration between the sales and marketing chiefs.

8. More Companies Will Offer Free Trials

More organizations will offer free trials or completely free versions of their products. Prospects and customers are increasingly demanding self-service, which provides instant access to a free trial of products, before deciding to talk to a sales rep. Companies that offer a free trial will get more buzz and word-of-mouth referrals, and their sales costs will lower when fewer live touch points are required.

Originally published at https://mashable.com/2011/12/29/b2b-sales-predictions-2012/#SUcTOIx8x5qu