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Transforming existing sales channels: From engagement to e-commerce

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Coronavirus has changed the world. Once the pandemic subsides, certain changes will become permanent. To survive now, and into the future, businesses need to transform their sales models. Today, only 10-12% of B2B transactions happen online with most sales interactions still happening between people, digitalising these interactions is the next step. Here, we look at strategies to make that change.

Today, buyers prefer to purchase through digital channels, especially for certain (simple) products and transactions (returns). Yet companies that have an established a successful in-person sales model have been reluctant to change. They say: why change if my sales are still performing well? While they hear from their customers that they may need to go digital, even though ways of working have changed, it is not immediately obvious to them how to incorporate digital selling into their way of doing business. Here at Ibexa, we believe that B2B companies need to transform both their current sales approach and explore new digital revenue channels.

Transforming traditional sales channels

It is obviously a challenge for many B2B companies to transform their well-trusted traditional sales channels and where do they start? How should they approach such a transformation? And how fast? Many read about e-commerce, is that the right way to go? As mentioned in my recent blog post (Inventing the Disruption of Tomorrow), it's not just about implementing an online store.

Where to begin

At Ibexa, we think that there is a more progressive approach where the key is in the ability to convert sales engagement into digital engagement, to transition from human to digital interactions. Here are three strategies to successful digital selling transformation (see picture below):

  1. Sales-team driven with online alignment: This is the lowest hanging fruit for B2B companies who are still delivering through traditional channels. These companies need to maintain strong relationships with their clients and partners while investing in a more digital future with them. The simplest way to do this is the implementation of customer portals (both for existing customers and prospects) in the broadest sense where they can share account-specific information (sales material, order history, invoices, billing information, etc.) with their prospective and existing clients, dealers, resellers, or distributors. It also lets them identify their customers online, and easily personalize their online content to them. This creates visibility in the business relationship and helps the sales team to better engage with their end users.
  2. Online driven with sales team support: it’s about implementing more advanced and self-service portals for B2B buyers. More than just information sharing, these portals enable customers, dealers or partners to take specific actions in their buying process such as selecting products or services, calculating prices, requesting quotes or any action that would help them to decide. These self-service functions are expected by today’s (digital) buyers.
  3. Full e-commerce (B2B and B2B2C): Here, human interaction is minimised, and automation maximised. The customer portals from the two first phases have evolved into full B2B shops integrated with PIMs, ERPs and CRMs. Catalogs are fully digitalised, and customers go through the whole cycle – getting quotes, negotiating, and completing their orders (and re-orders) online. This fully digital stage offers opportunities for up- and cross-selling with intelligent recommendations and a greater level of personalisation.

Outcomes

The three strategies presented above can be adopted to stay relevant and address the expectations of today’s B2B buyers. Obviously, the speed of transformation attached to these three approaches varies and is more or well-suited depending on the context and the situation for an individual business. But the outcomes of removing inefficiencies out of the human process are what’s crucial. Digital transformation reduces buyer friction resulting in shorter sales cycles; it also increases the pipeline and is scalable, facilitating a greater number of transactions, all of which lead to the most desired outcome of higher revenue.

In my second blog post, I’ll look at specific characteristics to consider and key questions that need to be asked to select and define the best approach to digital transformation: sales performance, digital maturity and business complexity. In the meantime, why not download our most recent eBook: The Three Pillars of Successful B2B Digital Transformation, where we reveal we reveal how B2Bs can successfully respond to change and invent the disruption of tomorrow.

Bertrand Maugain, co-CEO at Ibexa.

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