To understand what new trends are happening in the world of sales enablement, or rather, to get a product expert’s take on it all, I sat down with Alain Denzler, Product Director at Pitcher, to pick his brain.
Full disclosure: it was a late afternoon Zoom call, including quite a few digressions (on both our parts) on unrelated matters (such as the annual company kick-off event!).
Reining it all in, below are the most relevant bits of our conversation, focused on Alain’s points of view.
On digital transformation
I had read that some new trends research still reference digital transformation, almost as if it were a new trend, and I questioned this, asking for Alain’s POV.
Alain says: “The digital transformation topic is not new in itself. As the word implies, it is a transformation rather than a digital revolution.
The pandemic acted like a booster that accelerated this transformation by a few years, yet companies and industries are still following an evolutionary path, each at their own pace, with the steps they take mostly representing incremental improvements leading to higher overall digital maturity.
“As an example, the apparel industry has largely maintained the pandemic-fueled levels of online purchasing, selling more than half of their goods through that channel. Grocery stores, on the other hand, have seen shoppers return, similar to pre-pandemic levels.”
Alain references a Deloitte survey, which states that changes in intention to shop in-store for groceries from October 2020 to August 2021 would remain the same (81–82%).
On the future of sales reps
I had also read that sales reps are no longer needed in the same capacity as before. More specifically, it was stated that B2B customers prefer a sales rep-free sales process.
Whilst I agree, knowing that the trend for sales is headed for the hybrid rep and we have more digital resources at our fingertips than ever before, I wondered if sales is going all-digital?
Alain responds: “Although I see the trend towards a more hybrid [sales] experience continuing post-pandemic, I do not see it becoming fully virtual; we can’t just replace physical encounters, especially when it comes to new engagements with people whose trust you still need to earn. It’s still very crucial to develop the personal relationship face to face.”
Hurrah, so the future of the sales rep is secured.
On customer-centric selling experiences
When asked about the huge focus on being customer centric, Alain explains: “Just having great content is not enough. I see that the industry is going in the direction of merging content with data to create selling experiences. It’s all about experiences now.
To adopt customer centricity in a B2B context, there is no alternative to having the right data there when you’re talking to that customer. It’s a data play – it’s not a content play.
Content is no longer king; it has become table stakes. It’s only when you adopt and enhance your content with customer-specific data that you actually become customer centric.
He continues: “Imagine you introduce software that leads to saving 15 minutes on average per visit. What do you do with that saved time? Visit more customers? Instead of just having more time or more customers, you spend more time with the same customer, but creating more quality engagements. Therefore, the saved time is reinvested into becoming a trusted advisor to your customers.”
On content automation
I reference a couple of trends I have seen in Forrester’s Planning Assumptions 2022: B2B Sales:
- On automation: “Sales leaders must [...] look for opportunities to automate the components that will drive a better seller or buyer experience. An example is the use of sales engagement technologies to automate early stage seller interactions and capture data from them. Identify opportunities to leverage AI-driven insights to improve the allocation of resources (including reps’ time), the prioritization of work, and overall seller effectiveness.”
- On personalizing interactions: “Use[...] AI-driven insights that allow better precision in the use of resources to help sellers personalize their interactions. Ensure sellers have visibility into buyers’ digital interactions so that they can cater their next interaction to the knowledge and content needs of their buyer at that moment. Also give sellers visibility into all members of the buying group by linking all relevant contacts to the opportunity and sharing all interaction information as part of that opportunity data set. Use sales content solutions to automate sellers’ process of finding and personalizing content for buyers.”
Alain says: “As consumers, we are used to getting semi-personalized B2C emails, whereas the degree of personalization in the B2B selling experiences is still very limited. Content automation within sales engagement apps like Pitcher is starting to disrupt this space, enabling higher levels of customer centricity.
“On the key account level, that’s been the norm. You spend a lot of time preparing for those key account interactions. If you engage with a key account, you often put in three days to prepare for it. You get all the data out, and you’re ready to negotiate.
If you conduct more transactional B2B sales, you don’t have the luxury of only having one visit to prepare every three days. And that’s why automation is the only way to do it.
Alain says that in the consumer goods industry, for example, “you’re going to have at most 10–20 minutes to prepare for a conversation with a store manager.”
He concludes: “Everyone says ‘automate, automate, automate’. Automation is actually just a necessary part of being customer centric, because if you want to shift away from being product focused to being customer focused – it’s a big shift that is hard to achieve without automation. And adding content – which, as mentioned, is becoming more of an experience that you sell your customers – is a key step in the transformation to creating key account experiences.”
On consultative selling
A relatively new term has emerged on the B2B selling scene: consultative selling. It’s enabled by content automation. If you’re unfamiliar with the term, “consultative selling'' is an approach that focuses on creating value and trust with a prospect and exploring their needs before offering a solution. The salesperson’s first objective is building a relationship; their second is providing the right product.”
Alain ponders: “I’m a big fan of the consultative selling concept because it’s a way of expressing customer centricity differently. You’re not going to win trust or win business if you just go in and push your product forcibly.
“Instead, the discussion with the customer goes something like: ‘I know we’ve been working together for two years. If we examine the last three quarters, there’s a trend that you see when looking at your products versus comparable customers within a micro-segment, such as similar customer profiles, combining factors such as demography, customer traffic, etc. Then you can give examples of how they could improve their sales per square meter by adding X to their assortment, by shifting Y from the shelf to checkout coolers, and so on.
“That’s the kind of discussion that wins trust. If you bring that level of data into the discussion, you're going to differentiate yourself. Acting as a trusted advisor ultimately wins you more business.”
For example, Alain says: “If you are a sales rep in consumer goods, you could go into an independent convenience store and perform a 360-degree business review and deliver a similar experience to if they were a national key account."
“The store would get their sales data presented to them with relevant insights. This is possible today thanks to technological advances which merge customer data with marketing content into enhanced selling experiences.”
On consumer-grade and assistant experiences
Today’s B2B customers expect consumer-grade experiences. What do we mean by this?
As Alain has famously said in numerous presentations: “When you started to use Facebook or the Uber app, you didn’t need a user manual for that. And neither should you for B2B apps or platforms.
“Everyone expects today’s technology to be easy to use, regardless of whether you’re using it for work or pleasure. Be gone with clunky, complicated software that takes ages to load and needs time-consuming manual input and trainers to get you on board.
“Kind of like the [Apple] Siri experience or the [Alexa] assistant experience. If you’re still having to enter data manually after a sales visit, that’s old school. And if you look up your appointments for this afternoon, you have to go into an app, launch it and then go find the information. Why doesn’t the information find you? So, that’s a change in mindset that I’m witnessing in the market, where customers ask for consumer-grade experiences or even an assistant experience. We’re seeing more and more virtual, omnichannel assistants emerging that go beyond Siri or Alexa and incorporate industry domain expertise.
“As an example, as a consumer, you get recommendations from your music apps (think: Spotify). It says: ‘You might like this song’; or ‘In the last few months you’ve been listening to this kind of music’. It knows about your listening patterns and is able to present relevant suggestions to you.
“If you translate this example into an assistant experience for field sales there are still many areas in which their daily lives can be improved.”
On sales coaching
Clearly, sales coaching has been recognized as a key element of enabling effective sales teams. And, most of us will agree that talent management can benefit the whole organization.
Forrester says it’s crucial to develop a leadership/coaching culture for managers:
“Remember that talent management isn’t just for the reps. To keep pace with rapid changes in buyer expectations, sales managers must shift from short-term thinking and last-minute, individual heroics to insights-driven, sustainable performance improvements. Sales enablement leaders must drive the foundational leadership competencies to make this happen. This means providing managers with individualized learning paths for development, beyond just having been a high-performing individual contributor, and creating a coaching mindset that enables them to mentor and empower their teams.”
Alain agrees that sales coaching is imperative for successful sales teams. He explains:
A way technology can help in this objective is to facilitate the ability to train reps on the job, by coaching them on products and sales techniques, but also giving them confidence when they speak to prospects and clients.
“An innovative way of doing this is to encourage sales coaching as a continuous part of the job, not just at the onboarding stage,” he states.
Getting sales reps engaged and advancing their knowledge is not always easy, but Alain has some ideas for how this can be done in an innovative way.
“As an example, every time marketing launches new content, why not have a quiz linked to the content? Reps can only access the content once they pass the quiz. This way, reps earn a certification for accessing certain pieces of content. Then they can send it on to clients, but only when they can speak about it confidently.”
“It’s important to have a continuous learning and certification process in place. You can also embed sales role plays so that reps can practice their pitch in a reality-like environment.”
Thanks for your time, Alain!
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