How to Sell in 2021

learn how how to sell by shama hyder

For most businesses, the pandemic has disrupted so many aspects of how we engage with customers — including how we market and sell. 

If you work in sales at any level (and even if you’re in marketing or if your title doesn’t read sales, I’d argue you do…), you need to see how the tide has turned. 

Here is what a survey done by McKinsey Consulting had to say about B2B sales in particular, but really, this applies across the board:

  • Digital self-serve and remote rep interactions are likely to be the dominant elements of the B2B go-to-market model going forward, when selling to both SMBs and large enterprises.
  • Returning to a pre-COVID-19 level of in-person sales coverage is NOT going to happen, as only 20–30% of B2B buyers want to ever interact with reps in person even in their ideal/post-COVID-19 model. 
  • Over 90% of B2B decision-makers expect the remote and digital model to stick around for the long run, and 3 in 4 believe the new model is as effective or more so than before COVID-19 (for both existing customers and prospects.)
  • 99% of B2B buyers claim they will make a purchase in an end-to-end digital self-serve model, with the vast majority very comfortable spending $50K or more online.
  • Videoconference connections are critical and are preferred over audio/phone by 4 out of 5 B2B buyers.

What does this mean for sales? How can you WIN in this environment? What happens when the “new normal” becomes well, just plain normal.

Choose Facts Over Feelings

When the pandemic hit, I spoke to so many companies that were worried and scared because their trade shows were canceled. Why was this an issue? Because they had depended on these shows for years, if not decades, to get their leads. This was especially true for the B2B companies I spoke with.

However, when I dug and asked why they went to these shows in the first place, the resounding (and astounding) reason from most was simply: legacy. They were doing what they’d always done because it worked JUST well enough to keep doing it, in spite of the diminishing returns. 

Here is the thing you may not know about me: I don’t love social media for the sake of social media. In fact, I am not emotionally attached or invested in platforms or tools. When I first started my career, people would look shocked when I didn’t seem to care whether they believed me or not that Facebook and Twitter were here to stay. It was like they wanted me to convince them.

When it comes to marketing and sales, it doesn’t matter what you believe. All that matters is what works.

The companies that pivoted from trade shows thrived. They realized there was an ABUNDANCE of opportunity and greater ROI in the new tools and strategies they used. One of our clients is in the restaurant tech space. When both their major trade shows for the year were canceled, they shifted to a completely owned and earned PR strategy, landing 1500 leads in 90 days. Let’s just revisit this gem: Over 90% of B2B decision-makers expect the remote and digital model to stick around for the long run, and 3 in 4 believe the new model is as effective or more so than before COVID-19 (for both existing customers and prospects.)

B2B Sales is NOT the Same as B2C Sales

It’s popular to say B2B and B2C don’t matter. It is ALL about human sales.

And, that would be correct…except the KEY motivation for buying is different.

In a B2C transaction, the customer is trying to AVOID REGRET — that “ugh, I shouldn’t have bought those shoes” feeling the next morning or being upset when that kitchen accessory turns out to be a dud. The core motivation is avoiding regret.

In a B2B transaction, the buyer is trying to AVOID BLAME. Unless you are selling to the operating CEO, chances are someone has to be able to defend their decision in hiring you, your services, or buying your product.

IBM thrived for years because they coined a particular saying: “No one gets fired for buying blue.”

If you needed to buy hardware for the office and you went with IBM, your boss couldn’t say — “oh, well, that’s what you get for trusting a no-name.” You could easily say “Well, it’s IBM. They are the best in the business.” It made for a no-fault decision.

The marketplace today is more complicated, but the premise absolutely remains. You have to invest in trust around your brand — more than ever if you sell in the b2b space.

Mindshare = Market Share for that very reason. As your share of voice goes up, so does your market share. Just ask Tesla or Salesforce or Slack.

Why “Nike” Gets More Searches Than “Shoes”

Most sales people don’t think about branding as much as they do closing, but that’s a huge missed opportunity.

Let’s look at this simple example. Google sees roughly 1.2 million searches for “shoes” a month. Now, let’s guess how many searches Nike gets a month…

5 million.

That’s the power of a brand. 59% of people prefer buying products from brands they are familiar with.

I was 22 when I started my company. I didn’t have a network or money. In fact, I didn’t realize until much later that when most people start an agency, it’s because they have a book of business or relationships they’ve built that they can leverage. I didn’t have any of that.

I did it by building my personal brand. Today, organizations pay me top dollar to speak and to work with my company. I don’t sell from the stage. My goal is simply to deliver value.

True sales is much less about funnels today and much more about branding. According to new research unveiled at Forrester’s B2B Summit North America, the pandemic has dramatically changed B2B buying behaviors.

The number of interactions required to make buying decisions significantly increased in the past two years: from 17 in 2019 to 27 in 2021.

You should read that again.

Yup, one more time.

This means before prospects even TALK to sales, they’ve already made up their mind.

Close Before You Convince

According to Gartner, 60% of B2B prospects have already made a decision BEFORE they ever reach out to your company. Talking to a sales rep is often their last step. This is why it’s paramount that you CLOSE first and convince later.

More buyers today do post-purchase research than ever before. They buy and then want reassurance that they made the right decision.

So, close them first. Make sure they choose you before they reach out, and then convince them that it was an excellent decision.

How? By investing in your brand. This is where earned, owned, and shared media come to play.

Whether you’re leading a sales team or you’re a marketing leader who understands your role in sales enablement, here’s 5 questions you can answer to help you sell better in 2021and beyond:

  1. Are you investing in your brand?
  2. Are you proactively creating demand or just focusing on capturing it? (The former puts you in a category of your own; the latter leaves you constantly competing against others.)
  3. Are you measuring your sales cycle? (Is it getting shorter…or longer?)
  4. Are you amplifying and distributing your content efforts via earned media?
  5. Are you measuring MQLs or actual revenue?

If you take just one thing away from reading this, let it be this: Front runners will constantly win the deal. If you are in sales in 2021, your job is to be the front runner long before they need you.

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