Sales of the Future: Prof. Dr. Martin Selchert about Digitalization in B2B Sales

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5 questions for… Prof. Dr. Martin Selchert

It becomes clear in the crisis: digital business models are valuable. If personal sales channels collapse, companies that are well-established digitally still have contact channels to customers. This is also true in B2B sales. We spoke with Prof. Dr. Martin Selchert, director of the masters course of study in Business Informatics at the Ludwigshafen University of Business and Society, about success strategies for digitalization in B2B sales and what companies can do now.

What are the success factors in B2B sales?

Human creativity, initiative, expertise, empathy, and trust are the essential success factors in B2B sales. That’s why the decisive question for remaining robust in crises and recovering quickly is how digital technology can best help people. Over the course of the years, we have seen that there are success strategies for the deployment of digital technology in B2B sales. From the intelligent use of existing technology and data to purposeful additions to existing systems to the comprehensive digital transformation.

Why is it so important to re-think sales right now?

The crisis accelerates developments that will continue afterwards. Budgets are still tight; the truly urgent concern is to remain in good contact with customers and talk to them even if you don’t meet them at trade shows. Sales also still requires digital flexibility. And in many markets, the main growth even before the recession was from greater penetration of regular customers, where hidden potential is revealed with digital analyses. Therefore, I think that in the “new normal,” cost benefits and flexibility thanks to digitalization will remain important.

I will be glad to explain this assessment using an example: The crisis increases the tension between uncertainty on the customer side and production. This is a challenge for B2B sales that will remain in the “new normal.” On the company side, sales will be required to make precise and reliable long-term turnover and revenue forecasts, while customers will “drive by sight,” at least during the crisis. And the other way around, sales employees frequently don’t trust themselves to sell services because they don’t know whether and when these services can be performed by production, logistics, and service. However, there are solutions for these challenges; these can help better assess the risks on the market. This enables sales employees to steer flexibly between customers and their own supply chain.

What concrete steps can companies take now?

There are several digital value drivers that B2B sales can use now. For example, in contact with customers – and here I mean more than the usual advice to use video conferences and social media presence. Companies that do not have anything new and relevant to share will not be successful on digital channels. That’s why B2B sales for a medium-sized software and service provider developed an accompanying customer self-assessment via video conference for which empirical values are prepared in the form of benchmark values. Customers are guided through the conference and receive an immediate evaluation with their own values. This is a good example of how to initiate a digital conversation with customers and how to remain in conversation with customers.

We also recommend that you remain flexible. If the market changes, what activities are the right ones if the goal is suddenly no longer sales growth but rather profitability; if the main product is no longer available; or if a competitor announces that it is entering the company’s own market? Under such great time pressure, digital control systems in B2B sales can provide valuable information for making correct and wide-ranging decisions.

Decisive in this situation are the regular customers. Crucial is a deeper analysis of regular customers, one that is supported and even enabled by intelligently deployed digital technology. Only this way it is possible to exploit the customer’s potential. Companies that have recognized the customer’s real needs can provide real solutions – this is how sales advising becomes the basis for effective solution selling. Sales therefore brings customers added value, which can be quantified quickly and easily with digital technology. With this value-based selling, excess return is achieved, and the customer receives the greatest added value, so it’s a win-win for a long-term stable, profitable customer relationship.

Should companies invest in IT solutions now for success in sales?

IT is important, but IT is just a tool. Regardless of which method and which value drivers are suitable for your B2B sales: Digital technology is nearly always helpful, sometimes necessary, but never sufficient unto itself. I always recommend identifying the right sales method first and prioritizing the value drivers. After a systematic scan, you know whether IT is the bottleneck; only this way will you achieve the expected ROI on an IT investment. Frequently, processes and roles must also be adjusted. And the team should develop its capability for experience-based learning. The sales manager in my example with the customer self-assessment is doing things exactly right: limited effort, quick test – and then try things out and make them better. In the end, the goal has to be to calibrate all of these design parameters – including digitalization – to one another so that the sales organization is set up robustly in its special market and business system – so that it can confront risks flexibly and take maximum advantage of opportunities when things turn around.

How can valantic help with the digitalization of B2B sales?

valantic can provide B2B sales with a fresh, expert look from the outside and inspiration for possible value drivers. In addition, we combine scientifically founded state-of-the-art method expertise and strategic thinking with particular expertise in sales IT and the “let’s do this” attitude of the sales practitioner with empirical values from many industries. We reveal how sales can successfully make itself future-proof with digital and strategic value drivers: with proven best practices from lead generation to increasing the success quota to maximizing the share-of-wallet for regular customers. In the end, thanks to its expertise in training & coaching, change management, process optimization, and deep knowledge of sales IT systems, valantic enables you to introduce these best practices at your organization quickly and for the long term.

Thank you very much for the conversation, Martin!

Prof. Dr. Martin Selchert teaches and researches strategy, innovation, and market-oriented management at the Ludwigshafen University of Business and Society, where he also directs the masters course of study in Business Informatics. He assists medium-sized and DAX-listed companies as guide for the digital transformation from innovative concept to strategic decision-making to successful implementation in sales, marketing, and service. In the process, he combines scientific methodology with more than 25 years’ consulting experience and broad industry knowledge.

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