Forrester’s Sales Activity Study shows that sales reps report an average of 2.1 hours per week saved in travel time since the pandemic began.

A new report from Forrester points the way forward to effective digital and virtual selling in a world where B2B buyers in particular are now in control of their buying journey. With a pre-existing trend only accelerating since the seismic events of 2020, new tactics and tools are necessary for digital sales success.

And some key advice suggests that sales and marketing teams will have to collaborate closely. All hands are needed at the pump to drive results in buyers’ journeys that now comprise up to 24 interactions, human and non-human before a purchase is completed.

The report’s findings are grouped into two core categories: Digital Information Exchanges such as email, social media and website interactions, and Virtual Exchanges over video conferencing, webchats and online events.

Online research offers key insights

With Forrester’s 2021 B2B buying survey showing that early buyer interactions with a company are now mostly (56%) self-guided, online research is now the best way to extract signals about buyer behaviour.

Those signals can then be translated into actions that offer an advantage to companies which:

  • Monitor intent data
  • Use digital buying signals to leverage opportunities for sales
  • Provide actionable insights to their sales team

Following these steps, particularly critical in a sales process where early interactions may be invisible to them, can help companies extract valuable insights from interactions across the sales journey.

No more hard sell

Effective social media strategies no longer rely on the hard sell. Credibility, Forrester reports, is key, with digital sales gained much more effectively from clients who trust a brand and see them as genuine.

Forrester recommends that sales staff spend time on social media observing relevant groups, channels and hashtags, and working alongside marketers to build social media profiles that are focused on clients rather than self-promotional.

Storytelling should replace the hard sell as brands look to position themselves as experts and thought leaders, joining conversations with potential clients to build engagement and influence.

According to Forrester, brand messages should be assessed and critiqued on an ongoing basis to identify best practice and ensure they remain on-message.

Virtual engagement is an essential skill

Forrester points out that many B2B buyers prefer the convenience of virtual engagement, so getting this right is a must for successful sales. Encouraging role-play practice to perfect virtual skills, and getting staff used to virtual environments by continuing with online meetings even after a return to the office, increases sellers’ effectiveness.

Five virtual-meeting best practices are recommended:

  • Make full use of interactive features, going beyond simple audio and video interaction.
  • Minimise distractions, ensuring a quiet environment with a professional background.
  • Customise materials to keep content focused and presentations on-brand.
  • Engage thoughtfully, paying careful attention to glean interpersonal cues.
  • Practice virtual meetings, recording presentations of every type of interaction.

The benefits of virtual engagement are clear, with sales representatives reporting an average 2.1 hours per week of travel time saved since the onset of the pandemic. Moreover, 40% of them report more substantive interactions with buyers through virtual platforms, against 26% who reported no such change.

Hone your approach to find optimal methods

In a business environment unrecognisable from before the COVID-19 pandemic, improving B2B sales requires ongoing effort, constant testing and evaluation of what works and what doesn’t, and a softer approach throughout the buyer’s journey.

‘It’s no longer OK to give that canned demo or to not know what a person might be interested in based on what they did on the website prior to engaging with a salesperson’, warned Forrester Vice President and Group Director Phil Harrell.

With buyers having so much power now, sales leaders need to prepare and equip their teams better than ever for successful customer engagement. With sales representatives spending an average of 23% of their time each week in direct engagement with clients, as Forrester concludes, every minute counts.

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