What Is The Future Of B2B Sales & Purchasing? Part 2 – Challenges That B2B Teams Face

Last week we looked into the future of B2B (Business to Business) sales and purchasing. We saw that there are exciting advancements in AI and Machine Learning shaking up B2B. In part 1 of our series we discovered research that states that an omnichannel sales approach in B2B is here to stay. A permanent shift from pre-pandemic times. We also found that B2C (Business to Consumer) style purchasing experiences have become a customer expectation, rather than a niche edge case.

These are all exciting advancements. But what about the challenges that B2B sales and purchasing teams might face in the future? What will B2B teams struggle with? We all know that change, while necessary, is not always smooth.

This week we look at the challenges B2B sales and purchasing teams will face over the next few years. Some of these challenges also present opportunities. But some of these challenges will be tough and will force a mindset change for some teams. 

Let’s start looking to the future of B2B.

Future of B2B - Image of a business meeting.
Photo by LinkedIn Sales Solutions on Unsplash

The Future Of B2B Sales & Purchasing – Are Sales Teams Less Important?

With the gradual movement towards B2C style purchasing experiences, some B2B sales teams might worry about their role in the sales process. Research from Gartner suggests that some of those fears might be well founded.

Gartner’s recent B2B buying survey found that stakeholders involved in a B2B purchase found near equal usage of supplier websites versus connecting with sales representatives to complete common purchasing jobs.   

The survey also found that buyers were spending less time with sales reps. Only 17% of the journey is now spent interacting with sales reps, according to Gartner. More worrying for sales teams is that buyers now view their time with sales reps as less valuable. Preferring to do their own research when necessary.

So how do B2B sales staff adapt to this shift?

For some B2B products, sales reps will always be essential. This is because the products themselves are so complex that a liaison between purchasing stakeholders and sales is essential. There may also be legal or health and safety issues with some products that mean in-person contact is necessary. This is common in healthcare industries and big engineering contracts.

But the role of sales teams in a lot of B2B transactions will change. But it does not have to be the end for B2B sales reps. Sales leaders in B2B must adopt a digital-first mindset. They need to think of digital experiences as another tool for them to use, rather than a threat. Sales reps can now connect with customers just as well digitally. 

That does not mean businesses should abandon in-person sales. The real B2B sales winners will be companies that can switch to a more hybrid sales approach. According to McKinsey, 40% of customers using a new supplier prefer to buy only if they have met a sales rep in-person.

So in-person sales is changing, it is not going away. The challenge for sales reps and teams is adding value to different areas of the purchase funnel. Sales is still an essential part of B2B transactions.

An image showing a futuristic looking graph.
Photo by Maxim Hopman on Unsplash

The Future of B2B Sales & Purchasing – Futuristic Analytics?

The future of B2B, in almost all areas, will be data. The most successful B2B companies will gather the right data and be able to create actionable insights from it. The data will come from almost every area you can imagine. This will affect both B2B sales and purchasing teams.

In part 1 of this series we spoke about a shift in buying behavior towards B2C style self-service commerce experiences. This shift brings a lot of data with it.

Increased digital buying behaviors create opportunities for B2B organizations that can use analytics in an effective way. Any engagement on a digital channel can give an organization better insights that they can use to optimize their business.  

In B2C this is all pretty obvious, but it may be new for a lot of B2B firms. And it is only one part of the future of analytics in B2B. 5G could add even more data.

In areas like logistics and energy, 5G could be a game changer. Businesses could get real-time insights, from warehouses and even from the products they sell, if they can use 5G in the right way. The challenge and barrier to this may be a skills gap in both the technology used to gather data and generating actionable insights from it.

The explosion of analytics in the B2B space will give sales teams more data so they can better target and prioritize leads. Purchasing teams may, with 5G data, have real-time information on when to order replacements. They may also have more market information on pricing so they can get more value.

B2B companies need to get to grips with data, form a robust first-party data strategy and consider how to use that data to generate actionable insights.

Future of B2B - An image of a crowd to show increase of stakeholders in B2B.
Photo by Rob Curran on Unsplash

The Future of B2B Sales & Purchasing – Too Many Stakeholders & Too Much Change?

Unlike B2C, a lot of B2B purchases work on a complex non-linear path. The products are often complex and there are different stakeholders with different options at each stage.

But the number of stakeholders is not decreasing with the advent of digital technology, they are increasing.

According to Gartner, ten years ago the average number of stakeholders in a complex B2B purchase was five. Now, it is over eleven. It is not uncommon for a B2B purchase to have over TWENTY stakeholders involved.

Gartner found that this is because many B2B purchases are now part of large organizational initiatives. So apart from cost, other barriers in the funnel now exist. These include operational barriers, organizational silos and that increasing number of stakeholders. This makes both B2B purchasing and sales very difficult. Purchase teams struggle to get purchases completed due to large numbers of stakeholders that may hold up decisions. They may also have to navigate political undercurrent in the organization. Sales teams have to sell to lots of stakeholders at different times.

B2B sales and purchasing teams, on a daily basis, are both vulnerable to big organizational projects.

So, this means what both B2B sales and purchasing teams REALLY have to deal with is the ability of an organization to change. Gartner’s findings stated that, “80% of customers voiced uncertainty in their own ability to manage such change, and their suppliers must share in that concern.”

This is a far more complex question to answer than, say, analytics. The answer lies in organizational change and pushing more towards decentralized organizational structures. 

This should enable quicker decision making among a smaller number of stakeholders. But for B2B sales and purchasing teams, that is too big an ask for them to solve alone! What sales teams can do is use analytics to try to prioritize sales leads and stakeholders. Purchasing teams could use tech, like 5G, to force action quicker from higher up in the organization. It’s hard to deny a purchase when the numbers tell you it is essential!

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Talk to MAQE

If your B2B organization needs a strategic partner, talk to MAQE. We can help you break down organizational silos so you can make quicker, better decisions. MAQE can build software so you can measure your operations. We can also help you build unique commerce experiences to delight your customers. Get in touch via [email protected].