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B2B Buying Has Changed. Here’s How We Adapt.

This article is part of the Crunchbase Community Contributor Series. The author is an expert in their field and we are honored to feature and promote their contribution on the Crunchbase blog.

Please note that the author is not employed by Crunchbase and the opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect official views or opinions of Crunchbase, Inc.


Since I got my start nearly two decades ago, I’ve witnessed a massive transformation in how B2B buyers buy: 

  • They now make buying decisions as teams of 10+ individuals, each doing disparate research.
  • They prefer to remain anonymous until much later into the buying journey, rather than seeking guidance from sellers early on in the process.
  • They are resistant to overused marketing and sales tactics like form fills, blast emails and cold calls.

These changes mean old-school sales strategies simply aren’t as effective as they used to be. Rather than continue trying to get today’s buyers to respond to outdated approaches, we need to adapt to the way they want to buy. 

In order to be successful today, that means having the right data and technology to understand modern buyers and meet them where they are. When we have those tools at our disposal, we can provide a positive buying experience for the customer, with less wheel-spinning and frustration for sellers.

 

Why data is essential for the modern seller

Since buyers now conduct most of their research online rather than through meetings and phone calls with sellers, we have less visibility into what they’re interested in, where they are in their buying process, and whether we’re doing a good job providing them with information that’s helpful to their decision-making process. 

But as buyers are doing their research—either on our websites or elsewhere across the web—they leave behind a digital breadcrumb trail. This trail exists in what has been termed “the Dark Funnel”—a data realm full of signals about buyers’ interests and intent

When we have access to this data, we regain the visibility that we lost when buying behavior moved behind closed doors, which allows us to provide more value, sell more effectively and get into deals sooner.

That’s important, since we know that the earlier we can start working an account, the higher our odds of driving the purchase criteria or challenging buyers’ assumptions. When we miss this opportunity, we end up chasing a competitor’s deal. And if we become desperate, we don’t sell on our differentiators—instead, we often resort to competing on price.

Dark Funnel data can help us avoid that by answering questions like:

  • How many companies are in the market for what we offer?
  • Where should our sellers and development reps invest their time?
  • What stage of the buying journey is each buying team in?
  • Who is on the buying team, and how can we contact them?
  • What financial situation is the company in?
  • Has the company recently hired roles that are relevant to our sales strategy?
  • What’s in their tech stack, and when are their other solutions up for renewal?

When sellers have access to the insights that live in the Dark Funnel, they’re better able to be more data-driven and efficient with how they predictably grow revenue. And at the same time, they’re able to provide the kind of buying experience modern buyers want—not one that frustrates them and pushes them farther away.

 

What to do when there’s too much data for human consumption

The data in the Dark Funnel is a treasure trove, but only if you can make sense of it. And given the massive amount of it that exists, that’s too big a job for any human to tackle. This is where another modern tool comes in—artificial intelligence (AI).

Advances in AI in recent years have totally changed the game for sellers.

With robust Dark Funnel data, your own data, and the power of AI to turn all those pieces of information into insights and next-best actions, we can take the guesswork out of the modern sales process. At the same time, we can provide buyers with the kinds of information and engagement that will help them progress through the buying journey.

One of the ways that works is with predictive models. With predictive models, AI takes historical opportunity data, ongoing opportunities, intent signals from the Dark Funnel, and engagement activity that’s occurring across channels and turns it into insights that allow us to sell more effectively.

With AI-powered predictive models, you can know:

  • What accounts are an ideal fit for the product or service you’re offering, so you prioritize accounts that are most likely to buy from you. 
  • Where those accounts are in the buying journey so you know what type of outreach is most effective when, and at what point they’re most likely to be ready to buy. 
  • How well your team is doing at reaching the accounts across personas and on different channels so you can invest time and resources into the actions that move the needle most effectively. 

Having these insights at your fingertips eliminates tons of guesswork and wasted effort — and sets sellers up for the greatest chances of success, even as buying behaviors change. 

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Revenue team alignment

Another hallmark of modern selling is that it’s more integrated than ever with marketing and customer success. Or at least it is in the most successful organizations: According to Forrester, companies with highly aligned revenue teams grow 19 percent faster and are 15 percent more profitable than misaligned counterparts.

This alignment is thanks in part to the data and AI that I’ve been talking about. Modern technology helps remove opinions and conjecture from the revenue generation process, meaning outdated (and often conflict-causing) metrics like lead-scoring are out of the equation. 

Revenue teams can now look at the same data, insights, and predictions to align on:

  • Ideal customer profiles
  • Go-to-market motions
  • Segmentation
  • Account prioritization
  • Account nurturing
  • Pipeline planning

This collaborative approach creates a flywheel effect. As the revenue team starts to align on metrics that matter and implement a coordinated, data-based, AI-supported strategy, they start to see wins. 

As those early wins accumulate, trust improves. Sales and marketing teams see that their collaboration is working, and so it happens more. They develop the kind of high-level trust and collaboration across the entire revenue team that’s necessary to deliver long-term, predictable revenue growth.

And, importantly, customers can see the difference too: When the entire revenue team is on the same page, the prospect and customer experience is more cohesive, engaging and relevant.

 

Technology is necessary, but it’s not a silver bullet

Not everything about the modern sales environment is different than it was in the past. Successful sales teams still depend on hard work, talented sellers and a smart strategy to keep them working in the right direction. 

Modern technology is a very important tool. It’s one part of the equation, but it can make a huge difference in keeping customers happy and helping a talented and hard-working sales team maximize their success.


Mark Ebert leads 6sense sales, revenue operations and enablement teams with a deep understanding of modern selling principles. He puts these principles into practice with one of the most effective, productive and happy sales teams in B2B. Ebert is a veteran of the SaaS Enterprise Sales, MarTech, and AdTech space with over 15 years of experience helping businesses leverage technology to achieve measurable results. 

  • Originally published May 4, 2022