The digital future of B2B sales – Expert Interview
Mister Oenning, we know each other through the Federal Association of Sales Manager e.V. (Bundesverband der Vertriebsmanager e.V. (BdVM) ). Could please you introduce yourself to our readers?
With pleasure. First, I am a salesperson, and I have been one with sales passion from the start. I find it very exciting and inspiring to work at the end of value-added processes. It is there, when the customer chooses one particular product or service, which everything a company does shows its real worth.
So, what can be more attractive and more challenging than working for this success?
As a consultant and through Bataver Sales Consulting, I have supported companies to increase and secure sales revenues for more than ten years. My approach is a focus on business economics and controlling while placing a great deal of interest in the people within the company.
Mister Oenning, you are also looking at digital sales controlling tools for your B2B clients. What is your motivation?
The great opportunity that sales controlling and new technologies are providing motivates me. Technological developments such as machine learning and artificial intelligence for sales will bring significant improvements to the way sales in B2B are done.
Also, I base this motivation on the belief that sales planning, controlling and management should unquestionably be supported by business administration methods and instruments, together with value-orientated management of the customer structure.
“New technologies are providing sales controlling with immense opportunities.”
What do you think has changed in sales controlling for B2B sales in the last 10 years?
It is impossible to answer this in one sentence. For some companies, practically nothing has changed, even the Excel environment, where one-dimensional turnover figures are stored, could still be the same. Other companies, however, often those with many products and clients and who have started to use their data dynamically, are successfully using business intelligence and analytics applications for their sales controlling.
What do you believe will be the role of the sales controller in 10 years time?
Operational sales controlling will be an even more important driver for success in regards to sales management, and it will act as a pilot and important decision-making aid, I am sure of it.
What, in your opinion, will be the role of digitalisation in regards to sales controlling? What role will people play?
Digitalisation “produces” data and information never before known volume and depth. New big data technologies make this information available and analyzable on a technical level at the same time.
This is especially interesting in regards to sales output volumes, namely for sales success analyses and planning, as well as price differentiation.
The input data, meaning what is happening regarding sales, and its cost, has always been managed well by sales controlling, even during analogue times. But the output data is an area where sales controlling is very much benefiting from digitalisation, and where it is possible to analyse highly interesting correlations.
However, these analytical process will invariably rely on humans, who can understand and utilise such information correctly as a means of a decision-aid.
“Predictive analytics solutions will play a crucial role in B2B sales.”
How has your sales consultation business changed in the last few years?
From a content point of view, the practical consultation business always reflects what is critical to the sales organisation. And that is now, of course, the digital sales world, which poses a challenge to sales and companies, but which also offers terrific opportunities. This affects all components of market development, be it strategy, organisation, human resources, technology or the utilisation of sales operational software tools.
More and more companies are starting to recognise this, which means that our projects have become more strategic and holistic. Until recently, expectations were often focused on the addressing of individual symptoms. For example: “our team is not good at cold-calling, what should we focus on in training”. Too often this symptom is in itself is a direct consequence of the digital change, just looked at from an old, conventional customer perspective.
In your opinion, what role will predictive analytics solutions play in digital B2B Sales?
Especially for companies, which have many products and customers (and not only in retail), predictive analytics solutions will play a crucial role. The overall customer purchase behaviour (or journey) follows specific patterns and has particular characteristics. The recognition of such models, especially in regards to many transactions, is only possible by utilising software tools. Once these sales trends and insights have been identified and projected concerning the future, which is what predictive sales analytics does, employing their mathematical algorithms, you have a real data treasure at your disposal.
That is, predictive analytics solutions go one step further than analytical CRM and BI. They not only demonstrate to sales managers, what happens today and what happened yesterday but also what is possible tomorrow and where should they focus. It is a fantastic development and a real quantum leap in regards to planning and controlling sales.
What do you believe is the main additional value for digitalization for medium-sized B2B sales teams?
As I have just explained in a very enthusiastic manner: the planning and controlling. Moreover, the actual work with clients can be much more informed and objective, thanks to software tools delivering facts.
Also, sales leaders can save time. That is not only beneficial to the sales manager but also her key account managers and salespeople. All of them are continually gaining valuable decision guidance in regards to their work so that the additional value should probably be placed in a “gold category”: competitive advantage and economic feasibility.
How well are medium-sized companies in Germany positioned in your opinion?
There is no one answer for this. And this applies to sales controlling as well as the other components of modern B2B sales. There are always those who are alert, agile and brave – the innovators – and those who wait and see – the late adopters. For the latter, it is time to understand that the general conditions within the B2B industry have changed massively. It has always been like that – necessary changes seldom happen between Wednesday and Thursday, and this can lead to a misleading and long-lasting feeling of security. Just think of the sailing ship owners, who were laughing at the first small steamboats coming into the harbour at the time. Whereby it should be said that it has been some time since the digitalisation in regards to sales could be countered with “larger sails.”
“Time and again I discover that sales strategies have just been given a facelift, without a sensible restructuring.”
Where do you think are the weak spots in regards to today’s B2B sales?
Let’s start with the seemingly durable “watering pot principle” for sales. Pay attention to all accounts equally. This, of course, lacks targeted, consequential evaluations and prioritisations of a market segment by companies. Customers are not, all the same, all the time. There are many different dimensions, which pose a different value to companies, should they choose to only look at the potential for future sales. And therefore, B2B companies should invest different levels of attention and resources. The watering pot treats everyone equally, which means that some are overwatered, and some cannot grow properly.
Another weak point for B2B sales is that there is often a lack of real adjustment in regards to digital transformation. And with this I am not talking about those companies, which do not act at all, we already talked about those. No, I am talking about those companies, who have recognised that change is necessary, but who do not go far enough. Time and again I discover that sales strategies have been given a facelift, but without a sensible restructuring. It is not enough to integrate a shop system into the homepage. You also have to ask yourself, whether the targeted clients, the customer value or the pricing are still coherent. Are client acquisition processes still targeted on personal sales, what role does marketing play?
And apropos personal sales: one weak point in today’s B2B sales, in my opinion, is that companies do not have any real answers in regards to human resources management challenges. What is an effective and efficient role for people in digital sales? New acquisitions, client development? What do they need to be able to do today, what tomorrow? And how do we win and commit skilled salespeople in times of demographic change?
According to our findings, Excel is still the tool of choice for many medium-sized companies, when it comes to sales analyses. Why is such trust placed into an error-prone and time-consuming tool?
Let us look once again at the example of a change regarding the sailing boat and the steamship. We trust in what we know, and we already have a masted ship, which works reasonably well. Why invest, if we are part of an assumed priority? Those others are gaining a competitive advantage is being ignored. This is the same with Excel compared to modern controlling tools. Also, every somewhat successful Excel table has, at one point, been created by someone, which is then often very much attached to it. And of course, Excel can be useful if the right people use it.
Be it analogue or digital – what do you believe is the best B2B sales measure?
That is easy: always those, which offer the most significant possible success within what is possible.
Thanks Mr. Oenning for these valuable insights!