In today’s competitive and ever-evolving market, sales leaders need to position their teams to sell customized solutions. The fastest, most accurate, and most effective way to do this is by leveraging data through technology.
A lot has changed in manufacturing sales in the past three years. At the start of the pandemic, sales teams were grounded, working remotely, and reliant upon digital tools to facilitate sales. Many of these practices were rapidly - not strategically - adopted, and have now become a customer expectation. Compounding that challenge, customer loyalty is fragile, the landscape is increasingly competitive, and there are new opportunities and demands for data-driven selling.
In this blog post, we look at the top three challenges sales leaders in manufacturing face, and how to address them.
Challenge 1: Building Your Selling Tech Stack
Technology is a deeply critical component in creating a digital experience for your sales team. And while that may seem obvious, what isn’t obvious is exactly how to go about building the necessary tech stack to support the kind of digital experience that will retain employees, improve efficiencies, and ultimately boost revenue.
Too often sales leaders introduce new technologies but neglect to get buy-in from sales teams first. Per Gartner’s 2021 Seller Motivation Survey, a majority of sellers noted the introduction of new tech hinders their overall efficiency. This apprehension - and often frustration - with new technology not only prevents quick adoption, but impacts ROI.
Aggravating this issue is the reality that sales and tech leaders are bombarded with messages and advertisements from potential vendors and solutions. The sheer volume of options alone can overwhelm leaders trying to determine the best possible technologies for their teams.
Sales leaders need fast, simple, straightforward ways to determine which tech stack is right for their team, and more importantly, which tech their team will quickly and readily adopt. The greatest, most cutting-edge tech in the world is useless if teams refuse to embrace it.
One way to quickly get to the heart of the matter is by evaluating potential tech through the lens of key questions, specifically:
What tech makes things easier for your sales team?
What tech gets potential customers more involved?
What tech turns data into actionable intelligence?
Let’s break down each of these questions.
Technology that Simplifies the Sales Process
Crafting a digital experience for sales teams ultimately comes down to one goal: making it easier for them to do their jobs.
That might sound almost too simple, but sales teams that can deliver results quickly and efficiently are able to focus on what they do best – selling – rather than getting bogged down in the details of navigating manual processes or clunky tools. Improving for speed and accuracy is the most effective way to increase sales revenue, all while improving your team’s morale and your customer service.
Data shows that 50% of sales time is wasted on unproductive prospecting and error correction, and sellers who are the first to produce an accurate, complete quote win the deal at least 60% of the time or more. Since a staggering 98% of consumers have been dissuaded from completing a purchase because of incomplete or incorrect content, speed combined with accuracy is deeply important for business success.
When trying to develop a tech stack for sales teams, assess all solutions with this framework:
Where is my team getting stuck and what solutions can solve these problems?
Does this make things easier, faster, more accurate, and less frustrating for my team?
What processes does this solution automate?
Technology that Improves Customer Engagement
If the pandemic taught us anything, it’s that the status quo is no longer sufficient. Practically overnight, traditional in-person sales meetings went virtual, and digital tools became critical.
The advantage of digitization is that it’s easier than ever for sellers to connect to customers and potential customers, share information, and offer speedy customer service. But it also makes it easy for customers to become disconnected.
So, how to leverage technology to more effectively involve customers? This can be achieved by closely examining the current process for customer engagement. How are meetings run? What happens in between meetings? What content is shared before, during, and after? Are these discussions collaborative, or one-sided? What would make customers’ lives easier (and speed up the sales process) if meetings and communications were adjusted?
Enterprises have used these questions to identify a need for subscriptions and self-service, or to embrace more sophisticated tools that allow customers to have immersive, interactive experiences with their products remotely.
Technology that Makes Data Accessible and Actionable
Per Gartner, sales teams typically have the lowest data proficiency of all teams within an enterprise. This means that there is great opportunity to help sellers better understand and utilize the insights that data can provide.
The important thing is to provide them with actionable insights - things that they can apply to their selling strategies, workflows, content, and more.
These insights can help sales teams to identify ways to improve the pipeline, like with personalized offers, cross-selling, upselling, or even via special messaging triggers based on product usage, such as reminders to restock.
When considering technology be sure to ask what data would be most important for your sales teams to know, how it is most easily supplied to them, and what action steps would make a difference in their sales strategies.
Challenge 2: Retaining Top Talent
The second challenge that sales leaders face is recruiting and retaining top talent. Given the shifts in remote work accelerated by the pandemic, this is especially important. Employees have more mobility than ever before, and a poor digital experience can be a dealbreaker. Indeed, as McKinsey reports, “The pandemic accelerated existing trends in remote work, eCommerce, and automation, with up to 25% more workers than previously estimated potentially needing to switch occupations.”
While there are a number of strategies that businesses should be using to attract and retain the best team members, one important piece of that puzzle–and one that can be deployed now–is improving your digital experience for employees.
The Case for Enhancing the Digital Employee Experience
At this point in the eCommerce era, companies are likely deeply familiar with the importance of creating a digital experience for customers and have the numbers to back it up.
Per a Hubspot study, 88% of online consumers are less likely to return to a site after a bad experience. In 2021, slow-loading websites cost retail companies $2 billion in sales, and users abandoned sites if they didn’t load within 3 seconds. User experience is more important than ever, and customers no longer tolerate a poor one.
At the other end of the equation, however, employees are also all too often subjected to a bad user experience – internally. Unlike consumers, who can – and will – walk away for a better user experience, employees are stuck with the digital options provided by their employer. This can quickly become a source of frustration and is a factor in the resignations and attritions companies are experiencing. Inferior technology slows down efficiency, results in more errors, and affects business processes negatively.
Providing an excellent digital experience for employees is critical, particularly in an increasingly hybrid and remote work environment. As one digital employee experience expert, Mark Banfield, says, “In hybrid work, bad tech days are bad workdays.”
Banfield’s company, 1E, surveyed more than 300 IT professionals in the US and UK, and found that 66% of IT decision-makers say that a complete overhaul is needed to enhance the digital employee experience.
Having the right tools, and ensuring that they function properly, can set employers competing for talent apart, all while positively impacting the customer experience. After all, happy team members deliver far superior customer experiences than their disgruntled counterparts, resulting in stronger sales and increased revenue.
The Digital Employee Experience & Sales
Sales is a great example of how developing a digital employee experience can have a huge impact on your bottom line.
There are several tools and strategies that improve the employee experience, thus impacting the customer experience. Let’s break down some of the big ones.
CPQ, or Configure, Price, Quote solutions allow companies to quickly and accurately generate complex sales quotes for configurable products. Quotes created via CPQ software follow a predetermined set of rules, accounting for a long list of variables like: quantity, customization, optional features, discounts, etc.
CPQ often works in tandem with other solutions too, like CRM platforms or ERP programs, providing integrated data and simplifying business operations. This also enhances your digital employee experience, allowing seamless data sharing rather than clunky switches between systems.
But perhaps the most exciting aspect of CPQ is its direct impact on revenue. In traditional sales operations, a large part of a sales rep’s time is unfortunately spent on generating quotes and proposals, and following up accordingly.
Most sales reps spend only 34% of their time actually selling, and the rest is tied up putting together pricing for potential customers.
CPQ solutions minimize the time sales reps have to spend doing things other than selling, and consequently, they are able to increase revenue by focusing on more critical things. According to a Salesforce report, sales teams have reported:
10x quicker quote generation
95% reduction in time for approval
30% quicker onboarding for new sales members
Thanks to these benefits, teams see an immediate and impressive return on investment (ROI), and one that is much faster than many other products can yield. Sales teams also get to do what they enjoy–interacting with their clients–rather than being bogged down in quote creation and paperwork. It’s a win-win for employees, customers, and revenue.
CPQ can also help companies launch subscriptions, a market that has grown significantly in recent years.
For many businesses, subscriptions are a new way of meeting customer needs, differentiating their brand, and selling products. It’s also a way to minimize workloads on employees, allowing the automated nature of subscriptions to do the heavy lifting.
Companies that are using an ERP system (or even worse, spreadsheets!) to manage these configurations have no way to enable subscriptions sustainably, and certainly no way to do so without frustrating team members.
CPQ solutions give enterprises a way to move complex configurations and pricing out of older systems and into modern tools designed to automate these processes and easily scale as the business grows and needs evolve. They also take a burden off employees.
All of this ties to eCommerce. As previously noted, eCommerce exploded during the pandemic and shows no sign of fully returning to pre-pandemic levels. In fact, per a Google and Roland Berger study, 60% of sales managers surveyed believe that digitizing the sales organization will be critical to the success of their business.
The increase in customers using eCommerce, and expecting eCommerce options, drastically impacts employee workloads and experience. Without the right tools in place to support the sudden uptick in customers, team members will burn out.
Indeed, in a survey of over 1000 respondents by Deloitte, 77% of employees say they have experienced burnout at their current job. Even among those passionate about their jobs, burnout reigns supreme, with 64% citing frequent work-related stress.
Not only does a poor digital employee experience drag morale down and increase risk of burnout, it also leads to inefficiencies in procurement, sales, marketing, and more aspects of eCommerce.
By deploying digital tools, companies that either need to finally delve into eCommerce or ramp up their current eCommerce offerings can reap major rewards. McKinsey categorizes these into three key areas: “an improved end-to-end customer journey, incremental sales opportunities, and increased sales-force efficiency. These benefits can translate into major improvements in revenue.”
Their study also notes that, “companies that invested significantly in digital solutions had higher revenue growth and better total returns to shareholders.”
Reduce Frustrating, Expensive Work
Another aspect of retaining top talent comes down to paying attention - and solving - the real problems. If your partners are taking up too much of your associates’ time, it’s important to address this dilemma.
Sales associates are often frustrated by repetitive, unnecessary, and dull customer service tasks they know could be better done by a machine. Your buyers are also likely frustrated by the slow-down, encouraging them to look at your competitors (or Amazon) for a quicker way to get the job done.
A 2019 survey from Gartner found that for most steps in the B2B buying process, in-person and digital channels were neck-in-neck. The trend towards self-service has only increased since the start of the pandemic in 2020.
This trend moves further and further towards digital channels and self-service. According to a 2022 McKinsey report, the future of B2B selling is a hybrid model:
“Today’s B2B customers are very clear about what they want from suppliers: more channels, more convenience, and a more personalized experience. They want the right mix of in-person interactions, remote contact via phone or video, and eCommerce self-service across the purchasing journey. Adjusting to this new dynamic requires B2B organizations to shift from ‘traditional’ and ‘inside’ sales to ‘hybrid’ in order to move with the customer.”
The Significance of Employee Satisfaction
To come full circle, your employees are arguably your most important resource, impacting your customer experience and your bottom line. And yet most companies still don’t invest in the employee experience accordingly. Consequently, only 13% of employees cite being satisfied with their employee experience, per a Gartner survey.
Employers have started to recognize that this is an abysmal statistic, one which directly impacts the quality of customer service they can provide. An article by the Harvard Business Review extensively unpacked this correlation, noting that on a 1 to 5 scale of employee satisfaction, for every one level improvement, there was a corresponding improvement of anywhere from 8% to 19% in long-term market valuation.
Fortunately, companies are making adjustments. In fact, a new research study conducted by Forrester Consulting on behalf of VMware, “Optimizing Digital Employee Experience for Anywhere Work,” shows that:
75% of organizations are making digital employee experience (DEX) a higher or top priority.
Only 25% of organizations currently implement a comprehensive DEX solution.
60% expect to implement one in the next 24 months.
75% of organizations implement three or more solutions to address DEX versus a comprehensive, integrated solution.
In an incredibly competitive market, employee satisfaction and customer satisfaction are two sides of the same coin, and that coin is critical to success.
Challenge 3: Leveraging Data to Drive Selling
The final challenge that sales leaders face is how to leverage data to drive selling. Data abounds and cutting through to the important information that truly impacts sales numbers can be incredibly difficult.
Yet when effectively leveraged, data can have a massive impact on sales teams. Per McKinsey, “Equipping sales with next-generation capabilities takes effort, but the payoff is significant. Top-quartile teams can deliver four to five times higher sales growth than bottom-quartile players.”
Perhaps even more significantly, Gartner estimates that by 2026, 65% of B2B sales organizations will transition from intuition-based to data-driven decision making, using technology that unites workflow, data, and analytics.
Indeed, B2Bs with the fastest revenue growth are equipping their sales reps with insights specific to each customer and deal. This can include anything from the customer’s communication preferences (email vs. phone call), competitor movements, industry trends, modeling and planning insights, and more.By approaching customers sooner and with more tailored proposals, designed to truly solve problems for customers, enterprises are able to differentiate in significant ways from their competitors and position themselves as expert problem-solvers for their clients.
Per a McKinsey study, “85% of sales leaders said they believe that solution selling will be a core sales capability, requiring strong product knowledge and solution design as well as account planning skills.”
Bottom line? In today’s competitive and ever-evolving market, sales leaders need to position their teams to sell customized solutions. The fastest, most accurate, and most effective way to do this is by leveraging data through technology. Sales teams that are able to do this will see results in both sales numbers and customer loyalty.
To learn more about investing in a digital experience for employees, reach out to the team of experts at Object Edge for a free consultative call. With over twenty years of experience in solving complex digital challenges, we're excited to help.
About the Author
VP, Marketing Global
Sarah is a nimble and creative marketing leader with 15 years of experience in a mix of agencies, B2B, and B2C enterprises. She brings a background in building and driving impactful marketing practices and processes for growing businesses. Sarah has expertise in brand, content marketing, lead generation, and marketing operations. She’s a co-author of the 2019 book on B2B eCommerce Digital Branch Secrets: eCommerce Playbook for Distributors.