Engaging B2B customers in 2021: Three predictions

The ability of customer-facing teams to adapt to rapid changes in the face of unprecedented disruption over the past year has been remarkable. Preparing ahead for the new year, companies are realizing that many of the changes they’ve implemented in reaction to the crisis will in fact have to become a fundamental part of their strategy for business growth.

Here are three of the norms business leaders will need to come to terms with to plan for recovery and renewal in 2021.

Fighting Harder to Earn Trust

The economic shock of the past year has led to cautious customers. Even with the prospect of widespread vaccination on the horizon, they will have many unanswered questions. Which target markets will go back to normal and which ones will struggle? Do their teams want to return to the office full time or is the hybrid working model here to stay? Is it time to hire staff, invest in new solutions and plan for growth? Customers are looking for expertise and leadership to help them move forward in a world that remains uncertain. During this transition period, sales and marketing organizations must provide their customers and prospects with insight, guidance and a roadmap — supporting them on their recovery path.

Another result of the economic situation is that sellers will now be tackling additional layers of scrutiny. Despite budgets opening up in 2021, businesses will still need to win over a range of stakeholders with different motivations, from the CFO to the CMO. The CFO will be prudent about operating costs, customer acquisition costs and margins, but will also be looking for opportunities to boost productivity, efficiency and growth. Taking a personalized and data-driven approach to these conversations, leveraging a relevant set of metrics, will be essential for earning the trust of senior decision-makers.

Building a Culture of Resilience

Empowering customers to move forward in times of uncertainty will require much tighter integration between different business functions, particularly sales and marketing. This will put a new level of pressure on organizations to collaborate in a systematic way. For example, the entire revenue engine will need to support individual sellers’ buyer relationships in a scalable way. Each salesperson will need to be equipped with all of the right content, guidance, training, coaching, and data in order to provide the kind of personalized experience that wins deals and creates loyal, long-term customers. Technical sales, account management, customer success and sales development functions will need to be aligned and create a seamless, cohesive customer journey.

The emerging Chief Revenue Officer (CRO) role will be one avenue to achieve strong cross-functional coordination. The CRO must have both the leadership skills and the technology know-how to bring together human and digital resources, and to ensure everyone is moving in the same direction. When things inevitably change, this improved alignment allows teams to respond with agility — one of the most important qualities for an organization. The CRO who has internalized the lessons of 2020 will guide their organization away from an outdated business continuity ‘plan on a page’ and towards fostering a continuous culture of resilience. Leaders need to start asking questions such as “What do we think is coming next? Where did we go wrong? What do I need to change?” and to be intentional about resilience and proactive change.

Embracing the Art of ‘Less is More’

Ahead of a potential economic rebound, leaders will need to make informed decisions to ensure their company bounces back stronger than ever. The digitally-minded players with technology-adept CROs will want to take a close look at their next technology investments. Collaboration tech can close knowledge and communication gaps in the era of remote engagement. Automation can help them sift through data and identify the most effective options from a deluge of customer insights. Personalization can address customer pain points in a genuine way.

Despite this wealth of technologies, sales and marketing in 2021 will still require navigating complex human dynamics, such as trust-building with senior stakeholders. Technology will only enable and augment rather than replace. Salespeople may become more productive by offloading burdensome work through automation, for example, but they will still need to bring their best to every customer interaction. That’s why ‘less is more’ is going to be key in the new year. Before hiring more staff, leaders should ensure they’re making the most out of the people they already have — equipping them for success through relevant training, coaching and the right technology investments. Business leaders have every right to be optimistic about 2021 as a time of recovery and building back better, but it’s essential they apply the lessons from the past year. Tomorrow is for the taking for those who go the extra mile to restore customer confidence, help their teams collaborate and operate effectively, and empower their employees to make the most of every customer conversation.

Photo Credit: vinzstudio/Shutterstock

As the VP of Strategic Services at Highspot, Steve Hallowell ensures that go-to-market leaders at Highspot customers have the guidance and support they need to maximize the performance of their customer-facing teams.