The seller-centric go-to-market (GTM) strategy is outdated. And despite the rhetoric of being customer-centric, many B2B commercial leaders — spanning sales, marketing and customer service — remain stuck in this legacy mindset.
Customers are speaking, and it’s time for commercial leaders to listen and act. B2B buyers spend only 24% of their buying time meeting with all potential suppliers, and they continually refer to digital channels even while interacting with sellers. Meanwhile, the customer’s journey is increasingly complex and opaque due to increases in:
- Credible but conflicting information about products and services;
- Stakeholders on buying teams, ranging from 11 to 20 individuals; and
- Self-service buying preferences, as indicated by 43% of Gen X customers and 54% of Millennial customers, who prefer rep-free interactions.
Progressive commercial leaders have not only infused customer-centricity into their GTM strategies but are reimagining the next evolution of customer experience with what we here at Gartner call orchestrated customer engagement (OCE). OCE helps commercial leaders transition to strategies that accelerate revenue growth and adapt to fast-evolving buyer dynamics. Plus, it helps the entire commercial organization meet customers where, when and how they want to be met. Our research shows that this more effective GTM approach is comprised of three foundational strategies: Situational awareness, multi-threaded engagements and commercial convergence.
To promote internal efficiency, many organizations treat customers largely the same by applying a standardized engagement process that discounts each customer’s unique situation. Even as organizations recognize customer preferences, they try to force a highly linear and uniform engagement model that is often at odds with the customer buying process.
The reality is that traditional approaches are less effective because customer situations are increasingly different. Factors such as product experience, urgency and readiness influence how each customer approaches a buying effort. The divergences between situational and generalized approaches trigger disconnects between what the playbook suggests and what the buying team actually needs.
Situational awareness requires commercial teams to understand their customers in a way not often seen in traditional approaches. This greater understanding and perspective allows organizations to empathize and connect with buyers. Plus, it enables them to serve up the most contextualized messaging to improve the customer experience and decision process.
Multi-threaded commercial engagements help organizations make sense of the chaos in B2B buying. Unlike traditional opportunity management approaches, multi-threaded strategies acknowledge that customers have more options, more internal stakeholders and an unpredictable path.
When done well, commercial leaders use this strategy to orchestrate the timing, delivery and messaging across all stakeholders within a buying team. These innovative engagements also enable individual buying team stakeholders to meet personalized objectives while they work to build group consensus.
There are three essential components of the multi-threaded engagement strategy:
- Dynamic relevance with buying stakeholders based on their activities;
- Concurrent connections with multiple stakeholders on the customer’s buying team; and
- Stage-gate support to resolve buying team struggles and promote transparency to prevent regressive steps.
Importantly, multi-threaded engagement does not equate to self-service availability across multiple channels. It does not neglect customers by forcing them to independently seek out information. It serves customers through orchestrated engagements with both human and digital resources.
Customers don’t think about the inner workings of the commercial organization. They’re focused on completing all the tasks required to make a purchase in a frictionless experience. That expectation can only be met if internal commercial stakeholders work together to align strategies, streamline execution and drive collaboration. An orchestrated buying experience delivers value with a focus on retention and expansion, not merely closing the deal.
Commercial leaders cannot achieve commercial convergence by simply changing the organization chart. Instead, they must work across the enterprise to align strategies, reconcile tactical execution and develop new ways of working.
Many commercial leaders still formulate strategies and execute plans based on functional siloes, rather than focusing on situational awareness and customer-centricity. This leads to operational inefficiencies, misaligned priorities and generic messaging. Organizations can overcome these challenges by pursuing a strategy of commercial convergence, which requires strategic and tactical alignment between marketing, sales and service to create a mindset of value and cooperation across the enterprise silos. To make this shift, commercial leaders must:
- Start a cross-functional, commercial coalition to understand customer-centric processes that inform and streamline execution;
- Design workflows for continuous and seamless engagement with event-based triggers and timely insights; and
- Create a culture of customer empathy and situational awareness through all interactions.
While many organizations strive to simultaneously improve customer experience and create a customer-centric culture, few realize these ambitions due to an overcommitment to legacy ways. Leaders must shift attitudes and take actions. Buyers have already started to evolve.
Dave Egloff is a Vice President, Analyst in 11 to 20 individuals. He actively advises and produces research for Chief Sales Officers and Heads of Sales Operations on topics spanning sales strategy and operations. Egloff has extensive global experience and leverages a holistic approach that combines qualitative assessments with quantitative analyses. His specialties include Sales Force Design & Deployment: Role clarity, customer segmentation and tiering, and sales coverage models; Sales Performance Optimization: Sales analytics, sales compensation design, and goal/quota setting; Sales Operations: Organizational design and operational excellence; andSales Transformation: Cost optimization, M&A and workforce planning.