TTE Strategy named HIDDEN CHAMPION 2022 / 23

Hybrid sales: Premises for a successful transformation of B2B sales in the post-Covid world

Dr. Johannes Ihringer
Dr. Johannes Ihringer

Face-to-face sales in the business customer setting (B2B) came to a virtual standstill during the coronavirus pandemic. At the same time, the emergency situation triggered a wave of innovation in the sales sector of the like not seen over the past decade. Contact has been established with customers solely by digital means – via videoconferencing or by setting up new self-service portals, for example. There will be no return to the pre-Covid era. Many companies are now working on new “hybrid sales” approaches that connect digital and analogue channels in the B2B sales sector for the first time. Dr. Johannes Ihringer from the consulting company TTE Strategy explains the most important premises that companies now have to bear in mind.

1. Enable customers to determine their own “customer journey” via analogue and digital channels in the future

A recent study by the market research company Forrester has revealed that the majority of people – including in the B2B sector – now obtain information about products completely by themselves, examine the usage options, and ultimately also make an independent decision as to which ones to buy (53 to 56 percent in each category). Conversely, this also means that a significantly large minority (44 to 47 percent) prefer to go through each of these steps by discussing them face-to-face with another person. “Many companies determine the channels via which their customers can be served – online or offline,” says Johannes Ihringer. “Some people are advised in person who would rather be guided by a well-designed online platform – and vice versa. Companies who are now reorganizing their sales strategies and processes should make sure that the needs of people in both groups can be met in equal measure. They should also make sure that the customers are given the opportunity to switch between online and offline channels throughout the process of seeking information, examining options, and making a selection prior to purchase. This will ensure that the customer can shape the “customer journey” precisely how it suits them. It will further ensure that companies can offer a new level of customer-centric service.”

2. Develop the sales team now – by identifying and working on individual areas of learning

Establishing a seamless transition between online and offline channels and giving customers the ability to obtain information and make choices independently as well as seek personal advice will not only call for a new mindset in sales departments, but also require the provision of the necessary technical equipment and the acquisition of new skills. “Sales staff must be taught how to use new hardware and IT tools, create online presence in videoconferences, and redefine their position within the sales process and the adapted structures,” says Johannes Ihringer. “Internally, this requires a real willingness to change in order to meet the new demands. Companies should identify the necessary areas of learning individually with their employees and help them to get to grips with the “hybrid” world of sales. This will mean more digital meetings with customers and fewer kilometers on the road.” The strategy consultant advises that the scale of such changes for the individual should not be underestimated and companies should therefore take a resolute yet empathetic approach. Johannes Ihringer says: “If somebody absolutely refuses to embark on the journey, however, then companies should sit down with them and consider whether it might be a sensible idea for both parties as a last resort to part ways. The key here is to discuss the situation fairly and come up with an individual solution that works for everyone.”

3. Reorganize sales marketing by merging marketing and sales

The reality within most companies nowadays is that marketing is defined as playing a “supporting” role to sales – in the design of websites, ordering platforms, or information material, for example. “In the B2B sector, sales is often the contracting party and marketing the department that carries out the work,” says Johannes Ihringer. “If customers are supposed to be able to switch between the channels whenever they want to in the future, however, then such a model will no longer work internally. The potential for errors is too high, the need for coordination and agreement too complex. Customer-oriented marketing and sales must therefore be developed, managed, and thought of as one integral unit in the future. The old role assignment of chef and waiter must be overcome.” This also includes bringing both departments under one and the same management. “An excellent customer portal that has not been conceived from a sales perspective will no longer work in an era of “hybrid sales,” says Johannes Ihringer. “I therefore recommend that companies make a start right now on interweaving both departments. Of course, this also goes for functions such as brand management and corporate communication. It primarily concerns the departments that directly manage the customer contact.”

4. View personal encounters as an event – and always keep the benefits for the customer in focus

If “self-service” and digital contact increase, then personal encounters will become an exceptional event in the future. “You should also grant it this status,” says Johannes Ihringer. “Every visit in the future will be an event that serves a specific purpose.” This purpose may continue to involve the traditional product demonstration and sales transaction, especially if the customers still want this. “If this is covered by the online platform, however, then a personal visit could be used for the exclusive presentation of a new prototype. Or to conduct an interview with the customer that they can then use themselves for marketing purposes. Or as an opportunity to meet a special person to whom this customer otherwise has no access. There are no limits to the level of creativity here,” says Johannes Ihringer. “The key thing to remember is that it must be something that always involves an additional benefit for the customer – not the seller.” To this end, Ihringer recommends developing concepts in close collaboration with the event marketing team. “And reconceive the event,” he says. “From large-scale events to micro events with just two people that nonetheless still always benefit those taking part.”

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