Digitalisation can raise efficiency of sales and lower costs. However, despite these benefits, many B2B companies do not fully tap into this potential.
Professor Dr Rainer Elste explains what you need to keep in mind when transforming your business. The economist teaches General Business Administration, particularly Sales and Marketing, at the Esslingen University of Applied Sciences. His current research and publication focus is on the critical examination of digitalisation in B2B sales and marketing. He is co-publisher of the book Digitalisierung im Vertrieb (Digitalisation in Sales).
Mr Elste, how has digitalisation changed B2B sales?
We recently conducted a survey on digitalisation in sales, and the initial results are already in. The use of customer relationship management (CRM), above all, as well as the implementation in part of own web shops have led to changes. However, sales communication has also been simplified by the digital transformation. At the same time, another aspect has become apparent: in general, sales and marketing are closer knit than ever before. Companies must realise that the time has come to break down their existing silos.
Are traditional, analogue methods in sales still an everyday standard for many B2B companies?
Indeed, a lot has changed, but there are still actually a host of B2B companies whose sales is strongly analogue. There is still a way to go before the opportunities of digitalisation are fully tapped into. Ten per cent of those companies questioned in our survey continue to regularly use their fax device.
Sales and marketing are closer knit than ever before. Companies must realise that the time has come to break down their existing silos.
Where do you see the biggest changes still having to take place?
Mainly in acquisition, which is still highly analogue and shaped by manual work. Here is where B2B companies, however, often do not want to become automated, as they value the personal contact. In the areas of quotes and invoicing, they are, in comparison, quite far advanced when it comes to the use of digital measures.
Where should a mainly analogue B2B entrepreneur start digitalising their sales?
First, he should start with internal processes and move these forward. Get rid of forms, manage quotes and invoices digitally and, of course, create and optimise a website, as it also functions as a sales tool. Once this is done, an extensive CRM should be implemented. After all, it is essential for his sales that he knows more about what his customers want and can speak to them with a single voice. The contact to the customer can then follow digitally in the next step.
And what if the customer would rather continue to place analogue orders?
Then sales can influence the customer in the price negotiation stage: e.g. if you want to configure your products digitally or order them digitally, you have fewer costs and can profit from discounts. Then customers may start to think about reconsidering their analogue way of working …
Professor Dr Rainer Elste, expert in terms of digitalisation of B2B sales
Which competitive advantages arise when sales go digital?
The entire sales cycle can be shorted immensely. For instance, offers can be provided faster than with the competition. What’s more, customer support can be significantly improved, as everyone in the company knows where a problem may be and how the customer has to be supported. And, last but not least, the costs can be lowered. Not only in sales, but in the entire company, as each department is closer knit through digitalisation.
Is the relevance of digitalised sales dependent on the industry?
Digitalisation is relevant for every industry – professional customer support, for instance, is an issue in every company. But there are naturally huge differences in terms of implementation. For tradesmen or in the medical industry is the digital transformation not nearly as advanced as IT companies and similar.
What does the future role of the salesman look like?
The salesman of tomorrow is more and more an advisor, independent of his company’s own products. He focuses on the most relevant customers, not the most popular ones. His repetitive tasks in the back office will dwindle away more and more. Due to the diverse range of communication options, he will no longer need to continually go on business trips, unlike in analogue times.
Despite all modernisation – how important do personal relations remain in this area of the company?
Surprisingly very important. In the survey mentioned earlier, I formulated the thesis that sales personnel would no longer be necessary in the numbers they are today due to digitalisation. But this thesis has been proven massively wrong by the survey, both in sales and in procurement. Both areas do not want to do without personal contact – at least not yet.