The Big Reframe: Five Ways Business Leaders Can Capitalize on the New Era of B2B Sales

By Guilherme Cruz, Partner, and Maximilian Fischer, Associate Partner, McKinsey Growth, Marketing, and Sales Practice, McKinsey & Company
Hands open up a laptop with colorful neon lights surrounding it.

A new era of sales is here. Sales are becoming increasingly digital (and operating models more hybrid) and the remote sales environment presents unique challenges for B2B companies. Customers now want seamless buying experiences and greater value for their money; they are more technically and digitally informed than ever before. Add to that the ongoing difficulties of retaining talent, rising inflation, and savvier customers, and the pressure mounts. 

Despite the challenges, great opportunities exist, and businesses that turn these jolts into a competitive advantage will lead the change. But how do you clear these hurdles and meet customer needs while ensuring growth? 

McKinsey spoke to more than 50 go-to-market (GTM) leaders about the new era of sales and, from these discussions, identified five must-haves that will help navigate the challenges and ready your organization for what’s next.

1. Put the Customer at the Heart of Growth

To satisfy customers’ needs for simpler, on-demand, and omnichannel experiences, B2B companies need to develop customer-centric approaches in which they ensure that they target, attract, excite, and convert customers across the full cross-channel journey. Best-in-class players keep customers front of mind, as customers are quick to move on if they don’t get the experience they want. In fact, more than 70% of businesses say they will happily consider other vendors if their core must-haves are not met during their buying journey or if the experience is poor. 

Leading players now use predictive and prescriptive analytics to successfully build 360-degree views on new and existing customers, including behavior and intent, and are hyper-personalizing marketing across touchpoints to connect with the right person at the right time.

2. Break the Channel Mindset

If customers get what they’re looking for, research shows they are willing to pay up to $500,000 without even meeting the seller in person. Leading organizations respond to this new behavior in three ways: 

  • Adopting a hybrid selling model. With hybrid representing 70% of sales roles and digital representing 64%, companies need to offer the mix at each stage of the sales process to reach customers’ needs. 
  • Focusing their GTM strategy on reaching customers where they want to be met, by designing personalized buying journeys. For example, a global B2B software-as-a-service player now lets the type of transaction – what is being sold to whom and when – determine the GTM approach, instead of assigning larger accounts to field reps and smaller ones to inside reps. 
  • Driving sales through unexpected channels. These include influencers and buying communities as well as their own customers who – when incentivized to suggest new referrals – become channels of their own. 

3. Create a Scalable Sales Engine

Successful deals have to be replicated again and again for meaningful growth; this is what distinguishes the great from the good. Leading companies focus on three levers: 

  • Setting up cross-functional win rooms. These comprise teams made up of people from sales, marketing, technology, product, delivery, and finance, which use a structured cadence to prioritize deals and find solutions quickly and efficiently. As an example, within a few weeks of establishing a sales win room, a European retail bank increased its daily sales by 30%. 
  • Working hard at getting the right tech-stack intensity (the combination of technologies required to implement change). They intentionally lead with the desired business outcomes, and invest in the relevant data and analytics. 
  • Broadening the role of commercial operations by adding analytical and strategic value. Research shows that organizations doing this perform significantly better than those that use simplified sales operations functions.

4. Rethink the People Strategy

The talent game has changed: 97% of B2B sales leaders think of reskilling as a key priority, yet more than 50% believe their people don’t have the capabilities to succeed. The talent strategy needs to be revisualized for both attracting new talent and retaining existing. People no longer just look for financial compensation in their work; they want it to be meaningful as well. 

Leading companies are changing their talent strategies in a number of ways:

  • Reimagining the sales rep. In the new customer-centric, hybrid era of sales, modern sales reps need to have a range of competencies, from data analytics to digital skills. 
  • Redesigning incentives. For example, a leading tech player now offers multi-year incentives, not quarterly or annual ones, which helps sellers focus more on the customer and develop a sense of ownership. 
  • Using analytics (such as behavioral and relational data) to drive team performance. This informs decisions from whom to hire to what skills to train, and how to predict and prevent attrition of leading performers.

5. Make Change Stick

For success, change needs to be long lasting. There are various practices that best-in-class players use to accelerate the process:

  • Defining a clear, compelling vision that encourages everyone across the organization to embrace the transformation. 
  • Realizing that change comes from the top. Sales leaders are seen to be using the new concepts, then sales managers then model the behavior in their own sales pods, and then change moves through the company. 
  • Creating small cross-functional teams that are empowered and motivated to make quick decisions to implement the change. 
  • Measuring everything that matters. Employees might be more involved and cultivate a sense of ownership in the transformation, but leaders make sure that every action is measured and tracked and that accountability is in place.

The new era of sales has created a host of opportunities, despite the challenges. Leading companies employing these five key actions can drive real organizational change that makes for happier customers, satisfies talent, and boosts revenue. 

Guilherme Cruz is a partner in McKinsey’s Growth, Marketing, and Sales Practice, where Maximilian Fischer is an associate partner.