Do B2B Sales Teams Still Have a Role When Buyers Prefer Self Service?

By Yoav Vilner, CEO and Co-Founder, Walnut
A person types on a laptop with a computer monitor in the background.

It seems B2B buyers have reached the point where self-service journeys are the norm. According to TrustRadius in 2021, 87% of buyers want to self-serve their ways through much (if not all) of their purchase consideration processes. According to many experts, however, that figure today is close to 100%.

Today’s buyers look online for content, reviews, recommendations, ratings, and even the best ways to combine tech tools, and they want to access, consume, and consider them in their own time and on their own terms. At Walnut our own survey of B2B buyers found that 60% prefer to learn about a new SaaS product or vendor from online reviews, making it the top source for advice.

But if buyers are bent on managing their own journeys, primarily without the assistance of sales reps, then we know that B2B sales teams have a role to play in the selling process. But that role has changed. Sales reps need to keep up with new buyer expectations and demands to successfully guide B2B sales to a closed sale.

Make Self-Service Effortless

Self-service might sound like the customer is putting in the legwork, but the burden is still on reps. Self-serve journeys perform best when you’ve not just blazed the trail, but cleared the path, put up signposts, and given the buyer the map. This requires sales teams to simplify sales processes so prospects can navigate them independently.

It includes providing assets that are customized to buyer pain points and industry-specific concerns. When we asked what caused buyers to walk away from a sale, their top answers related to content that was too generic.

Sales teams need to track CRM and intent signal data from third parties to detect which aspects of the product most interest prospects – and proactively surface content that addresses those interests. Instead of a generic demo, for example, focus on the features and value propositions that matter most for a company’s needs.

Smoothing the self-service path doesn’t end there. More than a third of B2B buyers complained that it was too hard to reach the content they wanted. So make it easy for buyers to access and share your assets. Buyer committees have inflated to an average of 11 stakeholders, and sometimes as many as 20, so your champion needs to be able to send a link to a demo that each stakeholder can open and experience on their own computer.

Millennials now make up the majority of B2B buyers, and they are accustomed to media-rich buying experiences. That means they want demos they can experience independently, not dry one-pagers, and they want them available on demand. There’s no patience for demos that take weeks to arrive or that hit any technical hitch. And don’t forget: Your content has to be engaging, interesting, and interactive as well as informative.

This might sound like a tall order, but, when you hit these targets, you empower the buyer to move at their own pace while also priming them with the tools and info they need to move faster along the path.

Provide the Support They Secretly Need

B2B buyers might say they don’t want to talk to sales reps, but they still need your help. Our research revealed that 45% of all buyers, and 58% of those with SaaS stacks exceeding 11 tools, think the purchase journey is too complex.

Buyers might struggle to truly understand your value proposition and to differentiate between solutions, which is part of the reason buying cycles go on for longer than anyone wants – particularly the buyers themselves. Almost three-quarters of B2B sales directors said the average buying cycle has increased over the past two years; but, when we asked our survey participants about their ideal buying experience, the top answer was for it to be shortened.

To guide prospects toward a satisfied purchase, reps need to step in as trusted advisors, not coercive closers. That’s what 87% of business buyers say they want from their sales contact. Meeting these expectations requires you to thoroughly understand each buyer’s pain points, needs, concerns, existing tech stack, and use cases, which in turn requires the right backend workflows that keep each rep informed.

But that’s not all. Truly serving as a trusted advisor demands more investment in long-term relationships. Only then can salespeople know customers’ issues, build trust, and, ideally, preempt their needs with the right content.

It’s particularly important with the growing cadre of millennial decision-makers. They are more skeptical of sales reps than their predecessors, so you’ll need to put more effort into nurturing long-term connection.

Respect the Buyer’s Timeframe

Although buyers need your support and guidance, you have to get the timing right. Today’s buyers want contact much later in the buying journey.

If you reach out before they’re ready, they’re liable to ricochet away to your competition. We found that 62% of B2B buyers call themselves “educated buyers” who carry out their own research.

Sales reps have to sharpen their radar so they can detect when the prospect is in need of some human guidance. The only way to achieve this at scale is by leveraging data.

Keep a careful eye on your CRM, and combine that with buyer intent data from third-party vendors to pick up on indications that the prospect is ready to speak to a rep. Best practices are to automate the process, so you’ll receive a notification when the time is right.

Cultivate Omnichannel Omniscience

In-person sales were dwindling as digital took over, but COVID-19 dealt the final death-blow. Many buyers aren’t even in the office now, so it’s a given that sales will be digital. But digital sales covers many different communication channels, and buyers are using a lot of touchpoints. Organizations today use an average of 10 channels to connect with buyers.

That requires sales reps to be present on (and keep track of) every channel your buyers are on, all the time. B2B buyers may expect to be able to interact with you across email, on-site chat, WhatsApp, LinkedIn, deal room platforms, and more in one seamless conversation – just like they do with their friends.

Sales teams need to unify responses across every touchpoint and make sure that no message, email, or comment goes overlooked. Prospects will not quickly forgive you if you’re ignorant of some element to their concerns, take too long to respond, or make them repeat themselves, just because you didn’t notice their latest ping on Facebook Messenger.

Committing fully to omnichannel sales also means you have to assume prospects will share your content across channels and platforms, including internal Slack conversations and project management platforms.

Your resources must be designed to be easily shared across every channel and to be opened, consumed, and experienced on every device.

Today’s Sales Reps Have to Walk a Fine Line

It’s not easy to close sales in a self-serve culture, but it’s well within the realm of the possible. Sales reps need to adjust their mindset toward cultivating a long-term trust relationship across numerous channels. By shifting focus from driving deals to smoothing the path for buyers, sales teams can continue to meet quotas and bring in revenue.

Yoav Vilner is the CEO and a co-founder of Walnut, a platform for creating and delivering personalized and interactive demo experiences. A three-time founder, Vilner also serves as a startup mentor at some of the world’s top accelerators.