Selling Power Blog

News & Insights for B2B Sales Leaders

May 1, 2023

Driving Exceptional B2B Sales Growth in an Uncertain Environment

The sun sets over a field over windmills.

The whole world went online when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, compressing a decade’s worth of digital adoption into several months. Business meetings, classrooms, family get-togethers – anything previously done face-to-face was confined to digital interaction.

B2B sales was no exception, and buyers and sellers alike quickly adapted to a hybrid model combining traditional and digital methods. Although a return to in-person business has more or less resumed, expectations among B2B buyers acclimated to remote engagement remain high, while sellers face the twin challenges of the “great resignation” and a recessionary climate sending a chill through the global economy. In short, it’s a new sales era.

Companies can still drive and achieve sustainable organic growth despite the uncertain economic environment by embracing these three maxims:

1. Sell How Customers Want to Buy

The B2B equivalent of giving customers what they want involves selling to companies how they want to buy. And that means embracing the “rule of thirds” with an even mix of sales channels – a model that’s already become firmly entrenched among B2B buyers, according to McKinsey’s latest B2B Pulse. This year’s Pulse reveals some companies are combining winning strategies, like deploying the “rule of thirds” with marketing strategies like hyper-personalization, to increase market share by more than 10% annually, even in uncertain economic times.

As they told us last year, customers continue to expect an equal balance of traditional, remote, and self-service interactions throughout their buying journeys. We also see continued growth in customers’ preference for online ordering and reordering. So sales organizations need to offer them multiple, high-quality, high-experience channels and allow customers to choose how they prefer to interact at any given stage, whether it’s in person, via phone or video conference, or through self-service e-commerce.

2. Sell with Advanced Analytics 

Let customers show you what they’re interested in and how they want to interact – and then meet them where they are and how they want to be served. Outperforming B2B sales organizations already make extensive and successful use of customer analytics, especially those that incorporate data from customers’ digital behaviors. These players are 1.5 times more likely to grow fast and drive increases in earnings of 15–25%.

Any company with digital platforms can use analytics to identify what offerings B2B customers are shopping for, what products and services they’re comparing, and what questions they’re asking. Customers are showing suppliers in real time what they want and need, so suppliers should be proactive and use this information to bring value-adding products and services to them and suggest what they might have missed.

These top performing sales forces engage and respond in time using advanced analytics in two ways to unlock growth:

  • They use unexpected sources of customer data at a granular level. Leading B2B sales forces use rich signals from digital behaviors that go beyond traditional customer data to offer a fully rounded view of the customer’s needs. For example, if a manufacturing company begins a broad campaign on social media platforms to recruit their next generation of data scientists, a tech infrastructure company might surmise that manufacturer is interested in data infrastructure and target their sales efforts toward that organization accordingly.
  • They use predictive AND prescriptive decision making. Predictive insights are only helpful if used to drive targeted actions that work most of the time. But it’s not enough to predict customer behaviors and simply hope the sales team figures out what to do next. Successful sales organizations use data-driven tools and analytics to specifically prescribe what their reps should offer, how they should message, and where they should engage – in real time. Offering customers such truly customized and caring interactions also demonstrates a level of empathy they won’t forget when it’s time for their next purchase.

3. Sell with Personalization 

Sales leaders personalize their interactions with customers by deploying knowledge of the customer’s behavior and customer segment. They market and sell to each customer with a bespoke approach, albeit doing so at scale backed by the type of prescriptive analytics just described. This ensures sellers are reaching the right customer with the right sales channel and right capabilities, and making the perfect pitch with the right price each and every time.

Companies successful with personalization to B2B buyers share a common five-part playbook to scale their efforts across target audiences and, as a result, typically see 1.5 times greater growth in market share relative to those that do not substantially personalize messages and interactions:

  • Audience (Who): Define the needs of the decision maker and influencer personas in the accounts, verticals, and geographies that will drive growth.
  • Moment (When): Map end-to-end journeys to identify pain points and opportunities to nurture awareness, evaluation, purchase, and growth.
  • Message (What): Develop strategic, substantiated value proposition and positioning messages that resonate with customers.
  • Experience (Where): Deliver your content across omnichannel experiences with coordinated sales enablement and digitally enabled self-service.
  • Enablement (How): Energize your talent, analytics, and tech engine across marketing and sales to drive scale and automation.

The past several years have been challenging ones for B2B buyers and sellers alike – a rollercoaster ride of unimaginable disruption and change. But, unlike with the pandemic, the current economic climate is one most organizations have weathered before, and something a truly resilient sales organization should be capable of managing well.

Resiliency means looking for opportunity when others are looking for cover. High-growth companies continue to invest in sales capabilities to help their business thrive, despite the gathering storm clouds. As the late Brazilian Formula One champion Ayrton Senna famously said, “You cannot overtake 15 cars in sunny weather, but you can when it’s raining.”

Candace Lun Plotkin and Jennifer Stanley are partners at McKinsey & Company.