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November 28, 2022

The Future of B2B Sales Is Distinctly Hybrid

By Jennifer Stanley, Partner, McKinsey & Company and Lisa Donchak, Associate Partner, McKinsey & Company
A person types on a laptop while sitting in front of a Work From Home sign with a cup of coffee

When the global pandemic forced many B2B companies to suddenly embrace remote sales, buyers and sellers alike quickly discovered the advantages of a remote sales operating model. For example, remote sales reps can reach four times as many accounts in the same amount of time and generate up to 50% more revenue than traditional field-based reps.

Adjusting to the new remote and digital-first reality requires B2B companies to continue the shift from “traditional” to “hybrid” sales to keep pace with customers, who have come to expect faster, easier access to suppliers’ sales teams and expert resources (e.g., solution architects). Hybrid sales entails a mix of in-person and remote interaction, as well as self-service e-commerce – satisfying customer demands for more channels and greater convenience in an ideal mix across the sales journey. Because hybrid leverages an omnichannel approach, hybrid also enables broader and deeper real-time customer engagement.

Hybrid selling is flexible, scalable, and often more profitable. For example, companies that adopt hybrid models can see impact across the sales funnel, often within 6-12 months. One company was able to double their appointment-to-opportunity conversion rate in less than a quarter. Another increased their meetings with customers by 20%. The hybrid sales model also eliminates the need for daily commuting and punishing travel schedules – promoting inclusivity and equity of opportunity by opening doors for a more diverse talent pool unable to engage in a travel-dominant role.

In addition to offering greater flexibility for sellers who want to work this way, hybrid appeals to customers. McKinsey research on more than 2,500 sales organizations, 10-plus years of interviews with sales executives (including this year), and our B2B Pulse data clearly demonstrate why more than 90% of companies plan to retain the hybrid changes made to their sales force structure over the past few years. Why? Because customers want to be served this way – remotely and quickly.

To achieve these customer-facing goals and optimize sales ROI, B2B sellers should continue migrating to a hybrid, remote-first model. Here are four proven ways to supercharge hybrid sales: 

1. Embrace agile operations fully

  • Set the expectation that half or more of selling activities are conducted virtually, and resources are deployed dynamically in response to customer opportunities.
  • Reserve in-person sales meetings for specific accounts and moments that matter to those accounts. Sellers may encounter large customers with complex needs and multiple decision makers, or buyers who signal their preference for face-to-face engagement. Some customers may indicate a preference for meeting in person, as a first-time introduction is important to them, whereas others are happy with connecting via video.
  • If in doubt, use the “rule of thirds” to map out a hybrid model that works for your team and your customers

2. Harness customer and seller insights end-to-end

Hybrid sales doesn’t preclude the need for sales reps to log accurate, detailed information into customer relationship management systems. It may not always be a rep’s favorite task, but ensuring accurate data is essential in an omnichannel world. The combination of those manual inputs with data from digital customer interactions, like chat or voice call transcripts, produces a richer, more timely set of actionable insights. Automated analytics that generate specific recommendations are now a “must do” for the modern sales force, as is using automation to reduce knowledge-sharing friction by making access to content easier.

3. Optimize tech for a remote-first environment

Next-generation technology rewards sales teams while delighting customers across the funnel. However, it is important to avoid overcomplicating the IT environment and distracting from core needs with the plethora of available options. Sales organizations that consistently outperform their peers start by addressing critical pain points within their core sales processes, and most know exactly where their biggest productivity barriers reside. They adopt a continuous improvement process and mindset to regularly reduce these barriers with efficient use of technology.

Tech-optimizing organizations always look for opportunities to enhance remote and self-service customer interactions. However, they also evaluate where not to invest in technology. As budgets tighten, many outperformers instead look to optimize their existing sales tech stack with targeted investments. Some sales forces may benefit significantly from optimizing their current platforms by reconfiguring dashboards, reorganizing enablement portals, or enhancing integrations between existing systems.

4. Cultivate next-gen sales capabilities and attract more diverse talent

Hybrid sellers use video conferences, online chats, and e-commerce to close deals – spending at least half their time working remotely. According to Steven T. Hunt, in “How hybrid remote work improves diversity and inclusion,” (Forbes, May 12, 2021), this fosters more diverse and inclusive organizations by removing barriers for talented people unable to commute daily or travel frequently out of town. We observe companies pursuing this opportunity to expand their talent pool by growing new sales roles within the hybrid context. In approximately the past 18 months, McKinsey research revealed that 50% of companies increased the size of their hybrid sales teams, and 62% added to their digital sales teams.

Involuntary adaptation to unforeseen circumstances can sometimes result in lasting and desirable change. As a response to challenging economic and global factors, the hybrid B2B sales revolution represents a textbook example of an adaptation to change, leading to positive outcomes. In a remote-first world, the strategic advantage will go the B2Bs that act the fastest, in line with customer preferences.

Headshot of Jennifer Stanley

Jennifer Stanley leads McKinsey’s sales-and-channel work in North America with deep expertise in B2B, go-to-market and omnichannel strategy, sales transformation, sales-force effectiveness, and value selling.

Headshot of Lisa Donchak

Lisa Donchak advises established technology firms and startups on how to rapidly scale emerging technologies and accelerate go-to-market approaches, with a focus on sales and marketing levers.