B2B Sales in 2022: Building a ‘New Normal’ Based on Deeper Knowledge of Your Customers

Peter Larkin True Influence

With Peter Larkin, Chief Revenue Officer, True Influence

B2B sales teams have been forced to be incredibly flexible over the past two years. Let’s be honest – some of the tactics we adopted during the pandemic were purely for survival. But out of that necessity, we’ve also learned a lot about buyer behavior and sales tactics in an increasing digital marketplace. And we’ll be using some of those tricks for years to come.

Because, let’s face it, things are never going to be exactly the same again.

Here at True Influence, we anticipate having a good year in 2022. And of course we are a transactional business – if our lead gen programs are doing well, that means our customers are booking revenue. So I also am expecting B2B sales teams to start landing deals at a solid clip next year. But there will be challenges on the road back.

As you build your B2B sales plan for 2022, here are a few trends to keep and eye on. Some will impact your quarterly results, while others should dictate how you build your sales team and work more closely with marketing moving forward.

Deals start to close around the middle of the year

As you’ve probably heard by now, most observers think that branding will be the main focus for most sellers, including B2B, in 2022 as uncertainty continues to hang over the economy. Our CMO Terry Arnold recently shared his thoughts about the news that marketing budgets will likely be very tight next year.

Like Terry, I am a little more optimistic – or perhaps it’s more accurate to say “practical” – when it comes to lead generation and sales as the year moves along. You must have an “always on” attitude when it comes to your revenue pipeline, and after a slow start to the year, I see sales calls ramping up toward the middle or end of Q2.

I’d encourage sales to set the expectation that they’ll be getting solid leads about that time, and work with marketing to design integrated branding / lead gen plans to make it happen. It won’t be easy, but it will be necessary.

Decision-makers love virtual – maybe?

Like every other aspect of business, the pandemic forced sales to go virtual. Whether or not this is an adaptation that will stick remains to be seen.

Recent surveys report that only 27 percent of sales leaders say the virtual approach to sales is more effective than face-to-face meetings with clients. Only about a fourth of respondents said the effectiveness of the two approaches is about the same.

This is an area where sales and marketing clearly diverge. Digital marketing channels now dominate marketing spend (to the tune of about 73 percent, according to Gartner), and Business 2 Community reports that about 70 percent of “B2B buyers and decision-makers” prefer remote or digital interactions with vendors. This is likely due to B2B purchase influencers getting younger –  73 percent of people doing purchase research are now Millennials or Gen Z.

But I tend to agree with the majority of sales execs who think that closing a deal with a face-to-face meeting is still the most effective way to do business. “Zoom fatigue” is real. I’m looking forward to my own team getting back in the field in the second half of 2022, and I expect other sales teams feel the same.

Smaller in-person events make a comeback

Speaking of Zoom fatigue – we are seeing very little interest these days in generating registrations for virtual events. There was a burst of activity around virtual at the start of the pandemic, but as time has passed fewer and fewer sellers saw them as a way to make a meaningful connection. In fact, a CMO interviewed by CMSWire said he sees virtual events as little more than an opportunity for branding.

There’s still uncertainty surrounding the pandemic, of course, and the really big trade shows will have lower attendance this year, I suspect. But smart sales teams should be looking at smaller, highly targeted events as an opportunity later in the year. And as buyers begin to want that personal connection again, hosting your own local / regional events will be a great chance to break the ice.

RevOps gets a little closer, but it’s not here yet

Analysts have been touting the RevOps concept for a few years now, and Forrester and others are predicting that 2022 may be the year the “new” organizational philosophy really takes hold. (You can download its predictions here.)

I put “new” in quotes because, as our Adam Addy wrote recently, RevOps is really just a way to formalize what ought to be happening anyway. Both marketing and sales should be focused on winning revenue and build long-lasting, true conversations with customers, regardless of lines on an org chart.

I do believe that more companies are buying into the overall philosophy of RevOps. They’ve known for decades that sales and marketing working closely to identify and pursue the best opportunities is the key to success. But widespread formal adoption of ReVOps is still probably a couple years away.

The next big step is tracking how every touchpoint with a customer, from a SEO blog post to a quarterly customer success briefing, to really understand how the conversation is going.

Data and analytics are the key to sales success

The most important sales hires you’ll make in 2022 will be for analysts who can model the most successful sales processes. Data is everything in data-driven B2B marketing and sales, so if you have gaps in your attribution and tracking system, you’ll need to address those as well.

But like most analysts, I don’t see a lot of spending on sales automation technology next year. Any changes in the martech stack will likely be to consolidate various marketing tools and integrate them more closely with your sales automation and CRM systems.

The expected slow start for sales calls in 2022 will be the perfect opportunity to add or develop the analytical and planning skills your team will need to make the most of opportunities later in the year. These specialists can also help accurately attribute revenue to sales (and marketing) tactics and refine qualification standards based on what they find.

Use data and intent to target accounts and build call lists

We helped defiance the intent data market here at True Influence, and have long touted its usefulness for prioritizing accounts for sales outreach. Forrester and other analysts are now championing the cause, going so far as to say that sophisticated data analysis should be used to define sales territories.

In my opinion, how you assign hot accounts to your sales reps will remain part science, part art – past experience and personal fit will always be a part of that equation. But data, particularly purchase intent intelligence, should absolutely be central to prioritizing accounts for outreach.

For the most part, intent analysis is still passed on to sales from marketing as part of the lead qualification process. But I think the dedicated analysts who you’ve added to your sales team should have access to market-wide and account level intent trends through a tool such as the True Influence Marketing Cloud.

Modeling intent across your key Buying Group personas can give you powerful insights about the status of an account, even if a key decision-maker has not directly responded to an offer yet. Again, you don’t want to contradict or undermine marketing’s efforts, but viewing data specifically from the sales lens can help you jump into a conversation that’s ready to move to the next level.

Learn from the past, move toward the future

For the most part, I believe we’ll see B2B sales begin to stabilize and move toward a “new normal” in 2022. There will still be a push to learn more about your accounts and prospects and to work more closely with marketing, but we’ve faced those challenges for decades now. As always, data, analysis, strategic planning and coordinated execution will be the keys for closing deals.

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