B2B Sales 2022: Building A ‘New Normal’ Based On Deeper Knowledge Of Your Customer

With Peter Larkin, Chief Revenue Officer, True Influence

B2B sales teams have had to be incredibly flexible over the past couple of years. Let’s be honest – some of the tactics we’ve adopted during the pandemic have been just for survival. But out of this necessity, we also learned a lot about buyer behavior and selling tactics in an increasingly digital marketplace. We will be using some of these tricks for years to come.

Because, let’s face it, things will never quite be the same again.

Here at True Influence, we’re expecting a good year in 2022. And of course we’re a transactional company – if our core software is doing well, that means our clients are locking in revenue. So I also expect B2B sales teams to start getting deals in a steady segment next year. But there will be challenges on the way back.

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

Deals start closing around the middle of the year

As you’ve likely heard by now, most observers believe that branding will be the main focus for most sellers, including B2B, in 2022 as uncertainty continues to grip the economy. Our Chief Marketing Officer, Terry Arnold, recently shared his thoughts on the news that marketing budgets will likely be very tight next year.

Like Terry, I’m a little more optimistic – or perhaps more accurate to say “practical” – when it comes to lead generation and sales as the year goes on. You should have an “always on” attitude when it comes to your revenue pipeline, and after a slow start to the year I see sales calls increase in the middle or end of the second quarter.

I would encourage sales to set expectations that they will have strong leads at that time, and work with marketing to design overall integrated brand/lead plans to make this happen. It will not be easy, but it will be necessary.

Decision makers love virtual reality – perhaps?

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

Recent surveys show that only 27 percent of sales leaders say a virtual approach to sales is more effective than face-to-face meetings with customers. Only about a quarter of respondents said that the effectiveness of the two approaches is similar.

This is an area where sales and marketing differ distinctly. Digital marketing channels now dominate marketing spending (up to about 73 percent, according to Gartner), and the Business Community2 reports that about 70 percent of “B2B buyers and decision makers” prefer digital or remote interactions with sellers. This is likely because B2B buying influencers are getting younger – 73 percent of people doing purchase research are now Millennials or Generation Z.

But I tend to agree with the majority of sales executives who believe that striking a deal with a face-to-face meeting is still the most efficient way to do business. “Zoom stress” is real. I look forward to my team’s return to the field in the second half of 2022, and I expect other sales teams to feel the same.

Smaller personal events reappear

Speaking of Zoom stress – we see very little interest these days in creating recordings of virtual events. There was a lot of activism around virtual reality at the start of the pandemic, but as time went on, fewer vendors saw it as a way to make a meaningful connection. In fact, the director of marketing said in an interview with CMSWire that he sees virtual events as more than just a branding opportunity.

There is still uncertainty surrounding the pandemic, of course, and I think the really big trade shows will have less attendance this year. But smart sales teams should look to smaller, more targeted events as an opportunity later in the year. And when buyers start wanting that personal connection again, hosting your own local/regional events will be a great opportunity to break the deadlock.

RevOps is a little closer, but it’s not there yet

Analysts have been touting the RevOps concept for a few years now, and Forrester and others expect 2022 to be the year when the truly “new” organizational philosophy takes hold. (You can download his predictions here.)

I put “new” in quotes because, as Adam Addy recently wrote, RevOps is just a way to formalize what should happen anyway. Both marketing and sales should focus on earning revenue and building real, long-term conversations with customers, regardless of the lines on the organization’s chart.

I think more companies are buying into RevOps’ overall philosophy. They have known for decades that sales and marketing working closely to identify and pursue the best opportunities is the key to success. But the official widespread adoption of ReVOps is still likely two years away.

The next big step is to track how each touch point with a client, from your SEO blog post to your quarterly client success summary, to understand how the conversation really goes.

Data and analytics are key to sales success

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

But like most analysts, I don’t see much spending on sales automation technology next year. Any changes in the martech suite will likely result in the integration of various marketing tools and their integration more closely with sales automation and CRM systems.

The expected slow start of sales calls in 2022 would be an ideal opportunity to add or develop the analytical and planning skills that your team will need to make the most of opportunities later in the year. These professionals can also help accurately attributing revenue to sales (and marketing) tactics and improve qualification criteria based on what they find.

Use data and intent to target accounts and create call lists

We’ve helped challenge the intended data market here at True Influence, and we’ve long touted its usefulness in prioritizing accounts for sales awareness. Forrester and other analysts are now arguing the case, going so far as to argue that complex data analysis should be used to define sales territories.

In my opinion, how to set hot accounts for salespeople will still be part science, part technical – prior experience and personal fit will always be part of this equation. But data, particularly intelligence related to purchasing intent, must be absolutely central to prioritizing accounts for communication.

For the most part, intent analysis still moves to sales from marketing as part of the lead generation process. But I think the dedicated analysts you’ve added to your sales team should have access to both market and account level intent trends through a tool like True Influence Marketing Cloud.

Modeling intent across your Buying Group key characters can give you powerful insights into an account’s status, even if the show’s lead decision maker hasn’t responded directly yet. Again, you don’t want to contradict or undermine your marketing efforts, but viewing data specifically from a sales lens can help you jump into a conversation ready to take you to the next level.

Learn from the past, move towards the future

For the most part, I think we’ll see B2B sales start to stabilize and head toward the “new normal” in 2022. There will still be motivation to learn more about your accounts and prospects and to work 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 to closing deals.

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