Top Four Trends B2B Sales Leaders Must Address in 2019

By Scott Collins

Do you want to capture more market share than your competitors? Then you need to stay on top of the ongoing, evolving, and emerging trends in not only sales, but also in customer buying. Here are four critical trends that have the potential to bring you more opportunities in 2019.

Trend #1: The ongoing increase in customer buying complexity shifts the role of sellers

Customers have reached a tipping point – B2B buying has become nearly unnavigable for stakeholders today. Not only do customers report that the number of people involved in buying continues to increase, but so does the amount of information. In our research, buyers reported reviewing an average of four and a half information sources on their own. This leaves buyers to organize, align, and even resolve conflicting information as they learn and begin to work together to create consensus. In fact, Gartner research shows that customers spend, on average, 15 percent of their total buying time just de-conflicting all that information. They spend another 22 percent building and maintaining consensus.

Customers also reported that only 17 percent of buying time is spent engaging suppliers. This leads to a huge access problem our sellers have today (each supplier rep is only getting a sliver of that 17 percent!). In this world, customers value the right information that helps them advance in completing a purchase. Successful sellers provide customers the right information at the right time. This requires sellers to be much more curators or brokers of information versus knowing all the information themselves.

Trend #2: Enabling buyers becomes a critical commercial strategy

The information that buyers want – that will help ease the buying process – is what we call “buyer enablement.” At Gartner, we define this as the provision of information that helps customers complete their critical buying jobs.

Creating and delivering this type of information requires a shift in the commercial engine most organizations have built. It’s no longer enough to focus on a serial commercial engine – where marketing engages in the beginning and then, once there’s a defined MQL, sales takes it over and pursues the opportunity “through the pipeline.”

Customers don’t buy like this today. In fact, our data tells us that customers engage with both sellers and a supplier’s Website as they complete all their buying jobs. Instead, we need to shift to a parallel commercial strategy where sales and marketing align to help customers complete their critical buying jobs. Organizations that can better align sales and marketing to aid customers in completion of their jobs will be better positioned to win.

Trend #3: Leaders will struggle to close sales capability gaps and grow their business through talent solutions alone

The majority of sales leaders tell us that, on average, only 26 percent of their sales force is currently capable of dealing with customer buying challenges today. That leaves a significant skill gap across sales organizations.

Additionally, organizations will need to replace, on average, 27 percent of their current sales force within a year due to churn (e.g., performing them out, external departures, internal promotions, or lateral moves) and to keep up with capturing market growth opportunities. All the while, according to our data, sales positions sit open for about 70 days before being filled.

In today’s talent market, it’s increasingly difficult to find the talent required to grow. Sales leaders can’t just hire to increase capability. Investing in talent through training can lead to improvements (if you also ensure sales managers coach that talent), but the best path for leaders is an enablement strategy. How can we better equip the current talent to deliver customers the right information at the right time? How can we then support and train them to be curators and brokers of information? Sales organizations that optimize to this approach can potentially shift their existing talent to be more effective in their markets.

Trend #4: Gender diversity will be a competitive advantage

The sales function has the second-biggest gender equity gap of all corporate functions. Women are underrepresented, holding just 19 percent of leadership positions in sales. In such a challenging talent environment, organizations that accelerate gender diversity will not only expand the potential talent pool, but also bring other business benefits to the sales organization.

In this talent war, women are typically more engaged in their roles and with their organizations than men. Women-led teams are also more diverse – creating a more diverse workforce. Organizations composed of 45 percent or more women have above-average market share and profitability. These sales organizations also close significantly more revenue at the deal level. They deliver more than double the revenue of a sales organization made up of 20-44 percent women. Sales organizations that develop strategies to address gender bias, actively manage gender diversity, and leverage existing diversity will find competitive advantage in the market.

These four trends will be critical for sales leaders to address in 2019. As it continues to be increasingly difficult to differentiate in a competitive marketplace, while maintaining profitability, sales organizations that take action on these opportunities will position themselves to retain customers and take market share. They will be able to achieve the above-market growth rates so many sales leaders are tasked with by their CEOs and boards.

Scott Collins is vice president, advisory, at Gartner.

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