When you are in a B2B sales management role, you are bombarded by all kinds of companies that can help you with how to become “great at digital selling”. All the more since we started to be in lockdowns. But what is that really, digital selling? And does that mean we don’t need personal selling anymore? As a sales professional in the B2B for more than 25 years, let me share my view on this topic.
A variety of digital communications empower a sales team
First of all, I am all for using digital possibilities to enable us to communicate with the market, our customers, and any other stakeholder. Obviously, this allows you to have a great reach in terms of audience and it is also a cost efficient way of communicating. And let’s not forget it gives you the opportunity to use different forms of communicating like blogs, white papers and even more video.
We too have provided a trainings to our sales team how to make better use of digital selling, for instance with LinkedIn. It’s a great business platform where it’s easy to get in contact with the right person. And we invest a lot in inbound marketing to share our expertise with the market and by doing so hopefully we are able to help them make better business decisions. Still all of this is to support our sales efforts, in no way it replaces it.
Why purely digital selling is not always the best fit
And this is where I don’t agree with the claims of the majority of these companies make about what you can achieve with digital selling! Because it does make a significant difference what kind of product or service you are selling. Typically the kind of examples these companies use are those of digital products and services. Logically you can be successful in selling these online because the buyers are also looking online for these products and services. However, you hardly see a best practice example of a company that is selling physical or semi-finished products. We acknowledge that in the buying process information is increasingly gathered online, allowing buyers to expand their knowledge on what they are looking for, to know what solutions are available and to maybe already make a first selection of potential suppliers. But then we will always see the personal selling component stepping in. And of course they want to see, feel and often test the physical product they are intending to buy. In this process, we see that it does make a difference whether you are able to build a strong relationship or even better a partnership.
“We see that it does make a difference whether you are able to build a strong relationship or even better a partnership.”
The human interaction offers the strongest potential, even during a pandemic
As a company that sells technical fabrics to garment manufacturers who make garments that are intended for industrial, firefighting and military applications, we have seen that many projects have been stalled during this COVID period, because we could not meet face-to-face.
We have continued to stay in contact through video conferencing and certainly were able to make some steps forward. But the real decision taking only took place once we were able to go out and visit each other in person again. Moreover, it’s not always only the product, the price and your service level that makes a difference. Being that partner for your customer, understanding what they need and showing commitment to finding solutions for their problems/needs/requests/challenges, that is where personal selling makes a difference. And digital selling will never be able to replace this part of the sales cycle. We are human beings that like, want and need social contacts. People buy from people.
“Being that partner for your customer, understanding what they need and showing commitment to finding solutions for their problems/ needs/ requests/ challenges, that is where personal selling makes a difference. People buy from people.”
“Being great at digital selling” needs to be nuanced; embrace how digital can work for your sales
I love the digital world and continue to learn everyday about the endless possibilities this opens up to us. At the same time, we also like the personal contact with our business partners and they do too. There was a time when the 4 P’s of marketing were extended to 5, and that 5th one was called “personal selling” and this still holds. We still see on a daily basis how personal selling can make a difference and we will continue to be that go-to person for our customers to help them find the best solutions possible. And meanwhile we also continue to maximize the support that digital can provide us to our sales efforts. But for sure this will never be able to fully replace personal selling, at least not for physical products in B2B environments.