There’s an interesting duality in the B2B sales and buying process. Customers want efficiency and the ability to research and discover solutions on their own before talking with a sales rep. But, customers also appreciate personalized service and need to understand how a solution will meet their unique needs.
Similarly, B2B companies in the go-to-market phase prize efficiency as they balance the need to scale with their funding and resources. Automating parts of the sales journey has made it easier to systematize the process and streamline certain areas of building a sales pipeline. However, companies that over-rotate toward automation lose the very thing that their customers desire most: the human connection.
…companies that over-rotate toward automation lose the very thing that their customers desire most: the human connection.– Lars Johan Bjørkevoll, CEO, ScaleupXQ
B2B buyers need digital interactions and human connections
Forrester’s 2021 B2B Buying Survey found that today’s B2B buyers require an average of 27 interactions with a company they are considering hiring before they commit and purchase. Specifically, 15 of those interactions take place digitally through automated email programs, AI chatbots, and more. The balance involves human interactions like phone calls, personal emails, and sales presentations.
It’s clear that even for growing companies utilizing the most cutting-edge sales technology, prospects still want to purchase from living, breathing humans. The trick is understanding where human interaction is best suited along the customer journey and then building a consultative sales culture.
When to automate and when to not
Growth-stage companies scaling their B2B SaaS sales operations seek an optimal human/digital blend, ensuring seamless transitions and handoffs as their customers progress through the sales funnel.
A good rule of thumb when identifying opportunities for automation (as well as areas that should never be automated) is to ask yourself a simple question: Is this task administrative or relationship-building?
Automate any administrative, manual, and time-consuming tasks that don’t directly involve building relationships with other humans. Setting up outbound sequences, day-to-day planning, sales activity reporting, calendar management, and lead scoring are a few clear examples where automation likely improves your sales process.
Additionally, salespeople spend a considerable part of their day on emails. By automating parts of the email outreach, you free your team up to use energy on more important human-centered sales initiatives. Email tasks that can be templated and automated include for example informative emails, call/meeting/demo reminders, lead follow-ups, and thank you emails. However, it is important to focus on providing value for the prospect and not attempting to template and automate “one-size-fits-all” type emails.
On the flipside, relationship-building activities involve sales calls, demos, meetings and other efforts to dig in, research and connect with prospects. In most cases, relationship-based selling has always been at the heart of your organization’s growth. In fact, in the early days of your company, founders and owners likely spearheaded these relationship-building sales efforts, spending time with prospective clients and showing them just how your solution could be a part of their story.
As you scale, it’s time for your sales team to carry this torch. How can you ensure they do so with the same enthusiasm and evangelism as your founders have done? And how can you inspire them to humanize their selling strategies and not rely too heavily on automation?
5 ways to promote the human connection in sales
Scaling sales becomes drastically easier when your team has a mindset and behavior patterns that encourage their best work. Integrating automation into your sales process should always be done with an eye toward efficiencies, but not with the intention to replace the human connection. As you incorporate automated digital elements to support your reps’ workflow, here are five ways your sales team can continue to prioritize the connection with customers.
1. Support customers in seeing the big picture
When founders lead sales efforts in the early days of a company’s growth, they never take their eye off of the big picture of the business — delighting and serving customers through the value of their product. As founders begin to hire salespeople to replace founder-led sales efforts, they look at building a team of individuals that prioritize value-based selling over feature-based selling. Training your sales team to speak to how your solution assists prospects in achieving particular business goals empowers them to continually put the most human story at the forefront of their sales pitches.
2. Establish human-connection communication
Unfortunately, many B2B SaaS companies in the go-to-market phase lose the human-first communication when transitioning the organization from a founder-led sales approach to a systematic and repeatable sales process. This happens mainly because the sales team isn’t doing enough outbound activities via phone.
Encourage your sales team to use email and email automation as part of their process, but require that they also establish a connection with each prospect quickly through cold calling and follow-up calls. Creating a human interaction early in your sales process also allows you to harvest human to human proof points to improve both your sales process as well as your positioning in the market.
3. Leverage conversations when qualifying leads
The ability of your sales team to drive revenue growth directly correlates to how they manage their time and pipeline. Your reps need to be able to quickly qualify or disqualify prospects. And, to be able to do so, they need to have human-first conversations with those leads. Enable your sales reps to be able to make quick decisions on the phone with a structured framework and clear qualification criteria.
4. Improve your sales team’s storytelling abilities
Compelling storytelling is an incredibly powerful way to boost your B2B SaaS sales and leads. Storytelling humanizes selling and makes connections with prospects more meaningful and productive. Storytelling comes naturally to some reps, and is as abstract and difficult as a university literature assignment for others. You want to hire the former — those sales professionals who have great storytelling in their DNA. Encourage your reps to be authentic as they tell stories that place your prospects’ needs in focus and show how your product or service will assist them in solving their business problems instead of pitching a list of features. A great storyteller guides the listener through the story, painting the listener into the picture and highlighting and emphasizing relevance. Instead of pushing the story on the listener, a great story teller pulls the listener through the story.
5. Apply continuous training for your sales team
Hiring reps who are naturally good storytellers goes a long way to creating high quality business relationships and opportunities. It’s also important to provide ongoing training for your reps that focuses on developing greater human-first communication skills across all functions and roles. Prioritize storytelling techniques over sales techniques and emphasize role-playing activities where reps can hone their skills. Creating a sales culture where reps comfortably take a collaborative approach to analyzing their communication styles in order to facilitate continued improvement will pay dividends.
Automate availability, not conversations or connections
The go-to-market growth phase is one of the most critical for B2B SaaS companies. Not only is it a period of high growth, but the first several months of sales activities and conversations provide a wealth of data which will define a repeatable sales process to support scaling sales.
Know-how and when to utilize automation tools in the sales pipeline will help your reps work more efficiently. And in doing this, you allow your sales team to spend more time building valuable and essential relationships with prospects.
As you have human-first conversations and listen to your buyers in the marketplace, you will begin to discover which conversations about your solution resonate the most. As reps share these learnings with one another, your team will identify the human + digital blend that is most appropriate for your business and your customers.