Selling will inevitably look different in 2023.
The impact of 2022’s economic uncertainty, massive layoffs, global inflation, and the remnants of COVID-19 will spill over into the new year, making it an interesting one for B2B sellers in particular.
The best salespeople are already expecting to adapt their approach, and we’re here to share their secrets for a productive and positive 2023.
Let’s start by taking a look back at the challenges we’ve faced in 2022, what companies have done to cope, and how you can adapt in 2023 for smarter revenue generation.
Challenge #1: Economic Instability (and Fears of Recession)
The response: Budget cuts and massive layoffs, especially in tech
The 2023 solution: Automation throughout the customer journey
Motivating sales teams amidst a climate of rising prices, ongoing global supply chain issues and predictions of a recession following the Russian-Ukrainian war requires grit, determination, and creativity.
In times of uncertainty, sales tend to slow as customers become more cautious about spending. Instead of taking a fear-based approach, business leaders will do well to focus their and their sales team’s efforts on high-value activities.
What Happens to B2B Sales During Recessions?
When recessions hit - or are predicted to be imminent - customer’s become far more cautious about their spending. A business’ existing customers become even more valuable. They already have a relationship with your company and a high level of trust has already been established. Because of this, existing customers are comfortable spending more with you than new customers are - up to 300% more (source: Constant Contact).
It is easier to sell to existing customers and it costs less to maintain a relationship with them than it does to forge new relationships with prospects. In fact, acquiring new business is around five times more expensive than retaining the customers you have. What’s more, improving customer retention by 5% can increase profits between 25 to 95%.
Internally, companies often re-evaluate their headcount during recessions in order to cut costs. While very unfortunate for those being laid off, it’s something we’re familiar with in 2022, with a spike of workers being let go in November of this year:
Strategies for Increasing Sales in a Recession With Automation
- Streamline processes: When economic times are tough, each dollar and minute matters more. Convoluted processes that have sales people talking about work more than actually doing work need to be minimized if not eradicated. Streamline processes and prioritize effectiveness over perfection. Encourage your team to act to make the most of their time by actively engaging with customers and prospects.
- Automate activities: Uncertain economic outlooks often cause new hires to be put on the back burner. Teams can be supported and their capacity increased with automation tools. Automation software can be used to nurture customer relationships, aid prospecting, and free up salespeople for high-value activities like upselling to existing customers and closing deals with new prospects. Taking the strain of repetitive tasks away can motivate sales teams and keep them focused on what matters most.
Opportunities for Automating Sales and Marketing Processes
The contact center and sales industry in particular is ripe for automation. Advances in Robotic Process Automation (RPA) are making it possible for businesses to automate a wide range of sales tasks that have traditionally been done by human workers. McKinsey and Company reports that over 30% of sales activities can be automated, and doing so can greatly impact a company’s bottom line. However, most of us are behind the curve: sales and marketing teams lag behind IT, finance, and other departments when it comes to process automation.
There are two main types of RPAs: Attended and Unattended. Attended RPA is a task that requires some level of human input or intervention to be completed. For example, sending a text message based on a call outcome in the customer relationship management (CRM) system is considered an Attended RPA because this task requires the agent’s input (i.e., selecting a call outcome) in the dialer before it can be automatically synced with the CRM to trigger an SMS.
Alternatively, Unattended RPAs are fully automated and require no human input or guidance in order to be completed. For instance, creating a new contact card in the CRM each time a new phone number calls the business would be considered an Unattended RPA.
Outbound Calling Automation Solutions
When thinking about outbound calling and automation, the first thing that comes to many people’s minds is robo-calling – an obviously annoying and illegal process that is fully automated. We do NOT recommend robocalling in any situation. Instead, there are plenty of attended outbound calling automations that are legal and will actually help your business thrive. Indeed, sales teams that make a lot of cold calls to find new business, contracted healthcare vendors that make a high volume of calls to insurance members, and other teams that rely heavily on outbound calling can benefit from Attended RPAs.
Outbound calling is a time-consuming and often tedious process, so it’s no surprise that businesses are increasingly turning to automation to help them make calls more efficiently. Power dialers are a type of RPA that can be used to make outbound calling more efficient. A power dialer is a software application that automatically dials phone numbers for you. This can save time and energy, since you don’t have to manually dial each number yourself.
Power dialers also have the ability to call multiple contacts at once and connect the agent with the person that picks up first, while simultaneously canceling the other outbound calls. Plus, power dialer software comes with a suite of other RPA tools including voicemail drop, auto-SMS based on call outcomes, and local caller ID switching.
Inbound Calling Automation Solutions
Another business function of contact centers that can benefit from automation is inbound calling. Inbound calls typically come from customers or leads that have questions or need support.
One way to automate inbound calling is with an Interactive Voice Response (IVR) system. IVR is a type of attended RPA that allows callers to interact with a computerized system – usually via voice commands – to get the information they need or get routed to the correct department. For example, an IVR system can be used to give callers the option to hear information about your business hours, products, or services. Or, if they need to speak with a customer service representative, the IVR system can route them to the appropriate department.
Auto-callback is another type of inbound calling automation. Auto-callback, or requesting a callback, lets a caller hangup while their place in the virtual call queue is maintained. Once a representative is available to speak with them, they will get a callback. Requesting a callback software is advantageous for customer satisfaction, especially when wait times to speak with a representative are lengthy.
Marketing Automation Solutions
One example of marketing automation that is fairly widespread is email campaign automation. Brands typically use an email platform such as MailChimp, ActiveCampaign, or HubSpot’s Marketing Hub to create and send emails to their customer list. By automating this process, marketers can save a lot of time on tedious but necessary tasks such as designing the template, creating the list and segmenting it, scheduling the email sends, and reporting on campaign performance.
Another example of marketing automation is lead scoring. Lead scoring is a practice that assigns numerical values to leads based on their “score” as they progress through the sales funnel. This helps marketing and sales teams prioritize leads so they can focus on those that are most likely to convert.
A newer automation strategy used in marketing, specifically content marketing, is automatic copywriting, based on AI and natural language processing. Software platforms such as Jasper.ai, ContentBot, and Phrasee use these technologies to write copy for social media posts, blog articles, product descriptions, and more.
Event-Based Automation Solutions
Event-based automation is a powerful tool that can help your sales and marketing team stay on top of their prospects. By setting up event-driven triggers, you can automatically reach out to prospects at the exact moment they are engaged and interested in what you have to offer.
When it comes to event-based automation, the possibilities are virtually endless. From a simple email message to a complex sequence of engagements, you can tailor a sales automation strategy that best suits your team’s needs.
The most important part is setting up the triggers that will initiate the automated process. When someone takes an action (ie, the “event”) that is relevant to your business, like downloading a white paper or visiting a certain web page, the trigger will be set off and a predefined sequence of engagements can begin. This can include a series of marketing emails, SMS messages, scheduled phone calls, or even personalized promotional materials.
Challenge #2: Global Inflation
The response: Price cuts to retain customer base
The 2023 solution: Focus on adding value and maintaining relationships
As consumers and businesses grapple with rising prices on everything from groceries to gasoline, spending on seemingly unnecessary additions and upgrades to a business’ software stack may not be a number one priority for many companies.
Indeed, the National Federation of Independent Businesses (NFIB) reported in November that inflation “remains the top business problem for small business owners, with 32% of owners reporting it as their single most important problem in operating their business.”
With inflation peaking at 9.1% in June of 2022, business owners are still grappling with the impact of inflation, difficulty hiring staff, and supply chain disruptions going into 2023. While most businesses are trying to weather this economic storm by cutting costs, reducing inventory, and closely managing their supply chain, some SaaS companies have tried to lower costs in order to retain their customer base.
Keeping existing customers happy and getting new clients to sign up at a lower price point allows businesses to maintain a relationship with their customers, and position themselves as the best existing service provider when economic conditions pick back up. Let’s take a look at strategies your business can use for strengthening relationships with customers and prospects.
Ways to Maintain Relationships With B2B Buyers
Aim to add value to each step of your customer’s journey. Account Managers should look for ways they can enhance customer success. This means taking time to understand customers’ goals and challenges, then working to help them reach targets and overcome hurdles.
Running a business in the aftermath of a global pandemic and the shadow of an impending recession is not for the faint of heart. A fear-based approach will tend towards more cold calling and obsessing over late-stage negotiations to close new deals. This is the wrong approach.
Savvy business leaders will instead focus more on existing customers, developing these relationships and increasing their value to the business. Loyal customers can boost a company’s value by as much as 30% (source: Freshworks). They’re also most likely to bring new business to you by referring friends, family, and colleagues. Sales processes should be streamlined to remove low-value reporting requirements and make the most of salespeople’s time.
Finally, if your business is not in the position to offer discounts or price cuts, salespeople must be equipped with the right knowledge to handle pricing objections, one of the most common sales sticking points (even without record inflation). In the next section, we address tactics that sales teams can use to counter price objections on sales calls.
How to Overcome the Most Common Sales Objection: Price
There are several ways to respond to price objections. Usually, by the time concerns over price are raised, we know how to handle the objection. Each customer is different and should be treated as such. However, there are several tactics that can be used and adapted to overcome any price objection.
Acknowledge the Price Objection
Recognize and validate the prospect’s objection. This can be done with a statement that validates their concerns while subtly comparing the price of the offering with the cost of living with their problem.
- “I understand your concern, our [solution] means you’ll never need to worry about [pain point] again.”
- “A few of my other customers are also having budget issues. Our [solution] will save you from needing to [pain point] and generates [value] so you’ll see a solid return on your investment.”
Beat Them to the Punch
If you suspect price may be an issue for your prospect, it can sometimes help to raise the issue early on in a call. As pricing is the most common objection, there is value in addressing it early on in discussions and turning the conversation around from price to value. Always return to the benefits your offering delivers.
- “Our [solution] ensures [problem] is solved right the first time, every time.”
- “Think about the effort that goes into [pain point]. With [solution] you’ll save time and free your team to focus on more important duties.”
“We Can Get That Cheaper Elsewhere.”
When products are priced comparably to competitors, or below, having an analysis of each option to hand can help. Always paraphrase the customer’s assertion in summary and circle back to the value you provide. If you are genuinely at the higher end of the pricing scale for your market, you’ll need to point out the benefits that come with your solution that competitors don’t deliver on.
- “I hear what you are saying and we’ve even had other clients share similar thoughts. However, what we’ve found is that when compared to other options our [solution] delivers [additional benefits] that save our customers time and money in the long term.
- “Although we are a little more expensive than other options, our [solution] comes with a lot more [benefit] and ongoing support. Our pricing has you covered for [benefit 1], [benefit 2] and even [benefit 3].”
Ask the Right Questions About Price
When a prospect objects to pricing, you should be finding out what exactly about the price is causing problems. Asking questions about their objection validates their concerns and provides you with opportunities to solve the issue, either by breaking the price into smaller billing options, adjusting the offer to suit their needs better, or helping them to build a case to get additional funding for your product or service.
- “I have other clients in a similar position with their budgets too. How do you raise funding for other pressing issues that need a resolution?”
- “I understand your position, our cost structure can be spread over a longer period to make payment easier.”
- “I hear what you are saying, what parts of your [pain point] need to be addressed right away and what could possibly be put on hold for a short while?”
All of these responses to pricing objections help to refine your offering further to suit the prospect’s needs. By focusing on adding value to B2B interactions and maintaining relationships with customers (and prospective buyers), businesses can set themselves up for success in brighter economic conditions, and build a way to survive rampant inflation and customer churn.
Challenge #3: Waning Prospect Engagement
The response: Omnichannel outreach
The 2023 solution: Automated omnichannel contact centers
Customers don’t often buy products without initially building some kind of relationship with the company in advance. They interact with the company, actively or passively, through websites, social media, live chat, forums, email newsletters, apps, and phone calls. The more people interact with your company, the more engaged they become.
Highly engaged customers see the value in the services you offer. They are loyal to your brand, return to you repeatedly, and refer others to you through word-of-mouth, positive reviews, and by sharing your content.
But how do you attract highly engaged customers to your brand? This is a question that marketers and sales professionals constantly ask themselves, and it proves challenging to answer even in stable economic times. One of the best answers to this question in 2022 was omnichannel contact centers. In other words, offering multiple channels for a customer to interact with and share your brand, speak to business representatives, or reach customer support.
After all, 73% of customers state that customer experience is an essential factor in choosing who to do business with. Improving the customer experience from start to finish and increasing customer engagement is vital to any company’s ongoing success.
Improving Customer Engagement With an Omnichannel Approach
Most companies recognize that having multiple communication channel options is essential to building customer engagement. Phone and email remain king, but website chat, text messaging, knowledge bases, mobile apps, social media, community forums, and video chat are all ways to offer alternative contact options for customers.
Just having these channels isn’t enough. Customers don’t stick with one communication channel; they often jump between several channels. For instance, many customers will check a knowledge base first before asking questions in live chat or over the phone.
Companies should do their best to create a cohesive experience across all these channels, even when customers don’t follow a linear path. To facilitate this kind of seamless experience, most companies use a customer relationship management software (CRM) that integrates with their phone and text messaging support channels. Without these tools, creating a cohesive customer experience is near impossible.
The omnichannel customer experience should start at the sales outreach stage of the customer journey. 98% of Americans switch between devices daily and use each device very differently. Omnichannel marketing means getting your message in front of the customer through all available channels, building brand recognition, and driving engagement. Increasing sales through omnichannel outreach has four main stages, which we’ll discuss next.
Step 1: Analyze Your Organizational Structure
Companies often silo operations into departments that handle different verticals. Even within marketing alone, you may use separate departments for direct mail and social media marketing, for instance. You may perform some marketing in-house but outsource TV and radio advertising to an outside agency.
While it’s natural to split tasks between departments, for successful omnichannel outreach, you need to tightly coordinate messaging, timing, and targeting across these departments, all while balancing resources and budget between them.
Step 2: Understand the Ideal Consumer Experience for Your Customer
Any cross-channel marketing strategy lives and dies on whether the individual needs and desires of each customer are understood.
When starting an omnichannel approach, you can map out the ideal consumer experience you believe your customers would want to take. It won’t be perfect at first, but through trial and error and close observation you will find the typical routes customers take – from knowing nothing about your company to becoming lifelong customers.
Data models that use the typical behavior of buyers to map out the motivations of each customer can be used to direct your strongest outreach attempts toward consumers who are actively shopping.
Those not in the market for an immediate purchase can be targeted for brand impression marketing. Materials must be ready for these people to consume when they seek out more detailed information on your products and services.
Step 3: Tweak Your Channel Outreach Efforts
There are so many channels you can choose from, and you won’t know which channels and sequences are the most effective until you test them and learn from the results. Every channel that you add is an additional expense, so testing the waters in each channel to see which are the most promising will help you to avoid spending undue time and budget on channels your audience won’t interact with much.
Your sales cadence, the steps you take in contacting consumers to make them aware of your value proposition, must adapt and get more complex as the number of channels you use grows.
Is it best to reach out via social media and follow up with direct mail to a targeted set of individuals? Are you getting better engagement with customers by using an intelligent autodialer to make outbound sales calls followed up with an email? Or is a broader TV and pay-per-click advertising model better at bringing in sales?
You can follow industry best practices to attempt to get the top bang for your advertising bucks, but it’ll take time to drill down to what works for your specific industry and niche.
Step 4: Measure and Adapt
To complete the cycle, analyze how your campaigns are working and adapt your system based on your analysis. This is easier said than done, as every channel has its own way of measuring customer engagement.
Some of the measurements to consider include:
- Conversion rates: The percentage of leads who become paying customers as the result of a particular marketing campaign
- Session time: The amount of time consumers stay on your website, blog, or on individual pages or subdomains of your website.
- Sales call success: Analyzing which sales calls result in reaching a specific goal using analytics will show which approaches work best.
- Video views: How many people view and engage with your video content on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, LinkedIn, and Twitter?
- Customer service feedback: Recording customer feedback from customer support communications can highlight the most (and least) effective outreach efforts.
- Shares and comments: Higher levels of social media sharing and engagement gives a clear indication of the types of content that engage your customers.
- Reviews: Analyzing the reviews left by customers on your brand will show what they like about the experience they received and what can be improved.
Having analyzed all the data from your campaigns, you can return to step one and look for ways to align your current efforts with the wants and needs of your core customer base. From sales to customer support, offering multiple channels through which customers can engage with your company has clear advantages. Retailers that use an omnichannel approach report an 89% customer retention rate compared to the 33% retention rate that companies with a poor omnichannel presence have.
TL;DR Takeaways for 2023
What a year 2022 has been. We’ve greatly condensed the many obstacles sales teams have faced this year into three main challenges, however, we hope this analysis and corresponding implications for 2023 will help you build an even stronger start to Q1.
Challenge #1: Economic Instability (and Fears of Recession)
2022 Response: Budget cuts and massive layoffs
How We Can Adapt in 2023: Lean into automation throughout the customer journey
Challenge #2: Global Inflation
2022 Response: Price cuts to retain customer base
How We Can Adapt in 2023: Focus on adding value and maintaining customer relationships
Challenge #3: Waning Prospect Engagement
2022 Response: Omnichannel outreach
How We Can Adapt in 2023: Implement automated, omnichannel contact centers