Evolution of the B2B Sales Organization

Creating competitive advantage through knowledge of customers and solutions

Today's B2B Landscape is one of uncertainty, fast-pace and unpredictability. A paradign shift is underway that has forced a change in focus from exchange of goods which are often manufactured products, to the provision of a service which is fundamental to economic exchange. In this context, service is defined as a customized experience. The central implication of service-dominant logic is a general change in perspective. A service-centered view of exchange implies customized offerings to better fit customer need and identification of appropriate resources. This further suggests that the move from focus on tangible to intangible assets as the primary source of competitive capacity will accelerate.

Traditional sources of competitve advantage based on superior products, and relationships are under pressure. Increasingly any unique product differentiation enjoyed by a company can be diminished by competitive offerings that can meet minimum requirements. The result can be a never-ending game of "catch up" that yields at best, a transitory market advantage. For many B2B providers, it is more difficult to maintain loyalty because reliance on product differentiation invites internet comparison shopping made possible by ubiquitous information provided by the internet.

The following likely constitute the primary drivers of this shift:

  • brand control is in the hands of customer
  • there is heightened expectations of customers
  • products have been moved toward commodity status
  • a multi-channel environment now exists
  • different customers must be treated differently
  • Short-termism's insidious effects on business decisions

All this means that the total experience of the customer will be a more vital source of differentiation. Strengthening that experience should begin with a holistic and systematic approach that involves the functions of sales, marketing, manufacturing and finance.

Following are several benefits that could emerge from such an approach:

  • Internal processes are linked to customer experience strategy
  • Enterprise-level customer insight could be improved through data.  Often, lacking the ability to predict cripples the effort to provide a differentiating experience
  • Profiles of customer interactions could be created that shed light on which are most profitable. Not all large relational accounts are as profitable as is often assumed.
  • The sales process would reshape the seven traditional steps and evolve to one that is oriented toward understanding of the customer's processes, problem identification, presentation of solution and continued service interaction. This will lead to a change in the role of the sales person as well as management

Whenever a company profiles its various sales and service interactions, opportunities for standardization will be recognized. These typically include transactional interactions which can lead to significant cost savings.  With a systematic approach in place that orients the organization around changing customer expectations, opportunities can be found in the gaps that exist within experiences competitors provide. A system of activities that reinforces each other will create a sustainable advantage that will be more difficult to emulate. It will also move firms away from the old standard of: to whom we can sell product X to a more customer-centric: which product is most likely to be wanted and needed by X.

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