Shaping B2B Sales future: trends & challenges

Hi Croners, are you ready for an incredible learning experience? When we started thinking about this column months ago, we were thinking of content exactly like this: a Sales Guru with a global vision of the topic who could convey all his experience in just 5 answers.  

And Massimiliano Böhm, with this interview, did exactly that.

We are so happy to annunce that the Episode 12 of “The Prospecting Masterclass” is now online to elevate your prospecting skills to new heights. Today is here with us Massimiliano Böhm, Global Business Development and Strategic Partnerships Leader @ ZF Group

In our opinion, this content deserves to be read, then read again and then shared with all your sales teams. They will thank you.

Find his interview below. Thanks Max!

Here is the interview with Massimiliano Böhm, enjoy reading!

1) Hi Max, can you tell us about yourself and your experience in B2B Sales?

My journey into B2B sales took an unconventional path, as I entered the field after spending a decade in management consulting. This unique perspective allowed me to approach sales with a strategic mindset, considering it as the execution of a well-crafted strategy, the final touch that brings everything together.

Throughout my career, I’ve had the opportunity to work in diverse sectors, ranging from selling industrial products to offering Software as a Service (SaaS) solutions. These two ends of the spectrum provided me with valuable insights into both tangible and intangible offerings. Selling industrial products taught me the importance of understanding the intricacies of physical goods (there is production, shipment, defective products etc.), while selling SaaS solutions allowed me to delve into the realm of digital services and their benefits (where you have to deal with compatibility, data protection, customizations and other aspects.).

One aspect of B2B sales that has always had a key importance in my approach is the aftermarket. While many sales professionals focus solely on securing the initial sale, I firmly believe that the true value lies in what comes after that first transaction. Ensuring customer satisfaction and nurturing ongoing relationships has been a central pillar of my approach. I strive to make certain that customers are not only content with their initial purchase but also eager to continue doing business with us. By fostering strong connections and consistently delivering exceptional customer service, I have been able to build long-lasting partnerships that drive repeat business and encourage referrals.

In addition to my sales expertise, an important facet of my career has been people management. I recognize the significance of effective leadership in a sales environment, and I have always made it a priority to nurture and guide my team members. I firmly believe that a motivated and well-supported sales team is the backbone of success in B2B sales. By providing mentorship, fostering a positive work culture, and offering ongoing training and development opportunities, I have witnessed firsthand how a strong team dynamic can translate into outstanding sales performance. Empowering individuals to reach their full potential and fostering a collaborative and supportive environment has always been a cornerstone of my management philosophy.

2) How would you describe yourself if you could only use 5 words?

Solid, energetic, structured, positive, long-term thinking (can we make it count as a single word? 😊 ) 

3) What are the most difficult challenges you have faced regarding Prospecting and Outbound Sales in your past and current professional experiences? How did you solve them?

When it comes to prospecting and outbound sales, I have encountered several challenging situations throughout my professional experiences. Two of the most significant challenges I have faced are adapting the prospecting strategy to different countries and industries and dealing with the standardization of prospecting methods in the software sales domain.  Let’s go into a bit of details.

Speaking about the former, it’s clear that the sales approach which works effectively in the UK may not yield the same results in Spain or the Czech Republic. To address this challenge, I realized the importance of gaining a deep understanding not only of the customers themselves but also of the unique environments they operate in, their habits, and the prevalent industrial practices.

To overcome this challenge, I always recommended my teams to engage in extensive research and analysis of each target market. They need to understand local business culture, market trends, and customer preferences. Only by immersing in the nuances of each country, they can be able to develop a prospecting approach that resonated with the target audience. This involved customizing the balance of online and F2F interactions, communication style, messaging, and value propositions to align with the specific needs and expectations of prospects in each market. Building relationships based on trust and demonstrating a genuine understanding of their local context proved instrumental in overcoming the challenges of prospecting in diverse countries.

A second challenge is the standardization of prospecting methods.

Many large companies (in particular in software sales) utilize similar tools and train their sales teams to operate within recognizable frameworks. This uniformity often results in prospects adopting a defensive stance, expecting the same scripted approach from every sales call. I vividly recall a prospect once asking, “How many more discovery call forms do I have to fill out to make you happy?”

To navigate this challenge, I recognized the need to differentiate our approach from the crowd. It was essential to quickly convey to the prospect that I was focused on adding value rather than simply making a sale. This required developing a deep understanding of their pain points, challenges, and goals. Again, the key is conducting thorough research prior to each interaction, to demonstrate a genuine interest in their specific needs.

Additionally, I sought to personalize the prospecting process by leveraging my knowledge and expertise. I provided insights and recommendations that were relevant to their industry and demonstrated my understanding of their unique circumstances (here I admit my past in consultancy helps a lot). By highlighting the value I could bring to their organization, I aimed to establish myself as a trusted advisor rather than just another salesperson.

4) How do you see B2B outbound sales changing in the next 12 months? What challenges and trends do you anticipate?

Looking ahead at the B2B outbound sales landscape in the next 12 months, I anticipate several changes, challenges, and emerging trends. Here are some insights into what we might expect:

1) Impact of AI in prospecting:

Artificial Intelligence is poised to have a significant impact on the prospecting process. With advanced algorithms and machine learning capabilities, AI can enhance efficiency and effectiveness by automating tasks such as lead generation, data analysis, and even personalized messaging. When used properly, AI can be a powerful tool that streamlines the prospecting workflow, identifies promising leads, and enables sales teams to focus their efforts on high-value interactions.

However, there is a potential challenge with AI: the risk of “in-personalization“. While automation can be beneficial, it is crucial to strike the right balance between automation and personalization. B2B sales rely heavily on building relationships and understanding customer needs. Over-reliance on AI without human touchpoints may lead to a loss of authenticity and connection. It is vital for sales professionals to leverage AI as a supportive tool while maintaining a human-centered approach to ensure meaningful engagement with prospects.

2) Economic uncertainty and changing customer behavior:

In the face of economic uncertainty, companies often become more cautious with their spending and decision-making. This cautiousness can lead to a hesitation in making purchasing decisions, causing potential customers to stay on the fence and delay commitments. This shift in customer behavior poses a challenge for B2B outbound sales teams as they need to be prepared for sudden changes in customer behavior and adapt their strategies accordingly.

To overcome this challenge, SDRs should be equipped with flexibility and agility. They should stay attuned to market trends and economic indicators, allowing them to anticipate shifts in customer behavior. By actively monitoring customer sentiments and industry developments, SDRs can tailor their outreach and messaging to address customer concerns and provide timely solutions.

3) Integration of omnichannel prospecting approaches:

In the next 12 months, we can expect an increased focus on omnichannel prospecting approaches. B2B buyers are becoming more digitally savvy and are active across various communication channels. To effectively engage with prospects, sales teams will need to adopt a multi-channel approach that integrates phone calls, emails, social media platforms, and other digital communication tools.

By leveraging multiple channels, sales professionals can reach prospects in their preferred environments and enhance the chances of meaningful interactions. Moreover, integrating these channels allows for a cohesive and consistent brand experience throughout the customer journey. However, it is important to strike the right balance and avoid overwhelming prospects with excessive outreach. Tailoring the messaging and timing of each communication based on the prospect’s preferences and behaviors will be crucial to achieving success.  

4) What advice would you give to someone starting today as an SDR?

Starting as an SDR opens the door to a wonderful world of opportunities. Embrace the challenges and rewards that come with the role. Approach each day with enthusiasm and a growth mindset, knowing that you have the potential to make a significant impact on the success of your organization.  Always look at the big picture: a good contract doesn’t make you a hero and a missed contract doesn’t damn you forever.

Coming to the harder part, to excel as an SDR, be prepared to study and research more than you may have initially anticipated. The “selling” process often involves extensive preparation done independently, even before engaging with the customer. Studying a customer before getting in touch is also selling!

This will certainly involve a data-driven approach.  Data is a powerful asset in the world of sales. Utilize the available data and analytics tools at your disposal to gain insights into customer behaviors, industry trends, and market dynamics. By adopting a data-driven approach, you can identify patterns, refine your targeting strategies, and personalize your outreach efforts. Make data your ally and let it guide your decision-making process to maximize your effectiveness as an SDR.

Soft skills are of course something you need to cultivate.  Besides the “standard” relationship-based skills, I’d focus on adaptability. 

Recognize that each prospect may have unique preferences, communication styles, and needs. Adapt your approach accordingly to establish rapport and build meaningful connections. Flexibility and the ability to pivot your strategies based on customer interactions are essential for success. Be receptive to feedback, continuously refine your techniques, and embrace new methodologies as the sales landscape evolves.

And… never forget to have fun!

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