Customer Experience Is the Future of Sales

By Manish Sharma, Group Chief Executive, Accenture Operations

The pandemic turned an accelerating digital dynamic in sales operations into an irreversible trend. Now, B2B buyers are emerging with expectations for the same ‘Amazon-like’ interactions they encounter as consumers when making more complex purchasing decisions. This is creating a need for smart and rapid change by sales teams in the post-COVID order.

Only sellers fit for this future of e-commerce will succeed in a marketplace becoming ever more competitive. Achieving future-readiness — Accenture’s highest level of operational maturity — starts with investing in data capabilities and artificial intelligence as an urgent priority. Then, applying real-time insights to better understand B2B customers, personalizing interactions with them and anticipating their needs.

They must change their mindset, prioritizing the customer to drive and sustain momentum in the markets of the future. However, more work must be done, since only 28% of sales leaders said customer experience topped their business goals, according to Accenture’s report, “Fast-Track to Future-Ready Performance.” Yet, transforming operations benefits sellers and buyers alike with higher conversion rates, transaction sizes and overall customer lifetime value.

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Buyers in the driver’s seat

Selling complex B2B products or services was once a lackluster effort. An unsophisticated seller would cold call or email a lead, passing it on to a field agent to close the deal with the same old-fashioned techniques regardless of the customer. But digital transformation has empowered buyers, energizing how they research and purchase complex B2B solutions.

Today, that process is more complex and dynamic than ever before. Buyers tap into insights from a variety of stakeholders to form decisions informed by various stakeholders and sources and, oftentimes, already know exactly what they want, making B2B sales a difficult environment to navigate.

Salespeople must step up to deliver unparalleled customer experience. This means operating with cutting-edge intelligence to inform every step of the way, with feedback and analysis providing a continuously updated understanding of B2B customers.

This wealth of information has consigned one-time deals to history—today’s sellers must anticipate customers’ long-term needs based on data gathered throughout the buying process, then go the extra mile to meet them on an individual, highly personalized basis.

The future-ready sales paradigm

Our global, cross-industry research has identified critically important connections between business performance and operational maturity. At the top are ‘future-ready’ organizations—those with leaders at the helm exhibiting a strategic mindset steeped in technical skills.

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Future-ready sales teams are no different, deploying smart technology and data analytics to drive superior revenue and outcomes. These teams aggregate data across marketing, sales and service operations, bringing in every scrap of information to make the most of opportunities and using real-time results to shape product innovation and propel repeat business.

At the heart of this equation is specialized talent—people who embrace new ways of working by maximizing the potential of advanced technologies and employing artificial intelligence (AI) to stay in touch with customers’ ever-shifting strategies.

Three things to get right

Reaching this new paradigm of operational maturity is an imperative—but what does a future-ready sales function look like, and how do you get there?

First, future-ready sales leaders know the goal: investing in capabilities and thinking strategically to match the right solutions with the right buyers at the right times. They leverage ‘digital inside sales’ models that are quicker to market and close faster because insights culled from interactions at every stage of the process give them an intimate understanding of customers.

Think of this as a form of choreography. For example, the CIO of a regional law firm takes center stage by visiting the highly optimized, user-friendly website of a future-ready software company. A lead enrichment engine then unpicks the interaction, while machine learning generates insights to qualify the lead, and specialized sales teams reach out using personalized data and collaborate with tech experts to customize a demo. AI makes product comparisons, peer benchmarking and price transparency easy—and automated analytics provide real-time pricing for sellers to then accelerate closure.

Second, to advance operational maturity, future-ready sales functions put their faith in data, and make sense of it using razor sharp analytical tools. Decisions are driven by diverse data from multiple sources, automation is deployed to augment human talent and allow salespeople to focus on better interactions, and cloud investments are scaled to enrich analytics. Accenture research suggest automation levels have tripled over the past three years, and 73% of sales executives are already using cloud at scale.

And finally, future-ready sales functions embrace fully digital operations that transform interactions, supercharge efficiency, and put a rocket under growth—with our research indicating these are 2.8x more profitable than analog peers.

Critical to a new way of working are ecosystem partnerships that not only boost performance, but open access to game-changing capabilities, top talent and white-hot innovation. Sales executives are taking note: 31% rank ecosystem partnerships as a top business goal and 44% have seen these improve over the past three years.

Operational vanguard

While some sales functions are behind the curve, the momentum is undeniably unstoppable. The proportion of sales executives reporting widespread or full-scale automation has tripled in the last three years, and 70% have reported extensive use of analytics. While that’s a great start, the revolution is already underway and the digital market won’t wait.

We’ve seen rapid action make a big impact: our “future-ready” data suggests automated sales support increased lead qualification productivity by up to 75% while improving lead generation and conversion rates by 35%. And with the right tech, data, processes and talent, these achievements will be sustained—because future-ready operations are also future-proof.

Anticipating customer needs enables sellers to extract more long-term value from recurring business, and better ways of working add ‘transformational’ value by enthusing both customers and stakeholders.

This closer relationship with customers vaulting sales teams into the operational vanguard—setting a bar for the rest of the company to reach.

Catch the full report here.

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