As COVID-19 has impacted B2B industries across the world, there has been a notable impact on supply chains and rapid shifts in demand.  Some industries and sub-categories have seen rapid swings in demand pools and consumption patterns.   Some supply chains have been heavily disrupted, while others have proven to be surprisingly resilient.

But how has COVID-19 shifted the ways in which B2B strategic solution selling happens with customers?

The Solution Selling Dichotomy

Over the last month, we’ve interviewed sales and marketing leaders of global B2B-focused businesses to better understand the impact of COVID-19 on their customer relationships and how they’re interacting.

Similar to the dichotomy of demand shifts and supply chain disruption, we’re seeing a similar theme play out with the solution selling process.  On one side, most of the businesses we’ve spoken with have said that access to and interest from customers has remained strong.  Businesses are reporting the more transactional parts of their customer interactions (order management, communications and supply chain) have been working quite well.  For customers that know what they want and only need limited technical support and problem-solving, the experience has been seamless.

However, a dichotomy emerges when you look at the more complex solution selling process.  Many businesses have indicated that while access to customers has held strong, the quality and effectiveness of those engagements has waned.

The more complex, collaborative and technical the opportunities are, the more likely they are to get stuck in the funnel.  Interestingly, many of these businesses have cited the limitations on the workflow of solution selling in a digital world is the main culprit, not paused investments by customers.  In fact, just in the last two weeks, most businesses are actually starting to see more of a future orientation from their customers now that crisis teams have begun to stabilize the current state.

What a Revamped Solution Selling Process Looks Like

This isn’t a technology issue, it’s a workflow issue.  Despite the historic investments made in digital transformation in recent years, most B2B solution selling has still relied heavily on face-to-face interactions.  These are the complex opportunities that are heavy in technical collaboration, data sharing, and joint development.

Expertise, shared understanding and trust are paramount in this experience.  The problem is, most sales and technical teams are now having to adapt to a 100 percent virtual sales model that hasn’t been built for this new way of engaging.  They are finding it difficult to share complex ideas in tools built primarily for video conferencing and teams are seeing a wide variance of quality and effectiveness across their customer interactions.

There are businesses that are getting ahead.  They are thinking beyond the current limitations and building new capabilities that will give them an advantage in a post-COVID world.  We have been working with B2B clients to help them make this shift to digitally augmented sales teams.  These are capabilities they can not only deploy today in a 100 percent virtual business world, but also scale and extend to the future to complement their traditional solution selling model.

Through this recent work, we’ve identified a few key insights for B2B digital solution selling.

In most cases, you have the technology and tools you need to do this now.

From communications to co-creation and idea sharing, there is a broad ecosystem of tools available that require minimal investment and configuration.  In fact, many businesses already have licenses for these tools or can acquire and deploy them rapidly.  This isn’t about replacing Microsoft Teams, Skype, or Zoom, it’s about augmenting them with the right tools built precisely for your solution selling model.  There are powerful visualization and creative tools that exist to share ideas virtually, get feedback, iterate, and co-develop in rapid fashion.

The key is starting with a real understanding of the solution selling workflow.

The businesses that we see getting ahead have started by mapping how the process works today – not by thinking about technology first.  Where are the key moments of truth?  How does information get shared?  How do customers move through stages of the design and specification process?  What are those touchpoints that now need to be re-imagined for a virtual world and where can technology assist and actually enhance them? Map it out, highlight the bottlenecks and gaps in this virtual world. Doing that will shine a light on the areas to tackle first and the technology needed to support.

Build, Test and Learn with “Friendlies”

These newly digitized solution selling models are being built and deployed in weeks, not months or quarters.  By including forward-thinking account teams, and even customers, in the earliest stages, you’re able to build a solution and new way of working designed precisely for and by the people who will be using it.  We’ve found the most enthusiastic supporters of this are the frontline account teams that are hungry for a better way to move opportunities forward. They will be your best advocates when it’s time for broader deployment.

Storytelling is the fastest way to scale this new capability.

Without question, training is an important part of the deployment of tools like this.  However, don’t forget about the power of customer success stories and testimonials.  Share examples of how this new workflow augments and enhances traditional selling, but doesn’t need to replace it.

Lastly, the ROI is both short and long-term.

The short-term ROI is clear- this model can help improve the size, quality and velocity of strategic opportunities in your pipeline.  However, the long-term implications include reduced cost of sales, more agile and adaptive customer relationships that don’t always require travel and a more focused access to your customers.  Businesses that are building on both of these time horizons are more likely to build a sustained competitive advantage.

Final Thoughts

The solution sales model has been disrupted.  To what degree and for how long these limitations persist remains to be seen.  The businesses that are future-proofing this critical workflow for an increasingly digitized experience have the upper hand today and are building a significant capability for tomorrow.