[REPORT] Selling in a Digital First World: The 2021 State of Conversational Sales

By Drift
State of Conversational Sales

We live in a decade of digital disruption and transformation. Remote workspaces, digital self-service channels, personalized online experiences, and volumes of information available with a few mouse clicks – all that makes up just a small fraction of the much greater whole. And from the tech we use to the ways we live and work, it’s clear that our world has undergone massive foundational changes. A digital transformation sped, in large part, by the pandemic.

What does this mean for B2B sales? It means that the way they reach, sell to, and serve their buyers has changed as well.

Buyers have greater access to resources, content, and data than ever have before. Digital products and services are now business imperatives. And the future of work is trending to be – if it isn’t already – digital first.

To sink in this new world is to continue like nothing in even the last 5 years has changed. To not recognize the need for digital, self-service channels or that customers have grown more independent year after year. To swim is to adapt, embrace the digitization of your products and services, and transform the way you approach the buyer’s journey and greater customer experience.

A Digital Imperative

But all that is much easier said than done. Especially when today’s buyer has shown to be highly knowledgeable, highly independent, and highly digital. And while certain industries still hold the belief that in-person sales is the norm, the impacts of digital transformation on how buyers actually buy have largely turned the tide.

With the rising use of digital, self-service channels it’s easier than ever for buyers to research, vet, and make decisions entirely on their own.

So how can sellers respond? Does this make sales teams obsolete?

The short answer is: No.

But this digital transformation only serves to further amplify the weaknesses of a traditional, largely non-digital sales process – one that does little to actually enable the buyer. And in doing so, it has also amplified the need for B2B sales to undergo a digital transformation of its own.

The Digital Transformation of B2B Sales

In the wake of the pandemic, the B2B industry has experienced an incredible acceleration of – and growing imperative for – digital transformation throughout the sales funnel. And according to McKinsey, “more than three quarters of buyers and sellers say they now prefer digital self-serve and remote human engagement over face-to-face interactions.”

This means sellers are left with more channels to cover and interactions to manage and buyers are often left to “choose their own adventure.” In fact, research from Gartner shows that today’s B2B buyers spend only 17% of their time talking directly to sales. While the majority of their time is instead spent everywhere else in the buyer’s journey. With nearly limitless access to content and resources online, buyers can find whatever information they need right at their fingertips. And this control further solidifies the buyer’s place in the driver’s seat.

But that control comes at a cost. And choosing your own adventure can have its risks. Because while buyers may have greater access and influence in the buying journey, they are also spending up to 15% of their time simply prioritizing and reconciling the information they’ve gathered. It’s clear that buyers rarely lack information. But they do lack the means to surface the right information faster.

For organizations to find success today and in the future, their sales teams must be equipped with the right tools to effectively engage, manage, and act-on the digital signals of today’s highly sophisticated buyers. And now, more than ever, sales teams need to affirm buyers’ decisions and guide them towards their desired outcomes in meaningful, helpful ways.

New Research from Drift, SBI, and Heinz Marketing

How can sales teams both enable their buyers and accelerate the conversion to revenue? With the power of Conversational Sales. 

From buyer enablement to revenue acceleration, in this digital age, sales needs to do more than sell. To find success, they must lead.

We wanted to learn more about how today’s top salespeople are selling in this digital age. And how they’re utilizing solutions like Conversational Sales to enable better results, faster.

To do this, Drift, Sales Benchmark Index (SBI), and Heinz Marketing explored the digital transformation of sales and the impacts of Conversational Selling on sales productivity, effectiveness, and revenue. Here are the key findings of our research and the implications it has for the future of digital sales.

You can read the full report here: 2021 State of Conversational Sales.

Challenges to Overcome

Sales teams are busy, but not necessarily productive as they attempt to sell to unqualified buyers.

As sales teams continue to respond to the changes brought by digital transformation, the need for better buyer data to enable prioritization and segmentation, inform strategies, justify actions, and direct approaches also continues to grow.

Unfortunately, data remains a persistent challenge for B2B sellers – a gap that has widened as more buyers engage through hard-to-manage, nontraditional digital and self-service channels. And in turn, it creates situations where sales teams may be busy, but not necessarily productive as they attempt to sell to unqualified buyers.

On the one hand:

  • 70% of sellers report they very frequently spend their time prospecting and qualifying net new buyers.
  • 57% of sellers very frequently meet with their existing customers to both ensure that the customer is satisfied with their service and to attempt to upsell or renew.

But on the other hand:

  • Only 47% of all B2B sales respondents report that they very frequently meet with qualified net new buyers.
  • 10% of sellers don’t frequently meet with qualified net new buyers at all.
  • 76% of sellers frequently spend their time meeting with – specifically – unqualified net new buyers.

And when it comes to frustrations around data:

  • 43% of sellers are frustrated by being unable to quickly or accurately find or interact with enough qualified buyers.
  • And 47% of sellers are frustrated by their lack of predictive analytics to help them be more proactive and productive when planning their sales strategies.

Data drives productive selling. Without it, sales largely becomes a guessing game – as even the most skilled salespeople are left with little information to direct how they should proceed. But with the right data – in the right hands – skilled sales teams are given the insights they need to book more qualified meetings, engage target accounts, and win more business – faster.

Poor data and processes hurt both buyers and sellers.

Data impacts everything. And while great buyer data can inform valuable, revenue-driving strategies, poor buyer data does the opposite – hindering sales’ ability to sell to qualified buyers and, ultimately, accelerate revenue.

  • 48% of sellers – and 71% of self-identified unproductive sellers – say their biggest frustration with their current sales process is having limited or siloed data about their buyers to inform their sales strategies.

But it’s not just sales teams who feel these effects. Buyers are impacted too.

  • 47% of sellers report their buyers are frustrated most by a lack of relevant or personalized website experiences, content, resources, or information to support their needs.
  • 42% of sellers report their buyers are frustrated most when they have to repeat the same information to multiple team members.
  • And 41% of sellers report their buyers are frustrated most when they’re asked to schedule a meeting before they’re ready to have one.

When salespeople lack data about their buyers – and when buyers are met with unnecessary roadblocks in their buying journey – it damages the entire relationship between the buyer and the seller.

As such, our report finds that for sales to succeed in both accelerating revenue and creating long-term loyal customers, they must possess the data and processes to better enable their buyers – removing friction from and adding clarity to the customer experience.

A lack of automation and self-service offerings hinder productive selling and digital buyer enablement.

With chatbot automation, organizations can engage every buyer on their site in seconds, at any time, to guide them towards desired outcomes. But without it, productive selling becomes that much harder as sales teams have to manage multiple manual sales prospecting tools and repetitive processes that take time, resources, and focus away from the work that’s truly meaningful to the organization: selling.

  • 59% of sellers very frequently spend their time having to follow-up just to attempt to schedule sales meetings with net new buyers.
  • 43% of sellers say they’re frustrated most by a lack of automation or AI to replace manual, repetitive processes.

But automation on the sales side isn’t the only challenge that needs addressing. Because from repetitive online forms to a lack of immediate, remote, or digital self-service capabilities, sellers also believe their buyers’ frustrations stem from their limited ability to conduct independent research and gather resources online without disruption or friction.

  • 37% of sellers report that their buyers are frustrated by having to fill out repetitive online forms to get the resources and content they need.
  • 36% believe their buyers are frustrated by a lack of digital self-service options available to them.
  • And 28% believe that slow responsiveness or poor sales follow-up further impedes success.

Automation helps reduce the number of manual, repetitive processes that hinder an otherwise productive, well-functioning sales team including helping to qualify buyers, answer questions, or provide useful resources. And without it, sales is forced to spend less time actively selling and more time managing everything else.

Enabling the Digital Transformation of Selling with Conversational Sales

We’ve uncovered the impacts of digital transformation on B2B sales teams. And how changes in buyer habits, their preferred channels, and ways they engage online have forced sellers to rethink their sales approaches.

Now, in order for sales teams to find success in 2021 and beyond, they must reach and engage their buyers on their buyers’ terms.

Simply put, the sales landscape has shifted. And the power of Conversational Sales to give sales teams the tools they need to prioritize target accounts, be more productive, and win more business, faster, has never been more critical.

To learn more, you can access the FREE 2021 State of Conversational Sales here.

State of Conversational Sales