B2B Sales Teams Turn to Collaboration Platforms to Navigate Today’s Complicated Sales Cycle

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We are two years into a pandemic with no end in sight. COVID numbers are off the charts and the constantly shifting return to office dates have been replaced with “we’ll get back to you.”

Faced with the reality of indefinitely working from remote locations, organizations continue to invest heavily in remote work technologies, most notably, remote collaboration tools like Slack, Zoom and Microsoft Teams. The meteoric surge of collaboration tool adoption during the pandemic signal a long-term shift in how people will work together in the future. Despite decades of languishing in niche applications, remote work finally caught on during the pandemic, reaching 250 million Teams users and over 300 million daily Zoom meeting participants. By now, even the laziest technophobes are comfortable using these new tools. Yet most users still are only using a small set of the tools’ capabilities.

We still have a long way to go to realize the potential of remote collaboration.

The Collaboration Platform Is Coming First to Sales

Salesforce and Microsoft recently announced their visions for the future of remote work tools, integrating today’s standalone collaboration tools into critical business processes via a new collaboration platform. This platform will provide a unified user experience for workers focusing on important business processes, regardless of how many underlying apps are needed to complete the operations.

Due to the high stakes inherent in the success or failure of a company’s sales efforts, it is natural that sales would be the first use case for advanced collaboration. And that process is already underway, albeit in crude, early stages. B2B salespeople today routinely chat with colleagues in Slack, but then they need to toggle over to Salesforce to update customer records, and then toggle over to email to communicate with their customer or prospect. The next step in the evolution of this process will be to merge these activities into one smooth workflow. Salesforce already put its money where its mouth is with its $27.7 billion purchase of Slack, signaling the importance it sees in integrating collaboration and messaging within the sales playbook.

As the collaboration platform develops, the pandemic/post-pandemic sales process continues to evolve. With face-to-face interactions with salespeople severely curtailed, customers now spend more time educating themselves about products. And while the added reliance on self-service might indicate a simpler buying process, the reality is quite different. Gartner reports the number of stakeholders participating in complex B2B sales is significantly increasing. Where 10 years ago, the average number of buyers involved in a sale was just five, today it is over 11, and occasionally reaches 20. Forrester Research corroborates these findings, noting that the number of B2B buying interactions during the pandemic have increased drastically, from an average of 17 to 27. McKinsey concludes that today “salespeople are as relevant as ever, but the sales process needs to adapt to address the changing needs of the buyer.”  While the current focus of next-gen collaboration platforms is to optimize sales resources through automation and AI, integrating the human factor is what will really move the sales needle. But what will that look like?

Related Article: Why Salesforce Really Bought Slack

Remote Work Intensifies the Power of the Team

Long before the pandemic closed down sales offices, former Yahoo Chief Solutions Officer and sales guru, Tim Sanders introduced the concept of dealstorming in his 2016 book of the same name. Dealstorming is a form of team brainstorming used “to solve significant sales challenges.” As a seasoned sales executive, Sanders understood the importance of teamwork in achieving high levels of sales. Sanders observes that “sales genius is a team sport. It was about all of us [on the sales team] in the room finding and solving problems as one.” Sanders developed dealstorming into a methodology that leverages the power of the team to achieve outstanding sales performance.

Dealstorming incorporates the following seven steps:

  • Qualifying the need for collaboration, balancing the size of the opportunity with the difficulty in delivering a solution.
  • Organizing the teams based on expertise and ability to contribute.
  • Preparing the teams with a deal brief that frames the sales challenge.
  • Convening the team into a collaborative engagement.
  • Managing the execution of the ideas with help from team members.
  • Analyzing the customer’s acceptance of responses.
  • Reporting the results to all team members.

Related Article: Bots, Automation and Workflow Are Primed to Advance Workplace Collaboration

2022: The Year of ‘Deal-Scrumming’

While Sanders focused on bringing together a team temporarily during high-risk stages of the sales process (and then disbanding the team), today’s remote sales process calls for an ongoing team effort to move B2B high-value and complex opportunities to closure — something I call ‘deal-scrumming.’

Essentially, deal-scrumming is intensive team engagement at key junctions along the sales process, leveraging members’ expertise and creativity to advance and accelerate the opportunity; particularly at decision points that are difficult to automate or model using AI. Gartner notes that while sales reps are no longer the [only] channel … “sales reps and specialists … will play a more prominent role navigating self-learning customers toward more confident decisions.” Particularly for high-value, complex sales, deal scrumming will be the next important business methodology to adopt. 

Collaboration Platforms Enable Deal-Scrumming

Next-gen collaboration platforms enable deal-scrumming by connecting business teams and customers, suppliers and partners. Humans will continue to drive important business processes, but now they will be supported by a new generation of automation/AI technology. It will start with sales, but look forward to more business cases to follow.

David is a product expert with extensive experience leading information-intensive technology organizations. His specialty is helping organizations “do it right the first time”— get to market quickly and successfully through a structured process of working closely with design partners from day one.

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