• May 17, 2022

Gartner Urges Rethinking Customer Understanding, Engagement, and Operating Models at CSO Conference 

Sales leaders looking to cultivate adaptable sales organizations should rethink their current sales efforts across customer understanding, customer engagement, and operating models, Gartner analysts stressed today at their 2022 Gartner CSO & Sales Leader Conference.

During the opening keynote, several Gartner analysts maintained that redesigning customer understanding, customer engagement, and operating models can increase commercial performance and engagement by as much as 20 percent in terms of quota attainment

"From virtual selling to inflation, the pace of unrelenting change has had a massive impact on B2B commerce," said Scott Collins, managing vice president in the Gartner for Sales Leaders Practice. "In addition to being complex, it's also highly variable and unpredictable, placing each of these three dimensions under pressure.

"The majority of reps are also burned-out. 2022 is the third straight year of working primarily in a reactionary mode while trying to maintain a steady stream of business in an otherwise unsteady world," he added.

Increasing customer understanding will require a comprehensive view of customers' buying activities, giving sellers new insight into buying dynamics they otherwise can't see, according to Gartner.

At the same time, B2B buyers are expanding to include new personalities, each with a new set of questions and challenges. The result is unexpected, highly situational levels of complexity for sellers and customers, with nearly 90 percent of sellers reporting that they are frequently required to respond to unexpected changes in the deals they do, according to a recent Gartner survey.

"The traditional buyer journey maps and playbooks previously relied on for customer understanding are now little more than an approximation of what a customer truly goes through," Collins said. "For sellers, trying to diagnose real customer purchase progress feels like trying to fit a square peg into a round hole."

Another Gartner survey found that 72 percent of customers said they'd prefer a rep-free experience, citing a perceived lack of seller relevance in achieving their specific objectives. "With so much information available to customers digitally, sellers are no longer THE channel to customers but A channel to customers," Collins said.

Gartner recommends empowering sales reps to diagnose and adapt to customers' unique contexts and then identify creative, tailored ways to advance deals customized to them.

Progressive sales organizations today are also turning to technology, like customer sentiment tracking, conversation intelligence, and pipeline data, to fuel adaptability, the research firm suggests.

But still, many sellers describe their organizations' leadership as"overly optimistic and disconnected" from day-to-day selling reality, resulting in an approach focused on activity metrics and standardized sales plays that fall short of true customer engagement./p>

To move away from this, Gartner analysts recommended that sales organizations use the following three tactics to reduce purchase complexity and increase customer confidence:

  1. Customer verifiers: Specific, objective, observable customer behaviors designed to track customer buying group progress along their purchase journeys.
  2. Buyer enablement: Guiding customers step-by-step through complex buying processes so they become more confident to make large-scale purchase decisions.
  3. Sense making: Helping customers organize, prioritize, and analyze all of the information they're likely to encounter along purchases to draw better conclusions.

"The real magic happens when these tactics are applied in a highly contextual manner specifically tailored to customers" needs in the moment," said Alice Walmesley, director of advisory in the Gartner for Sales Leaders Practice. "To achieve that level of accuracy in customer engagement, sales leaders are turning to emerging technology as a critical enabler, such as real-time emotion detection and AI."

As the modern customer goes back and forth between digital and human-led sales interactions, adaptable commercial organizations need to move seamlessly between both channels, Gartner also recommends. This will require aligning operating models into a single, unified organization so reps get the support they need to ensure customers are funneled through all channels seamlessly and transparently.

"Effective B2B selling has become a team sport, one in which the entire commercial team— human (sales) and digital (marketing)—effectively represents a single face to the customer," Collins concluded. "With time, it's possible more companies will eliminate the distinction between sales and marketing altogether."

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