B2B Sales Trends: Customer Experience, Automation and the Impact of Technology

B2B sales is essential to business growth and over the past few years, sales teams have been inching toward digital transformation. Progress was slow and steady—until the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the digitization trajectory. Now, there’s no turning back.

As B2B sellers prepare to manage more deals in a remote environment, they’re making changes quickly, adopting new technology and making strategic moves to modernize. 

A new research report from DocuSign surveyed more than 750 sales professionals to examine the rapidly evolving state of selling processes and priorities. The data revealed key sales trends, including the growing use of technology to deliver better customer experiences, how successful sales teams adapted to remote selling and the need to digitize and automate the contract process. 

Here’s a preview of some of the key findings:

The state of B2B sales

Adjusting to remote operations was difficult for B2B sales teams and it had a noticeable impact on their ability to hit targets. In years past, a significant majority of B2B sales teams exceeded their targets, but in 2020, only 20% did so. This suggests that there’s plenty of potential for teams to improve how they are operating and closing deals in a more digital and remote selling environment.

In addition to the challenge of navigating virtual work, sales teams had to grapple with long-standing hurdles over the past year like cross-departmental collaboration. The research found that sales operations, for example, is not only the most common collaborator for B2B sales teams, but also the most challenging group for sales to work with. The relationship that B2B sales teams have with the legal department is complex as well—this is particularly problematic given that any large deal generally requires legal involvement, making effective collaboration absolutely essential.

Despite the tumult of 2020 and the challenges it magnified, sales teams continue to use revenue as their top KPI, though quota attainment and profitability were also considered important. Notably, sales teams don’t rely heavily on win rate as a key metric, even though it can be a proxy for sales effectiveness and competitive standing.

Top KPIs for B2B Sales Teams

Evolving B2B sales priorities

When the COVID-19 pandemic forced companies around the world to pivot to remote operations, just 22% say they were very prepared. Now, sales leaders are focusing on modernizing processes with technology to adjust to the new remote selling environment. This shift coincides with a significant change in priorities, too.

Unlike in past surveys where customer experience and digital transformation ranked as very low priorities, this year’s research found that customer experience is king. It’s the top priority across companies around the world and 67% say it will become even more of a priority in the next five years. 

Priorities of B2B Sales teams over the next five years

  Will become MORE of a priority No change Will become LESS of a priority
Digital transformation 72% 22% 5%
Improving the customer experience 67% 28% 5%
Improving quality and volume of leads 66% 28% 5%
Maximizing selling time 66% 29% 6%
Closing more deals 65% 27% 7%

Driven by these new priorities, sellers and buyers are getting more comfortable with remote sales. They’re also starting to see extra value in flexible selling workflows. McKinsey found that 75% of sales teams say remote engagement is at least as effective as traditional in-person sales, compared to only 54% early in the pandemic. This mindset is pivotal, since remote selling will only become more important for sales teams that want to continue to win.

Technology’s role in transformation

As B2B sales teams consider new technology investment, it’s critical to acknowledge that investment alone is not enough—success is determined by how technology is implemented and used. DocuSign’s research shows that despite overwhelmingly self-identifying as “innovators,” respondents struggle to unlock the potential of their technologies—93% of B2B sales teams are not fully utilizing their tools. However, proper implementation of more intuitive solutions can overcome challenges such as poor integration, training and ease of use.

Reasons why B2B Sales teams underutilize sales software

Looking more closely at the actual tools that sales teams use, CRM is the most common technology (used by 53% of sales teams), leaving significant room for growth. Teams also rely heavily on sales analytics tools and performance management technology. There is, however, opportunity for them to better leverage other technologies like quote management (CPQ), electronic signature and contract lifecycle management (CLM), especially as the volume and the complexity of deals grows.

The impact of technology on sales contracting

Within the sales process, one process that’s in dire need of a transformation at many companies is contracting. The volume of contracts that most teams deal with is significant—80% of sales teams execute over 500 contracts a month, according to Forrester research commissioned by DocuSign. DocuSign’s research shows that the value of B2B sales contracts is significant, too: 87% of contracts are over $10K in value, 44% are over $100K and 23% are over $1M. As this value grows, it becomes even more important for sales teams to execute flawlessly and provide a seamless, efficient customer experience.

Using automation, CLM platforms can alleviate the complexity of generating, negotiating, signing, acting on and storing sales contracts. Simply put, CLM delivers a more efficient end-to-end contract process, which results in a much better customer experience. Today, however, less than 10% of sales teams have fully automated any part of the sales contracting process—leaving room for sales teams to get an advantage. 

Ultimately, the disruption caused by COVID-19 was a wake up call—change is always around the corner and organizations have to be ready. DocuSign’s detailed research explores current trends, the role of technology and what leaders are changing based on future expectations. The insights should be relevant to any sales organization looking to adapt to an ever-changing future.

For more detailed data on the state of B2B sales, key trends and future expectations, download DocuSign’s B2B Sales Trends Report.

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