Publishing flexibility
Customizable search and product sharing tools
Actionable information for your customers and sales team

A year since it started and despite increasing optimism, promising results from vaccines, and a gradual relaxing of restrictions, the pandemic continues to upend daily life for B2B sales reps, operations teams and distributors. Trade shows have been cancelled. Supply chains and manufacturing have been disrupted. Travel continues to be curtailed.

With over 42 percent of U.S. employees now working from home full time, creative companies and their sales teams have found ways to work effectively in this challenging situation.

Web-based eCommerce has hit new heights, but the pandemic has also accelerated sales teams into a new age of remote-based sales. Per McKinsey: “ self-serve and remote rep interactions are likely to be the dominant elements of the B2B go-to-market model going forward.”

Manufacturers and distributors must ensure they have the right tools in place to adapt to this rapidly changing environment. B2B sales tools should include both online tools for customers and tools specifically designed for sales teams. These are distinct applications, but have features in common.

It’s important to distinguish B2B selling tools like web-based eCommerce from marketing websites. B2B sales solutions should prioritize serving people who know what they’re looking for. They should help customers quickly and easily find the right product to match their needs and to make good buying decisions, rather than focusing primarily on projecting brand image and gathering marketing data. The mission of effective B2B sales tools is to enable quick drill-down to the short list of products that the customer needs or is looking for - whether as a rep or self-serve customer - and then provide the detailed information needed to make purchase decisions.

In many industries sales reps remain essential for providing service and guiding customers toward sales success. Due to the pandemic, sales teams are increasingly replacing at least some of their face-to-face sales meetings in favor of using Zoom and other remote meeting services. Well designed B2B sales software enables them to do this easily. For businesses that are considering or have already implemented integrated software solutions for sales reps and customer sales portals, the path to success can be a short one. However while some distributors adopted these tools prior to the pandemic, too many still rely heavily on information scattered across websites, paper catalogs, price lists, and other documents stored in services like Dropbox. This makes it difficult or impossible for inside and outside sales teams to efficiently conduct online sales presentations.

Connecting your workforce via a comprehensive and integrated suite of B2B sales tools can revolutionize both the effectiveness of your sales team and how your ops team controls data -- especially in the midst of implementing remote working policies. Here are three important features to look for in both your eCommerce solutions and B2B sales tools. These will enable you to equip your team to sell both online and offline, and your customers to purchase more effectively.

Publishing flexibility #

Not everyone needs access to all of your products and product information. For operations teams supporting both customers and internal and multi-line sales reps, curating which product catalogs, products, product information, and pricing to share with each type of user can be a difficult, or at best a time-consuming job. You need flexibility to customize the information published to your specific product and company requirements. At the very least, your sales platform should enable you to:

  • Tailor product selection, pricing, product information, sales collateral and other important details to specific types of users
  • Set permissions to limit what users can do in your applications (e.g. discounting, overriding customer pricing)
  • Flexibly classify products the way your customers expect to search for them
  • Publish product specs with as many custom fields as needed, including links to web hosted materials like spec sheets, product videos, installation instructions and 3D renderings
  • Provide both current and future product availability in as many different locations as needed, or limit to locations specific to the customer’s or rep’s region
  • Organize all pertinent information in one place for quick decision making at a glance, including product photos, dimensions, availability, next availability date, and detailed product information.

Customizable search and product sharing tools #

Your B2B sales software should enable customers and sales teams to quickly find the right product for their needs, make good buying decisions, and share product information with others. When you narrow those specific needs down, your sales tools should enable you to do the following:

  • Define custom filters specifically for your products and customer needs and enable users to apply more than one filter at a time
  • Enable product search that includes not only SKU numbers and descriptions, but also keywords of your choosing
  • Publish detailed product descriptions, product specific specs, links to product videos, spec sheets and installation guides
  • Easily identify best selling and in-stock products to drive sales and turn inventory faster
  • Publish special promotions and other product lists to both the customer and rep platforms
  • Share sales collateral or special deals to keep customers informed
  • Share product information with customizable email templates, customizable tear sheets, and customizable PDF presentations

Actionable information for your customers and sales team #

Finally, here’s a riddle for you. What’s one thing that can increase customer satisfaction, reduce customer service overhead and increase sales? The answer is actionable information based on global company sales data. B2B sales tools should provide both sales teams and customers with easy access to the historical and current sales information they need to work efficiently and make informed decisions.

Your B2B sales toolbox should include dashboards and reports that enable management and reps to analyze sales or customers to quickly check order status, track shipments, reorder, and get their questions answered without resorting to calling customer service.

Most importantly, a good sales portal should support uploading global company sales data, not just orders written through the integrated sales tools. All order and invoice data from all sources for at least a two year period should be available within a few clicks. It should provide your sales team with:

  • Computer generated product recommendations specific to a selected customer based on the customer’s purchase preferences and territory sales trends
  • Business intelligence dashboards showing top products, customers, categories, etc.
  • Year-over-year sales by customer - to quickly identify opportunities and threats
  • Ad-hoc sales reporting

Additionally, it should enable your customers to:

  • View dashboards, check order backlog status and delivery schedules
  • Check A/R status and other customer specific information published at your company’s discretion
  • Track shipments, confirm delivery, reprint invoices
  • Quickly reorder frequently ordered items

The jury is still out on the full impact that COVID-19 will have on the world of B2B sales, but one thing is clear. Adopting the right B2B sales software is a critical step to staying in sync across your B2B business. Look for an integrated solution that does all of the above. This will equip your company for successful sales, whether online, remote, or in person and future-proof your business for the next major economic disruptor.