For consultants over the last couple of years, it’s been a diabolical time and the never-ending questions from constant change have been;
“Are we doing hybrid events? Are we not?”
“How do I sell when clients keep delaying their decisions to buy?”
“How can I stay connected with customers if I can’t meet with them and other than just emailing them”?
How do I maintain trust, credibility, and influence when they’re in an uncertain and evolving landscape?
Yes, B2B marketing and sales continue to evolve.
The Context Consultants Are Playing In
According to Salesforce, over the last 12 months, more than 90% of organisations’ marketing B2B departments said that they have changed their digital strategy. Coming into 2022, we are at a time where we are still in uncertain times, obviously with Covid-19 and its many variants, but according to experts like former deputy chief health officer Dr Nick Coatsworth by the end of this year, the pandemic will come to an end and certainly optimism from the top 60 CEOs in Australia has highlighted that they expect this year to be another year of growth.
Overall, the good news is for those doing B2B marketing selling in the consulting space, we’re heading into an optimistic year, but we need to be mindful that there will be constant changes and some interesting nuances for Australia.
According to Forrester Research, Australia will not adopt the work-anywhere approach as much as other countries around the world with just 40% of APAC firms predicted to pivot compared to 70% globally. One of the reasons why fewer APAC firms will make the shift is due to the region’s large manufacturing and contact centre industries, which typically require a stronger physical presence in their facilities.
Interestingly around 65% of knowledge-based workers are keen to return to the office due to finding a lack of productivity at home during the pandemic.
“In 2022, after nearly two years of reactively responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, firms in Asia Pacific will finally be able to proactively address changing customer and employee expectations,” said Michael Barnes, vice president and research director at Forrester.
“Too few, however, willfully pivot from the current health crisis to the looming climate crisis. Business leaders must adapt to this new reality, laying the groundwork for bold decisions.
“Creativity, resilience, and agility — fuelled by strong customer understanding and smart technology investments — will separate leaders and laggards, no matter the industry.”
What This Means For Consultants Marketing and Selling B2B in 2022
What does this mean for you if you are trying to work with organizations and continue to market and sell your programs and your services? Well, here are the top five things that I think you need to be doing.
1. Return on investment with video personalisation. Every year for the last 4 years video in some form has got a mention. Last year I talked about the growth of personalised video. However, this year, we had an interesting case when working with a client. They tested out a whole lot of video marketing and personalization and not a single person opened the video. It was really unusual compared to every other buyer persona we’d worked with. The same process had been used with multiple different markets, but with her particular market, it didn’t work. We realised that her market engages quite differently and they prefer personalised SMS over video.
So, the new challenge is making sure that any personalization efforts are getting a return on investment. And the challenge that’s happening is people are doing video, but not really tapping into the empathy that’s required to get the return on investment of those personalized videos. So tapping into the customer problem set, as opposed to, “Hey, buy my thing.” So it’s taking more diligence in really understanding, not just by personas, but right down to the individual person who is opening the message.
2. Digital proposals and brochures. These have been around for some time. However, there are some good competitors coming into the market that seems to be quite good for different size practices and consultancy firms. So, if you look at platforms like Proposify and Pandadoc the pricing sometimes can be tough on a practice early in their game. Prospero can be a good option for consultants just starting out.
After doing a lot of testing, a standout is Qwilr. What I like about Qwilr is it has a dynamic pricing tool in it and so if you send that out to a client, they can change the variables on it themselves. For example, if they think they might have 20 leaders to go through your leadership program and it changes to 15 they can see the pricing change themselves without having to go backwards and forward with you.
Qwilr is also a bit more competitively priced than some of the others. I think it looks really professional, easy to use and I think the pricing’s quite good. We’ve found that digital proposals can help close deals about 30% faster in some cases. Whilst in the past I have spent more time ensuring our clients get their copyright I’ll be spending more detail and time on the digital documents this year.
3. Digital Self-Service. According to Gartner’s latest research, we know that only 17% of the B2B sales process is actually involved in having that meeting itself. There are a lot of other things that happen around that, that lead a buyer to making a decision. A big one is that 27% of the time clients spend in the buying process is doing their own research and building trust, credibility and answering the question “do we want to work with you?”. They’re validating you against other people and, “Will our teams have a great experience, what do your testimonials say on Google as opposed to just what you’re showing us?”
They like some space to do research in their own time. They don’t have to try and schedule time with you, they don’t have to travel and it’s safer.
With less than 30% of buyers wanting to have face to face sales meetings again in future, it’s time to adjust to digital. And digital is not just about sending a PDF of your proposal. Digital self-service is about, “How can I help this customer through the process while I’m not in the room and how can I help them to serve themselves.” So that means being really explicit, over-communicating and making sure that you are digitally walking the customer through the buying process, as 99% of them want to do it self-serve style.
4. Unique and Insightful thinking. In a world of content consumption, it’s easy-to-buy, off-the-shelf, ready-made content or AI content done for you, it’s easy to just “farm out the thinking”, but when dealing with organisations spending thousands and into the millions of dollars, buyers in organisations are looking for those who can show deep insight, empathy and understanding of their problems. According to a recent survey of C-suite executives and buyers, more than half of C-suite executives say they spend more time-consuming thought leadership than before the pandemic began and over 50% of those buyers spend more than 1 hour per week reading thought leadership.
Thought leaders are not easily replaced. Your thought leadership, your ideas, and your expertise is now at the fore more than ever. Simply pumping out content, creating noise and not necessarily engaging people is really not going to cut it. In the consulting world where you’re selling the invisible, you are now being called to really go deep in your thinking and articulate it define your value. You need to be really coming up with the ideas to solve the complex challenges they have. You are the one typically who is going to be in these meetings with these clients and if they’re going to be investing a lot of money. They are not buying $50 T-shirts. If you want them to spend the volume of money that is needed to solve their problems, they want to make sure they know who they’re dealing with, what their thinking is, the outcomes that they’re going to get and the ROI that’s going to be provided. As the old adage says “price is only an issue in the absence of value”. Are you an expert in the problem they’re trying to solve? have you written a book, are you speaking at conferences a whitepaper or other collateral to spell out your thinking? It’s time for you to do work on that value and demonstrate it.
5. From Client-Centric to Community-Centric service models. Every practice I’ve spoken with knows they have to remain customer-centric and the process usually involves a streamlined customer journey from before, during and after the sale. The challenge with that is that whilst it logistically makes sense, it’s what suits the process for the business, not the customer. It forgets their need to belong and not be treated as a transaction. In her book “The Forever Transaction, Robbie Kellerman Baxter discusses the membership economy and that the sales transaction itself is the starting line, not the finish line. Having a community mindset and creating a customer-centric consultancy practice can be quite challenging because what it means is, a person who is involved in delivery needs to have a sales mindset and a marketing person also needs a delivery mindset.
So they need to be able to say, “Okay, well, I’m here to deliver this program, but I notice that they are struggling with this,” or, “I notice that they perhaps need some help with that,” and to involve them in relationship management processes in the practice so that everybody has a focus on the community and the tribe, as opposed to just delivering what is on my task list.
My wish for you is that you have a super successful 2022 and that your sales and marketing processes support you and that you’re able to evolve, adapt, and drive and lead the conversation with your clients and show them the way. Give them the certainty that they’re needing and they’re looking for. As Seth Godin would say “we’re waiting for you to lead us”.
There’s a great opportunity to really work with people who have an optimistic mindset this year and show that you’re able to adapt, to be able to be flexible. Things will be uncertain at times, but we’re coming into a positive shift and I wish you every success in the year ahead.
I’d love to know what your focus is on to grow your practice in 2022.