In a recent episode of Accenture’s XaaS Files podcast, I chatted with Jeff Laue, founder and CEO of global B2B sales firm N3. Accenture acquired N3 in late 2020, so I took advantage of having Jeff in-house to talk about the secrets behind growing and scaling their successful digital businesses. Jeff and I discussed many topics, but I’ve distilled this episode down to three key takeaways pertinent to leaders who are building in a digital world. They all center on change.

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B2B selling has changed for good. There's no going back.

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Some disruptive forces come in waves, having a huge—but temporary--impact before things get “back to normal.” We’re not in that scenario now. Instead, we’ve moved to a consumption-based as-a-Service model. I don’t see us ever going back to the traditional method of buying products and services.

Not only have we moved to a consumption model for good, we’re working with B2B buyers that are more educated than ever before. As Jeff put it: “We used to be the information source for our B2B buyers. Now we show up and 70% of the buyers have the solution already made up. They’re more up to date than the sellers most of the time; because they have more channels of information.”

Educated buyers do change how we sell, I agree with Jeff on that point, and I see it as a positive. Buyers are doing their homework and it’s up to us to really demonstrate value. Buying is more of a partnership than the traditional model was. I think that collaboration delivers a much better experience.

The pandemic forced companies to sell differently to these very educated buyers. Sales reps could no longer visit clients, so relationship-based selling became more complex. Text, chat, webinars, Zoom, Microsoft Teams—you lived it, I don’t need to tell you. Navigating a relationship solely in the digital realm is filled with nuances that face-to-face is not. Sales teams have had to learn new approaches.

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The factors for success have changes.

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When I asked Jeff which characteristics distinguish companies that have excelled during the past 18 months, he had a ready answer in terms of sales and marketing: “They’re agile and scalable.” He talked about how physical sales teams now have to integrate with digital sales teams and ecommerce channels to sell benefits and an experience rather than strictly solutions. And they needed to pivot quickly.

He also mentioned that the business proposition still reigned supreme, even if it was now happening through digital realms. It still had to be an interactive and collaborative dialogue.

Last, he talked about the importance of technology: “The most effective organizations that we’ve seen were leveraging platforms or were platform-based. They drove their models based on data insights.”

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It's not too late to build new, fit-for-purpose sales and marketing muscles to compete in this changed world.

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It’s easy to become discouraged when trying to keep up with the pace of change—as a former CEO, I know that well. When I asked Jeff for recommendations on how companies who have not kept up can begin to build the sales and marketing muscle they need for this new environment, he had plenty of suggestions. “First, do no harm,” he said. Meaning, build upon what is good—don’t just throw everything out the window for the sake of change.

“Secondly, we’re seeing a lot businesses turn to partners for outside help,” Jeff explained. He went on to say that businesses can benefit from engaging an outside partner to help with organizational change because it’s akin to “trying to rebuild the plane while you’re flying” when leaders handle it in-house.

Vision was the third factor to help build sales and marketing muscle. “We need a vision of how we intend to serve our customers and how that might need to change in this new world.”

And last, clear communications inside and out. Jeff mentioned that successful companies “sought clarity on what they were messaging” for different markets, doing a lot of A/B testing along the way to understand what buyers preferred. But, he also said they didn’t forget about internal communication with their people: “You should be listening and communicating to everyone in the organization as they’re having to change.”

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“First, do no harm.” Meaning, build upon what is good—don’t just throw everything out the window for the sake of change”

Jeff Laue, CEO N3

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Customer experience is top of the list

As we wrapped, Jeff summed it up nicely. In the end: “It’s about making sure that you create the right customer experience. It’s making sure that they are successful with a product [or service] . . and that they are getting the right business benefits.”

I couldn’t have said it better myself. Successful B2B selling and buyers have changed—but it’s not too late to catch up to the leaders. Building sales and marketing muscle in this new consumption-based as-a-Service world may feel different, but it involves many of the same core elements that used to spell success—from partnering, to vision, to communication. Even in a world rife with change, some business and people fundamentals stay rock solid.

Look for more insights from my conversation with Jeff in this space soon.

Disclaimer: This content is provided for general information purposes and is not intended to be used in place of consultation with our professional advisors. 

Copyright ©2021 Accenture. All rights reserved. Accenture and its logo are registered trademarks of Accenture.

Kevin Dobbs

Managing Director – Accenture Consulting

Vikrant Viniak

Managing Director - Accenture Strategy

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