Recasting B2B sales operating models for the digital age

by Marty Nicholas

B2B sales operating model design was once a relatively straight-forward task, driven largely by organisations thinking inside-out about their market and customer growth opportunities. Segments were often defined based on simple thresholds of current customer value. Businesses tended to organise themselves around traditional channel capabilities. Customer portfolios and resourcing decisions were configured based on mathematical assumptions about contact frequency or service intensity. Sales roles were formed on an individual (versus distributed) perspective of who was directly accountable for relationship management. Marketing supported, but lead generation was the domain of entrepreneurial salespeople.

Then everything changed!

Buyers, empowered by the rise of digital channels and the proliferation of information online, educated themselves about solutions and vendors, taking control of the purchasing process. In response, B2B enterprises started the long and complex shift from push, to pull-based marketing and sales models that facilitate buyer journey progression. Along the way, most have invested heavily in building new channels and customer-centric ways of working, introduced new customer engagement technology, better integrated marketing and sales functions and built new digital, data and content capabilities to service today’s more discerning and sophisticated buyer.

But the investment era doesn’t last forever. For the first time in the last 3-4 years, many B2B sales organisations are wrestling with how to execute cost-out operating model change without impairing the customer experience or the organisation’s right to grow. If you’re facing this predicament, we recommend that you think about tacking the following four steps.

Key takeaways 

The art of B2B sales operating model design is reduced to a more accurate science when choices are made based on a more thorough understanding of market growth opportunity, how your target customers actually buy, their channel preferences and how efficiently you’re allocating resources to each channel, today. Whenever the cost-out agenda becomes more prominent, what typically suffers is the organisation’s customer-centric ambition and willingness to invest in multi-channel capabilities that support both a lower-cost operating model and an enhanced customer experience. Leaders can negate these risks by running an evidence-based process that quantifies the pools of over-investment in today’s go-to-market model that can be either reinvested to better effect or address immediate cost-out pressures.