An Analysis Of The Harvard Business Review Article That Deems Traditional B2B Sales Obsolete

B2B Sales

The Harvard Business Review (HBR) is an esteemed general management magazine owned and published by Harvard University. The HBR publishes a mere six articles per year, but that’s because they carry out extensive research and studies to formulate in-depth reviews about the most prominent business topics. 

Recently, they released a review that explores how traditional B2B sales are obsolete. Let’s take a look at how the HBR came to that conclusion. 

The Decade-Long Pursuit Of Sales And Marketing Integration

The HBR began the article by talking about the decade-long pursuit of sales and marketing integration. Fuelled by the fact that 77% of buyers considered their last purchase to be too complicated, B2B brands embarked on a mission to make the buyer journey as seamless as possible. 

To do so, companies have focused more on aligning metrics, data, and offering incentives programs – like you’ll find here – to move away from the traditional and linear approach that focused solely on transitioning from the marketing team over to the sales reps. These metrics, the HBR reports, have transformed the handover from marketing teams to sales reps who are armed with in-depth data that’ll allow them to meet the buyer’s needs from the off.

Digital B2B Buying

It’s no secret that the world has gone digital crazy – the Metaverse is the perfect example of just how digital we’re getting. The HBR reports that it’s the buyers that fueled the digital shift in the B2B industry that long lagged behind the B2C. They used the 2020 Gartner study as proof – highlighting how buyers are in touch with vendors only 17% of the time. They prefer to spend 27% of the time independently learning online and 18% independently learning offline. 

That highlighted an alarmingly small window for direct interactions and, therefore, a lack of opportunity to impact sales decisions. Thus, B2B brands have to allocate more time and resources connecting with buyers through ads and online content.

Multi-Channel Buying

Multi-channel buying is a massive opportunity across both the B2B and B2C industries. The HBR highlights how heavily buyers rely on digital information that helps them smoothly transition through the buying cycle. One survey looked at 1,000 buyers who reported using digital channels – especially the supplier’s website – with as much frequency as the supplier’s sales reps to get the information they need.

That highlights how buyers never wanted seller access in the first place and were perhaps contacting sales teams to gather the information they needed rather than to initiate a sale. Thanks to the growth of the internet, buyers can get all the information they need across multiple channels – thus, sales reps are slowly becoming obsolete.

A Rep-Free Experience

Staying along the lines of sales reps becoming obsolete, millennials and Gen Z’s dominate the B2B world and have single-handedly become the driving force behind the wish to cut out communication altogether. 54% of millennials that replied to a survey questioning rep-free sales actively sought out brands that could offer this, and 29% of baby boomers thought the same. 

The HBR went as far as to say this could be the “death of sales” – considering the current age-groups that dominate B2B sales want to handle things alone. Still, there’s no hiding from the fact that complex sales and resolutions do require some form of human interaction and communication between buyers and vendors – so the death of sales isn’t upon us just yet. 

Unified Commercial Engines

The HBR reported how the serial commercial engine that once served as a relatively accurate proxy for buying behavior is hopelessly outdated with today’s B2B buying habits. They highlighted how there is no single handoff period from marketing to sales and that buyers are both channel-agnostic and digitally dominant. 

What that means is there’s a constant shift between sales rep interactions and digital explorations. A buyer might contact a sales rep for information and then conduct their thorough research online – until a stakeholder becomes involved and they need to rethink and re-evaluate potential solutions to problems. All this happens with or without sales rep input.

All that means is a new approach needs to come to fruition to support evolving buyer needs and habits that rely less and less on a unified commercial engine. 

The HBR also went on to talk about future SMART technologies that seek to rectify the growing misalignment between how buyers shop and how vendors sell. All that published information highlights massive shifts in the entire B2B buying cycle and operations. It’s indicative of a shift towards a new era of B2B sales.