Forty-one percent of customers say COVID-19 has significantly impacted their spend with B2B sales organizations, according to Gartner, Inc. which surveyed more than 600 B2B customers from November through December 2020. Only 18% indicated a spending increase of more than 10% since January 2020.
“Chief sales officers (CSOs) have long struggled to ensure their key accounts perform according to expectations – in fact, 53% of key customers purchased less than half of their supplier’s total offerings in 2020,” said Robert Blaisdell, senior director analyst in the Gartner Sales practice. “After facing a prolonged period of market disruption and conservative customer decision making, CSOs are looking for realistic growth revival strategies for 2021 and placing increased importance on their most strategic relationships. As a result, really nailing key account management in 2021 will be a top priority.”
Among four key recommendations presented by Gartner, CSOs are being urged to renew their focus on Value Proposition, communicating unique benefits that customers receive in return for investing the time and effort required to partner at a deeper, more strategic level. Gartner research shows that 79% of key customers who had a clear understanding of the benefits available to them from the relationship provided their supplier with benefits in return – including increased access to senior executives and more visibility into business strategy. Leading sales organizations reinforce the key account value proposition by embedding it in account plans, internal review sessions and joint planning discussions with customers.
Gartner also recommends that collaborative partnerships with customers as a means of driving further success. Sixty-nine percent of key customers who said they collaborated with their supplier to determine shared goals of the relationship found the supplier more effective in aligning its strategy with their objectives. CSOs should look to transform joint planning/performance reviews into more forward-looking sessions with active customer participation centered on improving the customer’s business outcomes.
Thirdly, with the rapid shift to virtual and digital engagement due to COVID-19, virtual buying is no longer perceived as a short-term trend – as a result, key customer engagements and interactions will evolve, too. Forty percent of key customers said they would prefer most or all of their post-pandemic interactions with suppliers to remain virtual. However, less than half (48%) agreed that their suppliers provided clear guidance on the best virtual touchpoints to use.
The researcher also recommends that companies reinforce the growth-focused role of the account manager. The survey indicates that only 7% of key customers view their account manager as a business-growth-focused advisor to their organization. CSOs are urged to ensure that their account managers are consistently engaged in improving business outcomes and providing proactive guidance to help customers identify and pursue their own goals.
The report underscores the ways in which business leaders need to adapt as well as to continue with current best practices.