This is the second installment of a series of interviews conducted by Stephen Loynd of market intelligence firm TrendzOwl with Etienne Turion, CEO, Webhelp Enterprise Sales, regarding the B2B sales market in the United States.

Stephen Loynd, Principal Analyst, TrendzOwl:

After our last discussion, it’s hard not to conclude that B2B sales is in the midst of a revolution.

We’re seeing a fundamental behavioral shift in B2B buyers. As you pointed out during our prior conversation, there’s a rapid reduction in field sales and an accompanying shift toward inside sales. And according to Gartner, B2B services budgets are expected to increase in 2020, and the budgetary allocation for B2B marketing is poised to increase the most. This sets the stage for increased outsourcing of the B2B function in pursuit of bringing down costs while increasing performance.

Etienne Turion, CEO, Webhelp Enterprise Sales:

That’s indeed good news. But the nuances involved in B2B sales are many, and success isn’t guaranteed.

Consider the importance of self-service, for example. As we discussed last time, many organizations do their research online and then purchase online, many preferring not to interact with a sales rep as they decide what to purchase on their own. As such, much of the buying journey is complete before the first sales contact; sometimes, buying decisions may already have been made.

This means that while B2B sales reps are still necessary, the discussions they must have with prospects are often complex and require the ability to negotiate and show empathy. It’s a consultative sale. After all, in B2B sales, the customer is not a company per se, but rather an individual or group seeking to make their professional lives simpler through the purchase of a product or service. We must remember that. I think this is why Forrester, in a December, 2019, webinar, estimated that sellers’ engagement will increase by some 10% – even as more transactions close digitally!

Stephen Loynd, Principal Analyst, TrendzOwl:

I like how you’re making this discussion about people first.

Let’s talk a little bit more about your global team of 3,500 people (and counting). Webhelp Enterprise Sales has provided inside sales services since 2002, with a large number of B2B clients across sectors. Its multilingual services are available in 35 countries. You’ve got 1,500 people dedicated to the U.S. market.

So how do you instill this idea of a consultative approach across your entire organization?

Etienne Turion, CEO, Webhelp Enterprise Sales:

Great question. Because trust is everything in B2B sales, Webhelp believes in a “people first” paradigm that is client centric. Over the years, Webhelp has gone from a French company, to a European company, and now with our move into the United States, a truly global company. In the U.S., most of our clients are in the Bay Area and Seattle. In fact, 80% of our B2B portfolio is in the IT world with U.S.-based companies that include much of Big Tech. We’ve been a part of the American Association of Inside Sales Professionals (AAISP) for the past two years.

As for our salespeople – they are asked to consider the aspirations and challenges of those they are selling to. Obviously, these particulars will vary depending on the industry and job title of the prospect. Approaches and thought-leadership content aimed at clients are tailored to suit the person and situation at hand. Any truly effective B2B sales campaign makes clear how a certain solution or product can effect real change in the routine of the prospect. And sometimes, prospects learn how they might benefit from a product or service in unexpected ways, reinforcing the sales process.

In effect, we’re asking our people to care about the people they engage with.

An essential part of that process is asking the right questions, complemented by aggressive listening. Salespeople that have an authentic interest in learning about their prospects (oftentimes through social media) always perform at a higher level. True engagement with prospects can often mean allowing those prospects to drive the conversation, producing new insights into the customer in turn. It’s a way of bringing a certain creativity to enterprise sales.

Stephen Loynd, Principal Analyst, TrendzOwl:

What you’re describing is the central importance of people skills.

It makes me think of a recent number I saw in a headline. According to Forrester, 59% of buyers prefer to do research online instead of interacting with a sales rep because too often the rep pushes a sales  agenda rather than helps solve a problem.

Etienne Turion, CEO, Webhelp Enterprise Sales:

Absolutely. This is why Webhelp believes in challenging our people to become better, more empathetic, and to grow in every role. Emotional intelligence is key. You know, that same Forrester webinar that I mentioned earlier (from December, 2019) reported that 64% of B2B employees in a leadership role at “customer obsessed” companies say that their senior-level execs put themselves in the customers shoes! I love that idea of customer obsession.

Webhelp has found that the best B2B salespeople not only become deep subject matter experts, but they do it with an authentic conviction and passion that can surmount the skepticism that seems so prevalent in too many potential buyers today. In the eyes of a potential buyer, that kind of professionalism can be the difference between winning a contract or fading into irrelevance.

So at Webhelp, events and contests featuring both monetary and non-monetary incentives are organized each quarter to boost engagement and drive performance for everyone from telemarketers to advisors and team leaders. And constructive competitiveness is encouraged. Meanwhile, top performers’ best practices are often identified and shared with other advisors involved in a campaign through workshops, collective coaching sessions, and peer-to-peer coaching or training.

Stephen Loynd, Principal Analyst, TrendzOwl:

But how do you incentivize your salespeople specifically?

Etienne Turion, CEO, Webhelp Enterprise Sales:

Agents are provided visibility on any potential bonus that their performance could trigger and alerted to any performance gaps that might impact the next bonus threshold. At the same time, advisors’ bonuses rely heavily on their own performance and are fully aligned with the value drivers of the relevant contract. There is a detailed process to collect and prioritize opportunities for improvement on the frontline and within client management teams, as well as with business intelligence (BI).

Integral to that process is involving the frontline in solution design and the testing of processes; solutions are generated, discussed, selected, and documented with those frontline team members. Salespeople are a part of our success. Inevitably, leaders emerge.

Stephen Loynd, Principal Analyst, TrendzOwl:

These past few years I’ve talked a lot about how companies today need to be working with partners that are thinking about how quickly the future is arriving; because providers that are asking hard questions, and seeking real solutions to disruptive trends, will be prized. Providers need to be able to ponder how fast things are changing.

For example, what is on the technology horizon for customer engagement as it undergoes its own form of digital transformation?  What is the role of exponential technological change in customer engagement?  What will it mean to deliver truly immersive customer experiences in the future? It seems to me that your best people need to understand this theme of exponential change.

Etienne Turion, CEO, Webhelp Enterprise Sales:

There’s an inference in all those questions you posed, and it has everything to do with the blending of technology with the talent and promise of human beings!

In essence, the relationship between human beings and technology is being reinvented before our eyes.  Industries are changing, and companies would be wise to seek out strategic partners that understand that technology must be married with the talents of people in a way that makes sense. 

And when it comes to B2B sales, there’s no doubt about it – people and technology working in concert will boost this industry too as it approaches a turning-point. Forrester talks about how B2B marketing is now part of what they call an “AI-powered future.” That future is just about here, embedded in modern marketing technology. I look forward to digging into this theme in our next talk.

Summary: Pillars of Success

In summary, Etienne Turion emphasized how important it is to have a company philosophy that centers on people, and that rests on the following pillars (areas that every member of the Webhelp team can understand):

  • Attracting the best. Job ads use the correct key words and format so as to attract the best sales associates and differentiate from regular call center job ads.
  • B2B training is offered to people in relevant areas, from sales to soft skills.
  • Appreciating talent. A vigorous talent management policy pertains throughout the organization.
  • Retaining the best. The company has a specific salary grid for B2B positions (including bonus policy), allowing it to attract and retain the best talent in all required languages.
  • The working environment is adapted to B2B projects and designed to attract the best people (ie, large desks, second screen, laptops, break rooms, etc.).
  • Career path. The company has defined and communicated a specific career path for sales associates.

Next – Webhelp Enterprise Sales in the United States: Pursuing a Seamless Digital Experience through Technology with a Human Touch


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