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Sales support in B2B: What modern salespeople really need and how they find it

Why is sales support so important? Well, it's very simple: there is no business without sales. Sure, marketing plays a crucial role in acquisition and the quality of the product is important for its long-term success. In the intermediate step, however, it is entirely up to sales to convince a potential customer in the long term and to transform it into an actual customer - this only works with an absolutely convincing presentation, which in turn requires that the salesperson is familiar with all the individual products in detail. And it doesn't stop there: He'll have to pick up customers in the future, give them top advice and maintain customer relationships. A mammoth task! So sales support is needed, but how?
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Best practice with LANXESS

Why is sales support so important? Well, it's very simple: there is no business without sales. Sure, marketing plays a crucial role in acquisition and the quality of the product is important for its long-term success. In the intermediate step, however, it is entirely up to sales to convince a potential customer over the long term and transform it into an actual customer. And it doesn't stop there: He has to give him top advice and also maintain customer relationships. A mammoth task! So sales support is needed, but how?

The manager in the specialty chemicals company's digital unit has been with LANXESS for around 10 years and has worked in various areas, including as a market analyst and business strategy manager. LANXESS is a company that was spun off from Bayer in 2004 and looks after customers from a wide variety of industries, especially in the B2B sector - chemicals and chemical substances are in it almost everywhere, from shoe soles to wallpaper to cars. The LANXESS digital unit is always on the lookout for new digital solutions and approaches for the company, with a view to new startups and big players alike. We asked Ifra Sall how sales work at LANXESS, what the challenges are and in what form sales support is important.

Classic sales cry out for sales support

“We have a lot of international customers,” he tells us. Sales work very traditionally, in other words, the salesperson usually drives to each customer personally. To do this, he often has to cover long distances and not infrequently to the farthest corners where the Internet doesn't even work - that alone is associated with all sorts of complications. In addition, many salespeople have been working at LANXESS for years, which is basically nice. Unfortunately, when older salespeople retire, their individual know-how and personal customer relationships go with them here and there, which means that business relationships that have existed for years suffer. The generation change and new technologies now bring with them a structural change and questions arise that need to be answered: How can sales become even more modern and flexible? How can it be ensured that individual knowledge is not lost, that salespeople have to travel less and are still networked with customers? In short: how and where can sales support be used to make work easier and increase efficiency? Ultimately, it must be ensured that the sales department knows the needs of its customers at all times so that it can understand where the problem is. In any case, digitization plays a major role here!

Sales support in digital solutions

In order to simplify processes, LANXESS is working on a digital transformation from all sides: new data / reporting systems and a sales app have been introduced, digital signatures are being established and major investments are being made in data analysis & science. Ifra Sall tells us that it is extremely important to realize the value of data. This can be illustrated using the example of a machine in production: If you can view and connect data, you can recognize potential problems in advance and can intervene quickly before errors in production or product quality even occur. Production processes can also be optimized and potentially high costs saved. While LANXESS initially concentrated very much on finding individual, problem-specific tools, today the focus is more on optimizing the overall process. In other words, it is questioned what is currently not running optimally and which solution could be suitable to increase efficiency. The processes in sales were a challenge that offered potential that could be solved digitally: Each of the business areas has hundreds or sometimes thousands of products. How can you expect a salesperson to know every single product like the back of their hand? An impossibility. It quickly became clear: There is a need here, sales support is needed here!

However, it is not always easy to quickly find the right solution that is also easy to implement. Ifra Sall is regularly out and about in the startup ecosystem to find out more and find suitable solutions, because there are often very innovative solutions that can also be shaped, which is very exciting for large corporations like LANXESS in the long term.

Three tips from Ifra Sall on how to find innovative solutions are:

  1. Online research as well as going to events and trade fairs and looking around.
  2. Contact Digihubs.

Either way, there is a chance to meet a startup that is working on exactly the innovation / solution that a company needs.

  1. Network and exchange ideas in your own industry. If you have a problem yourself, the chances are that other companies are struggling with exactly the same issue. And who knows, maybe there is already a solution that solves the internal problem. “Chemistry is a village,” says Ifra Sall with a laugh. Exchange is everything!

The Digital Product Selector as sales support

LANXESS also got to know FoxBase with its Digital Product Selector software solution. Through a contact with Henkel, the digital unit learned that there was an interesting software for sales support that shortened sales cycles and increased efficiency. At the latest during the pitch of FoxBase founder Benjamin Dammertz at ChemCologne 2019, Ifra Sall realized that LANXESS's needs and the Digital Product Selector solution are a perfect match; LANXESS has now been using the Digital Product Selector for around six months. Since then, a lot has changed for sales: There is no question that customers and salespeople reach their limits when they have to memorize thousands of products and product details or find the right one - but that is also not necessary if you use a system which makes up for this shortcoming. At LANXESS, the software solved the following problem: If the customer or the sales representative wanted to research detailed differences beforehand, they had to look for an application and then found a wide range of products. In order to have the exact differences clearly available and to be able to find the right product, it was necessary to look closely at each individual product and to identify differences in a laborious manner. Very “old school”, says Ifra Sall - it is probably superfluous to mention how much this process thirsted for efficiency.

And Sall found this in the Digital Product Selector. The tool supports salespeople in finding the right product for their customers with the help of an AI-based needs analysis. In the chemical industry, for example, salespeople are no longer looking for “a yellow pigment for a paving stone”, but for a product with certain characteristics such as heat resistance, flowability, particle size, and so on ... So the salesperson can specifically ask the customer and give him / her what they want come up with the best solution in just a few minutes. At the same time, the sales person gets to know the portfolio better and is considering new products in his recommendation instead of simply recommending the product he always recommends - only to end up with a complaint from a dissatisfied customer on his desk because it simply doesn't one hundred percent fits. For LANXESS, the Selector is a real support - for the employee as well as for the potential customer, who can find the best product much faster with the implemented software. But that's not what this is primarily about - anyone who wants to see the whole thing in practice can simply do so here to do. 😉

The example of LANXESS and FoxBase shows that in order to find the right sales support, you have to be open to digital solutions and keep an eye out for them. The greatest innovations are often found in the ideas of startups and it is always worthwhile for corporates and medium-sized companies to take a look. LANXESS itself is already working successfully with various startups in various corporate divisions. We asked Ifra Sall about the advantages and disadvantages of working together with startups and corporates and what he has learned from working together: “The agile way of working is definitely a big advantage,” he says. “Usually, with no other collaboration you get results as quickly as from startups.” These work according to the “proof of concept”, which means that they first develop a small solution, which is then continuously expanded. This makes it possible to test, to steer quickly in the right direction and to achieve big goals with a small budget. Ifra Sall sees disadvantages in the lack of internationality and, unfortunately, sometimes in the implementation when the going gets tough. Quite a few collaborations have already failed due to overestimation of the start-ups and their solution with regard to scaling. So, always be honest with what you can do, he advises. In order to achieve a common goal, it is important to establish a common expectation management. In addition, both sides have to learn to understand each other's way of working and find a good way of working: Of course, corporates work more slowly than startups, as there are many more decision-makers who have to approve certain steps.

One should be prepared for the fact that digitization will play a major role in the next few years, summarizes Ifra Sall. In addition, you shouldn't start digitizing your company blindly, but rather ask yourself what digitization actually means for the individual area. Where can digital tools and innovations provide sales support? It is important to weigh up risks correctly and to question them. At the end of the day, it means: Take control of your familiar patterns and resources, then digitization offers great opportunities to optimize processes in companies, make workflows more efficient and actually implement sales support.

You can watch the full live talk with Ifra Sall and Benjamin Dammertz here look at.

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