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Personal vs Personalisation. How to stay ahead of the changing B2B buying and selling evolution.

In a recent training session, a statement from a seasoned sales professional captured a deep-seated fear that’s simmering in the industry: ‘Wait, you just said people want personalisation, but you’re suggesting they don’t want me involved?‘ This wasn’t just a query; it echoed an underlying anxiety about the future of personal roles in B2B sales in an increasingly digital world.

The concern is real and palpable: as personalisation strategies become more prevalent, driven by data and technology, is there still a place for the human element?

Consider this: a McKinsey & Company study revealed that B2B companies embracing advanced personalisation strategies witness 5 to 15% higher revenue growth compared to those who don’t. The question then arises: does this trend threaten the role of traditional sales professionals?”

In the evolving landscape of B2B sales, ‘personalisation’ and ‘personal’ are two sides of the same coin, often perceived as conflicting. Personalisation is about using data and technology to tailor interactions to each client’s specific needs, creating a sense of individual attention in digital spaces. On the other hand, ‘personal’ embodies the human touch – the face-to-face meetings, the empathy, the ability to read and react to unspoken cues.

It’s understandable that in this digital shift, sales professionals might feel apprehensive about their role and relevance.

How this article aims to help you

This article aims to address these concerns, offering both reassurance and insights for the sales professional. We’ll explore how personalisation and personal connection can not only coexist but synergise to create a more effective and customer-centric B2B sales process.

Far from rendering the sales professional obsolete, we’ll argue that the digital evolution in sales strategies enhances and elevates the role of personal interaction. By embracing both these elements, sales professionals can adapt, thrive, and remain indispensable in a digital-first sales world.

Personal or personalisation – what does it all mean, anyway?!

Personalisation in B2B Sales: Personalisation has emerged as a critical component in modern B2B sales strategies. It refers to the use of technology, data analysis, and automated systems to tailor sales approaches to the specific needs and behaviours of a business or a decision-maker within that business. This approach is increasingly important, as evidenced by compelling statistics: recent research indicates that 72% of B2B buyers are only engaged by personalised content. This shift reflects the growing expectation for content that is not just relevant, but also highly specific to the individual buyer’s context and stage in the buying journey.

Personal in B2B Sales: On the flip side, ‘personal’ in B2B sales is about the human element of the sales process. Sales expert Anthony Iannarino highlights a crucial aspect of this element, noting that buyer’s remorse can be as high as 50% for those who kept a salesperson out of their buying journey.

This suggests that while buyers may initially resist the involvement of sales professionals, the value they add in terms of advice, expertise, and understanding cannot be understated. The ‘personal’ aspect includes building genuine relationships, understanding individual client needs on a deeper level, and tailoring interactions to create a meaningful human connection.

Joining the dots between personal and personalisation

The intersection of personalisation and personal elements in B2B sales is not only inevitable but also essential. While statistics show that 44% of B2B buyers prefer not to engage with a salesperson at all, the nuanced understanding and empathetic approach that human interactions provide cannot be fully replicated by automated systems. Personalisation techniques can lead a customer through the initial stages of the buying process, but the personal touch can play a pivotal role in final decision-making, offering reassurance and building trust.

Therefore, the challenge and opportunity for B2B sales professionals lie in seamlessly integrating these two approaches. By leveraging data-driven personalisation to attract and engage buyers and then employing the human touch to understand and address their deeper concerns, sales professionals can create a more effective, responsive, and customer-centric sales journey.

How did we end up here? A brief history of the evolution of B2B Buyers.

The landscape of B2B sales has undergone significant transformations over the years, evolving from traditional, relationship-driven methods to modern, data-driven strategies. Understanding this evolution provides context for the current state of personal and personalised approaches in sales.

  1. The Era of Relationship-Driven Sales: Historically, B2B sales were heavily reliant on personal relationships. In the pre-digital era, sales processes were predominantly face-to-face, with salespeople spending considerable time cultivating relationships with clients. This era was characterized by long lunches, golf outings, and a focus on building trust through personal interactions. Sales decisions were often influenced by the strength of these relationships rather than solely on product features or pricing.
  2. Introduction of Solution Selling: As markets became more competitive, the focus shifted slightly from relationship-based selling to solution selling in the late 20th century. This approach still valued personal relationships but began to incorporate a deeper understanding of customer needs, emphasizing customized solutions to specific problems. The salesperson’s role evolved to that of a consultant, using their understanding of the client’s business to offer tailored solutions.
  3. The Digital Revolution and the Rise of Personalisation: The advent of the internet and digital technology brought a significant shift. Businesses started to leverage online platforms for marketing and sales, reaching a wider audience more efficiently. With the proliferation of data and advanced analytics, personalisation began to take root. This era saw the use of CRM systems, email marketing, and later, AI-driven tools to analyse customer data and tailor sales approaches. Personalised content, targeted marketing campaigns, and automated communication became key strategies.
  4. The Age of Customer Centricity and Data-Driven Personalisation: In the current landscape, personalisation has become more sophisticated, driven by big data, AI, and machine learning. Companies can now analyse vast amounts of data to predict customer behaviour, personalize communication at scale, and offer solutions that meet very specific customer needs. This approach has led to more efficient sales cycles and a greater ability to target the right customers with the right message at the right time.


Read more about The Digital Impact on B2B Buyers

  1. The Synergy of Personal and Personalised: Despite the rise of digital tools, the importance of personal interaction has not diminished. Instead, there’s a growing recognition of the synergy between personal and personalised approaches. Data-driven insights help inform and enhance personal interactions, making them more relevant and impactful. At the same time, the personal element adds a layer of empathy and understanding that algorithms cannot replicate.

So how can a human sales professional stay relevant to a more informed and digital buyer?

As we look at the progression of B2B sales strategies, “The Challenger Sale” model emerges as a significant milestone, especially in the context of how human sales roles can adapt and remain relevant in the face of increasingly well-informed buyers.

Keeping Human Sales Roles Relevant

The Challenger Sale model, developed by Matthew Dixon and Brent Adamson, plays a crucial role in keeping the human aspect of sales not just relevant but vital. This approach is particularly effective in the modern B2B sales environment where buyers are often well-researched and may have a clear understanding of what solutions they need.

  1. Beyond the ‘Talking Brochure’: In an era where buyers can access vast amounts of information online, the traditional role of salespeople as information providers (often termed as ‘talking brochures’) is becoming obsolete. Challengers transcend this by bringing deep insights and perspectives that challenge the buyer’s status quo. They don’t just parrot brochure content; they provoke thought and offer innovative solutions.
  2. Supporting Well-Informed Buyers: The Challenger approach aligns well with the contemporary scenario where buyers are typically well into their purchasing journey before they even engage with a sales representative. Challengers leverage this by using their expertise to steer the conversation to areas where the buyer may not have expertise or insights. This approach turns the sales conversation into a valuable learning experience for the buyer.
  3. Tailoring and Teaching: Challengers excel in tailoring their communication to the specific needs of their clients and teaching them new ways to solve problems. This aspect is crucial for modern buyers who expect personalisation and value-addition in their interactions.


See more about The Challenger Sales and How to have an insightful B2B Sales Conversation on the Plan. Grow. Do. YouTube channel.

Challenges and Pitfalls of Ignoring Personalisation

  1. Inability to Engage Modern Buyers: Modern B2B buyers expect content and interactions tailored to their specific needs and interests. Ignoring personalisation can result in generic communications that fail to capture the buyer’s attention or address their unique challenges.
  2. Reduced Sales Effectiveness: Without personalisation, sales efforts can become less efficient. Sales teams may waste time on poorly targeted prospects or miss opportunities to cross-sell or up-sell effectively.
  3. Lower Conversion Rates: Generic sales pitches and content are less likely to resonate with potential customers, leading to lower conversion rates and a longer sales cycle.
  4. Losing Competitive Edge: In a market where competitors are likely using data-driven strategies, ignoring personalisation can put a company at a significant disadvantage.

Challenges and Pitfalls of Ignoring Personal Interaction

  1. Lack of Deep Relationship Building: While digital tools are efficient, they can’t fully replicate the trust and rapport built through face-to-face interactions. Neglecting personal connections can lead to superficial relationships that may affect client loyalty and retention.
  2. Missed Insights and Feedback: Personal interactions often provide deeper insights into a client’s needs and concerns, as well as immediate and candid feedback – nuances that might be missed in purely digital communications.
  3. Reduced Customer Satisfaction: Clients may feel undervalued or misunderstood without the human touch, leading to decreased satisfaction and potentially harming long-term business relationships.
  4. Difficulty in Handling Complex Negotiations: Complex deals often require nuanced discussions and negotiations, which are more effectively managed through direct, personal interactions.

The Need for a Balanced Approach

  • Risk of Over-Reliance on Data: While data is invaluable, over-relying on it without considering the human aspect can make interactions feel impersonal and robotic.
  • Losing the Human Touch: Excessive focus on digital personalisation can lead to a lack of genuine human engagement, which is vital in building trust and understanding.
  • Ineffective Use of Technology: Conversely, not leveraging available technology to personalize can lead to inefficient sales processes and a failure to meet customer expectations for tailored experiences.

Addressing the Emotional Concerns in B2B Sales Adaptation

In revisiting the emotional undercurrent of our opening discussion – the genuine apprehension expressed by a sales professional fearing the obsolescence of their role in an increasingly digital world – we find a crucial starting point for our conclusion.

This fear, while understandable, opens the door to a deeper understanding of the evolving landscape of B2B sales and the vital role salespeople continue to play.

Key Takeaways for the B2B Sales Professional:

  1. Acknowledging the Fear and Transforming It: The fear of becoming obsolete in the face of advancing personalisation technology is a natural response to change. However, it’s important to recognize this fear as a catalyst for growth and adaptation, rather than a prediction of obsolescence.
  2. The Complementary Nature of Personal and Personalised: Embracing both personalisation and personal connection isn’t just a strategy; it’s a response to the complex needs of today’s B2B buyers. While technology offers efficiency and relevance, the human touch provides understanding and empathy – elements that are crucial in forming lasting business relationships.
  3. Adaptation as an Opportunity: The changing landscape should be viewed as an opportunity to enhance one’s skillset. By understanding and leveraging personalisation tools, and combining them with the innate strengths of human interaction, sales professionals can elevate their role and value in the sales process.
  4. Embracing Continuous Learning: In an environment where change is constant, continuous learning and adaptability are key. This means staying informed about the latest trends in sales technology while also nurturing and refining the art of personal connection.

Encouraging Personal and Professional Growth:

Reflecting on the initial emotional concern shared, it’s important to understand that adapting to the evolving sales landscape is not just a professional necessity but also a personal journey. Embrace the challenge of balancing personalisation with personal connection as an opportunity to grow, both as a sales professional and as an individual.

As you apply these insights to your own B2B sales practices, remember that the journey involves navigating emotions – fear, uncertainty, excitement, and hope. The path forward is about harnessing these emotions to fuel your growth and transformation in the world of B2B sales.

In conclusion, let the initial fear expressed not be a harbinger of the end, but rather a motivational force driving you towards a more dynamic, empathetic, and effective sales approach. The future of sales is not just about adapting to change; it’s about leading it with your unique blend of personalised strategies and personal connection.

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