Reimagine B2B sales for the COVID-19 Rebound

How investment in Configuration Lifecycle Management (CLM) provides a foundation for digitizing and scaling B2B sales

The impact of COVID-19 this year is causing many sales organizations to reconsider their strategies and plan for what comes next. COVID-19 has utterly changed how business is done, but there also lies opportunity amongst the challenges. For sales teams selling complex products, the current situation provides an opportunity to lay the foundation for a more agile and lucrative future and to reimagine B2B sales.

Earlier this year, Boston Consulting Group (BCG) proposed four steps that sales leaders can take to turn the COVID-19 crisis into an opportunity[1]. BCG refers to the four steps as “The Four R’s of the B2B Sales Response”:

  • Respond by engaging immediately with, and stabilizing, sales
  • Reflect on the fluid situation
  • Reimagine sales to regain momentum
  • Rebound by pivoting sales so that their teams can win when the crisis ends

The following diagram shows the actions that BCG recommends in each step.

If we look at the last two steps regarding sustained, longer-term impact, we can see some recommendations that demand an investment that can have been deprioritized in the past due to lack of time or resources, but could separate the winners from the also-rans of the future.

For example:

  • In the “Reimagine” step, BCG recommends that sales leaders “digitize your go-to-market strategies” by rebuilding the data foundation, updating offerings and pricing and tracking trends to execute in an agile way
  • In the “Rebound” step, BCG recommends to “scale e-commerce, digital sales and inside sales” using joint marketing and sales tactics based on artificial intelligence and machine-learning capabilities for pricing

B2B sales disruption underway before COVID-19

When considering these recommendations, it would be natural to focus on existing digital solutions, such as CRM. However, it would be a mistake to consider COVID-19 as a pause in “business as usual” and that B2B sales of the future will resemble those of today.

While COVID-19 is a disruption, market trends were already underway before COVID-19 that will disrupt B2B sales requiring a change in how complex products are sold and serviced. It is therefore important to take these trends into consideration when taking steps to reimagine and rebound as BCG proposes.

In our recent whitepaper: “How to Simplify the Selling of Complex Products” [download here], we explored the challenges of selling complex products. In the whitepaper we noted the following trends that were already underway before COVID-19 struck:

  • Customer needs are becoming more sophisticated with a greater demand for personalization and customization
  • B2B sales are now omni-channel as customers are more digitally aware and capable of researching solutions long before contacting salespeople
  • Complex products often lead to complex sales and pricing, which can pose pricing coordination challenges across multiple channels

These trends directly affect how the “reimagine” and “rebound” steps are implemented.

Future B2B sales success requires cross-functional collaboration

In addition to the four steps proposed above, BCG also recommends the establishment of a cross-functional team to “identify, prioritize, pilot and scale longer-term digital initiatives”. This is an important recognition of the fact that digital transformation initiatives, whether they are driven by a need to improve sales or production, cannot be implemented in isolation. As customers are becoming more digitally adept and more demanding, they require access to as much digital insight and information as possible to help them in their sales process. Ensuring that this information is reliable, up-to-date and available to whatever sales channels the customer chooses to use is now essential.

For example, digitizing go-to-market strategies demands solutions that have the sophistication to handle personalized customer demands across multiple sales channels including digital sales channels. For complex products, this often means offering more choice and variety, but this can introduce its own challenges. The options that are possible to offer to customers can result in thousands, and in some cases millions, of potential product, pricing and delivery combinations that need to be managed. This can pose serious challenges for existing digital sales tools.

Scaling e-commerce, digital sales and inside sales is therefore challenged by the scale of potential complex product combinations. But scaling is also challenged by omni-channel sales and ensuring coordination of pricing and availability of product options across multiple channels. Trying to manage this complexity manually can result in a number of issues.

For example, pricing for sales in both B2B and partner channels for all possible product combinations and options can lead to pricing discrepancies and channel conflicts. This can not only lead to disgruntled customers, but also disgruntled channel partners.

BCG recommends the use of artificial intelligence and machine-learning capabilities for pricing, but this is only part of the solution. The real underlying issue that needs to be addressed is the complexity of product options that need to be managed where price is just one of the options in play.

Ensuring future B2B sales success with Configuration Lifecycle Management

This is where Configuration Lifecycle Management (CLM) solutions provide a compelling foundation for addressing the challenges of selling complex products.

A CLM solution is focused on managing the complexity of product options and combinations providing a ‘single source of truth’ on what is possible and what is not possible to offer to customers in real-time. The scope of the solution can be limited to the sales organization, where the focus is on product variants, pricing and delivery options or it can be extended to provide an end-to-end source of real-time product configuration information that is shared between engineering, production, sales and service functions.

The main benefits of a CLM solution, such as Configit’s Sales Configuration solution, is that it provides reliable information on what is possible to deliver to customers right now. The Sales Configuration solution is based on Configit VT® technology, which is capable of scaling to millions of product combinations and provides insight in real-time without delay. This provides the sales organization with an agile and responsive tool with up-to-date information on which options can be offered to customers at any given time.

Using Configit’s Sales Configuration solution, a single source of truth on product configurations, pricing and delivery options is established that can be used to feed multiple sales channel solutions. This means that product options offered on an e-commerce website are the same as those offered through partners as well as those offered in direct sales situations. Rules can be established to ensure that pricing and terms are coordinated and adjusted across channels and geographies automatically ensuring that no channel conflicts emerge.

Using a CLM solution like Configit’s Sales Configurator provides a reliable foundation for supporting the “reimagine” and “rebound” steps recommended by BCG. It provides the basis for not only digitizing go-to-market strategies, but also scaling sales in all sales channels. But, more importantly, it is built to address the market trends that were already emerging before COVID-19 and will surely define the winners in the rebound scenario after COVID-19.


[1] Boston Consulting Group (BCG), “Leading Sales Through the COVID-19 Crisis” 09 APR 2020. [Online]