By Falon Fatemi

Secret to sales STORYBLOCKS

Business-to-business (B2B) and business-to-consumer (B2C) sales have traditionally been two different beasts, relying on two distinct sets of fundamentals and best practices. But times are changing. No longer is B2B sales an insiders’ club. More information is available at buyers’ fingertip, empowering businesses with the same level of access to information as consumers have been privy to for some time. And the B2B customer journey is happening everywhere, not just in confined showrooms or during traditional business hours, much like the B2C process has operated for several years. 

As Salesforce has identified, the marketplace is leveling. B2B sales is having a marked impact on B2B sales, and vice versa. This democratization has led to what Salesforce calls a B2All (Business-to-All) environment. In many ways, B2C sales organizations are leading the way. Forward-thinking B2C organizations are defying the status quo and building sales organizations that put customers at the forefront and equip salespeople with the tools needed to succeed. B2B companies stand to learn a lot from these organizations. By leveraging similar approaches, they too can catapult their sales organizations to success. Here are three of the most successful B2C sales organization that have refined their strategies in light of the changing marketplace.

1. Zappos: Placing a premium on customers and customer-centric metrics

The most successful sales organizations place a premium on quantifying and measuring sales effectiveness. While most sales organizations measure sales effectiveness, they do so in a way that doesn’t align with customers’ best interests—by measuring average call time. A focus on average call time incentives reps to push buyers to purchase produces, overlook quality interactions and meaningful conversations, filter customers for quick wins, and prioritize speed over customer service. 

Zappos flips this long-established trend on its head. Like most sales organizations, it tracks average call time per sales rep. But the objective isn’t to reduce average call time. It’s to ensure sales reps are spending ­the bulk of their days—80% or more in this case—interacting with customers and developing meaningful relationships. According to McKinsey research, sales reps affiliated with the most effective sales organizations spend more than double the amount of time engaging in customer-facing interactions compared to sales reps affiliated with average sales organizations. Given that less than one-third (29%) of B2B clients are fully engaged, meaningful time in front of customers is in short supply and high demand.   

By prioritizing time engaging with customers, Zappos proactively ensures that customers are placed on a pedestal. Derek Carder, customer loyalty operations manager for the Zappos, has explained, “It’s more important that we make an emotional connection with the customer, rather than just quickly getting them off the phone”. In an environment where the vast majority (66%) of buyers say that the most important thing a company can do to offer a good online customer experience is value their time, Zappos’ approach is right on the money.

Zappos goes further in promoting customer centricity by leveraging analytics to improve the customer experience. The company measures sales rep effectiveness in a non-traditional way, according to a 100-point scale called the “Happiness Experience Form” (HEF). The HEF is comprised of four primary metrics:

  • Whether the sales reps attempted to make a personal emotional connection at least twice.
  • Whether the sales rep was able to maintain an ongoing rapport after getting in touch with the customer.
  • Whether the sales rep was able to address unstated needs.
  • Whether the sales rep was able to provide a “wow experience”.

The results have been transformative. Zappos Net Promoter Score (NPS) jumped 5% after implementing its HEF.

2. Bonobos: Prioritizing training that targets customer journey awareness and managerial effectiveness

There’s no shortage of training available to sales reps. Each year, US-based companies spend an average of $1,459 on salesperson training. To put this in perspective, it’s equivalent to nearly 20% more than the amount spent training the average worker in other industries. Yet despite the inordinate expenditure on training, the ROI of sales training is disappointing. Sales reps exposed to traditional curriculum-based training forget more than 80% of the information they were taught within 90 days. 

The most effective sales organization recognize the shortcomings of traditional training and focus on developing meaningful sales training. Bonobos, for example, has developed a multi-tiered sales training program that comprises four training programs:

  1. Know Your Customer: Aims to train all employees to better understand the customer experience.
  2. Fit for Success: Aims to train employees on management skills. 
  3. Manage for Success: Aims to train employees on performance management skills. 
  4. How to Manage Up Well: Aims to train junior employees to navigate relationships with, and relate more effectively to, senior employees. 

These four programs directly address the most common pain points in the B2B sales process. For example, nearly half (45%) of sales organizations do not purposefully align their sales process with the customer journey, yet the ability to align sales strategy with customer journey can increase average lifetime customer value by 26%. Training programs like Bonobos’ Know Your Customer initiative that provides exceptional customer journey training have been shown to increase quota attainment by as much as 32%.   

Bonobos also invests a lot of time in manager training. Contrary to popular belief, great sales reps do not make great managers. In fact, only about one out of every six candidates who is a strong fit for a sales role is also a strong fit for a sales management role. When sales organizations pigeonhole effective reps into managerial roles without proper training, it’s a recipe for disaster. Training programs such as Fit for Success and Manage for Success are critical. Research shows that nearly half of salespeople rely on their managers for training, which underscores the need for programs such as How to Manage Up Well. The results can be game-changing.  69% of salespeople who exceed their annual quota rate their sales manager as excellent or above average. 

Armed with the confidence that its sales reps have been trained to increase engagement with customers, Bonobos actually encourages customers to call in, a refreshing contrast from most B2B and B2C sales organization.

3. Nordstrom: Prioritizing AI to gain unprecedented customer insight

Artificial intelligence (AI) has infiltrated B2B and B2C organizations alike. Today’s most successful sales organizations prioritize artificial intelligence, and for good reason. Research shows that companies that use customer analytics extensively see sales improvements that are 131% higher than competitors who don’t. AI enables organizations to make sense of customer analytics and leverage it to drive quality experiences. 

Nordstrom is a prime example. It has leveraged AI to gain unprecedented insight into the customer experience. Unlike many companies, Nordstrom’s approach is all-encompassing to ensure that it has a complete picture of the customer experience. Data is collected across multiple touch-points throughout the customer journey, including email campaigns, click streams, and end purchase data. This comprehensive approach has enabled Nordstrom to increase its email-to-dollar conversion by approximately 25%.

Like many of its B2B and B2C counterparts, Nordstrom also embraces AI to power chatbots. The company hosts chatbots on Facebook Messenger, as well as Kik. But in sharp and refreshing contrast to many organizations, Nordstrom doesn’t rely exclusively on AI and chatbots. While the chatbots help customers products and gifts by evaluating their responses to several questions related to customers’ preferences, the data is eventually sent to a human salesperson who provides additional curated suggestions to the customer. Ultimately, the customer is afforded the best of both worlds—the speed and convenience of chatbots and the personal touch of human connection. This hybrid approach is essential. On one hand, 75% of online customers expect to be helped within five minutes. And, on the other hand, 77% of buyers still want human interaction when they require guidance and advice. A hybrid approach whereby EQ + AI is a recipe for success is the most effective way to maximize the customer experience. 

When it comes to B2B and B2C sales, there’s a melding of the worlds occurring. No longer are B2B and B2C organizations two distinct animals. In this new “B2ALL” landscape, B2B and B2C companies can—and should—impart key learning on one another. In order to gain the trust and engagement of customers, companies must embrace customer-centric analysis, revitalized sales training that addresses the most common pitfalls of sales reps and managers, and artificial intelligence, while still prioritizing the human touch.  Follow me on Twitter or LinkedIn. Check out my website.

Falon Fatemi
Falon Fatemi Contributor Entrepreneur

I’m CEO and founder of Node, a first-of-it’s-kind AI platform that transforms how businesses are able to analyze relationships between entities on the web to uncover new opportunities. I worked at Google for 6 years where I was the youngest employee starting at age 19. I’ve spent over a decade focused on go-to-market strategy, global expansion, and building strategic partnerships for Google, YouTube and the startup world. From the front lines of Silicon Valley, I write about company building. Email me at hello at or follow me on twitter @falonfatemi.