Mind the B2B Skills Gap: Shifting Populations, Shifting Perspectives

By Barrett Thompson, General Manager of Commercial Excellence, Zilliant

Jul 08, 2016

This article first appeared on CMS Wire.

Have you considered the impending workforce shift and its impact to your business? Most have likely given it some thought, but the full impact on B2B performance — and, more importantly, what to do about it — isn’t as clear. Let’s jump into the data: A recent report from PwC confirms millennials will make up 25 percent of the workforce in the U.S., and should account for 50 percent as soon as 2020. As this generational shift takes place, baby boomers will retire and exit the workforce, taking decades of experience and product and market knowledge with them. Primarily due to aging and retirement, more than 25.3 million people will be exiting the U.S. workforce, according to a recent report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

Concurrently, the BLS predicts that an alarming 35.8 million new (i.e. untrained) workers will be entering the labor force. The net-net: 2.8 million more entrances and 3.6 million more exits compared to the previous decade.

The Looming Skills Gap

What’s left is nothing short of a serious knowledge canyon, with seasoned company leaders exiting stage left and an influx of “green” millennials entering stage right. This lack of expertise is particularity critical to the B2B industry, where companies rely on reps to have comprehensive insights from vast product catalogs, operate within complex go-to-market methods and serve large customer bases. Fallout from this skills gap intensifies with the steep learning curve for new sales reps in the B2B industry. Many B2B companies estimate that a sales rep’s time to full productivity is anywhere between six months to one year or more. Putting the right technology and tools in place to transfer tribal knowledge as experienced workers exit and younger workers enter will be critical in easing the transition. Secondary to perpetuating the experience of seasoned reps to the younger set is the vast amount of areas that have to be learned and internalized before a rep is up to full productivity. For example, I recently met with a janitorial and sanitation distributor that is currently trying to bridge the skills gap between experienced and inexperienced workers. Sales reps new to the company have to learn products, regulations, suppliers, customers, pricing, tools, reports and much more. Not only is the amount that needs to be learned massive, but the new hires must be simultaneously building relationships within these complex environments to be successful. Imagine, instead, being able to take just a few of those items and automating them — for instance pricing, cross-sell and retention decisions. If you could take the guesswork and intensive analysis out of the equation for these items, reps could focus more effort on building solid relationships with customers, suppliers and co-workers. Tap the Existing Knowledge Base

Regardless of their generation, employees need to be on-boarded faster and more efficiently to be successful. Fortunately, much of the collective experience and wisdom of those exiting the workforce has already been captured using the transaction data companies have been collecting for years. The real intelligence of this information can be extracted by mining that data and pulling out insights that help sales reps answer three essential commercial decisions: Which customers to call on, what products to pitch and what price to quote. Advanced analytics are becoming increasingly prevalent as companies evolve in an ever-changing B2B landscape. Specifically, prescriptive solutions pull out key data signals and deliver actionable answers in the form of which accounts should be purchasing additional products, which accounts are beginning to defect, and what prices to quote for a given deal.

The Value of Prescriptive Solutions

Prescriptive pricing and sales insights serve as a roadmap for new reps, effectively shortening the learning curve and helping them better meet customer expectations while selling more at the right prices. In essence, prescriptive solutions act as a personal assistant to sales reps, pointing them to the sales opportunities most likely to result in a win at a price that matches the customer’s expectations. Interestingly, both buyers and sellers expect these types of solutions. As consumers, we’re used to having in-depth product information at our fingertips. A quick Google search will return a range of prices, product reviews, photos and how-to videos. We’re observing the same trend in B2B. Most buyers only contact the company when they’ve already done independent research. Sellers expect the same nimble, data-driven sales experience that takes out the hard work and delivers simple, accurate answers to their questions. Prescriptive solutions deliver on those expectations, making sense of this data deluge and delivering smarter answers so reps can stop analyzing and get back to what they do best — selling.

About the Author

Barrett leads the business solutions consultant team at Austin, Texas-based Zilliant. Over the past two decades, Barrett has built and delivered optimization and pricing solutions to Fortune 500 businesses in diverse vertical industries including building materials manufacturing and distribution, industrial components manufacturing, semiconductor manufacturing, office-supply distribution, hardware-software distribution, pharmaceutical and medical-device distribution, telecommunications, and multiple travel and transportation verticals.

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