In the world of business-to-business sales in 2012, some very clear trends will drive selling conversations and you need to be prepared. Many of these trends have been germinating for some time, but 2012 will be an explosive time for them.
1. Mobile drives the definition of service. Everything that you offer in the way of ordering, service requests, inventory reporting, order tracking and process notification needs to be available in real-time and mobile. Think past your portal to the mobile app. The relevance of the need is not going to be considered. If you are not offering apps or smartphone-friendly access, you will be knocked for it in the sales process. Hard.
2. Transparency, redundancy, contingency. Natural disasters in 2010 and 2011 have shaken the confidence in manufacturers in their lowest-cost provider supply chain. Floods in Thailand, tsunamis in Malaysia and Japan and hurricanes here in the U.S. have made companies wary. They want transparency in their supply chain, all the way down to the component and raw materials provider level. They want plant redundancy with geographic diversity and they want detailed, actionable and drilled disaster recovery plans. Do you have yours ready?
3. Silly Putty contracts. Think of contracts designed by Gumby. Volume commitments, consignment-like terms for managing inventory and returns, carryover on your min-max levels for automatic ordering and so on. Companies are maneuvering for an economic recovery at the same time they say it's not coming. This means seeking flexibility in each of the commitment components of the agreements so the buyer feels prepared for any economic circumstance, be it decline, stagnation or growth.
4. The double-tap pricing problem. Organizations that sell in highly competitive markets are very familiar with the lowest-price-takes-all model of final bid contract award. The new trend is to take the three finalists, have them submit best and final pricing and then ask for a second look for best and most favorable terms. See the examples from No. 3 (Silly Putty contracts) above and add the other basket of term categories in your contract. This process looks to run price to a final number, and then open up the conversation from lowest price to terms bidding.
5. Who gets the kids? The struggle over intellectual property will become a more common part of the sales conversation. Whether it is a process, a developed protocol, customization of a platform or new IP, all elements that two companies "create" in the process of working together will be up for consideration in the contracting process as to who owns the intellectual property. This has been heating up, but has moved to the forefront over the last year of trade association briefings from major legal firms and will now be added to standard contract language.
Things are going to get a little bit trickier in 2012 as buyers look to protect themselves from an increasingly uncertain world. Prepare now for these types of issues and you will avoid having to develop strategies at the last minute.