Last week I was in the check-out line at a major retailer, reading a very interesting story on my iPhone while waiting, when a salesperson from a company that was showcased in the store approached me and started selling to me. The person was a very, very good salesperson and doing a very good job, but the whole experience underscored how broken the sales & marketing process has been for some time: I was annoyed by the interruption, I wasn’t in the market or interested in the product at the time, and even if I was, it was a high-consideration purchase that I certainly wouldn’t make without wanting to do a great deal of research and investigation on my own and with my wife.
Sound familiar? It’s pretty much the same experience we encounter online and offline multiple times a day; while consuming content, doing work, or punching through our email, we’re bombarded with interruptive marketing that is often irrelevant or poorly timed. And for the consumer, that sucks.
Legions of B2B marketers and sellers have been trained to aim their sites at the C-level decision-maker. Search Google for “selling to C-level executives” and you’ll get 2.6M links to articles, books, blogs and other forms of advice providing everything from timing tips (“call early in the morning!”) to crafting an elevator pitch (“make it simple and impactful”).
And for the longest time, I was a firm believer that nothing happened without a C-level engagement, and that our marketing and selling efforts should be directed towards only the most senior decision makers. Don’t waste time with people who can’t sign the seven figure checks, went the thinking.
But there have been a number of developments over the past few years that have flipped this thinking on its head, and more and more businesses are embracing a marketing and sales approach that runs completely counter to the traditional wisdom. Let’s take a look at some of the big changes in the purchasing ecosystem:
I’ve spent the better part of my career in the B2B marketing world, and can say with a great deal of certainty that a major shift is underway creating a very different dynamic between marketing and sales. Now, you might be thinking “oh great, another post about the new world of marketing, everything is social and digital and unicorns, your customers own your brand, etc. etc.” but bear with me.
Not long ago, there was a clear approach to the B2B sales funnel: marketing was primarily responsible for filling the top of the funnel with leads, and the sales organization was responsible for pulling those leads through the middle and lower portions of the funnel and closing business. In theory it seems like a reasonable approach, but in reality it was flawed, and typically created a sizable rift between the marketing and sales organizations: sales was dissatisfied with the leads that marketing delivered and felt they were alone in pursuing revenue, and marketing felt sales couldn’t convert the leads they delivered and felt alone in developing strategy.
The result was that marketing would work harder to generate more leads in the hopes of finding a quantity of qualified leads, and sales would spend more time chasing more unqualified opportunities. Both groups became even more frustrated and the rift widened.
Meanwhile, two important things happened over the past few years: businesses dramatically changed how they buy, and the toolkit for marketers got far more powerful than it’s ever been – not just by a little, but by leaps and bounds.
Businesses Changing How They Buy
Due in part to the economic turmoil in the late 2000’s, businesses have radically changed the way they buy. For one, they’ve distributed decision-making down and out across the organization, giving individual business units the power to make decisions that will allow them to be more agile and scale faster. A by-product of this approach is that there’s now a much more consensus-based buying process, which I’ll talk more about in a future post.
The second, and arguably more disruptive, change in the buying process is the way businesses research before they buy. It’s never been easier for a buyer to research a product via websites, forums, social media, and free trials before ever speaking to a salesperson. That seems natural today, but it wasn’t very long ago that the primary – if not only – means of learning about product offerings was through a salesperson. Today, buyers are 60-70% through their decision-making process before engaging a salesperson. That is a staggering statistic with massive ramifications for B2B marketers and sellers.
A Bigger, Better Toolkit for Marketers
While consumer internet companies tend to get the majority of coverage, an incredible evolution in business and enterprise technologies, fueled by the mainstream emergence of cloud computing and social media, has given many functional leaders far more tools then they’ve ever had. But marketing leaders have perhaps received a far greater share of value than any other group.
Marketers have never had so many tools to connect with so many customers with such scale, efficiency and ease. The combination of more targeted outbound opportunities informed by social platform profile data, tools to more easily create and distribute informative content, listening systems to understand real-time sentiment, and a new and rich palette of powerful inbound marketing tools to market to and nurture interested prospects has given the modern marketer the ability to play a much bigger role in the sales process than ever before. Now marketers can target and engage customers with a strategic and tactical array of content updates, webinars, social media connections, case studies and decision tools to help the buyer through the research process in ways that just wasn’t scalable nor a good use of time for the sales organization to handle.
The New Marketing and Sales Funnel
So buyers are changing how they buy and doing far more research before engaging a salesperson, and marketers have far more tools and capabilities to engage that buyer during that research process. This shift is creating an urgent need for businesses to reformulate their marketing and sales funnels, with a very positive upside:
1) Marketers now have the tools to efficiently engage and serve customers during the upper and middle parts of the funnel when customers are not engaging salespeople
2) Salespeople can spend most if not all of their selling time with customers who are deep in the funnel and likely to buy
As marketers take on more of the stages in the purchase funnel that were previously owned by sales, it’s likely that the prototypical marketer of the future will need a decent amount of “sales DNA” to best serve their organizations. It’s also likely that the role of the marketer will take on a greater level of prominence in their companies over the long haul – and these are also topics I’ll be addressing in future posts.