The changing shape of the buyer’s journey has introduced a raft of new issues for sales leaders who are trying to manage sales pipelines and generate accurate revenue forecasts. Prospects are leveraging the internet and business social media to do their research – and engaging sales people later in the decision making process.
In fact, the latest research from the CEB suggests that the typical B2B buying-decision process is 57% complete before a salesperson is even actively involved. By that time, the prospect is a long way down the path of scoping their needs, establishing their priorities, defining their requirements, and short-listing potential solutions.
Today’s Typical B2B Buyer’s Journey
Faced with this irresistible shift of information power towards the buyer, B2B sales and marketing organisations are having to get smart and work together to improve the quality of engagement with the prospect. If there ever was a compelling catalyst to drive sales and marketing alignment, this is it. Put simply, if you’re not aligned, you’re being left behind.
Getting ahead of the curve
My first recommendation is not to treat the “57% complete” statistic as something that is inevitable, or over which you have no influence. Whilst the number is directionally correct, it’s only an average, and some of the best B2B sales and marketing organisations and sales people are clearly managing to successfully influence the prospect’s decision-making unit from a much earlier stage in the buying cycle.
These organisations are doing it by having something interesting, relevant and different to say, and by being seen and heard in the forums the prospect is using to conduct their early research. They are doing it by positioning themselves as experts in the issue that needs to be addressed, and in the most effective way in which the problem can be solved.
Customer-relevant content: the sizzle not the steak
Above all, they are doing it by creating a stream of compelling, customer-relevant content that they are making available through as many as possible of the trusted sources that their prospects rely on for their information. They are seeking to answer the questions “why change” and “why now” before they move on to answer the question “why us?”
But they are not always sharing the whole story: they are cleverly holding some of the detail back in a way that encourages the prospect to reach out to them earlier in their decision-making process than they would otherwise have done. To use a phrase that was popular in a bygone era of marketing, they are “giving them the sizzle but holding back the steak”.
Smarter marketing leads to smarter sales conversations
And it’s not just about smarter marketing: top sales teams have become smarter about the nature of the sales conversation. They are building on the issues raised by marketing with sharp insights and compelling anecdotes that are encouraging the prospect to think differently about the issues they are facing and how they can best be addressed. And they are showing how their approach is different before going on to prove how it is better.
Is the effort worthwhile? The figures seem compelling. Aberdeen Group recently reported that highly aligned organisations grew revenues more than 30% faster than their laggard peers, and that marketing generated more than three times as much pipeline value.
Get aligned – or get left behind
This is all very impressive, but it can only be built on solid foundations. Sales and marketing first have to develop a consensus around what an ideal prospect looks like, what issues are likely to cause the prospect to take action, and what the typical stages in the prospect’s buying decision process are, and how they might best be supported.
But most of all, they need to share common goals and work together to systematically identify and eliminate any obstacles that might derail the buying process. Are your sales and marketing teams doing all that they could to achieve this?