As digital natives reshape the B2B buying process, it’s hardly surprising that industry observers are prognosticating about the death of traditional B2B sales. That may well prove a case of black-and-white thinking: buyers looking for products or services in complex, new or emerging segments will still need to engage with a technically adept salesperson at some stage, to define their vision, orchestrate multiple internal decision-makers and develop their value realisation plan.
However, those in the market for mature, off-the-shelf or less complex offerings – who know more or less what they want to buy, just not from whom – are increasingly educating themselves and forming relationships with brands online. As the traditional sales playbook becomes dog-eared and dusty, we’ll see marketing become the driving force in converting leads into opportunities and, ultimately, revenue .
Marketing: at the intersection of magic and logic
Marketing used to be considered an art, but technology is turning it into a science. Not for nothing does Gartner Research suggest that by this time next year, CMOs will have the largest IT budget in organisations, while SalesForce adds that marketers will have a record-high number of technologies, channels and tactics at their disposal.
Thanks to a wealth of data, analytics and automation, B2B marketers are now in a better position than sales to understand – and therefore steer – buyers’ dynamic journey of exploration, education, evaluation and experience. Marketing owns the tools and systems to listen to the voice of the prospect (or at least observe their digital body language), learn about their motivations or buying signals earlier in the cycle, and precisely gauge prospects’ readiness to talk to sales rather than simply hand over inquiries.
To make marketing efforts scalable and sustainable, organisations will need a continuous pipeline of content to feed a multi-channel engagement strategy that matches the path to purchase. This is no mean feat, requiring mastery of a combination of digital, social and analytical disciplines, and creative development and delivery (plus a damned good agency, of course).
Sales enablement will prove Marketing’s empowerment
A further aspect of marketing’s role will be to prepare their sales colleagues to relate better to, and have higher value conversations with, buyers. By developing optimised, on-point sales enablement programmes and “campaign-in-a-box” style nurture kits, marketers can equip representatives to answer the questions buyers are asking wherever they may be in the cycle, and co-navigate the changes and challenges needed to succeed with the vendor’s product or service. Marketing-driven initiatives, such as social selling and influencer marketing programmes, can also empower sales to extend their reach faster and further than traditional interactions permit, and cultivate a network of industry advocates to strengthen brand reputation and relationships.
This much-needed reboot of sales and marketing will undoubtedly see marketers’ status elevated within B2B organisations: from promoters to problem-solvers, from lead generators to revenue generators. When it comes to the competencies needed to win in today’s B2B climate – data analytics skills and a deep understanding of all the digital touch points along the path to purchase – marketing holds all the cards. What remains to be seen is whether sales organisations, finding themselves on the back foot, will be able to adopt the processes, skills and technologies that align to the modern buyer before they are totally eclipsed.