Two topics consistently generate more heat than light when talking about B2B sales and marketing:
- Is cold calling dead?
- How can we align sales and marketing?
Topic #1 is not interesting enough to be worth even a blog post. There is hard evidence in the form of millions of successful B2B cold and consequent follow-up conversations to simply answer, “No. Cold calling is measurably not dead.”
But the sales and marketing question alignment is not so easy to dismiss. For one thing, unlike a cold call, it’s very hard to define. For another, it’s even harder to find unambiguous examples of successful alignment.
When it comes to B2B marketing, there are myriad opportunities for misalignment – and even more for wasted investment. Usually in consumer businesses, we can measure customer response to a given marketing campaign: Advertise to a target group and see if they buy or at least show up. This has become much easier in a world where consumers can travel to your business with the click of a mouse. In a way, in B2C, sales and marketing are pre-aligned by click.
However, in B2B, this approach doesn’t work at all – at least for considered purchases. The reason is subtle but powerful. Because business buyers are risking something much more valuable to them than their own money, they are orders of magnitude more cautious than other consumers. Indeed they are risking their reputations and, therefore, their careers. If they recommend purchasing a product or system that turns out to be slow to implement, tough to integrate, or rejected by end users, the consequences can be dire.
In summary, consumers buy on brand and price. Business buyers buy on career-risk. As a result, while most consumers’ purchasing considerations end in a choice of one product over alternatives, in most B2B pursuits, the status quo is the winner.
The impact of this deep dynamic is profound for B2B marketers. If brand won’t achieve aligned sales results, what will?
Traditionally, the answer has been that B2B marketing takes an active role in generating leads through search, email, social media, and event campaigns. Unfortunately, most of these leads (usually more than 90%) never have an actual conversation with anyone on the sales team. The result is massive lead leakage as fresh leads fade into stale, dormant leads – only to be replaced by more fresh leads that won’t result in conversations. Not only is the leakage dominant, but it gives the impression of lack of alignment. Those in sales reason that, if the leads were good targets, they would respond by being eager to have a conversation. They further complain that the leads that do respond are often off-target or lacking authority. And, almost as damaging, leads brought in from these kinds of campaigns almost always reference your competitors, who may have gotten there first to frame the conversation. The result is a big marketing investment with low impact, held in even lower regard by the sales team.
So what can B2B marketers do to get aligned and make measurable impact? Here are three steps that can help:
- Research and create highly targeted outbound campaigns that start with a trust-building human-to-human conversation. B2B buying is all about trusting an expert who is on your side. So help your sellers generate trust with targets that are worth the investment needed to reach them with real conversations.
- For each prospect who has shown trust with one of your sellers, help nurture that relationship with communications and content that amplify that trust and expand it from one rep to a broader team.
- When you work with sales, focus on campaigns that establish your sales team as experts who are sincerely aligned with their customers’ success. Stories, third-party validation, Webinars, podcast guesting, LinkedIn profiles, and in-person events can also stay aligned by reinforcing that your sales team members are each experts worth any buyer’s trust. Pounding solution value doesn’t have a role in these campaigns except as evidence of expertise and trustworthiness.
To summarize, in B2B, the buyer’s journey is naturally long and very scary. Winning pursuits start with great targeting and trust-building conversations that lead, through curiosity, to mutual understanding and, when successful, a decision to move forward into a commercial relationship. As a B2B marketer, you can help immensely along that journey, starting with identifying high-potential targets for your sellers to convert into curious, trusting prospects, and then nurturing each prospect’s growing confidence in your sellers’ expertise and sincerity.
Follow Chris Beall on his Market Dominance Guys podcast on your favorite podcast broadcaster. Chris Beall is CEO at ConnectAndSell, a Silicon Valley–based corporation. For 30 years, Chris has led software startups as a founder or early-stage developer. He believes the most powerful part of a software system is the human being, and that the value key is to let the computer do what it does well (go fast without getting bored) in order to free up human potential. To learn more about what ConnectAndSell’s sales-acceleration platform can do to help you achieve your sales goals, visit https://connectandsell.com/.