There’s a stat I’ve heard cited many times that somewhere between 60-90% of the B2B buyer’s decision process occurs online, before a prospect ever picks up the phone. This means that when a buyer decides that he wants something, he does the majority of his research via sites like CNET or analyst blogs, reads product reviews and messages peers, and narrows down his consideration to two or three products or services. He then shares these options with a few internal stakeholders, and together they decide who to include in their RFP, or (depending on the price point of the product and/or internal structure of the company) which to buy. So, that prospect doesn’t pick up a phone or call a vendor until he’s pretty sure which one or two he’s really interested in.
This one stat signifies that B2B marketing has fundamentally changed over the past few years. The buyer is now in control of the sale, rather than the salesperson. 20 years ago, the B2B marketer’s job was all about supporting the sales team by developing collateral, booking tradeshows, and perhaps securing some directory advertising or planning direct mail campaigns. Today, the responsibilities of the B2B marketer has changed now that a large part of the sales cycle falls into the marketer’s area of responsibility.
The role of the B2B marketer has shifted from supporting sales to owning a substantial portion of the buyer’s journey. To survive and thrive in the wake of this shift, there are a few basic, but important, ideas upon which marketers should focus:
1. Shift in Sales and Marketing Roles
With the shift in buyer behavior, responsibilities that once fell to sales now fall to marketing. While lead generation has always fallen to marketing, leads now transfer to sales at a much later stage, as lead nurturing becomes ever more important. Tried-and-true sales strategies that were literally sales strategies for years have now become the domain of marketing. Case in point: account-based selling has now become account-based marketing (ABM) and is driven by technology and data, versus phone calls and golf rounds. As another example, referral selling has now become referral marketing. It’s essential for marketing to supply sales with warm, qualified leads–and a reason for the prospect to accept the outreach. Referral technologies that integrate with your marketing stack now allow referral programs to be easily launched, optimized, measured, and scaled.
2. Useful Content is the Key to Opening Doors
Those “boots on pavement” days are long over for the sales team. The only way to get a meeting with a prospect is to develop a relationship with that prospect, and content is the best way to reach, engage and build those relationships. That 60-90% stat referenced above, in which buyers do research in advance of their purchase? That’s an opportunity for marketers to engage and win them as a buyer. Customer-centric content addresses the needs of the prospect in a way that is helpful and relevant, so that when a prospect shifts to buying mode, your company is considered a trusted source of information.
3. Marketers Can Do More and Reach More Prospects
Technology helps marketers do more and reach more prospects–in less time and with less money, but with greater accountability. Marketing technology, which is a broad range of technology, including marketing automation platforms, CRMs, and targeted advertising platforms like Google AdWords and LinkedIn Advertising, can help marketers reach more prospects with relevant offers and messages, without the extra costs associated with printing and postage. The flipside to that opportunity is that marketers need to be savvy enough to not only select appropriate technology, but to use it and analyze the results. When every lead, and win or loss can be accounted for, the expectation of marketers to be able to demonstrate the ROI of the marketing investment increases.
4. Marketing and Sales Alignment is Imperative
Marketing has always truly been part of sales, but today that relationship is more important than ever. If the marketer owns the majority of touchpoints in the early part of the B2B customer journey, then marketing must collaborate with sales to get a clear picture of exactly what that journey looks like: Why do customers buy your product or service? What are their concerns? Who are the stakeholders involved? What’s the greatest barrier to sale? It’s critically important that marketers fully understand the customer, and since sales is on the front line of customer interaction, maintaining frequent and open communication is critical.
Whether you’ve been in marketing for decades or just a few months, these ideas are important to keep top of mind. With marketing taking on so much of the sales cycle, it’s critical that marketers understand both the prospects and their buying behaviors, so that they can reach and engage them at every point of their journey. By working together and developing sound strategies, both marketing and sales teams can dramatically improve their odds of success.