Creating a Digital B2B Sales Process

Lisa Vitale Sales Process Expert
Lisa Vitale Sales Process ExpertHere’s a sobering thought for B2B sales people and their marketing counterparts:

“…today’s buyers might be anywhere from 60% to 90% of the way through their journey before they reach out to the vendor*.”

The Internet and broadband access have permanently altered the buying process. If you’re still using the same sales and marketing approaches you had success with a few years ago, chances are you aren’t keeping up with the times and are probably not able to generate much business from new customers or market segments.

The plethora of digital marketing channels that is the internet, has taken what was once a largely linear buyer’s journey and turned it into a decidedly circuitous one. Today’s prospects will take any number of self-directed routes to their final buying decision. It’s a sales and marketing “Choose Your Own Adventure” nightmare.

And it is precisely this individualized nature of the journey which is rendering past sales approaches obsolete. Each journey is separate and distinct – one prospect might have participated in a particular webinar and read specific white papers. Another might have watched a video, clicked a Twitter link, or visited a LinkedIn forum. Deciphering meaning behind these behaviors, determining which stage of the buyer’s journey they are at and, gauging each prospect’s propensity to buy, is a task for both Sales and Marketing together. Too often, Marketing works alone which limits Sales’ view of the early buying-process stages. This risks the credibility of marketing-generated leads and reduces the willingness of Sales for timely follow-ups, despite well conceived lead-qualification criteria.

Having decided where each prospect is in the buying process, the next step is to decide what specific follow-up will move the prospect along the funnel. Marketing to prospects generically risks alienating them – you don’t want to send an introductory email to the prospect who has already become educated on your product or solution and is now determining buying criteria. And you’d better know where their online research has taken them and what specific needs this journey indicates, before anyone makes a sales call.

In this new paradigm, there are three keys to B2B sales success:

Marketing and sales alignment – Empower the sales process with marketing intelligence. Sales and Marketing must integrate as never before by sharing goals and metrics, collaborating on campaign ideas, providing feedback, and working together to understand and adapt to the buyer’s journey. Because of this new “individualized journey,” Marketing and Sales need to fundamentally agree on questions such as: What’s the target audience/persona? What are the funnel stages and what indicates the buyer’s progression through them? Who does what at each stage and what’s the program for continued nurturing if the prospect isn’t ready?
Relevance – Understand your prospect’s perspective and anticipate their needs. Facilitate decisions in favor or your product or solution by addressing each prospect’s specific situation, needs and challenges. Fully fleshing out these issues is vital for both sales and marketing success.
Responsiveness – Deliver timely, relevant content throughout the buying process. Our collective digital attention span has been nearly honed out of existence (recall AT&T’s campaign, “That’s so 12 seconds ago”), so responsiveness, coupled with relevance, is crucial to engaging prospects. Timing the first real sales call while the relevant concern is still top of mind is most important.

Armed with Marketing’s knowledge of the buyer’s online behavior, Sales must solidify the prospect’s perception of an already established relationship. Ignoring buyer behavior at the initiation of the sales process runs the risk of alienating – and losing – the buyer. This is particularly true for larger and/or more complex sales, where the customer expects Sales to know their business and be aware of their online activities. From the buyer’s perspective, the relationship with the vendor starts when the first contact form is completed.

The marketer’s challenge has evolved to become an exacting one: delivering the right content, at the right time, in the right place based on buyer behavior. But Sales is now tasked with seizing this crystal ball of buyer behavior and, without loss of momentum, engaging and closing the customer. The lines between Sales and Marketing have blurred into a collaborative, integrated process. “Throwing it over the wall” never worked. It still doesn’t! B2B customers value strong vendor relationships – and these now start with Marketing, online. It then becomes the responsibility of Sales to take the customer intelligence generated during the marketing phase and to use it to generate unique-to-each-customer benefits in order to drive for closure.

*Footnote: Numerous reports, surveys and studies point to a high level of Internet/social media use by B2B decision makers when making purchases. Search on “percent of B2B purchases started online”.

Does your organization have a close alignment between Sales and Marketing? Or do you have a different approach to dealing with the new buyer behavior?