When Online Content May Not Facilitate the Sales Process

Facilitating the Sales Process Lisa Vitale nA recent SimplyDIRECT-sponsored survey of senior enterprise marketers from major technology companies themed Facilitating the Sales Process asked, “To what extent do you feel online content facilitates the sales process?” The following chart indicates their combined response.Facilitating the Sales Process

You may be surprised that the average score isn’t higher but the decision to invest in online content depends very much on your offering and your sales approach. Some marketers felt that their customers prefer to receive information “in person” while others suggested that the impact of online content varied depending on the sales representative.

A quick search of research findings concerning B2B buyers’ journeys and prospect’s behaviors, might, at first glance, appear to conflict.  Yet a closer look reveals the valuable lesson behind these findings: to facilitate the sales process, know your target audience.  For example, consider the following findings:

  • Forrester research: “Technology buyers are two-thirds of the way through their buying process before they engage with tech vendors’ sales teams.”
  • ITSMA’s survey, How Buyers Consume Information: “70% of customers want to talk to sales during the epiphany, awareness, and interest stages: when they’re information-grazing, when they first learn what you can do, and before they put you on the shortlist.” *

Whether you look at the sales process from ITSMA’s buyer’s perspective, SimplyDIRECT’s marketer’s perspective, or Forrester’s analysis of buying behavior, there’s clearly room for interpretation.  One way to explain these apparent discrepancies is to consider that buyers are indeed interested in speaking to sales reps early in their exploratory stage – they’d simply prefer to speak with their current and trusted providers, building on established relationships, rather than be hassled by those who don’t represent a solution they currently use.

This explanation also accounts for the wiggle room perceived by marketers in the value of online content in facilitating the sales process – as the survey’s follow-on questions reveal sales reps and relationship-building still hold a lot of sway.  In fact, recommendations and referrals from peers and trusted advisors remain among the biggest factor in choosing vendors for the shortlist. Yet clearly online content and thought leadership content, in particular, plays a significant role too. Broadly, the findings suggest that there are three primary determining factors as to whether online content is key to your sales process:

  1. Your product – a simple solution that is readily and easily understood doesn’t require a lot of supporting online content and won’t prompt much online research.  The reverse is also true; complex solutions will benefit from insightful, yet simplified and readily accessible content.
  2. Your prospect’s business and the needs of its decision maker.  Are your prospects primarily low-tech or traditional buyers?  If so, chances are they’ll prefer the more conventional sales rep sales process over doing their own extensive research online. Hi-tech buyers, on the other hand, will veer in the other direction.
  3. Your sales strategy.  Do you sell primarily to existing customers or do you mostly seek out new ones?  Current customers will largely appreciate developing and leveraging the existing relationship, while new customers may prefer having extensive online content available with no pressure.

Considering these distinctly different processes, the logic then follows that knowing precisely who your audience is – which segment of your target you are specifically looking to connect with – is vital to optimizing your marketing and sales strategy.  What is of growing importance is to provide the best value and the best customer experience possible, to both customers and prospects, during the sales cycle/purchase process.  To do so requires obtaining a better understanding of their specific needs and preferences. Prospect surveys help remove the guess work by providing exactly the information on your prospects that sales needs to succeed.

For more information about facilitating the sales process and enabling your sales team download our complementary B2B Sales Enablement Checklist. Click on the button below to access the checklist.

Sales Enablement Checklist

Where do you stand? Does online content facilitate your sales process?


* ITSMA Featured Research: How Sales Provides Value in Every Stage of the Purchase Process, Dan Armstrong, January 16th,
2013. http://www.itsma.com/ezine/value-in-every-stage-of-the-purchase-process/