Gone are the days when selling was a linear path: Locate a lead, nurture it with a set of marketing materials, go on a sales call (or series of sales calls), and close the deal.
In today’s B2B selling environment, the sales funnel is more like an infinity loop that flows from marketing to sales and back again until the buyer is ready to engage.
Last week at the CEB Sales and Marketing Summit, I attended several great sessions. Two in particular stood out to me because they focused on something near and dear to my heart — sales and marketing alignment.
An Inescapable Evolution: Sales and Marketing in the World of Digital Buying
Brent Adamson, Principal Executive Advisor at CEB (now Gartner), gave a talk that highlighted several ways that sales and marketing can work together to make that infinity loop shorter and more effective. Brent pointed out that the buyers’ journey has several distinct phases:
- Researching Independently, Online: 27%
- Meeting with Buying Group: 22%
- Researching Independently, Offline (Tradeshows, Peer Networking): 18%
- Meeting with Potential Suppliers (i.e. Sellers): 17%
- Other: 16%
As you can see, only 17% of the buyers’ journey involves meeting with a sales rep. The other 83% doesn’t involve face time or direct interaction with the potential supplier — it’s more passive. This means the “at bats,” in front of a client are scarce — and sellers must make the most of that time.
But the real dilemma here isn’t what to do with the face time. The quandary is how to thoughtfully and appropriately address the digital components of a buyer’s research so that sales receives quality leads. Alignment between your digital channels and in-person channels is critical. In other words, marketing and sales must be in sync. The buyer’s experience from email to web to social all the way through the sales rep must be clear, consistent, and critically useful.
So, how can you make sure potential buyers have a consistent experience from early stage demand generation through late stage buying support? Brent offered a handful of suggestions, which involve turning the lens inward to deliver true sales and marketing alignment:
- Consider the customer viewpoint. Does your organization have a seamless view of your customers? And do your customers have a seamless view of your organization?
- Consider organization priorities. Shift from “Internal Efficiency” to “Buyer Effectiveness.”
- Consider seller focus. Shift thinking from “Single Path to Customer” to “One Path to Customer.” Your sales force is one of several different channels to your customer. When you customers are buying “multi-channel,” your sales force becomes a channel. There is longer a formal handoff between marketing and sales — it’s a fluid back-and-forth effort.
- Consider digital outlets. Digital comprises a significant portion of a buyer’s research process, and it should be aligned end-to-end for consistent buyer support. This means ads, website, email, and sales presentations need to ladder up to the same messaging, with the buyer at the forefront.
For what it’s worth, to make sales and marketing alignment easier and more effective, a modern sales enablement platform is a wise investment. A quality enablement platform makes it easy to find the most relevant content for each situation, provides flexible ways to present content to customers, and delivers real-time visibility into whether customers find content engaging.
The Future of Selling — Bleak or Bright?
Moving on, another presentation I found interesting came from Johnathan Lister at LinkedIn. The folks at LinkedIn have been looking at what recruiters find valuable in sales and marketing professionals.
Johnathan noted that they looked at marketing and sales roles moves to see if one was outpacing the other. While marketing roles have seen a four percent growth, sales roles have decreased one percent. Additionally, they are seeing a shift in sales skill to more “strategic” selling skills.
- The foundation of many sales roles, 49% list transactional sales skills
- 11% percent list functional skills, but they are 1.8x more in-demand than transactional skills
- Only 1% list strategic skills (business alliances, partnerships, strategic sales), but they are 3x more in demand than transactional skills
Recruiters show high interest in those who can elevate the relationship with the target buyer and manage the complexity of the sales process, which means sellers need to continue to evolve. Three keys to success are:
- Convergence of sales and marketing. Sales and marketing are well-documented frenemies, but the whole organization benefits if they learn to work together. As noted in the session above, the sales process is a loop between the two functions — it behooves them to learn how to speak the same language.
He noted that when a LinkedIn member is nurtured by marketing, they are 11% more likely to accept a request, 25% more likely to respond to an InMail, and 4.8x more likely to re-share a marketing messaging.
- Automation to make sales reps more productive. Sales reps only spend 40% of their time selling, and 60% on administrative work. By automating processes with a sales enablement solution, sales reps can spend more time driving revenue.
- Personalization at scale. Companies like Uber, Amazon, and Netflix are creating very tailored, customized experiences. As a result, buyers expect this experience level across the board. In fact, 77% of buyers want reps to integrate customized data into their buying process.
The moral of the story from both sessions is that we need to work together to succeed. Sales and marketing can use today’s tools — like sales enablement — to get on the same page and deliver a customized, consistent buying experience from start to finish.
We had a great time at CEB meeting others in the industry, learning new trends, and sharing info about the Highspot platform. I want to thank everyone who brought their scratch tickets by our booth. If you didn’t make it by the booth, but have a winning ticket, it’s not too late to send it to me at firstname.lastname@example.org to claim your prize!