B2B sales is not obsolete!

By Jule Schwartz

Peter Drucker famously said that the job of marketing is to make sales obsolete. The conventional wisdom is that it’s starting to happen. Whether you call the process a funnel, a life cycle or a decision journey, marketing is said to be taking over the early and middle stages and pushing sales into a marginal role at the end, where contracts are negotiated and signed.

Forrester Research states, “Technology buyers are two-thirds of the way through their buying process before they engage with tech vendors’ sales teams.” The Corporate Executive Board joins in with, “B2B customers are delaying serious engagement with sales until they are 57 percent of the way through the purchase process.”

Marketers love these benchmarks. They validate the value that marketing brings to generate leads and nurture relationships. The marketing automation vendors love these benchmarks even more. They prove without a doubt that you need their software to manage your content and fill the funnel, and nurture leads or you will never have another sale.

The new 70 percent

Does this assertion map to your own experience? Are your salespeople simply answering the phone, greeting pre-sold leads and closing deals?

Didn’t think so. The idea of B2B sales being relegated to the role of order-taker may make marketers feel like heroes, but a recent survey by the Information Technology Services Marketing Association (ITSMA) suggests that the conventional wisdom is just plain wrong.

The ITSMA survey asked at what stage in the buying process do you find it most useful to engage with sales reps?

•  24 percent said during the epiphany stage when I haven’t yet recognized a definite need, but I am learning and exploring the possibilities.

•  23 percent said during the awareness stage when I have an identified need and I am clarifying my objectives and researching alternatives.

•  24 percent said during the interest stage, when I am identifying my shortlist.

Add these numbers together, and you get 70 percent! This means that seven out of 10 buyers want to engage with sales reps before they identify their shortlist.

Enable sales withthought leadership

The best thought leadership creates epiphanies, builds awareness, and generates the credibility needed to get you on the shortlist. Yet getting prospects to consume your thought leadership in a noisy, information-overloaded environment is difficult. Seth Godin notwithstanding, there’s still a big role for the kind of outbound activity that your sales force excels in.

This isn’t meant to denigrate thought leadership or inbound marketing. Rather, it’s an argument for channeling thought leadership through your salespeople. Give them scripts, tip sheets and FAQs; help them challenge the buyer’s thinking, drive epiphanies (buyers spend five to six hours per week looking for them), and create awareness of how your services and solutions address their problems. Marketing needs to help B2B sales behave more like subject matter experts.

The new orthodoxy may say that marketing is now the hero of the purchase journey. In fact, the customer is always the hero, and sales and marketing need to work as partners to provide the compass for his journey.

Julie Schwartz is Senior Vice President of Research & Thought Leadership at ITSMA. She blogs at B2BServicesMarketing.com/thought-leadership.

Graph Source: ITSMA, How B2B Buyers Consume Information, 2012