The core of the conventional B2B sales and marketing model is that “we” (the company) will tell our prospects and customers what they need to know so that they will be persuaded that our solutions are the right ones for them to buy.
In this model, marketing provides higher level awareness and solutions information, and sales matches the company’s products to the individual customer’s needs.
In just the last few years, we have seen tectonic shifts driven by a combination of market factors that have upended the old order in B2B:
Access to Information – Prospects and customers have as much, if not more access to relevant industry and competitor data as do the company’s sales and marketing teams, making it much easier for them to do their own research without the need for our marketing or sales people.
Omnichannel buying experiences as consumers – While prospects are acting in their professional capacities at work, their expectations and standards for experiences as a customer have become increasingly defined by their consumer experiences. These include advanced digital channels (such as Amazon.com) as well as their hybrid omnichannel research and buying options (for example BestBuy’s research online and pick up in-store options.)
Generational change – Today, there are five generations who are active in the workplace together, and the majority of these generational groups are more comfortable with using digital channels to do their own purchasing and problem-solving research and progressing much further in their decision-making journeys without talking to any representative of the potential vendors.
Sales and Marketing Roles Reversed
The key takeaway from this is that prospects are now the ones driving their own problem-solving journeys. Companies must design their entire go-to-market strategies around enabling and facilitating this buyer-led process.
This means there is a critical role reversal that has taken place between marketing and sales. Previously it was incumbent upon the sales team to communicate their companies complex value differentiation to their customers. Today, this immensely critical role has transitioned to marketing, because it is taking place far earlier in the customer’s problem-solving journey. If value differentiation isn’t adequately or accurately communicated by marketing, a prospect’s engagement with the sales team may never even take place.
This role reversal means that alignment between sales and marketing has never been more important.
How Should Marketing Respond?
For marketing to successfully rise to the challenge of communicating a compelling value differentiation story in an intensely competitive, attention deficient environment, interactive engagement at every stage of the omnichannel customer’s problem-solving journey is imperative – both online and in-person.
Why is interactive engagement so important? Cognitive science has shown that when dealing with complexity, humans suffer from the inability to form deep neural connections (that is – the ability to retain and remember important information) unless they are highly focused. This focus leads to a key ingredient in getting customers to understand and remember a company’s critical information (such as competitive value differentiators) – which is attention.
Attention and memory are inexorably linked. Too much information results in a lack of attention, which means people do not remember. Making this problem even more difficult is that each individual processes different amounts of information at their own pace.
So, when a marketing program communicates highly complex information in the same way to many people, it is axiomatic that this will result in a lack of consistency in how well the audience understands and remembers these key facts.
This means that it is time to provide prospects with the ability to discover relevant information for themselves, so that they can each traverse the solutions stories at their own pace, and in their own sequence. Interactive engagement provides the medium for doing this. It provides them with the ability to slowly peel back the layers of the onion to understand and self-discover how a complex B2B solution will emerge to help them solve their individual/personalized business challenge.
What Does Interactive Engagement Look Like?
Omnichannel, customer-driven experiences everywhere. Customers only spend 17% of their time in a problem-solving or buying process talking to salespeople (that is all sales representatives of every prospective vendor, so each vendor only gets a fraction of this time.) What are they doing the other 83% of the time? Today’s buying journey is non-linear. From in-person tradeshows, to the website, to hybrid sales meetings, to webinars, back to the web, companies must ensure that the differentiated value of their complex solutions are conveyed effectively – everywhere their buyers are.Value-focused rather than feature-focused experiences. Because there are now a much larger set of buying constituents in the typical B2B process (up to twelve groups of influencers and decision-makers) each representative within the customers’ organization must be able to learn about the value differentiators that are relevant to them, rather than having to decipher how the product’s features will result in meaningful improvements for them.
Self-guided, highly personalized. Change the flow of the conversation from reaction to action by putting prospects in control to navigate and discover your relevant value based on persona, industry, or product, increasing knowledge retention by 75%. By incorporating consistent marketing messages inside immersive, multi-sensory experiences, together with calculators, product configurators, and much more, prospects gain a memorable and personalized understanding of your value, which leads to shortened sales cycles, increased win rates, faster sales/channel training, and greater customer engagement.
The most successful B2B sales organizations of 2023 accept that the customer is in control, and embrace this reality. In the past, sales methodologies – from Solution Selling to the Challenger Methodology – all taught sales leaders how to take control of the sales process. In the digital-first world, the customer will be in control, regardless of whether the sales and marketing people agree. Rather than fighting this truth, winning companies will embrace the paradigm shift, and will deliver great interactive customer experiences (digital, hybrid and in-person) tailored to the recognition that when customers discover for themselves how a company’s solutions are best suited to solve their problems, they are much more likely to trust that company as their partner and collaborator over the long term.