Within the past couple of years there’s been a significant shift in way businesses conduct their sales process. Buyers no longer want to hear pitches nor are they easily influenced by vendors.
Modern technology has given us an unlimited amount of information right at our fingertips and now salespeople are no longer in control of the process.
In fact, 78% of buyers spend more time researching a product before they buy
Only 29% of people actually want to talk to a sales person,
And, only 3% of people actually trust what sales reps have to say
These statistics can be quite scary but it’s not the end of the world. CEO’s still have to run a business and the sales department still have to meet their quotas.
But, the dynamics of who you sell to and how you sell it have changed.
We’re going to cover how to do B2B sales the right way and the kinds of strategies you can start implementing to overcome the sticky icky challenges of the traditional sales process.
So, let’s hop to it.
But First, Some Basic Definitions
Businesses are structured in two very different ways:
1) Business to business (B2B)
This is the kind of business who sells to another business. The products and services they offer tend to be of higher value which require a much longer sales process.
2) Business to consumer (B2C)
This is the kind of business who provides products or services directly to consumers. The value of these products and services are usually on a much lower end than that of a B2B business and can require a shorter sales process.
The Buyers Journey Then
Back in the day, businesses would call up a sales rep who would provide a list of solutions for their problem and if they liked what they heard, they would make a purchase.
It was a relatively straight forward process that didn’t require the need for a whole lot of lead generation. It was predictable.
But, earning the trust of buyers has become fragmented. The rise of the internet has been a game changer for many businesses. From the rapid spread of misinformation to concerns on how data is stored and used, people just don’t trust businesses anymore.
This has led to a fundamental shift in how business is conducted. Now, 67% of the buyers journey is done digitally.
We no longer ask sales reps for their advice, request case studies or ask them for references. Instead, people look to third-party review sites like Yelp, Glassdoor, and Google. They ask family or friends for advice and turn to social media for validation.
People are more independent, impatient and demanding than ever before.
The Buyers Journey Now
Fast forward to today and a process that was once predictable has now become an overly complex battlefield of businesses fighting for market share.
Now, the process looks a little something like this:
- They have a problem
- They look for a solutions to solve the problem
- They compare solutions to find the best option that meets their needs which requires analyzing reviews, looking at the competition, asking for the opinions of others on social media and maybe texting friends and family.
- Then, they’ll form their own hypothesis
- And, when they feel comfortable enough they’ll consider making a purchase
See, buyers don’t need anyone to tell them they’re making the right decision. They can easily internalize information and do it themselves.
Because of this, the role in sales and marketing teams have changed. Now, sales teams really only need to handle the final stages of the process which is when the customer is looking for reassurance or wants to make a final purchase. The result:
Marketing Expenses are Higher
Back in the day, businesses could build a website, include a contact page, optimize the content and generate a sufficient amount of leads that were easy to seal a deal with. But, once again modern technology has disrupted the game. Now, marketers have to consider a number of other factors -
As if the evolution of the internet wasn’t enough, businesses also have to adapt to non-stop algorithm updates in search engines which typically happens about 500-600 times a year.
Now, it’s about optimizing for ‘featured snippets’, ‘people also ask’ boxes and voice search.
But, once again businesses have yet another barrier.
Social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Linkedin have become the new ‘gate keepers’ of the internet.
Their algorithms have been designed to favor users who create original content on their individual platforms and deprioritize those who are infrequent, share external links or use too many hashtags within posts.
Similar to Google Adwords, they also provide their own advertising channels which are becoming more expensive with the increase in competitive businesses.
In May 2018, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) passed by the European Union (EU) which imposes regulations on how businesses are allowed to obtain, store, manage and process personal data of EU citizens.
This means that businesses must collect only what’s necessary, state how it will be used and ensure it’s stored correctly according to GDPR provisions.
Because this is how businesses are able to interact with consumers on a global level, it puts a heavier weight on marketing teams and further limits their power.
Repeal of Net Neutrality
The repeal of net neutrality is just one more disruption to add to the list which means ISP’s are now allowed to block and manipulate which content users have access including social channels. Smaller businesses and e-commerce websites will primarily be affected. Thus, making it twice as hard to reach users online while bigger players like Amazon and Google reap the benefit.
Sales is Harder
The evolution of the internet and new developments in digital marketing has exposed a flawed sales process and is pushing buyers over the edge. They don’t want to hear how a product or that service is the perfect solution for them. B2B executives are passive and can smell bullshit a mile away. They won’t hesitate to hang up the phone, block a number or walk away. But, there are good reasons why -
The Traditional Model has Shifted
Ten years ago, people used to buy in to the old school sales model (call, demo, close). But today, 73% of Millennials are involved in B2B purchase decisions which means a whole new model has evolved.
Buyers want to be educated, supported and guided through the process.
Not pushed, pitched or hassled in to it.
B2B Customers Take Longer to Make a Purchase Decision
Buyers are fearful of making the wrong decision and will look for deception in everything especially, when the transaction is very large.
Not only do they have to feel 100% confident in their decision to buy, they also want to establish trust with who they’re buying from and be reassured their company is in good hands.
Plus, negotiating a deals with just one person has become dormant and now multiple stakeholders are included in the decision making process too. Today, the average sales process takes 22% longer than it did 5 years go.
Economic Pressure and Commoditization
With nearly 98% of companies worried about the global economy, manufacturers, wholesalers and distributors are under critical pressure to perform which can often lead to discounting in order to turn around a profit quickly. However, this can have a negative impact on a businesses goals and overall reputation.
When last minute deals or discounts are offered, it also indicates that the company undervalues its products or services. Not only does this make buyers even more cautious to make a purchase but, they won’t hold the company to a higher standard.
All of this has resulted in a number of challenges for B2B sales teams to overcome.
- A newer sales model allows prospects to go through the sales process more independently, without the help of a salesperson or interaction from a vendor.
- The sales process for B2B companies take twice as long than that of a B2C business
- Buyers are skeptical of discounts and a flawed value proposition
To top it off, 52% of B2B buyers expect to make half of their purchases online in 2018.
Advanced Technology and Marketing Automation
To grow and to win market share it boils down to who engages with customers more often and who converts leads faster.
The goal is to attract potential leads to your site, track their interests and present useful, relevant content to convert them in to sales. It builds a very strong database for leads in a CRM system and allows you to nurture those leads over time.
Almost 49 % of businesses have turned to marketing automation as a way to combine marketing campaigns across all channels and more than half are B2B organizations. Thus, increasing the competition significantly.
Marketing automation has revolutionized the way businesses manage their time and has allowed marketers to shift their focus to the best possible prospects that can be converted.
Luckily, there are ways to overcome a few of these challenges.
How to Align Sales & Marketing Teams
When digital marketing and sales efforts are aligned properly, it helps users make more informed decisions and moves them further along the buyers journey.
In fact, 74% of businesses who use marketing automation reported their sales and marketing teams more aligned.
Establish Buyer Personas
This is the most important step in getting your sales and marketing teams on the same page. Chances are, each department has developed their own view of what your ‘ideal’ buyer personas look like and more than likely the activities initiated in each department reflect their assumption.
But, everyone has different viewpoints and when buyer personas aren’t established in the very beginning, it leads to mixed messaging within your company.
Get the sales and marketing team in the same room and discuss what your ‘ideal’ customer profile looks like. Listen for feedback and jot down the most common traits, strengths, weaknesses, challenges etc. Do a little bit of research if you have to and figure who your best and worst customers are.
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Work Toward the Same Goal
Traditionally, marketing and sales aren’t built to align. They have very different mindsets, different disciplines, and usually different processes. But, as we learned earlier, 78% of a buyers research is done before they even talk to sales.
In fact, 69% of companies rank communicating business goals company wide as the most important and effective way to build a high performing team. And, only 7% of employees know what they need to do in order to contribute to company goals.
When businesses create a unified revenue team, share metrics, and consistently work to meet the same goal, you can increase the time sales reps spend speaking with more qualified buyers and reduce the time they spend speaking with less qualified buyers.
This allows empowered teams to sell more efficiently and at a higher velocity.
Develop a Lead Qualification Framework
A lead qualification framework is an outline of what makes a person or an organization qualified to be a good fit for your product offering.
Most businesses won’t have this framework in place but it’s a crucial document to establish in order for sales and marketing to be unified.
This will vary from business to business but here are some questions to help you get started:
- Are they in a particular industry or niche?
- Does the company need to be a certain size?
- Do they generate a certain amount of annual revenue per year?
- Which actions demonstrate they’re sales ready?
It doesn’t have to be a lengthy 5 page report, just create a simple checklist that’s easy enough to understand between both departments.
Define a MQL and SQL
While the lead qualification framework is a general outline for both sales and marketing to go off of, it’s important to note that not all leads that come in will be generated from the same unified source.
This is where defining a marketing qualified lead (MQL) and a sales qualified lead (SQL) come in.
Some leads will be a good fit and some leads will be a bad fit, some will be ready to buy and other just won’t be. It’s important to define each of these in addition to the lead qualification framework to prevent any confusion across teams.
The last thing you want is for sales to reach out to a MQL who is a poor fit for your services. Occasionally, you’ll generate poor leads here and there but, if you have too many there may be a miscommunication between your teams. And, just because they’re a poor lead doesn’t mean they should be ignored. They should be nurtured by marketing until they become a good fit.
Leverage Content to Keep Teams Aligned
Have the marketing team create a variety of content assets for the sales team to use throughout the their process and allow marketing to communicate when and how to use the assets. Most of these are large pieces of content like in-depth how-to guides, case studies, whitepapers, e-books, etc.
Sometimes sales can break up the pieces of content and create a webinar or a live presentation out of it. Keep refreshing the content by allowing sales to openly communicate common pain points and better angles for outreach.
Better yet, hold a monthly meeting for both departments to help keep company goals aligned and bring new ideas to the table.
Prospects, leads and customers won’t naturally come to you nor will you attract them by yelling ‘come buy from me’.
Marketing now OWNS the relationship with your prospects pre-sale.
Both sales and marketing teams need to be fully integrated in order to move prospects further down the funnel, generate qualified leads and turn them into actual buyers.
In the end, it’s all about building relationships which in turn, builds trust and that’s how you grow a B2B business.