A fundamental shift we see in Business-to-Business (B2B) sales is that prospecting and sales results seem to have turned for the worse. Lead conversion rates are lower; sales cycles are longer; and closing ratios are not what they used to be.

We hear many Sales and Marketing executives complain that “solution selling” and other sales methodologies are no longer as effective as they were in the past.  We are also hearing that sales reps are losing control of the sales process, and that prospects just aren’t picking up their phones or returning calls.

We don’t believe these changes occurred overnight. Rather, they have been evolving over the past two decades to the point where they are now impossible to ignore.

What our customers are complaining about is the shift in the control over the flow of information—a shift in control from seller to buyer.

In past decades, sales people were conduits of highly valuable information for prospective buyers. They might open a sales call by saying, “…if you are anything like my typical customers, you probably have these challenges that are costing you a great deal of money. We have been very successful at solving those kinds of problems and I would like to share with you how we do that”.

Twenty years ago, that opening was pretty effective. Short of buying and reading books on how to address such challenges or occasionally talking to their peers at conventions and trade shows, buyers had few sources of information, insights, or new ideas. Talking with a highly informed consultative sales rep was critical to their finding viable solutions to their challenges.

In fact, once they found such an informed sales person, many customers didn’t even make other purchases before talking to their sales rep. Such were the powers that sales rep had back in the day.

Not so true anymore.

This article discusses why sales people have lost their great influence and power, and what they can do to get it back. It makes the clear case that without effective B2B Marketing, B2B Sales will continue to ineffective and costly. The article also explains what we mean by “effective” B2B Marketing—one that provides highly valuable information to customers, rather than self-serving advertising.

So what changed?

The Internet changed everything—it is the ubiquitous, free, and on-demand information resource available to anyone who has access to the Internet and knows how to search. This is what has shifted control of the flow of information from sellers to buyers.

As buyers, we not only know this, but we take advantage of it.  What we don’t appreciate as sellers is the degree to which it has changed the entire B2B sales model—from a primarily seller-controlled process, to one almost entirely controlled by the buyer.

Let’s illustrate with a couple of simple examples.  Let’s look at a prospective buyer (let’s call her Jane) with some pressing business need, and a sales rep (let’s call him Tom) for a company that provides solutions.  Lets explore two scenarios, one that would have played out twenty years ago in 1996, and another that would play out today, in 2016.

Back In the Day

In 1996, Tom would attempt to reach Jane, and when he connected, would say something like, “Hello Jane, my name is Tom and I am calling from ABC Company where we help companies like yours solve their ‘xyz’ problems. We have been very successful at that and I would like 30 minutes of your time to share with you how we have done that.”

Tom doesn’t really know if Jane has the ‘xyz’ problem. If she does though, there is a good chance she will agree to a first meeting because, frankly, where else would Jane get ideas on how to solve her ‘xyz problem’?  If Jane doesn’t have a “xyz” problem, she may want to meet with Tom to see if he has information regarding how to solve the problem she does have.  Jane is willing to spend 30 minutes to find out.

In 2016…

How about In 2016? Is Tom a unique source of valuable information, or is he a self-serving, time-sucking nuisance?

In 2016 (and indeed, for a number of years now) all Jane has to do is to experiment with some key search phrases and immediately has access to all sorts of blogs, discussions, articles, presentations and more–to review at her convenience.

And, it makes no sense for her to see a sales rep until she has made her selection, a short list of candidate to speak with.

Jane has now has gathered the data she needs, and decides to contact Tom to schedule a time to speak specifically about her needs and challenges. Jane is in control of the buyer’s journey, not Tom.

If Tom and his company still think and sell like it’s 1996, they will send Jane emails and call her to schedule an appointment.  Jane won’t respond because the subject line is something irrelevant to her, like “I’ll be in your area in the next few weeks” or “Wanted to talk to you about our Product Q”.

Jane will simply look at the caller id, and since she doesn’t recognize Tom’s or his company name, Jane doesn’t even pick up. If Tom leaves a  voice mail, Jane will delete it as soon as she hears, “Hi, this is Tom, from ABC Company, the leading provider…”

As long as Tom continues to sell like it’s still 1996, he is a time-sucking nuisance rather than a valuable resource for Jane.

Is this the End of B2B Selling?

We are not saying that B2B selling is no longer relevant.

Rather, we are saying that selling today the way we did twenty or thirty years ago will no longer work.  In the next sections, we will explore why that is and how to fix this problem.

The problem with B2B Sales is B2B Marketing

The real problem with B2B Sales, why companies continue to sell like it is 1996, is B2B Marketing.

The typical B2B marketing campaign is unabashedly self-serving with few, if any, new ideas or perspectives in solving customer problems. Go to the average B2B website and it is hard to find anything that is not about the company or its products, with a link here and there that says” Learn More”.

To make matters worse, clicking on the “Learn More” button takes you to a form where you have to provide your contact information to get more information. It is basically transactional–first you, “valued” prospect, give me something I want (your contact information) and then I will give you something you want.

A great deal of  ‘white paper’ that is provided has little in the way of new ideas. It is mostly several pages of generally available information, with more advertising for the company and its products, than valuable and informative content.

But you already know that. So what do you do? You enter some bogus information where you can’t be reached (you know how to play that game too). Because, if you actually entered your real contact information, you can count on receiving a call—during business hours when you are busy—from someone trying to setup an appointment with a sales rep so you can “…get all your questions answered”.

It’s the old1996 B2B sales and marketing model that says, “Let’s setup an appointment and I will dazzle you—trust me.”

Does anything so far inspire you to have confidence that you will be dazzled?

Fix B2B Marketing and you will fix B2B Sales

Let’s imagine that Tom and his Company sell like it is 2016. What if Tom dazzled Jane before asking anything from her? Would Jane then give him 30 minutes?  It seems more probable since Tom has already proved his worth.

How to Dazzle

Let’s look at an example. Say your current selling cost is about 40% of revenues, and your CEO says you have to get it down to below 30% and increase revenues by 20% at the same time. I think we can agree that you will be doing some key word searches as soon as you leave that meeting.

Your search will return a lot of stuff you already know and are probably already doing.   Some of the searches will land you at a site where you are required give up your contact details to obtain the information. From time to time, you play that game to get something you think might be useful.

But, say you found some really interesting articles with some really good ideas. And, you weren’t asked to provide your contact info to access this content. Here is how I think that scenario would play out:

  • You quickly scan, select, and assemble resources for further reading later
  • You block a few hours—maybe for the evening or early next morning—to read what you bookmarked
  • You read the articles more carefully and take notes
  • You then setup a meeting with some key members of your team to discuss what you found
  • Based on your meeting, you will assign some action items for the team to further review the information.
  • Your team will report their findings back to you at the scheduled time
  • During your next meeting, you will review all findings and then decide on a short list of potential vendors you want to contact
  • You assign someone to schedule discovery call meetings

Does this sound sensible to you as a buyer?

As a buyer, yes. But you see how the table is turned upside down from the seller’s perspective. The buyer is the one doing the discovery call, not the seller.

How 2016 B2B Marketing Enables 2016 B2B Sales

When B2B Marketing is adjusted for the 2016 buyer’s process, it enables B2B Sales as follows:

  1. B2B Marketing provides a deep information resource for which the Buyer is looking
  2. Therefore, the Seller is now a valuable resource rather than a self-serving, time-sucking nuisance
  3. Due to both the quality and depth of the information found, the Buyer feels confident that this Seller knows the Buyer’s challenges and can potentially provide a viable solution
  4. Confidence is established, which is a prerequisite to trust, and trust is a necessary condition for making buying decisions
  5. Buyers find the Seller’s open approach a welcome change compared to other vendors that seem to want the Buyer to first commit to something before giving anything
  6. The Buyer want to make sure this Seller is on the short list of potential vendors and reaches out to the Seller to schedule time for a presentation, probably before the Seller contacts her.
  7. This is what we call an “A” lead that is highly qualified with the buyer seeking a solution for a real and current need.  Marketing has done its job; providing an inbound lead.

Now, it’s up to Sales to convert this high quality lead into a long-term customer.

The Fear and Frenzy of Demand Scarcity

We believe Sales and Marketing executives agree, in principle, that what we outlined so far makes sense.

So, why isn’t the above how most companies market and sell today?

The single most common reason we get is, “If we had the time and luxury to do it that way, we would, but it takes too long to do it that way, and we have to meet our numbers now. Besides, we can’t wait for customers to come to us. We must go after them and win before our competitors do.”

At first glance, this sounds like a rational and savvy statement to make.

However, its underlying assumptions are flawed:

  • A lot of companies are either missing their revenue targets, or their selling costs are way too high (40% or more) as they cut prices to win deals, or hire more sales reps to generate more sales. Neither approach solves their fundamental problems—not enough Sales Pipeline; sales cycles are too long and too few opportunities exist to close.
  • We are not suggesting that the Seller’s organization should simply wait for prospects to call them. On the contrary, we advocate the use of highly targeted lead generation and nurturing campaigns that increase inbound leads. In fact, we advocate that B2B marketing should be responsible for at least 50% of all new revenues generated in any year.

The B2B Marketing-Sales Model

The 2016 B2B Marketing-Sales Model is a single continuum that starts with highly targeted potential customers at one end and long-lasting customers at the other end. In other words, Marketing and Sales must have a single goal and mission—to build and deliver a Predictable Revenue Model for the company.

We refer to this B2B Marketing-Sales Model as the Four Funnels Framework—four nested funnels, each feeding the next with what it needs to result in the fourth, the Sales Funnel. Each funnel is responsible for delivering measurable results that are inputs for the next funnel.

Funnel 1: Reach

Funnel 1 has two fundamental objectives:

  • Identify a clearly defined and targeted group of potential buyers about which Marketing knows quite a bit
    • Who they are and what they do
    • What are the most critical challenges they face in increasing/improving what they offer or cutting the costs and risks of making their offer or how to improve their business processes
    • Who the decision makers are and how to access them
    • Which are the key competitors (direct and alternative) to beat, and how to beat them
    • Reach out to these potential buyers with a clear and compelling message
      • What are the issues that must be addressed for each stakeholder
      • How to address these in a convincing way
      • Where to place the information so these stakeholders can easily find them

Funnel 2: Educate

As we discussed above, Buyers are now doing their own research to solve problems. What they are looking for, first and foremost, are ideas on how to solve problems in this fast-paced and changing world.

Therefore, they not only are searching for solutions to their current problems, but they are also looking for a partner who is a thought leader, and will continue to be a viable long term partner who can be counted on to offer new solutions for new problems, in the future.

Funnel 2 is responsible for nurturing potential buyers by deeply engaging them with valuable content, always pointing to additional relevant information (“If you were looking at this article, you probably also want to look at this article…”)

Funnel 3: Qualify

Once the prospect has shown clear interest in the Seller’s resources, the Seller’s Business Development Rep will be provided with a lead to qualify the following:

  1. Is there a current pressing need or is the prospect merely doing research for future projects (that’s fine too, but that will continue to be a nurture campaign)
  2. What is the compelling event that has caused the search
  3. Who is driving the initiative for this research and why
  4. Has a budget and timeframe been determined for this initiative
  5. Is the business driver ready to speak with a solution expert at the Seller’s company, and if so, when is a good time

Funnel 4: Convert

Funnel 4’s job is to work with the prospect to generate/explore viable ideas and work with the prospective buyer to architect a solution, of which the Seller is playing some part (perhaps a central one).

With continued demonstration of partnership and consultation, the Seller naturally converts the prospective Buyer into a long-term Customer.

The previous statement strongly implies the need to continue to consultatively partner with the customer in order to keep that customer for the long term. Sellers that think the selling is done when the contract is signed find themselves out with no reorder or renewal of future contracts.  Which only increases the fear and frenzy, leading back to selling like it is 1996.

Market likes it 2016

With that said, all of the Marketing and Sales automation tools continue to not only be relevant, but essential since none of what we outlined, above, can be done without true automation. What we are advocating is the following order of events:

  • First get the fundamentals of sales and marketing right (strategy)
  • Then build in automation to accelerate and improve on the accuracy of your marketing and selling efforts (operations)
  • Next plan to provide potential buyers with informative content, on an ongoing basis–“Always be Closing” is now “Always be a Resource”.

the goal of 2016 B2B marketing is to create highly qualified inbound leads that B2B Sales converts into long term customers.  Your prospect now sees your company as a viable and trustworthy thought leader.  When prospects are ready to buy, they will contact your company for an appointment. When we do these things in the right way and order, you will end up with a Predictable Revenue Model that will result in a sustainable high rate of growth.

Next Steps

If you found this article useful, perhaps moving to 2016 B2B Selling is easier than you think.

Do some Internal Assessments to see where the gaps may be.

Contact us if there is any way we can help.