Marketing will become more technical, sales teams won’t be on the road so much, and there’s going to be more overlap and, hopefully, alignment.
The web, online advertising and online marketing are having a big impact on how Business-to-business (B2B) companies sell. But in some ways this just reflects the fact that B2B buyers now buy things differently too. Ten years ago, buyers started their selection process by talking to vendor sales people, often at industry tradeshows. And there were fewer people involved in the buying decision on the customer’s side. Today buyers do much more initial research online, so they know much more about a vendor before that vendor becomes aware of them and before direct contact is made. Who initiates the research and who participates in the buying decision is more complex, with more people involved even for deals in the $5k to $50k range.
This means that to be successful, companies need to meet the research and information needs of prospective customers at as early a stage in the buying process as possible. They need to be easily found online by the various people who contribute to a customer buying decision, and when they are found they need to provide compelling information that addresses the specific questions of each type of buyer or influencer.
The change in B2B buyer behaviour also means sales teams are going to change. Sales staff are being involved at a much later stage of the customer’s evaluation of a product. The earlier stages will be managed either by marketing or by a reconstituted sales team. Many B2B marketing units are starting to do some of the work sales teams traditionally did, from lead generation and qualification through to providing pre-recorded online demos, technical briefings, business cases and ROI calculations. Marketers can now use online video, animated product tours, webinars and other interactive and dynamic content to provide a ‘virtual sales demonstration’. While you cannot fully recreate face-to-face meetings online, you can get pretty close through the use of web conferencing software, video and the telephone. This enables you to provide product demonstrations and presentations over the web that traditionally would have been provided ‘on site’ at a customer’s premises by sales and pre-sales staff.
Another change to the roles of sales and marketing is that companies are automating the acquisition of potential customer contact details through registrations on web-pages and blogs. They will spend more time trying to profile prospective customers that they attract online so that they don’t pursue people who are uninterested and so they can quickly pinpoint those prospects that have the greatest likelihood of purchasing within a defined time period. For example, today if someone registers to download a document from my website they have to supply me with their name and email address. From this download registration I can see if they have been on the website in the past, I can look up their IP address and their broad geographic location, and I could pull further information from networks such as LinkedIn and Facebook. These techniques enable companies to build a more detailed profile of their visitors which helps them determine whether they are more or less likely to buy their product now or in the future. For instance, if the same person has repeatedly visited your website in the past 5 weeks and downloaded every document or case study you have then this indicates some level of interest. If in addition you find that 4 of his colleagues have also visited your site and downloaded documents, you might want to consider having one of your sales guys give them a call. This kind of profiling can be automated, and can lead to more rapid generation of high quality sales leads that can then be passed more efficiently to sales teams to close and generate increased revenue.
So going back to the original question, I think Marketing departments will become more technically oriented, more process oriented and more fully automated. Their contribution to demand generation will be more visible and more easily measurable. I think Sales will share some of the online promotional tasks and lead qualification tasks with Marketing, and I think there’s going to be a significant drop in on-site sales visits. Miller Heimann will still be used to analyse and handle large corporate sales opportunities that have been fully qualified as real prospects, but this will be the tip of the sales and marketing spear that began with the initial acquisition of a contact or lead from online activities.
What do you think?