In the realm of business-to-business commerce, sales and marketing have been on opposite sides of the fence for far too long. In countless executive meetings, they've battled over budgets, revenue attributions, and recognition for driving the business. At its worst, this conflict reduces marketing to only generating leads and simplifies sales to just making deals. Neither tells the whole story, and it's in the interest of brand strategists and brand stewards to align sales and marketing stakeholders.
As many buying experiences have evolved from in-person to online, from high-touch to self-service, and from curated to automated, the gap between marketing and making the sale has closed - in the consumer space, at least. Technology allows us to more effectively track the conversion at each stage, and assess the contribution of each branded touch point to the revenue realized. There are more paths to purchase than ever that may not require a real, live salesperson to facilitate.
Pro tip: Just don't say that to the salesperson who’s minutes from closing a multi-year deal that's been months in the making.
The last bastion of sales supremacy may be the complex B2B enterprise sale, and it's easy to see why. With the growth of X-as-a-Service technologies and business models, the largest scale enterprise purchases aren't one-off transactions, they're relationships. Success in that scenario is the result of a collaboration between the buyer and seller, not a zero-sum competition. The more complex the purchase, the more important the expertise and experience of the seller is to the success of the buyer. It's also often more difficult for brand practitioners to get a foothold when they're seen as competitors with sales for internal funding.
So, what can brand practitioners do to align sales and marketing actions in the complex, B2B sale?
I. Source your insights from sales, not just for sales. The expertise and experience on your sales team may be the richest source of insights available to a brand builder. They've been on the ground, working directly with customers, pressure testing every facet of the experience. If you want to achieve "customer intimacy," it makes sense to talk to the teams that spend the most hours working alongside your customers. The best way to tap into that knowledge is to ask for it - before you design your next research approach and before you ask for funding. Assigning due value to the latent knowledge of your sales team - and giving them time and space to share it - will help drive adoption and utilization of the products of brand building throughout the business. Sales stakeholders will also be the first to call out when your carefully-crafted buyer persona doesn't match with their best customer, or when your brand promise is undercut by an overlooked competitor. Making sales a co-owner of brand insights and co-facilitator in socializing those insights will help brand practitioners get maximum value from an insights investment.
II. Position sales as solvers. The more complex and involved a B2B purchase becomes, the more likely that the sales experience itself is an important and oft-ignored part of the value chain. That's to say, doing the work of getting to a final proposal - audits, knowledge sharing, configuring, negotiating, proposing, re-configuring, and re-negotiating - is valuable in and of itself. To quantify that, consider that a prescriptive sales approach - where "suppliers give a clear recommendation for action backed by a specific rationale" - increases sales ease by 86% over a merely responsive approach (HBR, The New Sales Imperative). As a brand practitioner, rather than viewing sales as the next stop in the funnel for a lead, think of them as outbound value creators, the first wave of human resources that are there to tackle a (future) customer's business problems. This mindset can bring greater clarity and accuracy to your customer journey, and open new opportunities to merchandise the “prescriptive sale.”
III. Message reasons to engage, not just reasons to buy. There is a ballooning number of stakeholders involved in complex enterprise sales on the customer’s side of the table. According to CEB, it's increased from 5.6 stakeholders on the buying team to 6.8 over the past three years (HBR, The New Sales Imperative). That’s a seemingly small numerical increase, but it means that there are about 20% more people that need to endorse a brand than did previously – and many of them aren’t getting facetime with a salesperson. The costs of aligning this larger group of stakeholders is massive:
“65% of customers tell [CEB] that they spent as much time as they’d expected to need for the entire purchase just getting ready to speak with a sales rep.”
By the time that first sales rep contact takes place, most prospects are far beyond being a traditional “lead” and are well on their way to making a decision. In highly complex purchases, creating branded content and experiences that address early assessment and alignment needs may be more valuable than specific solution offers or outcome claims. It gives the prospect a reason to engage with your brand before they may feel ready to negotiate. It can also give your sales teams special insights by pre-qualifying and characterizing leads, creating a better foundation for a prescriptive sales conversation.
One thing that won’t change as B2B buying evolves is the importance of relationship building – though the number of people and the stage in the buying process are trending upward and earlier. Modern marketers have a greater imperative than ever to begin forging a trusted partnership well before a sales conversation. It’s in this context that consistent, intentional, and focused brand stewardship can deliver the greatest competitive advantage.
What do you wish your sales team knew about marketing – and vice versa? How else have you successfully bridged the objectives of Sales and Marketing teams within your organization? Tell us about it!
Dan Cabacungan | Strategy Director