The forecasts seem to universally agree: B2B sales as we know it is facing a technological revolution. Increasingly complex buying processes, more self-educated customers, and a noisier, more competitive environment for lead generation are changing how sales and marketing teams approach potential customers. Given all of this change, what will B2B sales look like in 10 years?
The enterprise buying process is more complicated than ever: the average B2B deal now has more than eight decision makers, a 43 percent increase from three years ago. At the same time, B2B e-commerce is rising, with Alibaba predicting a $6.7 trillion global market for B2B e-commerce by 2020.
For sales and marketing teams, the path forward is a major debate. Some expect software and algorithm-driven solutions to reign supreme: can predictive analytics and smarter marketing automation replace sales talent? On another side of the debate, the answer is more nuanced: improved alignment between marketing and sales and more strategically-informed sales reps will be the bread-and-butter behind a successful sales approach. Of course, classic sales skill sets aren’t necessarily at odds with emerging technologies.
Re-imagining the customer journey
Thanks to advances in customer analytics capabilities, organisations have never had more information at their fingertips to examine exactly what drives a customer to a purchase decision.
The data illustrates an evolving sales process increasingly driven by the buyer – not just in B2C sales, but in B2B as well. While the numbers vary heavily between industries, research suggests the average B2B buyer completes 50-90% of the sales process before engaging with sales. As a result, many sales teams are shifting their focus to later-stage prospects.
With this in mind, marketing teams are on the hook for better and more actionable leads to deliver to their sales counterparts. Practicing an engagement marketing strategy focused on the customer and where they are in their purchase journey is fundamental. In turn, your content marketing strategy is most effective when you use data-driven insights to provide prospects with the right materials at the right time, as well as keep sales informed of when contacting the customer is most appropriate.
The result? Better understanding of how customers find you – and how they want to be sold to – means redesigning the sales funnel and customer picture. The alternatives, such as a brute force approach to selling, are much less effective.
An evolving alliance between sales and marketing
Traditionally, sales and marketing have interacted more like opposing teams in a turf war than allies working together towards the same goal. Forward-looking companies have realised this model is outdated and are working to better align their teams. But even today only 10 percent of marketing and sales professionals say their demand generation and sales enablement/training programmes are completely aligned.
We predict that the war between sales and marketing will end, as successful marketers are increasingly becoming more analytical, making data-driven decisions on creative campaigns, and strong sales people are employing customer psychology and relationship-building tactics to become competitive closers.
This takes the form of marketing delivering not just a list of form fills to their sales counterparts, but implementing a lead intelligence program that allows them to indicate “marketing-qualified leads” that are ready to talk to sales.
Integration of these two teams will be key to company success, as they will be better prepared to tag-team and deal-close rather than function in silos. Aligning the two functions means understanding the customer buying journey, aligning incentives for both teams to ensure bottom line accountability, and leading with a clear and unified focus that fosters a culture of organisation-wide collaboration between the two teams.
Embracing the new normal
With the rise of lead intelligence, explosion of B2B e-commerce, and an increasing focus on automation, the outlook for sales and marketing professionals has never looked brighter: by 2020, the total B2B sales market is forecasted to hit $25 trillion.
The iconic “Always Be Closing” mantra popularised by Glengarry Glen Ross has worked for decades of successful sales teams. Rapid shifts in technology will likely continue to underscore the fundamentals of selling and become our new normal moving forward. Marketing and sales will work together to understand the buyer and speak their language.
By Matt Culbertson, Marketing Communications Manager, ON24
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