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Over the past decade, change has become a new normal. Even that statement sounds like an old phrase at this point. But it is a truism.
In today’s world, things are moving more quickly than ever and your business needs to react. Businesses need to continually reinvent themselves. That doesn’t mean root and branch reinvention — it’s not a rebrand or product change — but maybe positioning or reacting to changing market trends. Simply put, it means you take a hard look at where the market’s going and what you’re doing to keep up. If you’re doing the same things you did to get to market a decade ago then it’s highly probable that they don’t work any more.
Why is change constant for B2B businesses?
The internet has completely changed the way sales and marketing works. Think about the world before the internet. Your main source of information about a product or service was the person selling it. Think of the questions you’d have to ponder. Will it work? Is it worth the investment? Can I get it cheaper elsewhere? Regardless of whether you were buying pens and paper or a new office space, the only person you could get answers from was the salesperson you were engaged with. But those days are long behind us. Every piece of information you need to make your purchasing decision is available on the internet. Buyers across every industry are using the information available to them on the internet to their advantage.
You’ll likely already know the first, your marketing and sales team need to align around the new ways in which people are buying products and services. Creating marketing and sales experiences that people find useful and engaging. Sales and marketing are no longer about grabbing attention, it’s about utility — providing something that gives value before I make a decision. Regardless of your industry, attracting people is far more effective than the old way of chasing, cold calling and traditional advertising that all try to convince people to buy your product.
The impact on sales and marketing teams
In nearly every company we speak to, we see sales teams that feel like the approach they’re taking is like opening the window and shouting into the wind. Instead, salespeople need to understand that they need to provide value to people before they try to extract any value from the prospect. But on its own, that isn’t enough. Sales and marketing teams, now more than ever, need to be aligned — they need to work together towards a common goal. HBR research shows that the average buyer does 70% of their research before they talk to a salesperson, and over half (59%) would prefer to never talk to a salesperson. If your customers are required to talk to sales during their journey, you can put money on the fact that the customer will be just as prepared as they are to talk. The buyer is looking to see if the salesperson says anything inconsistent with what have learned online, and if they do, it’ll cause a problem.
If the messaging is different, that only creates risk. Risk causes people to pause and take stock. We all know that when there’s a pause in a sales cycle — time kills deals. The fact is, buyers’ behaviour has changed and that is making them say, “I don’t want to work with people that aren’t aligned with my point of view.” That’s the reason that we have to do things differently today.
So with that in mind, sales and marketing have to be perfectly aligned or you might risk losing potential customers. The trouble is, marketing and sales don’t traditionally get along very well. The push and pull between sales and marketing is a long written about topic. But, let’s give a quick overview of why sales and marketing push and pull at one another. Marketing is there to look at the entire funnel – from top to bottom. You think about how you are going to get prospects in the top and how you’re going to convert them to sales at the bottom. You think long term and you think strategically. On the other hand, sales are opportunistic and focused on this month’s or this quarter’s results. They don’t believe in rules, because every situation is different and needs to be reacted to. Between the two, there are two disciplines who struggle to communicate. They’re built to not be aligned, with different disciplines and different processes. But they must find a way.
Sales enablement is key to B2B sales success
One way to get sales and marketing working together is to implement a sales enablement strategy. Sales enablement is the processes, content and tools that ensure sales effectiveness and ability to sell at scale and velocity. And guess what — marketing should be there to execute a well-formed sales enablement strategy.
Most of the time, sales enablement sits within the sales organisation. Normally, with sales operations. Recent HubSpot research found that less than 8% of sales enablement strategies were delivered by marketing teams. The quickest way to align sales and marketing is to provide vested interest. Marketing should drive sales enablement and jointly own the relationship with prospects through to conclusion. And with buyers doing more and more of their own research before they talk to sales, marketing’s alignment with (and maybe even influence over) sales should increase.
With 70% of the buying decision made before someone talks to a salesperson in your business, it is essential that whoever they speak to is an expert at serving today’s modern digital buyer. This means we have to be very honest with ourselves — which team needs to have a greater impact on the sale and the sales process? Is it the sales team or is it the marketing team? The real fact is the numbers say marketing has a greater influence on the sale. This is why we’re seeing a change in businesses, with more of them saying, “we don’t have sales and marketing, we have a Revenue Team.” This is because having a cohesive team working to achieve the same goals is the best way to serve prospects in a more competitive world. To do that, you need to ensure that sales get involved much earlier in that buying process, during the digital side of the decision-making process. This will help them stay further ahead and reclaim the influence in the sales process that has been eroded over the last decade.
A true sales enablement strategy is not about marketing taking on sales administration or being subservient. It is all about bringing marketing and sales together to keep up with today’s knowledgeable digital buyers. Your sales team needs scalable robust processes and content that stands out if they’re going to be successful in the modern world, and marketing is the team that should give it to them.
Developing a B2B sales enablement strategy
So, rant over. At this point, we’ve focused on the fact that you need to get your sales and marketing teams working collectively, and that sales enablement is the core way of doing that. That does open up a whole range of questions: What does that really mean? What’s logistically involved in making that happen?
A solid sales enablement strategy has three core parts: a clear objective, an ideal customer profile and a content strategy. Let’s dig into each one individually.
B2B sales enablement: clear objective setting
First, let’s focus on setting a clear objective. Sales enablement is the processes, content and technology keeping the process moving, and allows sales to sell efficiently and effectively.
Rather than focusing on traditional marketing metrics, you should look to build a strategy based on sales metrics, revenue, deals or profitability. Measuring marketing effectiveness by focusing on pipeline generation and contribution aligns activity to the overall goal. But, let’s be realistic: it is much harder to do. It’s easy to count leads. However, if you can do it in the context of revenue or sales, then both marketing and sales will be aligned around a common outcome. Marketing’s main goal is to drive growth. So how do you measure growth? Growth is measured by revenue. It’s not complex, but that’s how you have to approach it and think about it.
Building shared revenue goals is the most fundamental part of a sales enablement strategy. Align sales and marketing around a single revenue goal first, and implementing the process, content delivery and tools will then help you arrive at the target.
B2B sales enablement: ideal customer profile
Okay, so we’ve set the goal. The next step is to build a view of who we want to speak to. Who are the people that are most likely to buy? Who are the customers most open to the conversation? Who are the customers that are an ideal fit for us? For most sales teams that we engage with, they struggle to articulate the ideal customer profile. It’s not intuitive; it’s whoever walks onto the lot.
More often than not, salespeople are focused on how they are going to make more sales than the previous year. So we ask the question, what are you going to do to get more sales than last year? The answers fall into three categories, all of which are wrong:
- Work Harder
- Work Smarter
- Be More Productive
In reality, there is only one way to make more sales — it is to maximise your time with people more likely to buy and minimise your time with those that are less likely. Be more ruthless with selecting the opportunities you’ll work on and the dead ends. Marketing teams have to help sales to focus on the right people. If you’re speaking to someone who is highly unlikely to buy, that’s wasted time that the salesperson will never get back. Sales efficiency can be improved by spending more time speaking with more qualified buyers and reducing the amount of wasted time spent speaking to less qualified buyers. You need to implement the processes, structures, content and tools that will help sales make those decisions.
B2B sales enablement: content strategy
The final element to your sales enablement strategy is content. And this isn’t something that’s done solely by marketing. We see scores of companies where content is just something marketing produces without help, support or input from other teams. In fact, most commonly, the only input is to say ‘our marketing content is terrible’. Most of the time, and in the past, I’ve been guilty of it too; we talk about things like inbound marketing and we talk about marketers, making it sound like marketers have written it, which results in it not resonating with the target audience. It doesn’t resonate with decision makers and business leaders. No business leader will ever want to be the best content marketer. However, what a CEO does want is to be the first answer when a prospect has a problem. The CEO wants these prospects to associate their people and their brand as the go-to for help, support and insight. Let’s face it, most B2B businesses are terrible at content, or so they think — you’ll no doubt find that there are streams of content across your business but it’s just not called “content”.
Salespeople, in particular, are important to content generation. They collect the questions that prospects and customers ask. Normally they answer that question. That’s the starting point for your content strategy. And today most don’t see this as content, but it might be a meeting, a conference call or sales email. It might be a presentation. All of this good stuff should be fed back into marketing and put to work. It’s a simple strategy that most people ignore and isn’t implemented, but it should be.
So in summary, you need to focus on three elements to make up the foundations of your sales enablement strategy:
- A clear objective
- An ideal customer profile
- A content strategy
With all of those things aligned, you can focus on the process from top of the funnel to closing the deal. The tools and technology that support your strategy should be built around the objective, ideal customer profile, content and processes to be accelerated over time.