SiriusDecisions Summit 2015: The Un-Death of B2B Sales

I’ve got to admit, when SiriusDecisions’ Jennifer Ross and Marisa Kopec opened their keynote session yesterday morning saying their presentation was going to be “provocative”, I was skeptical. As a passionate marketer who strives to transform demand generation each and every day, I tend to think that nothing can shock me. I stand corrected. And I don’t think there was anyone in the ballroom at the Opryland Resort this morning who wasn’t a bit provoked by what they heard. In fact to borrow a graphic from Jeff Lash’s post, here’s how we felt:

mind blownFor years (four long years to be exact) we’ve heard, read and repeated in every presentation we’ve prepared that 67% of the buying process happens online. We’ve done the same with another statistic saying that 57% of the buying journey is complete before customers ever make their first contact with a potential supplier.

These and other similar statistics have led marketers to believe that the importance of B2B sales reps has diminished. We’ve focused on the digital channels for prospect engagement and, for the most part, thought of sales as a key ingredient of the process only after we’ve generated a Marketing Qualified Lead and passed it to a CRM platform for follow-up.

So when Jennifer and Marisa unveiled the results of the 2015 B-to-B Buying Study of the behavior of 1,000 executives it’s easy to understand how the marketers in the room were taken aback. What the study showed was that buyers are interacting with sales reps more than 50% of the time in the earlier phases of the buying process.

That’s right ladies and gentlemen…sales people still matter.

I’ve now had a few hours to digest this thought-provoking message and the single-most important conclusion I’ve come to is this:

Sales enablement and alignment have just become even more important for marketing.

And there you have it, the theme of the conference. Alignment.

As marketers we’ve tried (or should have tried) to focus on gaining alignment with sales on things such as lead qualification models and service level agreements (SLAs). We’ve invited sales to be part of these discussions so that everyone is on the same page in terms of how to define a lead or how quickly someone will conduct the follow-up. But again, this is all with the intent that sales alignment isn’t critical until later in the buying process, at the Convert stage. If the 2015 B-to-B Buying Study is true…and I can’t argue with data…then we as marketers are potentially missing something.

I’m not convinced that there is much direct sales interaction in the Engagement stages of the buying cycle, particularly with lower price point purchases. However, we must ensure that we are in alignment with sales for both the Nurture and Convert stages.

So what does this mean for marketers who thought we were impossible to shock or provoke? It means we need to:

  • Drive alignment between marketing and sales on marketing messages so that we are all speaking the same language to our prospects
  • Educate sales on how we built our programs around personas and buying stages
  • Educate sales on what our marketing programs efforts are including the what, when and how
  • Enable sales with marketing program content so that they, too, can respond to prospect needs with the right message at the right time
  • Educate and enable sales with the proper tools to ensure consistent tracking at all stages, whether the interaction is via marketing or sales.

Buying processes will continue to change, whether that change is driven by technology or something else we haven’t even encountered yet. It’s what makes what we do challenging and fun. I’m up to the challenge. Are you?

Author: Jennifer Harmel @JenniferHarmel2 EVP, Demand Process Strategy Practice and Principal, ANNUITAS 


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