Right vs. Wrong – B2B Sales People and Additional Thoughts About the SiriusDecisions B2B Buyer Research

The B2B marketing and sales world was abuzz a few weeks ago when SiriusDecisions reported that the decline in importance of the B2B sales person, which has been reported by many, has been greatly exaggerated.

shutterstock_171137390Citing sources from their own research and that of Forrester and CEB that show how the majority of B2B buying cycles are self-driven, digital endeavors, Sirius then showed additional research that said these research backed statements – including their own –  may not be completely accurate. Sirius went on to show additional research that shows the importance of the sales rep at all stages of the buying cycle. And with that, the B2B Twittersphere went wild and all B2B sales people breathed a huge sigh of relief.

After having some time to weigh this new research, look back at the Forrester and CEB research that was shown by Sirius as well as look at research from ITSMA, a few questions come to mind.

  1. Does one research study automatically nullify previous studies?

While I do not question the findings that SiriusDecisions presented at their Summit, does this automatically assume that this new piece of research trumps the previous research that was done by others in the field? Is it really this cut and dry and right or versus wrong? To read the Twitter streams and blog comments after this presentation, one would think so.

As marketers we love research, we seek out anything that we can quote, reference or plug into a business case. Any new study that comes along is the shiny new object that is dangled in the water that we glom onto and use until the next one comes along. In contrast, we should be measured in our adoption of new studies and concept and should always analyze and weigh one piece of research within the context of the others.

If we do not, what if the newest Sirius research and that of CEB, Forrester and ITSMA are all correct? What if this this latest study is simply an indication of the buyers need for content relevance during the buying cycle no matter if it comes from sales, marketing or somewhere else? As buyers move through their purchase process, they want to connect with a vendor that understands their issues, relates to their business pressures and can partner with them to address their challenges. This connection is made via content – whether that content is delivered digitally or via human interaction. The real answer here is not marketing versus sales, but marketing AND sales working together to create Demand Generation programs that speak to the buyers. 

  1. Is this really or has it ever been about B2B sales people?

In listening and reading through the newest Sirius research that was presented and revisiting research from other vendors, I believe that none of these facts are truly about B2B sales people. However, they are all about the buyer. I believe the one big take away from all of this is B2B marketers and sales people need to be aware that our world is in a continual state of change which is dictated by the buyers. Buyers can be fickle creatures – numerous studies show the decrease in brad loyalty, the continual shifts in how buyers interact with us and our job as B2B marketers and sales people is to adapt to best serve them. In order to do so we must be nimble, agile and be able to respond to these constant changes. These studies are not and have never been about sales and marketing.  They are about the advancements of buyer sophistication first and foremost and our response to that will determine success.

  1. Is our view of the buyer’s journey granular enough?

In the studies that I have seen about the shift in the buying process are based on very broad ranges (the newest Sirius research showed the three stages of Education, Solution, Selection). Even at ANNUITAS, we use the three Macro stages of Engage, Nurture and Convert to describe the buying process. Of course when looking at the entire B2B buying process as done through these research pieces, there is a need for high level buying stages. However, in order to truly understand the role of digital versus human interaction, organizations must go deeper in uncovering the micro-stages of their buyers purchase path. It is when they have this understanding that they can then align their content and people with the buyer.

The example below shows the granularity of a specific B2B buying process that was designed for a client in the professional services sector.  Having this level of detail allows the organization to then align the organization’s marketing and sales people to this buying journey and interact appropriately.
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  1. Are B2B sales people truly prepared to engage in meaningful dialogue with buyers at every stage of the buyer’s journey?

While B2B sales people are not obsolete, many of their skills are. Much has been made about the lack of skills that is apparent in B2B marketing, but I would submit that there is a lack of skills in many B2B sales organizations as well. Rather than selling their goods and services to buyers at every stags of the buying process, B2B sales people need to be subject matter experts and be able to educate and advise their buyers as they move through the buying process. It seems like this should be an easy transition, but it is not.

A few months ago I mentioned this issue at a client account and one of the sales reps in the meeting said, “That’s easy to do.” I asked him to speak to me about his industry, his customer issues and the market at large without mentioning his company name or referencing any of their products.” Within 20-seconds he was stuck and replied by saying, “That’s not as easy as it seems.”

If B2B sales reps are going to be a key part of this process, they must learn a new approach. Blasting out emails about your products and services, cold calling or trying to “push the buyer” through the funnel are no longer effective. The need for sales enablement and skills development for sales reps is more important now than ever before.

As we continue to see more changes around the B2B buyer, there is no doubt that more research will surface that seeks to uncover the roles of B2B marketing and sales in relation to the buyer. The fact is, change is constant and those that can respond to change and equip their people with the critical skills (both sales and marketing) will see a greater return from their marketing and sales investments.

Author: Carlos Hidalgo @cahidalgo CEO and Principal, ANNUITAS

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