Today’s business decision makers are more skeptical, more frugal, and more easily distracted than ever. As a result, it’s harder to create engagement with potential buyers, sales cycles are longer, and sales opportunities that once appeared solid can unexpectedly fall off the tracks.
Overcoming these challenges is not easy, but the starting point is to recognize that the single most important job of marketing and sales is to remove friction from the buying process.
In military science, friction is the term that’s used to describe anything that can get in the way of the perfect execution of a military operation. Therefore, friction includes things like the effects of weather on soldiers and equipment, soldier fatigue, misinterpretation of orders, equipment breakdowns, and unexpected enemy actions. Because of friction, no military operation goes exactly according to plan, even though commanders try very hard to anticipate where and how friction will arise and to devise ways to minimize its effects.
In B2B marketing and sales, friction is anything that slows down or stops a potential buyer’s progression through the buying process. The friction gremlins live everywhere in the buying process. Friction can (and usually does) pop up at every stage of the process, and many of the causes are beyond your control. For example, any of the following unforeseeable and uncontrollable events can delay or stall the buying process.
- A change in the prospect’s business condition
- A change in the make-up of the prospect’s senior management team
- A change in the prospect’s business strategy
- The illness of a key decision maker
While it’s not possible to anticipate or eliminate all of the friction from the buying process, you can substantially reduce it. Many major causes of friction are related to information. To keep moving through the buying process, potential buyers need the right information at the right time. When they don’t get that information, the buying process can stall. For example, a potential buyer’s progression through the buying process can be slowed or stopped if he or she:
- Doesn’t understand or appreciate the costs or negative ramifications of the status quo
- Doesn’t know or fully understand how the status quo can be changed or improved
- Perceives that the proposed purchase will involve substantial risks
- Doesn’t have an accurate picture of the ROI that the proposed product, service, or solution will generate
All of these issues can usually be resolved with appropriate and persuasive information.
Both marketing and sales are responsible for reducing friction in the buying process, but marketing’s share of the job has grown significantly because of changes in buying behavior. Today’s business buyers are performing more research on their own, and they are postponing conversations with sales reps until later in the buying process. In a recent survey by DemandGen Report, 77% of B2B buyers said they did not engage with a sales rep until after internal research was conducted, and 36% of buyers said they didn’t engage with a salesperson until after a preferred list of vendors was established.
With potential buyers avoiding and/or delaying interactions with salespeople, marketing content must be the primary tool for eliminating friction from the buying process. In fact, marketing content is often the only effective tool for dealing with the friction that arises in the early stages of the process.
Today, many marketing and sales “gurus” are offering a variety of techniques that promise to accelerate the buying process. My take is that it is rarely possible to push prospects through the buying process any faster than they are willing to move. The best way, therefore, to accelerate the buying cycle is to use relevant and compelling content to eliminate or reduce the friction that slows prospects down.