There are a few statistics that are used to torment marketers. We’ve all had some chief something or other office sneer that 50 percent of advertising is wasted. We’ve all had that business of how much more it costs to acquire a customer than to retain one and, since June of 2012, we’ve been dealing with the apparent end of solution selling.
That’s when the Corporate Executive Board announced that B2B buyers were getting through almost 60 percent of the process without contacting a sales rep. More than a few startled Squirrels were heard to drop their nuts that day and, not long after, Scott Gillum in Forbes proclaimed that “57 percent of the sales process just disappeared.” Goodness. Just like that? Where do you think it went?
Just the other day, my friend Lisa Shepherd was suggesting on LinkedIn “…that B2B buyers are now self-nurturing and… sales needs help from marketing to enter the sales conversation earlier”. With all due respect to Lisa, Scott and CEB, I’m not sure we actually have a problem here.
For years now, we’ve been whining about how much more educated consumers are about the products and companies that make them. Darned Internet went and ruined everything.
This seems to be predicated on the notion that there was a time when business purchasers woke up in the morning, decided to buy something and, based on nothing more than an ad they’d once seen or a crumpled business card in their sock drawer, engaged a sales professional to lead them on the purchase journey. You don’t remember this time, do you? Neither do I. So let’s all get over the absurd idea that intelligent buyers of anything significant ever made purchases that way.
Long before the internet, we had such a thing as research, marketing content and highly educated buyers-of-things both in the P-Cube and at the user level (the F-Word). They read magazines, they attended conferences, they called up their friends and asked what solutions they were using to solve the vexing issues of data management or quality assurance or recruiting and they generally got on with the job of making a purchase decision.
They managed all of this without the help of a sales person, and economies grew, products were sold and life went on. I would bet that long before we could Google our way to insight, B2B buyers were about 25 percent of the way in before they picked up a phone. In this scenario, once they have invited the Squirrels over for tea, the access to information becomes much more difficult since it’s now gated by a sales organization and doled out based on the understanding of as little as one rep who may or may not actually know what the buyer is after.
It seems likely to me that at the point a sales organization is engaged, the momentum of the process slows pretty significantly while everyone figures out what everyone else is talking about.
That’s okay too because the buying and selling processes are asynchronous, right up to the point where the deal is finally done. In other words, the speed of the sale cannot be measured by the rate at which the sales representative is running his or her mouth. I’m sorry if that is news to anyone.
Another thing that’s quite all right is that sales is not joining the party from the outset. The early stages of a purchase process are rather introspective and involve a lot of needs analysis, gap analysis, analysis of the analysis of the needs and gaps, the formation of the purchase committee, the stomping off of half the purchase committee, the reforming of the committee, the arguing of budgets and all that fun stuff. The presence of a sales person in this will, at best, gum it up and at worst destroy its integrity.
Sales Squirrels are expensive little beasts and turning them loose at this stage is a costly waste of talent if all they are doing is making a bunch of noise and generally pissing people off. This is marketing’s bit. While all that internal muck is happening, we need to be nudging the relationship along from awareness through to consideration. The timely delivery of information that supports the purchase rationale, gently informs the innocent, sets the table for the budget discussion and creates broad credibility is much more cost-effective than sending in the sales folks and far less likely to screw up the buying process by trying to accelerate it.
As well, it allows us to be eliminated where we are not a good fit. Lisa says buyers are self-nurturing. I disagree; I think they are self-qualifying and saving us the cost and bother of trying to sell to someone who has no use or no budget for our product or service.
Our job is to keep our brand in the right game until the customer is ready to declare a preference or even a few preferences and then we need to hand it off to sales and get the heck out of the way so they can run it the rest of the way.
Whether we are competing with solution selling, challenger sales, disruptive thinking or just discounting the crap out of our offering, we need to respect the buying process as something different from the selling process and stop worrying so much.
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