It’s time to face some hard truths about B2B sales. People don't answer their phones the way they used to—some 85 percent of phone calls go to voice mail never to be returned. People can filter through their email and decide who they're going to listen to.
And most importantly, adding more sales people (or hiring calling firms) to prospect down a list won’t get you where you want to be either.
That was what we used to do before the emergence of a content-heavy internet, and it worked because sales people were the gatekeepers of information about products and services within a company. We may not have wanted to talk to sales reps, but that’s how we got the information we needed.
The B2B sales process has changed.
The internet gives the buyers a lot more control as they use the Internet to learn about best practices. They diagnose their own pain (for better or worse) and start searching for solutions by watching videos, downloading white papers, attending webinars, and using social media to check vendor references before ever talking to a rep.
Sales used to be able to tough it out themselves and drive all the activity they needed on their own, but they can't anymore. They need help getting in the door.
They need marketing.
Many of us who grew up in sales thought that we were awesome at prospecting. But the reality of the situation was that the buyer needed us much more than we needed them—and that was the real reason that we were successful at generating new appointments.
If marketing does not step in to fill this void digitally and engage these anonymous buyers, sales reps are going to miss out on deals that they never knew existed in the marketplace.
Digital marketing depends upon content.
Because people buy on their own timeframes (and not ours), it's important for companies and sales people to stay in front of their prospects in an obstructive or unthreatening way. That’s done by producing content that adds value, builds trust, and offers knowledge in your area of expertise.
If that sounds familiar, it’s probably because the underlying premise of content marketing is the same as sales prospecting—we do business with those we know, like, and trust.
Content is the new currency and it builds trust.
When making a large purchase decision, companies usually focus on a few vendors that they prefer to inform them of what's going on in the marketplace. That’s why white papers, infographics, testimonials, and webinars are effective at driving this initial interaction.
What’s making it so difficult is that prospects aren’t willing to talk to sales reps at the beginning when they’re just browsing. But to make a sale, ultimately they’re going to have to talk to a sales rep.
And therein lies the rub.
Content marketing approaches this interaction differently
In the old model, this is when sales reps used to schedule face-to-face meetings where they could ask questions and react to their answers and read body language and pivot that conversation based on their responses. The skills needed for this formed the basis of most consultative sales training, and to a large degree, they still do, but only in the late stages of the buying cycle.
In the new model, marketing with content replicates the conversations that sales reps used to have but now take place in a digital environment.
To put it another way, content consumption equals digital conversations
A conversation is a two-way street, and it doesn’t matter if you start the conversation from a phone call, voice mail, or email, or if a prospect finds you through Google, social media or a referral.
That might look like a white paper to download, a video to watch, a webinar they attended or viewed in your archives.
Content consumption is just the beginning.
The clicks help to identify those with need. If I am consuming the content, reading the white papers, revisiting the website, downloading other assets and others in my database are not, I'm flagged as someone most likely to be interested in speaking with you.
So from there, you should have a business development discussion to continue the conversation down the path until they're sales ready.
For example, someone searches Google about a problem they’re having, and they find one of your white papers. They enter their name and email and download the report.
The sales person sees that they have downloaded the report and does some research on the company and determines that they meet the ideal prospect profile.
But are they ready to talk to a sales rep? Probably not. And if you follow up too hard, you’ll lose them.
The better question is what are you going to send to them next that furthers the conversation?
That one piece of content isn’t going to advance the conversation, which is why it’s important to have follow up content that answers questions even before they’ve been asked.
The important thing to remember is that this is the buyer’s process, not your sales process. Whether it’s content that you’ve delivered to them through a personal email or it was found through social media, the prospect must have the ability to navigate through all of it at their own pace and choose their own next steps.
So what may have started out as a simple campaign to generate leads now turns into a whole lead-nurturing process with value-added content that shepherds them through the process until they’re sales-ready.
If you’re beginning to see how much content creation is required, you’re on the right track, and in fact, the content creation never ends because, if it does, so do your conversations.
These are definitely some hard truths that we need to accept about how much control the modern buyer has. But as many B2B companies have discovered, a solid and consistent content strategy make the difference between hitting your growth projections and not. And with great content, a lot of the sales work is done before anyone ever picks up a phone.