Breaking the Sales Growth Plateau May Require A New Approach

For companies struggling to reach sales goals, doing more of the same (more cold-calls, adding more salespeople) won’t break through growth plateaus. These aggressive approaches to traditional lead-generation tactics are not as effective anymore because buyer behavior has changed, and therefore, breaking through plateaus requires changing your overall customer acquisition strategy. 

Sales representatives used to be a prospect’s only source of product and industry knowledge, but now prospects largely research things online while ignoring reps’ calls. The old ways of getting in the door aren’t working anymore. Prospects now do their research online first and decide for themselves if they are interested in talking to a sales rep. 

How can companies adapt to this change in buyer behavior? How can they play the game on their prospects’ terms while still getting in the door? 

Fortunately, there are effective ways to find and nurture leads in this new paradigm, and they can enable talented sales reps to concentrate their time working with and talking to self-identified prospects—rather than wasting time on those who don’t want to have conversations at all. 

Why Plateaus Happen and How the Sales Game Has Changed

Sales growth plateaus have always been an issue, regardless of the technological landscape. When a company is starting out, most sales usually come from executives’ professional connections. Executive referrals come with high close rates and short sales cycles, enabling quick growth. But, inevitably, connections run out, growth levels out, and the company must start selling to fresh prospects they don't have relationships with. 

Sales reps used to be the only source of leads. Whether or not buyers wanted to talk to a rep, contact with reps was the only way to learn about best practices and solutions in the market. Marketing was responsible for branding and awareness, and a sales rep would generate their own leads by hitting the phones, knocking on doors, or asking for referrals. 

Prospects were more likely to answer calls, meet with sales reps, and listen to presentations because that was the only way they could get the information. Its not that prospects liked talking to sales reps then more than now. It’s that they had to. 

In our experience, 94% of B2B sales calls go to voice mail, most of which are never returned. Emails are easily filtered and deleted. Prospects prefer to use the Internet to self-diagnose their own problems, prescribe their own solutions, and develop their own short list of vendors to contact. White papers, videos, webinars, social media, and online vendor reviews are their new preferred sources of initial engagement. 

But, even though a buyer downloads a white paper or watches a webinar, it doesn’t mean they have the budget, a need, or the authority to make a change. It simply means they are interested in that topic. It’s up to the sales rep to find out if the prospect struggles with similar business challenges detailed in the white paper or webinar once he or she engages the prospect. 

Unfortunately, this climate of buyer self-diagnosis means that many B2B sales reps are starving for leads because they can no longer generate their own. A void now exists between Sales and Marketing like never before. 

The Challenges of Breaking Through: Why Traditional Tactics Won’t Work

The old solution to overcoming sales plateaus (hiring more reps) is no longer scalable. The thinking went like this—If one rep can convert 100 leads into five sales, then perhaps 10 reps could convert 1,000 leads into 50 sales. But there are challenges to this approach in our new era of selling. 

1. High Customer-Acquisition Costs. Hiring and retaining a large sales team requires a lot of money. It quickly becomes a challenge to sustain and can’t provide the return on investment that would make it feasible. 

2. Difficulty Establishing Need and Trust. Prospects don't want to talk to sales reps—and adding more of them doesn't solve the growth challenge. What prospects want is to engage in content and determine from that content if your company can provide useful information and resources. 

Hiring more reps doesn’t change the fact that buyer behavior has changed. This is not just a phase—it’s the new normal. Playing the numbers game and throwing more people at the problem is not scalable over time, especially as your competitors move on to newer sales models. 

The Solution: Integrating Content Marketing into the Process

The solution is shifting the old paradigm of one-to-one initial sales engagement to a digital format. That is, to create digital content that matches buyer behavior and addresses all highly probable pain points.

But how you do you deliver all of this content when you have thousands of prospects engaging in their own individual ways? No one can keep track of the thousands of interactions prospects have with you in email, social media, and your website—let alone engage with each of them uniquely with contextualized messages. The answer: automation. 

Informative, insightful content must be made available through every possible channel and platform—and the most effective and budget-conscious method of tackling this amount of work is to use marketing automation software. By automating online campaigns based on prospect behavior, marketing automation engages and nurtures early-stage buyers until they are sales-ready. 

Benefits to Consider 

Integrating marketing automation into your lead-generation strategy presents three significant benefits. 

Enables precise targeting: Marketing-automation software can track digital behavior and content-consumption habits at a granular level. This allows companies to segment their audience, run targeted campaigns, and test the results. 

Identifies quality prospects and provides lead intelligence: Now sales reps have a secret weapon for gauging prospect interest levels. The system shows them which prospects are engaging with content the most frequently. 

Focuses team on high-value activity: Marketing automation enables sales teams to focus their time and talents on engaging with prospects who have self-identified with content that addresses one of their potential pain points. 

Challenges to Consider

Implementing a content marketing strategy is not as simple as installing marketing automation software and sending out some articles. It requires large amounts of content developed around all of the different stages of the sales cycle and must be available to the buyer in a format that meets their own buyer’s journey. 

Content is now a form of currency. You must give prospects the content they want, or prospects won’t consume it. Creating good content that addresses the pain points of your prospects takes a lot of planning, time, and specialized skills. Some of the steps involved include creating a messaging strategy, developing a production strategy and schedule, and hiring and managing the resources needed to write, design, and edit high-quality pieces. 

Demand Generation through Content Marketing Requires New Sales and Marketing Processes

In many companies, the marketing department’s role is to generate awareness and the sales department’s role is to handle the entire lead-generation and sales process. Marketing automation requires sales and marketing to work together more closely on everything from campaign strategy development to content creation. The company will need to redefine roles and introduce new processes. 

A sense of competition may add to the growing pains, with marketing and sales vying for credit for their generated leads. 

Content Creation Requires Extensive Resources

Creating content isn’t just about having the software for execution or writing a few white papers. You must create a constant stream of white papers, articles, videos, and infographics, a dynamic database, proper processes, and effective development plans. Tackling content creation in-house will require not only numerous resources, but also a significant budget. All of these parts must also move together. If one part is missing, the whole lead-generation model can easily fall to pieces. 

What to Look for When Choosing a Solution Provider 

Companies can hire a specialized provider to handle some or all of their content development. Ideally this provider will be a true partner that can work with customers to: 

  • Create a long-term lead-generation strategy
  • Develop new sales and marketing processes
  • Implement a marketing-automation software solution (and train staff on its usage) 
  • Develop content strategy
  • Create content
  • Deliver measurable results 

Once you understand how the world of B2B lead generation has changed, you're left with two options: try to assemble your own lead generation function, or hire a specialized provider to do it for you.