Feeding Sales Is a Process, Not a Project.

For decades, the B2B marketer has been a manager of projects. They develop white papers, email campaigns, go to trade shows, and—well, you know, execute on lots of projects. 

Project-based marketing always has a beginning, middle, and an end. For example, if you’re attending a trade show, you start with:

  1. Booking the space, ordering your swag, designing the booth, booking hotels, etc. 
  2. In the middle, you staff and execute the show, collect business cards, and set up meetings.
  3. When it’s all over, you ship the booth and collateral boxes home and collect the leads for sales.

Not that there’s anything wrong with projects and project managers—they’re still a necessary function and the best marketers are always the ones who can get stuff done.

The world has changed, and the internet is now crushing a sales rep’s ability to generate their own leads.

Since it was marketing’s job to create awareness using one-to-many types of mediums like trade shows, advertising, and public relations, a well-trained sales rep could easily pick up where marketing left off and fill her calendar with new opportunities using the phone, knocking on doors, and asking for referrals.

Today, it’s safe to say that marketing still owns the brand and a few projects that support that function, but the skills and resources developed in the marketing department during this era have naturally lent themselves to projects that had a beginning, middle, and an end. 

So, marketing’s new role as lead generators for sales requires more than just project management and stellar execution. 

Many B2B companies that are successful and experiencing rapid growth rates today have made a significant pivot in the way that their sales and marketing departments operate. They realize that engaging with prospects through the internet is a process and not a series of projects—and marketing’s job is to generate leads that create actionable sales intelligence.

But before making the decision to shift more of your resources towards content marketing and lead generation, you need to understand some harsh truths

1. The buyer has WAY more control than they used to.

Prior to 2005, B2B sales people were the gate keepers of information about the companies’ products and services. We may not have liked talking to salespeople, but it’s how we got the information we needed in order to evaluate a purchase. 

Today, B2B buyers start with an anonymous Google search, which then leads to the consumption of white papers, webinars, videos, blogs, and so on. As buyers learn more about the available solutions in the marketplace, they diagnose their own problems and prescribe their own course of action. 

2. Salespeople can’t engage in conversations with prospects like they used to—that’s now a marketing function. 

Intuitively, you probably know this, but because people are doing their own research about products and solutions to their problems, they don’t have to talk to sales person until they are ready to engage. In fact, Forrester says that as much as 90 percent of the buying process is complete before the prospect engages with a vendor.

For sales, knocking on doors isn’t really an option. 85% of calls go to voice mail, most of which don’t get returned. And that means that sales reps are starving because they just can’t do all this by themselves anymore.

This makes it tough for sales people to get the conversation started, which is why adding sales people to grow revenue is not a great strategy for the 21st century. 

I think that a lot 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. 

3. The middle of the sales cycle is where most companies experience difficulty.

If you think about the traditional sales funnel where marketing owns the one-to-many projects at the top of the funnel, and if buyers aren’t engaging with sales reps until much later in the process, you have this huge hole to fill in the middle of the funnel where conversations aren’t getting started or being brought to their natural conclusion.

What’s making it so difficult is that this middle-of-the-funnel engagement is that it still requires a one-to-one interaction. 

That interaction, however, must be approached 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, it still does, but only in the late stages of the buying cycle. 

Remember the children’s game Chutes and Ladders? The new sales cycle looks more like that: 

  • There’s an original spark—a business problem that needs to be fixed.
  • The prospect performs a web search and they look at white papers, articles, videos, webinars, etc.
  • Maybe they engage with a sales rep at that point and have a demonstration. 
  • They go back to their company and create an evaluation committee, which often leads to…
  • Expanding the scope as they bring new ideas as new ideas enter the conversation
  • As the project gets really serious, senior leadership is engaged, and what happens?
  • They reduce the scope.
  • A new competitor enters the picture.
  • Uh oh, there’s a change in leadership, and now there are new players involved.
  • And now there’s a budget cut. Your project is tabled. 
  • Six months later, the new leadership has the brilliant idea that this business problem needs fixing (it’s the same one that was identified six months ago);
  • But the new leadership brings in new competitors, new scope, new criteria, new faces, a new CEO.
  • What does the new CEO do? They freeze the budget
  • But finally, the budget is approved and,
  • YOU WIN! Congratulations! But your board just says, “I thought you projected closing this months ago.”

"Ingrates!"

For sure, this process this is nonlinear, and there’s no way you could have predicted it. Gravity isn’t going to pull them into the sales funnel either. The process won’t be the same with the next prospect. And the whole thing will happen on their timeline, not yours. 

Which means there’s no project with a beginning, middle, and end that could have led them through their buying process. The conversation gets started through content marketing—but more on that later.

4. You can’t get there by assigning some new projects to marketing.

There’s not even a series of projects that can be assigned to marketing that’s going to work predictably because not every prospect is going to follow a predetermined, automated sales process—it’s a continuous process that requires shifting on the fly.

So if you’ve kept up with this construct that lead generation is the replication of conversations that sales reps used to have but now take place in a digital environment, it begins with your content. 

Put another way, digital conversations equal content consumption. 

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.

At this point, let’s assume that several people have a downloaded your latest white paper and you’ve collected all of the leads—that’s great, right? 

Marketing has fulfilled its new role by sending leads to salespeople. Yay! 

But before you start popping the champagne corks and celebrating your campaign success, were those leads sales ready? 

The conversation has to continue before the prospect loses interest in you, or it will never turn into an opportunity!

For example, let’s say that the conversation started with a prospect searching Google about a business problem and found you through a white paper on your website. But where they might meet your ideal prospect profile, they’re not ready to talk to a sales rep—yet. 

Now that they’ve got your white paper, the question becomes: What are you going to say next? Are you going to send them that same white paper next week? That’s no good.

And then what about the following week? 

That one piece of content simply won’t advance the conversation—and you’re going to lose them. 

If ever there was a compelling argument for content creation, this is it. Because whether it’s content that you deliver to them through a personal email one-to-one from an individual rep, or it’s content offered through social media, or they’ve read your blog, the prospect must have the ability to navigate through all of it at their own pace and choose their directions based on their own buyer’s journey.

So what may have started out as a simple project of a white paper that generated a handful of leads, the process now turns into nurturing with value-added content until they are 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. 

5. Content is a two-way interaction that is ongoing.

What does this mean for marketing? It means that marketing cannot toil over ONLY creating a single piece of content or artifact like a white paper. There’s nothing wrong with that in and of itself, and it might even start the dialogue for a great conversation, but it certainly won’t be enough to continue. 

Nurturing leads until they’re sales ready requires the mindset of a publisher, much like running a magazine as opposed to the author of a single book. There’s no doubt that writing and storytelling is still an important component, but producing a daily newspaper or monthly magazine requires a lot more resources and skills beyond the act of just writing articles.

how_content_marketing_works

6. The entire sales and marketing functions in your company must be restructured as one, focused around customer acquisition costs.

Today, each prospect still engages with you in their own way, as no two buying journeys are alike. 

We often use the analogy of viewing the sales and marketing function as soccer team versus (an American) football team. In other words, if Sales and Marketing are still operating as separate entities—offense and defense, where one team comes off the field and the other goes on—it must now be viewed as a soccer team where everyone plays offense and defense as needed. Sometimes the ball gets kicked out of bounds, it goes in one direction and back to the other, and ultimately the ball gets into a position to score a goal.

The marketing and sales function in a B2B company must be restructured to function with this collaboration in mind with the ultimate goal of initiating one-to-one conversations (both digitally and in person), providing educational, value-added follow up by using content that guides the prospect through their buying journey with respect to where they are in that process and what their buying process entails.