Look around the room. Over the next four years, 1 million B2B salespeople will be replaced by self-service e-commerce. That's what Forrester concluded, and there's ample evidence to support the claim, both statistically and anecdotally. Those that survive will have to prove their value to the buyer.
It begins when you recalibrate your view of the sales process and what it means to be a sales professional. The sales funnel, for all intents and purposes, is now a monofilament. It's a bit ironic, because your potential customer pool is bigger than ever, thanks to improvements in communications and transportation tech.
The next step is to upgrade your metaphor. In the old world, marketing was the harvester, bringing in leads and weeds from the fields and dumping everything into the sales funnel. Sales would start up its threshing machine, sorting leads into prospects and winnowing away the wheat from the chaff. The end product was the customer, the cream of the crop, who would be processed by customer service from then on.
That's not how it works anymore. Hang up your overalls and strap on your smart watch, because you're going on a mobile adventure. It's not your journey, though: It's the buyer's journey. Here's are some insights into what it will take to be successful as a sales professional on the road ahead.
1. Content timing is critical for moving buyers along the path.
Forrester reported that one-third of B2B marketers acknowledge that their biggest problem is figuring out how to serve up the appropriate content to specific buyers when the time is right. The funnel metaphor just doesn't hold up in this new reality.
2. While two-thirds of the buyer's journey is digital, there's more to the story.
It's often repeated that 67 percent of the buyer's journey happens before sales ever gets involved. SiriusDecisions explained why this doesn't have to be true. While people are doing research online before contacting sales, you should be part of their decision support group long before that happens. Social presence and content are part of the new buyer's journey.
3. Buyers trust other travelers on the journey, not billboards along the side of the road.
In talking to senior execs from companies like IBM, NEC, Deloitte and LexisNexis, the CMO Council's Content ROI Center found that no more than nine percent of B2B buyers fully trust vendor content. They trust information that comes from people they trust: friends, family and network connections. You can't be everyone's friend, but you can stay in contact with a vast number of potential buyers on a regular basis thanks to social selling and automation.
4. Inbound has become more productive than outbound for best-in-class firms.
Outbound used to rule the day when broadcast was the only way for companies to talk to large groups. Social media flipped that on its head. The Aberdeen Group reported that, on average, best-in-class firms found that 60 percent of marketing leads came from outbound marketing, while 40 percent came through digital and inbound channels. Those inbound leads converted at a higher rate. Staying with the buyer along the journey, not shouting at them, is the way to attract serious buyers.
A Single Entity
Here's one last thought for the road. On the buyer's journey, all departments in your company are seen as a single entity. Marketing, sales and customer service have to collaborate more closely. As Daniel Newman, Co-CEO at V3B put it,
"Combining the departments creates a deeper understanding of the journey a customer takes with your brand."
Everything is moving at a faster pace now, and that includes your buyers. If you're going to catch a moving target, you'll need to understand where your potential buyers are coming from, walk in their shoes along the way, and be wherever they are going.