Early in my career, I have been advised that it's a sales job to teach customers how to buy. A lot has changed since then, and recent events have forever altered how we work.
Accelerated digital technology adoption, changing buyer behavior, and new business models all add complexity to how businesses operate and how vendors think about their customers. New digital initiatives are shaping how we are adapting to different demands - from our team colleagues, customers, and other stakeholders.
In this environment CEOs really care about three things - growth, digitalization, and effectiveness. Accordingly, CMOs are acutely aware of the transformation that needs to happen and what it means for marketing organizations.
Gartner estimates that through 2023, “40% of organizations will blend virtual and physical experiences, leading to increased organizational productivity and customer reach.” Because today’s business buyers are increasingly becoming self-directed. According to Forrester already "60% prefer not to interact with a sales rep as the primary source of information; 68% prefer to research on their own, online"; and based on online content they develop their selection criteria or finalize a vendor list.
Marketing operations are therefore transforming, so marketing can become a growth driver with a clear contribution to the business. And the conversations we are having have shifted from what - to how the work is being done. From scaling digital commerce capabilities and reshaping routes to market - to the continued optimization of digital approach and the orchestration of multichannel journeys. Digital acceleration has become mission-critical, and we are witnessing a dramatic acceleration of digital business initiatives being deployed across the enterprise.
According to CMO Council, almost 80% of marketers see customer experience as a "key growth driver and a key competitive differentiator, driven by modern digital marketing practices and the attention to frictionless digital commerce engagement". Digital buying is becoming more common and thus virtual selling is changing how actual sales happens.
So even though sales leaders continue to “seek and regain customer access,” they struggle to remain relevant as customers are becoming more and more channel-agnostic, they want to obtain information necessary to bring them closer to purchase decisions. Sales are thus moving from being the channel to becoming a channel, alongside other channels, where customers are engaging and seeking information to support their decisions.
To meet demand, minimize disruption, and create opportunities for growth, B2B companies are addressing the real customer problems and becoming part of the solution. So, to drive commercial success the “right person, right message, right channel, right time” needs to be understood as an opportunity to provide customers with the information they most urgently seek.
And in this process, everybody needs to be aware that customer experience is an inside job that requires close collaboration between different parts of the organization because every single contact counts.
Everyone working directly with customers would agree that today’s buyers expect more than ever. So, improving their experience means stepping away from the legacy approach and digging in deep with each customer digitally. Most progressive B2B commercial organizations are therefore completely reconfiguring their operations to better address customer challenges.
Brent Adamson puts it very bluntly in his Harvard Business Review article when he said “Traditional B2B Sales and Marketing Are Becoming Obsolete: Most B2B sales and marketing teams typically function in a “serial,” or linear manner. Marketing engages prospective buyers early in their purchase journey, qualifying their readiness and fit for sales rep engagement through digital “content nurturing.” Once those leads have been designated “marketing qualified,” individual sellers take over, pursuing those leads through in-person or virtual interactions. In the middle is the “handoff,” where marketing passes the baton to sales, and online customer engagement gives way to in-person customer engagement.”
Today’s B2B buyers heavily rely on digital information to support their progress across the entire buying journey moving them stage by stage closer to their purchase. Helping today’s B2B buyers buy isn’t a sales challenge anymore it is becoming an information challenge. It’s about getting closer to the customer.
And the questions we need to ask ourselves are - Is the sales and marketing integration approach still relevant? Is aligning” sales to marketing, to ensure a seamless handshake, as a deal progresses along the buying journey, still enough for this radically changing buying reality? Or does it need to be rebuilt so the team can better influence customer engagement and better align with how customers are buying today?