The Role of Marketing and Sales In A Customer Controlled Buying Process

The customer buying process has changed, and the sales strategies that worked 10 or even 15 years ago no longer work today. Consumers expect more of the products and services they purchase and more of the brands from which they purchase those products and services.

Despite this change and the rise in popularity of books on modern selling techniques, sales methods have not yet adapted. What is discussed in theory is not being practically applied, and marketing and sales teams are still working independently, speaking completely different languages. Is it any surprise that the c-suite thinks there is room for bottom-line improvements?

In this blog post, I explore the forces that have led to change in both consumer behavior and expectations, discuss the impact that this is having on the sales process, and determine how marketing teams can work with their colleagues in sales to bring the relationship between sales and the consumer back into balance – and to increase a company’s bottom-line results.

Consumer Expectations Have Changed

External factors influence the relationship between prospect and organization.
For B2B organizations, changes in consumer behavior impact not only when but also how consumers interact with sales teams. This change in behavior is influenced by four forces:

  1. Consumer  access to a wealth of information
    In the past, the salesperson knew more about the product than the consumer. Thanks to the internet, consumers now have access to large amounts of information at any time they want it. This means that consumers are able to self-educate on products and services without ever having to seek advice from a salesperson.
  2. Globalization and virtualization of businesses
    The internet has made the world a global marketplace. While this is great for many companies, who now have the opportunity to sell nationally or even globally, the downfall is that your key audience is no longer only targeted by direct competitors in your region. So the same technology that made the world your “oyster” in terms of potential business has also increased your competition. Combined with the ability to work virtually, and many products and services are being offered by anyone, anywhere in the world. This impacts how you market yourself, as it is no longer possible to compete on price when there is someone in another state or country able to do the same job for less. The fact that so many businesses now offer their products and services online also impacts how your customers search for you. It isn’t about picking up the phone book and contacting one of the ten businesses listed there. Customers in the market for a product or service today will largely go online and choose from one of the thousands of businesses listed on a search engine.
  3. Expectation of personalized service
    Companies like Netflix and Amazon have changed marketing by introducing a level of personalization that we couldn’t have imagined in the past. But once we got a taste of it we wanted more! Not only do today’s consumers want personalized services and content, they expect it. And your inability to deliver could cost you the sale.
  4. Emergence of an “on demand” culture
    With a smartphone in our pocket, we expect to be able to get what we want, when we want it. Companies that deliver will get your business, while companies that don’t will lost out on even being considered.

These forces don’t only apply to B2B companies. The lines between B2B and B2C have blurred as technology breaks down the walls between our personal and professional lives. We are now seeing the best practices of each of these markets come together, with must haves in consumer marketing making their way into B2B and lead nurturing becoming a best practice in B2C.

Changing Expectations Have Delayed Consumer Interactions With Sales

With consumers now in control of the pace of the sale, the salesperson is only being brought in later on in the buyer’s journey. According to Google, business buyers do not contact suppliers directly until 57% of the purchase process is complete. However, according to Forrester, 70-90% of the buyer’s journey is complete before a consumer even talks to a salesperson.

For the first time in business history, your prospects know more about you than you know about them. They are doing their own research, and following the content (good and bad) that supports the decision they want to make. By the time the prospect reaches out to your sales team, they have already made up their mind. At that point, your sales team is no more than a glorified order taker. Whether the customers’ information is good or bad, accurate or inaccurate, it is nearly impossible to sway their opinion at this stage.

Take Back Control Of The B2B Sales Process

To combat this change in consumer behavior, and to deliver on their expectations for personalized and on-demand content, your sales team must get involved earlier on in the customer journey. However, it is also important to note that the same forces that influence consumer behavior have also changed the expectations of your sales teams.

Your sales team want leads that are ready now. They don’t want to waste time talking to someone who isn’t ready to buy. They want to use artificial intelligence and predictive analytics to tell them who is ready to buy. This is where marketing comes in.

Through segmentation, personalization and the application of marketing technology, you can bridge the gap between the consumer and the sales team while also delivering what the sales team wants: sales-ready leads that are ready to buy today.

Rather than blindly handing a lead to the sales team, marketing can nurture the prospect by delivering personalized and on-demand content that the prospect now requires. This content is delivered at the appropriate time and by the appropriate person, based on your customer’s expectations as outlined in their buyer’s journey. When the time is right, this content will come from a salesperson – or so it will seem. In reality, it will be sent by the marketing team, acting as a stand-in for the salesperson.

This allows marketing to build a relationship with the prospect on behalf of sales, that ensures the prospect is getting the information they need about your brand, product or service, and how it is better than your competitor’s. And because you have done this as a proxy for the salesperson, the prospect feels like they know, like and trust him/her. By the time the consumer connects with the sales team they are primed and ready to buy.

Turn Theory Into Reality

While the strategy outlined above is effective for managing a sales process controlled by the prospect, the success of this transformation is contingent on ensuring three things: that you are segmenting your audience for maximum marketing effect, that you are personalizing your content, and that you have the marketing technology in place to target the right people. This strategy includes the installation of a marketing automation platform that replaces CRM as the central repository of information.

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