In today’s B2B market, the alignment of sales and marketing has never been more crucial. The old school approach puts vendors in the solution provider seat, and customers in the “we have a pain, need a solution” seat. However, with an endless stream of available information–pricing, options, and opinions– customers are no longer looking for just a solution provider, but rather, a trusted, knowledgeable partner that can not only understand their challenges and goals, but can confidently guide them down the path to purchase.
Therefore, sales and marketing can no longer look across the divide, but must work together as a well oiled B2B machine, having mechanisms in place to seek, convert, and sell to qualified prospects. But how do we even get to this point? Let’s have a look at a few steps that will ensure your sales and marketing teams are firing on all cylinders.
Identify your buyer
When scouting for prospects, there are a number of approaches and opportunities for picking up leads, but who’s to say which is which; who’s still browsing, and who’s ready to buy?
Marketing master Adele Revella sheds light on the subject by creating a buyer persona. She describes it as:
“…a short biography of the typical customer, not just a job description, but a personal description. The buyer persona profile gives you a chance to truly empathize with target buyers, to step out of your role as someone who wants to promote a product and see, through your buyers’ eye, the circumstances that drive their decision process.”
Now this is where a bit of sales and marketing sleuthing comes into play, as you’ll want to develop buyer personas for all major players in the buying process. You’ll want to know as much as possible about your target’s daily habits, challenges, successes and losses, and perhaps most importantly, their problem solving methodology.
Have they made a SaaS purchase in the past year? If yes, then chances are they’re more likely to be in a SaaS friendly position, provided that they’re happy with the value it provides. The same can be true for just the opposite. If the target just suffered a disaster with a SaaS solution, it might not be the opportune time to come Cloud Service calling.
All of this background information can be achieved in a variety of ways; through surveying, analyzing, and direct face-to-face conversations with your existing base of customers, as well as talking with sales reps. You might be surprised just how much your sales team knows about existing clients, why not put this existing knowledge towards future client identification?
At the end of the day, sales and marketing should have a one page profile of the ideal buyer, providing every last member of your team with an overall picture of the target you’re trying to reach. Sure, no one person will ever fit this bill, but providing variants on a masterwork is far better than a shotgun approach.
Define the lead
Now that you’ve created your übermensch, it’s time to talk about the nurturing process of leads until the appropriate time to turn them over to sales. Now here’s where things get really crazy: sales and marketing will need to be locked into a room, preferably without food or water, until they agree on definitions of key steps during the attraction and engagement of prospects necessary to qualify them as “Sales ready.” At this point, a small puff of white smoke may be seen emanating from the conference room, indicating that the cardinals have choosen…oh no wait, that’s a completely different process altogether. But you get the point.
Each team has it’s own set of dynamics, and there’s no clear cut formula for what counts as a qualified lead, but here are four steps to get you headed in the right direction:
- Ask your sales team at what point they view as a prospect as a qualified lead. Be sure to include inside sales in this discussion, as they can provide the most amount of information as to what is realistic in terms of information gathering.
- Gather and consider all opinions and draw up a master definition. Consult with both sales and marketing on this ultimate definition, as getting buy-in from both sides is crucial.
- Ensure that every team member has a copy of this definition to refer to at any given point. I’d even go so far as to use that object they refer to as the “copier” and hand out this definition on this so called, “paper” stuff.
- Head back to the table on a regular basis (weekly, bi-weekly) with both sales and marketing to ensure that this definition is optimized. If not…time to start the fine tuning. Likewise, if your organization is large enough to manage it, ask a marketer what his/her thoughts on A/B testing is, and watch their face light up.
By defining the lead and getting buy-in from both sides of the table, marketing now has clear marching orders, and sales has a clear picture as to where their target stands in the cycle.
Put it in the mixer
Thus far, we’ve defined who you’re trying to reach, and how you’re going to engage them. The spotlight now shifts to marketing, as they’ll now need to develop the message, and get sales’ buy-in. Remember those buyer personas you spent time working on? Marketing absolutely loves information like this, as they can pinpoint the (ideal) bullseye, and not blindly throw darts in the dark.
The key to any marketing and sales duo is crossing the prospects’ path at just the right time when what they’re looking for intersects with the knowledge and expertise your company can provide them with.
This is where the valuable “Marketing Mix” comes into play. While we’ve created the ideal lead, there will never be and endless stream of this target, and even if there were, who’s to say that our one flavor of marketing would reach them all the time? Thus, multi-channel marketing.
Outbound marketing has been a classical tenet of the art for years. However, over the past few years, we’ve seen a dramatic rise in the favoring of inbound marketing, one that draws potential clients in by providing a steady stream of relevant, valuable, and interesting content. Toss this valuable content into, or easily discoverable from, typical places where your prospects spend time (I’m looking at you LinkedIn), and watch your cost to attract and convert drop.
Now that the messaging has been put into place, make sure that the sales team has easy and adequate access to this message. Likewise, if marketing feels the need to refresh, refine, or alter the key messages, they’ll need to keep sales up to date. And the way that they’ll need to know to refine the message? By talking directly to sales, or course.
Make content magnetic
Chances are, your prospect, or future prospects are already researching solutions to their problems. They’re in need of a trusted advisor that can help them achieve the solution, all at an acceptable price. With so much content floating around, and options ranging from red to blue, your B2B based content will have to be something truly extraordinary to put your business at the top of the pile.
To this end, your content production should be something that both sales and marketing have input on. Marketing can focus on that ideal customer and pitch to his/her sensibilities all day long, but if sales isn’t providing feedback as to who/what/how/where their product is finding interest, it’s simply entering a content black hole. Likewise, when your sales team hits the streets, they need to be armed with relevant content that helps drive conversations.
With that said, it’s important to remember that your prospects are individuals, thus having individual tastes and preferences. While some might get everything they need from a blog post or two, others like to ask questions and interact via webinars, while others want to read a white paper. Consider these factors when planning your content mix, and try to have something in place for every preference. Your company podcast might spur that prospect on to finding out more about your XYZ product, while that webinar might drive another to your blog to read more about your offerings.
Throughout this content creation process, keep in mind that the ultimate goal is to make the job of sales as pain free as possible. Wherever possible, try to associate this content with a sales rep. If email marketing is a big part of your B2B strategy, make sure the emails come from (or appear to come from) a sales reps’ account. Got a white paper going out the door? Along with the author, be sure to include a qualified sales reps’ name and number along with it. Whether your prospects realize it or not, if they keep hearing and seeing this name over and over, the barrier of rejection is slowing being dismantled.
Socialize your business
We’ve all heard and read about social media in the business to business arena, and some organizations are outperforming others by leaps and bounds. But how? The common misconception is that social media is a marketing responsibility only. Especially in the B2B area, nothing could be further from the truth. Now that’s not to say that your sales team should be sharing beach party photos across the board, as a certain level of “professionalism” is envolved, but sales agents need to get in the habit of being a bit more open about their goings on.
Remember the magnetic content described above? LinkedIn, Xing, Facebook, Twitter, etc. can all be fantastic outlets for this content. And again, not just from the marketing team. By putting this content in the hands of your sales team and having them disseminate it, not only does this place your brand in a prime position, but it also elevates said sales agent from “sales” to “potentially trustworthy advisor during the solution finding process.”
Remember: Individuals are far more likely to buy from someone they know, over someone they don’t. Make sure that sales reps have profiles set up on major social networking sites, as well as any specific communities where prospects gather. Diving into the social world may be new to some sales team members, and if that’s the case, ensure that marketing carves out some time for this individual to walk them through the process and provide examples of others who are successfully using social media to attract, engage, converse, and convert prospects. If the demand warrants it, consider offering internal group trainings.
Remember those buyer personas created in step one? A host of information can be garnered simply by browsing through social media profiles. Are there a large number of prospects that are all looking forward to a particular trade show? Using a service like Lanyrd can keep your sales team on top of who’s going where, and your marketing team on top of what type of content might be attractive to these event goers.
Now that sales and marketing have planned the plans, defined definitions, and scooped the scoop, it’s time to see who’s who, and what’s what. In order for your sales team to receive ready-to-go leads, a bit of qualification is first necessary. This is where an inside sales team works it’s magic. The minimum amount of intelligence gathering that sales needs to see is:
- What specific problems and pains is the prospect experiencing?
- In what time frame do these problems need to be solved?
- What size of budget does the prospect have to solve said problem(s)?
- Who is the decision maker/purchaser?
At the end of this process, you should be able to easily qualify these prospects into three categories, Qualified, To Be Nurtured, Not Qualified.
- Qualified leads are red hot and should be handed over to the sales team asap.
- To Be Nurtured leads have an interest and potential for a sale, but are still holding sales at arms length. One easy way to segment TBN’s is based on their pains. If you have a product that could solve their problem tomorrow, with little to no setup and training, you’ll want to accelerate the nurturing process. Conversely, if the prospect has a pain that you know your development team is working on, it would be wiser to downgrade these prospects, keep them in the nurturing phase, and then make sure that they are one of the first to know when said solution becomes available.
- Not Qualified leads are dead in the water and did not meet a certain threshold of the above-defined criteria for a qualified lead.
Know the triggers
As noted above, qualified leads are red hot, and sales needs to jump on them asap. But what about those that need a bit more coaxing? I used the product prepared example above, but what if that doesn’t apply to your organization? Are there other actions that can signal an intent to purchase, or at the very least, a renewed or increased interest in what your organization has to offer? Of course! But it’ll take a bit of monitoring from inside sales and marketing’s side.
Since both parties are churning out content, it’s crucially important to monitor the reactions to this content. For example, if a To Be Nurtured prospect suddenly comments on or likes a particular piece of content, they’re obviously showing interest in your organization, either consciously or subconsciously.
Likewise, if your analytics are indicating a number of visits or time on the page from a particular domain, it might be time for you to revisit that CRM and see who that could possibly be.
This is exactly the type of information that your B2B marketing team needs to be handing over to the sales team when a lead converts from TBN to Qualified.
Rinse and repeat
Remember that message to continually refine the übermensch outlined above? That’s all fine and dandy, but how do you go about refinement if you don’t know what you’re looking for? This is where tried and true metrics come into place. On both sides.
Amongst the myriad of metrics your organization should be measuring, for the purpose of continually refining the message, both sales and marketing should be looking at three key factors: Connect, Lead, and Conversion rates.
- The Connect rate refers to the number/time/effort put into marketing activities that directly relate to door-opening conversations.
- The Lead rate looks at the number of these conversations that move to the next level, a lead.
- The Conversion rates is the number of leads that either lead directly to a sale, or at least show strong potential for a sale.
By looking at these metrics and comparing them against targeted activities from both sales and marketing, both teams can clearly pinpoint what worked well, where, and when. Now it’s simply a matter of further refining this message, and adapting it for various markets and prospects.
Remember, as B2B decision makers and purchasers continue to grow ever more savvy with their pre-purchasing decisions, your organization must also evolve to meet them head on. Creating compelling content is a sure win for your teams, but only if revenue driven processes are put in place to handle the incoming responses, and can act accordingly. The above is by no means a definitive guide, as each organization has it’s own unique process of closing the deal, but by implementing these steps, in whole or al la carte, not only will your sales and marketing team better function as a single unit, but your accounts receivable department is sure to take notice as well.