This article was contributed by Erica Pierson, former VP of Brand and Communications at Ellucian, former VP of Corporate Marketing at Hobsons and current Managing Director at Strategic Communications Group. Read more about Erica here.
Chances are, a prospective customer is entering your company name or product into a search engine right now. As soon as the list of results comes up, that prospect begins to read, educate himself about what you have to offer, and form an opinion about your solutions.
Welcome to the age of the educated customer, in which B2B customers are 57% through the purchase process before they engage directly with a vendor. If you are running a sales team, that means your first opportunity to introduce yourself by telephone or in person happens after your prospective customer has researched your company overview, your product portfolio and all of your competitors to form an opinion.
The educated customer is engaging with your company digitally. Said another way, Marketing is driving more than half of the customer conversation during the sales process.
For sales, digital engagement is an ideal way to get some help to identify, score and funnel leads in a way that utilizes your time wisely and keeps your team focused on deals that are most likely to close. In the wake of this major shift in the way B2B companies engage with customers, however, the marketing and sales teams who fail to change the way they work together lose out on this new efficiency.
Selling to the educated customer requires a coordinated, focused effort between marketing and sales. To achieve a better working relationship that drives better results, there are a few basic principles to follow.
Know your business
Be able to sit down with your marketing peers and talk about standard sales metrics, such as average sales cycle, average deal size, probability that a lead will close after 90 days. We see a lot of organizations struggle with “average” metrics, in light of the complex solutions they sell. Rather than overcomplicating the math problem, break it down in a way that makes sense for your industry and your company.
What is most important is for you to be able to collaborate with marketing to define a lead and score it so that the right information gets delivered to you and your team.
Get away from the lead “handoff” mentality
In the past, marketing campaigns may have had a neat handoff to the sales process, such as the delivery of a set of business cards from a tradeshow that were entered into a sales database. From there, the sales team took over and managed the process from cold-call to close.
In the age of the educated consumer, the available technology enables marketing to track the customer conversation from beginning to end, all the way through the pipeline. For example, if marketing hands sales a lead, and a rep schedules 2-3 in person meetings, marketing can align the delivery of relevant content to support the sales activity. Over time, the cumulative activity can be analyzed in a way that enables both teams to fine-tune their respective activities and turn a game of chance into a more predictable path to revenue.
Position Sales as a resource to customers
Ultimately, effective inbound marketing campaigns can attract customers, educate them, and even begin to grow loyalty. By the time sales has the opportunity to engage, the old school meet-and-greet tactics are no longer relevant.
The new successful sales performer is up to speed on the customer dialogue that has already occurred: the buyer’s profile, the solutions in which they expressed interest, the other team members they engaged in the process.
In the age of the educated customer, sales must confirm the information the customer has already found, continue the dialogue and deliver a tailored solution.
Partnering with marketing to track every step of the conversation is an opportunity to re-capture that 57% of the buying process.
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