The Death of the B2B Salesperson?

And how to bring him back!

The Arthur Miller 1949 play ‘Death of a Salesman’ dealt with a man’s inability to accept changes in society. This dramatic title was echoed in the research by Forrester that brought the future of B2B sales teams into sharp focus in 2014; they predicted 1 million B2B sales roles would be wiped out in the U.S. by 2020.

Regardless of the accuracy of their prediction there is no disputing that the B2B sales model is very different now from the one a few years ago, driven by the internet and changes in buyer behaviour.

This is a challenge for many B2B businesses, and in particular SMEs, who often have limited resources or expertise to adapt to this existential threat.

Buyers are engaging with salespeople later into the buying process

This has been driven by the accessibility of information online. So, whereas in the past, a buyer might need to meet one (or several) salespeople to find out basic information about the products or services in the market buyers now prefer to conduct their own self-research, extend their knowledge and shortlist potential suppliers prior to engaging with salespeople.

Sales staff that are taking orders and explaining goods or services are being replaced by online information and automation; buyers have little need to engage with them. Human interaction is still considered critically important to many buyers though where the value, complexity or impact of the services being sought is high.

Consultative sales people have the ability to understand the buyer’s needs and buying organisation’s unique pain-points, circumstances, concerns and decision-criteria. They help buyers overcome the fear of making a poor purchasing decision by shaping their solutions to the prospect’s specific needs.

Highly knowledgeable consultative sales people are in higher demand than ever and are an expensive resource as a result. In order to get value from them it is important they receive a flow of high quality opportunities that they can work on. Expecting these high-value staff to generate their own leads is likely to be limit their effectiveness. Particularly as they are often not skilled or equipped for the multi-channel integrated approach that is now necessary to engage buyers and generate leads.

Practical steps to adapt to modern Buyers and buying practices

The key to greater sales success is to maximise the value of great sales people by supporting them with great marketing and lead generation. In order to achieve this, there are four areas in which businesses need to adapt.

1. Lead Generation and marketing to prospects

Marketing needs to adapt by providing buyers with the information they want to enable them to self-educate.

This often means a mind-set shift from focusing on campaigns, sales-led messaging and expecting all marketing collateral or communications to generate leads.

Investment needs to be made into marketing assets. What form these take will vary, depending on your market, products or services.

Marketing assets include everything from explainer videos, guides, white papers, articles, opinion pieces, customer testimonials and case studies. It is these marketing assets that shape Buyers’ perception of you and determine whether they even want to engage with your sales function.

Developing these assets doesn’t mean that you won’t have to undertake lead generation activity; quite the contrary. These assets are the basics that you need to ensure your lead generation – inbound or outbound – is effective.

In addition to lead generation, you will need to undertake lead nurturing; building and maintaining awareness of your business with Buyers who aren’t in the market for your products or services, and may not be for many months or even years.

2. Nurturing live sales-leads

Too often, marketing is seen as activity focused narrowly on generating leads – those hard to achieve, initial conversations with Buyers.

Once sales take ownership of the lead, the marketing aspect stops leaving the sales person to maintain a dialogue with the prospect.

However, with B2B sales cycles often extending over many months, there is a limit to how effectively sales can be in providing the right information at the right time – we’re back to Buyers wanting to self-educate. This doesn’t stop when they engage with sales; they still want to continue to extend their knowledge and understanding of your business and its capabilities, independently of their human interaction with salespeople.

Setting up a sales-lead nurturing program needn’t be complex. You know the questions, information and content that Buyers want as part of the buying process; you’re simply making it available, and ideally pro-actively share it with them.

Your sales-lead nurturing program should also include marketing to everyone involved in the decision-making process; from influencers to cheque signers.

B2B buyers buy from businesses they know and trust. Therefore, building awareness and trust with the extended decision-making unit will help to increase the success rate of converting leads into customers.

3. Allocate budget from sales into marketing

Historically, for many businesses, there has been a direct, mental correlation between the number of salespeople and value of sales; if you want to increase sales you hire another salesperson.

But the rules of the game have changed. Whether you have a formal budget or not, the underlying message is still the same; as Buyers engage with Sales less, and later into the buying process because of self-research, each prospect will take less of a sales person’s time.

Therefore, fewer sales people are needed to manage the same number of sales opportunities.

This budget should be reallocated to marketing, as investment is required into high quality marketing assets and marketing technology – such as marketing automation – which will mean your nurturing and lead generation activity, will be effective and efficient.

4. Recruit the very best sales people

With increased competition, more choice for Buyers, fewer leads (but often of a greater quality), the value of each lead has never been greater.

The human interaction that Buyers want with salespeople isn’t basic, low-level information gathering. They engage with salespeople to understand how your products or services can meet their specific needs and to assess the likelihood of making a poor purchase decision. Every interaction counts.

In B2B sales and marketing it’s often said that differentiation is the key. Hiring the best salespeople is a crucial part of creating this differentiation.

Getting sales and marketing to work together seamlessly can be a challenge but with the right expertise, technology and techniques it can have a powerful impact on business growth. Specialist agencies such as Growthlabs play a key role in this for many businesses that do not have the right internal resources.

Google Partner B2B Marketing