For organizations that have large, complex sales cycles, there’s a certain magic to moving a prospect along the decision-making journey. When all goes as planned, you feel invincible (think Jack Dawson astride the Titanic) — until the next deal begins.
You’d think it would relieve some pressure to know that by the time potential leads show up on your radar, they are better informed and closer to a decision than ever before, but the reality is digital transformation has left many sales and marketing organizations scrambling to revamp their strategy.
How Has Digital Transformation Changed the Sales Process?
In the past, the sales and marketing team was in control of the flow of information. Its fundamental purpose was to educate a prospect on the product, demonstrate its remarkable features, and charm them while simultaneously pressing them to close the sale. Act now to receive this special offer!
When it came to big-dollar B2B deals, decisions were often made not based on who was the best, but who was the safest. There was no way to research an unknown competitor, and managers knew that their decision would be scrutinized, so it was safest to pick based on name brand and reputation. No one was going to start a $20 million project with an unknown company. Marketing efforts were focused on telling the company’s story, demonstrating expertise, building awareness, and highlighting product improvements.
Now fast-forward 20 years.
Digital transformation has rewritten the rules and rendered many traditional marketing approaches obsolete. Data abounds — social vetting, competitive analysis, third-party research, and customer testimonials are just a click away. The field is loud and crowded, and now you have to account for competitive start-ups.
Customers no longer neatly follow the bread crumbs laid out by sales and marketing teams. They do their own research, compare rivals, and only engage their short-list providers in the final stage of decision-making. They’ve already determined project criteria, built consensus among their own teams, sought buy-in on their budget, and are likely just looking for a price at this point. And even then, the sales team might have limited access to the customer. According to Forrester, B2B sales teams will see their role diminished as prospects move online, with 93 percent of customers preferring to forego any interaction with a salesperson in favor of online ordering.
Add to that the stress of seeing other marketing groups deliver engaging, novel content at record pace while your senior leadership debates whether digital strategy has any value. It’s not easy.
What Is the Solution?
To succeed in this environment, brands have to target potential leads in real and meaningful ways, and they have to identify buyers before buyers identify themselves.
It’s likely you’ve done your own research on this and know what you need to do (invest in content marketing, hone your digital strategy, prove ROI, get internal buy-in, bridge teams working in silos, make miracles happen daily), but you still have questions: Is your approach the most efficient use of time and resources? What if we invest in new technology and it doesn’t give us actionable information? What if we go through all this effort and our sales stay flat? These are all valid concerns.
Here’s the good news: There is a flip side to digital transformation. Not only are customers better informed, but marketers are as well. With the right teams, tools, and processes, we know more about the habits, preferences, histories, and behaviors of customers than ever before. Smart companies are harnessing this huge data set and using it to gain insights and guide strategy.
According to the Aberdeen Group, best-in-class organizations are 93 percent more likely to use data to personalize content or communications. In a 2017 report, Aberdeen reported that data-driven marketing and analytical tools “provide clear answers about who to target, where there are opportunities for interactions, when such opportunities arise, and what works best in any given situation.”
Cold, hard data has the ability to foster nuanced communication for customers, build deep relationships, and cultivate loyalty.
So what’s the next step for your marketing organization? The detailed answer depends on the maturity of your marketing organization. Are you a Level 1 team that has yet to engage digital media, a Level 2 team that has jumped in but might be in over its head in pulling actionable information from results, or a Level 3 team with efficient teams and killer data sets?
Regardless of which you are, there are three areas you should be focusing on:
1. A Unified Approach
The whole team has to understand that potential customers are already conducting their purchasing research, so marketing efforts have to consistently demonstrate the company’s brand, reliability, leadership in the industry, and trustworthiness across all channels. A unified voice and message go much farther than a scattershot of ideas.
This is easier said than done — it can be tough to collect buy-in from disparate teams, each who have their own agenda. Companies are still largely organized by product/service groups versus customer groups. According to the February 2017 edition of The CMO Survey, 70 percent of companies have their marketing groups structured this way. Thankfully, you’re experienced at getting people to see your point of view (marketing at its finest), so flex those muscles to foster internal cooperation.
2. Useful Content
Create content that not only informs but inspires with its style and substance. This is more than product descriptions and industry overviews; it’s useful content free of sales-speak and expectations, and it communicates transparency by offering different viewpoints.
Get to know your customers’ preferences and then give them what they’re looking for. Readers will hang around to hear what you have to say if they can first decipher why they should care. And remember who you’re talking to — according to research from Google, B2B researchers who are not in the C-suite are key influencers to purchase decisions, primarily because they’re the ones whittling down the field and making the recommendations.
Digital marketing content delivers value to customers in the form of information, but it also delivers value to your team in the form of data. Who likes this content? Who shared it? Who acted on it? When? If you’re not measuring the performance of your marketing efforts — and then acting on those insights — then you’re wasting opportunities.
If you don’t have this capability now, add it to your short-term budget to keep up with the competition. (The CMO Survey forecasts a 376 percent increase on spending for marketing analytics in the next three years.) Getting the right people on your team who can translate those results is also integral to realizing their value.
Whether or not your marketing organization is ready for it, the landscape is in a state of near constant change. Someday we may look back at digital marketing and strategy as “the old way,” but for now, this is where best-in-class companies are making strides, beating out competition, and connecting with customers. It’s time to jump into the fray.
Need help getting started? Contact me for more on digital transformation and other marketing solutions for your company.