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Is marketing morphing into sales?

According to Brent Adamson, distinguished vice president at Gartner: “Traditionally, business-to-business (B2B) sales and marketing have been set up in a ‘serial’ manner: first the marketing, then the sales.

“First engage customers through digital, then engage through in-person sellers. Everything is built in a linear fashion to identify potential customers, ‘nurture’ them and then ‘hand them off’ to sales for in-person pursuit. The entire machine is built around the ‘hand-off’. However, from a buyer’s perspective, there is no hand-off.”

Ultimately, we have a shared goal so it’s imperative we work together to reach it

Gartner’s 2018 research shows B2B buyers spend 27 per cent of their time researching independently online and 17 per cent meeting potential suppliers. It means the serial model to which Mr Adamson refers is now obsolete. Instead, both digital and in-person channels need to support every buying job simultaneously.

Buyers are in the driving seat

As Liane Grimshaw, founder and managing director of B2B inbound marketing specialists SupaReal, says: “Historically the vendor or service provider would drive the relationship and buying process as buyers used to rely on them for information and expertise. Today, buyers access information quickly and independently in real time to inform purchase decisions well in advance of contacting any potential providers.”

This disruption to the traditional buying journey means salespeople can be the first touch point for brands, while marketers often act as sales enablers. A more empowered buyer means sales and marketing, historically siloed entities often working in isolation, are increasingly having to work more closely together, their roles and responsibilities blurring and broadening.

Mr Adamson says: “B2B marketers will have to significantly expand the scope of their work beyond brand building and demand generation to include helping or influencing buyers at every step of the purchase process, not just in the early stages of awareness building.”

A two-pronged attack

It stands to reason that aligned and collaborative sales and marketing teams can produce powerful content to influence the decision-making process. “If the two teams are in agreement about what buyers need to support their journey and how leads are triaged into the sales team when they are generated, the better the end-result will be,” says Ms Grimshaw.

Opus Energy, for example, is investing in developing its range of collateral to be used across sales, marketing and public relations. “Over the last few years, we’ve certainly started to further align both sales and marketing teams to deliver an integrated strategy,” says Rob Milloy, Opus Energy’s sales director. “At the end of the day, it’s about consistency. If a brand wants to be known for something, then everyone needs to be delivering a message in the same way.”

An example of Opus’s integrated content strategy is its advice platform Brighter Business, which is aimed at small and medium-sized enterprises and entrepreneurs. “This isn’t a sales channel, but it communicates our expertise and gives us content to be used across the business,” says Mr Milloy. “By the time we’re ready to approach a potential customer, we’ve already built a level of trust and can proactively demonstrate our understanding of their needs.”

Create team dedicated to removing barriers

Mr Adamson says organisations should take the development of such multi-purpose content one step further, overcoming the need for the function to be designated to either sales or marketing by creating a buyer enablement team, specifically tasked with identifying customer buying obstacles.

This team would develop the tools and content to help customers anticipate and address these hurdles, deploying them both digitally and in person. Mr Adamson adds: “The only reason we have to answer the question in terms of ‘sales’ or ‘marketing’ is due to legacy corporate structures that are no longer aligned to how buyers actually buy.”

Ms Grimshaw says SupaReal always aims to engage members of the sales team in the strategic process, believing their input can be fundamental to marketing success. “Ultimately, they are at the coal face when talking to clients and prospects, and their insights can be invaluable when developing buyer personas and understanding the process or stages buyers go through,” she says.

It is time well spent. Demand Gen’s 2018 survey of content preferences for B2B buyers reveals that 49 per cent of buyers rely more on content to guide their decisions than they did in 2017, with 78 per cent consuming three or more pieces of relevant content before talking to a salesperson.

Technology compels collaboration

Increasingly sophisticated technology is also driving sales and marketing to work more closely together, chiefly through data-sharing. As Simon Carter, marketing and propositions director at edtech business RM Education, says: “Clearly a single view of the customer is important for many sales and marketing businesses to keep all the contact information on a customer in one place to make conversations more informed and to maximise the effectiveness of respective activity.”

Mr Milloy says Opus Energy is developing and sharing data across the wider business to ensure any insight that can be gleaned is utilised to benefit all parts of the business. “Ultimately, we have a shared goal so it’s imperative we work together to reach it,” he says.

Data is also enabling more organisations to take an account-centric, insight-driven approach to marketing and sales, enabling the generation of better quality leads, which historically has been a common source of tension between the two departments.

Technology company Cyance uses machine-learning technology to predict when customers are ready to buy, based on their digital footprint. These buying intent signals determine which companies its customers, including Nokia and Canon, should target and when.

“Marketing can then partner with sales to react to these buyer signals and deliver a relevant and tailored offer or item of content,” says Jon Clarke, chief executive of Cyance. “Prioritising relevant, early buying-stage activity, and responding with a tailored offer, enables marketing and sales to transform their results and remove the inefficiency from their efforts.”

Such account-based marketing (ABM), in which marketers treat individual customers like a specific market using personalised campaigns, necessitates that marketing and sales work more closely together, although some believe it is still in its infancy.

“The challenges of how you leverage ABM at scale continue and not enough salespeople understand that it is more than just a ‘black-box’ acronym marketers hide behind,” says Mr Carter. He believes ABM still has a long way to go, although says it is a key part of his plans for RM Education in 2019 and 2020.

Marketers are accountable

While marketers are increasingly capable of directly delivering sales, and sales often make the first contact with prospects, both complementary sets of skills remain in demand.

Ms Grimshaw says: “There is still a marketing function and a sales function. However, the two functions are needing to work much closer together, with joint responsibility for driving the pipeline.”

Gemma Butler, director of marketing at the Chartered Institute of Marketing, adds marketers play a crucial role in delivering business growth, pointing out that senior marketers have been driven by revenue targets and conversions for some time. “Our 2017 research found that the average revenue growth driven by marketing is estimated to be 19 per cent annually,” she says.

At RM Education, Mr Carter says revenue targets are shared. “All my marketing team have a revenue target within their personal objectives, albeit the key word is ‘contribution’ to those targets, in other words they share them with a salesperson; they do not have a solus number on their back.”

Sales and marketing may not have quite switched roles, but their remits have certainly evolved, and the complex and non-linear buying journey, with its multiple touch points, now demands they work hand in glove.

As Mr Carter concludes: “The definition of marketing and sales is less distinct, and the interplay between the two is greater than ever before.”