The Future of Sales is Marketing

In a digital age that is characterised by always-on markets and customers that want what they want when they want it, talk about technology often centres around next-generation buzzwords, such as artificial intelligence, machine learning, cognitive computing, and the internet of things. As the overuse of such technical jargon inevitably begins to render it meaningless, the world of sales and marketing tech is exploding onto the scene at an accelerating pace of advancement.

It doesn’t take a global pandemic to realise that people aren’t buying the way they used to anymore. In fact, buying behaviour has grown even more unpredictable with COVID-19 and market volatility. Customers increasingly want to engage with suppliers through digital and self-service channels. To support this shift into multi-experience buying – the associated growth in the number of touchpoints and interactions between buyers and suppliers – organisations will need additional skills and technology capabilities.

To meet customers’ new buying preferences and succeed at virtual selling, sales leaders must adopt a digital mindset. Over the next five years, an even greater rise in digital interactions between buyers and suppliers will break our traditional sales models. The Gartner Future of Sales 2025 report predicts that by 2025, 80% of B2B sales interactions between suppliers and buyers will occur in digital channels. Sales leaders must accept that buying preferences have permanently changed and, as a result, so too will the role of selling. This means, the future of sales will see a permanent transformation in strategy, processes and resource allocation that moves organisations from seller-centric to buyer-centric; analogue to automated, digital-first engagement with customers. The opportunity in front of us is enormous, provided we act promptly to build adaptive systems to engage the “everywhere customer.”

“Those who make excuses, don’t make progress.”
― Amit Kalantri

5 Sales Facts We Knew Pre-2019

If humanity has learned anything, it is that they will always need to adapt to a changing consumer landscape. Even in the pre-2019 buying cycle, sales needed to integrate with marketing by taking down barriers and getting everyone on the same page. Consumers were already armed with plenty of information and rising expectations. Here’s what we knew then:

1. Traditional solution-selling no longer works. 

It is obvious customers are already armed with much of the information they need to know about a purchase before contacting the vendor.

2. Buyers have less time and even less patience for drawn-out processes.

Customers are looking for focused approaches to help them make the right decision faster.

3. The days of the hard sell are over.

Customers are most frustrated by aggressive, ill-informed, unsolicited, and “overly scripted” sales approaches. Therefore, if you’re still living under a rock and practicing the hard sell, rest assured, buyers will never find you there.

4. The conventional funnel-based mentality is outdated.

With buyers entering the purchase process at a later stage, it can be difficult to know where they are coming from and exactly what is motivating them. Because the buying cycle begins well before the actual sales process starts, it’s time to re-think how to serve customers throughout the entire buying process the way they prefer instead of trying to control it.

5. Customers expect nothing less than a stellar purchase experience.

Customers want to communicate and/or be approached over their preferred channels. They look for a consistent experience across those channels and they are more open than ever before to receive interesting offers based on their previous purchase behaviours.

“Doing business without advertising is like winking at a girl in the dark.

You know what you are doing but nobody else does.”

― Steuart Henderson Britt

Relationship Status: It’s Complicated

There are some staggering statistics out there that highlight the complex love-hate relationship between sales and marketing. LinkedIn found that 9 in 10 sales and marketing professionals say they are misaligned across strategy, process, content and culture, even though the same number of professionals agree that aligning initiatives and messaging improves the customer experience. In 2020, HubSpot reported that only 28% of salespeople said marketing was their best source of leads. While it seems like a no-brainer to sync these disciplines together, people are stubbornly set in their ways, so it can be a struggle of strong personalities. One COVID silver lining is increasing signs of an improved marriage between sales and marketing with teams more open to change.

COVID saw the buying landscape change overnight. What may have once taken a single meeting at a conference room table now requires multiple Zoom meetings and increased touch points because key stakeholders may not be physically together. With this transformation, the salesperson’s role must evolve from happy hours, dinners and expense reports to data-driven and revenue-centric approaches. This leaves sales teams with a lot to unpack and prove. It is imperative for organisations, leadership teams, and those molding the next generation of sales stars to evolve and provide the support, training and tools to truly make an impact.

McKinsey & Company reports that top sales innovators are embedding data and technology throughout their organisations to reimagine sales. With the shift to a digital approach, salespeople will need to embrace new tools and channels as well as a new way of engaging customers. So, how do sales professionals connect with clients during the sales process without bombarding them with questions and/or asking them to engage in ways they don’t want to? The answer is, they must think like marketers. This is the future of selling.

“You can’t expect the level of excitement of your audience to be greater than your own.”
― Richie Norton

Did the Pandemic Rekindle the Flame?

When marketing and sales teams lead with mutual purpose, they establish safety, create resonance, foster connection and increase engagement through shared goals with their customers. Successful organisations are making adjustments to integrate sales and marketing, enhancing the customer experience as a result. Before we decide on whether it’s going to be “Sal-Ma” or “Mark-Sa”, let’s remember that the evolution of sales and marketing as separate functions is an everyday challenge for most organisations. Long before mask and hand sanitiser producers were rubbing their palms together, it had already become exceedingly difficult for the two departments to maintain a collaborative relationship. Here’s the thing: the success of the two departments is largely interdependent. In this way, integration is the logical crucial first step to any sales optimisation effort.

The definition of sales technology hinges on making the customer experience better as an end result. Naturally, this comes at a cost, with a need to invest in tech tools for employee development in both sales and marketing departments. A few years ago, we noticed a surge in sales and marketing automation suites that served to augment an employee’s job role, depending on their set of responsibilities. It was no small feat! Platforms began to offer personalised and relevant experiences across different devices, verticals, and use cases as well. This became increasingly effective for the sales teams as well, now empowered with more insights than ever before.

This data ensured a layered breakdown between organisations and buyers. The marketing department would make the first contact at a digital level, nurturing prospects as they filtered through increasing levels of interest. They would then hand prospects over to their counterparts in sales (hot leads!). Sales teams relished real-time insights – a customer’s progression, their interests, prior conversations, perhaps even their birthdays, and more. It became factual and necessary for sales and marketing departments to remain on the same page.

“If you want to be rich improve your product.

If you want to be wealthy improve the lives of your customers.”

― Mac Duke

3 Ways to Keep the Passion Ignited

In many ways, the sales team is an organisation’s vision of the future because it drives progress. Peter Drucker once said “Nothing happens until someone sells something.” As a buyer’s last touch point before purchase, salespeople make or break the experience. According to Gartner, 2018 experienced epic change within the buyer landscape with 81% of the organisations surveyed competing on the basis of customer experience alone. We live in a world increasingly built and driven around collaboration. However, buyer experience as an outcome diminishes when sales, marketing, or any other team for that matter attempt to drive and execute in a silo. It’s time for leaders to build internal partnerships, collaborate with different teams, and evolve through the entirety of a client life cycle.

1. Adopt a startup mentality

The only way to move quickly is through collaboration. To create a personalised customer journey, sales and marketing must work together to better understand and serve the customer/end-user. The companies who are willing to fail fast are the ones who will come out of this time alive. Mindset is everything! With today’s tech, you can make it happen.

2. Treat digital as a primary tactic, not an add-on strategy.

Sales teams are now addicted to content. The pandemic unceremoniously shoved digital transformation onto the docket for industries that have a habit of clinging tightly to what has always worked in the past. However pushing relevant content out to a ravenous audience must be both systematic and strategic — two things that cannot be achieved in silos.

3. Personalise marketing to woo your most valuable clientele

As customer interactions become even more brief, more focused and more price-conscious than ever before, personalisation is one thing that is here to stay. Organisations that are shifting from demand-generation marketing style to account-based marketing (ABM) are seeing the biggest successes. Is your sales team still blasting out email campaigns? Or are marketing and sales working cross-functionally to develop highly personalised content and premium direct mail that nurtures relationships for the long term? The buyer journey is ever-evolving and teams must collaborate across company functions to create a dynamic strategy that can adapt to meet these changing needs.

Because newfound speed, coupled with digital transformation and personalisation have given sales teams a taste of success, they are not going anywhere. Will the happier marriage between marketing and sales remain too? Now is the time to allow the shift in the marketing-sales dynamic to produce results and long-term success. That success will not be created without improved integration and trust that will allow marketing to step into the sales spotlight.

“Content Isn’t King, It’s the Kingdom.”
― Lee Odden

5 Lead Generation Trends for 2021

The pandemic has been a steady diet of changes, upending many familiar go-to-market activities. In-person networking is out. Face-to-face “in your city” sales calls are out. Speaking slots at events not on Zoom are also out. According to our friends at Bloom and Grow, event attendance, including booth building, travel and time away from the office are only just back in. (Australia – socially distanced and heavily sanitised of course.)

Massive marketing budget shifts away from these types of activities were the rule in 2020 and are also true until 2021’s Q2 or Q3, depending on your global location. So where have new business development budgets gone over the past 18-months? The biggest beneficiaries appear to be other known go-to-market techniques that have returned results in the past. HubSpot reports – with data from more than 100,000 customers – show the following increases

1. Sales Development

Sales development is trending up dramatically in 2021. This can be viewed through two lenses:

  1. Sales emails have now effectively doubled from the pre-pandemic baseline – 106% in March and 94% more email volume in April 2021.
  2. Sales calls, too, trended up. Calls were up 72% and 65% in March and April 2021, respectively (compared to pre-pandemic baselines). If it feels like prospecting is harder than ever – the data indicates that to be true.

2. Email Marketing

Marketing email volumes are up by about 32% monthly since March 2020. There is a massive amount of these typically blast-oriented branded HTML emails flooding your nearest inbox!

3. Ad Spend

After dropping hastily in the months immediately following the first lockdowns, ad spend is starting to pick up since August 2020 – up 7% that month above pre-pandemic baselines. In 2021, we find spending up a staggering 38% in both March and April 2021. The year-over-year uptick is 52%.

4. Web Traffic

Not registering any noticeable pandemic downticks, web traffic to sites has been up an average of 53% throughout 2021. And the trend seems to have hit apogee, as total volumes of traffic were up 64% across the 100,000 sites stats in March 2021, before dropping back down to a still staggering 56% increase (from the pre-pandemic baseline).

5. Go-To-Market Implications

Despite buyers’ preferences for digital sales interactions – 70%-80% of respondents to McKinsey’s research survey prefer face-to-face – all this activity has not led to increased sales. According to a Salesforce report, salespeople appear less confident in both their personal and organisation’s closing abilities, with less than half of outside reps surveyed feeling confident about their organisation’s ability to close deals in the current environment.

HubSpot data indicates closed-won deals dipped early, with the uncertainty surrounding the onset of the pandemic (-9% April 2020) and were underwater seven of the next 11 months. Things seem to have finally reversed in March 2021, popping 13% above the pandemic baseline. The big takeaways here are that more activity is generating fewer results and that this hard work. This is especially true when prospecting and awareness-generating activities are not currently showing signs of reversing course.

For targeted buyers, the deluge of vendor ads, emails and outreach were all up dramatically pre-pandemic. Collectively, this means overflowing inboxes, voicemails and calendars for the foreseeable future. A recent study from Harvard Business School finds that people are receiving more email, attending 13% more meetings and have a workday that lasts nearly an hour longer than pre-pandemic. That’s an 8.2% increase. People are working harder, when all the tools are there for them to be working smarter.

“If you bring your best self to the world, your best work, and the world doesn’t receive it, it’s entirely possible that your marketing sucked.”
― Seth Godin

Strategies for the Brave New World

Opting out and doing less is simply not an option. Rather, there is a rush to more personalised account-based marketing strategies to generate new business by working smarter. Casting a wide net with a tidal wave of outreach to anyone and everyone was a common one-size-fits-all solution before Covid-19. In this new world of tighter budgets and lower certainty, this isn’t going to cut it anymore. Messages that don’t convert well are probably going to run through a list of prospects quickly without generating much interest at all, or worse landing your brand on a spam blacklist.

Quality outbound communication is imperative moving forward. This seems obvious, but in reality, putting together a quality message is harder than it sounds. What you think will work, most likely will not. Messaging is rarely a win-on-the-first-try game, so it’s crucial to conduct extensive testing of wording, message length, CTAs and personas. Test everything. Measure everything. Treat outbound as a science it will become your secret weapon.

As face-to-face interactions with customers decline, suppliers still need to find ways to influence buying decisions. A good place to start is by understanding the reasons people make purchasing decisions. Gartner’s research shows it’s critical to boost a buyer’s confidence in their decision. Otherwise, uncertainty pervades the purchase decision – uncertainty makes it less likely the customer will complete the purchase, let alone buy your premium offering. To increase buyer confidence, don’t position the sales team as the source of information. Rather, position them as “sense makers” who help customers make sense of everything they’re learning, irrespective of source or channel.

“Selling people things is a matter of determining their desires and figuring out

how the product matches those desires.”

― Zachariah Renfro

Sales and Marketing – The Reunion

While sales and marketing have worked together over the years, it is no longer enough to work in tandem. Sales and marketing alignment is a relic of a pre-pandemic era. Sales and marketing must now become integrated. Their tools, tactics and technology must work together to drive revenue. This means looking at an integrated experience that puts the customer journey first and ensures that marketing and sales are developing a curated buying experience versus one department going one route while the other goes a different direction.

One example is the use of a marketing automation platform, which has historically been the exclusive domain of the marketing team. Now, sales teams glean insights from marketing automation tools to close more deals. Marketing works with sales to develop segmented lead nurturing. Through integration, sales and marketing must work together to ensure that efforts aren’t siloed and that a potential prospect is in the right place in the buying cycle. If sales organisations want to maintain relevance in today’s world, a necessary first step is tying the knot with true sales and marketing integration.

“Everyone is selling something, if you can’t see what people are selling, maybe you’re the cart.”
― Aniekee Tochukwu Ezekiel

Couple's Counselling Through Collaboration

Once integration occurs, the next step is to ensure collaboration across the organisation. Technology provides the vehicle to instantly collaborate across the globe, including chat tools like Microsoft Teams, marketing dashboards that provide collaboration opportunities on analytics and insights and more. As the sales profession transforms for the digital age, investing in tools that allow for easy connection is required for continued or improved success. Take the recent acquisition of Slack by Salesforce as an example. Driven out of a need to collaborate in an increasingly digital landscape due to the pandemic, this partnership for sales serves as validation of the direction the industry is heading – one where the sales organisation is enabled to collaborate with colleagues across the organisation in a fast, effective way.

In a perfect world, marketing and sales would be a match made in customer-delight heaven. In the real world, they’re not enemies, but the relationship needs some work. Let’s be honest, most bosses are afraid of their employees becoming too close. What if they spend all their time chatting by the water cooler instead of working toward business goals? Well, the likelihood of that happening is not very high. But there are benefits to your employees being close that you might not be aware of.

While some people perceive that inner-work friendships will kill productivity, the science says otherwise. Ironically, people with a best friend at work are seven times more likely to engage fully in their work. So, how does that fact apply to your sales and marketing teams? The best way to have your sales and marketing teams work together rather than separately is to create an environment where they can mingle and feel like a single team. Don’t just intermingle the people on each team, though. Intermingle the data as well. In other words, don’t keep sales data and marketing data separate. Drive all of that information to a single location where it can be viewed and interpreted in a context that makes sense. After all, your sales team is nothing without the marketing team, and marketing is nothing without sales.

“Tangible + Intangible: that’s the secret sauce of good marketing.
A hotel room is never only a hotel room, it’s a statement.”
― Simone Puorto

Why This Isn't The End

The adage “adapt or die” may seem a bit harsh. Unfortunately, it’s the truth in our current business environment. Sales professionals and organisations that recognise the changing landscape and adapt, will come out much better in 2022. Organisations that do not adapt, collaborate and integrate may find themselves facing harsh realities. No matter how unstable the world seems, business will always exist. Customers will always exist. If you adjust to the changing tide and learn to shift your approach to sales accordingly, there’s a good chance your company will always exist as well. Taking the time to dig in, do the research, and make changes now is what will help keep you afloat and confident in the long run.

“Let’s discuss our Swoosh-less Nike sneaker for a moment. My guess is that if you removed the branding from a pair of Nike Dunk sneakers, they would be worth no more than twenty-five percent of their retail price. That means that at least seventy-five percent of the value of a Nike sneaker is tied up in the emotional elements you can’t see or touch, the intangibles. But just because you can’t see them or touch them doesn’t mean they aren’t real.”
― Alan Philips

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