In 2010, CEB showed that B2B buyers were 56% through the purchase decision when they engaged with a supplier sales/account rep (including incumbent suppliers) for the first time. (56% was a global number; I believe the Australia number was closer to 65%).
This research identified the most successful sales profile for a complex sale as the “Challenger.” One key aspect of this profile is that the Challenger operates where buyers are “learning,” getting in much earlier in the purchase decision pathway and having a greater sales impact. Many organisations have embraced the Challenger model. (In fact, I too was an early adopter, introducing the Challenger sales model at CSC, back in 2011).
So six years on – we can only expect that those %s have increased a little, and the customer preference for research, assessments, comparisons, “try-before-you-buy” experiences and word-of-mouth referrals, etc. has exploded. Individuals — either decision makers or influencers of decision makers — are now taking many “small actions” with new innovative suppliers, well before they even meet with their trusted advisors.
These small “usage” actions are the new sales frontier for typical B2B services companies.
It is now very easy to not only “learn,” but also “experience” a product or service, without ever coming in contact with a sales rep. Even in enterprise IT, there is an expectation that cloud-based services are simply ready for trial experiences online. For more complex solutions, customers expect you to visually prototype a digital solution within a week, and build a minimum viable product prototype within a few weeks. They expect a fast, simple way of proving value, as well as experiencing the service and the brand. These are the small “usage” actions — the sales “moments of truth” — that help drive brand preference decisions very early.
This is taking Challenger sales to the next level. Once an organisation has “experienced” a digital service, it is then up to more conventional sales to translate this into an official services contract, and then help drive ongoing service usage and consumption. As you can see this is very different type of sales motion.
I was at a partner conference recently, listening to a managing director of a competitor talk about how the company has achieved significant sales growth results. Now here’s the kicker — the organization did this by flipping the ratio of marketing headcount to sales headcount, with breakthrough results. To re-state that another way: The company has more marketing people than sales people! It wasn’t always this way;-it took a courageous director to dismantle a well-established sales structure.
When you think about it though, marketing professionals (particularly consumer marketers) have deep expertise in creating digital experiences that drive brand preference and consideration. They have always worked with creative designers or agencies to create amazing experiences, and they can do it fast. They know how to identify, track and then nurture leads in an omni-channel world. Many have significant experience with analytics, targeting and dynamic offers/pricing to convert sales. In B2C organisations, the CMO also has sales and revenue responsibility ( this is currently rare in B2B enterprise sales environments).
So how effective is your traditional B2B sales force, and in the face of the new buyer behaviour, does it makes sense to rethink how to be more effective? Rethinking Sales means rethinking Marketing.
Is flipping the ratio of sales to marketing headcount the right answer? If so, it will also require shifting more of the responsibility for sales to the CMO. Of course then the challenge becomes looking for those rare CMOs that have experience across the enterprise, in creating digital brand experiences, omni-channel marketing, as well as P&L and sales management.