We recently held our inaugural client event, welcoming Sales and Marketing leadership from some of the largest Sales and Relationship management forces in North America. What’s the biggest challenge they all face? Enabling digital relationships at a staggering scale – literally thousands of individuals across an organization responsible for managing tens of thousands of relationships.
That is the impact of digital on B2B marketing – the customer’s brand experience now incorporates multi-channel interactions across sales and the whole customer-facing organization. If that challenge doesn’t drive Sales and Marketing alignment, nothing will. But it’s not all bad news.
Baron Manet of Per Se, a brand experience company, advises marketers to compete in the attention economy by recognizing these three core beliefs:
- Attention is earned.
- Empathy is experienced.
- Trust is ongoing.
My only addition for B2B:
- Only people are truly personal.
Many marketers are embracing these beliefs and implementing Personalization in their campaigns and digital experiences. They have turned to Automation and AI to deliver a personalized experience at scale. In B2B, we have forgotten that personalized experienced is really the personal relationship between buyers and sellers. Marketing is missing an opportunity to earn attention, build empathy and ultimately trust by enabling their sales teams with engaging, authentic content.
Marketing Needs to Make Some Friends in Sales
It never starts with technology. Sales and Marketing teams that attended our customer conference shared the need to build relationships with each other to ensure success. Building this relationship opens lines of communication that lead to empathy and understanding each others needs and objectives. I lost count of the number of times I heard the number one reason a program fails basically boiled down to a lack of empathy between program leadership (Marketing) and the participants (Sales).
Often it’s the same techniques that are so effective externally – getting to know the person and sharing experiences online and offline – that work with internal relationships. Successful Marketing leaders spend time in the field offices or host weekly calls to share knowledge and best practices. The best marketers behave like coaches – setting the agenda and guiding the conversation but more often letting Sales leaders lead especially when it comes to establishing trusted relationships with the ultimate clients and buyers.
Beyond practices, I believe there’s a mind shift that’s needed in Marketing when approaching Sales. Marketing can only effectively target three or four buyer personas with content and often only for a limited set of industry verticals, which can miss the mark on achieving real personalization. Limiting the messaging and content to these targets is the only practical way to be effective, but often wildly misses the scope and needs of the market. To illustrate, one of our clients targets 50 different verticals with a marketing team of one.
That’s where Sales comes in. In communications and buyer experience, Sales represents that ‘last mile’ for the message. Only Sales has the capacity (and the incentives) to tailor the message to every single sub-vertical and influencer they are targeting and achieve the desired direct outcomes including financial results. When Marketing approaches their relationship with a service mindset, the team will be much more effective.
Tools Are Needed to Tailor the Message at Scale
One useful way to think about how Marketing and Sales can partner to enable a digital and social selling initiative that drives revenue is to take a known concept, for example, Inbound Marketing, and pivot to the Sales equivalent, inbound selling. Imagine working to accomplish the same goals but in less than five hours a week and more likely less than one hour a week. Authoring becomes sharing, repeated messaging becomes curated and targeted, complexity becomes simplicity.
Content management is critical to tailor the message in two key conversation stages: nurturing and converting. Nurturing conversations engage buyers over time – they allow for the many touchpoints it takes to build trust. Converting conversations are focused on the ‘moments of truth’ – where Sales needs to answer the questions “Why me? Why now?” The most critical of these conversations is the pitch. Both pivot on content.
Nurturing conversations can be direct (direct message) or indirect (mass communication). With some exceptions, they can occur in multiple channels – email, text, or social. Content relevance tools like Grapevine6 help to curate the content for direct and indirect conversations by applying AI to match content to interests.
Sales Enablement Automation (SEA) platforms are critical in driving converting conversations. They enable Sales to rapidly personalize Marketing content for a specific opportunity and even for a specific contact. These platforms enable Sales to assemble the relevant content to match the opportunity often by applying AI to learn the effectiveness of different content to the context of the conversion conversation.
Finally, Marketing cannot afford to ignore the inherent risk in these distributed digital conversations. There’s another class of capability that’s purpose-built and uses AI to protect the brand and in some cases prevent regulatory risk. It’s important to prioritize the indirect conversations such as social posts due to the public or semi-public nature of the communications. Outside of our own intelligent content controls, we work with two leaders in this field – Proofpoint Digital Risk and Safeguard Cyber to extend the protection to the digital identities of your customer-facing people.
Success in establishing digital client relationships at scale is achievable by Sales and Marketing teams. It starts with empathy and having a good understanding between Sales and Marketing for how digital channels are used and the gaps and challenges that each face. Finding ways to create and deliver targeted messaging at scale is a common goal that can be supported by tools in order to drive nurturing and converting conversations that achieve financial objectives. Take a look at the case studies and best practices in the field – I recommend resources from Vengreso – they have some great podcasts and a fantastic SAP case study. Grapevine6 also posts case studies with accomplished sellers on our blog.
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