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Sales & Marketing Are Dead (As We Know Them) & What To Do About It

August 20, 2012

In recent weeks the pages of the Harvard Business Review have been decorated with provocative titles that suggest the end is near for practitioners of the Marketing and Sales profession– in both B2C and B2B businesses:

What gives?  In short, the democratization of information is changing the way people buy.  This, in turn, is changing the way smart companies big and small market and sell.   From our Launch Pad perch, in both our internal startups and our consulting work, we see this happening with increasing frequency.    Leveraging these powerful HBR articles, Let’s take a closer look at how this plays out.

They Dont Want Your Stinkin’ Solution

The reality is that today’s B2B sales processes, your prospects already have most of the answers thanks to the plethora of information available on the web as a result of your competitors’ content marketing strategies.  From The End of Solution Selling:

Under the conventional solution-selling method that has prevailed since the 1980s, salespeople are trained to align a solution with an acknowledged customer need and demonstrate why it is better than the competition’s. This translates into a very practical approach: A rep begins by identifying customers who recognize a problem that the supplier can solve, and gives priority to those who are ready to act. Then, by asking questions, she surfaces a “hook” that enables her to attach her company’s solution to that problem. Part and parcel of this approach is her ability to find and nurture somebody within the customer organization—an advocate, or coach—who can help her navigate the company and drive the deal to completion.

But customers have radically departed from the old ways of buying, and sales leaders are increasingly finding that their staffs are relegated to price-driven bake-offs. One CSO at a high-tech organization told us, “Our customers are coming to the table armed to the teeth with a deep understanding of their problem and a well-scoped RFP for a solution. It’s turning many of our sales conversations into fulfillment conversations.” Reps must learn to engage customers much earlier, well before customers fully understand their own needs. In many ways, this is a strategy as old as sales itself: To win a deal, you’ve got to get ahead of the RFP. But our research shows that although that’s more important than ever, it’s no longer sufficient.

The authors go on..

Across the last five years, however, we’ve observed both in our data and our conversations with sales leaders around the world a dramatic drop in the efficacy of this approach. In a survey of several thousand B2B customers conducted by our company, CEB, we found that B2B customers were nearly 60% of the way through a typical purchase before they reached out to a sales rep for input. More often than not, the hard reality is that customers have begun the buying long before suppliers have begun the selling. So by the time a supplier is called in, there’s no need to discover needs at all. By and large, customers (believe they) have figured everything out.

What accounts for this trend? The answer has nothing to do with methodology. If we go back five years, customers used to have few options but to speak with suppliers relatively early in a purchase as most information about possible solutions wasn’t available anywhere else. In many ways, it was the golden age of the solution sale. Today, with the explosion of information on the Internet and the rise of third-party purchasing consultants, that’s no longer the case.

It’s a story B2C sales professionals know all too well — just think how we buy cars today. By the time we walk into a dealership, we know not only which model, engine, and options we want, but how much we want to pay. These days, we don’t look to car dealers to “sell” us a car so much as to fulfill our order. Granted, many business purchases are far more complex, but the data tell us nonetheless that business customers are just as likely as consumers to come to the table more knowledgeable of their own needs than ever before.

And Your Marketing Efforts Are Having To Work Harder To Get Deteriorating Results!

There’s a similar phenomenon happening on the marketing side.  Information overload, distrust and crazy signal-to-noise ratios are conspiring to undermine B2B and B2C marketing efforts to build pipeline and help move things along within the pipeline.  From Marketing Is Dead:

Traditional marketing — including advertising, public relations, branding and corporate communications — is dead. Many people in traditional marketing roles and organizations may not realize they’re operating within a dead paradigm. But they are. The evidence is clear.

First, buyers are no longer paying much attention. Several studies have confirmed that in the “buyer’s decision journey,” traditional marketing communications just aren’t relevant. Buyers arechecking out product and service information in their own way, often through the Internet, and often from sources outside the firm such as word-of-mouth or customer reviews.

Second, CEOs have lost all patience. In a devastating 2011 study of 600 CEOs and decision makers by the London-based Fournaise Marketing Group, 73% of them said that CMOs lack business credibility and the ability to generate sufficient business growth, 72% are tired of being asked for money without explaining how it will generate increased business, and 77% have had it with all the talk about brand equity that can’t be linked to actual firm equity or any other recognized financial metric.

Third, in today’s increasingly social media-infused environment, traditional marketing and sales not only doesn’t work so well, it doesn’t make sense. Think about it: an organization hires people — employees, agencies, consultants, partners — who don’t come from the buyer’s world and whose interests aren’t necessarily aligned with his, and expects them to persuade the buyer to spend his hard-earned money on something. Huh? When you try to extend traditional marketing logic into the world of social media, it simply doesn’t work. Just ask Facebook, which finds itself mired in an ongoing debate about whether marketing on Facebook is effective.

What To Do?  Luckily all 4 pieces deliver the goods in terms of offering concrete ideas for overcoming these tectonic-shift obstacles.  If you find these issues creeping into your Marketing and Sales processes, give em a read!  We promise you will be glad you did.

And if you are looking for help thinking through how to react/implement, drop us a line.  We’d love to explore whether we might lend a hand.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. Bill permalink
    August 21, 2012 3:31 pm

    Believe there is an opportunity for software to actually bridge the gap between sales & marketing while providing sales people with tools which actually allow them to more effective at selling while at the same time providing a more elegant buying environment for the customer (and this is not CRM).

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