The Alignment Issue

Navigating the modern B2B marketing landscape

Volume One / Issue 3

All roads (should) lead to conversion

Imagine a world where marketing and sales teams work together seamlessly as one, joyfully reaping the rewards of a successful, cohesive process. It’s not so easy, is it?

Marketing and sales notoriously work in silos; fully invested in delivering their own objectives with their feet firmly positioned at opposite ends of the traditional sales funnel. And even those that do try to play nicely together often fall foul of inherent roadblocks, such as the use of different reporting metrics and KPIs.

The B2B buyer experience is primarily driven by marketing and sales teams, so it’s crucial for businesses to take action to keep the two aligned. Doing so will ensure B2B companies are better equipped to target the right customers and prospects with relevant messaging and content, as well as invest resources where they will have the most impact.

Because – unlikely as it may seem – alignment between these two functions is possible.

Stereotypes create divides
In the B2B world, aligning marketing and sales has been a challenge for decades. If you believe the stereotypes, sales representatives see marketing activity as too abstract or not relevant enough and label marketers as ‘pen pushers’ or ‘academics’.

Meanwhile, marketers see the other side as ‘cowboys’ and ‘incompetent’, often underutilising content that is intended to help them.

The two departments have virtually no overlap in their day-to-day activities and, very often, sit completely separately to each other as well. But the crux of the issue is that marketing and sales typically operate with radically different key performance indicators (KPIs).

This means that sales can have a great year with no direct correlation to marketing activity (for example through upselling or renewals), while marketing can achieve record quantities of impressions or leads without knowing if these ever turn into sales.

This isn’t sustainable. Sooner or later, the lack of cohesion between the two departments – and the gap in the sales funnel this creates – will affect overall business performance.

There is no sale without the story; no knockout without the setup.

Gary Vaynerchuk

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Two sides of the same coin?

Marketing and sales represent the two parts of the buyer journey that establish the value of a product or service, so successful B2B selling relies on a strong partnership between the two business functions.

With 60% of businesses believing that marketing and sales misalignment could damage financial performance1, we’re talking about much more than just some tension in the office: it’s a business crisis.

We are entering a new landscape, where prospective buyers expect more when they engage in a B2B transaction.

Gone are the days when marketing handed a lead over to sales, and never spoke to them again. To succeed in this modern era, marketing and sales teams need to come together to deliver an enhanced and consistent buyer experience. This isn’t sustainable. Sooner or later, the lack of cohesion between the two departments – and the gap in the sales funnel this creates – will affect overall business performance.

1. Content Marketing: Unlocking Sales and Marketing Performance (LinkedIn, 2018)

Feeding The machine

So, what’s changed? Well, firstly, the B2B sales funnel is not as straightforward as it used to be; buyers now have much more power over the way they access and engage with information about a brand or service.

B2B buyers are spending up to 20 hours conducting research before contacting a sales representative and, once they get in touch with a company, they expect to learn something new. The stakes are even higher when you consider that 74% of buyers choose to work with the salesperson who first added value to their search.2

More and more influencers are also getting involved in the decision-making process – nearly a quarter of all B2B buyers reported that more than five people were involved in their last B2B purchase.3 It is important for businesses to understand and address their varying needs throughout the buying experience. Peer feedback and recommendations are also of growing importance in the B2B environment.

Finally, there are now more brand touchpoints at any given moment in the buying journey. Marketing and sales teams have to understand which channels and content formats are preferred, and even consider the time of day that prospective buyers are more likely to take action. Whether that be signing up to a newsletter, downloading content or answering a call, businesses must constantly evolve to cater to the interests of their target audiences and adapt to their expectations.

Cracking the non-linear sales funnel

Traditionally, prospects entered at the top of the funnel, and interacted with just one product or person throughout the entire journey. In an omnichannel, multi-touchpoint world, the B2B sales funnel has transformed into a non-linear journey with interactions across mediums like social media, email and live chat.

The non-linear sales funnel means that buyers have taken control. However, it also runs the risk of slowing down B2B purchases with a worrying proportion of buyers indicating that they need help making sense of their research.

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In fact, according to a recent survey by Showpad4:

32% of respondents say they can’t find the information they need when they research

In fact, according to a recent survey by Showpad4:

37% say that not enough information is applicable to their direct purchase

In fact, according to a recent survey by Showpad4:

29% said the information they do find doesn’t prove return on investment (ROI)

In fact, according to a recent survey by Showpad4:

60% of C-level executives and 82% of Vice Presidents say not understanding content and not being able to easily share content slows down purchase decisions.

We’re now entering a new landscape where prospective buyers expect more when they engage in a B2B transaction. By working together, marketing and sales teams can optimise the entire buyer experience and ultimately make the difference between a deal or a no deal.

2 5 Statistics that Will Change Your View of the B2B Buyer’s Journey (IDG, 2016)
3,4. The New B2B Buyer Experience (Showpad, 2018)

MARKETING NEVER SLEEPS

In today’s world, there is a seemingly endless list of ways to engage with buyers, via a multitude of platforms.

Marketing and sales teams should be pooling their knowledge to develop personas for each of their key customer types. This, in turn, will help businesses to truly understand what their target audiences need from content.

Once armed with compelling key messages, it is also important for businesses to ask themselves where the bulk of collateral that’s currently produced sits. The majority of businesses position their content at the comparison and purchase stages – but forget about post-purchase care, retention, advocacy and re-engagement. Mapping content against the buying journey of the ideal customer will ensure that relevant information is readily available and that sales representatives have the tools they need during face-to-face meetings.

Syncing up marketing and sales
Marketing and sales teams need to share a common vision, and this can happen by emphasising shared objectives and goals rather than inherent differences. Usually marketers are used to having access to analytics when investing in digital channels, but when it comes to how content performs in the sales funnel, they often have no visibility.

Technologies like CRM and sales readiness have helped B2B sales teams improve predictability and effectiveness, just as marketing automation technologies have helped B2B marketers scale targeted campaigns. But because marketing technologies are at the top of the funnel and sales technologies are at the bottom, there’s an inherent gap between both stacks. Marketing and sales teams can – and should – share technology to bridge this divide and positively impact the bottom line.

This also supports the changing dynamic between the buyer and sales representative, empowering sales to add value with content that goes beyond basic information gained from CRM or marketing automation technologies. Through shared metrics and technology, marketing and sales can come together to deliver an enhanced experience to today’s more educated buyer.

Analytics will get you there
To address marketing and sales misalignment, a growing number of B2B businesses are moving towards the introduction of shared digital platforms to create, distribute and measure the impact of content.

These technologies enable the right content to be provided to the right customer at the right time, making it easier for sales to get buy-in. With the help of analytics, B2B businesses can then continue to develop engaging content strategies that are tailored to the requirements and preferences of individual buyers.

Which content is viewed most often by specific industries or roles? Insights like these begin to tell the story of what types of content are most valuable for buyers and can inform future content strategies for both marketing and sales teams.

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WHAT'S THE DEAL WITH ABM?

Hailed as the strategy to break through the marketing and sales alignment impasse, ABM – account based marketing – requires that both teams work closely together to nurture high-value B2B opportunities.

For years, marketers have been obsessed with casting their net wide enough to catch as many leads as possible. They hope that the numbers game pays off, and that at least a couple of prospects will be sufficiently interested to enter the sales funnel.

With ABM, the net becomes a spear, with specific companies targeted that have already identified as being a good fit to buy. This approach means that time, money and effort aren’t wasted filling the funnel with poor quality leads.

ABM flips the traditional sales process on its head. Content is no longer produced just for the sake of it, without knowing if it’s even been used. Instead, content is tailored to a certain company, at a specific point in the buying process.

Marketing teams are no longer just handing a lead over to sales: both departments are working together closely to identify the correct companies to target and nurture the contact towards the bottom of the funnel.

If you don’t have marketing and sales aligned and using the same set of data, then you’re not really doing ABM.

Liam Doyle, Salesforce

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STRONGER TOGETHER...

So, what does marketing and sales alignment actually look like, once you’ve achieved it? Many believe that the end-goal of creating a more harmonious working relationship between the two teams is customer centricity.

Here, it is worth mentioning that there is a significant difference between customer-first and customer-centric.

Many businesses are practicing a customer-first approach currently, but very few are being truly customer-centric. Customer centricity means going deeper than just offering a product or a service that the customer wants, but instead truly recognising how customers think, feel and behave.

It is only by understanding your customer in this way that you can then deliver the most optimised experience possible across each, and every, touchpoint. True customer centricity can only be delivered if marketing and sales teams work in unison to deliver a consistent customer experience – all the way from initial awareness to conversion and retention.

… weaker apart
The sales process has been completely turned on its head. B2B buyers continue to carry out their own research, receive recommendations from influencers and peers, and enter the sales funnel at any stage in the process. By joining forces, marketing and sales teams will be able to meet prospects at whatever stage of the funnel they arrive with tailored, engaging content.

Satisfying your audiences is all about making them feel like they are the ones in control. Prospective buyers no longer trust overt salesmanship because they know it involves an agenda, but they will respond to an experience that allows them to explore and engage with content on their own.

Whether it’s through the agreement of united KPIs or a more sophisticated technology stack, B2B businesses need marketing and sales teams to quickly align.

It is only by combining these two functions that businesses will be able to provide buyers with an authentic, consistent, optimised buying process that gives individuals the ability to access consistent messages whenever and wherever they want.

It’s our job everyday to make every important aspect of the customer experience a little better.

Jeff Bezos

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