B2B customers today progress more than 70 percent of the way through the decision-making process before they ever engage with a sales representative. These buyers no longer are opening the door when a sales rep knocks.
Instead, they are researching online and through social channels such as LinkedIn to find answers to production problems, get background on a company and its solutions, and obtain the technical information and competitive comparisons they need.
If your online presence is dated or only focused on the latter 30% of the sales cycle (pricing, discounts, sales tactics, etc.), then you’re missing out on the first 70% and likely wondering why your sales pipeline isn’t full.
Online Lead Generation Replaces Traditional Sales Strategies
Traditional sales strategies continue to decline in effectiveness due to consumers being more knowledgeable and in control of their buyer’s journey.
To stay competitive and grow revenue in 2019, sales reps must adapt to better serve the modern B2B buyer. They need to know what leads were generated online and how and when to engage with those leads.
The problem is many B2B sales teams have no clue how to begin a digitally-driven sales process. Yet, those same companies are generating leads by implementing some form of digital marketing, such as PPC, website redesigns, email campaigns, automation and sales nurturing, etc.
This creates a critical gap (and missed opportunity) between digital lead generation and sales that will only filter up and negatively impact growth strategies and future profitability.
Related Watch: [Video] How to Update Your Old School Sales Strategy
Step 1. Break Down the Barriers
Efficiency and faster revenue generation are gained when the two departments work together, share accountability and have mutually agreed upon goals that feed up to the company’s overarching goals.
Break down the barriers of marketing being strategic and sales being goal-driven. Merge the two with an aligned sales and marketing strategy that has measurable goals, clear objectives and collaboration that is expected — not just encouraged.
Consider creating service level agreements that outline these shared objectives and goals.
Companies with aligned sales and marketing departments achieved 20% revenue growth on average annually, according to a HubSpot survey. In contrast, companies whose marketing and sales departments worked in silos (whether intentionally or unintentionally) saw revenues decline by 4%.
Sales should include marketing; it should not be a separate thought process.
With a service level agreement, clearly define marketing qualified lead (MQL) and sales qualified lead (SQL) to ensure both departments are following the same definition.
Lead qualification in itself can create a multi-dimensional conversation. At what point do you consider a digital lead ready to engage with a sales rep?
Outline lead qualifications and online lead nurturing strategies based on four basic scenarios:
- Prospects who are a good match and highly interested
- Prospects who are a good match, but don’t show a lot of interest yet
- Prospects who show a lot of interest, but aren’t a good match for the company
- Prospects who show little interest and also aren’t a good match for the company’
With MQL and SQL definitions in place, your sales team needs to be enabled with the right tools and tactics. They need to understand what content (information) a buyer has access to online and offline and where that prospect is in the buyer’s journey.
Step 2: Merge Sales & the Online Buyer’s Journey
A barrier that often prevents sales from having an effective digital sales strategy is the inability to transparently see the buyer’s journey before a prospect becomes a sales-ready lead.
Integration of a customer relation management (CRM) system and marketing automation platform (MAP) arms sales with the right information and drives efficiencies.
Furthermore, the use of lead scoring in your marketing automation platform can help determine which prospective buyers are most likely qualified to speak with a sales rep and which ones are not ready yet.
By having access to this data, your sales team becomes armed with a detailed history of the buyer’s behavior and an understanding of his or her knowledge of your solutions or products.
From a buyer’s point of view, let’s take a look out how an online lead ties into the stages of a sales process:
- Discovery Stage: I (the prospective buyer) have already been on your website and some competitors. I’ve Googled the solution I seek to see what’s out there and checked out companies from a trade show. I already know some things and don’t need you to repeat all of that.
- Follow Up Stage: Others are also following up so efficiency gives you a higher likelihood of reaching me before I am overwhelmed and making a lasting first impression.
- Presentation: Know and deliver what I need from you and build rapport with me. Don’t regurgitate what I already know.
- Closing: I expect you to be the expert. Once you have established rapport and trust with me, advise me with logical potential next steps in the decision-making process, explain the why and be efficient.
Along with aligning the sales process to the online buyer’s journey, create standard operating procedures for how and when sales should follow-up with a digital lead (such as from an online chat or email campaign).
This is where opportunity exists to create a repeatable, scalable sales process, such as creating sales enablement email workflows and templates for the various stages.
All of these items should all be mutually agreed upon and utilized within both sales and marketing departments.
Once in place, establish goals for both sales and marketing based on mutual key performance indicators that filter up to the company’s overarching goal.
Step 3: Collaborate on Content
Although marketing is typically responsible for creating digital content, the sales team, especially in B2B companies, oftentimes hold the key to understanding what buyers really want to know.
When it comes to knowledge of differentiating factors and the kinds of questions prospects are asking at each stage of the sales process, collaboration between sales and marketing is critical to create pieces of content (white papers, website promotions, email campaigns, etc.) that drive online lead generation and continued lead nurturing.
Once content has been created, how is the new content communicated with sales? Can sales repurpose it depending on the buyer’s journey? How can it be used in the sales process?
A process for creating and communicating new content availability should be defined.
Without this component, you are likely to accumulate a mass of content that is being leveraged online and not utilized by your sales department.
Remember, a key to converting the modern B2B buyer into a sale is a consultative sales process. If sales reps aren’t equipped to provide useful, relevant and helpful information, you are likely to be out-sold.
Step 4: Train for Online Lead Management
Assessing sales talent is a touchy subject. However, what many companies discover is the skills of a successful traditional salesperson differ significantly from that of a digital sales rep who conducts what is known as inbound sales.
Skills inbound sales professionals possess include being tech-savvy, data-driven and highly personable. They have exceptional listening skills and can connect with prospects in a meaningful way — a way that anticipates needs, asks the right questions and has the right kind of resourceful information at their fingertips. They act quickly, and through effective use of technology, can manage higher lead volume than a traditional sales rep is used to.
They also understand the goal should be to provide additional information that is relevant and helpful in a non-interruptive way. Inbound sales processes and methodologies should position the sales rep as a trusted adviser, resource and expert.
Remember, digital lead management is all about the right content, the right channels, at the right time. An inbound sales professional works with the marketing team to understand lead nurturing strategies and when the handoff to sales happens.
Consider bringing in an inbound sales consult to coach the team or chosen team members. This may mean re-distributing accounts within sales or even committing one sales rep just to inbound sales, depending on your volume of qualified traffic.
Step 5: Implement Closed-Loop Marketing and Sales Systems
Begin by creating a technology roadmap that identifies which systems will drive sales vs. marketing workflows and how those systems will communicate to establish a closed loop.
Once implemented, this closed-system should give both sales and marketing a holistic look at the buyer’s journey from an initial contact being made to a deal being closed. The system’s data can then be analyzed in real-time to make strategic and efficient decisions that ultimately affect the bottom line.
This technology roadmap should also include a process for management.
Both your CRM and MAP typically have email functionality that can notify sales and/or marketing, but when and how it’s used becomes key to avoiding frustration and unrealistic expectations.
Also, identify other systems and tools that can be integrated. For example, can you integrate your CRM with your billing system? Can you integrate your online directories or referral programs to eliminate duplicative data entry?
Finally, your technology roadmap should include benefits, limitations and goals related to usage by both sales and marketing.
Aligning Digital Marketing and Sales Strategies for Revenue Growth
As your company strategically plans for 2019 and beyond, ensure your growth plans include aligning marketing and sales to capture revenue from online lead generation. It may take some time and likely will include outside resources. But most importantly, don’t wait until your competitors have mastered it.