In the not-so-distant past, CMO’s were able to take a formulaic approach to support their sales teams. Product brochures that highlighted features and benefits, a press release or trade show effort to support product launches, and likely some product-focused web site pages with static data sheet specifications were all that was expected. Some may have also built a CRM database that would primarily be used for untailored email communications. B2B sales after all are really driven by face-to-face, personal relationships, right?
Over the past few years, the B2B buyer has started acting more like a consumer who might be making a highly considered purchase. They conduct a lot of online research, follow industry influencers on Twitter, engage online via text and chatbots, and prefer to get pricing estimates on their own flexible schedule. And now given the pandemic, even the nature of face to face relationship selling has likely been changed forever.
Consequently, the already blurred lines between sales and marketing have become even cloudier. In a recent article, Korn Ferry suggests that the CMO is going to become the ‘digital change leader’ that drives digital across the enterprise. Given that so many organizations are hyper-focused on the digital customer experience these days, that makes sense.
The conversation around Customer Experience (CX) is pointing everyone to rapidly invest in digital engagement tools like CRM, Conversational AI, and even augmented reality. However, the rush to digital engagement runs a risk – potentially leaving human-to-human interaction behind. And that could be a big mistake in the long run.
Investing in digital sales tools should absolutely be a priority. But there are fundamental things that can be done to make sure that while you are busy supporting your sales teams, you don’t leave your customer behind in the process.
- There will be a temptation to move toward all online service. It’s less expensive and yes, many customers expect always on service. But don’t fall into the trap of not allowing for easy connection to a human. As a consumer, don’t you hate getting stuck on a web page with just a form to fill out – with no phone number or email address or text number? Well, B2B buyers will hate that too. Always provide a clear and concise way for people to get ahold of your sales team directly.
- Live conversations matter. Video content to support sales teams will continue to be a prime tactic. But resist the urge to shift to all on-demand videos. Consider live-streaming key product announcements or press events. Think about creating a physical experience center where you can create podcast content, or stream an announcement.
- Many marketers are getting better at creating engaging content in a more rapid fire, and cost effective, manner. Creative automation tools are getting better all the time. But resist the temptation to templatize too much which will result in a one size fits all ‘sea of sameness’ that will make it hard to distinguish your brand from your competitors. It’s worth the extra effort to create content that comes from a human centered insight.
- Continue to invest in marketing automation to nurture the sale. But be careful to not get mired in making the models too complex. It’s easy to get lost in the weeds by getting too granular too fast by creating complex lead scoring algorithms and automation workflows. Start simple and evolve and ALWAYS allow for a human connection within your automated communications.
- The focus on ROI and Results has driven many to focus on lead generation activities – which makes sense as they are easy to measure, and easy to connect to sales. But I would advise to not put all of your eggs in one basket. There is still a need to engage and drive conversations.
Ultimately, the shift towards digital platforms and automation are needed. But if these tactics are the entire focus of your sales support efforts, you will run the risk of living in a sea of sameness with all of your competitors. The opportunity to become memorable with breakthrough creativity is there, which in turn gives people – your buyers – something to talk about. And brand recognition along with emotional and personal connections are, after all, the ultimate sales tools.