In the article linked below, Brent Adamson, VP of Gartner, offers you a view into the changing world of sales and marketing and the slow, ugly death of the legacy approaches to both. To be certain, the trends are only new to those who don’t spend time studying such things as buyers' preferences. Fortunately, Brent is nerdy enough to conduct this research and share it widely. However, those not paying attention will find it frightening in its implications.
Read the article: Traditional B2B Sales and Marketing Are Becoming Obsolete
Before we explore the main idea of this article, let’s look at the data Gartner gathered. Before Covid-19, Gartner surveyed 750 B2B customers pursuing complex "solutions" purchases. Respondents spent 17% of their total buying time engaging with sales teams. Instead, they spent 27% of their time in independent online learning, 18% in offline learning, and 33% in building consensus internally and with partners.
In a separate survey of over 1,000 B2B buyers engaged in a complex sale, 43% agreed they would like a "rep-free buying experience." Baby Boomers agreed with that at 29%, and Millennials almost doubled that number, with 54% wishing to avoid a salesperson.
A Short Thought Experiment
Imagine we found and captured the 54% of Millennials who want to avoid a salesperson and transported them to, let’s say, 1967 (not to worry, none of our Millennials were harmed, outside of the shocking revelation there is no internet, no iPhone, and no Starbucks Frappuccino).
How would a person from this generation find the experience of engaging with a salesperson from 1967? Would they feel as if the salesperson was helpful as it pertained to a buying decision? Or are they likely to believe the salesperson has a strong agenda they were pursuing regardless of what their futuristic prospects might have needed? Would they believe the salesperson was listening to understand their needs?
While we have our modern buyers, we stop in 1998. We set them up as buyers in a big company, and we force them to engage with three sales teams, promising them to bring them back to the present with a stop at Starbucks along the way. After sitting through three meetings, how might they interpret the experience? More still, were you to ask them to describe the difference between the three groups, would they be hard-pressed to give you an answer. At least they would have asked about your problem.
To be sure, 1967 was a long time ago, and you should have no trouble believing that selling was different back then. 1998 was only two years before the birth of a new Millenia. While still a long time ago, you would expect both sales and marketing to have changed. The changes in marketing are easily seen in the approaches and the mediums, and most of all the massive data that has always been critical to marketing. Sales, however, for too many companies has not changed nearly as much—using approaches from 1967 and 1988, and some even more archaic.
New Approaches and the Client's Experience
Brent provides a case study of a group in a Canadian company that tore down marketing and sales and built a new "unified commercial engine" to better serve their clients, providing them with the help they needed on their buyer's journey. Besides increased metrics around leads (Brent buried the lede), they experienced 48% year-over-year growth during the pandemic.
I would it were so easy to dismantle the existing structures, but this is not why the Canadian company grew at 48%. Without knowing them, and with nothing other than the HBR article to go on, the structure may have been helpful, but they grew because they improved their prospective client's buying experience.
In 1967, suggesting that you might need to improve your prospective client's "experience" would likely result in a visit to a medical professional. Certainly, someone would bring you an aspirin and glass of tap water, allowing you to lie down for a while. In 1988, if the word "experience" was used, it applied to customers, B2C. Every decade finds B2B companies with greater competition and new models that disrupt existing markets. It's no longer a problem that you don't want to improve your client's experience of their buyer's journey, as they'll find someone who will—even if they don't really want someone to help them.
A Fool for a Client
There is a saying that "the lawyer that defends themselves has a fool for a client." In 1992, I was diagnosed with an Arteriovenous malformation, a medical description of a group of arteries and veins that grew into a knot. The blood pressure caused a Grand Mal seizure, followed by two surgeries, one to glue the AVM shut and avoid a messy surgery, and one to remove it and the bruised brain.
My surgeon, Dr. John Tew, was a world-renowned expert on treating AVMs. I could have done some reading to understand whether radiation might be better, or whether I could have just let them glue the AVM shut, a procedure that wasn't yet approved by the FDA when I had that 9-hour surgery. As it turns out, it's very reassuring to speak to serious experts when making an important decision, one that if not correct comes with negative outcomes.
You can go out to the internet and enter your symptoms into WebMD only to discover you have McGregor's Syndrome. Or you can engage with someone who every day helps people diagnose and treat what ails them.
Let's assume Brent is correct that buyers don't want to engage with a salesperson, and I have no reason to believe otherwise. However, it is still early days, and buyers who avoid engaging with salespeople who have the experience they themselves are lacking cannot make a truly informed decision about their future. When one person has helped hundreds or thousands of people improve their results, a person that rarely makes that same decision would do well to see what they might offer in the way of counsel, advice, and recommendations.
In a time of great uncertainty, buyers should be looking for more help ensuring they decide for their companies, not less. Nor should they rely on the information they find on the potential partner's website, as it will provide too little of the company's tribal knowledge. Helping buyers means facilitating a needs-based buyer's journey, one that allows them to better understand their decision, their options, their trade-offs, and what factors will ensure they succeed.
If you want buyers to give you their time, you start by deserving it by updating your approach and your client’s experience.