As our world transforms in the digital age, some of the old barriers transform as well. Of particular interest to me is the blurring of roles between marketing and sales—especially in the B2B sector. Advancements in social communication and data collection are reshaping the consumer’s experience with B2B brands, but they also give brands the tools for learning how to enhance that experience. Content marketing plays a prominent role, and for good reason. According to Openview’s State of B2B Content Marketing, 65% of B2B buyers say that a winning vendor’s content had a “significant impact” on their buying decision.
However, not all content is created equal; buyers also report that they want to see more value and less pitch. In the same study, 68% of respondents strongly agree that B2B vendors would be better off curbing sales messages to improve the quality of their content, and a majority (80%) of decision makers prefer receiving company information in a series of articles versus an ad.
Social selling evangelist Jill Rowley often states that we cannot approach the modern buyer in the same way we did a decade or more ago. In a recent Series Pass webcast on social selling, she describes the modern buyer as fully empowered: “She’s digitally driven, starts her search on the web, belongs to multiple social networks [and] is mobile with multiple devices,” she states. However, Rowley also states that this empowerment comes at a cost to the buyer that is a big hurdle for B2B brands. Having unlimited access to information via the internet as well as hyper-connectivity to peers means the modern buyer is overwhelmed. Brands not only have to be visible, but valuable in order to connect with buyers.
So why does there still seem to be a disconnect between marketing and sales when it comes to attracting and converting the modern buyer? Because it’s the preferred content marketing platform for B2B, I recently researched some of the latest LinkedIn numbers to get a sense of two things: (1) how the platform is being used for marketing vs Sales, and (2) what can be improved.
A couple of reports stood out to me, so let’s do a little comparison and see what the numbers tell us. LinkedIn’s content publishing enhancements have transformed it from the glorified resume clearinghouse of its early days. It is now a powerful social network and information hub that content marketers love, as indicated by the B2B Content Marketing Report: 2015 Benchmarks, Budgets and Trends:
Top social media platforms for B2B content marketers: LinkedIn: 94%, Twitter 87%
Most effective B2B social media platform: LinkedIn: 66%
Statistics from the report also confirm that for most B2B marketers, lead generation (85%) and sales (84%) are their most important goals, and their most important metric for measuring success is lead quality (87%). No surprise there. And it’s also no surprise that the nature of content marketing produces a big challenge for most organizations—producing content that rises above the noise:
Top challenge: 60% producing engaging content
Top priority: 72% create more engaging content
However, these statistics are only one side of the equation. The job of marketing and sales isn’t just to put out content, but to find out as much about the modern buyer as they can.
Content Isn’t Everything
While LinkedIn is an excellent tool for creating and disseminating engaging content, that’s not its greatest strength when it comes to attracting and converting the B2B buyer. LinkedIn yields much more qualitative data on prospects than we’ve ever been able to obtain before. A quick glance through a person’s profile yields many things: skill endorsements, company connections, participation in groups and discussions, where they went to college, where they’ve worked before, what they share, what they publish—a host of valuable information that can help us connect (and converse) with buyers.
Isn’t it Sales’s job to converse with buyers? And isn’t it Marketing’s job to qualify those buyers before handing them to Sales? These have been their respective roles to date, and that’s why it came as a surprise to me what the State of Inbound Sales Report 2014 (Hubspot) revealed. Even with all the digital data that marketing gleans from using platforms like LinkedIn for content marketing, very little of that data is shared with sales, as is indicated in the following diagram from the report:
Modern content marketing metrics yield a wealth of information to gauge interest, such as when someone downloads content assets and which pages they visited on the company website. Wouldn’t this information be valuable to a salesperson looking to develop a relationship? You bet! But for some reason, we’re still handing off leads to sales with a bare minimum of information—name, phone and email (in that order).
Take a look at the blue and black sections of the pie chart. It shows that while almost half of salespeople (47%) receive website interaction history, fewer (36%) have access to social information on prospects.
The Missing Link(s)
What’s wrong with this picture? In spite of the “blurring” lines between marketing and sales, it still seems as though sales gets the short end of the stick when it comes to gaining valuable information on prospects from social. Perhaps it is a cultural thing. Marketers have always been on the leading edge of technology. Every new tool that comes along gets examined and used to “do the marketing job” as quickly as possible. However, salespeople (as a broad demographic) have been slower to adopt new technologies. Their job is to build relationships that lead to sales, but there’s a generational skills gap in using digital tools to get there. Younger digital natives may be comfortable using social to research, connect and build relationships with prospects, but the older generation are more comfortable emailing and picking up the phone.
The State of Inbound Sales Report has some other graphics that shed some light on what’s missing from the sales end, such as the following chart on how knowledgeable buyers have become before they connect with sales:
This seems to back up the earlier statement by Rowley that the modern buyer is empowered with information. Interestingly, the reverse seems to be true for sales staff; yet the following chart shows a decided lack of interest in training sales personnel or investing in sales enablement. Not arming sales with training on using digital tools is something that many social selling experts agree is a key part of the problem:
The Lesson for B2B Brands: Get with the Program!
Using social tools like LinkedIn can be a gold mine to arm sales staff with information critical to their relationship-building role, so it’s time for leadership to step up to the plate and empower sales teams to use social effectively. The old method of throwing them a phone book and expecting them to close more deals is gone. It’s time to invest more in teaching sales teams how to use the digital tools available to understand and connect with the modern buyer in ways the buyer deems valuable.
Companies need to realize that social selling isn’t just a matter of using social platforms to “sell.” It’s about using platforms like LinkedIn to “be” social—which means using them to research, understand their pain points, connect, interact, and above all, provide value.
The statistics I’ve cited show that there is some work to do. Yes, the walls between marketing and sales are blurring to an extent. However, to be successful with today’s digitally empowered buyers, there needs to be more of an alignment and partnership between the two departments, and this requires a top-down cultural shift.
Will it happen overnight? No. However, investing more time and resources in socially empowering sales teams is one way of helping to close the gap. Another is systematically breaking down existing barriers to communication and collaboration. We’ll start to see the magic happen when marketing and sales become partners–and in not just providing information, but in giving value to buyers.