"The buyers are in control, and the best way to connect with them is to provide
great content, relevant at any key part of the buying process, make this
content discoverable, use it to nurture their interest over time, and then
understand who is ready to buy by understanding their activity."
But that leaves an interesting question. How do you best enable your sales team in this environment, given that their historical control over a "sales process" has disappeared, and they must now shift to a role of guiding a "buying process". Especially for target accounts, or high-value prospects, your sales team will want to be involved throughout the entire process to ensure they are maximally effective.
Many successful B2B salespeople in today's environment act almost as "mini-marketers", and may engage with the right prospect over an extended (many quarters) period in order to build trust, establish a relationship, and educate their prospect until they see that there is an opportunity to engage in a selling relationship.
As marketers, we are in a unique position to enable this by understanding that salesperson's world and enabling them to do their job even more effectively.
- Great Content: by providing ready access to the right type of messaging and content, we provide the salesperson with valuable information they can send to their prospects at each stage of their buying process. This is good, insightful, value-add content though, not filled with corporate-speak or highly promotional in nature. Make it available to them where they live - in their desktop email environment - or they likely won't bother with it.
- Email Intros For Great Content: the marketing assets that share the valuable thought leadership are necessary, but they are often more valuable if they are passed to the prospect from their sales rep saying "I saw this and thought you might find it interesting based on our last conversation about X". As a marketing team, if you can craft a generic, authentic, email that introduces each marketing asset, and allow your sales team to personalize them to each high-value prospect, you enable your sales team to leverage the marketing assets more effectively.
- Digital Body Language: give your sales team a way to see the inbound activity of each prospect so they can understand what their interests are, what stage in their buying process they are at, and how they might want to follow-up. Sales intuition, backed up by marketing data, is more powerful than either alone. Show this data to them in their CRM system; right where they are working.
- Notifications: for high-value prospects, notify your sales team when activity is shown; a web visit, a signup for a webinar, a view of a whitepaper, etc. Often this will trigger an opportunity to engage with them to continue developing the relationship.
- Scoring: When you have developed both explicit (who they are) and implicit (how interested they are) scoring processes, make this score visible to your sales team so they can understand, at a glance, how receptive the prospect will be to messaging appropriate to the next phase of a buying cycle.
- Nurturing: Provide a way for your sales team to add their prospects to automated nurturing programs that keep them warm over time. I wrote more about Giving Sales an "Out" here: http://digitalbodylanguage.blogspot.com/2008/12/giving-sales-out.html
For your sales team to thrive in today's buyer-controlled environment, they need to do many of the same things you do as a marketer. Providing great content, to the right person, relevant to where that person is in their buying process, and then understanding when they are ready for a deeper level of engagement is a challenge shared by marketers and sales people alike. Only the breadth and depth of the challenge differs. By repurposing your content, nurturing, and scoring systems for the narrower, yet deeper, relationships of a sales person, you enable them to thrive in today's environment.