Fact: The time it takes for a prospect to become a customer can be as short as weeks or as long as decades.
Fact: A message delivered consistently for many months or years can feel soul destroying for the messengers, but it takes that long to be heard.
Fact: Building a forecastable pipeline means communicating with many thousands of contacts, only a few of which will actively progress through your defined buyer’s journey in any period of time.
Fact: Building and maintaining enough of a funnel to feed sales with enough quality leads to ensure sales targets are met takes a team working consistently hard, with a consistent process.
Fact: There are no shortcuts, and while using B2C and self-aggrandizing techniques can “look” good, it actually reduces the performance of the whole marketing process.
Fact: CLV (customer lifetime value) is just as important in companies with long buying cycles staring down quarterly numbers as those just starting out or transitioning to a new model.
These are not easy things to hear, particularly for new executives who enter a company with a working or work-in-progress B2B marketing-sales model. Marketing has to be designed very carefully to meet the exact needs of a B2B company. A deep understanding of the exact business problem your company solves, exactly who has and needs to solve these very specific problems, and a very carefully considered understanding of how these specific people will want to solve these specific problems defines exactly how you need to market to maximize your effectiveness. The effort required to create a perfectly aligned sales and marketing “team” on these points cannot be underestimated, nor can the importance of maintaining and defending it.
Even two companies who directly compete will have strategic differences in the way their products are designed and implemented, their routes to market, and/or how they should approach positioning in their market. These differences will impact the makeup of even the most effective marketing and sales strategies and call for customization and associated training for all involved. For example, the #2 company in a specific market may choose a differentiation strategy while the #3 or #4 company is solely focused on getting into that critical short-list “box” which almost always consists of either 2 or 3 “top” vendors. Two entirely different sales and marketing approaches would apply to two seemingly “same” vendors in the same space.
Now consider velocity, namely the speed at which prospects move through your target audience’s particular defined buyer’s journey. This can only really be improved by providing the prospects with knowledge of the importance of solving the problem and the impacts to their company (and them personally) of not solving it. This is an extremely nuanced communication and education effort to help them rapidly conclude that these problems must appropriately be moved up on their priority list. Budget cycles and the cadence by which they can invest in change are critical factors for your company to understand and the “intel” team on this mission consists of both marketing and sales working in unison. If the market you serve has well established business practices that define their process change cycle, such as aligning to regulatory updates, government contract renewal cycles, school years or financial years, then there are very limited things you can do to influence them. There are however many cycles to be saved by knowing when and how to apply resources and “pick your spots.” A well designed B2B marketing and sales implementation must learn to articulate its strategy (and why it was chosen) and its tactics in ways that are easy for executives to understand.
A new company executive may well want to question the efficiency and effectiveness of your plan, and may be concerned that the model you are using differs from those s/he has experienced in other companies. New executives want quick wins and often reach for the “Here’s how we killed it at ___” card. If you cannot simply and concisely explain your strategy and plan and get the executive team really on board, then you can expect to be asked to change it with almost every new executive’s arrival.
I have seen this happen in a plethora of great companies. Where the marketing and sales machine has been carefully aligned to the specifics of the market you serve, but the subtly of the model is seen as a mystical secret. This means that it’s impossible for even a well-meaning new executive to clearly understand if the current marketing-sales machine can scale to meet future goals. And it often seems easier to blow up the current model than to build that understanding.
From the outside this seems like a case of new broom sweeping away the old and replacing it with something new, shiny and better; a new executive placing his or her mark on the company via a new “best practice” to energize demand gen and help salespeople become better “closers.” More often than not though it is actually a case of a fundamental lack of internal communication leading to needless change and inefficiency.
Marketing and sales need to protect their research and insight-based plan and hard-fought alignment from new executive disruption. To do it you need to get them on board early and be prepared to share the appropriate detail of your sales and marketing plan with any member of the executive team at any moment. Make sure that you can express your performance and processes in simple business language that demonstrates and deepest understanding of the market and the target customer’s perspective.
Always be able to explain the following:
- What business problems do we solve?
- Who exactly has these business problems (i.e. companies AND roles)?
- How do these people want to solve these business problems?
- What does the buyer’s journey (to research and solve their problem) look like?
- What campaigns are we running (and why)? And how well are they running?
- Exactly who (companies, people, roles) are active in each campaign?
- How many fully qualified leads do we expect to pass to sales each period over the next several years, and how many of these will be closed-won and closed-lost?
- Today what does our pipeline look like (contacts, inquiries, leads and opportunities)?
- What is the sales capacity (how many opportunities can sales effectively manage) and how does this compare to the pipeline?
- If you had 20% more or 20% less resource, how would you change things?
These are tough questions, and the answers will change over time. You need to always know how you will answer these questions and be prepared to share them with every new executive. In this way you can quickly help every new leader understand how your company runs and which area is already on track. The new executive may still bring change, but it will be based on a solid understanding of what already exists and can be productive, not needlessly disruptive, change.