B2B Sales

Death Of The Salesperson?

Death Of The Salesperson?

“The customer knows what they want. They’ve read all your content. All they need is one virtual discussion with a salesperson and a demo. I always thought sales was the dominant party in the process, but it’s not anymore.”

That’s Matthew Kelleher, Chief Revenue Officer at education software platform Connect Childcare and 20-year industry veteran, talking about how much the roles of sales and marketing are changing. The reasons are familiar. Buyers are completing more of their journey online, whether they’re purchasing for themselves or their organisation. And they’re taking the opportunity to avoid conversations with salespeople as much as possible.

Added to this, increased home working and the imminent demise of the third-party cookie are making prospects invisible, until they choose to make themselves known.

Meanwhile, membership of B2B buying committees are increasing in size and diversity. The number of people inside the business influencing purchase decisions is also growing. As a result of all this, the winning sales strategy isn’t selling at all; it’s helping the customer to buy. This means finding your advocate on the buying committee, and making sure they have everything they need to convince their colleagues that your product or service is the one to solve their problem. Sure, that sounds like sales enablement, but it also sounds like content marketing.

New roles, new rules

So marketing’s scope is expanding as sales increasingly needs what Connect Childcare’s Kelleher calls “ready-baked” sales. What’s bringing the two disciplines closer still is marketing’s need to keep pace with the changing nature of the customers it’s targeting. Changing circumstances can mean customers suddenly need different things, possibly in the middle of the sales cycle. The changes caused by the move to hybrid working are a perfect example. In the most extreme situations, companies’ requirements may change so much that they’re in the market for entirely new solutions, from new suppliers. And the best source of information about these changes? It’s still the sales team.

So companies are rethinking how the relationship between the two departments should be managed. More and more are appointing Chief Revenue Officers to manage both sales and marketing. Some are even choosing to merge the two teams.

London Research’s The State of B2B Lead Generation 2021 report found that, between 2019 and 2021, the proportion of businesses describing the relationship between marketing and sales in their organisation as ‘very joined-up, with shared leadership and shared KPIs’ jumped from 32% to 43%.

“A CRO’s primary function is to identify and eliminate friction in the buying process,” explains Phil Guest, CEO and founder at scale-up advisor Revcelerate, and a former CRO. “It can be the product that’s causing the problem. It can be the way you market the product, the buyer journey, the sales process, the price. Your job as a CRO is to understand every aspect of this, talking to your customers, talking to your team. And that’s why the relationship between marketing and sales is more symbiotic now than it has ever been. Because if it’s not, you won’t compete.”

Evidence for this came in the same London Research report. It found that almost all B2B marketing leaders (94%) say their marketing and sales departments work together to define a ‘good customer prospect’. Only slightly fewer say the two teams maintain alignment with regular feedback and working sessions (91%). This compares to around two-thirds of mainstream respondents (67% and 61% respectively). Marketing leaders are also much more likely to be clear on ownership and handovers at each stage of the buying funnel (88% vs 59%), and to have shared metrics and definitions across the two teams (78% vs 51%).

No more culture wars

In the end, much of this comes down to establishing a shared culture between two departments with traditionally very different approaches. In the view of Alasdair Cole, CEO and co-founder of Revenue Coach, that culture has to be set by the two departments’ heads. They have to demonstrate collaboration in front of their teams and in the boardroom. They need to establish compensation metrics that favour collaboration over individual achievements. And they should set time aside to celebrate collective success across the two teams.

And this breaking down of corporate silos needs to extend beyond sales and marketing. Useful customer information can come from other departments, such as product, business development and customer success. Best practice collection of feedback is ‘total engagement’ – the ability to dynamically capture and codify any piece of prospect feedback, from members of all teams. As Cole puts it: “The idea of a feedback loop implies you’re going back to the start of the process, but really you need to be able to catch the ball at any point and react.”