To Connect with Elusive B2B Prospects, Turn Marketing and Sales into “Sherpas” for the Buying Journey

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I recently participated in a LinkedIn comment thread posing the question of whether B2B or B2C marketing was more fun. Naturally, this sparked a spirited dialogue. As a long-time B2B marketer, I have immensely enjoyed my profession, but it has its challenges. You have to work hard to locate, communicate with, and engage, B2B prospects. Presumably, you have a strong sales team to make the deal happen, but it is your job to cover the initial steps in the lead-to-revenue process. This marketing-focused approach is even more important post-pandemic as a certain portion of the marketing environment has shifted from in-person events to online engagement.

Despite claims to the contrary, there is no magic formula or hot new software program that will scrape the entire internet, sort the wheat from the chaff, and deliver your message in a way that makes it look like anything other than a spam approach. You need to do the tough work of researching your marketplace and identifying your total addressable market (TAM) of potential buyers – before you can communicate and engage them in a sales process.

My favorite tool for finding a B2B TAM is LinkedIn – using the LinkedIn Campaign Manager to identify aggregate numbers and the LinkedIn Sales Navigator tool to gather data on specific target prospects. This approach can often help you identify the vast majority of potential companies/individuals to target – often as much as 85 percent or more of the total. You can also use LinkedIn to identify and prioritize the audience sub-targets (e.g. by industry or company size).

Map the Buyer’s Journey

One of my most-read CustomerThink columns addressed the importance of mapping the buyer’s journey. The research I reported showed how buyers bypass initial sales outreach and do a lot more research online. Yes, prospects may not be returning your sales reps’ phone calls, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t reading through your website, watching your videos, and downloading your white papers. This is why content marketing and a great website need to be key components of your strategy. The imperative is to give prospects everything they need to keep you in contention – and hopefully keep their eyeballs and ears away from your competitors.

Buyer’s journey mapping can also help you manage and streamline the customer experience (CX). Some companies have hired CXOs for this purpose but for those who have not, I recommend that you give ownership of CX to your CMO. If you are the person with this role, your mission is to smooth out rough edges in the buyer’s journey and eliminate any barriers that cause prospects to pause, reconsider, or cancel a purchase. Although every company seems to have its own barrier(s) to purchase, here are six places to start:

  • Invisibility: you can’t engage or sales prospects who can’t find you.
  • Weak branding: tell them (quickly) what you do and how they benefit.
  • Missing information: give them everything they need to say yes.
  • Too much information: on the marketing side, don’t drown your prospect with too much extraneous information. On the sales side, don’t sell past the close.
  • Too many options: this can cause prospects to freeze instead of buy.
  • Complexity: stop doing anything that aggravates or confuses your prospect.

Managing the Handoff to Sales

As the lead passes from marketing to sales ownership, speed and quality of the initial outreach are essential. Your sales reps must also properly manage expectations and quit pretending that the B2B buyer is someone who thinks and acts differently. I’ve heard reps complain about how prospects never answer their phone but then admit that they don’t personally take unsolicited calls. A CEO client stated that he never uses his company email address when downloading information at a B2B site (because he doesn’t want to deal with sales reps) – yet later claimed that inquiries with personal email addresses should be ignored because they are obviously unqualified.

To this last point, while you don’t have to actively pursue those leads you feel are unqualified, at least send them an email acknowledgment. One of our best clients at Fusion Marketing Partners came from a person who was unqualified based on her LinkedIn profile but who, unbeknown to us, was gathering information for a new software company where she was to serve as the CMO. Had we followed the advice to only follow-up obviously qualified leads, we would have lost a valuable business client.

So how do you disqualify a prospect? The answer is that you don’t – you let them disqualify themselves by being very specific on your website and related materials about what you do and what you do not do. For example: “our product/service is best for xxxx companies that have zzzz challenges and revenues between # and #”. Just make sure that you are casting the net wide enough to build a funnel large enough to meet the revenue targets. 

Once you engage the prospect (future customer), keep in mind that every buyer is different and you need to figure out how to honor that uniqueness and be of service. Think of yourself as a “sherpa” guiding your client up the purchasing mountain, while removing any barriers that prevent the sale. Be careful not to come on too strong in the initial stages of the process. As Brynne Tillman said about this: “If your prospect feels that your discovery conversation is a transaction, they see you as a sales rep, not a trusted advisor.” And being seen as a trusted advisor is always preferable because it is a competitive barrier that not even discounted pricing can breach.

What else does a trusted advisor do that a sales rep does not? First of all, they provide value unrelated to what they are selling. This can come in the form of specialized information or an introduction to valuable industry contacts. They also do the in-depth research on the prospect’s company so as not to waste time asking unnecessary questions.

Since the person on the other side of the process is presumably a professional, you want to be seen as a facilitator, not as a dictator. The guiding principle is that you help the prospect buy, you do not sell them anything. Yes, you get the quota credit and commission, but as indicated above, if the prospects senses that this is your sole objective, the relationship can deteriorate into what sales negotiation Mladen Kresic expert calls the Master-Servant Dynamic, a place you don’t want to be.

The toughest, but perhaps most important lesson for today’s marketing and sales professionals, is that you can often sell more by “selling less”, especially if you have the right website, content, and marketing/CRM system in place do some of the heavy lifting.

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