It might seem like every time you read an article or blog post or see a presentation about B2B technology sales and marketing, you’ll see a stat that indicates that 60, 70, 80 or even 90 percent of the buying cycle is complete before a prospect engages with a provider. The “democratization” of information, the rise of social networks, and the proliferation of content have fundamentally altered the dynamic between buyers and sellers. Instead of a linear, predictable, provider-driven sales cycle, the last few years have seen the emergence of a dynamic, buyer-driven customer journey.
However, it would be wrong (and even dangerous) to draw the conclusion that providers should simply create a well-oiled marketing machine to drive inbound leads which get further qualified by lead development representatives and handed off to sales only when they meet precise criteria. Some of my recent posts (here, here, and here), have argued against the wisdom of doing this because of a lack of efficacy, but we have new evidence that outbound sales activities (a.k.a. proactive outreach or even cold-calling) can still be very effective, even early in the buying cycle.
While you’ll see some research and blog posts from Hank Barnes as well as Yours Truly on the topic of trust and how this plays a role in buyer behavior, buyers may be burdened by having access to more information than they can handle, while questioning the veracity of much of what they read. They need someone to help make sense of it all and as a result, they are willing to start talking with providers early in their buying journey, even if they do it while holding their nose. My latest research note called “Tech Go-to-Market: Providers Must Adapt Content and Outbound Sales Strategies to Better Align with Buyer Expectations” (subscription required) found that 71% of buyers would typically initiate contact or accept a contact request with a new provider during the exploration or early evaluation streams of the buying cycle. (See below).
This should be welcome news for sales leaders that are looking at forecasts that have become less predictable, pipelines that have become less believable, and/or simply don’t like the idea of their salespeople taking a reactive approach and waiting for marketing-qualified leads. But (as you would imagine) there a few caveats that need to be factored in before embarking on an outbound frenzy to every “suspect.”
- First, you need to offer a range of content on your web site and elsewhere that helps to overcome the trust barrier and provides enough value and detail so that a buyer can be comfortable that your solution can actually solve their problem. (More on this in a follow-up post).
- Second, you must make sure that the initial interactions that your salespeople have also add value. Because many salespeople are used to being handed qualified leads, their inclination will be to start qualifying. The buyers aren’t particularly enthusiastic about having to talk to them, so that type of interaction will be off-putting and could cause them to bounce your company from the process. The salespeople need to focus on adding value from the get-go.
If you can avoid those mistakes, you can have a lot of success with this approach. But remember, many of these prospects are early in the buying process, so while they will be receptive if the salespeople can act as knowledgeable guides and help them navigate through it, don’t be surprised if they don’t move as fast or in as predictable of a manner as you would prefer. Such is the world in which we live.