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Marketing is the New Sales Team in B2B

Posted February 8, 2023
Marketing is the New Sales Team in B2B

Libby Covington, Partner at Craig Group, joins our host, Camela Thompson, in this episode of the Revenue Marketing Report. Libby shares her insights on why B2B is slower to react to changes than B2C, the things Libby would reinforce in the brains of CEOs, and what adjustments marketing must make to be more involved in the buyer journey.

Libby is a Partner at the Craig Group, a consulting firm that focuses on strategy and execution for portfolio companies of private equity. The Craig Group is all about growth. Libby’s professional background before her current role was in-house in a number of B2B companies, where she ran marketing departments. Libby has been privileged to successfully launch three marketing departments in three different B2B companies. In all, she has been in the B2B space for two and a half decades.

I’ve grown up in tech and while we are slower to react to trends than B2C, I feel like there’s a little more agility there than in some B2B verticals. Do you agree?

Compared to B2C, B2B doesn’t seem to adjust quite as quickly to changes in decision-makers, buyer committees, and all those good things. At the start of this chat, Libby discussed the various trends she has been seeing lately in this regard.

“Let me start by saying I’ve never personally worked in B2C, but we do have some clients that are in B2C. The B2C community has been way ahead of the B2B community for many years in the digital go-to market space. What’s happening in terms of informing your buyers? People call it the unification of all of us, of all ages, right? If you’re making a decision on a product or service, you will want all the information at your fingertips. You think back to 15, 20 years ago, or even 10 years ago, you couldn’t quickly look at the prices for products next door to each other on a screen. Now you can do that easily. So we all get used to that in our day-to-day with the change in the in-house structure of the decision-makers, which are now more than 50% millennials in B2B companies. And they make decisions differently with more of a group mindset. I think B2B is a complex sell anyway depending on what you are selling.

“It’s not just touching one department. It’s not just one buyer. You might be talking to finance. You might be talking to sales. You might be talking to operations within a company and definitely finance. If it’s a big-ticket item, it is always going to be involved. I tell some of our clients that when you’re drafting your materials, when you are thinking about how to talk to your clients, you need to be definitely thinking of all the different stakeholders throughout the buying process in the funnel. 

“I would say that those are the things we are seeing is that B2B is becoming more Like B2C in terms of the expectations that the buyers have. They are used to it in their personal lives, seeing things laid out very, very clearly, very simply, and very cleanly. They also expect that in their work lives. We are not selling Levis’s jeans. We are not selling a simple product. If it is software, if it is an industrial service, or any kind of B2B service that’s tech-enabled, it’s hard to explain it as simply as ‘here’s a product for $19.99’. Therefore, we have to think of that though as marketers and business owners, how do we tell our story in a very clean way so that our potential buyers really understand our differentiators and they want full transparency? That’s the other thing.

If you could pound one thing into board or investors' and CEOs' brains, what would that be? What do the potential buyer behaviors require of B2B organizations?

I am thinking of platforms like G2, that very Amazon-like experience. You have reviews. You have side-by-side comparisons. In some ways, we are moving in that direction. However, what I have seen since my very earliest career growing up in B2B is that a lot of times smaller companies prioritize building out their sales team first. Because of cold prospecting, and brute force, their brand awareness was nil. So they aren’t going to accomplish their sales through brute force. I read a statistic recently that 43% of buyers would prefer not to interact with sales at all, in B2B specifically. It’s kind of scary. Libby went into detail about the one thing she would pound into CEOs’ and Founders’ brains.

“I totally agree with you. In the past, the approach of hiring a good sales team was really good. But I was talking to someone earlier. He is new to this organization and he says sales have had some success. In reality, they can’t even point to how they have had this success. You kind of run out of the ability to achieve success by just saying, ‘put us on the good list’. There’s only a certain number of clients or customers that you can do that way. If you want to scale and grow bigger, you have to have more processes and a real strategy of how you’re going to attract these people into your funnel.

“These are potential buyers and you may have to expand your products and services. You may have to change your geographical outlook. It is all about how you want to grow, where you want to grow, and when you want to grow. The main takeaway that I would say to Founders and CEOs is you can’t do it with sales alone in today’s world. It has to be sales and marketing combined. When I say marketing, what are we talking about? Demand gen, lead gen, and inbound. Your sales team has to think that some of the skill sets have changed since no one wants to talk to a salesperson. That’s 43%. A lot of people don’t want to talk to a salesperson. You have to make sure that some of your salespeople are farmers and some hunters. The farmers are the ones that can take inbound leads and inside sales and take people through the funnel. Farmers are very data-driven. Alternatively, they’re are hunters, the ones that just go out and close. I had this in my own career when I was at an industrial company, where sales had never been given leads. A lot of people had been there for 20 years, and they had never been given leads. That made sense in the old days. Digital leads were something that you bought and they were just garbage.

“So they didn’t believe marketing could give them leads. When we were doing true targeted, ABM, inbound lead generation and they were getting good leads they said, ‘whoa!’ For the longest time, they didn’t want to even reply to and follow up on leads. And this was a pretty high volume business in heavy equipment. What ended up happening was once they started seeing they could close those leads, they demanded, give us more! Give us more leads! However, some of them weren’t really set up for that. That’s not what they wanted to do. They wanted to be out and about, going from business to business and calling on people. They didn’t want to be sitting and taking in leads. Therefore, you have to think about how you set up people for success. How do you structure your sales department? We are seeing a lot of that too. How do you structure your marketing department and have them work well together or do you just outsource some of the marketing? 

“In other words, are you just getting the lead gen from an outsourced provider? That’s some of what we do. And then working with sales, but the thing is they have to be in lockstep. A lot of people in the past thought sales can do their thing. Marketing can do its thing. But they don’t have to combine. That’s not true anymore.”

The old thought was demand gen waterfall, where marketing was touching people at the top of the funnel and then moving them to sales. That is not true anymore. I’m seeing marketing getting involved in every step of the buyer journey, creating collateral for sales to use as these research buyers want something they can ingest on their own. Then, customer marketing, especially now with these market expansions becoming such a priority. Libby agrees.

“Exactly! It’s customer satisfaction, right? Then, it’s land and expand as they say. I saw this fascinating presentation about content, around how we as consumers expect such personalized content. In other words, as you are going through your buyer journey, assume you’re part of a buyer committee at a large B2B or small B2B company. You don’t want to read about things that aren’t germane to you, and that isn’t part of your use case. You want to be fed very, very clearly and you don’t want to do 50 clicks to find it either. You want it to be easy to find. So setting up industry landing pages, words that make sense by industry, using their jargon, their language. That is so important and it didn’t exist before. It was just like here’s what we sell. Oh, yeah it’s different for you Mr. Industrial Company vs. you Mr. Tech Company, but we sell it both to you. Just figure out how to use it. You cannot do that anymore.”

I am not going to say that was encouraged because people didn’t see it as a problem. However, it was also a way to encourage each team to perform better. There’s so much pressure on each other because you both shared the number. That’s so much more toxic now than it used to be, for example, if you add a new product line, the person who knows more about the persona would probably be the marketer who is doing all the research and really embedding themselves in it. And they should be involved in educating sales. Interestingly enough, I am seeing more and more marketing teams start to absorb enablement, and Libby concurs.

“Yeah! It makes a lot of sense for marketing to be very involved in sales enablement because the salespeople don’t want and should not be the ones creating collateral and landing pages on the website and all those things. Marketing needs to be figuring it out and helping sales understand. Where I think marketing and sales can work really well together is having that loop where sales are coming back and saying, here are the objections I’m hearing when I talk to clients or here’s why this one didn’t close, or here’s what I am hearing. Then, you can take that info and put it back into your information. So you’re answering those questions before they come up as an objection. That’s where I think it would be very helpful as opposed to just trying to figure out what you think these clients think.

“That’s all part of marketing research, but it’s so much more important in an actual transaction negotiation. You hear things you wouldn’t hear just from doing market research. And they know also what their clients will tell them. What they’re thinking about the competitors, and what the competitors are saying to them. All of that informs how you present your go-to-market. How you present your website and your materials. To me, it’s where they are very, very good at working together. Or maybe they just don’t have enough resources in marketing because back again to that CEO  who doesn’t think marketing is important. He points to sales, but they don’t have the skill sets to do that in today’s world. They did before, where you were just selling. However, now you have to also inform and have this digital marketing footprint. That is harder for them to do.”

What kind of adjustments do they need to make in b2b marketing?

When I see sales running off and creating their own materials that really screams to me that there has been a miss on the messaging side and that we aren’t picking up something we are hearing in the market. Libby gave some examples of things marketers should really focus on right now to help enable the buyer throughout their journey.

“Definitely research. Talking to customers, doing interviews, prospect interviews, and gathering competitive intelligence. Staying on top of what your competitors are saying and not saying. The other thing I think marketing should spend a lot of time thinking about is what are the goals of the organization. What are you trying to do from a business perspective? This is where I think marketing misses a lot. It’s not how many impressions and clicks do you need to get. Just how many leads do you need? What is the revenue goal we are shooting for and why?  And again, I come back to what’s the strategy we are trying to put in new sets of products and services. Are we trying to expand to a new geographic area? 

“There are no tactics without strategy. I would tell marketers to take a step back. If you don’t really know the strategy, take a step back before you just throw too many tactics. That’s when everyone gets frustrated. Sales get frustrated. Marketing gets frustrated. Management gets frustrated. We are not meeting the management’s business goals for revenue growth or whatever the goals are which are primary growth in this market. Or it could be in your case, hanging on to clients, it could be retention. 

“That could be a goal as opposed to growing new clients. We are just trying to retain the current clients we have. It all depends on your competitive set. New competitors are coming to the marketplace. We are often working with private equity-backed, small to middle-market companies that are in a high-growth area. They’re doing acquisitions. They are going to be a lot larger in terms of growth, and revenue. They are doing it through acquisitions. 

“Also, doing it through organic growth. So we have to really think about what that looks like. It might not be simply retaining your clients. Therefore, what does it look like? I tell marketers it’s important not to fall into that flavor of the month. ”We need to be doing X because everybody’s doing it.’  Go back to the basics. That could be, oh, we need to be doing paid search ads with some certain flavor to it. What you need to be doing is figuring out who is the target market. This is basic marketing. Who are your personas? How do they make their decisions? How are you getting in front of them and moving down the funnel?

For more expert interviews and advice, listen to the full Revenue Marketing Report episode at the top of the article or anywhere you podcast.