"For now, let me just say that a strategic inflection point is a time in the life of a business when its fundamentals are about to change. . . They are full-scale changes in the way business is conducted, so that simply adopting new technology or fighting the competition as you used to may be insufficient."
By this definition, B2B marketing and sales have clearly reached a strategic inflection point. Over the past decade, B2B demand generation has changed in fundamental ways. Many tried and true marketing and sales techniques and tactics no longer work as well as they did in the past. Fewer people are going to trade shows, potential buyers are less likely to accept or return sales prospecting calls, and it's harder to entice prospects to respond to direct mail and e-mail campaigns.
Strategic inflection points occur when there is a dramatic change in the business environment that alters the ground rules for success. In the case of B2B demand generation, that change is the shift in power from sellers to buyers. Business buyers now have easy access to a wealth of online tools and information, and this makes them much less dependent on potential vendors and their sales reps.
As a result, potential buyers are self-educating, and they are postponing personal interactions with salespeople until later in the buying process.
- A recent study by the Corporate Executive Board reported that B2B buyers are 57% of the way to a buying decision before they are willing to talk to a sales rep.
- In a survey last year by DemandGen Report, 77% of B2B buyers said they did not talk with a salesperson until after they had performed independent research, and 36% of buyers said they didn't engage with a sales rep until after a short list of preferred vendors was established.
The ability of business buyers to perform research and self-education anonymously requires nothing less than a new approach to B2B demand generation. In the face of a strategic inflection point, continuing to do the things you've always done or making small changes at the margins won't be sufficient.
So, what can B2B marketers and sales professionals do to make demand generation work in this new and far different environment? Here are three essential starting points.
- Recognize that marketing must play a larger role in the demand generation process. Many B2B companies have traditionally relied primarily on salespeople to find and win new customers. Sales efforts are still important, but it's now clear that marketing content is often the only effective and efficient way to create engagement with empowered and independent buyers. For many companies, this will require an increased investment in marketing.
- Accept that you can no longer push prospects through the buying process any faster than they are willing to move. In today's environment, the primary job of marketing and sales (after creating initial engagement) is to eliminate the friction that slows prospects down.
- Understand that your marketing content and your marketing and sales process must provide value to potential customers. If you want to stand out from the crowd, you must be able to provide valuable insights that prospects cannot easily obtain from other sources.