Over the past few years, two distinct approaches to B2B demand generation have emerged. Both of these models have evolved in response to profound changes in the B2B marketing and sales environment, the most significant of which has been the appearance of empowered buyers.
Business buyers now have access to a wealth of online information, and they are using that information to perform research on their own. As a result, they are much less dependent on sellers than in the past, and they're avoiding interactions with sales reps until later in the buying process. Research by the Corporate Executive Board, SiriusDecisions and others has shown that prospects are often 50% to 60% through the buying process before they engage with a salesperson.
One approach to dealing with empowered buyers is to expand the role of marketing in B2B demand generation. Not surprisingly, the strongest early advocates of this model were providers of B2B marketing automation software like Marketo, Eloqua, Hubspot, and several others. The second approach argues that what is needed is a new sales methodology. The Corporate Executive Board is a strong advocate of this model, and two CEB executives, Matthew Dixon and Brent Adamson, provided a detailed description of this model in their best-selling book, The Challenger Sale.
The marketing-centric model accepts that most potential buyers prefer to access information about business issues and potential solutions on their own, especially in the early stages of the buying process. Instead of fighting this preference, the marketing-centric model seeks to support the "self-directed buyer" as he or she goes through the learning process. The marketing-centric model relies heavily on content marketing principles and techniques (because it assumes that most early-stage interactions need to be content based), and it leverages technology to manage and execute activities such as lead nurturing and lead qualification.
The "new sales methodology" model emphasizes the continued importance of sales reps in the demand generation process. What CEB and others argue is that salespeople should engage with early-stage buyers and use disruptive insights to change how they think about their business. To use CEB's teminology, these disruptive insights enable sales reps to shape emerging demand rather than simply react to established demand. More importantly, these insights provide value that buyers can't get anywhere else and thus make it necessary (or at least very worthwhile) for buyers to engage with the sales rep.
Which of these demand generation models will ultimately prevail? My answer is neither and both. Neither model will completely win because both will (and should) be used.
Many proponents of both models now recognize the value of the other approach. Advocates of the marketing-centric model now acknowledge that human involvement with early-stage buyers can be very valuable, and CEB is expanding its concept of disruptive insights to include marketing content as well as sales messaging.
The bottom line is that neither marketing nor sales should "own" B2B demand generation. Effective demand generation requires marketing and sales to function as an integrated team.