Industrial Marketing Can’t Succeed Without Sales

Industrial marketing and sales - mythbustersI can assure you this is not another post about sales and marketing alignment. Plenty has been written on that topic already.

I am sure you’ve read many articles about today’s industrial buyers completing most of their decision making long before they ever contact anyone in sales. Various statistics show how Sales is not involved until the final procurement stage, thus making a strong case for using content in inbound industrial marketing to bridge the gap.

I read an article where recent Forrester research found that 75% of the buying cycle is completed before sales is engaged.

Then there’s the SiriusDecisions-approved version: 67 percent of the buyer’s journey is now done digitally.

Here’s another one from the Harvard Business Review (HBR) stating that a Corporate Executive Board study of more than 1,400 B2B customers found that those customers completed, on average, nearly 60% of a typical purchasing decision—researching solutions, ranking options, setting requirements, benchmarking pricing, and so on—before even having a conversation with a supplier.

One would think all Sales does these days is wait for customers to call them, email RFQs and then wait for the big deals to close. Nothing is further from the truth than that, at least not in my world of industrial and manufacturing marketing.

I am not the only one who sees it that way. Megan Heuer, Vice President and Group Director, Data-Driven Marketing, at SiriusDecisions in her myth-busting blog post, “Three Myths of the “67 Percent” sets the record straight about the so-called lack of involvement of Sales.

My take on this is based on what I see on the ground with my manufacturing and industrial clients.

  • Yes, it is true that the bulk of the research is done online these days. That doesn’t mean Sales has nothing do in the early stages. They are on the front line and much more in tune with customers’ wants and needs than are marketers. They are the ones who hear the “voice of the customer” first. Such insights are very helpful to Marketing in creating content that is more relevant and adjusting scoring rules for converting Marketing Qualified Leads (MQLs) into Sales Qualified Leads (SQLs). It also means that the sales team needs to be better prepared when they do get in front of customers. The old notion of “Buyer Beware” has been turned on its head to “Seller Beware” because today’s customers are better informed thanks to the Internet and digital marketing. (See my post, “SAL is the Glue that Binds Sales and Marketing in Lead Generation” for definitions of MQL, SQL and SAL).
  • In complex industrial sales where the strongest emotion is risk aversion, trust that comes from strong personal relationships provides the level of comfort necessary to select one vendor’s solution over the others. It is a myth that there are no emotions involved in industrial sales. Emotions do drive industrial buying decisions and are then backfilled with logic. Often, who you know trumps what you know. To use Joe Pulizzi’s football analogy, “If content marketing were a football field, inbound marketing would get you to the 35-yard line. Definitely critical, but hard to score from that distance.” You need your Sales team to take you from the 35 yard line into the end zone if you want to score and get more wins. (See my post, “Content Marketing Must Go Beyond Inbound Marketing in Industrial Sales”).

I really don’t see how industrial marketing can succeed without the active participation of Sales. Do you?

4 replies
  1. Christopher Swanson
    Christopher Swanson says:

    Achinta,

    I really liked your article because it points out something that a lot of businesses forget when they start or are investing in online marketing. Sales still has the critical role in both being the ears of what clients are saying and most importantly in finalizing the sale. Often businesses forget that it is very important to have just as tight of a closing sales system as the inbound lead generation system. Without good sales process the investment of marketing can quickly fall down.

    Reply
  2. Peter Johnston
    Peter Johnston says:

    There needs to be a distinction here between day to day and considered purchases. Let me tell you 2 stories…

    1. A client recently set out to buy or lease a photocopier/scanner/printer. All they wanted was to see the price, the specs and the monthly payment schedule on a few machines so they could make a decision on this minor (to them) piece of equipment.

    But none of the companies they called would give them a quotation without a sales visit. They had to sit through pretty poor feature-driven presentations. Even then they weren’t given a price, they had to wait for that to arrive in the post. They gave up, deciding to stick with what they had, but were subjected to calls for months afterwards.

    Salespeople often get in the way of making a sale.

    At the other end consider this.
    My client – a parking equipment supplier – was spending their days on RFPs for low margin tenders. They were No3 in the market.
    Then my sales manager and I changed the game.
    We announced “We sell Revenue” and guaranteed returns to clients. We set out to create long-term partner relationships where we were called in at the planning stage, set a revenue target and achieved it, taking all the running of the car park off the client’s hands. We created innovative schemes for emission based pricing and occupancy based pricing.

    The result was that we were able to get rid of the salesforce, putting engineers in touch with engineers to build relationships. Revenue soared and clients took us into new projects, introduced us to others and we became the thought leaders of the industry.

    In both cases the traditional sales methods were getting in the way of the relationship between purchaser and vendor.

    The head in the sand “Can’t Succeed without Sales” attitude needs to stop. Sales needs to change to helping people buy.

    Reply
    • Achinta Mitra
      Achinta Mitra says:

      @Peter,

      Thanks for sharing your examples.
      I agree there is a difference between day-to-day and considered purchases. Many industrial companies, particularly distributors have moved their everyday sales to eCommerce.
      Regarding your second example, seems to me that your client replaced his sales force with sales engineers. One engineer to another is a powerful idea and I’ve seen it work with my clients too but shifting the complete burden of building relationships on them can only take away time from doing things that make them the subject matter experts.
      I’ll second your last sentence about “…to helping people buy.”

      Reply

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