The pendulum has been around since 1602 when Galileo invented it. It was the world’s most accurate timekeeping device right up until around the 1930’s. The concept is one of our natural laws of the world. We may be experiencing the effects of the pendulum in sales and marketing.
Despite the pronouncements of buyers not engaging sales until 50-70% into the buying cycle, this generalized view is and should be questioned. Paired with other studies indicating buyer dissatisfaction with content and information, something new may be afoot. At this stage, it should be treated as an early stage buyer insight to watch. Here is what may be happening:
Buyers are seeking informed insight on how to solve complex challenges and to meet ambitious growth objectives. As they research and acquire content, they may find information to be in too much abundance, inadequate, and not substantive enough to help them. There is a shift towards bringing sales into the buying cycle sooner in order to fill the gap in information and insight desired. This shift comes with higher expectations of sales in their purpose and role.
In my recent article, Latest Report: Why B2B Content Marketing Is Failing B2B Buyers, I commented on the 11-page report, produced by the CMO Council and Netline, entitled: Better Lead Yield in the Content Marketing Field. A study indicating how buyers are dissatisfied with content. There have been other studies showing how as much as 40% of B2B businesses do not have a content strategy. Leading to ineffectiveness, which is now visible to buyers. As in the pendulum swing, there is a period where buying behavior may be changing as a result.
Buyers are being bombarded with content on a daily basis. Senior leaders are delegating what amounts to a chore, the job of researching and filtering. Pressed with urgency and complexity, information overload can actually make the process of finding solutions more laborious. Let me give you an example from a VP Operations I recently interviewed:
“One of the things we are finding hard to deal with is too much information. With so much out there, we have to schedule meetings to get through what we find. I don’t know if this is the best use of our time.”
This compounds some of the issues we find in the recent CMO Council and Netline study regarding how buyers feel about poor quality content. Overloading buyers with poor quality content can cause a shift in buying behavior. Toleration has its’ limits and we may be at the point where buyers do not want to tolerate overload of poor quality.
Back to the Future
While content marketing has been emerging and growing, many have predicted sales will play less of a role in the future. Not so fast. Sales organizations are being tested with adapting to changes in buying behavior. And, some are doing a good job of it. Here is the same VP Operations as an example:
“I told my team to call in the sales rep from two vendors. I just felt we could get to what we needed to know much quicker. One came in and did a good job of sharing how we can go about having a solution that would work. She had done her homework. The other sales rep was not so good. It was basically a presentation of the same information we had already found.”
What we may be experiencing is buyers are fed up with overload and poor quality. Causing them to contact sales sooner in the process. Doing so to save time overload and poor quality can add to buying processes.
This emerging development calls for further adaptations by both sales and marketing. Those who can rise to the occasion will certainly gain footing with buyers. I suggest three steps B2B organizations should take:
Step 1: Buyer Insight
B2B organizations need to get greater clarity about the issues and problems of their buyers. Just as well, they need to be on top of how their buyers are changing and adapt. To do this, investment should be made in buyer insight research. With buying behavior subject to rapid and yet subtle shifts, B2B organizations can ill afford to stand by and do nothing. As with a large pendulum, they just may get whacked when it swings back and knocked out of contention.
Step 2: Substance
As mentioned, buyers may be at the limit of tolerating information overload and poor quality. Content marketers will need to bring more reader friendly yet meaty substance to information. We are finding overload is an issue. And, we are finding too much of the pendulum swing towards product-centric information is not what buyers want. Content creation must factor in sales-friendly use as well. We can often find content design so focused on digital marketing – it fails to translate to buyer-sales interaction.
Step 3: Business Advising
Insight selling seems to be the fad description of what sales need to be doing. I do not think this takes it far enough. It is subject to the same problems we find with content and information overload mixed with poor quality. Let me put it this way – the last thing buyers frustrated with poor quality content want are sales reps showing up with poor quality insights. The purpose of sales will shift from the selling of products and solutions to business advising. Redefining the attributes and skills required of sales professionals. Buyers will have higher expectations when sales professionals are called in to talk. The starting point of dialoguing will be forever changed.
B2B organizations are caught in the midst of tremendous change, which continues to take place unabated. Like a domino effect, adaptations in some areas can impact and cause changes in other areas. We may be seeing this happen right now. What we may be seeing develop this year and next is the result of an unintended consequence.
B2B organizations can adapt by gaining deeper buyer insight, offering more substance, and filling the gap for business advisement buyers seek. Not focusing on these three steps may result in B2B organizations being out of step with buyers.
(I welcome further conversations to help you make adaptations to changing buying behavior. I am very interested in getting your thoughts and perspectives on this latest shift. Please share widely – your peers and colleagues are trying to get in step with buyers.)