Back in 2011, Gartner predicted that by 2020 customers will manage 85% of their relationship with the enterprise without human interaction. It’s 2016 and their vision already seems accurate.
In a world where computing is becoming ubiquitous, the power is in the buyers’ hands. They can do their own research and set their own terms, which completely redefines the sales funnel.
Despite the nine-year warning by Gartner, many CMOs are extremely unprepared to communicate with their customers in the digital age.
The Traditional Sales Funnel
In the traditional sales funnel, prospects would go through the standard stages of awareness, interest, decision, and action. They would enter the funnel through a direct mail campaign, a cold call or some other outbound method, followed by an interaction with the sales rep who would walk them through the entire process.
This single point of communication enabled a smooth transition from lead to prospect, and then maybe to a customer. With very limited engagement channels available, sales reps could easily control the message and carefully tailor it to each of their prospects. And if prospects needed any additional information regarding the company, product or service, they would have to get in touch with the sales rep.
Today’s Consumers Are Disrupting that Cycle
Digital marketing and marketing automation have completely disrupted the traditional funnel. Nowadays, prospects have various ways to get information about a company through social media, online reviews, industry blogs and a number of other mediums. They are also communicating with the company via email, social, podcasts, live chats, and the list goes on.
It should come as no surprise then, that 67% of the typical B2B buyer’s journey is done digitally. In fact, 9 out of 10 B2B buyers say online content has a moderate to major effect on their purchasing decisions.
This change presents new challenges for B2B companies, which typically enjoyed a very straight forward sales funnel. It’s important to note that prospects still have to go through the traditional stages of awareness, interest, desire, and action; the only difference is the part they play in that process.
The Symbiotic Relationship Between Marketing and Sales
With so many communication channels, touchpoints, and information involved in the new sales funnel, it makes it impossible for a single sales rep to maintain control over the whole process.
Selling is no longer a one-man’s job, rather a mission for an entire company, meaning everyone needs to be on the same page when it comes to message and approach. The content created by social media teams needs to align with the message delivered through email marketing. Which in turn, needs to coincide with the sales reps positioning.
According to Ascend2’s 2016 “Marketing Automation Trends Survey,” 30% of respondents say marketing-sales alignment is one of the most significant barriers to marketing automation success. Being able to nurture a prospect through carefully automated emails and social media is a vital part of lead generation. Unfortunately, if those messages don’t support the in-person sales interactions, the entire sale will fall apart.
How Marketing Automation Can Support and Nurture the Sales Cycle
Firstly, the ways in which marketing engages and nurtures prospects in the sales funnel needs to be revised. Too many CMOs see marketing automation as merely a time-saving tool. However, marketing automation makes it possible to customize communication in a way that hits every prospect with the right message at the right time. This makes it ideal for supporting the sales cycle.
Ascend2 also found that the most important strategic goals of a marketing automation strategy are:
- Increasing lead generation (61%)
- Lead nurturing (57%)
- Sales revenue (47%)
While a single sales rep may not be able to adapt to the multi-channel interaction of today’s sales funnel, a well-designed marketing automation platform absolutely can. Companies using marketing automation to engage their audience are:
- 60% more likely to regularly re-purpose content
- 2 times more likely to capture intelligence for the sales team
- 230% more likely to customize content to the Buyer Journey stages
- 5 times more likely to use intelligent targeting to trigger content
Marketing automation offers sales and marketing departments key insights into how their audience is behaving online. These insights can make a big difference in content creation. Tailoring social media, email and blog content to individual prospects as they make their journey through the sales funnel, will help to produce a qualified lead for sales.
The Tools Needed to Engage in the New Sales Funnel
Even with marketing automation, sales reps cannot just sit back and let marketing present them with prospects that are even further down the sales funnel. They need to ensure they are plugged into every aspect of the sales funnel. Emails sent through marketing automation, social media content, as well as the broader lead generation messages should all come directly from the sales rep.
Despite the fact that 84% of C-level and vice president executives use social media to support purchase decisions, sales reps are extremely under-supported in their use of social selling. Most reps that use social media lack formal training and company-wide tools to fuel their efforts. This prevents them from integrating with other marketing automation campaigns being run by the marketing team. In fact, only 8.5% of social selling users have a program that is fully integrated into the sale process.
Despite this lack of integration, social sellers report a 63.4% annual increase in their company’s sales revenue versus non-social sellers who reported 41.2%. With a fully integrated social selling campaign that supports and draws from the overall marketing automation plan, sales reps will experience more success.
Engaging with customers in the new sales funnel is no easy task. Although there are varied opportunities for engagement, effectively capitalizing on those opportunities is much stricter. Sales and marketing need to work together by utilizing tools such as marketing automation and social media management if they expect to create a seamless and unified sales experience for their prospects.
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