Face-to-face meetings are back, but is that what clients are looking for? Companies need to update their lead generation strategies to make them more data-driven and more in line with what potential clients’ preferences. To adapt, companies should follow a new B2B sales playbook: 1) build the right team for the job, 2) create simplified content that articulates the firm’s industry offerings, 3) push the content to market, 4) have teams share relevant leads with sales, and 5) measure outcomes at multiple levels.
At the beginning of 2020, it was the norm for any respectable technology industry leader in business to business (B2B) sales to spend upwards of 80% of their time on the road and with clients. They would be on continuous lookout for new prospects and qualified leads through face-to-face interactions, taking potential clients to sporting events and chatting them up at annual conferences. Ironically, given the industry, not much science or tech was behind the development of pipelines or closing the deal.
As a result of the global pandemic, this same seller travels much less or not at all, finding themselves with a lot more time on their hands but with the same, or even greater, quotas they need to hit in the next quarter. While the salesperson may be excited for a more aggressive travel schedule as the world shifts to a new normal, it isn’t clear that the clients want them back as much as before or if corporations will allow for vendor visits as much due to legal reasons. Over 70% of B2B decision makers prefer remote human interactions or digital self-service.
This new environment presents a challenge: How is a B2B seller supposed to find new customers whose problems they can solve when customers don’t want to go back to the old way of doing business?
In this article, we will walk through a real-life example of how a $10 billion global technology company successfully implemented a new approach to digital lead generation, resulting in high adoption of the new digital tactics. Based on the authors’ experience leading transformation projects at this tech company and over 30 years of combined experience helping Fortune 500 sales teams transform their go-to-market operations, we recommend that firms follow a five-step process to support sales on this journey towards better lead generation.
What Clients Want Right Now
Instead of telling their B2B sales representatives to make individual changes, organizations must better enable sales lead gen activities in the new environment. Right now, salespeople are encouraged to spend more time prospecting, chatting with clients on communication platforms like Zoom and Teams and hosting online events. While these actions may help, they aren’t enough to help the seller close what is a substantial gap in their pipeline, especially for those without the luxury of stable client accounts or a steady renewal business.
To get more leads, the B2B salesforce needs to meet their potential customers where they are: online, primarily on LinkedIn and Twitter. As part of this effort, your salesforce must become recognized thought leaders in their fields and contribute to digital conversations in new and provocative ways — a role previously reserved for those in the product, customer success, or professional service arms of the company. And they must use client specific and industry-focused solution selling, which is more relevant than ever in a digital environment.
Most salespeople cannot realize this vision individually. It is incumbent on the organization to provide the right support. Ultimately, B2B salesforce leaders, especially those in forward leaning industries such as tech, must create content that the field can bring to market, including white papers, 1–3-year technology transformation roadmaps and standard pitch materials, as these will allow salespeople to position themselves as thought leaders.
The New B2B Sales Playbook
1. Build the right go-to-market team. To compete in this new environment, organizations need to have a cross-functional team create standard global repeatable processes, which will be used to build go-to-market content using a holistic approach. The processes must be streamlined, with the goal of creating no more than three standardized marketing assets for the field that are industry focused. It is important to leverage regional stakeholders in the content creation process and to incorporate feedback from field sales and marketing teams globally as well. At the global technology company, there were many stakeholders in the content creation process, though the firm started with sales and marketing teams at the regional level.
2. Create simplified content that articulates the firm’s industry offerings. It is critical that the content your team produces is “outcome-based,” in that it focuses on the problems clients are facing rather than the products that the field is selling. The team should set up the infrastructure for this content to be housed on internal landing pages, but also for a subset of the content to be available externally on social and digital channels through marketing teams. For example, the company we studied used to have thousands of pieces of sales collateral, all spread across different sites. The cross-functional team focused on creating sales collateral for just a subset of industries, and all pieces of collateral clearly articulated client value, not just product specifications.
3. Push the content to the market. Awareness is key here. Leaders must widely communicate the go-to-market program and content across the organization. After the communication, leaders must ensure the content is easily accessible to salespeople. And salespeople must be able to push the content to market, leveraging platforms for distribution and possibly sales productivity tools for tracking and performance information after the field has distributed the content.
4. Demand generation teams share relevant leads with sales. Sales will gain leads directly through some of their actions, including emailing prospects with the content and posting it on select digital media platforms. In other cases, like when prospects are led to a corporate website that collects customer information, sales leads will need to ensure that information is shared with the field, otherwise the field will not be properly incentivized.
5. Measure outcomes at multiple levels. Reps in the field must be able to monitor the overall performance of their content, including views and impact on deals. Meanwhile the organization can build on sales content that is doing well and remove collateral that doesn’t quickly gain traction. Internal performance metrics for maximizing quality content and leads must be present. This last step ensures that the content library only includes sales motions that deliver value, both to clients and to the field.
Taken together, these five steps can create a changed experience for reps. Tiffany, a seasoned salesperson at our global technology company, no longer flies out to a client on Monday morning. Instead, she wakes up and receives a list of companies to focus on and standard content on key offerings. She immediately posts a relevant article on LinkedIn, including some of the standard content, and she targets some procurement VPs at a few of her prospects. Then she shifts back to preparing for upcoming meetings for a few hours. In the afternoon, she reviews information on how her post performed and receives email addresses from a few procurement VPs because of her post. Internally, this triggers her support team, such as pre-sales demo resources and architects, to prepare for any upcoming customer conversations. Including specialists ensures the highest levels of topic expertise to support the sales process from lead to close. With leads and expertise available, Tiffany is now in a better position to hit her quota.
The return on these investments is real. In our case study, there have been positive outcomes that are both qualitative and quantitative. Salespeople, like Tiffany in our example, are quickly adopting the new tactics and getting more leads. At the same time, the organization is benefitting in many ways. There is now global alignment and program support for sales activities, faster product improvements and product feedback, less redundancy in go-to-market content, higher content quality, and faster time to engage prospects. All of this amounts to a greater revenue opportunity and less cost for organizations by leveraging a strong and thorough global template.
That is not to say that implementing this new approach is easy. In our case study, the global technology company faced a few challenges, including the high level of effort required and the differences in regional go-to-market content. But the biggest challenge was change management. In the beginning, sales and organizational leaders were concerned with regional preferences and industry-specific needs. Leaders of this program needed to address pride over existing content and lead gen processes to ensure new approaches were successful. As a result, a lot of time was spent getting leadership buy-in from program inception. However, the program team leveraged metrics to communicate global success as well as point out areas of need and further focus, causing leaders to move from program skeptics to champions.
Each organization has differences of course, but the fundamental challenge remains the same. Salespeople are operating in a new world. By supporting them with better lead gen practices, organizations can thrive in the changed digital environment.