In the leadup to the B2B Marketing Leaders Forum APAC 2016, I took the opportunity to speak with Telstra’s GM Marketing, Jarther Taylor about the state of B2B marketing, the challenges that lay ahead, and the surprising ways technology and a focus on customer experience is changing the marketing and sales landscape.

 

Jarther-Taylor-Telstra-Business-speaking-B2B-Marketing-Leaders-Conference-Sydney-Australia-2016Gavin Heaton: We hear a lot of talk about the “marketing funnel” and the “sales funnel”. In your experience are these becoming one and the same?

Jarther Taylor: There are three factors driving convergence and of the marketing and sales funnel. So, yes they are becoming one and the same.

Firstly, as marketing increasingly digitised it can deliver better quality and more progressed leads at scale.  That is in the past, a B2B marketer may have had a bunch of responses from a DM piece or an event, and sales would then have the explore and develop that basic opportunity.  Today marketing can not only capture interest, but also progress that interest to a point of being ready to buy and then pass to sales to close the deal and help nurture and drive advocacy post-purchase.

Secondly, the buying process (which has replaced the selling process) is non-linear.  Gartner as a good model for this fluid approach of buying – Explore, Evaluate, Engage, Experience.  This fluidity and uncertainty is more culturally acceptable in marketing.  That is marketing leaders understand the customers may shift from being close to ready to buy (Engage) , to back to the Explore phase.  Sales management drives for a steady progression through the funnel, and sales teams are not ‘permitted’ to have an opportunity go from 30% certainty to 70% certainty back to 50%.  Marketing can help ensure that sales resources only engage during Engage!

Thirdly, the importance of customer experience across the buying and usage cycle is increasingly seen as a differentiator.  While at one point, sales was at the end of the line and customers were then exposed to usually less resourced service organisations, this has shifted with the introduction of Net Promoter Scores and the consumerization of business products (e.g. “why can’t my experience with you be more like Uber, AWS, Apple, etc.”).  This means than marketing, who has traditionally been responsible for representing the customer in the organisation, has a far great role to play across marketing, sales and service.

Gavin Heaton: Up to 60% of purchase decisions are made before a buyer reaches out to the brand. How is this changing the work of sales people?

Jarther Taylor: Sales used to be the ‘smartest person in the room’ when it came to B2B selling.  That is, the technical expertise on the product was what customers were after and went to the vendor to get that information.  Today most of the studies that support the 60% number show that digital research and speaking to peers is done well before engaging with the vendor.  I had a discussion with IDC just over a year ago, where they gave me multiple examples of customers wanting to now minimise the amount of time they spent with sales.

So sales need to get engaged earlier on in the piece.  That is, they need to be present in the online forums that customers are doing research in.  Marketing can help this through digital strategies like content marketing and social selling. Social Selling has proven extremely successful both at IBM and Telstra in building advocacy, trust and engagement with customers.

So with customers doing more research and having more knowledge before they get to the sales person, the conversations shift.  Sales need to have the capacity and capability to discuss options with a customer, challenge their thinking and add value to the buying process beyond taking an order.  For many sales organisations this is a major shift in culture, capability and structure.

 

Gavin Heaton: As consumers, we have become adept online purchasers. We plan and buy our own travel, research our purchases online before shopping around and so on. How is this self-service approach impacting the B2B vendor?

Jarther Taylor: Self-service in B2B tends to reside the in the Experience phase of the buying process I referenced above.  That is, once a commercial relationship between a customer and vendor has been set up, many of the more mundane actions can be done through a self-service portal.  Let’s say I’m an OfficeMax customer, then my office administrators can order approved stationary via an online portal.  Managing your billing or usage of technology via a self-service portal is also popular for many XaaS solutions.  AWS ,for instance, pretty much has it all online.

As a B2B vendor this can potentially mean a loss of engagement opportunities with a customer, but is also means that the engagement can be a lot richer.  For instance, rather mourning the loss to sell additional items in person, usage data of a product can suggest that the next best product is.  So it drives efficiency and also advocacy because you are offering the customer more useful products and solutions.

Another efficiency gain is the post-sales service can be scaled.  That is a contact centre can manage a much larger number of customers in a much more personalised manner.  Customers get better and more relevant marketing, sales and service engagement.  And as a vendor I am keeping my costs down.