The traditional buyer journey in B2B tech is: Awareness > Interest > Research > Evaluation > Demo > Purchase > Retention
Ownership at each stage of this journey has been neatly divided between marketing, who takes responsibility for building awareness and holding interest. Sales would manage the evaluation, demo and purchase phases and then hand over to the customer service team for aftercare and to ensure that all-important client retention.
We only need to look to the way in which the buying process has evolved in B2C to see that this traditional model is no longer as clear cut. Charlie Green and David Zaranka, who lead tml Partners’ technology practice, sat down with Mehul Kapadia, a CMO whose latest role was with global infrastructure giant, Tata Communications. They talked about how the sales process has evolved in the technology sector and what marketers need to do in this new world.
“Instead of waiting for vendors and service providers to educate them, customers are more and more going through a self-discovery process which incorporates digital research and a data-driven approach” comments Kapadia. Whereas historically the marketing team could rely on their campaigns to be the main tool in raising awareness of a product or service, the online world provides a plethora of resources to find information on an organisation’s offering, which is unfiltered by that organisation. This objectivity is deemed a far more trustworthy source of information than the patter of the sales team. Therefore there is a loss of control for organisations over how their customers can learn about their services. Traditional sales models based on relationships and face to face conversations are being significantly impacted and technology companies are under increasing pressure to digitise their sales processes for the ease of their customer base. Being technology organisations, those falling behind are seeing perhaps even more effect on their sales pipeline than other B2B organisations.
Furthermore, the decision-making process has evolved so that it’s not just down to the procurement team to decide on a service provider. The actual end users of technology services are deeply involved in the process, which is often a disparate group of people with whom it’s not possible to form the traditional sales relationship.
So what does all this mean for B2B tech marketing teams? Ultimately, they’re “having to go deeper into the sales process, and get involved in the evaluation and demo phases as well” says Kapadia. In addition to this, there’s also a role for marketing in the retention phase of the sales process. Customer experience is increasingly becoming a concern for the whole organisation and marketing should absolutely be at the centre of this. Marketing is often the driver of a client-focused approach and this needs to feed into every stage of the sales process, not just at the retention phase.
It might seem straightforward to embed marketing (and a customer focus) more deeply into the sales process in order to keep up with the pace of change in the marketplace, but there are various tensions that arise. Merging teams and responsibilities within tech organisations is fraught with challenges. Ultimately, for the most efficient sales process, marketing, sales and IT need to work together to create that frictionless sales experience, but this kind of change is not easily implemented. An organisation-wide shift is needed, and it needs to come from the top down and become embedded into the culture of an organisation. Marketing needs a voice on the board, alongside sales and technology. Then there is the real opportunity for an integrated strategy to be developed.
How do you drive this sort of change? Kapadia suggests marketing needs to “take ownership of the sales book and revenue targets”, giving marketing activities genuine input into the business’ bottom line. “Qualified leads and touches are a valuable part of the sales process, but there needs to be a shift in the goalposts and a focus on the metric that matters most to organisations: actual orders and revenue realisation”. And in order to achieve this, one path is to take ownership of the digital journey, from end to end. Marketing needs to shift its perspective when it comes to automation from not just brand building and demand generation, but to the full sales cycle. “Don’t be shy of also looking at the digital tools that sales and customer service will need, and making them part of the full package that marketing creates”. The integration of marketing, sales AND technology is, therefore, essential.
With all this change in the sales process, it’s important not to ignore the all-important retention plan. With wide customer choice and heavy competitive pressure in the tech sector, the sales process needs to live on beyond the actual sale and marketing strategy needs to address client retention from the outset.
Essentially, the sales process now boils down not to generating leads and building relationships, but to empowering the customer to make their decision. To achieve this, not only the role of marketing but that that of sales and IT must evolve together in the technology sector to bring customer experience up the agenda.
tml Partners is an international executive marketing recruitment firm specialising in senior appointments across marketing, brand, product and corporate communications. Charlie Green and David Zaranka are currently partnering with leading firms across B2B technology, SaaS and information solutions to support the development of in-house Marketing, Product, Digital and Communications expertise.
To learn more about how tml Partners can support the growth of your marketing function, please get in touch.
tml Partners is the UK’s leading marketing recruitment agency.