The B2B salesperson isn’t dying, content is keeping them alive

Andrew Davies, co-founder and CMO at idio looks at how content is saving the sales role

You don’t have to look around for long online before you encounter suggestions that the B2B sales role is “dying”. Even Forrester is at it.

Much of the furore has developed from an CEB stat which has doing the rounds in the B2B world for the past few years; namely that B2B buyers are now often 60 per cent (according to CEB) of the way to a purchasing decision before engaging in a sales conversation because they are largely self directed digital natives.

However, I’d argue that far from a cause for concern: the increasing prominence of content in the B2B purchase journey is a boon for salespeople - so long as they use the right technology to capture the content interests of their prospects.

Dispelling the ‘60 per cent there’ myth

First, let’s dispel some myths about CEB’s research.

It is true that most B2B buyers don’t even speak to a salesperson until they are about 60 per cent of their way to a purchasing decision. However, that much-cited piece of received wisdom is missing a very important piece: of those that do get to the point of consideration, only 26 per cent ever actually make a purchase.

According to Tim Riesterer at Corporate Visions, 74 per cent of those that are 60 per cent of their way to a purchasing decision (after consuming content, sitting on webinars and enduring sales calls) resolve to do nothing at all. They make no decision at all.

The reasons for this? Commoditised feature sets. Undifferentiated messaging. No context for urgency or change. All of which leads to the status quo seeming like a safer bet than taking a punt with your product offering.

In order to “loosen the status quo” and affect change, you need to be able to develop and articulate messages that drive urgency. Content can certainly do this, but it can’t identify and introduce ‘unconsidered needs’ -  challenges where your prospects or customers are unaware that the issue exists, or they undervalue the size and speed of the issue and its potential effect on their business.

Only a salesperson can demonstrate clearly why their status quo is no longer safe, tenable or acceptable, all the while convincing the prospect that their position is the ‘new safe’.

Buying is a team sport

Another crucial omission of the ‘60 per cent there’ state is that it doesn’t reflect that most B2B marketing solutions are a considered purchase and therefore have a complex sales cycle involving many stakeholders.

It takes on average 5.4 people to make a purchasing decision on enterprise software, which means that even though an individual lead may be 60 per cent of their way to a buying decision, there are multiple stakeholders who may not even be aware of your product or solution. The experience of most B2B marketers has been that one qualified lead within an organisation is not enough, as buying has become a team sport. The salesperson has the job, together with the initial lead, of building a business case for your product or service with at least 4 other influencers.

So, what is happening to the B2B salesperson?

So, right off the bat, Salespeople: you can relax. As long as B2B purchases require someone to loosen the status quo, engage multiple stakeholders and article unmet needs or unspecified capabilities, you’re safe.

However, what is true is that salespeople are involved later in the deal. Content has replaced the salesperson in some aspects of the B2B deal cycle. B2B customers are ninjas now, stealthily investigating the company and its wares, right under your nose.

This has changed the role of salespeople, whose job used to be to develop and nurture relationships. No longer. The role of the salesperson is now to answer specific questions capably and quickly, and to close deals that became possible due to the self-serve research performed by the customer.  

Considering that the time a salesperson spends with a prospect has now been considerably shortened - this is a tall order. Fortunately, Content Intelligence technology provides a way to capture insight on your prospect as they research your company, so that you know all about them before they encounter your salespeople.

Content Intelligence will keep the B2B salesperson alive

The African-American author Walter Mosley once said: “A man's bookcase will tell you everything you'll ever need to know about him”. This is particularly pertinent in the content-rich B2B environment: if you want to understand what makes your customer tick look at the content topics which are most interesting to them.

Content consumption is a very accurate signal for what a buyer is interested in and likely what they will do next.

Content Intelligence technologies are a type of analytics that is able to infer prospects interests based on the content they have consumed. Content consumption is a very accurate signal for what a buyer is interested in and likely what they will do next. Tracking prospects interactions as they browse and engage with content means B2B organisations can see current and evolving interests, inclinations and needs — sometimes before the buyer knows themselves!

Capturing this insight puts salespeople back on the front-foot again.  It means that although buyer self-education has meant salespeople are now engaging with prospects at later and later stages, they can still capitalise on the insight revealed by the content that has now ‘replaced’ them.

So, ignore the doom-mongers that are suggested content is killing off the salesperson. On the contrary, it may just be the thing that will keep them alive.