COVID-19 May Have Changed B2B Marketing Forever

A lot has changed since the world went into lockdown because of COVID-19.

With the cancellation of trade shows and corporate events, it’s not just the months of preparation that have been lost. Many B2B businesses now find themselves deprived of a major source of leads.

Some of them turned to webinars as a replacement solution. Still, according to Salesforce research, less than 0.5% of webinar leads ever convert to customers. And that was before everybody was ready to “zoom out”.

There is still a possibility, however, to turn this crisis into an opportunity to rethink the way you generate leads and, more importantly, revenue.

No leads, no sales

But where are the leads going to come from if marketing doesn’t deliver them?

This is a valid concern, but it’s the wrong question.

The goal has never been to find more leads. A lead in itself has no value. It is only when it converts into revenue that it’s actually worth something.

To be clear, you’re not just looking for another source of leads. You need a full funnel builder that provides value at every touchpoint.

The role of marketing in the sales funnel

The sales funnel is indeed quite old.

William W. Townsend coined the concept in 1924. Theoretically, buyers move sequentially through four stages. First, they become aware of a need. Then, they move from casual interest to a decision and finally they take action.

According to this model, the primary function of marketing is to provide salespeople with marketing qualified leads (MQLs) that will magically convert into sales qualified leads (SQLs), and ultimately new customers.

The limits of the sales funnel

This model may have worked when the seller was in control of the whole process.

Not anymore.

Today, buyers no longer rely on salespeople to find the information they need. They just find it by themselves on the Internet.

And their progression doesn’t necessarily follow the sales funnel’s linear pattern. But, more importantly, they engage with sellers on their own terms, usually as late as possible.

The limits of the #B2B #sales funnel Share on X

As a result, the model that positions MQLs as the responsibility of marketing and SQLs as the responsibility of sales simply no longer works.

A very persistent model

The sales funnel has been broken for years. Yet, it remains ingrained in the minds of sales and marketing teams.

Many have tried to replace it with a different model such as the sales flywheel (Brian Halligan), the lifecycle marketing model (Julia McCoy) or the continuum experience (Ardath Albee).

And yet, none of these models really ever took off. Maybe it’s because we’re quite attached to the simplicity of the sales funnel. Or we simply don’t like to change the way we work… until we’re forced to.

The challenge of reaching decision makers

COVID-19 has changed the way we live and work.

Millions of people have moved their workspaces to their homes. Telecommuting has become the new normal and it may even continue long after the pandemic eases.

Not too long ago, a key component of successful prospecting was learning how to bypass the gatekeeper. Who would have thought that it’s even harder to reach decision makers when there is no gatekeeper?

LinkedIn Sales Navigator: the new silver bullet

To adapt to this new reality, salespeople have massively embraced social selling, especially on LinkedIn.

For some, Sales Navigator is like a dream come true, because it has made contacting buyers easier than ever.

The result? Decision makers are constantly being bombarded with spam.

Unfortunately, this hard sell approach is both annoying and inefficient.

Times change; principles remain the same

You want to build a real sales pipeline? Value trust, not the number of leads.

Best way to sell something: Don’t sell anything. Earn the awareness, respect and trust of those who may buy. – Jeffrey Gitomer

Even with the best lead generation system, if you don’t earn the trust of your potential client, chances are she’ll do business elsewhere.

If people like you, they’ll listen to you, but if they trust you, they’ll do business with you. – Zig Ziglar

Bringing the human touch back to sales

There’s been a lot of focus on marketing productivity in the past few years. This has led to the massive adoption of marketing automation solutions.

But effectiveness and efficiency are two different things. There is no point doing more of something or doing it faster if it’s the wrong thing to do!

When a company sends an automatic message like “Make 2020 your best year yet” right in the middle of a pandemic (true story), it shows the disconnect with the realities of the customers it’s trying to reach.

Salespeople who reject this kind of tool in favour of a more human approach with an open, attentive and compassionate attitude will earn the trust—and therefore the business—of their sales leads.

What value-added content really means

But not trying to sell doesn’t mean not doing anything. On the contrary.

While some people use Sales Navigator to spam prospects with as many InMails as possible, others use it to be notified each time someone on their lead list shares a post or comment.

Those who understand the importance of human relationships seize this opportunity to respond intelligently and with sincerity. These interactions may lead you to share a piece of content (white paper, article, podcast, etc.) that reinforces the point your prospect is trying to make or, on the contrary, invites her to broaden her perspective.

Content provides value when you tell buyers something they don’t already know. #ContentMarketing #B2BMarketing Share on X

B2B decision makers love studies and white papers from serious sources, and surveys too. You may not even have to produce this content. Sometimes, a simple summary of a 25-page white paper is enough.

The new role of marketing: facilitator?

If trust is a prerequisite to success, then B2B marketers have to provide salespeople with a library of content resources for each specific stage of the sales funnel and target buyer persona.

This content library should ideally include both proprietary and curated content.

That way, when salespeople interact with prospects and clients, they can easily find the content they need to reinforce their credibility.

Conversely, when salespeople provide marketers with feedback directly from the field, it enables them to maintain the relevancy of the content library.

A shared responsibility

Naturally, trust can’t be an ad-hoc experience. It has to be a continuous experience.

That’s why this is not just the responsibility of sales and marketing. Every employee gets to be an ambassador, especially on social media.

Again, marketing can facilitate the process. This can take the form of an employee ambassador program that suggests content to be shared on specific themes.

Remember, the goal is to provide value at every touchpoint.

Final thoughts

“Don’t waste a good crisis,” as Sir Winston Churchill is credited with saying in this quote that has resurfaced a lot lately.

If there was ever a time to elevate the role of B2B marketers, it’s now.

Why? Because the insights gained through this crisis may give sales and marketing something they didn’t have before: the motivation to step outside of their comfort zone and change for the better.

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