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Traditionally, the B2B customer acquisition process has been perceived as a two-dimensional, linear workflow. The mad scientists in product development cook up a brand new iteration of the solution in their dark laboratory; Product Marketing launches a revolutionary messaging campaign in the newest, coolest medium; Field Marketing runs ads, events, and promotions to develop a pile of net-new leads; and then the sales team … closes deals the same old way they always have -- as if the proper order of things dictates that all content-based creativity and flexibility ceases to exist once white-hot leads are passed to Sales. If, however, enterprise sales reps are only expected to perform repetitious, uncreative, end-of-cycle tasks, why do we pay them so much?

The inherent problem with this model is obvious to all of us who have carried a bag, but less so to the "celebrity CMO" who rides their white horse into town to fix things, but doesn't spend enough time interacting with real prospects or customers to truly understand whether their content is resonating where it counts. In reality, B2B sales leads are becoming an anachronism.

We’re all familiar with the theme of the “hidden sales cycle” or “buyer’s journey,” in which the need to customize a sales conversation is enhanced by the fact that buyers are able to conduct so much homework before engaging with a live rep. Indeed, the leading sales strategy adopted by 52% of end-users in Aberdeen's Sales Enablement research is to "improve positioning/differentiation in messaging and sales presentations to tell a better, unique story." Sales is rapidly becoming a buyer’s market.

Yesterday, sellers held the power over their buyers, whose knowledge of products and prices was limited to which commissioned individuals most effectively got through their front door. Today, buyers leverage user-generated content and the infinite resources of the web to make all or most of their decisions prior to receiving the sales pitch.

One could argue that the sales pitch itself is dead and buried. Even in the ultimate sales environment -- a car dealership -- most of us now walk in expecting nothing more from the rep than the processing of paperwork. We know all the options, prices, and angles before we meet the salesperson.

This allows me to usher in the concept of contemporary sales professionals as micro-marketers. If our face time with buyers is going to be constricted and pushed farther down their path of discovery, it is absolutely essential that conversations not consist of us blabbing about product features, advantages, and benefits. Rather, they should be all about the needs, hopes, and aspirations of our buyer.

Contemporary sales reps thus need to be supported with sales enablement platforms and practices that allow them to hold more intimate, one-to-one interactions in which they are proactively empowered to select, adapt, and deploy pre-positioned content, assets, and messaging as they see fit on the real-time battlefield of professional selling.

In Aberdeen's research, these assertions are proven true:

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Best-in-class companies (the top 20% of all survey respondents) are 59% more likely than underperformers to understand that when it comes to content, one size does not fit all. Situation-specific asset libraries enable front-line sellers to be more than just signature monkeys, and empower them to think on their feet as micro-marketers.

Fifty-six percent of top performers also enable sellers with cloud-based access to marketing content, while laggards clock in at only 32%. We'll discuss sales mobility further in the final blog of this series; suffice it to say that if you’re not empowering an "anywhere, any time, any OS, any device" field sales environment, you need to make some immediate and substantial changes in how you support your salespeople.

Furthermore, underperformers are one-half as likely as the best-in-class to provide marketers with a clear line of sight into content utilization and consumption. I admit freely that the “mad scientist” and “celebrity CMO” references above barely disguise my personal disdain for big-picture marketing professionals who still believe if a message is pretty enough, buyers will come. Fortunately, most contemporary marketers now understand that their job security hinges on results, not activities. Indeed, best-in-class companies improve their year-over-year “percent of sales forecast contributed by marketing" by 8.0%, compared with 1.6% among industry average companies and an awful decline of 5.3% among laggard firms.

Understanding which of your campaigns, messages, and assets are being used -- and which are actually working -- is a must for any modern-day marketer.

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Originally published Mar 31, 2015 7:00:00 AM, updated February 01 2017

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Sales Statistics