It Is Time to Rethink (and Redo) B2B Marketing and Sales

It Is Time to Rethink (and Redo) B2B Marketing and Sales

Many organizations are suffering from a fundamental misalignment between how they market and sell and how buyers buy or would prefer to buy. The underlying problem is that most B2B marketing and sales teams operate in a siloed, linear manner.

First, marketing engages prospective customers early in their purchase journey and qualifies their readiness for sales engagement through content nurturing. In practice, once those leads have been designated “marketing qualified leads”, individual sales reps and supporting pre-sales consultants take over, pursuing those leads and giving way to in-person or increasingly virtual interactions.

We do not oftentimes challenge this dynamic that, to some extent, ignores the fact that B2B buying has evolved to a far more digital-first, multi-channel buying behavior.

Multi-channel Buying in Practice

Today’s B2B buyers rely significantly on digital channels, information, and insights to enable progress through their entire buying journey. Particularly the supplier’s own website and the relevance and value of the information and insights presented there play a pivotal role. In fact, they play an equally important role as the supplier’s sales reps for the buyer to gather the information needed to complete critical buying tasks, such as problem identification, solution exploration, requirements formulation, and partner selection. This, in turn, has resulted in a shrinking window of direct interaction with prospects, and it is increasingly challenging many sales leaders and sales reps today.

Given these developments, why do we so often end up hiring more field sales reps as a response to pursuing our growth objectives instead of approaching this more holistically and enabling optimizing the whole buying journey through well-thought out multi-channel marketing AND sales. One of the most frequently heard arguments is that “our customers cannot buy complex solutions without sales rep and pre-sales consultant involvement”. To a certain degree, that is a valid point, but it does not mean that those customers would not prefer to do so if it were possible or more feasible. In addition, this kind of persistent thinking can result in a situation where a more digitally savvy competitor or disruptor finds the way to bridge the “interaction gap” between suppliers and customers.

What You Can Do, What You Should Do

Identify and accept the new buying reality.
Your primary job is to help your customers’ buyers and lower the threshold for buying. This is both an information challenge and a sales challenge – or an information opportunity and a sales opportunity. This is about providing your customers and prospects with the information and insights they most urgently need and seek through the channels they most clearly prefer. Given the fact that much of this information is available online, sales reps are no longer the channel to your customers. They are simply one of the many channels. Customers may seek sales rep and pre-sales consultant input early in the process to explore solutions and alternatives, but they may return to digital after this to further build their requirements, rendering the siloed, linear approach to marketing and sales almost irrelevant.

Identify your customers’ buying journeys and their most common buying tasks.
This is a key step to avoid traditional marketing and sales silos where almost everything is mapped to internal processes and based on an inside-out view. Instead, your insight into your customers’ buying journeys, complex solution purchases, and their most critical buying tasks help you build back from a careful mapping of these journeys.

Align your marketing and sales with how your customers buy or would prefer to buy.
We are seeing an increasing number of organizations establishing and reorganizing their legacy marketing, sales, and service organizations to specifically support each and every critical buying task from learning and discovery to purchase, adoption, and support. These moves also aim for consolidating otherwise duplicative efforts across traditional functional silos and realigning their legacy commercial operations and its related processes with the new, brave world of B2B buying.


How to boost internationalisation with an agile sales strategy

How to boost internationalisation with an agile sales strategy

Successful sales strategies for internationalisation are built on agility and continuous learning

Pandemic. War. Unpredictability and uncertainty. Does this mean long-term planning ends up being wasted effort?

If we mean stable and detailed elephantine long-term plans telling people exactly what to do, then the answer is a clear yes. When we talk about having long-term goals and a vision as the ultimate destination, then no. Strategies that are agile, adaptive, responsive, as well as action-oriented, are very much needed to align all your ongoing efforts with the big picture.

An agile sales strategy is the foundation of internationalisation, especially when you invest in new and unfamiliar markets. An agile sales strategy is your guiding star at the crossroads to success. An agile sales strategy enables your operational plans to address emerging needs.

Agile sales strategy for internationalisation is for makers and doers

Who will benefit from creating agile international sales strategies? Based on Intolead’s experience and expertise, companies that are considering entering culturally different markets. People who are makers and doers, people who believe in hands-on approach and learning by doing.

Intolead recently worked with Mesh Work Wireless on creating their agile sales strategy for a new market. Based on the vision created, an Objectives and Key Results (OKR) focused actionable plan was created during four sessions taking place within a month. The key goals for the agile sales strategy in this case were:

  • Help local customers understand the offering
  • Minimize misunderstandings along the sales process
  • Shorter sales cycle
Ingredients for a successful sales strategy for internationalisation

The ultimate goal of your sales strategy should be progress-making action as quickly as possible. Action should always override perfection. The focus should be on market needs, not on product features.

An ideal sales strategy partner not only knows the target market but also accelerates your sales efforts. Your sales strategy evolves based on actions with potential customers. Your sales culture, sales processes and platforms will resonate with the needs of the new market you are about to conquer.

A culture of continuous learning is a management issue

A culture of continuous learning is a management issue

How do you ensure that continuous learning is not just a rallying cry and doesn’t end up as a desk project?

Do any of the following sound familiar:

Continuous learning would be important, but it’s not right for us because of X and Y.

I think there’s a project going on in HR right now.

We have all sorts of training courses for employees.

If that rings a bell, you’re not alone. On the other hand, if you’re the leader of a growth-oriented, success-hungry organization, you’re starting to be a rarity. Competition for top talent is fierce, and a top salary and lots of little goodies often isn’t enough anymore. Being systematic in developing skills is something that many top performers value.

Contrary to popular belief, a culture of continuous learning is possible for all organisations. It is not always quick or easy. A thriving culture of continuous learning requires three basic things:

  1. Management commitment
  2. Systematisation
  3. A growth mindset 
Management commitment through action

Leadership by example and leadership in action is key to developing a culture of continuous learning. If management does not get behind a culture of continuous learning, it becomes a pushing and shoving game. If developing the culture of continuous learning is outsourced to HR or remains a separate project, the likelihood of success is low.

Changing the culture is not just a matter of direction. Pious hopes and declarations will not work if practice slaps you in the face.

 Tip: Enter with an open and curious mind.

A long-term systematic approach

A culture of continuous learning is more likely to succeed when linked to the organisation’s strategy and objectives. Key questions to consider include:

  • What skills are needed?
  • How to acquire the necessary competences?
  • How to make continuous learning systematic?

Developing a culture is a long-term effort. Creating principles, visions, and strategies is still relatively easy. Quite often, existing organisational structures are geared to short-term efficiency, which is not usually conducive to, for example, on-the-job learning or knowledge sharing.

Tip: Structures, processes and incentives are also likely to need changing.

Focus on a growth mindset

Simply hoping that people will behave in the way you want is not enough. For some, a growth mindset is more natural than for others, and for some it is easier to adopt than for others. But it is something that everyone can develop.

A growth mindset leads to a desire to learn and thus a tendency to face challenges, not to be discouraged by setbacks, to see effort as a prerequisite for progress, to learn from criticism and to be inspired by the success of others.

Tip: A growth mindset requires psychological safety.

Leading change is about choices and everyday actions. What choices are you making for a culture of continuous learning?

What it really means to leverage insights to navigate the exponential change

What it really means to leverage insights to navigate the exponential change

Much has been written about the use of customer and market insights instead of simply generating them. Leading brands typically excel at understanding their customers and markets for developing strategies for sustainable growth, creating superior customer experiences, driving continuous innovation, and increasing the efficiency and impact of their marketing and sales activities.

They see insights as generating the fact base that will enable them, for example, to optimize their offering portfolio, inform their innovation programs, focus their marketing and sales programs, or setting the right prices. Insights reveal what your customers value, to what extent your company delivers it, how customer and market requirements evolve, and which tactics you can deploy to improve your performance relative to your competition.

Based on our consulting engagements and the impact analysis of our work, we dare to say that organizations leveraging customer and market insights typically outperform their peers in two key areas: sales growth and gross margin. Two of the key questions that we often get in this context relate to the key success factors for excelling at this and understanding the relationship between strategy, insights, and competences. So, here are our selected thoughts on the topics.


Insight engines are ingrained in today’s business strategy and stakeholder experiences

The insight engine drives an evidence- and facts-based understanding of your customers’ needs or motivations and – more broadly – of the drivers, trends, and directions of your business environment. It powers business decisions and strategy. It also informs your marketing decisions and activities and sales processes. In summary, the key capability of the insight engine is to produce all the data required for business strategy and for powering more proactive, efficient, and predictive marketing, sales, and customer service.

Treating the insight engine as a pure technical set of capabilities results in an inevitable failure. Above all, it should be seen as a strategic capability including a number of well-known core competencies that can be divided into data, operational, and people competences. Most of these competencies are related to business acumen, organizational culture (building a data-driven culture as part of this), and ways of working that in today’s business can represent a pivotal foundation for competitive differentiation.

In summary, you need to understand what customers really want, what they are likely to want in the future, to what extent they are getting it from your company today, and how you can keep them coming back for more.


The insight engine is powered by competencies 

Competencies represent a pivotal set of building blocks when it comes to bridging the gap between data and strategy, i.e., turning raw data into evidence- and facts-based business decisions. More specifically, these are the most critical core competencies required in insight today:

  • Data competencies. This is about the ability to extract value from disparate data sources by generating a single-market, single-customer view that is shared and used across your entire business. Data aggregation, data enrichment, data synthesis, and data activation are the key concepts here.
  • Operational competencies. Increasingly, this is about a relentless focus on imagining the future and the idea of experimentation. The forward-looking orientation focuses on anticipating and testing future opportunities. Experimentation leverages a test-and-learn approach to identify new business opportunities, inform decisions, and optimize your processes.
  • People competencies. This is oftentimes the most diverse and challenging set of competencies. For example, business acumen and business literacy are critical foundational competences in a sense that customer and market understanding are of very limited value to the business, if it does not inform a business decision. The power of story telling should not be underestimated either, as it is related to the ability to communicate insights in a usable, meaningful, and engaging manner.

In summary, leveraging insights is a holistic game. It is about the ability to integrate data, make insights-led decision recommendations, run and scale experiments, and communicate to the business (through the power of story telling). There is oftentimes a big gap between aspiration and reality. Bridging this gap is, of course, completely doable and very critical, as it takes the right strategy and insights to navigate the exponential change we face in our world today.

Dare you try? Based on our experience, we dare say that creating a corporate-level or business unit-specific strategic plan or a marketing and sales playbook that is relevant, insights-driven, and forward-looking and that also considers the concrete competencies and other relevant “enablers” required for its successful roll-out and execution will show up in your top-line and bottom-line growth.


Growth through digital learning

Growth through digital learning

With the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, numerous organizations and managers are understandably in a crisis mood. There is a risk that survival will take over and learning and skills development projects that are vital to future success will fade to the background to wait for better times. Now, if ever, it is important to invest in competence development, and digital learning provides an impressive pathway for this.

Over the past year, we have learned to hold effective meetings, do sales work and maintain customer relationships online. Digital tools enable flexible remote work and interaction conveniently.

Online training has for a long time been a part of the available range of learning tools, and the pandemic crisis has created a digital leap in both educational institutions and companies. Unfortunately, however, online training is often reduced to a mere sharing of documents and presentations or talking head videos on the learning platform.

Effective e-learning is a carefully thought-out entity that includes for instance the following:

  1. Learning objectives have been thought out and set for the training and form the basis on which both the content and the related tasks are planned.
  2. The objectives are measurable, so at the end of the training it is possible to assess how well the learning objectives were achieved.
  3. The entity is consistent, appropriately paced and progresses logically.
  4. The broader entity is divided into modules and into sections according to the themes to be learned. Entities that are too long and heavy will not promote learning.
  5. The content is designed in a user-oriented way and the entity contains various elements and interactive tasks that activate the learners and support learning.
  6. The training includes social elements where users can share what they have learned, give tips and discuss the topics.
  7. The training provides analytical information that can be used to monitor learning and develop the content further.

Learning forms the basis not only for overcoming a crisis but also for future success and growth – both at the organizational and individual level. In these times, promoting digital learning is more important than ever. However, organizing digital learning in companies requires special skills, technologies and resources.

To help you and your company to get started, Intolead has implemented a visual guide in the form of an online course on the building blocks of effective online training. If you are considering how digital learning should be integrated into your company’s strategy, or if you are preparing an online training or a related call for tenders, this guide is for you.

After completing the online course, you will understand what the learning objectives are, what makes up effective online training, what benefits online training can bring to your training strategy, and what things to consider when preparing a call for tenders for digital learning.


Digital sales is the new normal

Digital sales is the new normal

The year 2020 changed the way we work. Sales did not escape change either, and face-to-face customer meetings were replaced by digital and remote sales. It is very likely that some of the changes will remain permanent. This in turn means that salespeople need to develop their own skills as required by the new normal in sales.

One likely development is the proliferation of hybrid sales models. Sales meetings that focus purely on informing the customer will continue to be based on online meetings. At the same time, customers expect even more value added and expertise from salespeople to develop the customer’s business. Salespeople need to be able to act as coaches, to facilitate workshops and to build customer value together with the customer. The importance of new interaction skills as part of a salesperson’s job description rises to a new level.

Competitive advantage from understanding the customer and the market

The new normal in sales requires even better preparation for appointments. One good way to support this is to introduce tools for accumulating and refining customer and market understanding. One such tool is the Insight Architecture model, which enables the salesperson to systematize the processing of information about customers, markets and competitors, for instance to build distinctive sales messages. The model also helps to better understand the customer’s business and provides a good foundation for building meaningful appointments. This skill is expected even more from the salespeople in the future – regardless of whether the meeting is arranged online or face-to-face.

The importance of internet is emphasized

The year 2020 significantly accelerated the digital transition in sales. In sales the digital shift can be seen in two different ways. First, companies and organizations must now, at the latest, invest in their own digital channels. Customers are searching for more and more information independently online, and this automates some of the steps in the sales process. Businesses need to be able to produce relevant and engaging content for the customers. This supports the customer’s buying process and accelerates sales.

Second, the digital shift affects the salespeople’s work such that they must be able to influence customers’ purchasing decisions and choices also on digital channels. Social selling capabilities, for instance in terms of influencing their own network, are emphasized. In addition, salespeople need to be able to better master digital facilitation and consultative sales skills. Naturally, the salesperson’s own digital profile must also be in order and support company-level sales and marketing messages.

The basics in sales are the same as before

Despite the change in sales and the growing role of the internet, the basics of sales are still the same as before. The salesperson’s key professional skills include building trust with the customer. This is best done by preparing well for sales appointments, listening and understanding the customer, being proactive, and showing your own personality to win the customer’s trust.

Check out this brief nano-training, and you will get more practical tips for your sales work.