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Has selling got harder lately?

Lead generation

By David Battson 5 min read

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Being at the front line for our clients affords us a privileged view of what’s going on right now in the world of B2B sales & marketing.

And from where we’re standing, sales reps are having to work way harder to find new leads and win large clients. And marketers are struggling with more complexity for lesser results.

When you can understand why this is happening, it becomes easier to tackle.

Here’s our take on the factors driving the squeeze:

  1. You have less access to buyers. The days of meeting a client or prospect in the office are fading away and it’s becoming difficult to even schedule face to face meetings with customers who are working from home.
  2. B2B buyers prefer to engage through digital and self-service channels. This is not opinion, it is fact. By the end of 2023, the total number of B2B digital commerce transactions is expected to overtake the total number of B2B direct sales transactions. And by 2025, Gartner predicts that 80% of B2B sales interactions will occur in digital channels.*
  3. There is a generational change in preferences that is only going one way. 43% of Gen X’ers prefer a rep-free experience. It’s 54% for millennials. So if they don’t want to see you then what role is there for the sales rep?
  4. The explosion of the internet and social media has made us all more connected in our everyday lives. Buyers are looking for a human B2C style experience in their work world too, but most sales reps they come across (and their leaders) have no idea how to deliver this.
  5. The internet is now so bloody good that the buyer simply doesn’t need the sales rep for as much of their research process. So how do you create influence in this new world?
  6. Each buyer uses a variety of communication channels to suit their personal preference these days. Sellers have to be like well-informed chameleons. Of course there is tech to track this stuff and give you lead information, but the seller can spend half their day having to piece the story together across multiple different systems and still be left with gaps. And good tracking tech is often only affordable (or manageable) by larger organisations.
  7. Well qualified leads are harder to come by and marketers find themselves forced to pass less qualified interactions on to sales. Let’s face it, how often are sales reps asked to follow up ”expressions of interest” which turns out to be just clicks that the prospect doesn’t even remember making.
  8. Understandably vendors don’t advertise this, but much of today’s marketing tech is better suited to your customer database than to developing prospects from stone cold data. You think you’re buying ‘a solution’ for lead generation but each action you take drives a small and silent erosion of performance which when combined, affects the results of your campaign causing you to incorrectly wonder if it’s something else at fault. It could be that the dataset was not purpose built for B2B marketing, that the data selection was made only on flat firmographics (things like simple job title and geography) rather than the attributes of your best client, or that consideration wasn’t made to protect the IP address for cold prospecting so you lose deliverability. Each of these factors (and others) can chip away at your numbers squeezing the results of your campaign.

What can you do when it feels like everything is changing at once?

So the tech is complex, the channels aren’t joined up, the buyer preferences are undergoing a seismic shift change, and you’ve got to be a technical genius to keep up with all the changes in the digital marketing world. It’s no wonder that new business can feel like an uphill struggle these days.

Six things you can do today

  1. Getting access to the buyer is hard now so don’t mess it up with clumsy communication when you do make contact. Find ways to intelligently co-ordinate and integrate as many prospects points of interaction as you can. If your lead generation activity consists of separate campaigns or isolated email blasts then there’s a big opportunity for you here. It can be relatively straight forward to do and doesn’t take a big marketing team to manage.
  2. Choose a system that learns about your buyer preferences automatically. It’s impossible to keep up without some kind of automation. You will need a tool that understands what time of day they prefer to communicate, what channel they like, the images that make them stop and pause, and which content resonates with them. Only when you get this right, will you start on your journey of keeping up with buyer preferences.
  3. Revisit the way you communicate your messages to see whether you are truly connecting with people in a human capacity. Remember that the world of B2C is blurring with B2B and over formality may be putting a barrier between you and your future prospect. Social media has changed the way we all connect and communicate.
  4. Can you investigate other channels to increase your sphere of influence during your buyer’s research phase (when they currently don’t need you) and if so, do your team need training on how to operate in those new channels. For example, during the pandemic many businesses turned their focus to LinkedIn but without coaching this can have very mixed results.
  5. Remember that there are now more people in the decision-making group than ever before. If you have only 1 or 2 contacts on your database per organisation then you will be missing huge opportunities to create influence before buying decisions are even formalised.
  6. Put more love into crafting your prospect list. These days there are databases built specifically for B2B marketers, you can buy prospect lists that are matched to the attributes of your best clients, and you can access rich data on your Total Addressable Market before you assign sales territories. This is relatively cheap to do, so accessible to all sized businesses.

And something for the future?

Gartner believes that by 2025, 50% of all enterprise B2B sales technology implementations will include Digital Sales Rooms. These will be immersive digital sales environments with augmented reality, VR for sales and emotion AI.

*Source: Gartner 2022 Strategic Roadmap for B2B Digital Selling

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