The sales pipeline is at the core of business in general and business-to-business companies in particular… but is it getting harder to build your sales funnel than ever before?
Today, there are a huge number of communication channels available to the marketer or sales person but is prospecting, particularly in the business-to-business market, getting harder? In my view, the answer is a definite yes.
Voice technology is a gatekeeper.
Talking to a prospect directly is becoming harder and harder as voicemail systems have enabled the buyer to decide who they want to talk to, not you. Saying that, if you do find people who are able to get through and hold meaningful conversations with decision makers, as opposed to simply checking that their contact details are correct, they are really valuable people. But don’t expect that you can simply contact a recruitment agency and find one easily… it’s a business skill that is beginning to wane.
The internet is now a pre-qualification tool.
Malcolm McDonald, Professor of Marketing at Cranfield School of Management in his book, ‘On value propositions’, is clear. He states “90% of the buying cycle today is carried out by buyers before speaking to suppliers – such is the power of the internet”. He goes on… “they certainly don’t need someone to connect them with products anymore; they need honest advice about how to grow their business profitably”.
Data privacy is here to stay.
The recent European GDPR rules has definitely made business owners and marketing professionals more cagey about making ‘cold calls’. As a company, you can still make cold calls or send emails to other company contacts if you have a “legitimate interest” to do so.
But it has also had a more subtle effect. It has changed the approach of many of the content data providers (list brokers). Many are supplying far fewer personal contact details unless they are in the public domain i.e. board members. This is to ensure they stay on the right side of the GDPR guidelines. So while you can send messages, you’ll need to be more creative in finding your target contacts, by using LinkedIn more cleverly, for example.
And there is the nub. How do you give honest advice if you contacting people is becoming more challenging?
What can you do?
To me, it’s all about making sure your own marketing database is seen as a valuable asset, worthy of investment both in time and effort. Also, you need to ensure that at every potential touch point with a prospect, you are delivering a clear, consistent and compelling value proposition. These should be focusing on how you can help your customers make more money, reduce costs or risks, or obtain other less tangible benefits.
In the B2B world,
· your website
· your emails
· the LinkedIn pages of you and your staff
· your sales pitch
· your video content
· your telesales/telemarketing teams
· your customer care teams
· your sales collateral
· your exhibition stands
· your case studies
· your press releases
…in fact, everything you communicate needs to reinforce the genuine value you can offer your customer. Nobody said it would be easy… and you may even have to create different value messages for different sectors to boot!
Forrester, the internationally-recognised market research company, recently said that, since 2010, we are in the “Age of the customer”. If you truly put the customer at the centre of your business and offer them genuine value, people will still want to work with you.
As a result, is prospecting harder? Absolutely, it is. It takes a lot of effort to create compelling value propositions and then communicate your value consistently, time after time after time, across every communication channel… but if you do, you’ll succeed.