“It is now accepted that most B2B buyers prefer a seller-free experience, increasingly relying on digital interactions to research solutions, evaluate suppliers and complete a purchase,” Chief Sales Officer Leadership Vision 2023 – Gartner.

It has been obvious for some time that B2B customers are increasingly seeking information themselves, rather than involving a sales person, and contacting potential suppliers later in their customer journey. Gartner is one of the analyst companies that has highlighted this trend, and their excellent report, Chief Sales Officer Leadership Vision 2023, highlights the declining influencer of the sales person in B2B transactions.

It’s likely that the pandemic accelerated this trend. Buyers were unable to meet with their reps and this provided a gentle push for them to do more self-directed research. But this isn’t a fad that will reverse in a few years: it’s clear that many buyers feel that digital-led engagements are not only more enjoyable, but are much more efficient and effective.

What Gartner Says about Marketing and Sales

In the report, which follows on from other Gartner research showing that an increasing proportion of the customer journey is completed before a salesperson is contacted, the trend towards digital commerce is clearly described. The data show that 72% of B2B sales are transacted digitally, with 83% of B2B buyers saying that they prefer this approach. Clearly the move to digital and away from traditional rep-led sales will continue to grow.

A further challenge is cost: Gartner identifies that sales salaries are increasing. So we have the situation where vendors are having to spend more on a resource (salespeople) who are not valued highly by their customers.

Digital isn’t Perfect

Interestingly Gartner identifies a problem with digital engagement: buyers often tend to make ill-informed choices. In fact, they’re 22% more likely to regret a digital commerce than a traditional rep-led purchase. It’s clear that one of the challenges that must be overcome is the availability of more high-quality and engaging content that helps the buyer avoid making a bad choice.

The Importance of Marketing

Ultimately the digital content consumed by buyers in their journey to purchase is generated by the marketing team or product marketing. And it’s clear that the content needs an improvement in quality as well as an increase in quantity.

What this Means to Marketers

At a high level, this is good news for marketers. We are having a greater influence on the buying decisions of B2B companies than ever before, and are responsible for the engagement of potential prospects through an ever-increase proportion of the customer journey. Companies need marketers more than ever as the sales/marketing balance tips away from the sales teams.

But with this increased opportunity comes greater responsibility. Not only do we need to deliver digital content and campaigns that helps lead customers through the purchase process, we need to improve the quality and utility of our content. Our content simply isn’t good enough to ensure buyers make the right decision: the higher proportion of digital buyers regretting a purchase shows we need to do more to help them make the right decision.

Educating the customer and providing useful, actionable content has been a key element of marketing for many years. But clearly marketers need to do better: the content isn’t always good enough! Understanding customers, their pain points, needs and drivers is critical to being able to produce the type of content that will not only secure the first purchase, but get customers coming back for more because they made the right decision.

There are approaches that can help. The frameworks provided by persona definition and customer journey analysis should be key elements of any good campaign today, and if used properly will enable you to deliver more useful content. At Napier we go one step further: you will often catch us talking to sales teams to gain more insight into the sales process.

Understanding how the rep-led sales process works are fundamental if you are to respond to the move to digital-led engagements. Because of the personal interaction, sales people get immediate and constant feedback from customers on how well they are doing. This makes the sales team’s knowledge invaluable to any modern marketer.

The Future of Marketing

As we look to the future, it’s clear the trend away from rep-led sales towards self-serve digital will continue to grow. Companies that succeed will be those that invest more in marketing and content generation, so they can hold the virtual hands of their customers and prospects, leading them to make the right choice.

We will also see sales and marketing come even closer together. We’re not predicting the end of the sales person, but smart companies will ensure that sales and marketing cooperate more, building a digital customer journey that is as effective as the best rep-led sales process. In addition to helping to build better self-serve journeys, there will always be a need for some human-to-human contact in many sales, particularly very high value or high perceived risk products and services. Sales people are not going to disappear, although it wouldn’t be surprising if some decide that a move into marketing would help their career!

We’d strongly recommend you download and read the Gartner research. The data presented paints a compelling picture of how buyers are operating in the B2B sector, and show that you need to ensure marketing steps up to the bigger role it is now playing.