Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Will New Marketing Automation Tools Let Sales Climb Back Up The Funnel?

Trends are signposts to the future: they point to where we’re headed. But the signposts are unreliable because trends are often interrupted – the classic example being the “Great Horse Manure Crisis of 1894”, when experts predicted that major cities would soon be buried beneath horse droppings. I’m beginning to suspect the much-cited trend of marketing playing a larger role deeper into the sales funnel has reached a similar peak. If the pendulum is really swinging the other way, then sales people will be taking a more active role earlier in the buying process.

This particular thought emerged quite unexpectedly during a vendor briefing yesterday. The talk had turned to the industry in general and I was ticking through my usual list of trends – external data, predictive modeling, sales enablement, advanced attribution, adtech and martech integration, local/partner marketing systems, all-in-one systems, content creation support, and of course customer data platforms. But I also had in mind another system I had just seen, MDCDOT, which gives marketing automation functions to sales people. For some reason, I suddenly saw a connection of this to external data: if vendors like NetProspex and InsideView could provide sales people with prospects and vendors like MDC provide tools to nurture those prospects, then sales people really don’t need marketing to do either of those things. Sales could then push marketing back to its traditional narrow role of generating promotional materials and doing research. That's pendulum swinging with a vengeance.

Once an idea like that pops up, supporting arguments quickly fall into place.  Integration of advertising with marketing technology potentially gives sales people another route for generating their own prospects. Advanced data enhancement and lead scoring make it easier for sales people to automate lead nurture processes without becoming marketing automation experts. All-in-one systems and customer data platforms both unify marketing and CRM technologies, making it easier to shift boundaries between marketing and sales responsibilities.  Those shifts could be permanent or vary dynamically based on fluctuations in needs, resources, and individual interests. Sales enablement tools like Velocify and Clari help salespeople pick the right treatment for each prospect, which can include sending them to automated campaigns.

In short, the conditions may be ripe for a counter-revolution: a sort of Terminator 2-style conversion where some machines defend the humans instead of trying to replace them. It even dawns on me that having marketers restrict their focus to content creation has some advantages, given how much more content is needed these days.

Let me be clear: this is a shiny new idea which could quickly lose its luster. It only applies in B2B and considered-purchase B2C relationships where actual salespeople are involved in the buying process. And it may be that most salespeople are happy to let marketers handle the lead generation and nurturing, which they never enjoyed in the first place. Or perhaps corporate management will decide it’s more effective and safer for marketing to handle those tasks, regardless of what sales people want.

On the other hand, sales departments are usually much larger, more powerful, and better funded than marketing departments, so it could be in the marketing automation vendors’ interest to serve sales people directly. This leads to the long-expected assimilation of marketing automation into CRM, a trend that has never quite happened but might finally take place.

Or maybe the future is really about machines selling to other machines, and the whole distinction between sales and marketing will no longer matter. Only time will tell. In the meantime, bear in mind that you never know whether a signpost is correct until you’ve passed it.*
*I don’t know what that means, either, but it sounds pretty deep, don’t you think? I can definitely see the motivational poster.


Unknown said...

Wait, so you're saying that HubSpot's decision to build tools for sales people might not have been totally crazy? Great to hear! :)

David Raab said...

I'm talking about letting sales people do their own marketing automation, not letting them do CRM within marketing automation. Not the same thing, although I guess you could argue it's a continuum. Your integration with DiscoverOrg may fit the mold.

John Steinert said...

Aren't the tasks of marketing and selling fundamentally different? Isn't Sales about closing the deal and marketing about connecting customer needs to appropriate solutions? Isn't Sales about 1:1 relationships and Marketing about content and scalability? While I can agree that technology can enable sellers more, I don't think that identifying opportunities efficiently and closing them effectively are the same thing. I don't think Sales wants to suboptimize by taking on Marketing tasks. Thoughts?

David Raab said...

Hi John. I agree that identifying common customer needs and defining solutions (e.g. as part of product design) is a marketing task. But identifying the needs of individual prospects and linking them to the company's existing solutions (products) is a core sales activity. Today, marketing often gets involved in that prospect-specific type of contact because prospects avoid interacting with salespeople. That's what might change if sales had the same tools available to that sort of 1:1 interaction in an automated fashion. Marketing would and should still create standard content and contact sequences, but Sales would have more control over when these are used. It might be suboptimal in fact but I suspect that many Sales people believe they'd do it better. And given the right tools, such as better data and predictive models, they might at least do it as well.

Unknown said...

David: Thanks for the post but respectfully must say that I believe the entire premise of this post is flawed as it is missing the key character in the B2B story . . . THE BUYER. As we all know, the B2B buying path has changed significantly and both marketing and sales are still playing catch-up in terms of adapting their skill sets to the new Buyer 2.0 world.

If the response to this, as you suggest with your shiny new idea, will be to just take automation and place it in the hands of sales what will come of the need for a buyer aligned strategy? Is the strategy you are suggesting that organizations get their data from NetProspex or InsideView? While these vendors supply good data, I hardly think you could call them qualified leads and run the potential of putting the buyers back into being assaulted and spammed to oblivion.

While I am a fan of a good provocative blog post every once in awhile I think the idea of sales "pushing marketing back into their narrow role" would be to the detriment of organizations and more importantly a detriment to B2B buyers.

David Raab said...

Hi Carlos -- Thanks for your thoughtful comment. It's not self-evidence to me that marketers will do a better job at "buyer aligned strategy" than marketers. In fact, one could argue that the personal, authentic, individually-tailored interactions that marketers strive to achieve with marketing automation is what salespeople do as a matter of course. Whether they could use marketing automation to do it at scale is a different matter, but I think there's a case to be made that they could because they would at least start with individuals.

But you actually lead me to another thought, which is whether these two approaches (marketing-led vs. sales-led) might be related to use of lead scoring (which keeps leads within marketing until they are 'sales ready') vs. tele-qualification (which makes an initial sales contact immediately after a lead is identified). We all know that use of lead scoring has remainded frustratingly low among marketing automation clients (although your firm are exceptions), whereas I think use of tele-qualification has grown tremendously. Might that not be an indication of sales departments taking back some control over the initial stages of the lead life cycle?

Unknown said...

Thanks for the response David and do not think this is matter of sales taking over with something like tele-qualification. I think this is what many buyers dread - fill out a form and get a phone call. When I fill out a form, I am not necessarily a lead, I am someone who gave you my name and may not need and most likely will not desire a phone call.

I think the blog itself shows a line of thinking that marketing is incapable and therefore sales should do it (forgive if I am putting words in your mouth), but as I stated, both marketing and sales are in desperate need of skills training in order to adapt in the modern Buyer 2.0 world and simply shifting responsibility from one group (Marketing) to another (Sales) based on tradition will not get us any closer to a solution.

David Raab said...

My goodness Carlos -- the last thing I'd suggest is that marketing is incapable. I'm a marketer myself. And I do think marketing would do a better job, but suspect that a salesperson might disagree. In fact, as you say, both groups are struggling to adapt to the new world. The point of my post was that there's a certain tension between marketing and sales over who does what, and I suspect that after a period of shrinkage, sales might now be taking a larger role.

Anonymous said...

In today's modern buyer environment, Sales is actually more about opening than closing. The modern buyer is digitally driven, socially connected, mobile, and empowered with almost unlimited access to information and people (their peers). They're self educating and validating BEFORE engaging with Sales b/c they don't want to be SOLD to or CLOSED; they want to be served and helped. So, I actually think Sales needs to learn more about Marketing, Marketing needs to learn more about Sales, and everyone needs to learn more about the CUSTOMER.