Over 5 years ago, the McKinsey group blew up the traditional sales funnel. Pointing to recent innovations in social communication tools and other resource sharing assets (many of which have grown much more prominent since McKinsey wrote their report) McKinsey posed the concept of a Consumer Decision Journey which was a cycle, not a funnel, with four phases: initial consideration; active evaluation, or the process of researching potential purchases; closure, when consumers buy brands; and post-purchase, when consumers experience them.
Forward to today, and the evolution of marketing/selling product in the B2B space. B2B Buyers are exhibiting buying patterns more consistent with B2C (once again work by McKinsey). The Consumer Decision Journey has become The Buyers Journey. For high-ticket B2B sales, marketing teams use social techniques and mass marketing tools to project brand and tell the story over new media. Whether this is an appropriate use of social media is a subject for another time. Our contention is that mass marketing techniques in social media fall short of buyers expectations for community and personal interaction (after all, that’s what social media is about). Increasingly, buyers are resorting to information from peers to qualify their buying decisions.
Source: ShareThis New Consumer Study: Millennials are 2X as Likely to Purchase Products They Share About
Why is this happening? The answer can be traced back to assumptions about the use of social media in B2B sales. Outbound social marketing efforts to interact with a Buyer taper off or even end when the Buyer enters the top of the sales funnel and Marketing hands-off the marketing qualified lead to Sales. The assumption is that the Buyer will somehow change behavior when Buyer enters the Recognition phase of a traditional sales funnel (top of the funnel, call this phase what you will). In fact, at this stage of the Buyer’s Journey, Buyer has no knowledge of this change in his/her status. The Buyer will continue to reach out and be influenced by knowledgeable peers and (unfortunately) the outbound marketing efforts of competitors.
Mass marketing information will not generally satisfy the buyers need for information and validation. The buyer wants to interact with other people over social media who will serve as helpful guides for the Buyers Journey, pointing the way, providing the essentials, and warning of/preventing danger.
The Buyer needs a Sales person on social media. This is Social Selling.
Social media has been the purview of Marketing up until now. For B2B, it’s time for the emphasis to shift back to where it belongs. Further, Sales must have the tools to engage the Buyer BEFORE there is recognition of a need, when the traditional funnel starts.
We know that converting an inside sales team to this kind of approach will not be easy. How can you go to this level of tactical engagement, when your previous activity has been reading from a script? I think that many inside sales people will embrace these methods readily, and as more millennials come into the workforce, there will be a greater readiness to “sell” in this way.
B2B Marketing cannot keep a stranglehold on the social tools. It’s time to bring Sales into the fold and embrace Social Selling.