Why it’s Critical for Marketing and Sales to Align on Shifting Buyer Behavior | Episode 48

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Traditional sales processes that work a cold lead through a buyer journey defined by a HR tech businesses is fading fast. Prospects want to self-educate and be in control of their buying process and timeline. However, that doesn’t diminish the importance of the sales role and closing deals. But how and when you engage with buyers is a whole new ballgame.

Collaboration and regular communication with sales on how demand generation marketing meets buyers on their timeline is key. Find out how to work with your sales team to identify opportunities to engage—near the end of the journey. Listen to this episode to hear about why creating synergies between marketing and sales can help you win more deals and build critical rapport.

01:02   The changing buyer landscape means marketing plays a bigger role in the purchase decision
01:17   Helping your sales team shift how and when they engage with buyers
02:51   How marketing can help support self-service buying behaviors
04:20   Why good content is so important
06:09   HR tech buyers are engaging with a sales rep much later in the decision process
13:36   How to build trust and connect with prospects
16:49   Creating a sales process that offers a better experience for HR tech prospects
18:03   Why sales and marketing alignment is critical in meeting prospects in a self-service journey
25:13   Help the sales team better understand how to effectively use marketing content

(00:00:01) Hey, everybody, it’s Jenni from GrowthMode Marketing. You’re listening to Demand Gen Fix, the podcast where our team of GrowthModers and our guests discuss the ins and outs of demand generation, and why we believe it’s the key to long term sustainable growth, especially in the HR tech industry.

(00:00:20) Hi, Deanna and Greg, and we are back for another episode of the Demand Gen Fix podcast. Welcome to our listeners. So, today we’re going to talk about creating better handoffs between marketing and sales to win more deals. I think the way today’s HR tech and B2B software prospects make purchase decisions has definitely evolved, and that’s requiring marketing to take an even more prominent role in the sales process, but that doesn’t mean that the sales team should just be sitting back, waiting for the inbound leads to roll in with the expectation that the deals will close themselves. I think it’s important to create synergies between marketing and sales to work together to win more deals.

(00:01:02) Which probably starts out by talking about the way that today’s prospects want to buy, because things have changed, right? The buyer landscape is different over the past few years.

(00:01:11) What are the most challenging issues sales teams are experiencing and trying to move deals forward now?

(00:01:17) The buyer landscape has changed in the past few years, and I don’t think every organization has realized this yet because they haven’t evolved their marketing, but what we’re seeing, and this was really exacerbated by Covid, suddenly people weren’t in offices. It was impossible for sales reps to get ahold of people because they didn’t have their personal cell phone numbers, right, and they couldn’t mail them stuff. They didn’t know where they were sitting. And so, there was this much more hands-off approach to buying in 2020 that stuck, and what has happened, if you think about Covid, all of a sudden we had all these things. We didn’t have to leave our house to do anything right, and it’s the same when you’re a buyer in the B2B space. I don’t have to have conversations with the sales rep to get the information I need, right? And so, when we say the buyer landscape has changed in the last few years, it’s really the way that buyers are behaving.

(00:02:12) We say this all the time on the podcast, if you look at statistics out there, people are making up to 80% of that purchase decision before they engage with the sales rep, and 75% of them don’t want to talk to a sales rep at all during the purchase process. So, they’re doing everything they can to get as much information up front and self educate so that they can decide when they’re ready to have that conversation with the sales rep, and raise their hand and say, okay, let’s talk now. And they don’t have to spend as much time talking to salespeople to try to get to the information they need to make that decision.

(00:02:51) They’re actively trying not to have conversations, right? They’re doing all their homework, and they’re doing that on their own schedule. It’s not on the seller’s schedule, it’s on their schedule, and they get all the information they can before they call.

(00:03:04) I think what it comes down to is prospects are pushing back on sales because they want to be in control of their buying process, not forced through the vendor sales process.

(00:03:15) And there’s a little bit of, I think, head butting there because for years, as technology companies in the HR tech space and beyond, in the broader SaaS space, there’s been a whole sales process, right? You have to have a discovery call. You have to have a demo call. You have to have a proposal call. There were steps that were intentionally pulling the prospect through, and the prospects are pushing back now and saying, no, I don’t want to do your process. I want you to fit into my process. I want to invite you into my buying decision on my timeline.

(00:03:49) Yeah. Like I said, they’re actively trying not to talk to you, which just makes it such a challenge if you’re in sales to try and engage with them because they’re specifically trying not to.

(00:03:59) I think that begs the question, okay, so how is marketing more involved in the buying process today because clearly, if people are making up to 80% of that purchase decision before they’re willing to engage with the sales rep, and they’re doing all this self research, marketing is playing a much bigger role in that decision than it ever has in the past.

(00:04:20) And if you don’t have really great and robust content out there for them to dig into, you are doing a disservice to your organization because if they can’t find it, they may not end up talking to you. Because if you’re making up to 80% of the shortlist, I gotta believe 80% decision, you’re making your shortlist, right? And if you can’t find information on one company, it’s like, yeah, I’m looking at the other one, especially in the HR tech industry because we know it’s crazy crowded. There’s a lot of competition. So, it’s not like they’re not going to find anyone else like us. They’re gonna have to talk to us. Now, actually, let’s say you’re in onboarding software. There’s a lot of options out there, and if you don’t have the information, some of the other vendors will, and will be easier for them to research and avoid part of that sales process that they don’t want to be involved with, right?

(00:05:12) And then you’re not on the shortlist. If you don’t have your content out there, and you don’t pretty much freely give away things, right, to help them to learn who you are and learn what you’re all about, like Deanna said, they’re just going to go to the next one.

(00:05:24) When it comes to the short list, here’s the reality. Who doesn’t want to be on the shortlist, right? Because if you’re on the shortlist, maybe they’ve picked 3 to 4 vendors, so you have, what, a 1 in 3 chance of getting selected? Maybe a 1 in 4 chance? If you’re not on that shortlist and you come into the picture then and you’re trying to sell them at that point, I think the odds are much worse than 1 in 3, or 1 in 4. And I personally, as a business, I’d rather be in the 1 to 3 to 1 to 4 chance of getting selected than coming in at the last minute when they’ve already narrowed it down to others and getting put into the mix. Occasionally, can you win it? Yeah, absolutely, but the odds are against you.

(00:06:09) There’s tons of research out there. Some of the new stuff that’s come out recently is from Toriel, and they’re saying that 84% of B2B buyers say they self-educate as much as possible when they’re evaluating software.

(00:06:22) 84% is huge, right? That means they might not even be in the market yet, but they’re already doing their homework. And the 83% feel that most B2B SaaS websites don’t provide all the info they need before a demo. That’s a clear miss by a lot of people if 83% of buyers are saying all the content that I need to do, my research isn’t even there. So, if you don’t have the information there, they’re just going to move on to the next one, right? If there’s multiple players in your software space they’ll just move on to the next one if they can’t find what they need, which is why the last thing we have from them is 84% expressed frustration over being forced to speak to sales to see the product. So, they’ve done all their homework that they can. They want to see the product, but they just want to see it. Don’t necessarily need to sit down and have a 45 minute call. Let me walk through it myself. Nowadays, people like to get on their new apps, and play around a little bit, and figure it out, and try it out, and test it out.

(00:07:13) And they don’t want to necessarily have somebody walking them through it in a demo. Give them something where they can play with it themselves a little bit.

(00:07:19) And this is, I think, a huge miss by many companies in the HR tech space. Some of them you go to their website, they’ve got little mini demos on there, like video demos and interactive things that are wonderful. And then there’s some, where it’s like, book a demo, and it’s maybe, they have a screenshot or two, but the reality is from a buyer perspective, they want to see it before they spend their valuable time talking to a sales rep. And I think part of that is we all have experienced it, if we’ve ever purchased software, I just want to see a demo of the product to know if I like the user interface, to see how easy it is to navigate, how well it works. I don’t want to have a conversation with a sales rep, but I fill out the demo request, and I get on the first call, they don’t even show me the product. It’s a discovery call.

(00:08:010) As a buyer, in those situations, I’ve been like, what is the value to me here because I’m giving you all this information and you’re not showing me the demo yet. You’re making me schedule a second call with you to see the demo. And sometimes even then, it’s like the next call is a presentation with screenshot. I still want to see the demo. Okay, let’s schedule a third call. It was great, I like it, tell me the pricing. Well, we got to schedule a fourth call so I can walk you through a proposal. It’s not a buyer friendly process, quite frankly. And I think a lot of prospects out there in the B2B space are like, not gonna do it because I can go over here to this vendor and I can see their product beforehand and guess what? I like it, or I don’t like it, and if I don’t like it, I don’t have to waste my time going through four different meetings to ultimately not choose you.

(00:09:03) Everybody’s busy. Like nobody really has time for that anymore. They don’t want to spend their time doing that.

(00:09:08) Yeah, and you’ve already said it, Greg, you’ve got to turn your company’s digital footprint into your best sales rep. and that doesn’t mean it replaces the role of the sales rep. Of course, sales reps are still important to the process, but it’s about building content for every stage of the buyer process to help prospects answer all of the questions that they may have, so they can be ready to talk to that sales rep.

(00:09:32) You need to be hyper focused. You need to really figure out who your ideal customer profile is. You have to have a unique point of view, story framework, and a demand generation strategy, so that you can get the great content in front of these prospects in places where they’re doing their homework, right, where they’re doing their research. It’s not just your website, social media, it’s other channels where your prospects are looking things up and trying to get information. So, you have to give a lot of content pretty freely so the prospect can learn about your company and your solution on their own schedule, at their own pace.

(00:10:03) It’s really a customer driven thing, not a company or sales driven thing. You can figure out what they want and what they need, and then serve it up for them.

(00:10:10) When you’re thinking about building out your company’s digital footprint, I just want to say that doesn’t mean just go put a bunch of digital ads out there. Digital footprint is basically any content that exists about you on the internet that they can go find because that’s where people usually start their search, whether they’re looking for review sites, third party recommendations, what the options are out there, or coming straight to your website. They’re trying to get information, and it is much better to have too much content out there than not enough, and I think for many companies, that’s a struggle. I can tell you, I look up different HR tech companies all of the time. First thing I will do is Google their name. So, these are branded searches. Pulls up their website, pulls up their LinkedIn page, might pull up their business listing on a few sites, but so many of them, and it just surprises me, have very little of a digital footprint out there, which means you’re not making it easy to find you.

(00:11:13) You’re not showing up when they’re searching on the non-branded terms, probably because there’s just not that much content that exists out there that’s specific to you. And it’s really important to have a really good website with robust information and content that allows people to go deep, but you got to go beyond that. You’ve got to look at those third-party channels. For example, have a strategy around how to procure reviews on all the review sites, so that when somebody goes to G2 or Capterra, one or the others, and they type in your name, you pop up. When they type in the category of HR technology that you have, your company pops up. You want to be on that list because right now they’re researching, and they’re trying to figure out who are the best of the best out there, and look at third party channels. Also, can we get content out on these different channels that exist that already have relevant audiences to who you sell to and get them talking about you? Sometimes it’s pay for play. We know this because we help companies set those type of things up at times, but it’s okay, here’s this HR influencer and she’s writing about X, Y, and Z topic, and she happens to bring the brand name of a certain product in, for example, this company that didn’t just happen.

(00:12:32) That was marketing intentionality behind it to get that out, but from a buyer perspective, they’re looking at it and they’re saying, wow, okay, it’s not just this company, and their website telling me how good I’m finding tidbits about them everywhere, and I’m learning a lot about them, and I’m really impressed. They’re clearly well-known in the space because they’re showing up everywhere I’m showing up, and I think that’s the key is to show up everywhere where your ideal customer profile is showing up.

(00:13:01) And when you’re doing that too, it’s important, right? This is why you have a unique point of view and when ICP and strategy is because every time you do pop up, you want it to be a similar message, right? You want it to be clear and consistent about who you are and what you’re doing and why you’re solving this problem or how you’re solving it, and that helps create the trust, right? So, that when they’re ready to talk, they already trust you, they know about you. The way that things are moving right now with everybody doing their research, you have to have that. Like a good coach or a mentor they’re clear and consistent, and they tell you the same things over and over again, and then sooner or later it starts to sink in.

(00:13:36) Absolutely. Knowing that a lot of B2B buyers are more resistant to engaging with sales very early in the process, how do companies build a connection with prospects who are less willing to engage?

(00:13:53) Well, sales is still part of the process.

(00:13:56) Marketing can only do so much, right? We’re not meeting with the prospect on a day to day basis. The sales reps still need to be out there building trust with prospects, but you got to make sure that sales is not relying too heavily on marketing because the last thing we want people to take away from this is, all right, marketing is going to sell this. The sales rep just has to get the contracts in order. It’s still a process. There’s still a lot of work for the sales rep to do, but I think from a marketing perspective, we can look at it as marketers to say, okay, how do we help build trust with the brand and that credibility in the market so that they’re interested and they want to engage with us, but then from a sales level, build a personal brand that can help amplify the company brand, and leverage that marketing content to be more consultative and less salesy.

(00:14:48) So, maybe those outreaches aren’t your typical, old school, hey, I’m reaching out, let’s set up an appointment. It’s more of the, we’ve got this great content, I thought this may be valuable for you, given the challenges that you’re having in the market, right?

(00:15:03) It’s one of the things as LinkedIn continues to morph around, you can see now that they’re arranging the algorithms more to follow people than they are to follow, to promote companies and brand messages. People want to hear from people. So, if you’re in sales, you should be communicating with people so that they can understand where you’re coming from, and like Deanna said, providing things of value to help them to learn about the company, and the products, and build trust in you as well.

(00:15:30) Of course, it’s not a one size fits all approach. You don’t just have the same marketing content and the same message that you send to every single person. Don’t just throw up the marketing content. You have to seek to understand clients, and let’s find and identify the pain points together.

(00:15:45) If you’re doing personal branding on LinkedIn as a way to engage with people and become more known to them so that you can build those sales relationships. I think there’s this approach of 1 to 1 that you have to keep in mind as you’re reaching out to people, as you’re sharing content with them because not everybody is taking the exact same view and approach to their purchase process. I used the example of recruitment solutions before. A lot of people are going out and looking at the technology that’s available for recruitment solutions, but that doesn’t mean they’re all trying to solve the exact same pain point, right? There’s a lot of different reasons why they may be ready to look at a solution in that category, or any other category.

(00:16:33) So, what do you think? Is the discovery meeting dead then, like you were saying before? Is that a thing of the past?

(00:16:39) I think prospects don’t love the discovery meeting because you walk away from it. That really benefited the sales rep because now he has all this info to tailor his sales message, but what did I get out of that 45 minutes?

(00:16:52) I think many prospects get frustrated with the typical tech sales process, feeling like the vendors don’t show me what I want. They ask me questions that benefit them. They make me schedule the multiple meetings just to get the information I want, and companies are potentially making it harder for a prospect to buy. We’ve got to look at what can marketing do to support this, and what can sales do to make this a better experience. And that doesn’t mean you can never ask another question of your client. There’s a reason that discovery meetings happen, right, because you’re really trying to get that information from them. So, you can tailor the sales pitch in the demo specifically to their needs, right, but maybe the process is truncated, and yep, I’m going to have a call at you, and I’m going to ask you some questions as I’m showing you the demo. And so, it’s more of a live interactive, and hey, if you answer these questions for me, here’s what I will give you back in return so you can walk away from this conversation as a buyer, feeling like you got what you needed from this half hour, 45 minutes, hour that we’ve just spent together.

(00:18:03) If you figure they have already done a lot of research according to everything; all the stats we talked about before. If they’re getting to a demo, they already have you on a short list, or at least a medium list that they’re reaching out. So, you want to make sure that they’ve probably already figured out, right, before they decided to even call you. So, you have to make sure that whatever you’re saying is aligned with what the prospect has already seen, right? So, otherwise there’s a disconnect, and then that experience is not as great as it could be for them.

(00:18:30) That is so true. I’ve experienced that myself, where I’ve actually gone into a meeting and they’re ready to give this whole sales pitch, walk me through slides, things like that, and I’ve just gotten to the point where I’m like, okay, here’s the thing. I don’t need you to sell to me right now.

(00:18:43) Here’s the questions that I have. I’ve done my research. I’m curious about this. This is what I want to take away from the conversation. And it throws the sales rep off sometimes because they’re trained on a process, they’re told, okay, every first meeting you need to walk them through this, this, this, but what happens is they’re like, I know where you’re at as far as your thinking, what you’re looking for from me. Let me answer your questions. I’ve got a couple for you. What are next steps? It’s just a more efficient meeting, I feel when I’m a jerk, and I come right out and say, hey, don’t give me the sales pitch. Here’s what I need from you today, because I’ve already done a lot of research and here’s where my head’s at.

(00:19:21) So, how do you think sales can team up with marketing and be more effective?

(00:19:25) That’s a good question. Obviously there needs to be sales and marketing alignment. I know that is a very original idea here, so I’m going to take full credit for it.

(00:19:34) Everybody says that, right. You’ve got to have sales and marketing alignment. That’s obvious. I think what it comes down to as an organization is really getting on the same page to recognize here’s how prospects buy now, and the implications that means from a sales process, here’s what marketing needs to do. Our job is to build brand awareness, credibility, and trust in the market. That we’re creating that demand for your brand and your technology, so that when people are in market, they’re interested in having a conversation with us. That is not sales job, that is marketing’s job. Sales job is to take those people who are in market and walk them through what they need to learn and understand in order for them to make that decision. And so, looking at the way that prospects are buying today, where they’re making a lot of their decision before they’re willing to engage with that sales rep, I think it’s really important from a marketing standpoint, that we’re building out robust content that’s readily available to these individuals, and that we’re guiding them to that 80%. And then the sales is taking it from there and understanding how to use the marketing because I think what happens a lot of times in organizations is marketing goes and creates all this content, and they think it’s really good, and then sales goes and does their own thing, creates their own stuff, and forgets about the content sometimes that’s there, or doesn’t understand what it was intended to do.

(00:21:10)  I think there needs to be better training and lines of communication between the two teams, so that everyone’s on the same page to say, yep, here’s what marketing is doing, here’s what sales doing, here’s the tools that are available to sales reps, and how to use them, and why to use them to bring it to the finish line.

(00:21:27) What is sales teams, maybe, not understand when they’re looking at the marketing support that they have? Is it just a communication between the two teams, or is it a different approach from sales that they’re used to doing?

(00:21:40) I think that’s a really good question, because quite frankly, if you step back and you look at organizations where marketing sales are maybe butting heads, there’s a lot of pressure on the sales team, no doubt, especially if a company is not hitting their growth targets and they’re not hitting their revenue requirements for the year. The first group in the organization to feel that pressure and really have a magnifying glass on them is the sales team.

(00:22:07) Everyone’s saying we’re doing the best we can here. Marketing is not giving us good quality leads. I think that’s where the biggest pain points tend to happen is when an organization is behind, you start to get finger pointing because what happens is marketing is saying, we gave you leads, you guys are closing them. That’s a sales issue. And sales is saying you gave me leads, I can’t close. These contacts were never real opportunities. That’s a marketing problem. And so, the teams point at each other because they’re under a tremendous amount of stress. You are less likely to see misalignment between sales and marketing when a company is thriving because everybody’s happy. There’s less stress because the company is performing. And so, I think really those biggest pain points, it’s not feeling like you’re truly supported. That misalignment, it can fester the more that there is stress on the teams, and so what is the disconnect with that? I think it does come down to open lines of communication and being in agreement of here’s the role of marketing, here’s the role of sales, here’s how we hand things off to each other.

(00:23:15) If sales is telling you that the leads are shit, don’t get offended. Take a step back and evaluate. Is there some truth to that? Because a lot of times there is. We’re doing the best we can to bring in leads, but maybe we’re not doing the right things to bring in the right leads. And from a sales perspective, pointing the finger back at them. If they’re saying marketing is not doing their job and they’re not supporting us the way that we need in order to be able to close more business, but they’re not using the tools that marketing has for them. They’re going off and creating their own stuff, that’s a problem, too. And so, I think both teams, sometimes from a pain point perspective, need to take a step back and take the feedback to heart and evaluate what elements of truth are there in that, where we can do a better job, not just you need to do a better job. If you guys aren’t closing the leads, let’s take a look at the leads and see if that’s a problem.

(00:24:12) And from a sales perspective, if you’re not closing leads, but you’re not using the marketing tools, take an introspective look at that as well and say, okay, are these good tools? Is there a reason we’re not using them, or did we just forget that they’re there because we’re running 500 miles per hour? And I think there’s always the truth lies in the middle between the two teams.

(00:24:32) Yeah, that’s a good point. And they also have to take a step back as well and say, what does the customer really need to get them to move through this? I almost said the wrong thing. I almost said move through this process, but it’s not (word:inaudible) process, right? It’s the customer’s process. It’s the buyer’s process. What things are we doing that, maybe, are we not doing that are impacting the results at the end? How can everybody work better together to serve the customer or the prospect and help them to make a decision in your favor? Of course.

(00:25:02) I think the advice for marketing teams working with sales to drive bigger growth is looking at how can, as marketers, we better educate the sales team on how to use the tools we’re creating.

(00:25:13) It’s not like if you’re following your strategy and you’re building these things. They’re very hyper focused and they’re intentional, right? We’re not just doing random acts of marketing. We’re creating this stuff because we want the sales team to use it. We want to put it out there in the market, but sometimes, remember, salespeople are not marketers. They don’t necessarily have the same view as the marketing team in building things because they’re focused on something else. Their expertise is building relationships and being consultative with these prospects to help them make a decision. That doesn’t mean they know when you create these content pieces, how to use them in the sales process, or in the buyer’s process. So, I think from a marketing team perspective, to help sales drive bigger growth, we can do a better job of educating the sales team on how to use our tools. And here’s the thing we tend to think like, well, I did train them. You know, I sent out an email that explained everything. What more do they need? Or I stood up in a sales meeting and I talked about and showed them, and nobody used it.

(00:26:16) They forget. They overlook it. I think we have to constantly remind them because they’re running 500 miles an hour, we’re running 500 miles an hour together, and nobody’s intentionally ignoring stuff, but it’s not top of mind for them. And so, the more that we can remind them, hey, these tools are here, the more we can highlight. You’ve got a sales rep that is using tools and being really successful, showing the other reps how they’re using it and how they’re getting success out of it. That will resonate better with them and I think, make them more likely to remember and embrace the work that marketing is doing to help them.

(00:26:55) Have you seen anything that the sales side has been doing to own that process?

(00:27:00) I think there’s a lot of sales organizations out there that do a really good job with working with marketing, and a lot of times these are the organizations that have built up a demand generation engine and the whole company gets it. And I think some examples, like if you look on LinkedIn, there are companies in the HR tech space that are crushing it, and then there’s everybody else who’s, right now, it’s a real grind.

(00:27:27) Sales are a challenge because the economy is not ideal, and a lot of companies have pulled back on their HR spend, but the companies that are crushing it, I think one of the things that they’re doing really well and their sales team is involved in is going out and understanding that it’s about educating the market and creating that brand awareness, credibility and trust, and that it goes beyond just the marketing team. Their executives are out there building personal brands to amplify the company brand. Their sales reps are out there doing that as well. And so, they just feel they’re everywhere because everybody in the company that is prospecting, client facing is out there representing the brand and getting the word out.

(00:28:12) And it sounds like then the key takeaway is that a well built demand gen plan can help build brand awareness and trust in the market, and to help get a company on the short list with a potential buyer.

(00:28:24) Yeah, however, it doesn’t diminish the important role the sales team plays in the process. I think it’s important that both teams work together to help drive high growth.

(00:28:35) Thanks for joining us on The Demand Gen Fix, a podcast for HR tech marketers brought to you by GrowthMode Marketing. We sure hope you enjoyed it. Don’t forget to subscribe for more perspectives on demand generation and B2B marketing strategies. Plus, give us a like, tell your friends. We’ll see you next time.

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