This week, as we were deep in the midst of one of these sparkly presentations that B2B marketers tend to do for large clients, one particularly hard nosed business person in our audience piped up with an idea:

“Couldn’t all of this marketing automation, analytics driven, demand generation stuff actually help us single out bad salespeople and shunt them out the door?” they asked.

This isn’t what usually happens. Usually when we set about explaining how awesome content marketing and really intelligent web analytics can generate demand and nurture leads, the whole science bit gets a round of applause. Business leaders see it as the demand generator that separates the wheat from the chaff. It highlights “explore stage” prospects or even  “ready to buy” punters. Sales people see this as the prospect production line that means they’ll never need to make another cold call.

All of this is true, but it’s a bit simplistic. B2B marketers can be pretty smug bunch. We geek out on web analytics, user journeys and customer personas to create prospect pipelines that (according to all the data) are stoked with quality prospects, then we pass this smokin’ leads list over to sales and expect them to run with it. When they don’t, we say it’s their fault not ours.

But can great marketing automation really replace bad sales people?

Well ultimately most processes are being automated by technology of some kind so the harsh answer is “yes”. Good sales people are the ones who listen to their clients and learn. They understand the pain points their prospects are experiencing. They  propose unique solutions to complex problems. They roll-out change programmes that overcome hurdles that have never been overcome before. When they succeed, quite deservedly, they charge a premium.

Good sales people embrace web based demand generation because it frees them up to pursue the next big thing. The minute big B2B problems become commoditised, good sales people, rightly, lose interest. They want marketing to map out the sales process and churn customers as quickly as possible so that they can move on and start solving the next big unique problem. Bad sales people stick to what they know. They try to replicate the success they had in the past by doing the same thing again. For these people marketing’s online demand generation success is a threat.

The hard bit is pinpointing the tipping point, when a unique solution to a unique business problem is on the cusp of becoming a commodity. Sales and marketing needs to be joined at the hip for this to work well. All too often, there’s a chasm between sales and marketing. Web based demand generation just won’t work properly unless that chasm is closed. So how do we close it?

B2B marketers need to get better at working with salespeople. We need to get better at presenting the profiling data we generate to sales teams who are seeing it for the first time. Talking them through our marketing automation systems or the CRM system just isn’t good enough. Our job is to get sales excited about the opportunities that all this data opens up.

In the average business, where most sales people still rate the meet and greet opportunities offered by trade expos or networking events as optimum new business environments, it’s hard to convince sales that an unknown name on a spreadsheet is actually their most likely next customer win. Marketers see the opportunity because they’ve been working under the hood tracking visitor journeys and monitoring lead scores. But to the salesperson it’s just a lead they have never met, recommend by someone who doesn’t doesn’t sell.

If B2B marketing campaigns are to deliver optimum sales results the relationship between sales and marketing has to change.

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