In part three of our blog series with Harvard Business School's Frank Cespedes and author of Sales Management That Works: How to Sell in a World That Never Stops Changing (Harvard Business Review Press, 2021), we talk more about sales in a new buying reality, the necessary connection between B2B marketing and sales, and the vital importance of how we do business in the modern economy.
Connecting B2B Marketing and Sales
Q: The use of content marketing has increased dramatically in recent years, especially for lead generation. How does that affect B2B sales?
A: Yes, this increase is especially true in SaaS and other subscription sales models. In general, technology is doing a few things in many go-to-market efforts. It makes marketing and sales more interdependent, but those are two functions with different perspectives on the market (e.g., segments versus individual accounts), different metrics, different career paths, and usually different personalities.
One result, as I discuss in the book, is what research indicates: An estimated 70% of the content generated by marketing is never used by sales, and most leads generated this way disappear into what some call a “sales lead black hole.”
Technology is allowing sales groups to do many activities that, a decade ago, would have been marketing tasks. The issue is whether sales groups really know how to do those tasks efficiently and effectively. Content marketing is an example. Like advertising, it’s the subject of many opinions but few facts, so it’s an area where unexamined assumptions distort allocations of money and effort.
In the book, I present some facts based on a study of what millions of online interactions between customers and content indicates about how much time prospects spend on content, on which devices, and the type of content they prefer.
For example, what’s the best day of the week to send content? Some argue for Tuesday afternoon while others are loyal to Thursday morning. But data indicate that total visits to sellers’ sites are almost evenly distributed across each day of the work week—slightly more on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday and, unsurprisingly, less on Monday morning and Friday afternoon.
Focusing on specific days for sending content probably indicates unused capacity and a lack of cadence in your sales model. It’s better to focus on types of follow-up content after initial engagement. This often means linking content marketing efforts to the prospect’s vertical segment or industry.
Content marketing is evolving and spreading from SaaS and subscription businesses to other sales models as well. But without tools for tracking what, when, and where prospects read content, there is a blind spot in a growing part of the marketing and sales budgets in many firms.
B2B Sales in the Modern Economy
Q: You say that in modern economies, improving selling activities is not only a financial and growth issue, but also a key social responsibility of business leaders. Can you explain why?
A: The slowdown in growth and productivity in the U.S. and many other economies is well-documented. The biggest causes seem to be demographics (lower birth rates) and the shift in economic activity from manufacturing into services. In the U.S, manufacturing declined from about 23% of GDP in 1970 to 12.5% in 2015, while the share of expenditures on services climbed to 70% with the remainder spent on durable goods (e.g., cars, dishwashers) and nondurable goods (e.g., food, clothes).
Professional services alone doubled as a share of GDP during this period. Productivity drives economic growth, but services productivity tends to be lower than in product industries. In producing goods, you can increase productivity by doing more with less labor—which is what happened in agriculture and manufacturing in the past century. In most services, however, the human component is part of the product or deliverable. It’s harder to get a better outcome by doing more with less, and sales is a quintessential services job.
How Managing B2B Sales Matters
Economists have documented the moral consequences of economic growth for tolerance of diversity, social mobility, commitment to fairness, opportunity for advancement, social progress, and democratic values. Look, for instance, at U.S. politics and attitudes during the past two decades of stagnant productivity in our economy.
Peter Drucker emphasized this issue thirty years ago (“The New Productivity Challenge,” HBR, November-December 1991). He argued that “The most pressing social challenge developed countries face will be to raise the productivity of service work. Unless this challenge is met, the developed world will face increasing social tensions, increasing polarization, increasing radicalization, possibly even class war.”
Drucker used sales as an example, noting (thirty years ago!) that salespeople “now spend so much time serving computers (and) filling out reports rather than calling on customers . . . . This is not job enrichment; it is job impoverishment. It destroys productivity.”
Management matters qualitatively and quantitatively. CEOs who go to Davos and talk grandly about “stakeholders” in society should also look homeward. Improving sales productivity in their firms is not only a core profit-building activity, for which C-suite leaders are paid a lot to do.
It’s also a social issue that affects growth, living standards, job opportunities that can address inequality, and the lives of millions of people. It is, in fact, a core social responsibility of management. I hope my book helps managers better understand that responsibility and how to fulfill it.
How to Sell in a Changing World
Learn more about B2B sales management and how to do it right with more great insights in Frank Cespedes' new book available now.