About a year ago, my company was engaged by an industrial services company. Their business had been going strong for 15 years, and they had a solid customer base across North America. But there was one thing that wasn’t going right: they couldn’t find good sales reps to carry the business forward.
“We can’t find enough hunters,” their president said after firing their fourth sales rep in two years. It’s a complaint I’ve been hearing increasingly often. Companies want people who will cold call, go out and tell people about products and sign deals, but can’t find people who are capable of more than respond to orders that have already been placed. The super-sales people that many businesses are looking for are called hunters,’ because they hunt (and bag) deals. But hunters are a dying breed.
Or are they?
In my opinion, the problem isn’t actually a lack of hunters. The real issue is a radical change in the way that business people make purchasing decisions, a shift that makes hunters far less effective.
Buyers today don’t want someone to come in and “sell” them. They’ve already done their research, and they know what they want. Technology gives them access to information that used to be the exclusive domain of sales reps. In fact, in a recent survey, the CEB (Corporate Executive Board) found that most B2B buyers have already gotten through an average of 57% of the purchase process before they talk with a salesperson.
The ready availability of information has taken power away from sales reps and put it directly in the hands of buyers. Companies that don’t provide information online are missing significant opportunities; if buyers don’t identify a particular vendor while they’re doing their initial research, then it’s game over for those vendors—the competition has already won.
But there’s more to this shift than just availability of information. Time-crunched buyers are just too busy to engage in the traditional sales cycle. They don’t answer their phones or return calls, and they certainly don’t have the time for long presentations. If your product isn’t something they need to solve a problem right now, it’s not going to get on their radar.
It’s time to embrace the shift to the informed buyer. Instead of looking for hunters, B2B companies need to think outside the sales department, and revise their approach to revenue generation completely. Companies need to touch customers during that initial 57% of the process, and the only way to do that is through marketing. Marketing gets the word out about your company, targeting potential buyers and ensuring your brand and products get in front of them in that crucial research phase.
Hunters aren’t as important as they used to be. But marketers? They’re the new lifeblood of B2B sales. They are the ones who will catch the customer’s attention, and keep your company top of mind throughout the process. They will help you access customers, educate buyers, generate leads, and build credibility. Marketing is how you reach the empowered buyer.
Lisa Shepherd is author of the new book The Radical Sales Shift: 20 Lessons from 20 Leaders on How to Use Marketing to Grow Sales in B2B Companies and president of The Mezzanine Group, a business-to-business strategy and marketing company based in Toronto. She has been the youngest female CEO on PROFIT’s Ranking of Canada’s Fastest Growing Companies and is a frequent public speaker on B2B marketing strategy and execution.