2020 has been a transformative year in so many ways, including B2B Marketing. Could the new work-from-home culture be the catalyst for the acceleration of digital transformation and Sales and Marketing alignment? MarketOne conducted in-depth interviews with 30 leaders in B2B Marketing and Sales to hear their take. The results were fascinating. Listen as John Steinert, CMO of TechTarget, and Fred Ewald, CEO of MarketOne, join Enrico for an exploration of the implications for Sales and Marketing into 2021 and beyond. You can also download our paper detailing the results of our interviews.
Welcome to Funnelocity, the podcast that brings you a down to earth perspective on what it takes to succeed in global demand generation, from top to bottom of the sales and marketing funnel. I’m Enrico Brosio, President of MarketOne, and your host. In today’s episode, we address perhaps the biggest challenge faced by businesses in many years, the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and specifically the effect it’s had on B2B sales and marketing. Over the past few months, MarketOne in partnership with B2B data marketing experts TechTarget have conducted a survey of senior Sales and Marketing leaders across a variety of industries to understand how they’ve been affected by the crisis and how their companies are adapting to deal with it. We’ve just published the report entitled ‘Virtual Progress: How 2020 is Bringing B2B Marketing and Sales Closer Together’. And I’ll give you a link to the download at the end of this podcast, but for now, let me introduce two guests, joining me to discuss some of the key findings.
We have John Steinert, CMO of TechTarget, where he helps tech companies of all sizes improve marketing and sales results using real purchase intent data. John’s interest in behavioral data began back in college where he majored in anthropology and first began studying what people do and why they say they do it. Ever since he’s been applying that kind of thinking to achieving the revenue goals for tech companies around the world. John, welcome to Funnelocity. We also have Fred Ewald, the CEO of MarketOne joining us. Fred founded the agency in 1998 with the vision of providing actionable sales intelligence to sales and marketing teams at global tech companies, essentially account-based marketing well before the term was coined. Over the next 20 years to Fred evolve the agency to include digital data and MarTech services all with the vision of helping sales and marketing teams build a high performance sales funnel. Fred, welcome to Funnelocity. So before we get into the findings themselves, Fred, could I ask you to tell us a bit about MarketOne and more specifically about the approach we took with the survey?
Absolutely. Thanks, Enrico. MarketOne, we’ve been around for over 20 years and a primary service line has to do with primary data collection. So what does that really mean? It means business to business open-ended conversations, typically with marketing executives, but also with our line of business. And we do that worldwide. So our DNA is reaching out and holding business conversations. That’s who MarketOne is in terms of our activities. We became quite interested in running this sort of survey during the pandemic. We kept hearing about what is happening and what’s the result of the shutdown and virtual work or virtual events and so forth. But we heard very little about, well, what do people feel about the future? How is the pandemic and the whole nature of working virtually going to affect future priorities specifically in the area of marketing.
And so we became more and more curious about what our target audience thinks and feels about the long-term future. And so that’s really the impetus of this research. And I think the title of this particular podcast, it really belies the fact that we went into the survey without any preconceived theme or topic. A lot of the questions were open-ended and then with a bit of drill down in terms of what is a marketer’s outlook and how they feel about the future, what are they hearing from their company and their customers and drawing some conclusions based on that.
Excellent. Thanks, Fred. And John, from your point of view, why were you and TechTarget interested in partnering with us to do this survey?
Well, so Enrico a couple things. TechTarget is really big in the B2B tech data space. So we’ve been doing purchase intent data at the opt-in prospect level now for more than five years. And so as a COO, because I’m a marketing guy, I get exposed to a lot of data, lots and lots of quantitative data that can tell me about big groups and big segments. But what I don’t get enough of, and I never get enough of, is interaction with enough customers or enough prospects on a deep level. So I can see what they’re doing in this behavioral data, but I can’t really investigate why they’re doing it. And so I’m always looking for opportunities to interact with more customers and prospects and MarketOne, a company that that I’ve done business with over the years, reached out and said, we’re going to talk to these people in depth. Would you like to be a part of that? And I obviously jumped at it because I had experience with the types of callers, the types of people you put on the phone and how you do this stuff. And I knew that you would go deeper than a standard, say, SurveyMonkey survey would go. And so it looked like a real opportunity to talk to more people at greater depth and understand the story behind what we’re seeing in the data about their behaviors
And, and deep we did go. So thanks for that very kind intro John, and obviously taking more of a qualitative approach. A lot of amazing intelligence was shared with us during these surveys. So Fred, perhaps I can ask you to start just giving us a sense of what were some of the more surprising things you learned from this bit of research?
Sure. The first thing that struck me as the results started coming in, and they were born out as the survey concluded, and I’m referring specifically to the question around “What are your company’s future priorities as they are responding to the pandemic and the virtual work environment”. And I was struck by the fact that the majority of respondents really didn’t have any clear idea about how the dust is going to settle. But at the same time, under 10% said that everything’s going to go back to normal. Everything’s going to go back to pre-pandemic work norms. So on one hand you had, very few respondents saying things are going to stay the same. And on the other hand, you had the majority of them saying that they don’t know what the pandemic is going to bring nine months from now or a year from now. So you have these two very conflicting ideas, which really speaks to the uncertainty out there. Now that said, as we went into the survey, there’s some very clear observations that came out of it. And I’ll, I’ll probably defer to John to start that discussion. But to me, it was really the fact that there is widespread un-clarity around, what’s going to happen in the future with a marketing priorities.
John, how about you?
I’ll contrast that a little bit. One thing that jumped out at me that I think is super important is that there were, there’s a handful of companies that said that prior to the pandemic, they had already embarked on digital transformation and that actually they felt that helped them, because they were already thinking about some of the challenges that the pandemic sort of increased and what they needed to do was now accelerate what they had already begun. I think that’s super important because one of the things we’ve learned as we grow up in management is that if we can, if we can look forward to the way we want to be able to do things in the future and actually act on making the future, the faster we do that, the sooner we do that, in fact, the more prepared we are for things that we didn’t expect.
So I saw a really strong group of companies talking about simply accelerating their existing digital transformation. And I hadn’t made that connection that those companies that were forward-looking would realize the benefit or would adjust more quickly than other companies. The second thing that was surprising to me is that most of the companies that we surveyed said that while obvious cuts in their budgets happened, the budget didn’t necessarily go away. they’re cutting physical events, but the budget was shifted. So there hasn’t been a huge cut in a lot of marketing budgets in B2B. There’s been a shift in the application of that budget to other higher priorities or priorities that have been raised because of the pandemic. Another big surprise, and we’re going to talk more about this I suspect, is that it seems that sales is now embracing marketing more naturally or more vehemently than ever before.
So that was a big surprise, that Marketing would be viewed internally to companies as an area to go to get help in adjusting to the pandemic. And the fourth thing I’d say that I find really encouraging is focused on the need to track sales activity. So managers are starting to realize that they need to really know what everybody is doing, and I would have thought that that preceded the pandemic, but it’s wonderful in a way that something like the pandemic makes the need for data generated around what everybody is doing more obvious.
Wow, quite a bit there. Lots of observations. Thanks. Thanks, John. Let’s start to unpack those. When we’re thinking about, I guess, topics like digital trends, digital transformation obviously a lot goes into that. It’s people, it’s process, it’s technology, it’s data. Let’s maybe first talk about this dynamic between sales and marketing which has been there. I mean, it’s been there for years, right? Sales and marketing alignment has been a topic of discussion in B2B for many years, but I feel like there’s something different happening now. Fred, could I perhaps ask you to just give us your thoughts on that?
Of course. So I think you touched upon it Enrico. The relationship between sales and marketing for years and years has been, probably described more as one of siloed, two departments which have different goals, yet they are supposed to be on the same team. And as probably everybody watching this podcast knows, it’s almost a banality to talk about sales and marketing misalignment. That’s very clear and, John touched upon it in his earlier remarks, but one of the most intriguing aspects of the survey is how a pandemic would change that dynamic. And that’s something I think we’re keenly interested in exploring because that has huge ramifications about how marketing works in the future about sales works in the future. Who would have thought that a pandemic might have a material influence on how marketing and sales work together? That’s what a lot of this is about, is how do you break down those silos, break down the wall? And what does this really mean for the future. John, perhaps you can elaborate that on a little bit.
Yeah. I liked the point you make when how do you do it? Certainly you don’t want to call up a disaster, like a pandemic to force the issue. I’m not sure I have the answers there, but what was clear to me in the survey was that Sales, as it adjusted to a new way of going to market was looking for help. And they naturally turned to an organization that prior might’ve been viewed as a nice to have, the marketing organization. And part of the reason sales needs help or wants help at this time is that sales is always a very in the moment kind of capability, a very agile capability, but it didn’t have enough supply of the things that it needed to be agile. In the digital environment, it didn’t have the assets, it didn’t have the insights, and it was nice to see that it looked to marketing that had long been harping on data and assets and interaction and engagement, as a source.
So it’s nice to see in companies that there is that at least the awareness that marketing is a provider of those kinds of things. I do think that that still is a little bit more tactical that it might be. It’s very hard for marketing to meet tactical requirements just as, before the pandemic, it’s hard to be asked, “Can you build something for me tomorrow?” So this need for tactical assets, interaction drivers, is a very real one. And both marketing and sales need to figure out together how to meet that in a more operationalized way. I don’t think we heard a lot of that in the calls, about how we’re going to solve this need, that sales has. We just saw that sales has the need and views marketing as a potential source of the solution.
Yeah. John, if you think of it too, you can just imagine the abrupt change in in behavior that salespeople, Field Sales, went overnight from generating leads at trade shows and visiting prospects, and, pitching in a conference room, bringing in donuts, taking them out for drinks. And for some companies that is a primary way that salespeople develop leads and expand existing customers. Now, all of a sudden, overnight that’s ripped apart and they are then sitting at their desk wondering, “What do I do?” And that’s kind of, I’m trying to paint a picture of how this vacuum, this inability to behave in the way that created results before, sales, they naturally started looking around and then saw, saw the marketing department over here, digitally enabled nurturing prospects, bringing them down the funnel creating marketing, qualified leads sales qualified leads, and they’re thinking, okay, this is interesting. I need to adapt. I need to adopt some of these digital – I need to become digitally enabled myself. And I think that just to kind of imagine how this would happen, it becomes pretty clear when you understand that everything’s not virtual, there’s no more events, there’s no more in-person sales calls, no pitches. And that has, fundamentally changed things during the pandemic. And as we speak about later, what does this really mean for the future?
Well, I just think that I’m not sure that marketing has the answers, but marketing can’t develop the answers. At the beginning of this, the positive thing is that sales is looking for help. And so I think that creates an opportunity for marketing to think much more deeply about how do I enable sales in an operationalized way. So it’s not just about building marketing assets. It’s really going to be about sitting with sales and figuring out what is the digital equivalent, as close as you can get, or the digital improvement, on face-to-face sales interaction. And that’s a pretty deep activity. And I think the companies that really work on it, so content providers or messaging providers and messaging deliverers, working together, is the type of enablement we need to move to. I do believe that a lot of marketers are in the marketing department. There are people who can think deeply and do very well at delivering messaging. But my point is that the messaging that sales really needs now is a little bit different. It’s deeper, especially field sales than messaging we associate with high velocity cadences. So I’m saying sales is coming, looking for help, but marketing needs to be ready to really dig in and solve this problem together with sales.
And to capitalize on the opportunity to really drive that sales and marketing alignment. So,
Yeah, it’s a great opportunity for marketing, so let’s not squander it.
Yeah, absolutely. I think, for so many years, marketing has been dependent on sales to feedback on the quality of their marketing generated leads and to prove their efforts, if you will. And now it seems like the pendulum is swinging the other way, where sales is really dependent on marketing to help them understand and drive those insights at these accounts that they’re trying to sell at.
I mean, it can be really specific. So, many sales people are so great at creating conversations, sort of out of thin air when they encounter somebody at a trade show, they’re very relaxed person to person. But when all you have is a phone or email, if you just imagine how difficult it is to understand text interactions between teenagers in your household, it’s the same kind of problem that’s being created. So there’s really no face to face. There’s no body language, and yet there’s multiple interactions. So becoming comfortable and effective is really going to be a new art, that everybody is going to have to take advantage of in selling.
Fred, did you have another comment?
I was just underscoring the point that this is probably a first for marketing. I’m just imagining marketers who typically faced a pretty powerful organization called Sales with their own influence and their own ability to affect company policy. And here comes Marketing coming to the table year after year in some ways pleading for some attention to leads and pleading for buy-in. And talking about nurtures, talking about ABM, talking to all the things that marketers do to bring prospects down the funnel, to the point where they’re deliverable is a sales qualified lead looking for sales to accept it. And then in some instance, sales we’ll with an honest degree of effort pursue and accept the lead. But in some instances, a lot of them just don’t put the energy into the leads and we’ve, Enrico we’ve seen that for years and years in our business, is that the ability of a marketing campaign to be successful is highly correlated with the buy-in from sales to follow up on those leads. So imagine Marketers’ surprise when sales is coming back to them with a whole new paradigm and asking for help.
That’s a great point, Fred. Often as working with sales and marketing teams, we do find ourselves a bit of a kind of monkey in the middle where marketing and sales have a rather dysfunctional relationship and not really working together. And certainly one of the things that I look for before working with clients is making sure that does Sales have a seat at the table, with Marketing, to ensure that that alignment’s there. And so, let’s move to the next observation, which is really around tactics. So you’ve got Sales that’s coming to marketing for support, asking for support. And that comes up to the term that Fred, you just shared with us around ABM, account-based marketing. Certainly sales is doing it from a sales perspective, account based selling. So it’s really bringing the two together. And ABM and ABS have been around for years. But I feel like, again, there’s an opportunity here, so what’s happening now and how can marketing capitalize on this opportunity through strong ABM programs and what does that look like? John, maybe I’ll start with you.
So I want to come at that first from the perspective of leads, because I think it segues off of what Fred was saying. Ironically, leads have always been important. They’ve been valued to a certain extent, but given the pandemic changes in sort of demand activity in the marketplace, noise in the marketplace, it’s very clear that something, that we call, that we might call a lead is more, is deemed more valuable now than it was. So if it’s deemed more valuable, that suggests to me that you’re going to have to handle it with a little bit more care. And so that’s the first piece here that the leads that marketing or that sales is getting itself need to be evaluated and handled with more care. Now let’s connect this into ABM.
So one of the things you were talking about Enrico is what there was ABM and there was ABS. That confuses me a little bit because it sounds like they’re two different things, but one of the problems with ABM is that the letter M. It sounds like idea coming from marketing. And that kind of exacerbated the silos that existed, because why would a marketer go over to the sales department, say, I’ve got this great new thing it’s really going to help you it’s marketing, but now it’s called account-based. So that was always a problem that we saw with the term, ABM, despite its popularity among the marketing community. I think one of the things we saw in the survey that’s really important is that the pandemic has helped focus everybody around what’s essential to any company’s future, and that is revenue. And so sales has to hit revenue, marketing sometimes didn’t have to have that much involvement in it, but now everything is focused on how do we preserve revenue and how do we potentially grow revenue?
And so that’s a natural kind of confluence that brings marketing and sales together around accounts. And the notion of revenue. So I would call that full circle ABM, where it’s not just account-based marketing, but it is account-based everything on the single most important aspect, which is revenue. And that came across loud and clear. I think in, in our survey responses. So accounts clearly matter, they have always mattered to sales and they are the focal point of most of the respondents we talked to. There were two different groups. One group talked about the importance of existing customers. Certainly that’s a strong part of everything we’re seeing during the pandemic, but there are those companies that have to acquire more customers. And so that acquisition is going to be account faced account based. And then it is that the revenue matters. And so how are we going to get to revenue?
Let me try to connect it back to leads. So leads are one type of behavioral input into the availability of revenue, but leads historically, as we’ve seen, can be squandered. We also know that in B2B, the decision-making group is not an individual. It’s not a lead that makes a decision. Rather, it’s a group of people with different functions and roles in the decision who come together. Now, it’s very rare that you see leads from many people tied together. In fact, we pass leads individually, and somehow we hoped it’s this buying group. Let’s say more members had become engaged, engaged would be reassembled for the salesperson to treat correctly in the opportunity phase, but that has not happened yet. So one of the places, where it’s certainly important to take a look at the behavioral data that we call intent data is in surface surfacing this buying group. So here’s the connection we have to move beyond leads. The first step is treating them as precious things to buying groups. And we have to enable salespeople to identify buying groups and track and develop the connections between those people who are responsible for decision at the client. That can only happen if we combined the first party data that we see as leads with the second party data that we see as purchase and tenant information into a group of people that we then help sales pursue.
And the keyword there is help. But what I really like about what you’re saying John is you’re actually using those insights, right? Those, those insights, the intent the behavioral data, if you will, you’re using that as a means to have a much more relevant conversation, which is exactly what sales is looking for, is that fair?
Yeah. With more than one person. So it’s not just right. The lead is not the unit of demand here. It’s the buying group. And if it’s a lead is dispositioned negatively, you lose you historically, you lost the whole buying group. So now marketing and sales have to sit together with probably sales ops and say, geez, we can’t waste these individual leads. And even more importantly, we can’t waste the connections. We have to discover the connections between these leads at a single account. And so that’s a new thing that folks have to be able to do, and it’s not going to happen unless marketing sales and sales ops get together and continue this discussion about what is the unit of measurement or what is the unit of pursuit that we’re trying to manage here is brought to life.
And just before I go to Fred, that begs the question of are the current CRM platforms configured correctly, because what you’re saying, which I a hundred percent agree with is taking that account view, from an ABM perspective. And then as I referred to previously, I think account based selling is being able to look at the account holistically, understand the buying unit across the account who are all the individuals, all the touchpoints. And sadly today, most CRMs are not set up that way. So it’s very hard to engage from a sales engagement perspective, actually to get that full picture that you’re describing.
Fred. Yeah. I’d say that. Oh, go ahead. So was going to say that, I would say that the CRMs have it in there, just nobody uses it. And so I put it back to you guys and say, since when you guys multithread in an account are you enabled by your client’s CRM? Or do you enable yourselves to do that? Cause I’m always interested in the companies that are taking advantage of what’s in Salesforce, for example, the opportunity contact record, plus a single custom field helps you do this. It’s just, nobody uses it.
Right. And certainly in our systems, that’s exactly how we configure the user interface. If you will, the UI that we have shows the account centric view. So it has all the buying unit and feeds in those insights. So you can actually have that. But most of our clients CRMs, I must admit are not, they don’t use that functionality that you’ve just described, Fred. We’ve been talking about ABM.
Well, my take on it is very similar to John’s, but I typically look at things a little bit different. I think of it in terms of what’s behind, what’s driving the behavior, what’s driving the motivations. And, as John was speaking, I started thinking about your posters behind you Enrico ‘talk about, think of a number’. Now, the salespeople, and this is what we heard, the salespeople they don’t have to think. They know what the number is, and that is the quota and the quotas during the pandemic, largely didn’t change. And so they are then staring at a situation where they have the same goals. They have just had a number of arrows taken out of their quiver. They’ve got an organization over here called marketing, which is there to help and support.
And so what does that really mean for them? Well, it means that if you think of it specifically, I think that the salespeople typically do ABM in real time, right. In situ. So they, they, they’re sitting down with their counterpart at a prospect or customer, and they’re extracting the kind of ABM intelligence that is that they find far more comfortable to do live because they have the relationship, they can talk about who else is involved in the evaluation. Tell me about the politics? Is IT involved? Who else do I need to speak with? Tell me a little bit more about the presentation, the people in the room and what their motivations are and so forth. And so it’s a different slice of ABM that I think that salespeople go through and those conversations are much harder to do in marketing when you don’t have the person in front of you and you have the relationship.
So sales is looking at marketing as a proxy to how do I develop that same kind of information so that I can go, I can be far better armed when I go into that virtual sales pitch. Now, what that means for marketing is of course, happy to help digitally enable in the ABM context, but their main motivations are slightly different. We’ve seen through the survey work that a lot of the marketing activities which do not involve working existing accounts, which don’t involve ABM are falling by the wayside. Meaning that those kinds of quote unquote, nice to haves in terms of perhaps it is some real time contact list development, or, how do you set up a nurture program newsletter for respondents? or, dot, dot, dot. Instead they’re being laser-focused on existing customers because those let’s face it a low hanging fruit for a lot of accounts.
And, how do we then push revenue using ABM techniques and technology? And so you have these, you have the salespeople unable to do real-time, account-based selling, or account-based marketing. You have marketing, which has been doing it, but they haven’t been doing it full time, or they haven’t emphasized it necessarily. Then you have these two groups that are coming together with the same interest and that’s helping to put those two together. And I think that that is helping to underscore the thesis of this podcast, which is a sales marketing alignment. So I kind of think of it in terms of, you know, what are the external factors that are driving the behaviors. And I think it all has to do Enrico, with what you’re talking about, which is revenue. And the revenue goals haven’t changed. So how do they make it happen, but how do they make it happen together? Because they both need each other at this point.
Those are awesome insights, John and Fred on ABM and how to really kind of provide a laser focus on driving revenue for the sales teams. Now let’s talk about how technology supports that and how the pandemic maybe has accelerated sales and marketing technology, transformation, adoption and what’s really going to be critical for sales and marketing teams to use and leverage to drive those types of engagement programs. John, could we start with you.
Sure I think there are really two pieces of why technology is important and one is at the user level and the other is at the management level. Let me take the second one first. What we saw very clearly in the research was that managers are clamoring for insight into what’s going on in their organization. And they’ve realized that, especially in the companies where there was kind of a mix of adoption of a core technology like CRM, that without users actually being in the system, being required to be in the system, management had very little visibility into what was going on in their organization. So that’s a big ‘aha’ it’s sort of a digital transformation ‘aha’ that if you have a system that is capable of providing insight for management to make decisions on the system has to be used. And so we saw a lot of companies saying, Oh, well, now management is making sure that everybody uses the systems that they’ve been in quotes ‘enabled with’. But the other piece, and why there’s often a lot of resistance to systems adoption is that the system was not designed for the user, right.
It was not, and that in the early days, especially with CRM, it was not particularly helpful. Now there are a whole lot of systems available that are really helpful to salespeople. And so it’s incumbent on management to understand what is keeping sellers from selling, right? What is creating overhead and then what systems are available or are present in the organization that actually reduce overhead for the sellers and assist them in selling. And so the digital transformation of the sales stack is something we’re seeing in spades, not just in this research, but all across our business.
It’s interesting you use the term overhead. I like to use the term friction, removing friction from the sales process. And I 100% agree with you that technology today in the adoption of tech, both in particular on the sales front, getting the right data in is going to provide that level of transformation. And it’s an imperative that teams that are kind of the high users in particular are kind of in the system, have certain SLAs on how to update the system. And what fields get filled out at what frequency in order to build out that, ultimately to build out the buying; could be contacts, could be interviews and so really building out the full mosaic, if you will, at the account level that can then trigger and support marketing campaigns. So let me ask Fred, from your perspective, how have you seen, what’s your view of how the pandemic has accelerated these types of changes on the technology side?
Sure. In the early part of the pandemic which was sort of that deer in headlights phase. Everything was essentially put on hold while people were scrambling to understand what’s going to happen next week. Not necessarily what’s gonna happen next month. And we saw this in the survey that when we implemented the survey, it was kind of midway through the summer, early mid-summer. And at that point, people had starting to get their footing that yes, customers are still, they’re still buying. We still have our quotas it’s time to start thinking about the future. And so a lot of those technology projects, which had otherwise been halted in the early stages of the pandemic, started to kick in again. And so we mentioned earlier that a key observation was that those companies that have already been on the digital transformation path, we’re seeing far greater success in being able to respond to the pandemic, and those that had not were scrambling to do so.
And one of the conclusions, not to steal the thunder from the last part of this, is those companies that had started it already, the gap between those that had started, and those that hadn’t is going to probably influence the competitive advantage coming out of the pandemic. It’s that important. But when I think of technology, I think of it, it’s hard to think of technology without thinking of people, process and technology. And underscoring, all of that, or the common denominator is data. And if you’ve got the technology in place, it’s only as good as your people and your technology and naturally good data in good data out, bad data in bad data out. So I view that technology is something that is now being viewed not as a nice to have, a shiny object, you know, let me be, I’m gonna allow myself to be sold an automation platform.
But now wait a minute, this really is, this is a critical component to the buyer journey in a world where everything’s virtual. So without looking at technology, you know, that’s going to be your weakest link without looking at process or people again. So I think technology is rising in importance as it relates to that three part or four part, really, if you include data, four part stool that represents how coming out of the pandemic are you going to be successful? And what’s interesting though, is to think about it. We talked about CRM, you’ve got a difference, I think, between ABM, for current customers and ABM versus prospects. And I’m personally very interested, not necessarily in how the customers are going to be pursued, but how prospects are gonna be pursued. And data is going to be a critical component of that.
Which is why we’ve really valued our partnership with John and TechTarget because they’re the experts in data. And we haven’t really talked about data very much. I know we’re to but it’s very difficult to answer that question Enrico without acknowledging the role of data and process and people. So I would probably answer in short by saying technology represents something that is increased in value during the pandemic, because marketers are starting to acknowledge the fact that without technology, you can’t truly stitch together the buyer journey. There’s no way you’re going to have a 360-degree view of the customer, not to mention maybe in 180-degree view of the prospect. You just can’t do it.
Just to add to that, Fred, a lot of the kind of the quick pivots we helped our clients address back in March, April this year, it was the shift from kind of in-person events to online events. So talk about speeding up the digital transformation going from zero to 60 in literally a matter of days where clients were holding summits and forums user groups in the physical world that had to all of a sudden transfer all of that and make it digital.
Well, what’s really interesting about that Enrico, cause that’s a really good point that whole concept of virtual events, we’re seeing a big influx of inquiries around event follow-up, event recruitment, obviously virtual. And in the past event follow-up from our clients has been relatively one dimensional. Follow up on this contact to see if there’s an opportunity. Very simple. That’s been going on since the dawn of events, right? But now we’re looking at, wait a minute, every lead is important. Every lead represents an account. Every account needs to be marketed to and sold to. And so how then are companies going to change the way they process attendees at events, knowing what we know now, knowing that everything is shifting a bit towards account-based marketing and selling. And that to me is really interesting and we haven’t really seen that played out, but my guess is concept of event attendees is going to take on a whole different, whole different meaning, a few months from now.
And not just the attendees, but also the registrants. Any opportunity to engage, I think with relevant contacts to your point, leads at an account and build out the mosaic.
Exactly. And in the past, a lot of those leads went straight to salespeople. Because let’s face it, somebody that event attends an event you’re going to have a higher MQL rate coming out of that as a marketer. So high in fact that oftentimes it kicks straight over to sales, especially if it’s an account that’s on their list. But how about that gets kicked over to sales with some account-based marketing against it. So they go in not just calling up a contact that was at an event to follow up, to see what’s going on, but you call into that contact armed with rich, almost three-dimensional information about what that account is doing and what impact is that gonna have on conversion rates? As opposed to just basically a contact based follow-up.
John, this sounds like a perfect tee up to you and the work that you’re doing, because it is about driving insights, providing those insights and putting those insights in front of sales at the account level. So maybe you can share with us, what is the role of data in all of this?
So let me try to segue off of this event conversation, because I felt, I kind of felt like I wanted to jump in and say, when you start doing more virtual events, you have the potential to have, I’m assuming you can come up with good topics and with good content to have far more attendees. So that creates a kind of wealth of leads. But let’s take a step back from that. And let’s ask the question of who do we want at our events anyway. So too many times, I think in the past, we’ve done too little thinking about who we want at the events. It’s amazing to me, the number of companies that come to us to try to get a targeting support for events and have done very little thinking about what they’re trying to accomplish with their events. The use of events for awareness has long been known to be a really expensive way to go.
The use of events for acceleration on the other hand is really where you get a lot of ROI. And so how you get to having the people at the events who you can really accelerate, the people you most want at the events. And you do that by trying to attract the people who you can see in the data have a need, right? So you want the people that are involved in opportunity now, but you also want people who are involved in a buyer’s journey. They just haven’t become an opportunity yet. And that’s a key use case for purchase intent data. So invite the people to your event. Now you can do it nationally, because you don’t have the physical presence, who look like they are trying to solve a business problem. Let me try to segue that to the higher idea of what is the role for data and all of this.
I take it back to the management data versus end user data. So management has this need to understand things that are going on across say groups of accounts or account teams. But the end user has a need for data in a way that allows him or her to use it. And this is about how do you get the data from whatever its source is into the hands of the end user in a way that’s not overwhelming. So this creates sort of a requirement of all of us in the tech solution space to really think hard about now that we’re in digital only how much easier do we have to make it, to get the salespeople enabled. You know, before the pandemic, a basic computer that everybody was using in field sales was their own brain. They were running massively complex ideas, conversation, threads, user group patterns that they were containing this in their own brain.
And they would reinforce what they knew about an account by meeting with multiple people in an account during a visit, an onsite visit. That ability to capture that insight and hold it in their brain no longer exists because they don’t have the physical interaction available. So how are you going to enable them now in a way that is similar to how they’ve been enabling themselves historically. While you’re going to have to get much better at how you think about what is the screen they use? How do they use it? How do you prep them for calls? Or how did they prep for calls? How do you reduce the overhead of doing account research, depending on how many accounts they have to cover and so on. And so that’s not just about the data itself, but about how the data actually flows into your stack and is presented to the user.
And just on that point, John, it makes me think of some of the ways we’ve evolved, even just the way we provide qualified leads back to sales. It used to be in the old day, here’s an appointment, here’s the time of your appointment, here’s the person you’re speaking to and maybe a sentence around or sentence or two as to some details around that appointment. Today it’s much richer, right? So what we’re seeing going to sales is exactly that. It’s an account profile with, rich intelligence, at the account level. You know, what’s happening at the account level, maybe it’s mergers and acquisitions. Maybe it’s a transformation initiatives, maybe they’re moving into new markets. And then what’s, what’s the buying unit, right?
And who are all the touchpoints within that account. And what’s the real compelling event. And it’s understanding it at the account level. That’s really driving relevant conversations that sales can have with their buyers. And it’s almost turning it more, much more into a customer service type interaction. When you all of a sudden have that level of information, those level of insights it’s of course it’s a well-timed call or email that’s going out, but ultimately what that converts to is a conversation that seems where you remove the friction, right, where there’s less overhead where the, the recipient of that call is grateful to certain extent because it’s really seen more as a customer service call.
Yeah. I think I have to echo that. That in a buyer’s journey, especially in a complex B2B decision, all buyers, all buying groups have a hard time and they need and want help. And so if sales can think of themselves, or when sales thinks of themselves as serving the needs of the buying group in the buyer’s journey, all signs point to, they have much greater success. Now all of us around sales need to enable that. And so this is again about what should be happening through sales and marketing alignment, understanding what the buyer’s trying to do, what problems they’re having, and then enabling sales as the point of contact to help the buyers do that is the perfect role for marketing.
So before I go to the last question here Fred, is there anything else you wanted to add on the data side or?
Yeah, I was thinking as I was listening to the discussion that, you know, data has many different roles in the sales process. The first role, I think, which is a bit self-evident is how do you open up a dialogue? And everybody knows about the technique ‘Show me you know me’. Let me demonstrate to you a prospect that I know something about you or your company, and they’re going to want to engage. So you open up the conversation. Then you have the role of how much do you know about the organization? Do about their platforms? Their pains? Their processes? Where the opportunities are? And data has a role there. And then you’ve got other subsidiary roles in terms of knowing who the players are, and it’s the ability to triangulate all those different roles of data, which brings you to a point where you’ve really maximized your propensity to sell into that account. And so I think of data very much as it’s serving multiple roles in the buyer journey. And so that’s the only thing I would add to it is and you don’t have one component of that role, and you’ve got a weak link. And, so that’s why to me, data is so important because it’s part of the top, it’s part of the bottom of the buyer journey. And naturally it probably continues on post-sale.
Well, we’ve, we’ve covered quite a bit of topics here. Certainly some of the main observations from the survey were that a shift in, in sales and marketing alignment. I.E. this, if you will, this dependence of sales now on marketing and then the sharp focus of marketing and their budgets around account ABM and helping drive revenue, having kind of meaningful engagements with specific set of accounts to drive conversions in the funnel. And then we talked about acceleration of technology adoption, both in the sales and marketing side. And finally the role of data across all of this to really enable it and build out not just the accounts but segments within those accounts and how you might accelerate conversions of I got through the funnel of those particular segments. So my last question is really around, what happens when we go back? If we go back to normal or the new normal as people are talking about, where does this leave us? Where do you guys think? Is sales going to say okay, no longer, I’m no longer dependent on you now, marketing. I go back to having my face-to-face visits with my clients? Where do we see this going? John, maybe I’ll start with you.
I like the dependence word. And I think that there’s a lot there. Before the pandemic, despite the fact that we in B2B might’ve ignored it, there was already momentum on the side of buyers, in the consumer space towards preferring for many transactions, that digital environment. We saw a lot of pressure on, on companies like banks who had bad websites not being preferred. So there was this natural transformation on the buyer side towards a digital preference, because I think probably the interfaces had gotten to a point where the interaction was good digitally. And certainly you didn’t have to spend the time in it unless you wanted to, to go out to a retail provider. So you have this choice in your consumer life, and we’re all consumers now in the pandemic, even in our business life the choice to interact physically has been removed from us.
And those sellers who provide a great experience digitally, or at a minimum seem to be trying to, are going to be sellers that are more successful. We are going to prefer them. They’re not going to interrupt us when they don’t have something important to talk to us about. When we have a need, they are going to be very responsive and easy to reach and so on and so forth. So the backdrop here I think, is that buyer behavior is more and more digital. And so that’s a reality. Now, the question is, among all the companies that have learned or are learning to be more digital, how many are going to realize that they need to keep a lot of that in place? Because certain buyers, if not all, buyers will continue to prefer it. I do think we’re going to see a lot of backsliding.
And I think it’s because the power centers in organizations are so commonly associated with sales. And so commonly associated with face-to-face selling, it’s something people grew up doing, they know how to do it, and they prefer to do it. But I think there’s going to be this group right at the margin of customers who will reject face-to-face selling. And I think it’s a larger group than existed before the pandemic. So I think companies would be wise to consider keeping some of their advances in place and striving to advance further to serve the buying preferences of those customers. Especially, the younger generation who didn’t grow up, appreciating face-to-face sales.
All right. Before I drill into some of that, I want to ask Fred, maybe if he’s got some, some observations around what might happen once we go back to the new normal.
Well, unfortunately Enrico, I left my crystal ball in the car. Maybe I’ve got a snow globe here. I can. No. So I think that it’s really hard to say. But I do think there’s some factors that are going to work, that are going to determine that answer. For example, how long is the pandemic going to last? So if tomorrow the pandemic were lifted magically, it’s going to be a lot easier for salespeople to kind of fall back into their modus operandi of, physical relationship building and selling that nature. The other factor I think, has to do with those companies that actually see tangible success in the virtual sales and marketing role. And digital transformation. So what I mean by that is if you, if a company eyes wide open embraces digital, enables a sales team digitally, and they’re seeing success in that regard.
Then I think that kind of company is going to be far more probable a candidate to continue the virtual in the future. And if I could prescribe what a company should do, it would be go all in and embrace virtual, embrace digital enablement, accelerate your digital transformation, look very closely at your data. And even if you’re not seeing those returns today, and I think to a large degree, those returns depend upon your industry focus, frankly. But I don’t think that it’s as simple as that. And to John’s point, I think that the buying community is going to also be another variable. Is what are buyers forcing sellers to, how do buyers dictate how they’re sold to in the future. And I think that that is a third or fourth component to being able to answer it. So I think there’s a lot of variables, which make it difficult to, again, look at that crystal ball, but I do think that those are at least reframe the argument and we know what’s going to contribute towards what the world looks like a year from now.
So embrace digital transformation, embrace virtual selling, virtual marketing. To me, that begs the question of how do you build rapport? And what’s the role of relationship building, which is huge in B2B, right? In B2B selling.
Well that a lot of that again is going to be determined by the buyer. How does the buyer, what does the buyer feel most comfortable with? How do they like to be engaged? And it may be a different kind of relationship. It may not be that person to person, let me give you tips on your golf swing. It may be something more around the lines of finding a different ways to make connections with your buyers. It may be around honing your skills and articulating what customer success means from the point of view of the vendor. And that may be a new way to increase the value quotient of the relationship. But I think it’s really up to both the buyer and the seller to understand what is that equilibrium going to look like in the future.
John, what do you think about that issue, if you will, that I brought up around building rapport and relationship building in a virtual world. And how does that dynamic, how does the sales person address that moving forward?
See, I can get, I think it’s essential that relationships get built. I don’t believe that removing human beings completely is an optimal way to do it. Otherwise everything could become totally e-commerce no people involved. I mean, it could become that way, but here’s the issue and why I think human beings require relationships. Because there’s so many unknowns in complex business buying, that there’s so many unknowns, people have a great degree of fear about what could go wrong or what’s going to happen when something goes wrong because we can’t solve for all eventualities. And the point of the relationship is to try to get a feeling for what is going to happen when things aren’t so rosy and how are you on the other side of the telephone going to help me get out of this problem that we got each other into. So it is the trust in another human being to be on the team, in solving the problem that has arisen, that we didn’t anticipate. And it could be that playing golf with somebody gets you to that. But my dad, big golf player had this tremendous point. It didn’t stimulate me to play golf, but I think it’s an important one. He said with customers playing golf was critical because it helped him as a seller, understand what the customer was really like. Because their behavior on the golf course, how they move their ball when nobody was watching, how they responded to stress, helped him understand what the relationship, the sales and buying relationship was going to be like going forward. So I’m saying you can’t replace that where you’re studying your customer’s behavior, and that’s why you want to do face to face. But what you can try to replace, is what the customer needs from you as a seller in terms of trust that you will be there. That you will support them when things arise that were not anticipated. Because these decisions and these implementations are so complicated, inevitably, something doesn’t go well.
And that’s about how you intend as a seller, both pre-sales and post-sale to fulfill the promises you make. I think. So I think in selling now, pre-sales sellers have to be and marketers as well, have to be even more aware of only making promises that they intend, or they are able to fulfill, because if they don’t create trust in every interaction, they don’t work to create trust in, in every interaction. They won’t have the fallback of using a golf game to smooth things out. It will simply be the fact that you said this, but you delivered that. And there’s a clear disconnect. So what I really wanted to get at was what are you losing when you no longer have the ability to interact physically in the creation of relationships? And I think the reason relationships are so important in B2B is that so much can go wrong that you can’t plan for in a complicated sales process or implementation.
And so the challenge when we lack the ability to develop relationships and maintain them face to face is how do you create the trust on both sides of the table? That is so necessary to get a team through the selling and then the implementation so that anything that that is bad, that happens can be overcome. So I really think that sellers are going to have to be super careful in the pre-sales stage to make promises that they’re sure that they can fulfill, because they’re much more likely to be held to promises when they’re only happening over the phone and then in writing, than when they might be discussed in a more casual environment. And then it is post-sales where in the fulfillment of those promises, sales will probably want to stay involved to make sure that the entire team that needs to be aligned from the very start is enabled and intent on fulfilling those promises that are always made in a sales interaction.
John, this resonates with me so much just because I’ve seen it, over the years and B2B sales, a lot of our clients came from the traditional kind of perpetual license sales where they could do, seven figure, eight figure deals upfront. And then the client was kind of stuck with that technology. Whereas in, in a SAS world you’ve got to basically have to resell that promise every year or every second year. And so you can’t really run away from it. So it’s so important to get that right. And almost to the point of where you’re under promising and over delivering. And it’s sadly in technology I’ll often the conversation goes, well, if you buy this great platforms we’re, it’s going to transform you. Well, that’s not necessarily the case. As Fred mentioned earlier, it’s not just about technology. And as we’ve been talking about it’s people, it’s processes data. There’s so many elements that have to come together to make that that implementation successful. And so being honest about it and being upfront about it and building that trust in, through not just the sales process, but through the implementation and through customer success is so critical. And I see a lot of, I still to this day, see a lot of companies getting that wrong.
Well, thank you, John and Fred, for an interesting, inspiring discussion. I think we can all agree that while we’re living through extremely challenging times, our industry is doing its best to adapt and emerge in a stronger place. For anyone interested in another episode or reading the full report, please visit marketone.com/funnelocity.
Thanks for attending.