Is marketing the new sales?

4th December 2019
Author: Chris McKay
Posted in: People, skills and leadership

A huge surge in all things digital has transformed sales and marketing as we know them today. Tech has empowered consumers to travel much of the buyer journey on their own, leaving marketing, sales, and the wider business scrambling to readjust. 

In the old days, a good salesforce could make up for a bad marketing team. They’d be able to deliver the numbers largely on their own, due to a greater presence in the funnel. Now, marketing must step up to the plate in order to equip buyers with all the knowledge they need before sales can make their move.

This raises two questions: Are salespeople an endangered species? Is marketing prepared for its new responsibilities?

The new buyer journey

If we look back to when sales did the brunt of the persuasive work, we can see how much things have changed. Sales used to be a valued source of information from beginning to end. Buyers, being very limited in how much independent research they could do, relied on sales and wanted to engage with them early in the process. Marketing raised enough brand awareness to drive buyers to seek out salespeople, but after that, it was all up to sales to drive revenue.

The digital boom of the last couple of decades has drastically changed this. Everyone has virtually unlimited access to online content, reviews, testimonials and other materials that have replaced face-to-face interactions.

Person taking notes from a laptop

Buyers now prefer to independently research brands and products from the safety of their computer screens before they make a purchase. The likes of Amazon and Google have transformed marketing, sales, and the entire buyer experience in B2C, forcing traditional brands to keep up.

The B2B world increasingly faces similar changes. Sales are still involved in the buyer journey, but their involvement is pushed further and further along the funnel, and their relationship with buyers has changed. Marketing meanwhile picks up the slack that this change has created, giving them more responsibility than ever before.

What happened to sales?

The vast majority of transactional selling is now completely automated, forcing salespeople to reevaluate their role.

The exception would be some B2B products and services, where the product is so complex and expensive that a salesperson is necessary, although even that is evolving. 

In fact, in a survey that gave buyers a list of 10 resources to solve their business problems, talking with salespeople was ranked 9th in preference:

A graph created from a survey

That’s not to say people don’t want anything to do with salespeople. CSO Insights found that about 70% of buyers said they preferred to wait until after they already had a clear understanding of their needs before they engage a seller. The seller still has value, but it comes later in the process.

When people identify problems, they take to the internet to research solutions, which is where they find content created by marketing. The sales function is no longer required as much in these situations. However, when it comes to offering solutions to problems people don’t know they have, the salesperson is still important. While research shows that people are “too busy” to talk with salespeople who are selling a product, they’re much more likely to speak with salespeople who offer new insight to their business. The sales role retains its value by evolving into a more consultative role, offering guidance and advice to buyers on issues that they weren’t aware of. Sometimes you have to create a need before you can fulfill it.

Is marketing ready?

With the buyer journey now being driven by self-education, sales has been pushed back during the engagement phase. A salesperson is ineffective unless you can successfully get someone far enough through the journey to speak with them. If marketing can’t get prospects to this stage, they will be playing a huge role in the failure of their business. This shift has moved the spotlight firmly on marketing.

But how is marketing coping with this? A recent report by Deloitte found that less than a third of CMOs feel very confident about their ability to demonstrate the financial impact of their team, while only 5% agree that they can make a significant impact on strategic decision making within their companies.

A study by Forrester, commissioned by us at Turtl, found that marketing can improve their position within their companies by offering the right kind of insights that help close business. But, they found that 94% of B2B firms struggle with generating insights from marketing activities that could help sales close deals.

Marketing has the potential to drive business growth with these insights, but clearly the majority of marketing teams haven’t been able to do that just yet. Why?

The study found that there is a marketing-sales disconnect between what insights are considered the most useful, which could suggest that marketing is focusing on areas that sales do not think helps them close deals and therefore drive business growth:

Screenshot from Forrester report showing different perspectives between sales and marketing

If you’re interested in learning more about the different priorities of sales and marketing, you can get your hands on the full study here.

Bringing sales and marketing together

Before, marketing functioned at the very top of the sales funnel and sales took care of the rest. Now, sales and marketing must work together in the middle of the funnel to get leads through to those final stages.

Is marketing the new sales? Yes, and no.

Consumers are continuously researching throughout the decision-making process. During this time, marketing has to keep them engaged with impactful content and messaging that maintains interest in the product. Meanwhile, sales needs to be the human presence in all of this. They need to educate, offer insights, and build the relationships that take their prospects over the finish line. How effectively they can do this is largely up to research and data offered by marketing, based on how their content is being engaged with.

Both functions have evolved to match the shift in the buyer journey, which has brought sales and marketing closer than ever before, but research suggests that there’s still a long way to go to align the two teams.