Boilerplate recitation of features and functions won't move today's B2B customers. 

Those customers have invested a lot of time in research before meeting with a vendor — which means the vendor better have studied up as well.

Customers want to meet with someone who can tell them something they don't already know — literally. 

They expect answers to questions about their specific circumstances and how product and services will work to address their specific problems. Instead of reciting a sales pitch and moving fast to the close, sales people have to be prepared to draw from their knowledge, and have content at their fingertips, regardless of the questions.

While Sales People Become Subject Matter Experts ...

The sales person is gaining a more consultative role, and smart ones are positioning themselves as subject matter experts. They want to close deals, for certain, but they also want to position themselves and their company as the go-to source for information, because this has a huge impact on customer experience, loyalty and lifetime value.

But as they’re boning up on the products and services they sell and seeking to become the value-added sellers they know they should be, are they only getting half the picture? In the rush to become subject matter experts, are they ignoring customer data, becoming experts on only half of what they need to know?

Even as the role of sales evolves, our ability to understand customers on a personal level is evolving too. In fact, its rapid evolution kicked off several years ago as we started to realize the value of social media data in the sales process. 

Since then, we’ve become increasingly adept at understanding customers through the “digital breadcrumbs” they leave behind. It’s now much easier than ever before to understand customer behaviors and sentiment through data they volunteer — in social media and simply by interacting with businesses. 

... Marketing Knows the Prospects

Marketing departments have the ability to learn more about customers than ever before. They take this data to segment prospects into ever-narrower groups, and then tailor outreach efforts even more specifically. 

The watchword in the past was “personalization,” but today’s personalization goes a lot farther, with content that adds value replacing generic things like simply adding the prospect’s name in the salutation.

Marketing is making the most of this customer intelligence to enhance its ability to deliver better leads — but is it sharing this info with sales, too? 

For example, marketing may pass a lead telling sales some demographic information about a prospect, and indicate what persona that prospect best fits. But is sales equipped to follow up and add more detail about a customer? 

Does sales learn what content on the company website the prospect has opened? Does sales get a chance to use marketing’s tools to do a last set of research before a meeting to make sure a customer hasn’t changed since marketing did its research? 

Sales will be dealing with the prospect face-to-face — does it make sense for marketing to know the most about the prospect while sales remains in the dark?

Customer Personas: Based in Fact or Fiction?

While we’re on the subject of who knows the customers best, let’s talk about personas. In many organizations, marketing carries out the development of target personas. And often it’s more like a guessing game than an exercise in the use of data, whether empirical or anecdotal data. 

Having been tasked with the development of personas by a CMO at one point in my career, it was clear where the process fell apart: sales wasn’t involved as a reality check. 

Yeah, certain titles and demographics were obvious targets, but deals don’t get signed off by a single person anymore. Sales people can point out the critical missing influencers who may not make the ultimate decision but who are vital in getting those decision makers to a yes. And with sales involved, suddenly the personas reflect their reality — and can help sales put customer intelligence into context. 

Again, it helps them become better experts about the people they’re trying to sell to. 

A Collaborative Approach to Lead Scoring

Another obvious area where collaboration can create a sales team that’s more expert on their prospects is lead scoring. In fact, if scoring is going to work, marketing and sales need to work together to develop criteria and to compare notes about what works, and what signals are sent by a customer who’s ready to buy. 

Marketers “feel” what the signs of a ready-to-buy customer are and work to put in place opportunities for customers to signal their intentions. Sales reps, who actually talk to buyers, have a first-hand, anecdotal knowledge of what those signs are. 

If sales can share that information with marketing to aggregate and turn anecdotal evidence into trend data, then the scoring scheme can be adjusted and fine-tuned to deliver ever-better leads to sales over time. 

Beyond that, when a salesperson gets a lead and sees a score, he or she will have context about what that score means, thanks to sales’ participation in developing the scoring system. 

Sales people already develop some degree of expertise about individual customers after the meeting — and that expertise is considered invaluable when it comes to up-selling and retention. 

It’s time we focus on the systems that prioritize the delivery of full customer information to sales before the sale, allowing them to put their newfound status as subject matter experts to best use. 

Title image Chen YiChun