B2B marketers need to step up their game to align with sales and catch prospects early in their buying journeys.

New research from LinkedIn published today suggests B2B marketers must provide prospects with quality, thoughtful content. 

They must connect with a company's full buying team and not just a single prospect. 

They must leverage social media and also enhance their lead nurturing process to go beyond email and include display and social advertising and other forms of multi-channel nurturing.

Those are some of the findings from researchers at LinkedIn, which connected with 6,375 respondents (B2B buyers, marketers and salespeople at mid- to large-sized companies) in seven countries: United States, Canada, United Kingdom, France, Germany, Australia and India. LinkedIn published its research in an e-book, "Rethink the B2B Buyer’s Journey" (subscription required).

Get Ahead of the Game

sean callahan headshot

Buyers generally don’t respond to salespeople unless they are unaware of the company the seller represents or interact with that salesperson early in the buying process. Sean Callahan, senior manager of content marketing for LinkedIn Marketing Solutions, told CMSWire, “Our research showed that awareness is critical not only with the key decision maker but across the entire company.”

Forget about the old one-person show in this buying process, too. In some industries, LinkedIn found four to five additional departments (such as IT, finance or HR) get involved in the B2B buying process.

“That means that sales must be supported by marketing’s efforts to build awareness for the company brand across a range of departments. It speaks to the power of full-funnel marketing. If a prospect doesn’t enter your top funnel, it’s difficult to imagine them being in the lower funnel,” Callahan said.

Provide the Right Content

While the “who” is important in the B2B buying process, so is the “what.” 

Buyers, after all, may be unresponsive because they’re not reached with the right content.

Buyers in the LinkedIn report wanted a broad array of content to help them make purchase decisions. About 25 percent of buyers said they wanted a “subject matter expert/thought leader.” At the same time, 35 percent of buyers said they wanted “product info.”

“The conclusion is that buyers need both kinds of information — basic production details as well as thought leadership content — to make their ultimate decision. And if you’re not helping them with all kinds of content, your company may not be in the discussion,” Callahan said.

According to the survey, the most effective forms of sales content include product information, demos and best practices — all of which are often neglected by sales and marketing teams.

What About Social?

The survey revealed social media is one of the three content channels used by buyers for each of the five stages of the buying funnel: awareness, scope, plan, select and implement.

“The key with social media is to be helpful, not sales-oriented, in your posts and in the content you share,” Callahan said. "Buyers are looking for knowledge from their vendors. Also, marketers should treat social media just like any other lead generation channel and build systems that can help attribute leads (and ROI) to social media. When the C-Suite sees the ROI, they’ll be convinced of social’s power.”

Sales, Marketing Friction

For as long as there has been sales and marketing under the same roof, there’s been a struggle to understand one another. Vendors and observers alike have offered solutions. LinkedIn’s research confirms some old cracks still exist between marketing and sales, which impacts the buyer: 38 percent of salespeople surveyed say that marketing does not provide enough quality leads.

“Salespeople have been complaining about marketing’s leads forever,” Callahan said. “It’s sort of like one of those Geico commercials: Complaining about marketing’s leads is what salespeople do. And in one of the great movies about sales, “Glengarry Glen Ross,” begging for good leads plays a prominent role in the plot.”

Some are making strides, LinkedIn officials reported. For starters, 80 percent of salespeople in their research said marketing and sales were aligned at their company. And 77 percent of marketers report that their relationship with sales has gotten stronger over the past year, due to sales process technology.

Nurture Leads Together

Still, the lack of quality leads from marketing is a problem.

“One thing our research indicates plays a role in tighter alignment between sales and marketing is the embrace of a broader definition of lead nurturing,” Callahan said. “In the past, lead nurturing was solely about salespeople building a relationship with prospects. Today, however, tools like marketing automation enable marketing to play a larger role in nurturing prospects by delivering relevant information to prospects throughout the buying process, much of which has moved online.”

Marketers can also synchronize messages across of range of channels, such as email, display, and social advertising, or “multi-channel nurturing.”

“And marketers can segment audiences based on demographic or behavioral data,” Callahan said. “Our research showed that salespeople who embraced multi-channel nurturing were far more likely (71 percent) to have a relationship growing stronger with marketing than those who didn’t (47 percent).”

Get Going, Sales

It’s not like sales should sit still waiting for those quality leads. Sales must communicate with marketing to building an understanding of the characteristics shared by previous leads that turned into deals.

“They’re going to help themselves get more quality leads,” Callahan said. 

“Embracing sales process technology, such as customer relationship management (CRM) software, can help, too. Our research found that 71 percent of salespeople who had a good knowledge of sales process technology had a relationship with marketing that was growing stronger, while just 52 percent of salespeople who had low knowledge of sales process technology had a relationship that was strengthening.”

Other findings from the survey:

  • Trust (52 percent) is the biggest factor in strengthening B2B relationships, more than responsiveness (45 percent) or value for money (38 percent)
  • Lack of responsiveness is the biggest factor in weakening customer relationships (31 percent)
  • Salespeople who rely on social media are 51 percent more likely to exceed their yearly quota
Title image "Wallet" (CC BY-SA 2.0) by  401(K) 2013