The Gist

  • B2B complexity. B2B sales processes are complex, with a longer and more arduous cycle than B2C sales. Organizations often struggle to strike the right balance between nurturing leads and meeting quotas, leading to missed opportunities in the engagement journey between marketing and sales.
  • Fighting fragmentation. B2B marketers are increasingly looking to platforms that can ingest and interpret data from multiple sources and channels to fight fragmentation and build a better data picture that allows them to understand where drop-offs occur in their sales strategy and buyer's journey.
  • Getting on message. Effective messaging is crucial in B2B sales, and B2B companies should focus on solving tangible problems in front of them rather than pitching more products to customers. A recent study found that only 8.1% of B2B leaders felt their messaging was very effective.

Most businesses today face the challenge of keeping up with the constantly changing world. The complexity of rapidly evolving circumstances can make it difficult to decide where to invest resources.

Investing in the right technology can make all the difference. All you have to do to understand the significance of such investments is to look at Blockbuster, the previously well-known video rental chain that missed a major opportunity to invest in streaming technology when it had the chance in the early 2000s. Netflix approached Blockbuster to offer a partnership in its streaming technology, but Blockbuster declined the offer. This decision ultimately led to the company's decline while Netflix went on to dominate the streaming industry. Today, the story of Blockbuster's missed opportunity serves as a reminder of the importance of keeping up with the changing world and being proactive in making strategic investments.

In his recent CMSWire column, "Are You Creating the Best B2B Buyer Customer Experience?” Q&A contributor Jonathan Franchell, a seasoned B2B sales professional and founder of Ironpaper, emphasized the importance of recognizing and acting on emerging trends and technologies that could shape the industry's future. He also stressed the need for companies to prioritize customer needs over their products and services, as this is key to building long-lasting relationships with clients and securing their loyalty. Franchell's insights demonstrate how proactive investments and customer-centric approaches can lead to sustained success in B2B sales.

We caught up with Jonathan to discuss the topic.

    Editor's note: This transcript was edited for clarity.

    Dom Nicastro: I'm Dom Nicastro here, managing editor with CMSWire, contributor Jonathan Franchell, founder of Ironpaper. How's it going, Jonathan?

    Jonathan Franchell: Thank you so much for inviting me. I'm excited. 

    Nicastro: Yeah, it's great to be with you. You've been contributing for us for a few years now. Made your debut with us in 2017. And now you're ramping up again, you did some nice content in 2021. And now here we are a year later, so excited to have you. Why don't you tell our listeners and our viewers a little bit more about yourself, you know, your company, what it does, and I gotta throw this out. Just give us one fun personal fact. You're a human being besides what you do. And we got to know something about Jonathan, outside of the work.

    Franchell: I love it. Absolutely. So I started Ironpaper, my agency, about 20 years ago. So I've been doing this for a while. And yes, I started pretty young. I love it. And I love it more today than I ever have. And I think that's a pretty exciting accomplishment. Now what we do is we help B2B companies that have a complex sales process, and we help them grow their business more tangibly, measurably? And so a lot of the work we do focuses on are we actually generating impact, rather than supposed or assumed impact. And then one little fact about me, I have a 10-year-old daughter. She is pretty much my whole world. We spend a lot of time together. And that's basically where I, where I'm gonna go after this. I go on adventures and go out into the woods, and it's fun.

    Nicastro: I remember that age; I got a 17 year old. And let's just say the adventure stopped. And it's moved on to other people outside of his parents. But it's fun. It's fun, right? When they are 12. Probably 12ish is when the cutoff is — 12 and below, you know, if you're lucky enough, it goes beyond that. But that's cool. You could take adventures out when and where you live up in the country. You live up in the country.

    Franchell: Yeah, Montana, yeah.

    Understanding the Missed Opportunities in B2B Sales

    Nicastro: That's cool. Well, I hope you guys have nothing but fun. Let's get back to business. So your article is talking about, you know, nurturing and B2B. And it's such a challenge, you know, to, for marketers to just strike that good balance of nurturing good leads, good people with good data, versus just trying to meet quotas, and go for the kill and go for that sale. Talk about that distinction, you know, between nurturing and selling, and where you see some common missteps there.

    Franchell: Yeah, I love the way you presented it. We see it all the time, in companies that are small to big. We feel that the engagement journey between marketing and sales is one of those big missed opportunities. And it's something that a lot of organizations are underinvesting in. And I think it comes down to this perspective within the context of B2B that, ultimately, the sales function has to be wrapped around a buyer’s needs, not a product that you're selling. And so a lot of the work that we do looks at, you know, what can we do to improve that buyer understanding? How do we understand and kind of help support this challenge, which is increasing the buyer’s willingness and commitment to change, not just purchasing a product? That's kind of it in a nutshell.

    Related Article: Using B2B Marketing Strategies to Grow Your Business

    The Complex Challenges of B2B Sales Cycles

    Nicastro: Yeah, that's it, spot on, you know, in the B2B cycle, like you write in the article is so much longer, arduous. It's not just rolling out a Super Bowl commercial. Right, and spending millions of dollars. It's tools, it's technologies, it's good data, it's bad data. Not that B2C doesn't have these issues, too. When you're out there with these, you know, B2B customers and marketers, you know, what, what are some of those top challenges? Is it technology lately and trying to make best use of their tools? Is it processes that are breaking down having silo issues? Is it the connection with sales that's missing? Like, you know, where are some of the more top of mind challenges you see out there today? 

    Franchell: Yeah, yeah. For me, I think there are drop-off rates throughout the pipeline. And a lot of times organizations are looking at a very myopic way of marketing or at sales, and they're not looking at how these two functions work together. And I think we're living in a really challenging time. Buyers needs are changing rapidly. The marketplace is changing. There's more. There's increased competition in numerous markets and submarkets. And so with all of this occurring, companies need to keep their pulse, their finger on on their customer’s pulse, understanding what motivates a potential customer to act. What would motivate them to stay involved in a lot through had a long sales cycle, and what would motivate them to bring other people into the room for a decision.

    And just kind of one thing to step away from and look at is, in the context of B2B, most sales are complex. There isn't a single empowered buyer, there's usually a group of people. They don't all enter the process the same time. And they're not all represented in the C-suite. But there's a group of people come together to make a decision. And they bring their own individual expertise, some technical, some process oriented, some operational. And so we need to address not just the individual needs of the people in the process, but also help build and communicate an understanding of what is the value proposition that is being purchased, not just what is the product that is being purchased here?

    Nicastro: Yeah, I can imagine, you know, a lot of B2B sales folks are, you know, they have a killer conversation, you know, with a with a prospect, and they're engaging, and it's going well over time. But you got to think in the back of your mind, like you said, Oh my, this person is going to take this conversation to six others now who I don't even know who they are. And I gotta hope that that one person can convince the other six that what I'm saying makes sense. So it's, it's just so like you said, I think the word for it is complex. It's no question about it.

    Franchell: And then the other question is, can you bring this other people into the conversation? Do you have enough content and, you know, contacts that you can bring them in and have weave them into the dialogue, as opposed to, you know, them taking a more reactionary stance outside of the process, looking in as a kind of voyeur or as a kind of remote participant?

    B2B Sales Technology: Trends and Future Innovations

    Nicastro: Yeah. Hey, Jonathan, in your travels, you know, working with B2B marketers, and B2B in general, you know, are there general platforms not to cite certain companies? But you know, what, what kind of platforms? What kind of systems are B2B marketers using today heavily? I mean, we're talking on CMSWire a lot about customer data platforms. We're talking about account based marketing systems. We've always been talking about marketing automation platforms, a CRM, obviously is in the mix. I'm sure they're all in the mix. But my question is, is there one sort of technology that you're seeing lately, that's kind of rising above the others, or any innovative trends in the tech space for B2B marketing and sales?

    Franchell: Yeah, I do see it. And without getting into names of specific tools, platform software, I think the bigger trend that I see is, how do we take the data that's generated through marketing and treat it in a less fragmented way. So what I'm starting to see is a push more towards platforms that can ingest data from multiple sources or multiple channels and interpret that data.

    I also see that marketers are now seeming to play a larger role in CRMs. It's no longer a tool just for sales teams. And I feel like CRMs themselves are having to change and usually the wrapping around tools like a marketing automation system or sales automation system, and they become this kind of knowledge hub, a collection of data and insights, that both marketing teams and sales teams need to tap into to understand prospective buyers and the changes in their market.

    Learning Opportunities

    So what I what I'd love to kind of look at is, can we fight fragmentation and build a better data picture that allows you to understand where are those drop-offs in your in your selling strategy in your in your in your engagement strategy in your buyer’s journey, in essence, and that's what I love?

    Nicastro: Yeah. And that's why you hear a lot of vendors pushing the center of truth, right, you know, we're the data center of truth. And I got to think that as much as the promises are to be that, you know, there was a lot of still fragmentation, like you said, I mean, there's just too many. There's too much. There's too much data. You never thought that would be a problem. We become great, great data aggregators. Can we can we make sense of it? 

    Franchell: And I think the other question is also to your point. Is, all this data that we're looking at making sense to drive action? Does it actually impact the business? I think one of the problems that marketers face is that there's just so much data. And a lot of that data is more of a fluffy indicator, it doesn't actually drive that kind of hardware decision making that's needed to increase revenue. And so I think choosing which data matters most is a critical function.

    Related Article: Are You Asking the Right Questions in B2B Marketing?

    The Importance of Effective Messaging in B2B Sales

    Nicastro: Yep. Cool. Well a lot to munch on here. The article is great. Hopefully, people get some takeaways from the video, too. But I want to ask you leave our readers with one more thing, what's next? Not to put you on the spot. But what kind of trends are you following and maybe see potential future articles from Jonathan Franchell and CMSWire.

    Franchell: We've been doing a lot more research. I'll give a quick example. And this is really stuck out to me. We did this recent study on 159 B2B leaders, and we found that only 8.1% of them felt their messaging was very effective. And that, to me speaks to the heart of a significant issue.

    And then if you take that, and this is what we wrote this article, about 55% of B2B leaders send prospects or leads that they generated on marketing side directly to the sales team. And so there's no intermediary stage. And this is a problem. This is a problem that concretely impacts a company's ability to generate revenue from marketing investments.

    And so I feel like, this is gonna be a topic that we touch upon a couple times, we're gonna explore from different angles. And it's something that I'm really committed to helping companies solve, and I want to do it through content, I want to I want to find different ways of looking at this problem and solving it.

    Nicastro: Yeah, yeah, messaging is so huge. And, you know, when you were talking about I was thinking, you know, is it really important for a B2B company to like, change their website based on who's surfacing on there? You know, you think, of course it is, you want to be personalized, right? But is someone really going to be motivated, moved to buy your semiconductor? Because they saw a picture of it on your homepage? No, by the time they come to your website, they have had 50 meetings about that semiconductor or whatever they're buying in a B2B sense. So messaging is, is still crucial. It's still crucial, for sure. But sometimes I think B2B companies might get a little too buried in like a B to C-ish kind of approach where they’re kind of wasting time.

    Franchelle: Absolutely. And I think they're struggling to understand their current state of affairs, like they want to solve real tangible problems that exist in front of them. And they don't need more products sold and pitched and thrown at them. And like you would in a B2C environment.

    Nicastro: Right, right, B2C, like, I'm just sitting here minding my own business. I don't I don't need a Snickers bar. Oh, wait a minute. I just saw a Snickers bar. Now I need it. Right. I mean, a B2B person is not sitting there just saying doo doo doo oh, what's that in front of my face? Oh, we need we need the big tractor, you know.

    Franchell: Now I want a Snickers bar. 

    Nicastro: Yeah, exactly. I've been saying Snickers a lot lately in meetings. I don't know why. I think I have to go. I have to get it done. Jonathan. It's been a pleasure. We're looking forward to yeah, more CMSWire content and columns. And our next conversation is gonna be a lot of fun. So thanks for joining us today. 

    Franchell: Thank you. Thank you so much. Have a good one. 

    Nicastro: All right. Sounds good.