The time to sell

Wed, 22/09/2021 - 14:49

Most of us are likely to have been on the wrong end of a pushy salesperson whose determination to close a deal makes them blind to the reality that we just don’t need their product or service right now.

I’ve had a few of those experiences in the past couple of weeks - including a most inappropriate email from a shopfitting company who, in the middle of the insurrection, suggested they could ‘rebuild our land’ by offering their services to assist clients whose stores had been looted. Tone deaf as the approach was, it got me thinking about the old conversion funnel.

Right place, right time

One of the much trumpeted joys of digital marketing is its ability to hit up the right message to the right person at the right time.

But when is the right time? And what does that mean for the message?

According to a recent piece of research from that most revered font of marketing wisdom - the Ehrenberg-Bass Institute - the wrong time is about 95% of the time in the case of B2B buyers.

Missing the mark

Their report, which was produced for the LinkedIn B2B Institute, noted that the time between purchase cycles is long. For example, history indicates that companies change their professional advisors or software every five years or so. A simple calculation thus shows that 20% of potential buyers are looking for a new supplier every year - or 5% each quarter.

So flighting a sales centred message to prospects will miss the target far more often than it hits. 

While this insight is hardly startling, it appears to be beyond the grasp of many companies who just don’t seem to want to acknowledge that most of their prospective customers are simply not in-market.

Professor John Dawes, author of the report, says that this highlights the need for marketers to balance short term lead generation campaigns with longer term brand building activities.

“The way advertising works isn’t by stimulating us to buy - it must be by building a memory link for the brand in buyers’ minds that will be activated when the buyer does come into the market.”


He goes on to say that while we can target people who we think are ready to buy, the trouble is that B2B buying decision makers largely use their memories when buying. Although they’ll still search Google to surface information on potential suppliers, they’ll likely gravitate towards brands they’re familiar with. Brands with gravitas who can be trusted.

So the most effective way to build a pipeline is to generate brand salience by advertising - over time - to people who are not currently in the market. The expectation is that, when they are in a space where they need whatever you’re selling, they’ll remember who you are and what you stand for.

Basic rule

This is one of the basic rules of brand building in the B2B environment and brings to mind the remake of one of the greatest B2B ads of all time - the contemporary version of McGraw Hill’s epic The Man In The Chair

Initially flighted as a print ad, the modern version beautifully encapsulates the critical role of digital marketing in building salience and ensuring that when a prospect is ready to buy they’ll recognise your brand and reach out.

The recent Ehrenberg-Bass Institute report builds on work previously done by Les Binet and Peter Fields. While their seminal 2016 book, The Long and the Short of It, was centred on consumer markets, Binet and Fields conducted a follow up survey of 600 B2B marketers a couple of years ago and found that those who outperformed their competition in the preceding two years were twice as likely to have been thinking about the long term.

While it’s tough to focus on tomorrow when there’s pressure for revenue today - and this is particularly true in the battered South African economy - it’s crucial that CMOs engage their counterparts in sales to plan effective customer acquisition strategies that centre on building long term salience.

*This article originally appeared on MarkLives

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