Unblock the Fatberg Clogging Your Sales Pipeline

3 things b-to-b marketers can do to get qualified leads flowing

B-to-b marketers are skilled at generating awareness and driving demand. But if they are to weather this particular global storm, marketers will need to tool up to tackle a growing problem in the market: sales pipeline inertia. 

For many b-to-b organizations, the challenge isn’t the volume of leads, but the quality of those leads. Many are drowning in leads that don’t convert. Why is that?

This recession is unlike the financial crash of 2008. Alongside the economic impact, there is a simultaneous breakneck race to adapt the workplace and business models. McKinsey has dubbed this acceleration “The Quickening.”  

B-to-b  buyers are struggling to implement digital transformation at the pace required by their customers and employees. At the same time, there is growing scrutiny on spend, with numerous anecdotes of all new spend commitments going to the CFO or the board. The net effect is that there are plenty of good leads and opportunities, but not many are converting.

Sales pipeline inertia as a concept may not be new, but the extent to which it’s now happening feels—to use 2020’s favorite buzzword—unprecedented. There’s a sales equivalent of a fatberg in our plumbing, and b-to-b marketers need tools that are up to the job of unclogging it.

1. Practice smarter targeting

Historically b-to-b firms have drawn up account lists based on industry and size. That won’t cut it in a world where only the most relevant propositions targeted at the most relevant buyers are going to progress through the sales cycle.

The data points available to today’s marketers include both first-party and third-party sources, like intent data and information about technology stacks. These can build a rich picture of target accounts, but often the missing piece for b-to-b firms is a structured approach to turn the data into effective campaigns.

Make your insights accessible to internal teams and agencies, and focus on building scalable campaigns using a simple, effective set of tactics. This approach worked well for Citrix: In comparing this approach to a control group, which used a more traditional method for selecting the accounts, leads were 2.5 times more likely to be accepted by sales and more likely to turn into closed revenue. The process halved the usual sales cycle.

2. Help consumers buy

Last year, Gartner coined the term “buyer enablement” to describe the approach of shifting content design to help consumers navigate the buying process. Rather than thinking only about sales enablement, think about how to help the buyer make a purchase. Gartner recommends looking at the buying process as a series of jobs the buyer is trying to get done and creating content to make that job easier.

Helping your existing customers buy is just as critical as helping your prospects. Gemma Davies, senior director, global ABM strategy at ServiceNow, concurs. “Co-creating content with individual customers has delivered invaluable insights into how we can shape our broader communications to be more effective. We also found implementing a dedicated ABM program more than doubled pipeline velocity in the enterprise segment.”

3. Build confidence around your solution

Buyers are looking for a proven solution, in similar scenarios, so they know the business case is robust. A great starting point for marketers is to dig into successful past deals to find lookalike opportunities in other accounts.

Work directly with pre-sales and bid teams to unearth business case models or payback timelines that give confidence to prospects facing similar challenges. Providing detailed evidence of how other people have solved the problem is very powerful.

“Don’t stop at your in-house bid and sales teams,” says Joby Pearson, senior director U.S. distribution sales—Surface at Microsoft. “Your partner network has invaluable experience of what’s worked on the ground. We’ve collaborated with our channel to harness that knowledge and use it to develop sales tools and messaging to help speed up sales cycles.”

Unblocking your sales pipeline might not be the sexiest marketing job, but for b-to-b firms to succeed in the coming months and years, it’s going to be one of the most sought-after capabilities around.

With experience spanning London and the U.S. at award-winning digital agencies, including DDB and AKQA, David Hayes has a successful track record of establishing effective partnerships with some of the world’s most audacious brands in b-to-b and b-to-c .