Somewhere out there is a competitor, unborn and unknown, that will render your strategy obsolete. You can’t dodge the bullet — you’re going to have to shoot first. You’re going to have to out-innovate the innovators.” — Gary Hamel

Across the marketing field, a tidal wave of new technologies from digital customer targeting to predictive analytics has revolutionized business practices. Just as consequential, customer behaviour has also changed. Today’s B2B buying process is increasingly difficult to navigate and prospective buyers are better educated, making their way through more than half of the buying process before ever making contact with sales.

Given the advent of new technologies and the pace of change of customer behavior, B2B marketers must change on two fronts: first, changing the marketing function to focus more on pipeline, sales, and the bottom line more than ever before. Second, recognizing that customers increasingly expect value from how companies talk to them — marketing content should provide insight and value in order to drive purchase decisions. Without embracing these shifts, marketers across the board risk getting left behind.

Marketing’s new target: Sales pipeline and revenue generation

In the UK, content marketers recognize lead nurturing (85%) and lead generation (84%) as two of their top top organizational goals. Meanwhile, only 28 percent say they are successful at tracking ROI, a number that will need to rise for the marketing function to remain relevant. The days of marketing as a cost center are soon to be behind us.

B2B marketers are increasingly finding themselves in charge of sales pipeline management, a role historically divided between sales and marketing. By extension, today’s CMOs are more accountable than ever for revenue.

On that vein, too many marketing heads today focus on quantity of leads, rather than quality. To stay relevant, marketers must shift their performance metrics to revenue and actual sales pipeline rather than offloading to sales the responsibility to close sub-par leads.

For CMOs, consultative selling is the new “Always Be Closing”

Imagine the process for buying a TV in the 1990s. Many consumers would arrive at the store, seek advice from a salesperson, and determine their options on the sales floor. Nowadays, researching that purchase ahead of time is the new normal — a customer might not even talk to sales staff to finalize their decision. The trend is even more pronounced among B2B buyers. While the figures are debated, most research suggests the average B2B buyer completes 50–90% of the sales process before engaging with sales staff. Facing this reality requires engaging, useful content.

The path to influencing customers requires a form of consultative selling 2.0 — think content marketing that addresses and solves your customers’ biggest challenges. Like the SaaS trend of Customer Success Management, enterprises recognize that a valuable customer relationship means shared responsibility for success. Similarly, a successful content marketing strategy should add value to the prospective customer, likely before even selling the product. Simply put, engagement comes before the sales pitch.

Great marketers and great marketing allow you to control the dialogue with a prospective buyer. If you can provide quality content, you are going to become what every marketer wants: a trusted advisor for the prospect.

Embracing the “new normal” of engagement-driven, bottom line marketing

A common mistake in business forecasting is to assume the pace of change from the past will be equivalent to the future’s rate of advancement. To the contrary, change is often exponential, not linear: the amount of technological evolution taking place in a 10-year time period could someday happen in just six months.

Even with increasing competition, radical shifts in customer expectations, and an increasingly complex buying process, the outlook for sales and marketing professionals has never looked brighter: by 2020, the total B2B sales market is forecasted to hit $25 trillion.

Regardless of shifts in technology, the fundamentals of marketing and selling — from understanding your customer to finding them and speaking their language — are paramount. Smarter, better-educated customers are a bigger opportunity than a threat to the status quo, and sales-focused, engagement-driven CMOs have the opportunity to lead the way.

By Joe Hyland, CMO, ON24

Joe Hyland will be speaking at the Digital Marketing Show on 18th November at ExCeL London.