6 Key Sales and Marketing Trends of Q1 2017

Lessons Drawn from 100s of Executive Conversations…

Every business quarter, MarketBridge has the privilege of speaking with hundreds of B2B sales and marketing leaders. Based on these conversations, we noticed six sales and marketing trends that have emerged. The below six trends sum up what we’ve heard on improving sales and marketing performance and getting latest strategies to work for you.

1) Apply Artificial Intelligence for Improved Performance.

There’s something very cool happening in the world of marketing and sales – AI is here. Every type of AI, from scoring to predictive signals, are on the consideration table in hopes of improving performance and reduce inefficiencies. But for many companies, it’s easy to get lost in the hype- a result of not fully understanding how to apply AI to drive meaningful results.

So, how can you make sense of AI and use it in your organization?

Taking smaller, more measurable steps in specific areas of the sales funnel is the best approach towards implementing AI. For instance, AI can be used to answer some of the basic questions we ask ourselves every day – “How can I speed up prospect research and do a better job of targeting?” Instead of answering these questions across your entire CRM, AI should be applied one use case or sales play at a time. Start with new customer acquisition, cross-sell or retention and build towards an AI strategy using your data, implementing analytics, and embedding AI inside your existing workflows.

2) Bridge the Gap Between Marketing and Sales.

Marketing and sales roles are continuing to converge in 3 major ways:

Sales and marketing teams are working together – even more than before.
Progressive B2B firms that we speak with are managing a portfolio of marketing technology that’s applied across the entire funnel. Whether it’s data and content management tech, predictive analytics or workflow tools, technology is jointly driving sales and marketing execution. Marketing teams should use data inside these technologies to build buyer journey maps that predict the “next best offer/content.” In addition, we found that aligning sales teams with marketing efforts can drive inbound traction and build a more efficient process.

Account-Based Marketing is still a major focus.
In 2016, many of us hopped on the Account-Based Marketing bandwagon, and that hasn’t changed in 2017. The ABM approach focuses on targeting individual organizations into a single segment and nurturing company-specific buyers in marketing programs.

We learned that you can take ABM a step further by expanding it beyond marketing your sales and business development teams. By combining marketing and sales efforts, you’ll realize an increase in engagement and conversion rates.

Content marketing is all about distribution
While some marketing teams are focused on more content output, innovators in content marketing are looking for ways to effectively distribute existing content across more channels (including sales and business development teams). These innovators are aligning content to specific consumer interests and preferences based on engagement data and consumption patterns. Patterns such as:

  • What content is sales using?
  • What content are consumers viewing?
  • Who/what/where/when is engaging with this content?

Answering these questions through data will allow you to map out the right content for each buyer persona and understand where to invest. It’s important to measure the impact of content marketing at later stages of the sales funnel, rather than just its effects to MQL and SQL numbers.

3) Don’t Increase Complexity. Instead, Simplify Selling.

In an ironic twist, as buyers have access to more information than ever, they also seem to be less confident in the choices they’re making. While endless possibility may seem like a good thing, many buyers experience “decision paralysis” by the sheer amount of information and options.

So how can you make the decision process easier? The best sales teams are simplifying their sales approach and becoming more proactive to reduce complexities. By prescribing specific actions to your sellers, streamlining workflows and compressing the number of decisions required for the buyer, you will see better deal flow, better close rates and significant sales productivity improvements.

4) Grow Existing Accounts Though Cross Sell.

Businesses are concerned about the slow growth in their existing accounts. According to a recent CEB survey, only 28% of sales leaders report that their existing accounts regularly meet growth targets.

There are a few ways you can make sure you’re part of that 28%. (And we suggest you don’t underestimate the power you already have in your existing accounts.)

  • Uncover buying needs for non-core products to expand your reach.
  • Understand who the right targets are for cross-sell, and how to navigate the cross-sell process.
  • Make sure your team has robust content to support new or non-core products to build confidence in the selling relationship.


5) Balance Tech Savvy Sellers with Declining Sales Enablement Budgets.

As sales teams move towards new technologies to support increased efficiency and effectiveness, we heard there’s a greater need to rationalize the cost of investment. This can create tension between sales’ desire to increase efficiency and finding a solution that fits into the workflow and budget.

If you can answer “yes” to these questions, you are investing in the right solutions:

  1. Can this technology reduce reps’ time researching, learning and note taking to allow for more prospect face-time?
  2. Will this technology fit within my team’s existing workflow and be easily adopted with minimal training?
  3. Is there a higher likelihood that this technology will improve revenue, average sales cycles or conversion rates?


6) Redefine Customer Centricity.

You’ve heard it plenty of times before – the customer is king. Improving customer experience is a large mandate for many organizations this year, and we heard that loud and clear. The most effective sales and marketing teams are focused on making it easier for customers to buy (as noted above) and, in turn, improving the experience. And the most progressive organizations are taking it a step further, where teams are not only focused on simplifying the buying process (and reducing the number of buyer decision points), but guiding the buyer to the right choice through prescriptive intelligence.

To do this, teams need to develop a new framework to understand the customer. The secret to success lies in looking past the traditional model of looking inward and how customers think about “us” as suppliers through “voice of customer” methods, such as loyalty surveys and social data. Instead, start by shifting the focus on how customers view themselves and their challenges. Understand customers’ business goals, map out dynamic buying groups, and comprehend points of agreement and disagreement in the sales process.
It has been a busy quarter and there is much to learn and apply. I hope that this brief overview has been helpful. As always, we are willing and eager to go more in depth across any or all of these topics with our clients. Leave your comments below.