We’re at the bottom of 2016’s ninth inning. It’s safe to say that this year has been an exciting one for B2B sales. We’ve seen many trends emerge, some of which were predictable, others less so.
At the beginning of 2016, computer telephony integration (CTI) company Tenfold asked several sales experts to predict how they expected the sales industry to change in 2016. Many of the experts were right on the money, accurately identifying the key trends that we’ve seen take the B2B sales world by storm this year.
Prediction #1: The Revenge of Outbound
Dan McDade, President of PointClear, placed his bets on outbound sales: “In 2016 there will be a continuation of the shift in emphasis from all inbound to much more investment in strategic outbound.” McDade was right on target. In 2016, sales teams have increased their interest and investment in outbound sales. Their willingness to do so has been driven, in large part, by new advancements in machine learning. New sales enablement technologies such as 6sense, Infer, Lattice Engines, and EverString have empowered sales experts to more accurately pinpoint ideal customer personas and predict buying propensities (although their effectiveness remains limited as they are based on predictive rather than prescriptive models). This year, sales enablement tool providers have enriched their offerings by cultivating integrations with external data sources, with the result that sales reps are now better able to leverage historic CRM data and prioritize leads based on the highest likelihoods of conversion.
Forward-thinking sales reps recognize that machine learning tools can move mountains in terms of enhancing outbound sales efforts. According to Outreach, the average MRR of a customer generated by way of an outbound lead is about three times that generated via an inbound lead. Because outbound sales efforts can be more targeted than inbound efforts, sales reps are able to pursue more lucrative prospects with larger budgets. As well, they can tap into new markets (inbound leads tend to be largely generated via word-of-mouth and more likely to lack diversification). McDade estimates that, in the context of B2B sales, “the average company can drive about 35% of its desired or budgeted new business through inbound with 65% coming from proactive outbound programs.”
Prediction #2: An Increase in Omnichannel Outreach
Companies have tended to struggle to effectively deploy an omnichannel strategy: 42% of B2B companies struggle to share customer data and analytics between channels, countries, or locations. Prolific sales speaker, Tim Wackel, accurately predicted that 2016 would mark a turning point. Specifically, he predicted that we would see a rise in omnichannel outreach: “To be successful, you have to discover new and creative mediums to get your message across.”
Despite the inherent challenges, omnichannel outreach can prove a major competitive advantage. Approximately 80% of new business today requires at least five failed attempts before successfully connecting with a prospect. By deploying outreach efforts across multiple channels, sales professionals heighten the likelihood of reaching buyers. Especially with the rise of millennials, who gravitate towards social media, a one or two platform outreach strategy is no longer sufficient.
Sales and marketing professionals had a wakeup call in 2016, realizing the importance of an omnichannel strategy. A 2015 report found that 34% of marketers are upping their game by appealing to two to three channels, while 7% are juggling between 10–20 platforms. Fortunately, this wakeup call has aligned with the launch of several new sales analytic tools, which help sales professionals better understand customer behavior. Heavy hitters such as Marketo and Oracle’s Eloqua, as well as other players like Hubspot, Pardot, Act-On, Salesfusion, and Infusionsoft have enhanced their offerings this year with the result that sales professionals are better able to monitor the effectiveness of their omnichannel strategy across Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, WordPress, Mailchimp, Vimeo, and many other channels.
Prediction #3: Account-Based Marketing Strikes Back
Once again wearing the hat of a tarot reader, McDade accurately predicted the comeback of Account-Based Marketing (ABM) in 2016: “The days of marketing dumping leads on sales based on cost per lead and quantity are over in the most progressive companies.”
Indeed, the hype around ABM reached an apex this year. At the start of the year, 92% of B2B organizations saw ABM as extremely or very important to their marketing initiatives. 60% intended to invest in it in 2016. In 2016, we saw two of today’s most prolific sales companies announce major ABM undertakings. In March 2016, LinkedIn announced LinkedIn Account Targeting, which allows organization to run ABM campaigns on the LinkedIn platform and tailor Sponsored Content and Sponsored InMail campaigns to a list of targeted accounts that are cross-referenced against millions of LinkedIn Company Pages to create target segments. Next, in September 2016, following on the coattails of LinkedIn’s announcement, Marketo announced Marketo ABM, touting it as “the only solution that offers all the essentials for ABM success natively within a single, proven marketing automation platform.” Marketo ABM, which is fueled by a partnership with InsideView, enables sales reps to target accounts in more personalized ways by leveraging account and lead-level scoring to effectively target prospects with personalized campaigns.
The bases are loaded for the B2B sales and marketing landscape to undergo several more major transformation in 2017. Will we see these same trends impact sales and marketing organizations, or will new ones take hold more forcefully? Time to start placing your bets.