What is ‘pipeline inertia’ and why is it happening?
It’s all to do with the changes that have happened to the B2B buyer’s world since the pandemic. This recession is unlike the financial crash of 2008. Alongside the economic impact, we are seeing a breakneck race to adapt the workplace and business models. McKinsey, with a rather wonderful sense of drama, have dubbed this sudden acceleration ‘The Quickening’.
Spare a thought then for the people trying to oversee this sudden transformation. The pandemic has greased the waterslide of digital transformation and our B2B buyers are struggling to get their bearings, hurtling rather faster than they would like towards the paddling pool of the ‘new normal’.
At the same time, there is growing scrutiny on spend: 85% of B2B businesses have seen delays in decisions over spending and almost 70% delays in payment schedules, according to Marketing Week and Econsultancy’s research in August. There are numerous anecdotes of all new spend commitments having to go via the CFO or the board. To follow our waterslide analogy, we can imagine a rather stern attendant hoicking people out half-way down and sending them back to the top to do it properly next time.
The net effect is we see plenty of good leads, inflows and opportunities but not many closing to business. Lots of ‘weeee!’ but very little ‘splash!’. Or pipeline inertia, if you prefer.
A new problem needs new solutions
The new normal may have become a cliché already, but there is little doubt that for B2B buyers the context has changed significantly. We, as B2B marketers, need to change our approach to help buyers adapt to the new environment if we’re going to avoid dwindling conversion rates.
1. Be smarter in your targeting
Mathias Buettner, marketing director for Central Europe at Citrix, has shown the impact a more sophisticated approach to targeting can make in the current environment.
“Traditionally, in B2B your target account list is decided by industry and size,” Buettner explains. “But we have a wide variety of data points we can use now to build a richer picture of each target account, both first-party and third-party sources like intent data and information about technology stack.
“We combine a number of these sources using a tool we developed called Edison, which creates a propensity score for each account for our key propositions. This is updated regularly and provides a prioritised list of target accounts.”
Intent and technographic data are already widely used by B2B marketers but, as Buettner explains, the key is to make that data actionable: “We realised early on we would need a structured approach to turn the data into effective campaigns. We’ve worked hard to make the insights accessible to our internal teams and agencies, and built a scalable campaign approach using a simple set of tactics we know to be effective.
“In the trials we ran comparing this approach to a control group, which used a more traditional method for selecting the accounts, we found leads were 2.5 times more likely to move to sales qualified lead and significantly more likely to turn into closed revenue. We’d actually closed deals from over a quarter of the marketing leads within three months – half the usual sales cycle.”
2. Help buyers get jobs done
Gartner last year coined the term ‘buyer enablement’ to describe this approach. Rather than thinking only about sales enablement, think about how to help the buyer to buy. 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, director of global account-based marketing (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. Repeatable innovation
Buyers are looking for innovation that has been proven to work before, in similar scenarios, so they know the business case is robust. A great starting point for marketers is to roll up our sleeves and 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. Being able to give 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 of US distribution sales for the Surface brand at Microsoft. “Your partner network has invaluable experience of what has worked on the ground. We’ve collaborated with our channel partners 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 B2B firms to succeed in the coming months and years, it’s going to be one of the most sought-after capabilities around.
David van Schaick is CMO of The Marketing Practice.