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The Connected Web

Phil Wainewright

How to Sell in the Web Era

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Any company that cold-calls me by phone instantly disqualifies themselves (and don't even think of doorstepping or trying to sign me up on the street). A company that can afford to pay sales people to cold-call must have margins so good that the product or service has got to be a huge rip-off. Either that or the business is rapidly on its way to bankruptcy.

That may sound like a hard-nosed attitude, but customers are web-savvy these days, and they expect their suppliers to be web-savvy, too. There's no reason for any B2B sales person to go cold-calling now that most buyers are using the Web as the first port of call when they go shopping for new suppliers or requirements. Businesses have to be competent at using the Web as a marketing tool that lets prospects identify themselves, and then know how to intelligently handle those prospects so that the ones who are ready to buy become customers.

Unfortunately most businesses still operate processes that are so unwieldy that cold-calling often looks cheap by comparison. This isn't a problem that's new in the Web era. The divide between marketing and sales is a dysfunction that is so ingrained in the culture of many companies that it's almost a standing joke, dating back to the days when direct mail and print advertising were the primary tools of demand generation. But it's gone beyond a joke now that innovations like keyword search advertising have started to produce a surge of sales leads that few companies are well equipped to process effectively.

The good news is that there are automated solutions — from companies including Eloqua, Genius.com and Marketo — that help connect web marketing to sales, thus eliminating many of the efficiencies and leading to much better sales performance.

One of the most significant impacts such systems can make is in improving the timeliness of sales contact. Many B2B prospects first visit a website long before they're ready to purchase. A good marketing automation soluton will apply best practices to keep nurturing those leads until they've reached the point where they're ready to buy — and only at that moment put a live salesperson proactively on the case. Phil Fernandez, CEO of Marketo, which yesterday announced a new release of its software, believes that automating this process reaps enormous dividends:

"This is an amazing resource sink. It's the most inefficient process in any business today. and it's something that if companies can get it right, it can have a transformative effect on revenues."

Marketo's own track record is an impressive testimony for its own tool, having signed up more than 100 customers in its first year of trading. Its prices are set per-company, based on the number of leads in the database, starting at $1500 per month. The company already estimates it holds the number two position as a SaaS provider of B2B interactive lead management, behind market leader Eloqua, although Genius.com retorts that its user base is bigger than both.

"Marketing has to be everywhere a buyer is looking," says Fernandez. Marketo uses best practices in web marketing, including search engine optimization to make the site rank high on searches, a significant Google AdWords campaign to proactively pull in prospects, and Web 2.0 content such as a thought leadership blog, YouTube videos and webinar archives. "That's all free content to help the buyer research," explains Fernandez. Once they've made a decision to register, either they're ready to buy right away, or the lead needs nurturing and the system will keep tabs on the buyer's interest levels until their scorecard says it's time to re-engage.

Marketo has developed 30-day, 90-day and 50-week 'nurturing tracks' for cultivating leads. "It's only when leads get above a certain threshold that the prospect gets a call," says Fernandez. "At that point, our call completion rates are about 80 percent." (That's completion in the sense of successfully progressing to the next level of engagement rather than necessarily a closed sale).

"Every month, five percent of our activity comes from old leads that one day, they raise their hands, say 'I'm ready,'" says Fernandez. "That's five percent most companies don't capture."

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Sometimes internet enthusiasts get carried away with themselves.  Normally worth reading, Phil Wainewright asserts that: There's no reason for any B2B sales person to go cold-calling now that most buyers are using the Web as the first port of ca... Read More


Hi Phil,

We agree wholeheartedly with this well-written post. B2B sales is not the same anymore, with a salesforce that that would make appointments and call on accounts in its territory. B2B marketing and sales has evolved to be much more efficient in Web 2.0.

We also agree because we've (ActiveConversion) been involved in this category since 2006 and grown with it, pioneering this space along with Manticore and Eloqua.

I'd like to note how the prospects of our customers also benefit. No more endless cold calls, less calls for 'surveys', thrown away direct mail pieces, and expensive trade show aisles to roam mindlessly. Technology like this reduces their interruptions and improve their productivity as well.

Cheers, Fred.

Excellent article Phil.. Thanks for the great insights.

Phil, you made my day! I have been writing about this for a year. My "sales" colleges think I am nuts, automation to replace business development? Preposterous. Content to replace sales people? "he's gone batty"

This was a great post, and this is coming from a recovering "bull horn" sales guy who made the switch!

Phil, I agree that buyers routinely go online looking for information and solutions and vendors, but not always. Repeat buyers often rely on familiarity. A cold call with a timely and relevant pitch might be the only way that the buyer even considers there's an alternative to the status quo. Likewise a new and interesting product or service that addresses an issue or opportunity the buyer never knew they had. Effective web lead generation is necessary in most businesses serving most markets, but it is not sufficient in all. Ask people selling professional services or M&A proposals - they'll get some new leads from their web profile, but most come from their market reputation, word-of-mouth, networking and yes cold-calling.

Jim, I have confess that it was a cold call from a Google salesperson that got me to sign up one of my websites to the AdSense program five years ago. Which just goes to show that a) there's nothing wrong with a properly researched, well targeted cold call and b) those aren't the ones you remember :-)


Since I'm with Eloqua, I'll resist the temptation to provide evidence of our dominant leadership position. ;-)

But I'm absolutely with you on the main point of your post - selling in this web era is different and it's not just a question of efficiency. The reason selling is different is because buying patterns in this web 2.0 era has changed.

I think this is an area worthy of more discussion - and by the way, if you're impressed with Marketo, you should check out Eloqua.

Phil Wainewright blogs about how businesses are using the Web to get better plugged into today's fast-moving, digital economy.

Phil Wainewright

Phil Wainewright specializes in on-demand services View more

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