Improvement vs. innovation - why your B2B sales are stagnant

Ed Marsh | Mar 24, 2014

You know it....but you're not sure why

"What is happening...is not a wakeup call precisely but a tugging at the attention, a demand to focus." Peggy Noonan
At some level you recognize that your B2B sales & marketing effort isn't working the way it needs to.  The acid test, revenue, is probably the prime tip off.  But there's more.  Competition seems more virulent and pervasive; margins are compressed; pipelines look like the python that swallowed a rat; and sales cycles are no longer predictable.

Further, while you're not hesitant to invest in marketing, you're loathe to simply throw money at poorly defined problems, when there's no discernible ROI.

It's a disorienting feeling - to recognize, at least in your gut, that there's a problem but not really know how to fix it.

You keep returning to it....trying to tweak it

b2b business development model improvementSo you do what's worked for the past 10 or 20 or 50 or 78 years of history in your company.  You tweak the sales & marketing machine.  In the words of Lowe's Kyle Nel, speaking at the Neuromarketing World Forum, you "are just improving and not innovating."  And in a B2B world where the "rate of change is now 'exponential'" that's a predictably unsuccessful approach.

But improvement is an entirely understandable response.  Most B2B companies approach business (internally and as they fit into their customers' operation) with an incremental, continuous improvement mentality.  Whether it's making the basic better, or the cool even 'awesomer', it's the same incremental approach.
b2b marketing improvement
And when the basic strategy is working, it's perfect.  Keep refining and modifying looking for opportunities for improvement.

But that's not your problem, is it?  The basic business development strategy isn't working - at least not well enough to generate abundant sales qualified leads; growing revenue with stable margins; predictable growth for operational planning; collegial commercial banking relationships; increasing enterprise valuation for your exit; or internal growth opportunities for young talent.

So is tweaking the answer?

Most people you talk to in B2B manufacturing face the same challenge

But is it even clear that you have a problem?  What if what you've got is just the new normal?  After all, most of your peers are probably facing essentially identical challenges.

So are stagnating sales, margin pressure, increased competition and unpredictable project cycles simply a fact of life today like the vacation email tether?

"Yes", or "no", you're right.  Because your outlook and expectation will be baked into your approach - and therefore will predict the outcome.

But before you groan "I knew it" ask yourself one question.  Seriously, honestly, introspectively (on an early Saturday morning when you have a cup of coffee and a clear mind)....

"When did I last buy something in the way that we are trying to sell to others?"

It's fixable...if you're adaptable

breakout b2b sales growth requires a different modelMy strong suspicion?  At least a decade ago.  You're not buying based on cold calls.  You might find intriguing ideas at trade shows or in magazine ads which you then research further.  And you probably rely on referrals from peers and professional advisors, and even your independent research online (looking for solutions to problems.)  And you probably aren't interested in wasting time with a sales rep until you're getting close to actually doing something.  (The statistics say you're 70% of the way through your sales process!)

Guess what?  As much as we each yearn to be unique, we're also each part of an environment that shapes us.  And each of your prospective customers is shaped by the same environment - a hyper digital world of constrained time and money resources.

So doesn't it stand to reason that your prospects are buying like you do today - not the way you all did 15 years ago?

And how do you define your prospects anyway?  By some general industry classification or arbitrary geographical boundary, or with a nuanced understanding of the value your products can create for them and their lifetime value to your company?

Your company can achieve substantial growth if you're willing (really, gut level, not proforma lip service) to embrace new approaches and opportunities.  Digital marketing (done right, with measurable ROI and best practices - not just sexy design or hocus pocus SEO) will power a sales qualified lead engine where you previously found only frustration.  Dynamic global markets, selected based on criteria around your product and goals (not mindlessly chasing plunging into the BRICs), offer green field opportunities. 

Are you open to change and growth?  Tired of that 'tugging at your attention'?  Check out our approach to business development for B2B manufacturers in today's market environment.

business growth, international business development, SMB marketing,


image credit herehere & here