My friend Neal Schaffer shared an interesting Harvard Business Review article, How More Accessible information is Forcing B2B Sales to Adapt. The story questioned the role and relevancy of the B2B sales team in a digital world.
There were also some great takeaways for marketing (it’s a must read for those who don’t think social media is important). But the most interesting thing for me, a PR professional, was the one thing that was MIA. HBR virtually ignored media as a channel of info that supports B2B sales. If true, does this mean that media coverage, and by extension media relations, no longer matter in this area?
DIY Buyers tap Self Serve Info
The HBR authors wrote: “Business buyers are more connected and informed than ever… digital channels provide access to information and enable self-sufficiency. When a buyer wants to learn about virtually any product or service, an internet search yields thousands of results, including online articles, videos, white papers, blogs, and social media posts. In addition to supplier websites, there are online sources (ranging from the self-serving to the unbiased) to help buyers learn and compare solution alternatives.”
I alluded to this trend in my recent Entrepreneur piece: “Who even sees or reads [tech news] stories? There are many other ways to vet the latest tech products and services (no one ever got fired for following Gartner’s guidance).”
Fighting Fire with Fire
How should B2Bers ensure that their sales teams don’t become outdated Willy Lomans? And is there still any significant role for PR when it comes to supporting sales?
Regarding the first question, the authors say, essentially, to fight fire with fire. Load up on data about buyers and use technology and digital channels to reach them. Your sales people need new competencies – they can’t just be “talking brochures”. Regular sales training from somewhere like Impel Dynamic will help them to stay up to date with the latest techniques and skills so that they don’t become dinosaurs.
PR needs a new approach too, as I said in Entrepreneur. We’ve never been just about media relations – or sales. Yet media relations are still the bread and butter for many PR agencies. And most who employ PR hope that it will do its fair share to meet short (read: sales) and long term business goals.
Forward thinking PR teams are expanding their tools and approach. Good PR has always been about validation and building credibility – but there are ways to accomplish this beyond earned media. You can court others – e.g., analysts, and social media influencers – to get buy-in and mentions. You can work to ensure that your news appears where the buyer is most likely to see it (e.g. user forums, mobile news apps, social media news feeds). You can craft and promote content that hits the hot buttons of buyers and addresses their informational needs.