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That sinking feeling: the Titanic mistakes of B2B sales and marketing.

Poetry was never my thing at school, but one Thomas Hardy poem has stuck with me for over 40 Years.

‘The Convergence of the Twain’ begins like this:

"In a solitude of the sea Deep from human vanity, And the Pride of Life that planned her, stilly couches she."

If you didn’t know, Hardy is writing about the sinking of the Titanic at the hands of a giant iceberg and one of the leading messages is how arrogant mankind had become to think they could build an unsinkable ship.

It got me thinking, are B2B sales and marketing teams guilty of the same thing? Are they so focused on the small, easy-to-reach section of the market – the tip of the iceberg – that they’re ignoring the vast opportunities below the waterline?

We all know what happens if you ignore the bulk of an iceberg…

The rise of the Internet has changed the world of B2B sales considerably. What used to be done with hard work and personal conversations is now widely automated by digital marketing campaigns that generate sales leads in an almost ‘set and forget’ situation. What this has led to is an incredible, untapped source of sales leads and prospects that is simply not on the radar of the average sales professional.

It helps to think of your target market as an iceberg.

The top section of the iceberg, which in the B2B space represents about 20% of your market, consists of those prospects you market to with digital marketing. It’s a world of email marketing campaigns, social media and online advertising – almost all of which is automated. And it’s this automation that has made us complacent.

You might think you have a sales pipeline chock full of prospects chomping at the bit to buy from you but in fact, your database is probably out of date, and the percentage of the prospects in it who are actively engaged with you is very low.

On the other hand, the bottom section of the iceberg that’s submerged makes up a whopping 80% of your market. And in most cases, these people are being completely ignored by your sales team!

Why companies only market to the top 20% of the iceberg

Compared to face-to-face conversations, online marketing is easy, reaches a broader audience and can be automated, leaving us with more time for other work – or so we are led to believe.

Online marketing has led us into a false sense of security, and we’re commonly caught in one of two traps:

Trap 1: Online marketing can deliver all the prospects you need

With nearly 62% of Australians shopping online, it’s easy to believe we can reach as many people as we want or need via email, online ads and social media. And if we can’t find them, they can find us with an online search. All we need to do is have a team of salespeople on standby to take orders.

Trap 2: Online marketing allows the customer to decide who they want to buy from

Let’s say your customer is looking to buy new CRM software. Chances are, they’ve done a few online searches to compare features and prices, they’ve read reviews, and they’ve decided on the type of software they want and who they’re going to buy it from. In other words, they’re well educated and informed before they get to you. Often, when they do finally call you, they are just shopping around to confirm the choice they’ve already made, so it’s easy then to assume there’s no point trying to sell to them and change their minds. It’s just too hard.

Many businesses are falling into these traps, and it’s hard for them to find a way out.

Why this approach isn’t working

Sadly, these traps aren’t even the worst part. Your biggest problem is that your competitors are doing exactly what you’re doing. They have a great website, just like you do. They are using SEO and Google Ads just like you are, targeting the same audience with the same search terms. They are using the same social media platforms as you are, producing similar content to lure their audience in.

Why you need to broaden your focus

Online marketing most definitely has its place, and often gives a generous return on investment. It’s an important part of the marketing mix.

But when sales people become complacent and use this as their ONLY means of sourcing leads, they stop reaching out to the rest of the market where there is a HUGE opportunity.

Believe it or not, there are customers out there who need what you’re selling but can’t find you – or aren’t even looking for you online. They may be simply living with a problem that you can solve, but they don’t know you even exist. Perhaps they’ve given up and have resigned themselves to the idea that their problem is unsolvable. They may be so busy that they just haven’t had time to look for a solution.

They may not even be aware that there is a better way of doing something until you point it out for them.

These customers are all sitting below the waterline, in the untapped 80% of your market, which is a topic covered further in my new book The Ultimate Guide to B2B Sales Prospecting*.

How to engage with this untapped market

It’s frightening to think that 80% of your market isn’t looking for you, and your sales and marketing team isn’t focused on finding them.

But this can change.

There are a few companies who have started to realise the potential sitting below the waterline and have begun to talk to these prospects.

How? By including P2P prospecting in your sales strategies. Person-to-Person. And this is when things get interesting.

For customers who aren’t even aware they have a problem yet, or that you have a solution to a problem they are living with, a genuine conversation is the only way you’ll be able to engage them. It’s not a sales pitch, but an open and frank discussion about their pain points.When you catch them, and alert them to their problem before they even know they have one, you’ll be able to tap into a source of customers in a way you’ve never experienced before.

For P2P prospecting, it’s important to remember that your approach needs to be consistent, long-term and strategic. It’s easy to expect results to come quickly (as they might with online marketing) but for conversational prospecting, you must have patience and realistic expectations. A successful prospecting campaign will need 3-6 months to develop and build real momentum and sales.

P2P prospecting is the only way to initiate a conversation with these potential customers before they become visible to your competitors. You have what your customer needs – they just don’t know it yet, and you need to convince them.

So, it’s time to ask yourself one question: is your company in Titanic mode?

Are you blindly heading towards an iceberg that’s ultimately going to spell disaster? Or have you spotted the dangers and are broadening your P2P sales and marketing horizons?

I’ll finish with another quote. Not from a poet this time but from comedy character Alan Partridge whose disastrous show Knowing Me, Know You was likened to the Titanic.

“Let me tell you something about the Titanic,” Alan ranted. “People forget that on the Titanic’s maiden voyage there were over 1000 miles of uneventful, very pleasurable cruising before it hit the iceberg!”

One minute you’re cruising along quite nicely, and the next you sink without a trace.

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