The Way It Used To Be
Roughly 25 years ago I worked for a manufacturer of specialised electronic components. The company had several major UK customers each with several divisions/locations, ten or so other key accounts and a large number (and variety) of smaller customers.
Area sales managers were employed across the U.K with distributors in Europe. The sales managers spent most of their time with major UK customers. Projects were tracked as were the key individuals in customer decision making teams.
The Sales Role
Nothing unusual about the above. There were many companies at the time following a similar process. The sales managers were responsible for staying close to the individuals in a decision making team and making sure their needs were met.
This was crucial as on any project purchasing may be happy, engineering may be happy, project engineering may be happy but if quality said no then the whole process could grind to a halt.
Marketing worked closely (it wasn’t perfect – there were conflicts) with sales to provide the information required.
They could work with engineering to provide qualification reports useful for a range of quality/project people. They might generate white papers on upcoming new products or presentation material. It might be guides or brochures. Of course, they were also responsible for promotional activity and guiding the new product process.
What I have described above, I suggest, is Account Based Marketing. Like so many other things it is just a current buzz word for what has been happening for decades.
In the situation I have described above customers would call on sales when they needed information. With the growth of the world wide web that all changed.
Customers have access to a vast amount of information. They tend (not always – but often enough to make it an issue) to satisfy their own information needs and call on sales or other company contacts only when they are ready.
Where in the past it was relatively easy to satisfy needs as they arose there is more guesswork involved now. Of course, sales still build relationships, that remains vital. I simply suggest those relationships are not as close as they were in the past.
Sales still need to manage a process to a conclusion that has not changed but they have lost a level of control.
The Role of Content
So now information (content in all its various forms) is vital. If customers are not going to reach out to request the information they want then that information needs to be available to them as and when they need it via whatever medium they prefer.
The information needed by different members of the decision making team can vary significantly as can the content needed at various stages in the sales process.
So the situation has changed from this is what the customer needs if we are to progress them from point A to point B (it’s pretty obvious really, it’s what they asked for) to we think this is what the customer needs but we are not sure how to be certain it reaches them.