Marketers: Why are your sales flatlining?

sales flatlining

Why aren’t traditional sales approaches working as well today? A growing body of research sheds some light on what has changed.

It used to be so easy: Generate sales leads, work the pipeline, overcome objections and close sales.

Now, everything is different. It’s much harder for your salespeople to get face-to-face appointments. Prospects want to do their own research and product comparisons. They don’t want to talk to you until just before the sale. As a result, sales are stagnant.

Your company needs growth – now.

What the latest sales and marketing research says

flatlining salesResearch from CEB’s Marketing Leadership Council and Google shows that business buyers do not contact suppliers directly until 57% of the purchase process is complete. That means for nearly two thirds of the buying process, they are forming opinions, gathering technical specifications, building requirement lists, and narrowing down their vendor options – with little or no influence from you.

Why is this a problem? By the time a prospect makes contact with your company, “they have hardened expectations about what they want out of a supplier – and at that point, your job is to take their order and fill it for the lowest price. They’re learning on their own, and there’s no room to teach them why what they’ve taught themselves is wrong. It’s marketing’s job to influence the 57% of the sale that occurs mostly on the web, before sales contact,” the report adds.

As a result, research conducted by Forrester Consulting suggests that the traditional role of the sales representative is declining. Only 20% of buyers purchase directly from a sales representative more than half of the time, and phone or email customer service is lagging at 17%, too.

flatlining salesDuring the past two years, the B2B research process has changed, according to a study Google conducted with Millward Brown Digital: “While 64% of the C-suite have final sign off, so do almost a quarter (24%) of the non-C-suite. What’s more, it’s the latter that has the most influence; 81% of non-C-suiters have a say in purchase decisions. Clearly, if you’re marketing only to the highest level, you’re overlooking the people who need to notice you,” the report states.

It also reveals that millennials are taking a lead role in B2B purchase research: In 2012, the age of researchers was more or less evenly spread out across age groups. In 2014, however, 18- to 34-year-olds accounted for almost half of all researchers, a remarkable increase of 70%. While they may not be the decision-makers yet, they’re starting to take a stronger role in the B2B purchasing process. Remember – they’re digital natives, with high expectations for online experiences!

CEB and Google’s analysis of traditional marketing, still practiced by many B2B firms, is especially damning:

“Most marketing leaders still treat digital as an unwanted appendage on the traditional marketing campaign cycle, which goes roughly like this: Create a new product, design a campaign touting its features and benefits, figure out a place to stick digital channels within that campaign architecture, execute, measure, repeat…

“(But) customer learning is happening all the time, and doesn’t coincide with your campaign calendar. Marketing organizations have largely been designed from the ground up to support and optimize campaigns, not maintain the continuous presence that the digital channel requires. Marketing management must adjust; if the customer is always learning, then marketing must always be teaching.”

The key, it points out, is customer education – which most B2B marketers appear to be ill-equipped to do:

Growth Cycle Marketing“It’s not enough to teach; you have to teach well. And the dirty little secret of most content marketing is that it does neither. All of that leads us to the biggest problem with current B2B digital approaches: They rely on content that is not at all useful for customers in the midst of a learning journey. Most content is low value; it may be interesting or get a lot of ‘engagement,’ but it doesn’t help buyers make commercial decisions.”

If you’re struggling with flat-lining sales and need to spur sales growth, contact us to learn about our profitable alternative: Growth Cycle Marketing.

Branding, Content, and the Sales Pitch: Finding the Right Balance

The temptation to hammer your audience with a peppy sales pitch when you’re trying to write content can be hard to overcome. Marketers are supposed to market, right? So why shouldn’t we be screaming Buy! Buy! Buy! like freakshow carnival barkers?

Oh, wait, that’s actually the answer. Yikes.

Aggressiveness is out. Instead of demanding action from your customers, you have to give them answers to entice your customers to come to you. What you use to attract them determines the quality and longevity of your relationship.

Why We Had to Kill Frank…

Imagine you live on a cul-de-sac in a quiet suburban neighborhood—that is, until a new neighbor moves in. You know it’s going to get ugly when a panel truck with an LED display offering a miracle health product pulls into the driveway.

But, being the good neighbor you are, you bake a nice casserole and go over to introduce yourself. Your new neighbor Frank tells you all about how you can earn money by selling his miracle product…and all about how the pyramid scheme works. You buy a jar of miraclestuff to be polite and excuse yourself.

The next morning, Frank is at your door. He hands you a single flower from his garden, invites himself to breakfast, and tells you more about the product and the pyramid. Frank doesn’t care what you want, he only cares about selling you so he can make more money.

You’re forced to choose your own adventure: You can either kill Frank or put your house on the market and move to Tucson.

Pushy, one-way relationships were common in the early days of the Web. Intrusive banner ads, aggressive popups, spammariffic emails…

The good news? Technology killed Frank. We’re all very happy about it.

Moving to Tucson

Marketers had to find something more effective than Frank InYourFace—and the growing popularity of blogging and social media provided the perfect vehicle. For the first time, business owners and marketers had a forum to talk about solutions, issues, and pain points…all things your customer is interested in. And it worked.

Don’t worry, you still get to brand your business and sell your product. It’s just a more organic process today. A good relationship involves trust and rapport. Understand your customer’s needs and provide answers. They will remember your brand. Loyalty is human nature.

Making an Impression

Consider what you want people to think of your brand. Do you want to be seen as a thought leader? A company concerned about sustainable products? The manufacturer of the best widget available on the market? The low-price leader?

If you build your content around your desired image, you reinforce your brand and company values with every piece of content—WITHOUT selling. Your website should be filled with quality information about you, your company culture, your products, and your customers. That’s your branding. Authentic reinforcement of your message.

The Selling Part

You’re going to have to cut to the chase and promote some sales copy, and you don’t have to betray the trust you’ve built to do so. Make it relevant and timely and your customers won’t want to hit you with a shovel.

3 softer-selling secrets:

  1. Get Personal. Even with all the changes in delivery, the basic principles of marketing still hold true. The amazing depth of information you can gather on customers and their behavior eliminates the guesswork. You can send an offer so personal and timely it’s hard to resist:

“Dear Elizabeth, Last year, you told us you loved the yellow duckie raincoat and matching umbrella for your 3-year-old daughter. It’s almost rainy season again, and we thought you might like our outstanding selection of Dora the Explorer raingear in just the right size. We even have a matching backpack! It’s all on sale this week. Oh, and while Dora is the best-selling choice for girls her age, we also have a big selection of alternative characters, prints and solids, all on sale right now.”

  1. Weave Your Selling Point into Valuable Advice. Basic Selling 101: Identify a pain point (like the coming rainy season in the example above) and offer a solution. Your content marketing goals aren’t just to sell an item, but to be so useful and full of great ideas that your customers will come back just for the edutainment.
  1. Ask for Opinions and Advice. Customers love to give input and to be heard, so don’t be afraid to ask—then make changes based on their answers.

Back to Frank

Imagine your new neighbor, Frank, moves in without fanfare. You take over a casserole, introduce yourself, and exchange pleasantries. He invites you over, grills steaks, and pours a few beers. You become friends.

Over the course of the friendship, Frank never asks you to become involved or tries to sell you product, but you do notice how healthy and energetic he is. You ask, and he tells you he likes to get plenty of rest and exercise, along with a healthy diet including a special supplement.

A few months later, a different friend mentions he’s looking for a side business, something he can really believe in. He mentions he’s been slowing down lately, feeling run down and tired. You find yourself telling him all about Frank. While you’re talking, you wonder if that supplement would make you feel as energetic as Frank feels. You decide to ask Frank if you can buy a bottle of his supplement.

That’s how content marketing works.


Side Door Thinking: Learn the smart marketing tactics you need to truly engage with more customers.Stop banging on the front door of your customer’s mind …when the side door is wide open! Want to learn more about effective content marketing? Whether you decide to outsource content marketing or not, this eBook is chock-full of great information on content marketing. Download this FREE guide, Side Door Thinking, to discover how content marketing can help you ramp up your website and complete your marketing strategy.

You’ll learn how to:
  • Increase Your Referral Rate
  • Increase Your Social Media Reach
  • Leverage New Product Lines & Revenue Streams
  • Earn Your Customer’s Loyalty & Business
  • Position Yourself As An Industry Leader & Trusted Resource
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Sell Without Selling: How Your Brand Story Pays Off

Brand story. You’ve probably been hearing this phrase a lot these days—but if you’re a business that packages mulch or sells cement for commercial real estate construction, you’re probably scratching your head and thinking, “Story? I make powder that builders use to make concrete. What kind of story is that?”

But your story isn’t about what you do, or even about what your product is. Your brand story is about HOW your product impacts your customer. Make your story about your customer and it’ll pay off big time.

Think about Ford trucks for a minute. Ford F Series trucks crush the competition. They have outsold every other truck for 37 years—and every other vehicle for 32.

Ford really understands their customers. They show their trucks as dirty, beat up, loaded down, plowing through a swamp, towing impossibly large objects. Their story is hard-working pride, and they tell it well. You don’t see Ford truck commercials advertising its cushy seats, fancy leather trim, or the Wi-Fi in the cab. Instead, they focus on power, control, and their ability to help their customers get the job done.

That’s storytelling for sales, and it works.

So about that cement? Cement is a strong foundation to build on. It’s the bedrock of American construction; a high quality foundation that stands the test of time. Your cement is more than just ground-up stuff, it has history. Tell a story that ties cement to the success of the United States. Where would we be without it? When you stop thinking about cement and start thinking about foundation, you have a dynamic, exciting story that captures the imagination.


Your Content: Make It All About Your Brand Story

Once you’ve fleshed out your brand story and how it connects to your customers, it’s important to ensure your story is consistent across your content marketing. Every page can build on the elements of your story.


  • history,
  • use,
  • practical applications,
  • ideas,
  • and relationships with other products.

Sell Without Selling: How Your Brand Story Pays Off ... Because you can’t eat cookies without milk. In some cases, you might even partner with other companies.Because you can’t eat cookies without milk.

In some cases, you might even partner with other companies, like Ford and Hemi engines, or IBM and Intel processors. Give THAT a second or two of thought. Intel is a tiny circuit board, one of many inside computers. And it’s also a household name with a well-established brand identity. You’re not going to run out and buy a computer chip by itself (well, that’s true for most people, anyway) but knowing about Intel processors might influence your buying decision. It’s indirect, and it works.


Selling Without Selling

You may be wondering why you even need a brand story…and the answer is trust. Buying decisions, even in B2B, are based on relationships and trust. If you want to succeed, new sales are only part of the equation. Existing customers are your bread-and-butter over the long run.

After you’ve made that all-important first sale, it’s up to you to keep your customers engaged and interested. Not with in-your-face sales tactics, but by making your story something they want to be part of; something they want to share with their friends.

Ford knows that. As well-known as they are, they never stop reinforcing their brand story. Their iconic tagline, “Built Ford Tough” has been around for 36 years now, and they never deviate from a brand story that sells so well.



Side Door Thinking: Learn the smart marketing tactics you need to truly engage with more customers.Stop banging on the front door of your customer’s mind …when the side door is wide open! Learn how to create a great content marketing strategy that showcases your brand story. Download this FREE guide, Side Door Thinking, to discover how you can use storytelling as part of an effective marketing strategy.

You’ll learn how to:
  • Increase Your Referral Rate
  • Increase Your Social Media Reach
  • Leverage New Product Lines & Revenue Streams
  • Earn Your Customer’s Loyalty & Business
  • Position Yourself As An Industry Leader & Trusted Resource



Employee Pro Tip: Connecting with One Person at a Time

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These additional resources will help you with connecting to your customers and prospects:

Ready to really engage your target audience? Growth Cycle Marketing is a strategy that delivers the content, storytelling and messaging your customers want, when they want it—all wrapped up in the right time and place. Download this whitepaper to learn more.

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Are Your Marketing, Sales, & Lead-Gen Services DRIVING Revenue?

In recent years, you’ve most likely heard of this little thing called lead generation. You’ve received email after email, phone call after phone call from marketing companies promoting their services, educating you about inbound marketing, and probably harassing you to the point where you decided to try it out because, let’s face it — you want to be on the forefront of this new style of sales and marketing.
What you probably discovered after painstakingly getting your team immersed in your new lead-gen program (and linked with your CRM) is that something is not quite right — You’re not seeing the growth you assumed you would.

Your marketing department is doing what they’ve been told, and your sales force has been following up with strong leads that come in from the program. So, what’s missing?

You may be experiencing a common condition in business known as Collaboratitis.™

Don’t panic though — you don’t need to consult your primary care physician at this point. There are a few simple steps you can take before you need a prescription.

Let’s get real here for a moment…

Your sales and marketing teams HAVE TO work together, collaborate, and communicate in order to succeed. The relationship is mutually beneficial and crucial for the success of your company, regardless of how each team views its role. Do either of these sound familiar?

MARKETING: “Sales — HA! Who do they think they are? They’d have nothing to do without US!”

SALES: “Those marketing goons think they know everything. Without us, they’d have no clients to market to. WE bring in all of the leads!”

“That’s us, Nick,” you say. “So, what can we do about this division?”

Collaboratitis.™ |  Are Your Marketing, Sales, & Lead-Gen Services DRIVING Revenue?There’s a cure for Collaboratitis.™ It’s called Collaboration!

Collaboration is the #1 branded prescription aid-process for getting teams to work with each other to perform tasks that achieve shared goals (like revenue).

In clinical studies, Collaboration was proven effective to help increase synergy, morale, and ROI. Individual results may vary. { Tweet this. }

Your teams need to get over their “Me-Me-Me!” attitudes and work together to make your lead-generation program a success. If you’re finding your lead-generation program has become stale or is simply not driving revenue, it’s time to sit down with both teams and discuss what’s happening.

Your processes are already in place, but you need fuel to drive this Bugatti Veyron of a business you’re trying to run. There is no sense in having a gorgeous car without showing off what the car can do on occasion, right? You’ve got two seats: One for sales and one for marketing — It’s time for everyone to take their seats, collaborate, and FLOOR IT to the Finish Line of success!

It all boils down to content.

If your content is weak, your revenue will suffer. It’s not solely one team’s job to create your content; it takes a team approach from both marketing and sales teams to do content marketing well.


No single marketing person can effectively create content that meets the needs of everyone in a business, especially their target market, without the collaboration of those that speak directly to your leads — THE SALES TEAM!

According to Marketing Sherpa, 61% of B2B marketers send all leads directly to Sales; however, only 27% of those leads will be qualified. (Source: MarketingSherpa B2B Marketing Benchmark Survey; Methodology)

Stop Marketing vs. Sales Bellyaching: Have your two teams reach an agreement as to which leads should be deemed “Marketing Qualified Leads” (MQLs) and passed along for follow-up. This collaborative activity of lead-scoring and categorizing leads by buyer personas will help direct your marketing team’s approach toward high-quality content.


We know — that eBook you’re so diligently working on that you plan on deploying a month from now is very important. Did you ever think about expediting time-sensitive content related to high-profile trends? Your leads not only appreciate the relevant information you market to them through your consistent email-marketing plan, but they also appreciate your knowledge and your ability to quickly stay on top of trends happening right now.

Sales could really use the boost to promote your business as a trusted source for content that your leads could use right now. Pull your two teams together to take advantage of trending news updates.


Continually creating great content and socially engaging those who are finding your eBooks and white papers is a great way to pull in new leads.

{Monthly GROW eNewsletter} Subscribe today!You can also survey your existing pool of leads for feedback to trigger new product ideas, find out if your content is annoying or helpful, and more. Depending on how good your content marketing is, pulling in new lists to survey relative to your market has also shown exceptionally high completion rates for lead-gen forms when used with interactive content.

Your consumers love to give feedback. Don’t be afraid to ask. Eloqua has seen an average of an 82% completion rate for lead-generation forms when utilizing interactive content in their marketing strategies.

Now that you know there’s hope with Collaboration,™ you can take these questions and insights about how to move forward collaboratively with your teams to build out your content (i.e., your FUEL in that Bugatti Veyron analogy I mentioned earlier) that you need to show off, to retain your existing clients, and to earn new leads that convert to increased revenue for your business.

Connect with me on LinkedIn—I’d love to talk further about your current marketing tactics, or anything related to technology or motorsports.