Beware of oversimplifying B2B sales conversion

I’ve just returned from a short vacation, one which allowed me to catch up on my reading a bit.  One of the more compelling articles I read was on a survey run by eMarketer, laying out the power of existing-customer referrals – nothing new here, although I did come away from their survey noting that the average reported sales increase from referrals was better than twice that of websites, which in turn beat out social platforms.

All of which only solidifies my thinking that one rarely (if ever) makes a purchasing decision based on Facebook or Twitter interactions.

But I digress.

More importantly was that while the producers of this survey do a great job of breaking down the distinction between lead generation and sales closure (in their words, “lead-opportunity” and “opportunity-deal” ratios), their figures gloss over the fact that it’s nearly impossible to attribute sales closure to a single medium of interaction.  This is due to the complexity of the B2B sales cycle, which they quote as taking a total of 99 days (!) to complete (i.e., 84 days to convert leads to opportunities, and another 18 to bring those leads over the finish line to convert).

That’s more than a calendar quarter required to find, qualify, nurture and convert a prospect — a fair amount of time.

If you look at the Implisit infographic (see also below), it becomes clear that while websites can transform leads into opportunities, it’s third party influencers who ultimately and most effectively convert those opportunities into deals.

And in the end, the results put too much emphasis on a single medium, belying the interaction between them all.  It’s simply not possible to attribute an opportunity, much less a sale, to a single lead-gen mechanism, as this survey attempts to do.

Which is why I assert that it’s a dangerous fallacy to focus one’s attention on only a single or handful of tactics at the expense of others such SEO or content marketing.

This isn’t usually a concern in today’s standardized integrated approach to marketing — at least when it comes to tried and true tactics from the marketing canon whose value is well understood.  Rather, the issue resides in management’s (all too human) tendency to boil complex situations down to a single set of cause-and-effect statistics in order to simplify both the problem and its solution.  It’s similar to the adage that “correction doesn’t indicate causality.”

Even worse, sometimes a new approach like influencer marketing is given short shrift when the real culprit is a downstream medium.  In our experience, the issue often resides within the sales channel, where the tendency is to oversell, or is just generally too complex for its own good.

Regardless, the fact remains that lead generation and sales conversion requires a multi-avenue approach (content marketing, influencer marketing and SEO); it’s overly simplistic to point to a single resource or conversion medium as the pivot point between lead and closure, as they all contribute.

My goal here is not to take issue with the research.  Rather, it’s to underscore the importance of understanding just how nuanced marketing is becoming – a phenomenon that we’re seeing become resistant to so-called marketing automation, most especially in the B2B sphere.

It all stems from the fact that customers are unique, and the company that can shortcut the discovery and consideration time period in order to lead sales prospects to conversion more quickly, is positioned competitively vis-à-vis its competitors.

Consequently, beware the simple solution:  It’s far more rewarding and efficient to develop new avenues to engage industry influencers, as they’re the key to converting your prospects in the first place.

Implisit B2B Sales Benchmarks-Infographic

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