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B2B marketers are having trouble getting prospects to engage, according to recent research. So what helps influence decision-makers to make an initial engagement with a vendor? As it turns out, a strong professional brand will do the trick, according to a new study [download page] from LinkedIn.

The survey asked more than 500 business decision-makers in the US with influence over purchasing decisions at B2B companies which factors most influence them to make an initial engagement with sales.

The top factor was the salesperson representing a well-know company with a strong professional brand, as cited by a slight majority (52%) of decision-makers, representing a large increase from a similar prior study. The importance of branding to B2B companies has also been seen in other research: last year, a study found that the vast majority (87%) of B2B companies had increased their brand investments over the previous 5 years, with most (82%) of those seeing those investments pay off, most commonly in the form of increased sales and customer acquisition.

Close behind, almost half (47%) of decision-makers pointed to the importance of the salesperson providing specific information relevant to their current job. This result aligns with others in the report supporting the importance of personalized experiences: virtually all decision-makers said that they were more likely to consider a vendor’s products or services if the sales professional has a clear understanding of their business needs (96%) or role (94%) and shares content relevant to their role (93%). It’s also highly important that salespeople target the appropriate people for initial discussions, as 92% of decision-makers said that would increase the likelihood of consideration.

Conversely, decision-makers said they’re least likely to engage with sales professionals who don’t have knowledge about their company or whose products and services are not relevant to them. Research has long shown that B2B buyers are frustrated with salespeople who lack relevant knowledge or subject matter expertise, so it’s no wonder that this emerges again as a turn-off for decision-makers.

Nonetheless, expertise in the field is not the most important contributor to closing a deal. Instead, once things have progressed to that stage, trust is the top factor that decision-makers want from a salesperson. Responsiveness and expertise in the field follow as the joint next-most important contributor. Trust and responsiveness also emerged as key to buyers’ perception of vendor relationships in LinkedIn’s 2016 study on this topic.

More Reasons for Sales and Marketing Alignment? The Messaging

The LinkedIn study also surveyed more than 500 B2B sales professionals, finding 44% saying that they work “very closely” or “closely” with marketing, a significant 35% uptick from the 2016 iteration of the survey.

Marketing and sales alignment also seems to correlate with sales success. Top sales professionals (those exceeding their target by at least 25%) were more likely than others to say that they work closely with marketing in prospecting efforts. Moreover, 57% of top sales professionals said that marketing was highly important in closing deals, compared to 41% of other sales professionals surveyed. (A similar dynamic was expressed in a HubSpot survey, where salespeople with SLAs were more likely to describe marketing as a top source of leads.)

Another benefit of marketing and sales alignment is consistency in messaging – and this is an area in which there seems to be room for improvement. Fully 9 in 10 B2B buyers surveyed said that consistent marketing and sales language about a product is either very important (50%) or important (39%). And yet roughly half (48%) reported frequently or always getting different messaging from sales and marketing when learning about a vendor’s solution.

The research suggests that a lack of overlap in the data used by marketing and sales might be at least partly to blame. Only 1 in 5 salespeople surveyed said that there is lots of overlap in the the data used by marketing and sales to target leads, with most instead saying there’s only “some” overlap.

Other Research Highlights

  • 3 in 4 sales professionals (73%) use technology to close more deals, and most are spending more time using sales technology, with CRM adoption a key growth area.
  • Roughly 6 in 10 sales professionals use social networking platforms, up 5% year-over-year, with LinkedIn being the platform on which they’re most active for business purposes.
  • A plurality of business decision-makers say that the website is the marketing asset that most influences purchase decisions, leading the report’s authors to note that “online first impressions matter.”
  • Younger top-performing sales professionals are more likely than their older counterparts to say they collaborate with marketing, and are more apt also to say they see excellent leads from marketing.
  • Sales professionals earn high marks from buyers, at least 9 in 10 of whom agree that salespeople are professional (93%), well informed about their industry (91%), consultative (91%) and well informed about their company (90%).

The full study is available for download here.

About the Data: The report describes its methodology as follows:

“Market Cube, a research panel company, conducted two online surveys from August 7-15, 2018.

For 2018, two sample groups were surveyed representing both sales professionals and decision makers. The first was a sample of 507 professionals from the United States who primarily work in B2B sales. The second was a sample of 502 business decision makers from the U.S. who have influence over purchasing decisions at B2B companies. Both samples includes respondents over 21-years-old who are employed at companies of different sizes and functions.”

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