It didn't used to be this way. Buyers would come to sellers looking for more information about the product and company. Sellers were empowered as guides in the buying journey. Even in 2012, B2B SaaS buyers did not have the information, insight, or interest to make sense of the purchasing decision – without the seller.
That has changed. Content marketing and search has made a mountain of information available at their fingertips. Automation has placed every pitch in their inbox, at least twice. And social media has offered new places to ask, learn, and make decisions about purchasing a product.
Call it what you want – independent buying, dark social, buyer-led purchasing – it's clear buyers are more informed and more discerning in their purchasing process than ever before.
On inbound motions, sales teams pretend they are still in charge. But data shows that the buyer is likely 80%-90% of the way through their buying journey.
The most obvious example of this error is sales teams still set up the short qualification call that begins with "so tell me about yourself." If buyers coming inbound are interested, most will have self-qualified according to the data.
On outbound motions, sales teams struggle to gain the attention of buyers. They suffer from a fundamental lack of credibility.
In a world of automated outbound and content overload, buyers have constructed The Brick Wall. The Brick Wall is a mental spam filter than tunes out the non-applicable. Buyers only pay attention to the things and people they think are important, because it's the only way to cope with the firehose of information and attention-grabbing content. Email response rates and cold calls suffer, as an increasing number of buyers are more sensitive to the non-applicable than ever before.
The only people that make it past The Brick Wall are trusted, credible voices. Many leaders believe that these trusted voices are only C-Suites. Our experience shows otherwise. Across hundreds of B2B companies, trusted voices hold a variety of titles: XDRs, Account Managers, Evangelists, Directors of Marketing, and more.
We call these trusted, credible voices Digital Road Warriors.
The OG road warriors were trusted members of a local community. They participated with the Chamber of Commerce. They showed up to community events. They supported local networks. They were a trusted, credible voice.
The world of in-person selling is behind us. Teams everywhere have shifted to quasi- or entirely remote sales.
There was a brief in-between moment where content & digital marketing promised to save us all. HubSpot's inbound marketing program (in essence) promised to automate and generate enough closed-won accounts to sustain pipeline.
But with great success for some comes competitive failure: replicated across hundreds of companies, buyers began to tune out the white papers and email sequences and webinars. Hello to The Brick Wall. In this third phase, we are witnessing a shift back to the personal networks, but in a digital & remote world.
We summarize this shift as:
Personal, Local > Impersonal, Digital > Personal, Digital
The channels that work are varied: LinkedIn is the most obvious, but Slack communities, Substacks, WhatsApp groups, Twitter threads, membership communities, and others are all accelerating this progress.
While other companies still were running automated email sequencers, Refine Labs doubled-down on LinkedIn. Alyce, Spekit, Dooly, and Gong all have significant presence across LinkedIn and key Slack communities. Even Chili Piper is leveraging TikTok to recruit talent and promote their brand.
The Digital Road Warriors that are building successful pipeline because they accomplish the same thing OG road warriors did: credibility before the sale.
Most marketing leaders conflate this with building a personal brand. It's most pervasive when using a social media platform like LinkedIn. But personal branding and credibility are not the same. There's a Venn Diagram of activities, but many orgs get sidetracked by trying to build a personal brand for their sellers – instead of building credibility.
Credibility comes back to the same fundamentals that drive all selling: industry context, prospect knowledge, critical insights about the company, and showing up consistently.
In a personal, digital world the lines between marketing and sales (and success) become blurred. We believe that the later stages of the buying journey – particularly closing the sale, renewals, and partnerships – are clearly defined domains that are best owned by a specific team.
But due to the way buyers now buy, we believe top-of-funnel activities should be viewed as one core function: Growth. Alignment of workflows between demand generation, demand capture, prospecting, and using social is the key challenge that needs to be addressed.
Why does this alignment create momentum? Because it takes an all-hands approach to circumvent The Brick Wall and create a buying experience that exceeds expectations.
A great piece of marketing that funnels to a dated inbound process means pipeline suffers. A sales team that has to work uphill against poor marketing also means pipeline suffers. A Digital Road Warrior that creates credibility on LinkedIn will ultimately be let down by workflows that make buying difficult.
Creating digital road warriors is no easy business. We've spent the last year refining the tactics of social prospecting while borrowing from our combined experience as marketers and sellers. The framework we teach, train, and enable is called PROACTIVETM.
Profile, Research, Observation, Audience, Content, Triggers, Insights, Validation, Enable
It centers the outbound motion on building the individual seller's credibility (PRO). It balances demand generation with prospecting efforts (ACT). It focuses on iterative learning and buyer-centered prospecting (IVE).
This is the repeatable, scalable process that allows any seller to become a Digital Road Warrior. But it requires top of funnel alignment. Marketing and sales must combine their efforts to create momentum. Social does not work when only sellers or only marketers are using the platform.