A look at how some of the macro trends in sales, marketing, technology, and culture will change lead generation programs in the years ahead.
When I outlined this article in my mind it started as a very tactical exercise. I’d make some inferences about which lead gen tactics are trending up (thumbs up on audio advertising!?), which ones are trending down (thumbs down on promoted tweets!?), and make some straight-line projections from there. Isn’t that how “future of” articles tend to work?
But, after thinking about it a little bit, I realized that would essentially be a fool’s game. The tactics that work for any one firm are of course the function of the clients they’re trying to reach, the issues they’re helping them solve, and the perspective they have on how to solve them. The tactics working in one firm may not work at all in another firm. And what tactics will work in five years is pretty difficult to predict.
So, I decided to think a bit more broadly. What’s really happening in sales and marketing in the B2B and professional services space? What are we hearing from all the incredible expert guests that have joined our podcast in the last six months? What’s happening in the broader space of business, firm culture, and technology that might affect how we go about delivering high quality leads into a firm in the future?
In the end, I identified five potential scenarios of how lead generation will evolve for firms over the next five years. I’ll offer them here at a quick glance then delve into each one more deeply below. In short, lead generation will become…
- More Integrated and Helpful
- Less Automated and Impersonal
- More Automated and Human
- More Proactive and Personal
- More Meta and Experiential
#1 – More Integrated and Helpful
A few weeks ago, a client pointed me to this HBR article, written by Brett Adamson at Gartner, about a Canadian company named Smart Technologies that had “blown up” their sales, marketing, and customer delivery functions and replaced them with a single function they called the Unified Commercial Engine. We’ve since hosted their “former” sales and marketing leaders on our podcast to dig more deeply into what they’ve done and how it’s working (that episode will air soon).
In short, they eliminated all three functions and restructured everything around the customer. They focused very intently on what their customer was trying to accomplish at every stage of their journey to buy products and services and to solve their real-world business problems. The company organized their business and their sales and marketing roles around the five stages of buying that emerged from their discovery process. They then clustered their teams into pods staffed with a mix of people of different sales and marketing skills and backgrounds. Each pod is tasked with helping customers in their region go through all the stages of their journey as effectively as possible.
They’ve coined this redesigned organization the Unified Commercial Engine, and it is one of the most customer-centric organizations you could ever imagine. Everyone is working together to enable customers to be successful at every stage of their journey.
And the results are remarkable. Total leads are up. Sales accepted leads are up. Employee retention is up. Revenue is up, up, up. And, most importantly the entire organization is much more helpful to the customer at every point in their journey than it ever was before.
To start, I think lead generation will look more like this. It won’t be the job of marketing. It won’t be the job of sales. In fact, it might not be anybody’s job anymore because the objective of generating leads will be replaced with a much broader and better objective of helping clients learn, discover, purchase, and succeed.
#2 – Less Automated and Impersonal
At this point, I’m 100% confident we’ve all been on the receiving end of a lead generation bot. And many of us have tested them in our sales and marketing efforts. Often, it’s a simple script that makes a LinkedIn request and sends a few automated messages. Other times, it’s an email nurture that’s been triggered by some super simple action >> downloading an eBook or attending a webinar.
Of course, we’re all tuning these things out. We’re ignoring more and more LinkedIn connection requests. We’re investing in tools like SaneBox to weed out the noise in our inboxes. And the existing tools we already use (Outlook, LinkedIn, etc.) are making investments to stop the use of scripts and other automation tools or block the output they create.
I may end up being entirely wrong about this, but my gut says we’re nearing the peak of automated “bot-to-person outreach.” Buyers are more attune to these unwanted bots and have built walls (both cyber walls and walls in their minds) to avoid or ignore them. Most importantly, they’ve been declining in effectiveness rapidly over the last few years. So, going forward I suspect you’ll see fewer implementations of these types of automation and you’ll rely on them much less than you might now.
#3 – More Automated and Human
Wait, what? Jason, you just said things will be less automated. How can they be more automated at the same time? More and more sales and marketing leaders are learning how to automate away those things that make us less efficient so that we can assign more resources to more effective, value-added tasks.
In a podcast interview we did with sales trainer, Jeffrey Bishop (also, soon to publish), we learned that enterprise organizations are investing in AI and machine learning to score the sales professionals that are looking to do business with them. They’re essentially using technology to find the people and organizations that have the best ability to help them. And using that same technology to screen away those that don’t.
Increasingly, modern sales and marketing organizations are doing the same thing. They’re using technology to determine whether a potential client checks all the boxes of a quality lead. Is he or she in the right organization, in the right role? Is this the right time for them to do business with us? Technology can help surface only those leads that meet the right criteria and appear to be sending some digital signals that they’re in a buying motion. Technology in this area will only improve going forward.
The result is the opportunity to make targeted, timely outreach with a real human touch at just the right time with just the right people.
#4 – More Proactive and Personal
As B2B sales and marketing organizations embrace more and more parts of the Unified Commercial Engine, I think you’ll see a much more effective sales and marketing effort. You’ll hear fewer conversations about marketing “throwing leads over the transom” like it’s some weird game of college hackeysack on the quad. And you’ll see sales and marketing professionals working together much more closely to proactively build targeted lists of companies, teams, and individuals that closely meet the profile of an ideal client and are facing challenges the firm is designed to solve.
Those targeted lists will be accompanied with detailed plans about the organizations (their future vision, business goals, strategies, and decision-making processes), their culture (including the nature of formal and informal decision-making), the individuals involved (their professional and personal aspirations), their likely challenges (what those individuals are trying to accomplish for the business, as professionals, and as individuals), and the metrics that matter (both the potential ROI of solving a problem and the cost of inaction). The result will be marketing and sales interactions that actually help buyers move through their specific, unique buying process.
Of course, you’re already doing this in your firm right now, aren’t you?
#5 – More Meta and Experiential
No list about the future of anything related to sales and marketing can be without a reference to the metaverse (oh, I forgot….let me stuff in blockchain, crypto, and NFTs….for good measure). It’s still pretty fuzzy to me what metaverse marketing looks like, even from a B2C perspective. And it’s even further on the periphery for most B2B organizations and professional services firms. But I think it’s important to keep on your radar. Imagine it’s 1992 and someone is telling you to purchase the .COM listing for your firm’s URL before a troupe of Internet squatters move in. I’m pretty sure 1995 you would be thankful you listened.
It seems likely to me that you’ll have some type of metaverse presence in 2027. Maybe you’ll have a virtual location; sort of like a LinkedIn company page, but more immersive….a place potential clients can actually visit, interact with a receptionist, conduct a meeting with a partner. Maybe you’ll be sponsoring or hosting virtual events (you know, like a 2020 Zoom conference, but not sucky) with your virtual subject matter experts delivering useful insights (as avatars, of course). Or maybe you’ll just have some really slick, virtual immersive promotional advertising (ads being delivered virtually anywhere? Maybe everywhere?).
What to Do Now
It’s human nature to look at this list and pick winners and losers. An integrated, Unified Commercial Engine sounds pretty plausible…let’s look into that. A virtual conference in the metaverse sounds ridiculous….that will never happen. But I’d encourage you not to do that at this point, anyway. Simply take a few moments with your firm’s leadership team and talk about where sales and marketing are going. Have a discussion what things might look like if you moved directionally in any of these areas.