The relationship between sales and marketing has always gotten a bad rap. After all, both teams share the same ultimate goal, which is driving revenue. The problem is they use different yardsticks to measure their success along the way. Sales has specific quotas for deals closed and dollars earned. Marketers, on the other hand, use measurements like impressions, clicks and leads.
As a result, it’s always been difficult to coordinate efforts between sales and marketing. And it can be even harder to connect the dots between marketing efforts and sales results. In the last few years, though, customer relationship management (CRM) solutions have changed everything by combining sales and marketing tools in a single platform. A CRM lets everyone access and use complete customer information in one place. Now, sales and marketing have a shared view of who’s engaged with a customer, how they’ve done it, how customers have responded, where they are in the funnel and much more.
For small and midsize businesses, CRM has been an especially huge boon because it gives them the same technology as larger enterprises. And now, B2Bs are in the midst of three dramatic changes that have made CRM more indispensable than ever for closing the gap between sales and marketing.
Customers are Engaging Later
The first change has to do with your customers themselves. A typical B2B customer is 57 percent  into the purchase process before they engage directly with a supplier. That’s because today’s customers don’t want to talk to your sales reps until they’ve fully educated themselves about you, your product and your competitors. They do that through extensive online research and by talking to their peers in person and via social media.
By starting their research without you, customers have shortened the sales cycle and blurred the line between sales and marketing. That makes it more difficult to know where and when to engage with customers, and who should be engaging. A good CRM will help you make those decisions by giving visibility into what actions potential customers are taking, what the context of those actions are, and what your best response is.
For instance, if your CRM shows a lead accessed an educational video via your Twitter feed, marketing might follow up with an email offering a white paper. On the other hand, if a lead clicks from the company website to a trial, sales knows they need to jump in quickly for their best shot at a hot opportunity.
Account-based Marketing is Proving its Potential
The next big change for B2B marketing is related to strategy. Today’s customers are not only more educated about the products they’re looking at, they also have more options to choose from. As a result, they expect your marketing materials to offer something they won’t find anywhere else.
Marketers can’t meet those high expectations by casting a wide net, so we’re seeing a significant shift toward account-based marketing (ABM). ABM uses highly personalized marketing to focus intensely on fewer big wins rather than many smaller ones. And the results are hard to argue with. Almost 85 percent  of marketers who measure ROI say ABM delivers higher returns than any other marketing approach.
CRM plays a critical role in ABM because it allows sales and marketing to collaborate closely on creating the seamless customer experiences that are the key to making it successful. Working in the same system with the same information makes it easier to identify the most valuable accounts, zero in on the right decision-makers and orchestrate the most effective personalized campaigns.
The third compelling advancement for B2B is a technology breakthrough that makes CRM and ABM even more powerful.
AI is Huge for Automation
Engaging effectively with today’s ever-changing digital, social, mobile customers is a tough feat for any sales or marketing team. And it’s especially challenging for SMBs with limited resources. A good CRM already earns its keep by freeing you up from routine tasks and automating key processes that support the customer journey. But now, artificial intelligence is taking automation to a place that sales and marketing professionals only dreamed of a couple years ago.
With AI, CRM can guide sales and marketing teams step by step through the entire lifecycle of a deal — it’s all about getting the right content to the right person at the right time and on the right channel. It starts by determining which accounts have the greatest potential to be valuable customers. Then it selects which leads within an account are most worthwhile to pursue. It can predict which channel will most likely solicit a response and what action any given lead is most likely to take next, and then recommend the best form of engagement to capitalize. It can tell you whether marketing or sales should make the next move, and even what content they should share with the lead to drive them most effectively toward a deal.
Smart SMBs have learned that the fastest, easiest way to adapt new technologies and strategies like AI and ABM is to choose a CRM that automatically integrates them into existing business processes. With every improvement that comes along, the CRM becomes more powerful and closes the gap between sales and marketing. Tighter relationships between sales and marketing lead to stronger relationships with your customers — and it all starts with the right CRM.
CRM Concept  Photo via Shutterstock