CMOs on B2B Sales & How to Win

By Charmaine Niewerth // 19 April 2021

CMOs on B2B Sales & How to Win

On 15 April 2021, Founders Forum and McKinsey & Company convened a small group of Europe’s leading B2B CMOs for an intimate peer-led discussion. Chaired by McKinsey Partners, Kabir Ahuja, and Liz Harrison, we discussed the realities of making complex sales entirely online, the rise of omnichannel, budget allocation and the future of marketing talent.

To set the scene of the discussion, the session opened with the latest findings from McKinsey’s global B2B research, while the CMOs shared first-hand insights on marketing trends across fintech, healthtech, martech, mobility and more. 

A big thank you to everyone who attended including: Accel, Babylon, DeepMind, Graphcore, Improbable, Lakestar, Lendable, Optimove, Owkin, Privitar, Prodigy Finance, Qatalog, Ultraleap, Voi Tech and Yoobic. Thank you for sharing your experiences and insights so generously. 

The New Normal is Better, Even for High-Value B2B Sales

There was wide agreement that organisations with complex products, long sales cycles and big ticket sizes were skeptical about their ability to successfully adapt to the New Normal of digital-only, Zoom-based sales and marketing – but adapt they have. 

Indeed, the group highlighted many areas where the remote sales process is better than in-person: 

  • Access to experts: Digital meetings make it feasible to bring in relevant experts who wouldn’t otherwise travel to meet with prospects.  –
  • Ability to manage for both quality and quantity: Similarly, as senior sales executives aren’t on planes visiting Tier 1 prospects, they can be in touch with more prospects and clients. 
  • Faster decision-making and alignment: It is easier and faster to get all the buyer’s decision-makers and relevant stakeholders on a Zoom than in a physical meeting. 
  • Diversification of channels for selling: The expansion of digital and self-serve channels reduces the reliance on individual salespeople. 
  • More efficient and effective sales cycles: The efficiency of digital channels is accelerating the sales cycle for many organisations. 

It is still important to note, however, that while prospects and clients are happy to initiate virtual relationships, some still expect them to be cemented in-person.  

Every Industry Has Its Kardashians   

In the new world order, B2B sales funnels have grown increasingly complex, and omnichannel is the new reality. Even in sales-driven industries, marketing has grown in importance during the pandemic as digital channels have dominated. 

One surprising observation from the discussion found that marketing budgets that were historically spent at trade shows has turned to influencer marketing. 

Unlike B2C brands, this isn’t your typical Instagram influencer. Software engineers – who may be your product’s end-user – pay far more attention and respect to AI thought-leaders than they do to sales reps pushing demos at trade shows. While they may not hold the purse strings, B2B companies are adopting a hyper-focused, bottom-up approach to speak directly to users about the topics they care about most.

However, many organisations have now realised their marketing budgets aren’t reflecting this. The questions being asked now are; “Who are the influencers in your industry?” and” Who are your prospects reading about, following and listening to?” 

It’s [Still] All About the Talent

Pandemic or no pandemic, every ambitious organisation needs to attract, engage and retain the best sales and marketing talent, which remains in short supply. Many organisations believe that hybrid working practices will enable them to tap into a wider talent pool.

Meanwhile, work-from-anywhere (WFA) remains complex, both culturally and logistically. Most organisations have shied away from being totally agnostic to location, stating that time zones do matter. 

Moving to an asynchronous communication and decision-making culture was highlighted by the CMOs as the biggest hurdle when adopting WFA, even more than the logistical challenges.  

As unicorn businesses with soaring ambitions, having a strong mission and purpose-driven brand continues to be integral in order to secure world-class marketing talent. 


To find out more about McKinsey & Company’s B2B Pulse global survey, click here to get the full report. 

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