During every Winter Olympics, I find myself watching at least a few minutes of the curling competition. I'm not really sure why because curling is definitely not an exciting sport. If you're not familiar with curling, it's a little like shuffleboard. The big difference is that curling is played on a rectangular sheet of ice and involves sliding a large, polished granite stone weighing about 40lbs toward a target painted on the ice.
After one team member "throws" the rock toward the target, two other team members accompany the stone as it moves down the ice and guide it toward the desired position on the target. The catch is, these players are not allowed to actually touch the moving stone. Instead, they use long-handle brushes to "sweep" the ice in front of the stone. Sweeping temporarily melts the top of the ice, and this reduces the friction between the stone and the ice. By reducing the friction, sweeping changes both the speed and the direction of the stone. Knowing when and how much to sweep is a critical skill in curling.
Now you may be thinking: What in the world does curling have to do with business-to-business marketing and sales? In some ways, though, curling provides a good model for describing the job faced by today's B2B marketers and salespeople, particularly those involved in selling complex products or services (such as, for example, marketing services).
As I've written in earlier posts, B2B buyers are now firmly in control of the purchasing process. They determine how and when they will access and obtain information about a product or service, and they decide how quickly they will move from one buying stage to the next. In these circumstances, the most important job for the seller (whether a marketer or a salesperson) is to provide prospective buyers with the information they need when they need it.
Like the sweepers in a curling match, your main job is to reduce the friction that slows prospects down and causes them to veer off course. You would like to be able to directly lead your prospects through the buying process. That would be the equivalent in curling of tapping the stone, and that's against the rules. In today's B2B buying environment, attempting to push your prospects through the buying process toward your desired objective on your desired time frame just doesn't work - at least not very often.
So, you can't dictate what buying decisions your prospects will ultimately make, and you can't completely remove all friction from the buying process. But if you consistently provide information that is useful to prospects and appropriate to where they are in the buying process, you can help them move more easily through the process and, even more importantly, make better buying decisions. This also means, by the way, that you're likely to win more sales.