Prior to starting my own business speaking and writing about marketing strategy, I ran several global B2B marketing teams. This was in a world prior to the ability we have today to create content on the web and have it be indexed by the search engines and shared via social networks.
Prior to the web, salespeople were in power positions because they were keepers of information.
With B2B products and services in the old days, the only way for buyers to get detailed information was from salespeople. Buyers had no choice.
To illustrate the point using an expensive consumer product example, think about the process of buying a car in, say, 1995. You'd be exposed to television and magazine ads. Perhaps you'd purchase a buyers guide such as Consumer Reports. You could ask friends and coworkers for advice. But to get detailed information on models and options and pricing required the dreaded visit to the dealership to "talk" to the salesperson, who smugly knew he had all the information power.
Today, buyers find information on the web
When researching a B2B purchase today, buyers just hit a search engine and their social networks. Tons of information is available.
Now how do you buy a car? Do you blindly go to visit the dealership to ask the salesperson? Or do you spend hours on the web learning as much as you can and only visit the dealer when you are ready to buy?
Are you still forcing your buyers to interact with salespeople?
The problem I see is that nearly all B2B companies are still operating in a world as if the salesperson is the king of the information kingdom. Companies insist on driving all online interactions to a salesperson.
One manifestation of this behavior is the insistence by most B2B companies that buyers supply personal details such as an email address before they can get information such as a white paper. When I question marketers about this practice, they tell me the reason is that they need sales leads and that salespeople follow up on the information requests.
Circa 1995 calculus
The idea that you cannot give your information for free pre-dates the web. Requiring email registration is simply applying what we did in the past to the new realities of how people research products. This is not as effective as making information freely available to be downloaded and shared.
Are you managing your B2B sales and marketing process using 1995 calculus? Do you assume that salespeople are the fonts of all knowledge and all information flows through them? If so, I think you are less successful than you could be.
Assume buyers are already educated
Your salespeople should assume they are the last place a buyer goes, not the first. They must assume that very little of their knowledge is proprietary. They need to facilitate the sale, not control the information.
Think back to buying a car. How do you want the dealer to interact with you when you walk in? Do you want a confrontational relationship where they feel they have the information power? Or do you want the dealer to assume you have already done your research and are ready to close a deal?