When the Prey Becomes the Hunter

When the Prey Becomes the Hunter

Marketing and sales typically think of themselves as hunters tracking prey. 

The art and science of selling typically starts with some addressable market definition that defines the prey or target.  Using lists and other data sources, a subset of this addressable universe is identified (prospects or suspects) and placed at the front end of a process funnel.  From here, marketing and sales attempt to march their prey through four stages…Awareness, Interest, Consideration, and Purchase.

The prevailing marketing funnel wisdom is to start with “branding” to expose the product (Awareness), then provoke an action like attending a webinar (Interest or “unqualified leads”), gradually provoke more actions that in total meet some lead scoring criterion (Consideration or “qualified leads”), and then hand the prey off to SDRs for final scrutiny as being “opportunity worthy”.  Marketing gets credit for the number and dollar value of sales accepted opportunities, or pipeline created.

The prevailing sales funnel wisdom starts a handoff from the marketing funnel.  Opportunities are further qualified in discovery sessions, demos are given, RFPs are written, deals are negotiated, and after legal proceedings and price haggling, a Purchase hopefully happens.  But what if the hunter is actually the prey?

Recent research from Google and the Corporate Executive Board (CEB) entitled The Digital Evolution in B2B Marketing challenges the conventional wisdom. According to the study, customers reported to being nearly 60 percent through the sales process before engaging a sales rep, regardless of price point.

What are buyers doing?  They are surfing corporate websites to hunt and qualify vendors. They are engaging peers (fellow hunters) in social media to learn more about their needs, potential solutions and providers.  And they are reading, listening to, and watching free digital content.   The “prey” are out there hunting for their own solutions, on their own terms. 

The implications for sales and marketing are both obvious and subtle.  For marketers, the goals are to help buyers discover them through consistent multi-channel exposure, a compelling content strategy, and a better understanding of which attractions to expose (e.g., multichannel analytics).  This requires an intimate understanding of what paths the “prey” may travel and how those experiences intersect and interact (see HBR March 2013 article, “Advertising That Works”).  For sales, the goal is to provide high value, highly relevant content not found through typically available sources, attracting the buyer hunter to the prey based on an understanding of both rational and emotional purchase drivers. 

In this environment, marketing and sales will have to transition from being “product pushers” following a process, to insight “providers” adding value to a buyer’s life.  As the study states, sales must deliver “pointed insights and evidence that seek to challenge an entrenched point of view among potential customers.”

It is time to recognize that we’re not in control, and perhaps we never were. The traditional marketing and sales process is becoming obsolete; it is time for the hunter to think and act like the prey.


Andrew Salzman is a principal with the Chasm Group, a strategic market consultancy founded by Geoffrey Moore and devoted to helping companies transition disruptive technologies into material businesses.  He can be reached at asalzman@chasmgroup.com or 415-812-1925.