Sales Prospecting

The Evolution of B2B Selling: How We Went from Rock Carving to Marketing and Sales Orchestration

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June 7, 2022

9 mins read

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The Evolution of B2B Selling: How We Went from Rock Carving to Marketing and Sales Orchestration

Business marketing and advertising is as primordial to human existence as human communication itself. 

From speech, writing, and print, to electronic mass media and the information age, we can find evidence of marketing in every stage of human communication — going all the way back to the most ancient civilizations in the world. 

Let’s take a quick journey through time to where B2B is today. 

Put simply, marketing can be divided into two eras: print and digital, starting with rock carvings and ending with today’s AI-driven, omnichannel orchestration. 


Over the centuries, marketing tactics have evolved, but when we look closely, it’s evident that nothing is really new under the sun — we just make things a little better over time. 

In fact, print marketing is as old as the first civilizations of the world.   

History of marketing timeline

4500 BCE 

The Mesopotamians used to stamp their products and transactions with cylinder and stamp seals as a sign of authenticity and origination —  logos

4000 BCE

The Phoenicians would paint and carve rocks along heavily trafficked areas to promote goods and services — billboards.

3000 BCE

The ancient Egyptian civilization used papyrus to communicate the sale of products — sales posters

1000 CE

Chinese court officials invented paper and the first movable type, which were used to promote the sale of products — printed advertisements.  

Also in China, retailers used to play the flute to attract customers to their shops  — advertising jingles

Mechanized printing: The first turning point towards modern marketing 

It was not until the invention of paper and movable type that marketing would take off into print media at scale.

During the first millennium CE, Chinese court officials invented paper and the first movable type out of clay and woodblocks. These were used to create printed advertisements to promote the sale of products. And then in Korea, in the 1230s, the first movable type was cast out of metal. 

Slowly, movable type made its way to Europe and took hold during the buzz of commerce and culture of the 15th century Renaissance. 

It was there along the Rhine, Europe’s most important waterway for commercial travel since the pre-industrial age, in major cities like Mainz in Germany and Strasbourg in France, where metal workers like Johannes Gutenberg advanced the concept of moveable type and made the world’s first mechanized printing presses. 

Now we have print media at scale. And it changes the game! 

(Good thing, too, because businesses needed a more effective method to promote their products than rocks and papyrus!)

The Industrial Revolution: The emergence of interruptive B2B marketing 

During the Renaissance, print marketing hummed along well enough. But it wasn’t until the Industrial Revolution (from 1760 to 1840) that interruptive print marketing took off like wildfire.

During this period, the emergence of industrial manufacturing and a burgeoning transportation infrastructure made marketing critical to sales success, while simultaneously making it easier for businesses to market to a larger consumer market.

For the next 100 years, we see the proliferation of printed marketing — from handbills and posters to newspaper and magazine ads — across the world. 

And for B2B in the United States, the primary marketing method was through mail-order trade catalogs, mainly for farming and manufacturing consumers. 

The Great Depression: The first real B2B

Even though print marketing was commonplace during the 18th century, the concept of industrial marketing (actual B2B marketing as a strategic practice), didn’t come to pass until the Great Depression of 1929-1939. That’s when businesses became hyper-competitive for a share of profits from a much more scrupulous consumer market. 

And it was during this time that the electronic age was born, with radio and cinematic advertising in the 1920s and then TV in the 1940s, opening up more channels for business promotion.

The 1950s-1960s: Modern B2B marketing

Finally, it was during the 1950s that business-to-business marketing became an art and a science, a scholarly and scientific endeavor. 

With the rise of mega-corporations in the 1950s came the creation of dedicated marketing departments and the strategic application of marketing practices.

In 1956, Wendell R. Smith would first propose that market segmentation, rather than product differentiation, should be at the heart of strategic decision-making in B2B. 

And in the 1960s, as industries were becoming saturated with competition, the concept of market differentiation was born.


In a digital age, as we are keenly aware, selling in the B2B world comes with unique challenges. 

With all the information available to our accounts, we need to find ways to be seen and stay relevant across complex buying cycles. 

Across our marketing, sales, and customer teams, we’re all eager to do our part to win over the next happy customer using the latest digital technologies and the data insights they provide.

The 1970s-1990s: The advent of digital marketing 


Even though the first electronic computers were built for and used by the United States government since the 1940s, we didn’t see the first successful commercial computers until the 1970s. 

Also in the early 70s, Roy Tomlinson of Bolt invents email with the characteristic @ sign, and it soon takes hold in the hands of government organizations and educational systems. 


During the 1980s, IBM was the first to popularize the personal computer. At this time, businesses are able to accumulate vast amounts of information in a digital database and the first CRMs, like SAP and Oracle, are created. Finally, we are able to segment marketing at scale.


It wasn’t until 1991, with the World Wide Web, that email became ubiquitous and email marketing took off. Also in the 90s, the introduction of predictive analytics made CRMs (like Salesforce) more useful, so we can start making predictions about our best customers and their path to purchase. 

And of course, search engine marketing, like Google, will make digital advertising a major player in the increasingly larger pool of marketing channels.  

The 2000s: Marketing automation

At the turn of the century (wow, most of us can actually say we’ve been around to see a century turn!), campaign management tools like Xchange came onto the scene. Marketing teams could use this new software to streamline direct mail and eventually email campaigns.

We soon realized that wasn’t enough. These first campaign management platforms were built for a B2C world and were expensive and hard to implement, and we B2B folk were left in the cold. Until we weren’t.

Enter Jon Miller (and others), who created the first SaaS marketing automation platforms for the B2B world, like Marketo and Eloqua. Amazing!

And yet …

It still wasn’t enough. Despite all its benefits, marketing automation helped reinforce a demand generation world built around automated email and the marketing qualified lead (MQL). 

Unfortunately, the sales teams were rightly focused on selling to accounts, not leads, and we didn’t see much improvement in sales and marketing alignment.

The 2010s: Account-based marketing

For a solid ten years, email automation is where B2B teams lived, in a world of one-too-many departmental silos and omni-channel fumbles with limited automation. Doing the best we could, but still.

So the intractable innovators went at it again (yes, Jon Miller and also Chris Golec) to form the first account-based marketing (ABM) platforms — Engagio and Demandbase — to lead B2B teams into a modern world.

A revolutionary approach to selling using digital technology including artificial intelligence and predictive analytics, ABM would allow teams to identify B2B buying committees at companies and surround each buyer with personalized messaging.

With all the digitally based data that are available to today’s sales and marketing teams, it’s nigh impossible to make sense of it from a manual perspective. ABM connects the dots and surfaces the data that matters.

But we were just getting started.

Since then, Demandbase expanded ABM by creating a foundation of even deeper data intelligence and insights, aka Account Intelligence. 

With this other AI, we can address the entire customer lifecycle for an account-based experience (ABX) approach. ABX considers not just intent and awareness but also retention and expansion stages with deep data insights.

Today: Marketing and sales orchestration 

A digital world has created a myriad of revenue and marketing technologies at our disposal.

In fact, there are hundreds if not thousands B2B software companies ready to provide (even if ever so slightly) differentiated services. For example, there are sales intelligence tools, programmatic advertising, and data management (which can be provided by ABM platforms like Demandbase) and other channel specific products like chat, calendaring, and direct mail.

With all these tools, it can feel impossible to make sense out of using them strategically, aligned to the way our customers digest information.

The solution: account-based B2B SaaS platforms can provide today’s B2B teams with software-based orchestration for dynamic journey-based audience management as well as automated actions and processes across many popular revtech and martech channels, not just email. 

So sales and marketing teams are freed up from laborious, time-consuming tasks and can spend their time doing B2B outreach that’s a smarter use of their time.

The future?

If you think we’ve come a long way since carving rocks to promote a product, I’d agree.

Nothing is for certain, and I’m no soothsayer, but based on my experience writing, reading, and learning about B2B marketing, it’s evident that the B2B buyer will continue to experience brands across a complex that incorporates a mix of analog and digital information. 

What’s more, who really knows how the digital plane will continue to evolve? We are already on the cusp of 4D, virtual experiences where time travel is possible? Amazing. (Even if just conceptually). 

In whatever form they come, as sellers and marketers, we will need to continue adding evolving and revolving formats to our go-to-market toolkits. 

The good news is that content marketing is content marketing, no matter the channel. The best content marketing is provided in an authentic way. That’s what every consumer wants, and I can fathom to guess that’s the way it’s been stemming back to the most ancient civilizations.

How well we synchronize the mixture of content across the buyer journey will determine our success in building and nurturing positive brand experiences and lasting brand loyalty with our customers.

By the way, some areas of the world still use painted and carved rocks as a sales and marketing tool, so don’t discount it too quickly. It could even come back around as the next hottest trend. 🙂 

Want a deeper read? Check out our Get Smarter With Orchestration Playlist for more details and best practices on the most modern approach to B2B selling. 

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Susan Glenn

Senior Content Marketing Manager, Demandbase

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