Does Sales Need a New Model to Fix Its Performance Problems?

Last week Tibor Shanto from Renbor Sales Solutions mentioned in his post that I questioned the value of the sales organization. Given the information shared with us at the CEB Sales and Marketing Roundtable meeting we attended, the question was relevant. He goes on to state that what I was really asking is why are so many sales reps struggling and what could marketing do to help them succeed. If the sales organization struggles, most likely marketers will struggle, and they may be the ones who will get the blame.

The more I thought about it the more convinced I became that the issue goes beyond sales and marketing, and their ability to correct it. I don’t think marketing can fix what ails sales, and vise versa. To illustrate the issue, I have created a framework that oversimplifies an organization go-to-market model. The core of the GTM model is the operating model, the product and services group and the organizations long-term vision.

 

screen-shot-2016-11-21-at-10-15-13-am

Each part of the model plays an important role in determining the success of an organization. Additional detail on each group is contained below.

  • Operational Model – the core of the business, how it delivers value to customers. It is also focused on driving efficiency and effectiveness in the delivery model.
  • Product/Services – the physical manifestation of the value.
  • Vision – how the company articulates their view of the world, now and in the future based on consumer/customer, competitor and market trends and needs.

Marketing develops and articulates the organization’s vision. It should be forward looking (at least three years), and challenge the product organization to “catch up.” It should enable the sales force to sell new solutions, enter new markets and differentiate the organization against competitors.

The product group builds, tests and perfects products, services and solutions that meet the needs of buyers today, and in the future. It should be able to define the market opportunity and the best route to capture it.

The “operating model” should be constantly evaluating those products and services most strategic to the organization (revenue, profit, etc.) and how to scale them. In some of the best organizations I’ve seen, this group enable the “visionary” solution sales reps to sell whatever they want early in a “wave,” as it works to pair down offerings to the few that are the most desired (market demand and/or profitability) As a result, choice, selection and pricing are simplified which helps them scale and enables the sales force to sell efficiently.

Aligning The Sales Organization

Solution Sales team – the solution selling team should be aligned to the front end of the go-to-market model. They have the capability, experience and navigation skills to configure and sell the vision and complex solution, both to internal and external audiences.

Product Specialist and Account Management teams – AM’s or PS’s are aligned to existing accounts and/or products and may be aligned by industry or type of solution. Their goal is to keep and expand the account. Reps that excel in this role are adept at understanding how to navigate the internal workings of the client — how to work the procurement process, position their products/organization against competitors, gain access to new buyers/opportunities, and how to anticipate future needs.

Telesales and Online Portals – the back end of the go-to-market framework where the “operating model” has shifted low margin “simple” products, to align with knowledgeable buyers. Allowing them to make a purchase transaction at the lowest cost and in the most convenient way possible. Sales reps may also dealing with “laggard” first time buyers who come late to a product or solution and have simple requirements.

Marketing’s role across this continuum varies. For the solution sellers, content marketing is critical and as Tibor states “insights built around business objectives.” Marketing has to help the sales organization articulate the organization’s vision (“air cover”) and the value of the product to the buyer, professionally and personally.

So what’s different about the sales model I laid out? Nothing. Does sales need a new model? Maybe, maybe not, but what it needs right now is the organizations commitment to executing the model that I just described. It isn’t throwing more resources and technology at sales, as the CEB research points out. Almost all (98%) of the sales leaders surveyed by CEB had added resources for sales support over the last four years, yet 76% of sales reps said that they have experienced an increase in the complexity of the support they are receiving.

Organizations have to commit to being good at all parts of the go-to-market model. Many of the organizations shortcomings and/or dysfunctional behavior become sales inhibitors. For example, organizations that are operationally efficient often lack the ability to articulate a long-term vision. On the other end, companies that have their heads in the future often miss simple things like scaling down the number of products sold, or simplifying financing terms or compensation plans.

What I took away from the meeting is, in today’s complex business environment, those organization that can simplify buying will win. The problem is that it’s easier to add and feel like you’re making a difference than it is to subtract or reduce and know that you making progress. It’s time to stop feeling like you’re making a difference and start putting a shoulder to making it happen.

Why B2B Marketers Struggle Selling Brand Building Investments

follow-1210793_640Having a hard time convincing “the powers that be” to invest in the brand? Ever wonder why it’s so hard, why all they want from marketing is leads? Let me explain.

In organically grown companies, an organization develops a product or service and goes to market through a sale channel, either owned or via a partner. At this point, the organization is focused on acquiring customers and generating revenue. With low market awareness the organization typically has more sales capacity than demand for its products or services.

If marketing exists, it’s in its infancy, and plays a tactical role developing sales material, supporting business development activities, and it may have a small social media presence.

To fuel the company’s growth, the management team begins to realize in order to make sales and revenue objectives it has to be able to create demand beyond what the sales channels can generate on its own. As a result, marketing expands beyond its most basic sales enablement role into being responsible for generating leads.

When growth slows and/or begins to plateau, the executive management team will (or should) begin to explore the value of “strategic” marketing. Unfortunately, these strategic marketing activities and investments aimed at broadening awareness of the brand are often misunderstood and/or dismissed all together. Here’s why they shouldn’t be, and why they are critical to unlocking a company’s next phase of growth.

Why it’s so hard getting to “Yes”

The challenge in convincing the organization that marketing can be a strategic growth level is one of perception. Because marketing evolves “bottom up” as I just described, the common perception among executives is that marketing is a “tactical support” function.

The second issue is the messenger. The staffing needs of marketing in its infancy are simple, and usually satisfied by an entry-level hire or someone without a marketing background. Rarely, will this person rise to a senior management level. Achieving senior executive “gravitas” is critical for changing perception among the senior management team, especially if the company has a strong sales and/or product culture.

How to win the battle

To convince executives, you have to tie brand investments back to something “tangible.” Your argument has to show a direct connection to an organizations performance, be it sales, profit or the customer. And, if you can improve your message, you will also improve how your executives view the messenger. Here are three areas to explore.

  1. A strong/valued brand lifts price point. Are reps constantly complaining about being beaten up on regarding cost/price? A company that has a strong brand can command a price premium. Years ago, I did some work with competitor of Cisco and found that the Cisco brand had a price premium of 7% over the competitors. Why? B2B purchases are high risk, and as a result, are emotionally charged. Buyers that connect personally to brands are willing to pay more for their product if they believe it will reduce the risk of a bad decision. Need proof, click here.
  2. Improving top of the funnel performance improves the performance of the entire pipeline. Need to increase leads? You have two choices, expand the top of the funnel, or increase conversation rates. The best solution is to do both. By expanding the number of prospects aware of your product you increase the number who will also consider it, which increases the number of opportunities, leads and wins. If you only focus on increasing leads, you’re stuck with improving conversion rates, which may be much more difficult and/or costly.
  3. Brand building doesn’t mean you need a big budget. The fact is you’re doing it everyday, for better or worse. Every conversation a sales rep has with a prospect creates a brand impression, every unresolved service call to the contact center has the potential to damage the brand. You can make great strides by clearly and consistently communicating what the brand stands for both internally and externally. Once defined, put it into the language of your audience in the simplest terms possible. Complex, “consultant like” words and terms are meaningless. The really smart folks simplify the complex.

Now that you’ve made the argument, it’s time to close the deal. When an executive evaluates a proposal from your company against other competitors, do you know what tips the scale in your favor? No, it’s not price, or the “relationship,” it’s your reputation, your brand. It’s how they feel about your company…and that’s not in your proposal.

3 Dirty Little Secrets About Marketing

Screen Shot 2016-01-14 at 10.59.59 AMGo ahead and get mad at me. Feel free to fill up the comment section below. I’m going to share our closely held secrets with sales people, skeptics and other critics of marketing. I know you would rather I not, but it’s best for all of us, trust me. Here we go…

 

#1 – You got lucky – if you generate leads off the first drop/wave of a new account acquisition or a lead generation campaign for a solution, you’re more likely to be lucky, than right. Yea, you may have had a compelling offer, and the call to action was intriguing, but the chances are, you just happened to hit a prospect at the right time.

Sure, in some industries you can buy data that identifies a company’s spend on certain products or services. But you don’t know if the budget is available, what portion of it, or who controls it. And since this is a prospect, you are most likely targeting a title, which could be a decision maker, a budget holder, or just a curious information seeker.

At the beginning of a campaign you simply don’t have the information on a prospect to know where they are, or how to advance them in the buying process. So, if a prospect does put their hand up and says, “Call me,” you most likely hit them at the right time in the buyers’ journey.

#2 – Your messaging is weak – the effectiveness of your message is being compromised by the fact that you are trying to motivate an audience to think or feel differently without explaining why. According to Pat Spenner, co-author of the new book entitled The Challenger Customer, marketers spend too much time focusing on how they want audiences to think, or feel, without understanding their current mindset.

Research for the book found that the receptiveness and/or openness to a message depends heavily on an audience’s existing belief system, which drives their behavior. According to Spenner, marketers first need to understand and break down the audience’s current mindset using insights about their business, customers, markets, etc. It’s an opportunity to “teach” audiences that their current thinking is no longer valid and why a new way of thinking is needed. If done well, the new mindset will uniquely lead them back to your product/services or brand.

For example, Merck developed the cholesterol-lowering drug Mevacor at a time when doctors knew little about the effects of cholesterol on the body. The current mindset was that hypertension (high blood pressure) caused heart disease. Merck used clinical research to show doctors the impact of high levels of cholesterol on arteries and the correlation of plaque buildup with coronary heart disease (the “teaching” moment).

As a result, doctors should test patient’s cholesterol levels to see if they are at risk. If a patient had a LDL cholesterol level above a certain point, doctors should start with a therapy regiment that included diet and drug treatment (the new mindset). The only cholesterol-lowering agent available at the time was, you guessed it, Mevacor. Merck, by getting doctors to change their mindset about the causes of heart disease, lead them back to their product. As Spenner puts it, effective story telling for marketers should “lead to, not with.”

#3 – You’re doing lead nurturing the wrong waychanging mindsets takes time. Yes, you’ve built prospect profiles, aligned content to their interest, and you may even know how to engage them in their preferred communication channel. The problem may not be your content marketing efforts but the fact that prospects are stuck in the status quo. They may find your information interesting, but it hasn’t convinced or motivated them to change their behavior.

Nurturing efforts should continue to break down, or build up, the new mindset across the buying group. The ability to drive specific information aligned to individual buyer’s needs may actually be causing more dysfunction within an already dysfunctional group. To advance a prospect/s refocus efforts on driving consensus on the issue and solution within the buying group. If done correctly, like Merck, prospects will come to own conclusions that you offer the best solution for their needs.

 Motivating an audience to change doesn’t happen overnight. Unfortunately, marketers are under constant pressure to perform and rarely have the luxury of time to change their approach. It’s the reason I shared the first dirty secret, to buy marketers time to create the type of campaigns that deliver insights told as a story revealed over time.

The first wave of your campaign will generate leads, but it’s the waves that come after that really count. If marketers can stop telling customers why they need their product and let them come to that conclusion on their own, response and conversion rates will double based on my experience. But don’t tell anyone, it’s a secret.

Telling is Selling?

My first job out of college was selling office equipment. The first thing I ever learned about selling (from my very Southern sales manger) was that “Telling ain’t selling.” In layman terms, stop telling customers why they need your product and start listening to their needs.

For years this simple phase remained in my memory. It guided me as a way to engage prospects in advisory-like sales dialogue, probing for a need to sell to. But, after attending CEB’s Sales & Marketing Summit last week, where new research highlighted the increased complexity in reaching a purchase decision, I’m now considering rethinking my whole approach.

Why? Because buyers have become overwhelmed by the potential choices, IMG_1220and the involvement of other decision makers in the process, according to Brent Adamson, co-author of The Challenger Customer. Too much information, too many options and too many people involved in the process are making it more difficult than ever to reach a consensus, let alone a purchase decision. Given the complexity, stalled deals are no longer a sales issue; they’re a buying problem.

The question is: Are marketers contributing to that problem? Is it possible our content marketing efforts, aimed at helping buyers make an informed choice, are becoming part of the “too much” problem? According to Psychologist Barry Schwartz, author of The Paradox of Choice, too much choice often results in no choice at all.

Dr. Schwartz’s research has shown that limiting choice is often necessary to reach a decision, and/or to speed up the buying process. As he said, “When you make choice easier, or more simple, you will sell more.”

For business-to-business sales and marketers, the key is to become “prescriptive,” according to Adamson. Customers need a “trusted advisor” to help guide them through the complexity of the decision making process, in particular in driving a consistent point of view on the problem, and the best solution. Schwartz suggests focusing on the following three areas:

  1. Be the “expert” or “simplifier.” Help reduce the complexity of the problem, process and/or solution. Smart content should help to explain and simplify solutions to complex problems.
  2. Create an “anchor.” Help customers understand how to assess the value you offer. Buyers may have a hard time assessing the true value of a new purchase or a new vendor. Help them by giving them context. Find a relatable anchor comparison. Think: ”Platinum service at a standard price.”
  3. Understand the impact of “no decision.” If no decision is the right decision, then find a way to make it the default answer. This approach is commonly seen in software or subscription-based services where membership/licensing automatically renews.

Do we now dictate to customers/prospects? Not according to Schwartz. Asking probing questions that lead customers to convince themselves that they need your product is the path to goal attainment. Help them understand how your product/service uniquely solves their problem by guiding their path to purchase.

The words of wisdom given to me years ago were right, but given today’s increased complexity it needs an updated “Telling ain’t selling…until it is.”

Does All Work and No Play Make Marketers Dull?

Look at the tweet, then read the graphic. Why is the headline on this tweet by Spencer Stuart, “Majority of marketing leaders want to see data-and analysis driven decision marketing on their teams,” and not “Majority of marketing leaders want to see more creative thinking and exploration on their teams?”

Screen Shot 2015-05-11 at 11.02.24 AM

 

Statistically they’re the same, yet Spencer Stuart emphasized the data/analytic decision making why? “Combine Fun, Passion and Excitement” with “Decision and Bold Action” and you have a solid argument for changing the marketing team’s culture to “Exploration and Creative Thinking.”

On the flip side, only 5% of marketing wants a culture of “Planning, Caution and Being Thoughtful,” amen brother. Ok, I hear you, “if it was “fun” they would call it “play” not work, but maybe we need a little more play at work.

According to Peter Gray, a professor at Boston College and author of Free to Learn, ”play” can be the key that unlocks the mindset of bold creative thinking. In an article on Psychology Today, Gray says that the “alert but unstressed condition” of a playful mind has been shown repeatedly, in psychological experiments, to be ideal for creativity and learning new skills.

“Experiments have shown that strong pressure to perform well (which induces a non-playful state) improves performance on tasks that are mentally easy or habitual for the person, but worsens performance on tasks that require creativity, or conscious decision making, or the learning of new skills.” Although accountants may perform well under pressure, it could be a creativity killer for marketers.

One could conclude then, if an organization too narrowly focuses on “analysis and data driven decision making,” it may come at the expense of “Exploration and Creative Thinking” mentioned in the research and Tweet. Said differently, all work and no play, could make your marketers dull.

Pressure to perform in business marketing is a given, so how do you strike a healthy balance? Stephanie Anderson, CMO of Time Warner Cable’s business division, suggested that by ” focusing on business results first, ensuring that you have a way to show the business impact of marketing activities, you’ll have the foundation in place in order to inject a fun and creativity into the workplace.”

Best Practices for Creating an Elevator Pitch

I found this in a file earlier this week. It was part of a pre-work exercise for a well known professional services firm. We were engaged to help them redefine their corporate value proposition and messaging architecture. I thought it might be useful for the group.

Who Uses It?

Everyone:

  • Marketing Teams
  • Salespeople
  • Recruiters
  • Investor Relations.

What You Should Not Do:

Most elevator pitches miss the mark because:

  • They are too long–“We have an elevator pitch but it requires a building with 700 floors…”
  • They are too technical
  • They lead with bragging points or product features — “We are the leading provider with 54 offices in 29 countries.”
  • They are ego-centric rather than customer-centric—An elevator pitch is a response to the question what do you (or what does your company) do? When a customer asks this they mean, “what do you do for me? “

How To Do It Right:

  • Be customer-centric
  • Be concise (30-60 seconds max)
  • Be true and “ownable”
  • Convey business outcomes, not bragging points or features.
  • Show, don’t tell— provide a story that will show a customer what your company will do for them.

Best Practices:

Elevator Pitch Should ‘Tell a Story’ that:

  • Addresses: Situation, Impact and Resolution
  • Starts with customers; ends with outcomes
  • Quantifies your value proposition

Try beginning with a provocative statistic

It should consist of three parts:

  1. Situation – cite the dilemma, pain, difficulties or complications that the prospect faces…
  2. Impactquantify the impact that the situation is having on the prospect’s bottom line…
  3. Resolution (Solution) – how do you solve the problem?

Screen Shot 2014-06-23 at 7.47.30 AM

Are Marketers Measuring the Right Things?

Tell me if you have heard this before; “we need more, and/or better leads.” The chances are, if you’re in hi-tech marketing you may hear it on daily, weekly and monthly basis. Why?   According to Forrester consultant Tom Grant, it’s because of the need to feed the funnel.

In his report Tech Marketers Pursue Antiquated Marketing Strategies Grant compared hi-tech firms to other industries “B2B technology companies treat marketing as an opportunity to sell new products and services to new customers.” As he stated “the product is the axis around which marketing efforts turn,” and as a result, the primary objective of marketing is to produce leads.

Similarly, marketers have long held the belief that because of sales short-term focus on making quarterly objectives, it either lacks the appreciation of, and/or the sophistication to understand anything other than lead gen, for example longer-term brand building and awareness activities.

But what if both of these viewpoints were actually wrong. What would happen if you asked sales what they valued, rather than assumed you knew the answer? How might it change how marketing thinks about its impact on the organization?

For one B2B Tech Company, feedback from the sales force is helping them refine their value to the organization. “When it comes to enabling the sales force, we’ve previously relied on what I call “measurement-by-anecdote.” Our goal with this study was to quantify what sales values from marketing so we can focus on the things that make a difference.” said Rick Dodd, SVP Marketing of Ciena, a $2 billion global optical and packet networking company.

To gain that insight the company surveyed its global sales force, including five types of sales reps covering five different account types. Over 400 sales reps provided feedback on their priorities for marketing and marketing’s performance.

Screen Shot 2014-06-10 at 3.35.50 PM

According to sales, the highest ranked marketing activities were at the top of the funnel, 92% of sales said that increasing the awareness of solutions was very or extremely important, increasing consideration was close behind at 91%, only 65% mentioned lead generation.

“Our sales force is very experienced; they understand that technology and industries change quickly. We’ve obviously been successful positioning ourselves for today’s market, and now we want to take best advantage of the big shifts in our landscape. The survey showed us that for sales to be successful, marketing has to be able to change customers and prospect perceptions,” according to Dodd.

Perhaps the most interesting insight to come out of the research, is how Ciena is now thinking about measuring and reporting marketing’s impact on the organization. “Measuring pipeline value is a struggle in our business”, said Bill Rozier, VP of Marketing. “We have long, complex sales cycles that make it difficult to isolate marketing’s impact.”And they are not alone it in that challenge. The Aberdeen Group’s recent Demand Generation study found that 77% of respondents rated visibility into lead performance across stages as very valuable, but only 43% indicated they can do thi effectively.

Instead of spending a lot of time and energy in trying to perfect an imperfect process, thecompany is focusing efforts on measuring marketing performance at the macro level. “At the end of the day, our performance is ultimately measured in sales success, so that’s what we are focusing on measuring”, said Rozier.

To do that, the company has created a quarterly dashboard from the survey. Two regional sales organizations each quarter will be asked to evaluate marketing’s performance in three areas: 1) Marketing’s contribution to sales success; 2) Marketing’s performance compared to competitors; and 3) Marketing’s contribution to the success of the organization.

Screen Shot 2014-06-10 at 3.07.50 PM

It’s a unique approach, and perhaps one that should be considered by others, because the challenge in performance management is often in defining the right metrics to drive the intended behaviors.

Ciena’s approach, as Dodd concludes, is to put the focus on the right conversation; “As we learned through the research, contributing to the success of the sales force isn’t just about one thing, it isn’t just lead gen. I appreciate that they give us credit for doing a good job when compared to competitors, but what we’re most interested in understanding is how well are we doing in enabling them to win. If the sales team rates our contributions as being valuable to their personal success, then we know we’re doing the right things.”

Building a Corporate Persona is the Key to Differentiating Your Company

Take out a piece of paper, and write down what you think makes your company different from its competitors.  Now, Google your competitors and see if you can tell the difference between what you wrote, and how they describe themselves.  If it sounds the same, keep reading.

Let’s say you’re the CEO of a fortune 500 company looking for some advice.  Two top tier global consulting firms are recommended, and based on their website descriptions of “Who They Are” which one would you chose?

Screen Shot 2014-02-14 at 11.48.50 AM

Can’t decide?  That’s the challenge I’m talking about.  Although one firm uses “advisors”, they are describing what the firms do, not who they are, and as you can see, the sound the same.  If some of the smartest guys in the business are getting it wrong, and they’re the “advisors to the world’s leading businesses” you shouldn’t feel bad.

Why is it so hard?   There are two key reasons; the first being in B2B, we are conditioned to think that what we do is who we are.   It’s the Achilles heel of effective marketing communications, the bad habit of over communicating and focusing what you sell (what you do) versus who you are (what makes you different).

Making things worse is when B2B marketers talk about the value of what their company does, they use terms associated with business value, the functional benefit or business outcome of the product or service being sold (e.g. increase revenue, reduce cost, retain customers, etc.).  It’s non-differentiating because competitors use the same language, and that’s the second major challenge to overcome.

Over the years, marketing communication has evolved from talking about how great the company was to talking about what it does for customers.  Thankfully the “we’re number 1” days are over but unfortunately, the “what we do for customers” has been defined by what the company sells.  It is time to evolve again and speak to more about the “DNA” of the organization.  Research from CEB has shown that buyers figure out what companies sell (what you do) relatively quickly.  It takes them much longer to figure out why they should buy from one company or another.

And surprisingly, when they do make the decision, it often has little to do with “business value” of the product or service itself, and more to do with the emotional connection they feel to it, or to your brand.  Buyers are not the rational beings we once thought, they do business with businesses for very personal reason, according to the CEB research.  As a result, they want to get to know the company as well as they know the product or service.

So, how do you “humanize” the company? Here are some tips to get your started:

  • Ask customers – sounds obvious, but rarely happens.  Ask them why they do business with your organization and others.  You might be surprised by what you’ll learn; it may have nothing to do with your products or services. Use this information to communicate back to them “who you are” in the language and context that is meaningful to them.
  • Survey employees – this may help uncover why the organization can’t get on the same page when it comes to defining the company.  Employees have a tendency to define the company and what it does, based on their own experience with the products they know, and customers they serve.  As a result, they have a myopic view of the organization.  You will find multiple views on your value, and the type of company you are, across your organization.
  • Decide on the type of company you are – pick up a copy of Michael Treacy’s Discipline of Market Leaders.  In it, Treacy and Fred Wiersema define three value proposition types based on business models; Operational Excellence, Product Leadership, and Customer Intimacy.  Use this framework as a starting point to define your organization and its’ language.  It also helps get everyone on the same page.

Screen Shot 2014-04-08 at 9.32.59 AM

  • Create a persona – once you have consensus on the type of organization and its value to customers, it is time to figure how to differentiate it.  In this step, use brand archetypes to help define the company persona. Here’s a free list of 40 archetypes.  Create a working session and have the group discuss how the company views the world, how it reacts to bad or good news, how it speaks — what is the tone?  Keep the conversation away from what the company makes or does, and on the organization itself.

Buyers have changed.  They want to know who you are, because they already know what you do.  And they’re looking for a little of themselves in your brand.  Relate to them on a human level.  Tell them who you are in a way that connects with them. If you do, it will differentiated you, because like people, no two organizations are exactly alike.

Numero UNO: gyro B2B Agency of the Year

I joined gyro in 2010.  At that time we were called GyroHSR, and were a collection of 9 small to mid-size agencies from around the world that were part of a roll-up.  We didn’t share a common language, system or culture.  What held us together was a vision of being the world’s best B2B agency.

The first year was challenging.  I came into the ad business from the outside.  My experience had been consulting and marketing services.  I naively thought it would be an easy transition, that my world and this world weren’t that far apart.  I was wrong.  Everything seemed to have a learning curve, I spoke a different language and the other side of my brain, long neglected, needed to be developed.

AOY win-640x360 screen size

Over the next two years almost everything would change.  We dropped the “HSR” and became known solely as gyro.  Our investors brought in a new management team and our new CEO & Chief Creative Officer, Christoph Becker would completely remake our creative teams across the network.  But most importantly, Christoph would change our culture, our language and our focus.  And along the way, the right side of my brain began to develop.

During this time, we undertook two intiatives that I think have set us up for the success that we are enjoying today.  The first, was that we believed that “b2b marketing” as we knew it, was “dead”.  Targeting a business buyer by a title, at a business address, during business hours, was an antiquated concept.  We would later prove that to be the case with our @Work State of Mind research conducted with academic institutions and Forbes (click here for the research report).

The second was that ideas needed to be “humanly relevant”.  That behind every business decision maker was a person, and that person made decisions based on emotions.  Our research would show that the buyers journey was, in fact, a very rational process up until the point of the decision…and then emotions took over.

It became easy to differentiate ourselves from competitors, and clients/prospects believed in what we preaching.  As the wins starting coming, our culture started to align around what we call UNO.  One language, one process, one culture, we became unified across the network.  Client teams from across the world began working together to deliver the best ideas and outputs, regardless of the location.  Our work starting winning awards, and the world started to notice.

What’s different about BtoB magazine award today, isn’t necessarily that we’ve been recognized, gyro has won awards in the past.  But rather it’s an external validation point that we are on the right path, and the hard work is paying off.  We won in the “Large” agency category (our first year in that category), going up against the “best of the best,” like Ogilvy.  It’s a litmus test that our vision of being the best B2B agency in the world, and the reason why most of us joined gyro, is being realized, at least in the U.S…and at least for this year.

We not done yet, we still have work to do and clients to dazzle, but for now…we’re Numero UNO, and it feels good.

The Disappearing Sales Process

Twenty-five years ago, I was a snot-nosed kid out of college who suddenly decided that law school was not in the future.  With a recession on, and needing to pay the rent, I took the first job offered and went into sales.

Having learned nothing about the profession in college, I picked up a copy of Miller Heiman’s Strategic Selling — still have a dog-eared copy on my bookshelf.  I learned everything I could about the buyer types, account management, and the sales process.  “Know the process work the process,” as my first sales manager used to say.

Typically, that process came down to 5-to-7 steps that generally covered the following areas below.

Slide1

Over the years, I found that working the process helped give you sense of control.  It came down to the numbers; calls, leads, transaction sizes or conversion rate.  Call on X number of qualified prospects to get Y amount of proposals, at Z close rate, and you made bonus.

But, research from Google and CEB entitled The Digital Evolution in B2B Marketing provides new insight into buyer behavior, and it challenges the conventional wisdom.  According to the study, customers reported to being nearly 60% through the sales process before engaging a sales rep, regardless of price point.   More accurately, 57% of the sales process just disappeared.

Slide2

What are buyers doing if they’re not talking to sales?  Well, they’re surfing corporate websites to identify and qualify vendors, instead of the sales forces qualifying them.  They are engaging peers in social media to learn more about their needs, potential solutions, and providers.  And they’re reading, listening to, and watching free digital content that is available to them at the click of a mouse.  No longer is the sales force the sole source of information.

What does this mean for sales and marketing? 

The study recommends focusing efforts in three areas; 1) improve marketing communication integration, 2) develop and activate a content strategy, and 3) strengthen multichannel analytics.  Nothing new or breakthrough here, but the study provides good examples of how companies are executing against each point.

However, I found a number of other points to take from the research.

  1. It is not all bad news – for products or services with low price points and/or margins, having customers self direct themselves through the sales process can help reduce the cost of sale and/or create leverage for the sales force.  In fact, in certain situations an organization will want to encourage and/or incent this behavior.  The research also found that some customers felt comfortable going through 70% of the process before making contact.
  2. Changing buying behavior – an old manager used to say that technology changes fastest, then consumer buyer behavior, and eventually, organizations.  The “57%” stated in the research makes for a good sound bite; the fact is, that number will vary, greatly by customers, transaction, industry, etc.  The point is that change is a constant; the question is how far ahead or behind is your sales and marketing efforts? Are you keeping pace?  The second question is, how would you know?
  3. Content Distribution – as the study notes, the sales force is still the most effective and important communication channel.  When developing the content strategy ensure that the best and/or most valuable content is not in the public domain, reserve it for the sales force.
  4. Time to Take Social Media Seriously – with well-informed prospects, sales reps have to quickly learn what buyers know or perceive about the organization, products/services and competitors.  Social media can help them better understand what is motivating buyers to take action, what buyers believe to be true, and perhaps most importantly, who they believe.

The Future

Business decision makers will continue to drive their buyer process deeper into the sales process.   As a result, relevant content will continue to escalate in value, especially content related to consideration and purchase drivers, and the business application of the product or service.

Social media and monitoring has helped many marketing organizations understand this trend and to make the transition from being content “dictators” to information “facilitators.”

For sales, the research may be an epiphany.  No longer can it be successful focusing solely on an inwardly directed process intended for reporting and planning purposes.

With ever-increasing knowledgeable buyers waiting longer to engage, sales has to transition from being a “product pusher” following a process, to an insight “provider” adding value to the buyers business.  As the study states, sales must deliver “pointed insights and evidence that seek to challenge an entrenched point of view among potential customers.”

Finally, it is time to recognize that we’re not in control, and perhaps we never were.  The traditional sales process is now obsolete; it is now time to follow the buyers’ journey.