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5 Key Tips and Data Points to Defend Your 2015 Marketing Budget

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The 2015 planning season is upon us. It’s the time of year when the C-Suite is busy sharpening their elbows to ready themselves for the budget brawl. To help arm marketers for this blood bath, I’ve pulled together benchmarks and/or research needed to defend and win marketing dollars. Here are some answers, and sources, for your five toughest budget questions.

  1. How much should we be spending on marketing? It’s a classic question and a favorite of CEO’s everywhere. The mere mention of it is enough to stop marketers in their tracks. Fortunately, the AMA, McKinsey and the Duke Fuqua School of Business have got your back with their 2014 CMO Survey. Section 3 of the report contains data from 350 marketers on their spending from digital to people and programs. The research even breaks spending out by size of company, type of company (B2B or B2C, and B2B products or services). The report is packed with valuable information — it’s a “must have” for any marketer this year.

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  1. What should the mix between people and programs? This question comes shortly, if not immediately, after the question above.  Ten years ago the general benchmark ratio was 40/60, forty percent of the budget went to staff and the remaining to program spending. Now it’s the reverse, 60/40 people to program spending, for a number of reasons. The biggest factor has been the need for specific skill sets that are in high demand relating to analytics, social media and content marketing have driven up staff cost. Need more information, here’s a useful infographic on the real cost of social media, including salary cost for staff.
  1. Where should we invest? Typically, this is a teaser question, and could also be asked as; “if you had an incremental $1 (or $10K, $100K, etc.) where would you invest it?” Keep in mind that just because the CEO is asking the question doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll get the incremental funding, but you better be able to answer the question. To do that see IBM’s C-Suite Priorities report entitled The Customer-activate Enterprise. The research, collected from face to face interviews with over 4000 senior executives, provides insights into the priorities of each member of the C-Suite. The top priority in the report is Digital. Including everything from increasing responsiveness to customers, to making the organization more agile and responsive. Specific priorities for CMO’s, it’s about capturing; analyzing and using customer data across touch points.

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  1. What’s the payoff/return/business impact of Social Media? There are a number of sources that you could tab into to help develop a response. I’ve always been a fan of HubSpot’s State-of-Inbound. Additionally, if you have downloaded the CMO Study mentioned in bullet #1, there is a whole section on Social Media (see graphic). Interestingly enough after four years “Visits” and “Followers/Friends” are still the leading social media metrics today. Personally, I’m not a fan, try using measurements related to engagement. Note the gains being made in “Conversion Rates” and “Buzz Indicators” over that last four years. This is the result of the development of better measurement tools. Here’s a great cheat sheet from SocialMediaToday on the Top 50 Tools. For digital and mobile benchmarks download Adobe Digital Index’s Best of the Best Report.

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  1. What return should we expect from our marketing investments? This is a loaded question. Recognize that what the executive really wants to know is: “What will marketing do for me and/or my group?” As a result, answer the question based on their area of interest, and in their language. If it’s a sales executive, talk in terms of new leads, customers and pipeline value. If it’s the CEO, talk about brand value, revenue growth or customer retention or loyalty. Rarely is this question asked on behalf of the organization as a whole. Even more rare, is the executive that believes the numbers you’ve quantitatively derived for a ROI.

Lastly, go in strong and ask for a bigger budget. Here’s a report to keep in your back pocket in case you need it, Gartner’s CMO Spend 2015: Eye on the Buyer. The report will support your request for an increase, and maybe help the “powers that be” understand that if you’re not getting a bigger budget, your key competitors probably are…now go get ‘em!

Stop Blaming Price – 3 Real Reasons Why Deals Are Lost

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The team killed it. The presentation was flawless. The proposal was outstanding. You covered all of the bases, but you lost. Searching for answers, the only thing you can think of is that the other guy must of “bought the deal,” right? In the article entitled; Why B2B Sales Leads Don’t Convert (and Who Is to Blame) Marketing Profs.com highlights a recent survey of close to 200 marketers, sales professionals, and president/CEOs on their thoughts on why deals were “lost.” Not surprisingly, 60% said that “price” was the main reason, but what may surprise you is that percentage is wrong. Screen Shot 2014-08-01 at 9.40.05 AM

To truly understand why deals are lost, you have to get feedback from buyers. Having conducted numerous post mortem analysis of lost deals, and buyer behavior research, here’s what I have learned. Roughly one third of all buyers consider price as one of, or the main driver of a purchase decision. Pure price buyers represent about 5-10% of all decision makers. The remaining portion (20-25%) are value buyers who may, but don’t always, buy the lowest priced product or service. Using those numbers, the research overstates “price” as the reason for a loss by a factor of 2X. What accounts for the remaining thirty percent? Here are three common reasons for losing a deal, that doesn’t involve price.

  1. Low investment in the relationship – deals are not solely rationally made purchase transactions, especially as price and product complexity increases. Selling bigger ticket items involves a degree of trust built between a vendor and a buyer. Recent research by Fortune and gyro found that 65% of executives believe subjective factors that can’t be quantified (like a company’s culture and values) make a difference when evaluating competing proposals. Even more executives (70%) said that a company’s reputation was a critical consideration in the decision making process. Investing in relationship building with buyers takes time but as the research shows, it’s worth it. If buyers say that the only time they hear from a rep is when he/she wants to sell them something…that investment is not being made.
  1. Focusing on the wrong message – focusing on only selling the business value (functional benefits, business outcomes) of a product limits sales ability to make the case for a higher price. Connecting the value the product delivers to the buyer, on a personal level, helps reps broaden the conversation. According to CEB research, not only are you twice as likely to win the deal by focusing on personal value drivers Screen Shot 2014-08-01 at 12.25.04 PM(professional and personal benefits, like a promotion, admiration from peers, etc.), but also, buyers are eight times more willing pay a premium.  To do this effectively sales people need to be able to put themselves in the shoes of decision mak ers. They need to understand their buyers’ situation, role, relationships, etc., and sell the value of the product or service to those unique needs. If reps only know how to sell “feature functionality” the conversation will all too often come back to price.
  1. Missing the real buyer – there is no guarantee that past buyers will be key decision makers in future purchase decisions, or on other types of products. Years ago, I did a post mortem analysis for a medical equipment company on an innovative new product. Sales said they were losing deals because it was priced too high. The analysis proved that they were both right, and wrong. The traditional buyer, did in fact, believe that the product was priced too high compared to others in the market. But a new set of users who had become the primary decision makers had emerged. This group was using the innovative technology as a revenue generating procedure. As a result, they valued the product differently and were willing to pay a premium. Deals were lost because the company didn’t understand how buyers intended to use the product, and as a result, they missed the key decision maker.

The simple answer is that deals are lost because the case for the value of the product or service has not been adequately expressed to meet the needs (professional, personal or both) of the key decision maker. Blaming “price” is a convenient crutch that shifts accountability to the product or pricing team, and away from sales and marketing. Finger pointing may make us feel better about our role, but it doesn’t fix the problem. If you are truly intent on increasing win rates dig deeper into understand why, I can guarantee you won’t find that it is “price” 6 out of 10 times.

Building a Corporate Persona is the Key to Differentiating Your Company

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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?

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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.

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  • 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.

Everything We Thought We Knew about B-to-B is Wrong Video

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In December, I had the opportunity to be the Keynote speaker at the Bowery Capital CMO Summit in NYC.  The event featured a number of high profile CMO’s speaking with an audience of mostly early stage startups (under 20 employees).

My presentation was based on the recent Forbes blog post Everything We Thought We Knew about B-to-B Marketing in Wrong.  The audience also included some local media, a reporter from CMO.com wrote a summary of the speech.

 

Why Sales Might Have a Hard Time With The Buyer Journey

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My initiation into the world of sales happened at the height of the “Glen Garry Glen Ross” days.  It was the time of “blue suits” and “fast talkers”, and not a piece of sales automation or tracking technology anywhere to be found.

We’d roam our territories searching for conversations hoping it would lead to something more.  At the end of the day, we’d return to the office and put our “numbers” up on the board; # of conversations, # of leads, and closed deals ($).  The white board was our “sales dashboard” highlighting performance against goals for the month, and year-to-date.  Our view, and control over our success, was determined day-to-day.

Over the last 25 years, sales has been enabled with a broad set of new technologies, from sales force automation to CRM to cloud based mobile sales tools. All aimed at helping the sales organization better track, measure, and achieve quota. And with each advancement in technology, sales has gained the feeling that it has more control over the process, and outcome.

The buyer’s journey is marketing’s “shiny new penny”.  Over the last couple of years, numerous consulting firms have produced research trying to map the journey with varying estimates on how late in the journey customers are now engaging sales.

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Before you go off preaching this newfound perspective on how buyers are now in control to a sales organization, who might just have a counter viewpoint, there are some things you need to know:

  1. This is not necessarily “new” news – educated buyers have been engaging late in the process for years, and in some cases, bypassing the sales reps all together ordering direct.  What’s different now is that we have better tools to track their behavior.
  2. It can be threatening – sales folks “cover” buyers, be it a prospect or an existing customers.  Their job is to start a conversation and to continue the discussions to, hopefully, a successful outcome.  They can’t be everywhere, or everything to everyone, but to suggest that they are not providing buyers with the right information at the right time, or that they may not be “covering” them will cause a defensive or hostel reaction.  Be tactful in the way you present the findings.
  3. Buyers channel surf – don’t assume that buyers are only online in the early stages of the buyers journey, and likewise, that they are only talking with sales in the late stages of the process.  Unlike the past, when we could estimate where customers were in the sales process by watching how they engaged with content and channels, buyers now use all channels, and all information sources, at all stages of the journey.
  4. Good sales people already get it – good sales people are very intuitive by nature.  They already have a feel for how buyers research and purchase products.  They also know how to use the best content and/or tools to help buyers advance their learning and to move the process.  As a result, they will want to know how you can help them.
  5. Have a Plan – especially for the sales people I just mentioned.  The question that you should expect to get after sharing the information is; “So what now?  Given this new insight how should we change our sales and marketing approach.” Make sure you have an answer.

My gut reaction was that the buyer’s journey would pose a significant change for sales, I now realize that it’s a much bigger challenge for marketing.  Given the amount of time spend online in the research phase, buyers already have a good feel for the “business value” of your product or service by the time they engage sales. It’s why they have put your organization in the “consideration set.”

The challenge, according to recent research, is that buyers are unable to differentiate your product or service from the 3-5 other companies they are also considering.  To create separation, you must be able to illustrate and communication “personal value”.

And that has not been a strength of marketing, but it’s a core competency of good sales people.  Use this opportunity to partner with sales to developed content that resonates with buyers on emotion level deeper into their journey.   Sales may be losing control over the buying process, but they know how to connect on a personal level with individual making the purchase decision, use that to your advantage.

Cutting Through the Crap – The Grand Content Experiment

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A week doesn’t go by that I don’t hear clients express concern about their ability to produce a consistent flow of quality content, yet every day my inbox is full of emails offering white papers, research, webcasts and blog posts.

So we set out to solve this “paradox of content marketing.”  How is it that clients are not able to produce quality content for their purposes, but I get an average of 35 emails a day offering me content?

Our Approach

With the help of our summer intern, Sergio Pianko from Georgetown, I archived a weeks worth of content related emails sent to my primary work email.  For this experiment, I did not include any other personal email accounts, social media or offline publications.

The Findings

Content Volume

For the week, I received 217 unique emails containing access to 1,131 pieces of content.  Thursday was the peak day of the week, which surprised me, with 9 am being the peak time of day, which didn’t.   I received an email offering me content, on average, almost every 15 minutes.

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Content Type

A new report by the CMO Council entitled Better Lead Yield in the Content Marketing Field found that 87% of the respondents said that online content plays a major or moderate role in influencing vendor selection.  The content they trust and value most?  Professional association research and whitepapers 67%, industry research reports and whitepapers and customer case studies. The least valuable was vendor content, with 67% saying they don’t trust it.

What’s in my inbox?  Well, I’m partial to content aggregators.  My two favorites providers are MediaPost because of their ability to narrow the scope on relevant topics, and their expansive content producers (including this author).  I also like SmartBrief publications, they provide e-newsletters on behalf of others, like the BMA. I find the layout to be quick and easy to peruse, and they usually feature a research offer.

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It was interesting to see that even though White Papers were mentioned to be the most valuable content piece according to B2B buyers, it represented less than 2% of the content I received.

Key Insights

Stop Calling Me

Downloading content that you offer for free does not make me a prospect.  Save the $25 dollars you’re spending on the outbound telemarketing call and use it to track my behavior until I am qualified.  Still not enough for you, we get that “free” comes with a price so consider this payment.  According to the CMO Council report 87% of B2B buyers share your content with 5 or more people.  Remarkably, 28% mentioned that they share it with more than 100 folks.

Overweight Content related to the Business Case

The first phase of the buyer journey is research. A prospect can cycle in this phase for weeks, even months, never reaching the next step, which is the business case.  If you want to qualify real prospect, focus on providing them content that is related to making a business case for buying your product or service.  For lead nurturing, overweight the scoring for pages or content that relate to this as well.

Content is not King, nor is Relevancy, Actionable is the Opportunity

Sergio sorted the content using four filters; Relevancy, Usefulness, Credibility, and Actionable, based on the definition in the chart (below).  For the most part, I had selected information sources that produce relevant content, and because of my use of aggregators it kept me informed about industry develops or issues relating to my clients.  We then check into the backgrounds of the content authors and found that for the most part, they were credible using our definition (below).  But along the way Sergio did discover a couple of frauds, not surprisingly in the social media space.

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The most interesting findings was that very little (less than 10%) of the content was “actionable” in that it provided recommendation/s or solutions to the problem or issue discussed.  And most of the actionable content came in the form of Webcasts.  As a content marketer this is the opportunity and, given its value, think strategically about how you deliver it.  Because of the scarcity of this type of information, you can request an exchange of value with the audience, be it contact information, attendance at a webcast, etc.

Opportunity #2 – Video

Numerous studies have pointed to the growing influence and use of video content. Yet it represented only 1% of the content I was offered.  Yes, it is more complex, time consuming and expensive but it will also drive better results.  It’s worth exploring, from past experience early innovators reap the greatest rewards.

Develop Buyer Personas

To understand some of the findings it may be helpful to know my email and content profile.  I am an active content seeker and email deleter.  Unlike some colleagues and friends, I like to keep a neat and tidy inbox.   I delete emails early in the morning, and late afternoons.  During the day I may delete emails as previews flash on the screen.  Also, because of my consulting background, I am drawn to market research and data oriented content.   I download and archive many items that I later review…typically on planes.

That’s my content “persona.”  Agencies have been creating audience personas for years and now, if you’re a client side marketers, it’s your turn.  According to the Demand Gen Blueprint survey only 25% of marketers have developed buyer personas, and of those who have, only 35% have mapped content to buyer stages.

Who Does it Best?

To win, you have to make it in the inbox, get the email open and the content viewed.  The organization that does that best, in this man’s opinion, is IBM.  For their insight into the C-Suite, quality of research, and frequency of contact…which is only when they have something of value.  They are the only “vendor” I let in my inbox.

Runner up is McKinsey, for their “big picture” thinking and ability to take complex problems and explain them in very simple terms (especially in 2 min videos).  Best New “Up and Comer” is the Aberdeen Group, a recent change in their business model allows free access to quality research, which this “freegan” appreciates.

Content marketing will only grow in importance for business marketers over the next few years.  There are opportunities to get your information viewed, and shared, but to accomplish that you have to understand your audience’s content consumption behavior, provide them something of value, and deliver it in the channel and/or through the content provider they prefer.

There is a lot of work to be done, so have at it.  Looking for a starting point, do a similar experiment with your customers.  Ask them to send you a weeks worth of content related emails, you’ll be surprised by what you find.

How Marketing Impacts Sales Performance

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You know the question is coming, because it comes every year.  You know who is going to ask it, because they ask it every year.  It’s just a matter of when, perhaps at the end of a difficult quarter, or during a mid-year review meeting.  As budgets are being discussed it comes; “What are we getting from our marketing dollars?”

It’s a fair question to ask, and given the size of some marketing budgets, marketers should be asking the same question.  To answer the sales executive (usually the one asking the question) you must first recognize what they are really asking, which is; “what is the value of marketing to them?”  Specifically, they want to know the impact marketing is having on sales performance, beyond leads.

A few years ago, we did some interesting research for a medical equipment manufacturer.  Their analysis showed that they were missing opportunities but they couldn’t agree on why – was it a sales or marketing issue?

To uncover the answer we interviewed hundreds of buyers (customers and prospects) in order to rate the performance of the company compared to three competitors, at four stages of the pipeline, product awareness (unaided), consideration, proposal and win.  We then constructed a quantitative model to reflect the impact of changes in performance. Two years later, we were given a unique opportunity to measure the impact of recommendations and investments.

The research yielded three key insights on the importance of marketing and how it was impacting their sales success:

1. Increasing Opportunities  – without marketing support sales cannot move consideration rates.  The company’s unaided product awareness rate was 62%, compared to 88% for the market share leader.  The consideration rate was even worse at 46% compared to 86% for the leading competitor.

The organization had a strong sales culture.  So to demonstrate the need to increase marketing activity, and not just sales coverage, we included “relationship with the sales team” as a key consideration drive, along with typical drivers such as; price, brand, and service.

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The research showed that the relationship with the sales team was not an important consideration driver.  In fact, the data revealed that reps could do very little to change buyers’ perceptions relating to products and service.  It also revealed a new buyer that was not being reached by the sales force.

The company increased the marketing budget and reallocated funds from events into digital marketing.  They ramped up webcast, videos and built a microsite specifically for this new buyer.  As a result, Awareness rose 17 percentage points to 79%, and Consideration, originally at 46% rose to 62%.  The model showed that an incremental 1% change in consideration rates yielded 20 new opportunities, and almost four new wins with a value of almost $2M.

2. Sales Coverage increased marketing activity can create the perception of greater sales coverage.  Buyers were asked how often they saw a sales person within a 90 day period.  They mentioned seeing the company reps on average of 0.8 times, basically once a quarter, while reporting rep visits from the leading competitor at 2.5 times, almost once a month.  Two years later, buyers stated seeing the company’s reps 2.4 times per quarter, on par with competitors.  As a result of the ramped up marketing efforts, buyers perceived an increase in visits despite the fact that the number of reps in the segment remained the same over the two year period.

3. Sales Enablement marketing can identify shifts in buying behavior.  The company’s performance had increased in all stages of the funnel except for one, existing accounts Reps had mentioned that customers had become more “price sensitive” and competitors were undercutting them.  The company was the product leader in the industry and the senior management team still believed that technology innovation was the key consideration driver.

The follow up research found that the sales force was indeed right.  Buyers had shifted their priorities.  With changes in reimbursement, healthcare reform, and an effective competitor campaign against overbuying technology, buyers had indeed changed, much faster than anyone suspected.

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As a result, sales material and value proposition had to be updated quickly.  Instead of espousing the virtues of innovation, it now needed to help buyers justify the investment.  Leading to a shift from “bells and whistles” to “ROI models and product configurators.”

So, how do you communicate the impact marketing has on sales performance?   Tell the sales folks that marketing can identify new buyers and influencers, increase the number of opportunities reps see, improve a buyers perception of sales coverage, and enable them with the right value proposition at the right time to win the deal.  Of course, you’ll need the data to prove it.

In this case, the increased marketing investment and activities yielded $50 million in new sales over the two-year period…just as the model predicted.

The Disappearing Sales Process

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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.

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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.

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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.

Data Driven Insight

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Original post date December 15, 2010

Last month I had the chance to be a panelist at a forum hosted by Wolfgang Jank and the Robert H. Smith School of Business at the University of Maryland.  The topic was on InformaticsData Driven Decision Making in Marketing.

Agreeing to participate without knowing what I would discuss, I searched my files reviewing old project work.  Not only did I find a relevant effort, I also realized that I had spent two years working on building and implementing an insights program at a major Financial Services firm.

What’s interesting about the topic is that everyone will agree that they should be more data driven, or fact based, with their decision-making.   Heads will nod when it’s discussed, it’s intuitive, and so the question…and the problem, is why doesn’t it happen?

The company I was working with had an abundance of data but were faced with two consistent problems related to the use of it:

  • Reps wanted better insight
  • Customers wanted a POV

The first issue we probably spent a good six months on defining what an ‘insight” was, how to create it, and who was responsible for doing it.  The second issue was more complicated, and took much longer to resolve.

Over that two-year period, I learned how challenging it is for an organization to use one source of data effectively across the enterprise.  Some of the challenges we uncovered were typical such as lack of resources, process, and funding.  Others were more challenging: People funded their own resources and research to support their strategy, budget or group.

To begin to solve this complex problem we created a “data value chain” (see below).   The starting point was having one centralized source for data.   As we discovered, as data flows from across the organization to the customer, enhancements were needed to make it more valuable, like growth rings on a tree.

As data became more customized, and localized, it grew more valuable.   This helped to identify why, for example, research that was being produced at corporate was not often used by the sales teams…it lacked relevancy, especially in regions outside of the US.

Once we got everyone on the same page the next challenge was to align the various groups in the organization across the value chain.  We learned there could be as many as five different groups involved in handoffs as the data moved across the value chain.  This help to explain why product groups were developing solutions without market insights, and regions were not leveraging corporate insights for business development.

Handoff points in an organization

As a result, we had to design process maps, hand-off points, engagement process, etc.   The elephant in the room, and one of the biggest challenges was wrestling with the budget.  The solution for that last huddle was turned out to be pretty simple.

The corporate “insights” team would work with those regions that wanted to work with corporate.  Those regions had to be willing to fund resources to finish the “last mile”…building a solution or a customer business cases with a defined solution in mind.  Even though everyone wanted more relevant insight, and more defined points of view, not all regions were willing to pay for it.   Finally, to secure the funding to make the fixes we had to be able to answer a very simple question; “how does being more data driven provide value to the organization?”

The answer was getting the data closer to revenue or a sale….”turning data into dollars.”  The epiphany wasn’t that the value was found at the end of the chain but the number of groups, and the coordination needed to be involved to reach that destination.

The Myth of the “Foot in the Door”

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Original post date December 16, 2008

Given our average deal size we used to think we needed to have a scaled down offer to get a foot in the door. Once in, we could then grow the account. We were wrong.

Considering the current economic situation, I know that many companies may be tempted to come up with a “door opener.” A subscale and/or entry level product/service intended to get a foot in the door with a new client and/or a new business division.
You’re also probably thinking about going down market into smaller accounts. Although this shift may help satisfy short term revenue needs it will do little to nothing in helping grow your business. Most likely those accounts will not expand and/or even be retained next year.

Here’s how I know. Looking back at the new accounts acquired over the last four years we found some interesting trends and confirmed some things that we knew intuitively (click on the image). When we measured the value of customers in their first year against the average time spent engaged with the client a few key insights emerged.

First, three “clusters” of accounts emerged;
  1. Customer that grew to beyond $800K in their first year
  2. Customer who had first year revenues between $350-$600K
  3. Customers who represented under $250K in total billings from the year.
Let’s start with the bottom and work our way up. Customers in cluster 3 had an average value of $150K. Accounts on the lowest end of the spectrum in the “One and Done” zone” (under $10K for example) were “workshop”…our “foot in the door” offer. Guess what, of the 8 that fit that description zero, zippy, nada, grew beyond the initial workshop. The other bad news…only 2 accounts led to follow on work and no company in that grouping was retained the following year.
I was speaking with Larry Emond, CMO of the Gallup Organization the other day and he mentioned that they saw a similar trend; “We found that only 4% of customers who were acquired under a certain price point grew to be substantial customers.”On the other end of the spectrum are the occasional customers who are big right out of the gate. The “Rare Birds” zone in cluster 1 includes those few customers who start big and for the most part remain large customers YOY. The key to success with this cluster is that they had/have a tendency to have a need for multiple service lines and/or desire a complex solution. This group was looking for a strategic partner versus a vendor for an immediate need. Year over year retention was also good at over 50% and if they used multiple services lines it was almost a sure thing they be retained….and grow.

As Larry also mentioned; “Our big customers today came in as big customers…”. We’ve had the same experience and have grown our top 5 largest accounts by an average of 90% over the last two years.

Customers in cluster 2, the “Sweet Spot” represented the best of both worlds. Although their value was not as high as the “Rare Birds” they were more plentiful. They also had higher price points, high percent of follow on work and YOY retention than the “One & Dones.” Retention rates although not as high as the “Rare Birds” was good (a little over 33%). Bottom line – they represent the model that we need to build our coverage and services bundle against. We have also realigned our resources to help account development/retention activities against this group.

Why do low price point and short engagement acquisitions perform so poorly?

We discovered five main reasons for this:
  • Length of the engagement – too short to learn business/issues/meet folks/create a relationship, etc.
  • They get the “B” team – the “A” team is on existing accounts, as a professional services firm that measure FTE productivity this will always be the case.
  • Short term need vs long term problem – we were successful in building a relationship with target buyers within targeted accounts. So much so that they decided to “give us a try.” The problem with that is that it was usually a piece of work that wasn’t strategic.
  • Size matters – our win rate and retention rate dropped dramatically on companies that had under $1B in revenues. The only exceptions were situations we were able to sell a solution as the first engagement.
  • Culture/Attitude – some companies just don’t have a culture of working with outsiders. This very difficult to know until you’re in the door.

So as you are thinking about 2009 focus on aligning resources and efforts on;

  1. Retaining and expanding your biggest customers with new lines of business.
  2. Find your “sweetspot” based on this type of analysis…what is the right mix of services and price.
  3. Targeting big companies with big needs…there are many out there now just make sure you have the right offer.

Because at the end of the first engagement…a foot in the door just isn’t enough.