From the category archives:

Sales Tips

Last time I wrote about the implications of the consumerization of corporate buying decisions for B2B messaging.    What about sales strategy?   If individual employees have more power to select products and technologies, then should we sell to these “Corporate Consumers” the same way we do to consumers?

Yes.

Corporate Consumers make choices about smaller, one-off business purchases such as mobile devices, SaaS applications. That’s significant because it provides a revenue stream and an entry point into the company.   In addition, many business purchase decisions involve larger numbers of Corporate Consumers as nearly invisible (at first glance) influencers.   So you can use B2C tactics to create mass support for larger purchases.

Since these employees are making individual decisions, marketing aimed at individuals will most certainly sway them.  Appealing to those influencers is how many companies (You Send It comes to mind) have built their B2B business… Apple has more or less been dragged into B2B by those same influencers.  Corporate Consumer’s real power varies wildly, however.

And No.  There are some uniquely B2B considerations:

  1. Recognize that those small B2C-like sales are really only beach heads.  If you want a bigger share of wallet, maintenance revenue, long term contracts, etc., you have to shift modes – or more accurately, expand your approach to encompass both types of selling- and it’s best to recognize that dichotomy from the beginning.
  2. For larger purchases, you’ll need a way to harness the influence of Corporate Consumers.   Ideally, you’ll want to gather data about individual use within each company.    When going in for the enterprise deal, there’s enormous value and selling power in having better intelligence than the CIO about how employees are already using your technology.  Short of that, be prepared with anecdotes from enthusiastic users within their company, and stats about business use of your product.
  3. Influencers don’t sign the check.  You will still need B2B sales tactics to turn individual purchases into larger longer-term contracts.
  4. Many large corporate purchases don’t touch end-users at all.  These are the big, complex, operational decisions deep inside data centers, factories, or other operational groups.  Here you might cherry-pick a few traditionally B2C tactics, but the reality is that a direct relationship with a subject matter expert in your organization and a long-term account strategy are the real silver bullets.

Bottom line – if your product has a large end-user base within the company, invest in broad-base consumer marketing tactics, while still building the relationships with top decision makers.  If very few people touch your product, don’t bother with the Corporate Consumers.  There is a huge additional cost of sales to appeal to the masses, so make sure you really need that broad base.

More on this topic in this post

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Many of my clients are neck deep in preparations for their annual sales meetings. They  are creating presentations and content to get Sales jazzed about the year, and to educate them about new products, pricing, initiatives, etc.

Unfortunately after the dust settles and everyone has flown back to their patch, Marketing will moan about Sales not using all the tools they worked so hard to create.  Sales will complain that they don’t have the right tools.   How, after all this work, is that possible?

Part of the problem is that while marketers think about the content of sales and marketing tools, they often ignore usability.  Just as with a complex product, great features (content) are only as useful as the user’s ability to access and exploit them.

To improve the usability of sales and marketing tools for your sales channel(s) and for customers, ask these questions BEFORE your create the assets.

Internal Usability Questions

  1. How is the offering (product/service/solution) marketed and sold, exactly?
  2. Who will use the sales/marketing assets and how?
  3. Which form or medium is appropriate for each type of marketing and sales activity?
  4. How much customization will be required with each use?
  5. How will the users obtain the asset when the need for it arises?
  6. What kinds of responses or questions are sales or marketing people likely to encounter when they use this asset?
  7. How will we know whether the asset is useful and effective?

Usability Questions for Customers

  1. At which points in their decision-making process does each audience need this information?
  2. Where and how do customers find this information?
  3. What medium is easiest for customers to access and use?
  4. Under what conditions will they most likely use this asset?  (In a meeting? On the phone? At a computer? At a dusty job site? On a plane?)
  5. How much time will they have to interact with this asset?
  6. Will they want to share it? (If yes, how do we make that easy?)
  7. How will we know whether the asset is useful and valuable to customers?

Please share additional usability considerations when developing content and tools for us in sales and marketing.

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Last time, I wrote about top sales resources. Case studies were at the top of the list.  That’s because in multiple sales surveys, including our own study of industry-focused go-to-market efforts, case studies come out as the most effective sales tool.

Getting a customer to put their name on a case study is a big effort. Make sure the case studies you produce create the greatest possible impact.  Here’s how:

Writing about results

  1. Relevant – Create them for every industry you pursue, and make it easy and fast to find them by industry.
  2. Audience-appropriate.  Write business-focused studies to be sued with senior, line-of-business audiences.  Write technical ones describing relevance of features and specific.
  3. Quantitative – Include actual numbers to describe everything from how long a deployment took, to improvements in key metrics, to financial benefits, and ROI. Not only do numbers impress, they provide a level of credibility that fuzzy, buzzword-heavy marketing speak just can’t.
  4. Multimedia – Enable customers to learn about other customers via multiple mediums. Printed summaries are great leave-behinds at meeting and trade shows, but a 2 minute video of a customer speaking has much more impact on the web or embedded into a presentation.
  5. Brand-heavy – If you only focus on a single case study, make it one from a highly recognized name, ideally in the industry you are targeting.

Weigh in with your own tips about great case studies.

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When President Kennedy announced the goal of putting Americans on the moon, no one had any idea how to do it. Not even the Russians, who had inspired the race with their ventures into orbit, understood how to get to the moon. Yet Kennedy got us there. He used the sheer confidence of his belief to convince Americans that the moon was an attainable objective. He then dedicated extensive resources to enable the scientists and engineers in the effort to achieve it.

There is a lesson here for sales organizations. Setting big goals at a sales kickoff and barraging reps with information about the newest products just isn’t enough. The top reps will deliver the numbers in any case. The rest will struggle without extensive resources and support.

Sales reps report that the following are especially effective in helping them achieve their targets:

  1. Case studies, case studies, case studies. Repeatedly and consistently rated as the most useful sales tool. (Post on making case studies more useful)
  2. In-account deal support from subject-matter, industry, or technology specialists.  This is especially critical in larger companies, where account managers must be relationship experts, but cannot possibly know the details of every product, business process, or industry (unless they are vertically-aligned).  The very fact of bringing in an expert who is perceived as more senior by the customer is often enough to move a deal forward.
  3. Business-level messaging and sales tools targeted at the high-level decision makers and budget holders.  These should complement detailed product-focused content, which is necessary but insufficient bu itself.  Business messaging targets the audience evaluating the investment rather than the people evaluating your product.
  4. Training & tools that enable sales reps to ask great questions and have intelligent conversations with customers at multiple organizational levels and functional roles. Asking great questions accomplishes three critical things: Positions the sales person as an ally and advisor, demonstrates that they can listen, and provides valuable information about the customers that can guide the rep in structuring the deal.
  5. Quantitative results achieved for other customers. While compliments (customer testimonials that discuss how easy you are to work with) are good, hard numbers about specific improvements they achieved are always more powerful.  Numbers in the elevator pitch get attention and meetings, and numbers in the business case  help close the deal.

Share what do your B2B sales reps value most!

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Great discussion last night at the SVAMA event about how B2B marketers can leverage social media to generate leads.  Check out the summary by Kirsty Scott of SD Design.

A few points I thought were esp. interesting, insightful, or controversial.

1. Create LOTS of interesting, relevant content.  But how, given limited resources?  The panelists suggested:

  • One person can generate a lot of content and a lot of buzz – it doesn’t take an army
  • You don’t have to be a professional writer. Just get your ideas across.
  • Give your community a forum for creating content. WD40 fan club is a great example of community-generated content.

2. “The internet is a great medium for experimentation,” Mike Linton.

  • Its easy to try out different tactics, different language, and different social media hubs.  You quickly can learn a lot about what works and what doesn’t.
  • Its easy to overcome resistance inside your company by suggesting, “Let’s just run it as a test.”

3. The community is there. Deal with it.

  • If your company thinks its not “doing social media,” its wrong. Users, customers, and probably employees are talking about you, whether you’re there or not.  Best to join the conversation than to be ignorant. (Sounds like parenting advice!)
  • Communities take on a life of their own. Don’t expect to control or even guide the conversation.  Instead find an employee most like your audience and ask them to participate in the dialogue.
  • Develop a thick skin.  Even within communities you create, someone will find something negative to say, and chance are, it will get disseminated.  Don’t be taken by surprise, and don’t panic.

4. Lead Gen is a process, not an event.

  • Include calls to action – SUBTLE ones – in your content.
  • Give people the opportunity to “self identify” as interested though their actions and responses to many different forms of interactions (Blogs, tweets, webinars, emails, facebook fan clubs, LinkedIn group participation, etc.)
  • Track participation and score interest level based on those interactions.  It takes time and experimentation to find the most promising patterns.

5. Traditional PR is in trouble, and reporting is dead (or at least, in the re-animation ward).

  • If everyone if writing about the latest events, for free, what’s a reporter left to do?
  • PR’s traditional emphasis on providing access to reporters and providing reporters with story no longer provides the value it once did.

Were you there?  Tell us about other great insights from the evening.

Do you agree or are these suggestions off the mark?  Share your B2B Lead Gen experiences via Social Media.

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Social media and B2B lead generation

by Lilia Shirman on October 19, 2009

in Sales 2.0,Sales Tips

Later this week I’ll be moderating Silicon Valley American Marketing Association’s event on Social Media for B2B Lead Generation. The keynote speaker and panel are as well-informed a group on this topic as you’re likely to find: David Meerman Scott,  author of New Rules of Marketing and PR, Brian Halligan, CEO of HubSpot and author of Inbound Marketing, Mike Linton, former CMO at eBay and before that at Best Buy, and Zack Urlocker from MySQL (now Sun Microsystems).

What would you ask this group about using Social Media to drive a sales pipeline?  Here are some of the questions I’ll have for them:

  1. How do you move from conversation to lead generation within social networking environments, and without angering the people you’ve engaged?
  2. How does a company select the social media hubs that are most important to their business and their audiences?
  3. What constitutes a “qualified lead” in the social media context?
  4. How do you estimate the resources required to create a presence in social mediums?
  5. What can B2B companies learn from BtoC practices?
  6. What’s your advice for the change agents who are advocating greater investment in social media by their companies?
  7. How should resource-strapped start-ups allocate the time and resources for social media?
  8. What are the top three do’s and dont’s for using social media to feed a sales pipeline?

Your turn!  What would you ask?  I’ll post some of the answers to your questions here after the event.

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Are coin-operated reps a barrier to complex sales?

by Lilia Shirman on September 21, 2009

in Sales Tips

I just watched a great TED presentation by Dan Pink on the science of motivation. The net is that rewards work well for very simple tasks that require no creativity.  They actually produce worse performance for complex tasks requiring insight, creativity, and innovation.  What works for the latter, according to Dan Pink,  in intrinsic motivation created by autonomy, mastery, and purpose in people’s jobs.

How much of these three does the typical B2B enterprise sales rep have?  Some autonomy in terms of work hours and location. But not much in terms of processes, procedures, reporting, pricing, etc…

Mastery? Everyone is moving to “self-paced learning,” which means you watch a video or presentation on your PC while multitasking.  What kind of in-depth, hands-on education can you really get that way?  Hardly the best way to teach negotiation, interviewing and discovery, listening, rapport-building, solution design, or anything else that’s truly core to a complex sale into a large account.

Purpose?  (Other than the commission?)  I can’t even begin to count the number of times I’ve heard sales and corporate management say, “the reps are coin-operated.”  Create a spiff, and get the result.  True. You get SOME result.  But what if instead of a spiff (or in addition to one), you convinced your reps that what they are selling is meaningful, significant, and really matters?   That they have to be the sages and advisors who will help customers save their companies? That meeting the quota isn’t about going to “Club,” but about saving or creating jobs and livelihoods for others?

Maybe sales reps don’t operate by the same rules as all other humans. But I doubt it.  Would love to know for sure.  Anyone out there who’s tried something other than a spiff to motivate sales?

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Whiteboard as sales conversation tool

by Lilia Shirman on August 17, 2009

in Sales 2.0,Sales Tips

A great set of tips about on-the-fly sketching from XPlane are directly related to a recent post here about “2.0ing your sales meetings

Happy to see that collaborative selling approaches are becoming popular, and now insightful companies like XPlane and WhiteBoard Selling are helping sales reps get more interactive and collaborative.   That can only translate into greater customer relevance, and more productive and valuable sales meetings.

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Use-cases frame your value

by Lilia Shirman on June 30, 2009

in Sales Tips

I’m amazed how often I ask enterprise sales reps about how the product they just sold will be used, and they don’t know!

Understanding the use-case for your product is essential to making the sale.  If your sales reps can’t answer the following questions, then they don’t understand the customer and they can’t be relevant nor articulate your value and uniqueness.

Why is the customer purchasing?

What initiatives, objectives, or pressures is the company responding to via this and related purchases and actions?  What’s at stake for each participant in the purchase decision?

How will the product be used?

Which business processes will it be involved in? Who will the users be?  How will it change people’s day-to-day jobs?  What performance and business metrics will it impact? How will it change your customer’s customers’ experiences?

What’s the context?

What other systems, processes, and business areas will your product interact with? What else is going on within the company that will determine the value of what you’re selling?

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Selling skills for enterprise reps

by Lilia Shirman on June 5, 2009

in Sales Tips

Your sales reps need to know how your customers think about their customers.     How educated are they about this? Everyone gets product training, but other desperately needed enterprise sales education topics are neglected.  Here are a few:

  • Listening skills
  • Customers’ industries, business processes, and critical business metrics
  • Usage situations (“use-cases”) of your products / services
  • Negotiation in a style that fits your brand and company character
  • Long-term account planning (Not the sales process. The relationship process.)
  • Research, information gathering, and asking questions to discover pains and opportunities
  • Presentation skills sans Power Point
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