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Customer relationships

I just hosted a webinar introducing the second edition of my book, 42 Rules for Growing Enterprise Revenue: Practical Strategies for Increasing B2B Customer Relevance.

Watch the webinar to get a quick overview of 7 strategies for becoming more relevant to customers:

  • Selecting markets where you matter
  • Focusing on customer interactions rather than your org chart
  • Using context to define and articulate value
  • Collaborating with customers
  • Moving from products to solutions
  • Exploring vertical market alignment
  • Empowering your sales channels

Enjoy, and let me know what you think!

Ways to Matter More to Customers, Lilia Shirman from Laura on Vimeo.

 

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The New Challenges of Selling as “1 of 3”

by Charles Born on September 5, 2012

in Marketing,Sales Tips

This article is by Guest Blogger Charlie Born, the newest member of the Shirman Group extended team.

Over the last five years, B2B selling has evolved from general concepts of solution selling to the ‘Buyer’s Journey’ – a journey driven by the large amount of information available online.  A new sales and marketing reality is rapidly emerging as the internet plays an increasing role in buyer research.  I’ve seen the impact of this in my own marketing work, and I strongly believe we are on the cusp of some important changes to the conventional marketing and sales wisdom of the past

Studies are consistently showing that B2B buying habits are shifting.  Buyers are now 60-70% of the way through the buyer’s cycle before they reach out to your sales representative.   By that time, there is less need for traditional solution selling techniques.  In the new buyer’s journey, the buyers believe that, based on their own research, they have figured out what they need.   When they decide to contact your sales team, they have most likely decided you are one of their top three choices – you are 1 of 3.

Maybe this sounds like good news.  It’s not.  Most often the buyer views all three choices as equally acceptable, and the final decision comes down to features, functions, support—and price, price, price.  Exceptional sales representatives might be able to overcome this ‘1 of 3’ syndrome, but this is the antithesis of where you want to be with solution selling.

In this new selling environment your biggest hurdles are no longer your competitors or features and functions; they are:

  • The ability of buyers to learn on their own
  • How your company participates in that learning process

As the CMO of SAP, Jonathan Becher, said at a recent Churchill Club CMO Panel, “Being marketed TO is a mindset we need to end.  It’s helping (the buyer) discover what they want to learn about.”

Are you experiencing this phenomenon?  Has it changed your marketing strategy?

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In 42 Rules for Growing Enterprise Revenue, I talk about the fact that customer relevance is a corporate skillset, not a departmental one.  Creating a positive, customer-relevant experience involves many parts of the organization, and the speakers at the recent Churchill Club CMO panel provided lots of validation and great examples of why shared ownership is critical.

Nora Denzel, Senior VP of Big Data, Social Design and Marketing at Intuit commented that Intuit’s CIO, sales, and marketing all contribute to create the customer experience.  Lorraine Twohill, VP of Global Marketing  at Google agreed that cross-functional collaboration is critical because while Marketing focuses on customer acquisition, keeping customers and making them happy is what sales, support, and IT (in a SaaS company) do.   Jonathan Becher, CMO at SAP, summed it up well.  “The SAP experience is about the company, it’s not a marketing thing. If it were, no one would pay attention,” he commented.

Bottom Line: Consider making great customer experience an objective for every organization that impacts it.

  • Ask each functional team to identify specifically how they affect customer experience.
  • Set detailed objectives in your annual and quarterly plans for how they can improve the department’s contribution to a great customer experience.
  • Identify opportunities for cross-functional initiatives to offer new value to customers. It’s these that often have the greatest impact.

Please share how different parts of your company are collaborating to serve customers better.

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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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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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Asking right

by Lilia Shirman on May 19, 2009

in Customer relationships,Sales Tips

Idea Design’s blog about asking is right on – and applies to businesses as much as to charities. At the end are three points that may as well have been written for businesses – here they are,  with business terms inserted:

“1. Be where your [customers and prospects] are. Hang out with them. Learn their language and be relevant to them.

2. If you want to [close deals] sooner or later you are going to have to ask for [the sale].

3. And when you do ask, ask in a way that is appropriate to your [customer]. ”

In a business, these apply to the sales reps, and to the rest of your organization.   Get your messages into the places customers look to for information (note – first place they look is not your website).   Your marketing, services, and product development / design staff should be attending the same events, reading the same publications, and participating in the same discussions on and off-line that your target audiences do.

Most sales people don’t have much trouble asking for a sale – but they often fail to do their homework and communicate why their offer should matter to the customer in the customer’s terms.  That makes the ask inappropriate.  To increase the frequency of yeses, increase the relevance of your offers.  To make that relevance natural, as Idea Design suggests, hang out with the customers.

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I hate hate hate pricing my consulting work.   There is always a tension between the value it brings to the client (which gurus like Alan Weiss will tell you is the only thing that matters), the reality of the client’s budget, the amount of effort and expertise required, internal company politics, etc.

So even before reading the article about a coffee shop that does not post prices, I had tried handing the pricing reigns to clients by asking some version of, “What do you think this work should cost, given the value you expect it will bring?”

Results?  Some clients did not want to name a number, and I ended up pricing the project as usual.  Some DID name a price: always higher than I would have quoted.   The difference:  Clients who were comfortable naming a price already knew me and had worked with my firm before.  It seems letting your customer set the price may be a great model when:

1. The customer is well-informed about the product and its value, or can become informed easily and quickly as in the case of the coffee shop. (This is the basis for free trials: Assume the customer will assign little or no value when first encountering a product. Depend on familiarity leading customers to agree with you on price.)

2. The customer has had some exposure to competing products and prices, and has a basis for comparing the relative worth of your product vs. the others.

3. The customer has a relationship with you, even if only a momentary one (note in the video that the cafe owner describes people “looking him in the eye and stating what they think is fair”)

Share your thoughts on if and when letting customers set the price is the right thing to do.

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More than once over the last few months, I’ve had the unsettling experience of meeting with a potential client, planning to discuss how I can help their company, only to to discover they are no longer with their company.  As sign of the times, to be sure.   Moving contacts create challenges at existing accounts, but opportunities elsewhere.  So what does one do when your key contact at an account suddenly isn’t at the account?

A few thoughts:

Be proactive – diversify: Cultivate multiple relationships within each account.  Follow up with people you meet in meetings or who collaborate with you during and after the sale.  Ask your sponsor or champion to make a few introductions, particularly in different departments or organizations than their own.

Follow: Social networking tools make it easy to keep in touch as people move about.  Take note of status changes that may indicate a new position, employment status, or company.

Help: This is a time when active networking and introductions are more valuable than ever – offer them. Whether its a potential employer, employee, or partner, introductions are a great way to create value and build relationships.

Follow Up: Make sure customers who have bought from you before know how you can help them deliver results as they take on new roles in new organizations.

Systematize: Your top reps already do all of the above.  Consider spiffs or other programs to make sure the new contacts make it from personal spreadsheets into your CRM systems.  Help all reps get proactive by measuring the breadth of contacts at accounts on an on-going basis. Provide simple tools like email templates to make re-connecting easier.

Comment and share your own ideas on maintaining sales contacts in these tumultuous times.

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