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customer relevance

The most successful B2B salespeople clearly understand that they’re selling to people and not just to businesses. While they take time to understand their customer’s business, they know that identifying each individual buyers’ decision-making mindset is essential to making a sale. One key aspect of the buying mindset is motivation: Is the buyer focused on pain or gain? Problem - focused buyer

Problem-Focused Buyers Unlike in the consumer space, 70% of business buyers* make purchases to solve problems. So, a B2B salesperson will naturally encounter more buyers who want advice and solutions to address specific pain points.

How to recognize them: A problem-focused buyer will talk about the pain they are experiencing today and the negative effects on their business.  They are likely to make statements like, “High churn is cutting into our revenue” or “We need to reduce churn,”  with a focus on issues and roadblocks.

How to pitch to them: An effective sales pitch to a problem-focused customer will be based around:

  • Reducing the severity of the problem
  • Eliminating the source of the pain
  • Mitigating risk and impact

Objective-Focused Buyers Picture2There are also plenty of buyers (the other 30%) who are more dialed into achieving goals and objectives. This is a dramatically different mindset than that of the problem-focused buyer.

How to recognize them: Instead of communicating the fact that they need to eliminate a problem, objective-focused buyers are more apt to say in our churn example, “We need to improve retention in order to increase revenue and customer lifetime value.” These buyers tend to make aspirational statements about the future and speak in terms of goals they want to reach or achieve.

How to pitch to them:  Objective-oriented buyers are likely to respond positively if you can show how you can:

  • Accelerate their ability to reach goals
  • Amplify the positive results they seek
  • Streamline the path to success

With both types of buyers, the issue may be the same, but how they think about it and communicate it will be different: one will spell out the specific problems, and the other will share what results they want.

Bottom Line: A smart sales approach requires first determining if your buyer is problem or objective-focused from the very first sales meeting and then customizing your message around this mindset. By being flexible and adapting to your buyer’s focus, you’ll be far more successful at communicating value in your buyer’s language.

*Source: Impact Communications

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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 proliferation of SaaS and Apple’s demonstration of the impact of product design and user experience, have changed how marketers and their companies look at products.   The lines between product management, product development, marketing, and sales are disappearing as quickly as chocolate from my kitchen.

At a recent Churchill Club CMO panel, Nora Denzel, Senior VP, Big Data, Social Design and Marketing at Intuit  articulated this trend best with the comment, “our product IS the funnel.”  She described that Intuit customers make decision based on product use, not marketing messages. Their experience in using the product determines whether they spend money on it.  That should be old hat to anyone offering a freemium model, but may not be explicitly understood by companies new to the products as services environment. Even more traditional products are evolving to play a bigger role in sales and marketing.  Interactive TV guides provided by carriers upsell on-demand channels and premium content, toys include complimentary on-line gaming components that cross sell more toys, and grocery packaging offers recipes that promote sister brands and products.

A key implication of this product-as-sales-tool trend is the accompanying change in product design and development, which marketing leaders clearly recognize. Jonathan Becher, CMO at SAP  remarked that “product launch is the day you sat down to decide what product you are going to build.”  To which Laura McLellan of Gartner quipped, “If marketing gets involved when the product is done, engineering gets what it deserves,” voicing my own observations that R&D culture has been slow to change and, in some companies, still drives product roadmaps with a myopic focus on technology and features rather than user experience.  (You know who you are.)

Taking it a bit farther, Jonathan Becher described a vision of product development in which just-in-time creation of features and designs that respond to the customer’s current preferences would replace precisely targeted marketing of existing products

Bottom Line: Whether you’re delivering products on-premise or as service, your Product Managers should have among their top design criteria:

  • Ease of use and high quality customer experience
  • Opportunities for customers to experience the product before they buy
  • Usage and behavior-based upsell and cross sell features
  • Seamless integration of usage, behavior, and request-based support and social features
  • Intelligence and analytics capabilities that use information like product configuration, user behavior and preferences, and transactional data to provide additional value to your company and to customers
  • Product architecture, design, and/or manufacturing process that allow fast and easy modifications, feature additions, and integration of complimentary products.

Please share your examples of products with built-in sales and marketing.

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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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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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I was thrilled to be a guest speaker on Linda Popky‘s Marketing Thought Leadership podcast series.

Pinda Popke The podcast topics include:
– The definition of customer context
– How to use every aspect of context in messaging
– The customer use case as a tool for articulating credible and provable value

Listen to the entire podcast, “Customer Relevance: Why Use Case-Driven Value™ Matters to Marketing”

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Customer centricity is well over a decade old. Companies have gotten better at tracking customer information, incorporating customer input into product design, and identifying customer needs in their sales and marketing messages. Despite these advances, the most frequent complaint by decision-makers involved in complex purchases is that vendors don’t listen, don’t understand their problems, and don’t convincingly articulate value.

Something is obviously missing from all that customer-centric activity.

Just about every discussion of being customer centric focuses on “understanding customer needs”.   Unfortunately, most vendors focus on their customers’ needs, but not on the way their customers do business. That may sound like a subtle difference. It’s not. A focus on needs often misses the context for those needs. That’s important, because the context, not the need, determines value.

Let me repeat that.  The CONTEXT, not the need, determines value.

Only by focusing on needs in context can you be truly, uniquely relevant.  To become more relevant and valuable to customers (and grow revenue),  find the needs that matter most now within the context of your customer’s internal and external business situation, and to which you can add the greatest value.  Then sell and fulfill your offering in the way best suited to the customer’s way of doing business.

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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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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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