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Shirman Group

Don’t you just love opening those emails with sales pitches and special offers inside?  Doesn’t it make you eager to get the next email from the same vendor?  No?

Obviously not.  Yet many companies use their email newsletter to barrage their customers and prospects with offers and promotions.  Maybe if the email is from RueLaLa, addressed at eager fashionistas, it will get a decent open rate.   After all, RueLaLa is all about special offers to begin with.  If you’re selling complex B2B products, repeated offers and promotions will result in  a very high “always ignore” rate.   That’s the proportion of subscribers who got sick of your email offers long ago, but don’t want to bother to open one and scroll down and find the fine print to unsubscribe. So they just ignore you. Every time.

Stop sending offers. Resist the urge to add a promotion to every missive.  Remember that the call to action does not need to be “buy now,” and not even “try now.”  Send them something valuable instead.   So valuable, that they’ll be more likely to open the next email.   Here are 10 ideas of valuable things to send.

  1. Short (15-20 minute) webinar by one or more of your clients about how they solved a problem your other customers are likely to face
  2. Your own webinars that inform about a common topics of interest to your audience (Hint: your product is NOT a common topic of interest)
  3. Invitation and discount to attend an event where you will be present
  4. Summary of big takeaways from a conference that someone in your organization attended
  5. 3rd party articles that are relevant to your prospects
  6. White papers (your own or 3rd parties) that actually inform rather than advertise
  7. Video interview with one of your execs sharing their ideas, views, insights (but NOT promoting your company)
  8. Blog entries by your executives, employees, or 3rd parties that are relevant to your audiences
  9. Explanation of something happening in the market and about which there may be confusion
  10. New ideas or best practices gleaned from your customers and other internal and external subject matter experts.

There are countless others, of course.  Please share ones you’ve sent or received that have been particularly valuable.

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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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Imagine you have an audience of 350 people. Now imagine you have them captive in a room for several hours. How would you use that time? What if that audience were already your customers?  I am guessing that handing out a catalog of random products and serving water in paper cups would not be the first items on your list.  Unfortunately, they are the ONLY things United Airlines could come up with.

I pick on United because they kept me sitting on a runway for over 4 hours recently, with a cup of water after 3.5 hours being the only concession.  They did actually serve food (liberal interpretation) and show a movie during the 12 hours in the air.  But they could have, among other things,

  • Sold DVDs or downloads of the movies they were showing
  • Sold CDs or downloads of the music they play on various earphone channels
  • Surveyed passengers about travel habits, plans, and airline selection criteria. (Fill out a survey, get extra frequent flier miles.)
  • Gathered data on behalf of a paying third party.
  • Sacrificed one seat in the back to offer in-flight neck or foot massages. I’d pay!
  • Sold neck pillows and other travel-specific items
  • Offered free informational pod-casts (from sponsoring organizations?) or audio books via the audio system (and then sold the audio and ebooks, of course)

These are all revenue-generating for the airline, and valuable to customers. But they weren’t done.  Seems that in a financial crisis, innovation applies only to cost-cutting.   Why not focus on revenue sources in stead?

I see many companies passing up opportunities to add value and generate additional revenue.   In the course of conducting research for one client, we concluded each customer interview with a very simple question: “What will help you get more value from this product?”  Several customers mentioned they wanted our client to offer post-sale services to fine-tune product usage 6 to 12 months after deployment.  This discovery was unexpected, unplanned, and pointed to a completely new revenue and relationship-building opportunity.   To find it, all we did was ask.

To find those hidden, yet in hindsight obvious, revenue opportunities, look in two places:

  • Can you address additional or broader needs for the customers you already serve?
  • Can you meet the same needs you address today, but for new audiences or segments?
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On becoming words on a page

by Lilia Shirman on December 4, 2009

in Writing

Friday I received the hard-copy of my book, ’42 Rules for Growing Enterprise Revenue’.  The publisher had the printer send me the first one off the press.

I held it with a mix of relief, excitement, and terror.

Relief that it is done. Done.  DONE!!!

42 Rules for Growing Enterprise Revenue

First one off the press

Excitement to be holding the product of a year of interviewing, researching, writing, re-writing, debating (with self and others), and some more re-writing and editing.  Also excitement at the upcoming process of promoting and talking about the book and the ideas.  One of the reasons I began this process was for the opportunity to distill the ideas and lessons from years of work.   Having written them down, the concepts feel more usable and concrete.

Terror that now it we be read, and judged.  Its one thing to hand a deliverable to a client or a piece of completed work to a colleague.  They’ve participated, had lots of input, been involved in the process all along.   It’s as good as they and I can make it.

It’s completely another thing to write something (like this, come to think of it) that will be read by unknown readers whose only and complete image of the author are the words on the page.  Here on the blog, I hit that blue “publish” button with a bit of hesitation, and one last look-over.  But I can always go back and update.   With a book, no number of look-overs ever seemed to bring the thing to a point of complete satisfaction. Like a remodeling project, a book is never really finished.  One must just stop at some point.

So I’ve stopped.  Now the fun begins!

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freepuppy_cropped

Better than "Please Don't Touch"

Pam Fox Rollin, Executive and Leadership Coach extroadinnaire,  shared this photo recently.   Its a perfect example of using insight about your audience’s complete context to make your message more relevant and notable.

The owners of this store didn’t just state what was important to them (i.e. “Don’t touch” or “Watch your children”)  They thought about what would make the request really stand out to busy parents.  They thought about the reality of the lives of those busy parents, and came up with great, catchy, and funny sign instead.

Are you thinking about your customers’ real life when you design your messages?

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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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Let’s face it.  Sales can generate revenue without Marketing.   Not so in reverse.   The true purpose of marketing – of the messages, and the programs, and the collateral, and the PR –  is to accelerate and amplify sales efforts.  When that’s forgotten, sales-marketing misalignment follows.

Companies focus lots of attention on understanding customer needs, designing messages and programs for them, and gathering feedback to improve products and go-to-market efforts.  Unfortunately, when Marketers forget what marketing is for, they often neglect their other, one might even argue primary, audience: Sales.   (To clarify, by “Sales” I mean both direct and indirect channels, so partners are definitely included in this discussion.)

You probably have a process in place to measure customer satisfaction and gather customer input.  Whether via survey, customer advisory board, or support call analysis, some form of customer feedback is influencing your business.  What feedback mechanism do you have in place for the Sales team?

Here are five simple ideas to help understand Sales’ needs and align Sales and Marketing:

1. Conduct an annual sales survey.  Just like a customer satisfaction survey, this tool can assess current perceptions, determine needs, and prioritize their importance.  Use a survey to find out what tools, information, and skills will improve sales productivity, and to assess how well various marketing organizations are supporting and collaborating with Sales.

2. Gather input through your sales and partner portals. Create a visible and easily accessible request form and encourage Sales to ask for tools, training, content, information, or other changes that will help them accelerate and close deals.   Then use your existing sales and partner communications to highlight requests that have been implemented.

3. Create sales and partner advisory boards. Be sure to select a diverse set of members.  This group can be a sounding board for new initiatives or programs such as Sales Kickoff agendas, improvements to product launches, or training curricula.

4. Place Marketing and Sales in the same room. The most effective marketing people are those that spend time out in the field, accompanying reps to sales meetings and listening to partners.  You can’t regularly send everyone in marketing out into the field, but you can provide opportunities for greater interaction.  Send marketing people to sales training, where they can see what sales is learning, and build relationships and hear feedback directly from their classmates.   Have marketing folks who are involved in lead-gen and sales enablement activities participate in sales meetings and calls, so they can hear the issues and challenges Sales faces, and play a more direct role in helping overcome them.

5.  Plan together. During your annual planning process, ask Sales and Marketing executives to identify specific dependencies on each other.   The leadership team should then acknowledge  each dependency, and jointly make decisions about whether and how each organization will fulfill their obligations to the other groups that depend on them.  They should also agree on changes to the plan if the obligations can’t be met.  Such collaboration early and at the highest levels of leadership permeates through both groups.  (Of course, the same process should be used for the entire executive staff, not only the Sales and Marketing leaders.)

Marketers and Sales and Channel managers: Please share how your marketing organization gets feedback from your sales channels.

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