by Hank Barnes | December 10, 2013 | Submit a Comment
When my kids were young, one of our favorite stories was “The Great Blueness and Other Predicaments” by Arnold Lobel. It told the story of a town that all one color and a wizard who created other colors to try and change the towns fortune. Only when he allowed things to be different colors did the town break out of its malaise. It is not easy to find the book (it is out of print), but I highly recommend it for kids.
Unfortunately, the technology industry is cursed with its own “Great Blueness.”
Gartner just completed a research study with a major component of it focusing on differentiation. The details of the study, as well as an action plan to improve differentiation are covered on my latest research note (subscription required) The Sad State of Technology Differentiation and What You Can Do About It, but I wanted to highlight a few of the findings in this post..
The overall theme was a clear belief that technology providers are failing in their efforts to communicate differentiation. only 24% of the respondents fell that most IT providers are effective in differentiating themselves from the competition, while 52% felt it was difficult to understand differentiation.
Just as importantly, the buyers who felt that providers were effective at differentiating cited the top three factors as service and support, product features and functionality, and price. While those are not that surprising, the problem is that these are factors that usually require in depth evaluation and engagement, occurring deep in the Technology Buying Cycle.
For those that felt providers were not differentiated, the number one reason was the “Messages sound the same.” I’ve written about Differentiation Diseases before, and this research validates that (hence the new note). The Great Blueness lives in technology messaging.
In the face of sameness, buyers often turn to brand familiarity and reputation, with 56% saying “Brand reputation is a key consideration for us for differentiating providers.”
This brand power is great for established brands, but is crippling for emerging providers that lack that awareness. I still remember the early days of the workflow industry when Microsoft was cited as the number one provider of workflow solutions, when they did not even have a product or specific capabilities in that area. Buyers simply assumed that they did (often citing IBM in the same survey).
If your brand is not known, differentiation is not an option. But it is not easy. You have to focus and you have to be willing to give up something.
Too often, differentiation is done broadly. Providers create a slide for their decks citing their “differentiation” and listing a bunch of things (usually 10 or more) that they feel set them apart. Most of the time, the exact opposite effect happens. The audience picks apart these claims by identifying specific alternatives that can “say the same thing.” Even if they choose 4 or 5 alternatives, in the eyes of the buyer there is no differentiation.
Instead, more focus is needed. Be very clear about the comparison you are making. What are you different than? And don’t say “everyone else.” Also, narrow your targets. What matters to one buyer may be irrelevant to another.
The new note covers 8 other ways (beyond clear comparisons and aggressive targeting) to find and communicate differentiation. Using these techniques, I’m confident that any provider can find legitimate differentiation, even if it is fleeting due to competitive reactions.
Without finding and communicating differentiation, the uphill battle that most providers face to gain market and mindshare can become insurmountable.
You started your business for a reason, usually because you did not like alternatives to solving the problem you address. That is the story you need to tell, separating yourself from others. If you chose not to do it or are unable to, you’ll likely perish into oblivion.
Many years ago, Jack Trout wrote a book called “Differentiate or Die.” Take it to heart. It is true. Move beyond The Great Blueness to create a happier, more diverse marketing world.
Category: Go to Market Tags: differentiation, messaging, positioning
by Hank Barnes | December 3, 2013 | 2 Comments
Your prospects don’t trust you.
It is a sad reality from years of conditioning around sleazy sales reps and deceptive marketing techniques. Overcoming this, even for the most ethical organization, is an ongoing challenge.
The best way to do this is to get your customers to share their success stories for you. Ideally, this comes without your direct involvement–something called advocacy marketing–but these stories are also critical to all of your marketing efforts.
Getting customers to share stories and success formally can be a challenge. Many companies have rules prohibiting formal endorsement of providers. As a result, I often hear providers tell me, “Our customers aren’t allowed to talk,” when i question and push them to back up claims with customer quotes and anecdotes.
Not being allowed to use a customer name is not a good enough excuse for no customer validation. That being said, there is a clear hierarchy of customer validation that I encourage Gartner clients to use as the look for ways to provide customer validation in their marketing materials.
- Quantifiable Results with Customer Specifics
Example: “XYZ Company, a global manufacturer, increased revenues by 52% with the help of our product.”
- Quantifiable Results with Industry LinkageExample: “A global manufacturer increased revenues by 52% with the help of our product.”
- Aggregate Estimates
Example: “On average, our customers have seen revenue increases of over 40% after they deploy our product.”
- General Results with Customer Specifics
Example: “XYZ Company, a global manufacturer, says our product helps them increase revenue.”
- General Results with Industry Linkage
Example: “A global manufacturer says our product helps them increase revenue.”
- Aggregate Generalities (which are basically useless)
Example: Our customers say our product helps them increase revenue.”
As you look for validation, consider this hierarchy. Strive for the top, but if you can get things in the top 5-the more specific the better–then it is a good thing. Aggregate generalities should be avoided.
You can also provide proof points through comparisons (e.g. “It takes 3 clicks to complete a purchase request with our system versus 20 or more with our competitors.). But you must provide proof points.
Does this hierarchy work for you? Did I miss anything?
Category: Future of Sales Go to Market Tags: advocacy marketing, customer validation, proof points, references, sales
by Hank Barnes | November 26, 2013 | Submit a Comment
Products never sell themselves. Even in the world of the Internet and e-commerce, someone has to promote products in one way or another in order to drive business. And yet, many, if not all, technology product launch failures usually come back to the same thing.
If you don’t win the hearts and minds of the channels (including direct sales) you have chosen to sell the product, then failure is all but guaranteed. Being complacent about this, assuming that your channels will share your excitement for the new innovation, is a recipe for failure.
This year, Gartner explored the Future of IT Sales in detail—a topic will we continue to focus on in 2014 (continue to follow the hashtag #GartnerFOS for the latest information and discussions)–led by my colleague, Tiffani Bova. Another colleague, Todd Berkowitz, will take a much closer and detailed look at product launches, and how to be successful. The importance of an effective sales channel can not be underestimated for either of these topic areas.
And yet, we often find ways to screw it up.
What are some of the most common ways to disappoint your sales channels with new products? Here are a few:
- Non-compelling Compensation – Selling new products is hard. Buyers don’t know about them and there aren’t a lot of reference points. The compensation for selling new products has to get the channel interested. Many traditional providers have struggled with cloud product launches because the sale of these products retires less quota and generates less revenue for the sales representatives.
- Failure to Deliver on Differentiation – Often, new products come with big promises. Promises that are hard to keep with an initial release. If products don’t deliver on their promises, then sales representatives turn away, not wanting to disappoint their customers. I’m not saying early releases have to be perfect or 100% complete, but they need to deliver the initial value that is promised—and point the way toward a bigger vision for the future if appropriate. But over-promising and under-delivering is a recipe for disaster. It will also impact future product launches–since your channels will view them with less trust, given past experiences.
- Arbitary (in the eyes of the Channel) Restrictions - A common launch strategy is to focus on a small segment of customers, or small group within the sales force, to test product acceptance. This can work, but may be viewed as arbitrary for the excluded segments. If your channel gets frustrated because they are not allowed to sell the product, then they may hold that “grudge” for a long time. By the time they can sell it, they may have decided, in their own mind, ways to provide value without selling the product.
- Incomplete Enablement - A new product has to be sold to be successful. And the first sale is to your channel. They need to get excited about the opportunity the product creates for them. They need to understand the value and competitive differentiation. Sales enablement provides that knowledge. Unfortunately, all too often too little time and energy is spent on enablement. Sometimes this is marketing’s issue; other times sales leaders aren’t willing to pull their teams from the field to learn (which really means another sales effort is needed–one to the sale leaders). Without knowledge and confidence, your channel will continue to sell what they know, putting litle, if any, emphasis on the new products.
Have you ever disappointed your channels with a product release? If so, what was the long term impact? Were you able to recover? If so, how?
Category: Future of Sales Go to Market Tags: channels, GartnerFOS, product launch, sales enablement
by Hank Barnes | November 19, 2013 | Submit a Comment
I just watched the Gartner Events On Demand broadcast of the opening keynote from our Symposium in Orlando. I highly recommend it to anyone looking for ideas and inspiration for the future of technology. The biggest highlight for me was most of the segment was not about technology—it was about the outcomes that technology can enable. That sounds a lot like my thoughts on where messaging needs to go. Beyond dealing with new forms of competition, it was a clear message to both IT users and providers that big changes are happening, with more on the way.
A few of the key themes and soundbites from the talks really stuck out for me:
Forget the Internet of Things…it is the Internet of Everything
Computing is becoming covert, invisible technology will one day rule the digital industrial economy
Every person is a technology Company
Your most significant competitor [in 2020] is not in your industry today
and my personal favorite
By 2020, we will put more computers in our laundry in a week, than we have used so far in our lives
When you think about some of these comments from a marketing perspective, it takes the idea of outcome oriented messaging from a nice to have to a mandatory. I don’t care that I have sensors or how strong they are, I care what they can do for me. I don’t care that my computer has an incredibly powerful computer, I care about what it does for me.
It also means that technology companies need to lead others toward new business opportunities. One example mentioned in the talk was AirBnB- a service that allows people to book accomodations at unique places—like your home. Think about it, when your home is not in use, you could make money by letting other people use it (remember, every person is a technology company). We’ve been doing it in technology for a while—its called virtualization. Where else could you apply the idea of getting additional value from unused capacity?
The other big message of the talk was the idea of Business Moments. In our note on the B2B Technology Buying Cycle, we called these Moments of Truth, but the idea is the same. Your business will be defined by moments—instance in time where a unique opportunity is available to create an amazing experience for a customer. And you’ll be challenged by the fact that every moment is unique–with unique issues, competitors, and opportunities. Adapting your business–processes, people, etc–to be able to recognize and capitalize on moments will be a critical success factor in the future.
During the video, pay attention to the shots of the audience (of CIOs and other IT leaders). They are very focused on the talk—but many look perplexed, skeptical, or even scared–about the ideas that are being brought forth.
The best providers will help them will help them overcome this by bringing clarity, context, and practical ideas to the table. To do that, providers need to clean up their own house first, focusing on:
- Outcome oriented messaging
- Understanding Activity Streams and Finding, and Capitalizing on Business Moments
- Applying technology ideas (like virtualization) to other worlds–leading the way to new opportunities
- Focus on creating incredible customer experiences
One of my favorite non-technology, technology companies–Sonos–does many of these things already with its amazing Internet Music System.
I can even imagine the day when my laundry alerts me that I have done a lousy job folding it—and that I better fix it or my wife will be reminding me, again, about how poor my folding skills are. When that happens, those covert sensors will overtly be making my life better.
Category: Go to Market Tags: business moments, Covert Technology, Internet of Everything, messaging, moments of truth, Symposium
by Hank Barnes | November 12, 2013 | 6 Comments
This post is a bit of a personal rant, but I think (and hope) the stories will be a strong reminder for any business.
I am a big hockey fan with full season tickets for the Carolina Hurricanes. In the sports business, there are two groups that are critical to financial success (beyond having a good team–that always helps draw fans)–corporate sponsors and season ticket holders. In a smaller market like Raleigh, treating these groups well is a necessity. Lately the Hurricane organization has been screwing that up in a big way and their errors could jeopardize the long term health of the franchise.
It is all boils down to trust. And they are taking action that makes it hard to trust them. And I am not talking about Snowden-oriented data concerns, I’m talking about basics of customer care. Here are a few examples:
1. One of the perks for season ticket holders is a food and beverage credit. Order food at the arena, scan your card, and you are good to go. The credit was introduced last year and is a great addition. Except when the screw up. A friend of mine ordered a sandwich and gave their card to the cashier. She scanned it, but the receipt did not print. So she scanned it again. And again. And again. The result–my friend got charged 4 times for one sandwich.
Here is where it gets worse. She went to a manager and explained what happened. She even had her receipt showing how the balance had dropped $36. The manager, rather than trusting this key customer, said, “I need to research this. You might have bought 4 things and are trying to cheat us.”
Amazing. As another friend pointed out, the amount of time they spend researching it will cost more than immediately refunding the amount and trusting the customer. Additionally, to explicitly say to a key customer, “I think you may be lying” is a satisfaction nightmare.
2. In the past, another friend had received a jersey as a gift. It was the wrong size. They went to exchange it (and even showed their season ticket holder card), and were told “We had a bunch of jerseys stolen from our warehouse, so we won’t exchange any jerseys without a receipt.” Almost like they were asking her to give them back the shirt she brought in.
Those are just two examples of many. Now, for hardcore fans (like me), we put up with it, because we love the game and love that it is here in North Carolina and quite affordable. There is not another option.
Additionally, the franchise has received a bit of a pass from fans, since the team won the Stanley Cup in 2006—an amazing experience for the team, the fans, and community. But that effect is wearing off in the face of mediocre teams, under performing stars, and questionable management decisions. It is times like these when treating your core base well is critical.
The two examples above are customer services issues, but they have another area that is frustrating season ticket holders. The worst thing a sports team can have is a lot of empty seats at games. Empty seats mean no parking or concessions revenue. When the team is not performing well, it is hard to draw the casual fan. In a smaller market like Carolina, it is even worse.
So what does the team do? They offer deep discounts on tickets. In many cases, those discounts make tickets cheaper than what season ticket holders pay for the exact same seats (part of the benefit of a season ticket package is a lower price per game). This is a huge dilemma and not easily solved. But many people have dropped their tickets, because they have determined they can buy tickets using these “specials” for less than their season ticket cost. As stories of lousy customer service mount, the allure of a cheaper option grows. And a declining season ticket holder base is a huge concern.
What can they do? (And what could your business do with similar issues)?
Well, first, they could check out a couple of books by my friend, Stan Phelps, that have crowd sourced examples of great customer service, word of mouth marketing, and employee motivation. The examples might help inspire them.
Second, they could train their employees in a similar way to Nordstrom: ”Nordstrom Rules: Rule #1: Use best judgment in all situations. There will be no additional rules.” Now this might be too drastic a change given the organizational culture, but they could, at a minimum, apply this to season ticket holders: “Our season ticket holders are our most important customers–treat them with respect and trust them–then do what’s right.”
The ticket problem is more challenging, but they need to get creative and find ways to fill the seats without alienating their core customers (the food and beverage credit is one perk–there are others, but most of them are either tired–same programs that people have been offered year after year–or limited value (playoff priority doesn’t matter if you don’t make the playoffs or implemented poorly)). It could be a price guarantee. It could be incentives if a season ticket holder introduces a new fan to the team and they buy their own package (hooray for customer advocacy). It could even be something akin to playoff priority. Offer season ticket holders their playoff tickets at the same price as regular season tickets. Let the casual or bandwagon jumping fan pay the higher priced fees for this valued items (playoff tickets are never discounted).
But it all boils down to trust. Can they get their fans to trust the business and do they trust their fans?
The problem of trust is a huge one for every business. Buyers don’t trust sellers–looking to peers and third parties for validation–and it is because of situations like this—where companies display an attitude of “us first” v. “customer first.” The Edelman Trust Barometer tracks the level of trust in key institutions, industries, and leaders. The results are telling–trust is many key sectors is very low.
To rebuild trust requires openness, improved service approaches, and a collaborative approach to engaging with customers. Increasing the level of trust that buyers have in your business will pay huge dividends and I’d be shocked if the ROI on trust improvement is not through the roof.
Do you trust your customers? Do your actions make them not trust you? What can you learn from your own practices and those around you to change how you approach things in your business to build, rather than erode business?
Category: Go to Market Tags: customer service, trust
by Hank Barnes | November 5, 2013 | 2 Comments
I started thinking about cannibalization recently when we were discussing some new options for Gartner clients. As I was researching this post, I was reminded of a post by my colleague, Todd Berkowitz, about strategies to avoid cannibalization.
I think Todd provides some excellent points, but I want to add another perspective to the discussion. The bottom line is that if cannibalization occurs, and you were not expecting it, then you have made some mistakes along the way.
In most cases, the idea of cannibalizing a product is thought of as a very bad thing, particularly when looking at it from an inside out perspective. In many cases, investors are scared of the impact of lower priced offering on existing product revenues. This has been discussed relative to Apple, and is usually viewed solely from a numbers perspective. As a note, in the linked article, they also talk about positive cannibalization when a new product that costs more is introduced and takes sales from an existing, lower priced product.
The other inside-out view of cannibalization comes from product manager and P&L groups that want to protect their product revenues. In these cases, the idea of their own company introducing a product that would risk revenues for the existing product is viewed as a bad thing–and many product line managers and engineering leaders will do everything they can to kill the new idea.
The other way to look at cannibalization is from the outside-in, specifically from a market and customer perspective.
Once again, Apple is an example of this case, as described in this post that has a positive view of cannibalization. It brings up the key point, if you avoid cannibalization at all costs, you may find out that you are cannibalized by a competitor–which is a much worse fate.
Look at the world of CRM. When Salesforce.com hit the market, the early customers where usually smaller companies with a handful of seat holders. They had a big message though. The on-premise players scoffed at their story and scoffed at their business model. Today, they are the market share leader in CRM. If one of the early leaders (e.g. Siebel) had made a decision to create a cloud offering, initially targeted at smaller customers, they might have reduced the growth of Salesforce. But they didn’t. And even when some on-premises leaders introduced cloud products, they purposely “crippled them” by leaving out key features so that they were not a threat to their existing business. That might work in the short term but it is the wrong long term strategy.
When you are contemplating developing and launching new products and the internal cannibalization concern arises, make sure you look at it from two perspectives:
- Market Trends- Are there emerging trends (e.g. cloud, Nexus of Forces) that pose a threat to you if a competitor introduced a new offering? Are those trends compelling enough to cause existing customers to rethink their investment–either from a total replacement or a new plan for handling expansion?
- Customer Needs- Does the new product over you a path to a larger market by addressing a different set of customer needs, even if some of your existing customers might choose to “move down” to the new product? How long will it take for you to experience overall growth across both product lines?
These two factors should be considered in tandem. If there is no trend driving change and the new customers you can appeal to don’t compensate for the lost sales, then cannibalization is a bad idea.
But if the trend is there, then it may happen anyway. So you are in a better position by offering the option yourself (and maintaining the customer relationship). In some cases, you may need to do it, even if it appears to stunt your growth–because that is better than the alternative of losing share, and revenue at an accelerating pace as the trend that drives interest hits the mainstream. Right now, the trends driven by the Nexus of Forces are driving major change in the technology industry. You may have no choice but to cannibalize yourself.
As you have the discussions, be very wary of skeptics of trends. How many times did you hear, just a few years ago, “Enterprises will never put sensitive data like customer information in the cloud”. Many of those that did are experiencing a very different world today. Instead, look at things from the outside-in; take the time to understand the potential value from a customer’s perspective. Some of those early Salesforce deals have grown into major accounts. That can happen for you to.
Again, the bottom line is that you need to consider the impact of cannibalization whenever you introduce new products that closely relate to existing ones. Todd provided great points for ways to minimize cannibalization, if that is your goal. I’ve added some ideas for purposefully driving cannibalization. Doing the right thing by the customer, with sound business logic behind it, is never a bad thing–even if some financial guys may think it is as they focus on short term performance.
Category: Go to Market Tags: cannibalization, marketing, product marketing
by Hank Barnes | October 29, 2013 | Comments Off
Is there science behind things that go viral or are shared broadly? Absolutely, according to Jonah Berger, an associate professor of Marketing at the Wharton School.
Last week, I found an article about Berger’s research in Strategy+Business. I immediately downloaded his book to my Kindle Fire.
That book, Contagious: Why Things Catch On , is a must read for anyone doing content, social, or advocacy marketing. It is one of the best business books I have read lately–and its not a hard read (like many academic tomes).
The book is full of examples of interesting ideas that spread, but also provides a strong reminder for marketers, citing research that only 7 percent of “word of mouth” recommendations (or complaints) happen online.
Berger then talks about the science of sharing, citing 6 factors that influence how fast and broadly an idea spreads. His mnemonic for these is STEPPS:
- Social Currency – People share things that they think will make them look “good” (smart, cool, hip, etc.) in the eyes of their peers.
- Triggers – People share things that are top of mind, because of associations with other things that people think about all the time. (Note: This is more of a hidden trait, but consciously creating trigger associations can have a big, big impact.)
- Emotion – People share things that evoke emotions
(A note on this since I’ve blogged about emotions before: Focus on things that cause high arousal. This can be positive (awe, excitement, amusement) or negative (anger, anxiety). But don’t go for the middle. Just making people feel content or sad won’t drive sharing.)
- Public – People share things that are visible.
- Practical Value - People share things they think will help others.
- Stories - People use stories as a the medium to communicate ideas in an interesting way (another favorite topic of mine)
He points out that your ideas don’t have to have all of these elements, but the more of them that fit, the more likely it is to be shared broadly.
So, what does all this mean for technology marketers. Here is what I think:
- First, and foremost, if you are doing social, content, or advocacy marketing, read this book. Its is backed by research and has lots of useful examples.
- Second, for advocacy marketing programs, find ways to measure and motivate your advocates to share ideas through off-line channels as well as online. Capture the value of the 93% of sharing that happens offline.
- Third, for content and social marketing efforts, review your content to see how it fits into the STEPPS categories. When possible, make changes to increase the likelihood of sharing.
I’d love to hear about you own stories that have spread and how you think they align with Berger’s STEPPS. Feel free to share in the comments.
Category: Go to Market Tags: advocacy marketing, content marketing, social sharing, storytelling, viral marketing
by Hank Barnes | October 22, 2013 | Comments Off
Last week, we had a team meeting where we did a workshop around Social Styles from Wilson Learning. Their methodology analyzed your style based on assessment from peers who your interact with and then also looked at versatility in terms of adapting your behavior for other social styles. (For those familiar with the methodology that are curious—I am an Expressive Amiable). This is just one way of assessing behaviors, motivations and styles. I’ve also experienced Meyers Briggs (I am an INTJ) and a handful of others.
Often, these exercises are treated as one-off social experiments. They are entertaining to explore, but may not have a big impact on changing behavior going forward. But it might be time to take them more seriously.
The reality is that these attributes should have am impact on messaging, particularly conversational messaging. Context is always important for communications, and personality types provide signficant context, when you can get that information.
Imagine working with a highly analytical buyer and not providing any concrete facts that demonstrate value. They will likely become very frustrated, very fast. Conversely, facts without coverage of how people engage with solutions might turn off a more expressive person.
To put it simply, tailoring communications based on personalities is critical for more effective communications. Where possible, capture personality details in your segmentation efforts. Coach marketers and sellers on personalizing messaging or discussions based on these attributes. It may not always be possible, but as buyers get deeper into their buying cycles, it could set you apart from the crowd.
Category: Go to Market Tags: messaging, personality types, social styles
by Hank Barnes | October 15, 2013 | Comments Off
I spent last week at Gartner’s Symposium event in Orlando. You might be expecting a post talking about all the takeaways I had from the keynotes and various sessions, but that is not what you are going to get.
The fact is, I only got to listen to one keynote (Steve Ballmer interview)– where a key takeaway for me was a call for IT leaders to get a better understanding of how the companies they work for go to market. My Symposium experience came from 50+ meetings with technology providers of all shapes and sizes, exploring their marketing, and related go to market, challenges and how Gartner and our team could help them attack those challenges.
Despite fighting a cold, almost losing my voice (sorry for the cracking croaks for my late afternoon meetings), and some logistical challenges; it was a great experience. I walked away with three things that are key ingredients of any success formula for providers.
- Clarity – When I talk about clarity, I specifically mean clarity of value. Many of the people I spoke with were very clear about the problems they solve and the value they deliver. Others struggled to describe it. Being clear on these issues is incredibly important. One part of clarity is sometimes simplicity. I met a few folks that solve one problem, but its a big one, and they solve it in a very simple, compelling way.Takeaway - Don’t try to make your solution more complicated to try to generate value. Instead, simplify your story and focus on solving one, or just a few, problems that are significant.
- Passion - I love talking to entrepreneurs who love their products. I love it even more when what they really love is the value it provides to customers. It is not always easy to detect passion in print or online, but it jumps out at you in conversations. The leaders I spoke with who were passionate drove an energizing conversation. For others, it felt like just another meeting.Takeaway - Find passion in the value you provide to customers. If you can’t find it, you might want to do something else. Passion is critical for start-up success, but it also matters in larger companies.
- Awareness - While passion and clarity are critical, the people I met who were aware demonstrated a healthy perspective. By aware I mean a lot of things. Aware of how their solutions fit into the other solutions deployed at their customers (and this is not just about technical integration, it is about how people will use it and manage it). Aware that they are not perfect, and their products are not, resulting in a more realistic depiction of potential challenges (v. fighting every objection with what seemed like empty claims). Aware that it takes more than a great product to win a customer.Takeaway - While passion is contagious, don’t confuse passion with perfection. You don’t have to disprove every objection. Instead, address it realistically and either diminish the impact of it or show a path to resolving it over time. Recognize that you will always be part of a bigger mix of products and solutions in your customer’s environments and be prepared to describe how you fit in the overall picture.
These three ingredients alone won’t guarantee success, but they will put you on a path toward it.
In closing, a quick thank you to all of the 55+ companies (and people) I met in Orlando. It is energizing to talk with people who are aware, passionate, and have clarity of value (or are looking for ways to describe it). I look forward to continuing to work with all of you in the future.
Category: Go to Market Tags: go-to-market, success mix
by Hank Barnes | October 8, 2013 | Comments Off
As I’ve mentioned in my last few posts, I’ve been speaking with John Holland, co-author of Customer Centric Selling and Rethinking the Sales Cycle, about his books and what he is seeing in technology sales and marketing today. A big focus of our discussions has been around the Technology Buying Cycle and what that means for sales and marketing.
One of John’s perspectives was particularly interesting. It centers around the growth in inbound marketing and what that means for B2B sellers–particularly when the average deal size is over $50K. Netting it out, John feels these inbound opportunities for these deals could be a trap if not managed correctly (and often they are not).
That trap is to waste a lot of time and effort only to have a deal end with a “No Decision.” John cites a survey by Sales Benchmark Index that found 52% of buying cycles end with no decision being made. Over half!
There are two sides to the no decision coin. From a selling perspective, John’s possible causes of no decision include:
- Inability to establish a clear vision of valuel and how that value would be attained, to justify the effort
- A failure to execute on a plan, created with the buyer, for moving to a purchase decision
- No access to power
This last one leads to the buyer side of the coin. Causes on that side include:
- Inbound research being done by people–either on their own or with a basic request “Check this thing out for me” from a decision maker–that don’t own the budgets
- A focus on features and functions–not business outcomes–in both the research efforts and the information they discover
- A struggle to translate technology capabilities into a clear statement of the business outcomes and value they can help achieve
Regardless of who is to blame, the end result is a tremendous amount of waste for both buyers and sellers.
Does this mean we should turn away from Inbound Marketing? Absolutely not, but it does mean how we execute inbound marketing and respond to the inquiries must improve. Here are some steps to take:
1. Revisit your definition of a buying cycle start – As John says, a buying cycle should be considered as starting when a buyer expresses a willingness to spend money to achieve a goal or resolve a problem. If that is not the case, then its just a “looking” cycle. This means that self-directed research or “check this out for me” efforts are not buying cycle activities–they are looking activities, until they produce that willingness (not the full commitment) to spend money. With this new definition, the concept that buying cycles are 50 to 70% complete before contacting a seller may change.
2. Make sure you have the right mix of content – In order to create that willingness to spend, some of your content needs to be outcome oriented. There is lots of content about how to do things right (“5 steps to success”. “3 tips to win”, etc), but they often assume that the reader already agrees that they should take action. There is also tons of content that explain what products do and how they do it. But the big gap continues to be a failure to focus on business outcomes. Once you have a good mix of content, focusing on different issues (outcomes/business value, what you do, how you do it), guide your audience to different types of content to expand their perspective toward business outcomes so they can make the case internally–turning a looking cycle into a buying cycle.
3. Treat inbound contacts with respect (remember they don’t trust sellers) – While the inbound contacts you generate may not be decision makers, they certainly are knowledgeable buyers. John proposes the following approach to interactions with these contacts to build respect and trust so that they will help you navigate the buying process for the company they represent:
- Allow the buyer to tell you what they believe their requirements are. While listening, don’t question or interrupt even if some of them don’t make sense.
- Try to uncover the business issues that will provide value to offset the cost of the offering being considered. Be prepared with a menu of outcomes if a buyer doesn’t know what value can be realized through the use of the offering being considered.
- Once a goal is uncovered, ask the buyer what capabilities they’ve seen that will enable the goal to be achieved.
- Diagnose the way the buyer’s organization operates without the offering being considered and by asking questions see if you can determine additional capabilities they buyer was unaware of.
- By asking questions, see if you can get agreement that additional capabilities would be helpful.
- Try to qualify the buyer as a coach or champion to gain access to other stakeholders to build a business case.
4. Develop 4 key skills in your sellers. Take a hard look at your sales organization and make sure they can do the following three things (or train them to do so in your sales enablement efforts) that John feels are critical selling skills in today’s technology market. Sellers needs to have the ability to”
- Disqualify “opportunities” that are likely to be lost to competitors or no decision. Few things are more painful than going the distance and losing.
- Align with inbound buyers that have already done research and believe they know their requirements. Understand it will be necessary to gain access to others within their organization.
- Have proactive conversations with executives about business outcomes without mentioning product.
- Collaborate with buyers to understand the steps that must be taken for them to make a buying decision and define the activities that the selling organization will do to help them get there.
The reality is that most good sales reps do many of these activities naturally. Unfortunately, not everyone fits that billing, and the excitement over the energy that inbound campaigns can generate (“We got 1000 leads”) often lead both marketing people to overvalue those contacts and sales to skip key qualification steps to make sure that there is a real opportunity. Not to mention the risk that these leads could be very diverse and not linked to key target segments and buyers.
Following these steps, particularly for higher cost (over 50K) products and services, can help you avoid a lot of wasted energy and develop real results from your inbound marketing efforts.
Category: Future of Sales Go to Market Tags: buying cycle, content marketing, inbound marketing, marketing, sales