Hank Barnes

A member of the Gartner Blog Network

Hank Barnes
Research Director
1 years at Gartner
25 years IT Industry

Hank Barnes provides research and advisory services on go-to-market strategies for technology providers. He focuses on issues related to product marketing, positioning and customer experience. Read Full Bio

Abandon Me Too Marketing

by Hank Barnes  |  February 24, 2015  |  Submit a Comment

One of the common questions I get at Gartner is “What are other companies (particularly the successful ones)  like me doing?”  And often, the “like me” comparison they are looking for is pretty broad -software company, services company, etc.    This is often associated with trying to decide what marketing activities to invest in.  When I get this question, I rarely answer it directly, for a couple reasons.  First, my coverage is not focused on specific markets or technologies, so I don’t really study companies in the industry that closely (many of my colleagues do and I often suggest connecting with other analysts if the answer is really important to the client).

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The second reason is I don’t think it is the right question.   While there are certainly some broad based best practices (positioning, storytelling, developing deep customer insights) that you should leverage in your marketing efforts, simply copying others usually misses the boat.  The results can be disappointing when you do the same things as others–particularly others that are larger and have more brand recognition than you.   Me too approaches aren’t differentiating, but ultimately they fail because of one thing.

Your marketing (and sales) strategy should not be based on the what others are doing.   It should be based on what your customers need.

A few months ago, I wrote a post about linking strategy, selling, and segmentation.  The post referenced a great book by Frank Cespedes.   This week, Frank and my colleague Tiffani Bova, wrote an article that appears on Harvard Business Review talking about reinventing sales processes (and the challenges of doing so).  It is a great read.  You might also want to check out the replay of Tiffani on CXOTalk, where she explored the challenges for sales in more detail with Michael Krigsman and Vala Asfar.  All of this material takes us to the same fundamentals:

  1. Start With Strategy - Your strategy defines what your business wants to achieve and why.   When you create a strategy, it must reflect who cares about your products or services–your target customers–and why.  Furthermore, it should reflect your goals in terms of number of customers, share of wallet, product mix,  and more.  When evaluating marketing or sales investments, a simple question should be asked.   Does this investment support us achieving the goals outlined in our strategy?   If not, then why do it.    Just because others are doing it?  Not a great idea.
  2. Really, Really Understand your Customer’s Buying Approach - Once you are clear on strategy, then the primary focus must be on how your customer’s buy.  This is why detailed customer profiles are so important.   Marketing’s view  needs to be a bit broader than sales—looking at characteristics and expectations for the target segment.  Sales can refine this to get very specific about how their specific customer buys (check this out from Bob Apollo). This is where Me Too Marketing really breaks down.   When you do what others do, and you aren’t targeting the same customers, then your programs shouldn’t be the same.  Furthermore, even in the case where at a marketing level (in the broader segment) there are similarities, the things you do to reach them need to have some uniqueness to get the buyer’s attention.  Your starting point, in terms of initial brand perception, will be different.  Which means you need to do different things.  The simple question to ask, “Does this help make it easier for my customer to buy from us (or a partner)?”

This is so fundamental to where Gartner feels that go-to-market strategies need to go that is drives our research focus.   Personally, I spend a lot of time looking broadly at what technology buyers tell us drive their buying approach.   We  are progressively getting deeper and deeper into this analysis and will continue to expand the focus here.   For one thing, what buyers say and what they actually do (and why) don’t always match up.   So there is still some art to this.  There are no black and white answers.  But shifting your focus from “what are others doing” to “what do my customers need to make buying easier” is a great start.

From this, if you are a client, you can probably see where I will take you if you ask me “What others are doing?”  Rather than answer the question, I’ll recommend that you have to understand what your buyers want and need.  We have some research to help with that at a macro level and we’ll explore that.   Further, I’ll talk about approaches to try to learn more from your specific buyer.   Finally, we’ll talk a bit about your strategy.    If your strategy doesn’t require adding a huge number of new clients, then why bother with  campaigns where the key metric is volume of leads?   Maybe you should do more advocacy marketing to get a few high quality referrals.   Or generate thought leadership materials and do some content marketing to build trust and awareness (and not necessarily “leads”).  It all depends on your strategy and your customers.

With all this in mind, here is one marketing and sales objective that every organization should have for 2015.    By the end of the year, we will have developed, and shared across the organization, much deeper understanding of how our customers buy and used that information to adjust our marketing and sales approaches.  Furthermore, we will use that information to refine our ongoing strategy.

I’m confident that any provider that achieves this objective will be in a great position to succeed.

 

 

 

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Category: Future of Sales Go to Market     Tags: , , ,

The “Cons” of Personal Performance

by Hank Barnes  |  February 17, 2015  |  3 Comments

A bit of a different style post for me this week, driven by a couple of things.  First, my daughter complained that I have not used her in an analogy in any of my posts lately (here you go, Alix).  Second, since it is performance review season, I was reflecting on just how much I love my job.  So, here goes.

My daughter is in medical school at UNC Chapel Hill (father brag).  It is a great school and Alix obviously has to be talented to go there.  She talks a lot about how much she loves it and you can see it in her eyes and whole demeanor.  At the same time, she has to make a lot of decisions for the future.  What she wants to focus on…where she wants to target for residency…and where to target for “rotations.”  Because of her relative lack of experience, I find her questioning her thought process on these (and to some extent creating what I think is needless stress) repeatedly.   I try to support her by saying “Trust your instincts.  You’ve done the research, stop agonizing.  It will all work out.”  I hope it’s helping, but I think some of her belief in herself will develop over time—the value of experience.

Shift to me.   For most of my work life, I have really liked the jobs and the companies I work for.   I can easily say that my current role at Gartner is my favorite.  I can’t think of one minute of one day since I have been here that I would want to do anything else.    I plan to be here for as long as the company and the clients I work with want me.

I contrast that to what was the one “dark point” in my work life.   I was working at a company that I never really fit in.    The leadership team that I worked for approached things in ways that conflicted with my own personal beliefs and approach.   I felt like I was a square peg being forced to fit into a round hole.   It was  a few years of me being miserable–and my family and friends knew it.  (Frankly, many of them expected it when I took the job, but I thought “it will be different for me” –and I needed a job.)

When I finally left, everything changed.  I was at a company that I believed in and had very supportive management.   But I was still “scarred”–work wise.  I constantly asked for permission and validation (“Is this what you wanted?”, “Am I on the right track?”, “I can do something different if you want”).   After a few months, my manger said to me, “Hank, I trust you.  Stop asking for permission and just do it.”   That was the point where I feel like everything shifted for me (Thanks, Sydney) and I was back on a positive career path.

So, with all that melodrama behind (thanks for your patience reading that–if I still have you), what do I mean by the “Cons” of personal performance.    To me, there are three:

  • Confidence – The first is confidence.  You have to believe in your self, your experience, and your abilities.  If you don’t believe in yourself, it is hard to provide value. Confidence is a critical thing–as long as it doesn’t turn into arrogance.  Even if you “know you are good”, you can always learn from others—regardless of their background, education, experience, or intellect.   When confidence turns to arrogance, you stop listening and stop learning.  I often think about this and hope that I don’t  cross the scale to arrogance (and if I do, I hope others tell me so I can pull it back).

 

  • Confirmation – This goes hand in had with confidence.   Confirmation is others validating the confidence you place in your  self.  During my “dark days”, I got no confirmation from management.  In fact, it felt like just the opposite.   I got some from my peers, which helped, but I went from being a very confident person to regularly doubting my abilities (and my future career).   So, while confirmation can come from a lot of places, from a job perspective, it has to come from your management.  If they don’t support you, all the peer or client support doesn’t matter.   One of the reasons I love Gartner is that my manager(s) are very supportive.   Furthermore, Gartner makes it easy to get confirmation as there are performance metrics that are tracked based on everything you deliver–and you get the feedback directly from clients as to whether you are providing value or not (thanks to all of you who provide ratings–keep them coming and keep them authentic).

 

  • Congruence - Okay, it’s a “fancy word”, but I needed a “con.”   Basically, this is about being on the same page as the company your work for.   Belief in the product, the values, and the ethics.   Without congruence, confidence goes down and confirmation is unlikely.   My advice to anyone is to invest your energies in targeting companies that you want to work for because you are passionate about their products or services and would be proud to say you work there.

 

Cons

There you go, my “cons” of performance.   Final thoughts—if you are missing any of these three elements from your work life, it is time to move on.  It may take some time, but start the process now.   Focus on companies where there is congruence and the role is something you are confident you can excel at (or feel you can build or rebuild that confidence).  Then as you interview, evaluate whether the management approach (and your manager specifically) is oriented toward confirmation.

If you find the combination of the three, you’ll be happy.   I’ve never been happier — and my friends and family tell me it shows all the time.  (And, if you made it this far in the post, thanks for bearing with me.  Alix–my message to you.  No need to doubt yourself.  Do the research, trust your instincts, and go for what you think from there.).

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Delivering the Perfect Demo

by Hank Barnes  |  February 10, 2015  |  2 Comments

In our most recent survey of technology buyers, live or technical demonstrations were consistently rated at the top of the list of provider marketing and sales efforts.  This was true of IT buyers and business buyers across a variety of solution areas.  As I’ve been exploring lately, a likely factor is a desire for information they can trust.  You can’t fake a live demo (if you do somehow and get caught, I’d be very surprised if you win the business). (Caveat – I do not mean you can’t use sample data, just make sure the product is actually running.   I’ve known companies in the past that create recordings of their demos to simulate the software running, then teach the reps who give them how to run them–hitting pause at the appropriate time.   That is not a demo.  It is a narrated movie.)

So, how do you deliver the perfect demo?   A great script delivered with flair and confidence?   Intensive training of sales engineers or sales representatives to make sure that they follow that script, like humans driving a cog in the sales machine?

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Nope.

Great demos, as I mentioned in a post a couple of years back, are not about the product–they are about the buyer.  A standardized demo does not cut it.   For today’s buying approach, I’d suggest that the perfect demo is tailored around two things – the stage of the buying process and the role on the buying team.  Its structured improv.

If buyers are exploring, i.e. still trying to decide if they should consider a change, some my say that it’s “too soon to demo.”  Our research indicates that that strategy could backfire–buyers want demos at all phases of their buying process.  But the demo for the explorer needs to be simple.  Focus on showing how the product can help the buyer achieve a specific business outcome.   You don’t have to show everything in the product or go into deep detail (yet).  Just “prove” that the claims you make can be accomplished by showing how.

When they are evaluating–looking at solution options–more detail is needed.  Here, pepper your demos with comparisons.  “With other products, we’ve seen customers have to jump between 5 or 6 screens, let me show you how ours makes it easy for you to do it 2 simple steps.”  This is a stage where understanding the role of the audience is important.  If it is the team that will manage the system, demonstrate how great the management tools are.  If it is executives, show the great information they will get from the system.  If users, illustrate how much easier it is to use than other products.   If you have a mix, work with your champion ahead of time to prioritize what roles you will cover and what order—and make it clear to the audience how the portion of the demo fits their world. (For example, you might show the team who has to manage the system some of the user aspects, focusing on how this will not become a support nightmare for them).

Finally, as they get deeper into the buying process, like the case study approach I mentioned recently as a huge content gap, the demonstration needs to be about how you implement and go from “out of the box” or “service activation” to achieving value.  Once again, tailor to the role you are addressing, but remember that this is when you are helping them internalize what they will have to do, or make happen, to have success.  This is not when  you show how “data automatically fills fields”; you focus on how you create links or configuration table that enable “data to automatically be filled in for users”

If you are a technology company, it is time to abandon the standard demo script.  Forever.  Train your sales teams and sales engineers on the buying process and roles involved in buying.  Work collaboratively to develop demonstration scenarios that fit different buying activity streams and roles.    Coach on how to interact with the buyer to get them engaged in the demo–making it about them v. about you.

Sure, you’ll need to make sure your team know what makes your product great and key things that “you should show”—but those need to be in the context of the buyer perspective.   I still remember a time a vendor was showing me the management interface for a product where part of their story was, “we manage everything for you.”  When I asked  why they emphasized the interface (that they use behind the scenes) when no customer would ever use it, they said “because we are proud of it.”  But they never linked it to value to the customer  and they were showing this early in the buying process.  It just turned people off.   Today, I’d tell them, save that for later in the buying process, and show some of it when they are ready to learn how you are going to keep their software running and not having any delays when changes are needed.”  That is when that demo would work.

The net, there is not perfect demo.  You can’t design it, write it, record it, package it.  The perfect demo is always changing, adapting to the potential buyer and focused on them v. you.

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Category: Future of Sales Go to Market     Tags: ,

Is It Time to End the Traditional Approach to Reference Management in Technology Marketing?

by Hank Barnes  |  February 3, 2015  |  2 Comments

As I mentioned in my last post, sales arranged reference calls or site visits were ranked by the technology buyers we surveyed at the bottom of most influential sales interactions.  This was very surprising to me given the long history of “I need references” as part of buying processes.  Additionally, case studies continue to rank as one of the top 2 most valued content types.   What gives?

I think it is probably a few of things:

  1. Interpretation – The respondents may have viewed “sales arranged” as “moderated”.   As a result, their skepticism about the authenticity of the discussion might be higher.   With this interpretation or viewed at face value, the message to technology marketing and sales is clear.  If you connect a prospect to the customer, get out of the way.   Allow them to have a discussion without anyone from your organization present to moderate or influence the discussion.
  2. Social Networking – The rise in social networking makes it much, much easier for buyers to find your customers and connect with them without you even knowing.    If buyers are doing this and ask you for references, it could very well be a test–to see if the references you provide are consistent with the customers they found on their own.
  3. Delays – References, in many organizations, tend to be one of those gatekeeper type events I mentioned in my last post.  Sales tends to withhold references until the timing is right (often for what have been good reasons–not inundating references with calls from prospects that aren’t likely to buy), and finding the right reference takes time.  To the buyer, any delay (not in the actual connection, but in getting reference information) raises doubts.

Viewed in combination, it all boils down to trust.    Anything you do that creates a spector of skepticism is magnified in today’s buying environment.  Trust levels are the underlying current that drives buying.   And providers are usually starting from a weak, un-trusted position.  Everything you do needs to be about building trust between the buyer and you, your product, and your organization.

With that in mind, perhaps it is time to  rethink reference approaches.   The most common approach  puts reference ownership in the hands of marketing.  But to get those references, marketing needs to ask (or is beg a better word?) sales to provide them with client names that are willing to be references.  Often, the story that comes back is  “the time is not right”, “I have a big deal working”, “we have a service issues”, or something similar.

Protecting Customers

Protecting Customers

Some organizations have looked to shift this behavior by making reference activities part of their standard contract (language that is often negotiated out early in the deal discussions).   More sophisticated organizations have reference management systems that track reference activities and seek to balance requests, so references are not overwhelmed with calls.  This is a nice step, but does not address the core problem.   Which is, in my mind, if marketing is responsible for references but not empowered and trusted to engage with customers directly, then they have responsibility without true authority or empowerment.

Mainstay just published a very interesting report on B2B reference programs, not just technology companies (Please note: Mainstay is asking for some contact information to receive the report.  Don’t let this put you off–it is well worth completing their landing page form to see the report).  Despite supporting sales (with materials like case studies and identifying customers for calls), 83% of the respondents that managed reference programs did not know the revenue impact of their reference programs.  Similarly 90% of the respondents were unaware of customer satisfaction levels.  Part of the cause of this was low staffing levels in the reference function.  It is typically a difficult responsibility to own, since authority is often limited and the marketing group that handles references can’t get sales insights or visibility into service issues.   (I’ve seen cases where even companies with a robust CRM system that is well used don’t provide user accounts to the reference team). The report is definitely worth a read for anyone in technology marketing and sales that cares about references.

With the above context, what are some options for change.  Here are a few:

  1. Make references programs a shared responsibility–with shared metrics linked to compensation- across all major customer facing groups (marketing, sales, service).  Have full time participation from each function, with either marketing or sales operations leading the team (depending on organizational dynamics).
  2. Shift to Advocacy Marketing – I’ll be reporting on the advocacy marketing case studies I have been collecting later in the year, but one big claim from all of them is that after moving to an advocacy approach, they were able to dramatically increase the number of reference customers.
  3. Totally change the game.   Rather than focus on a reference program, invest in building customer communities.  This could start on a public platform like LinkedIn, but as it grows move to a purpose built customer community solution (run on premise or in the cloud).  Actively moderate the community—not to eliminate the discussion of bad things, but to encourage discussion and identify strong supporters.    Have the moderators own traditional reference responsibilities and goals, but allow them to focus more of their efforts in achieving the on working with community participants.From a selling perspective, when a prospect asks for references, consider just sending them to the community.  Imagine being able to say, “Rather than me arrange a call for you, why don’t you join our community and ask our customers your questions directly.  I’m confident you’ll get answers quickly and be able to request individual discussions as well.   If you don’t or it takes too long, let me know and we can connect you with a customer.”   That type of discussion totally shifts the trust equation (and likely raises your stature).

    While the primary purpose of the community should be enabling customers to interact and help each other, reference development is a clear side benefit that should be mined.

What do you think?   Anyone trying the community based approach?  Any other tips that you use to both make managing and collecting references easier AND more valuable for prospective clients.

 

 

 

 

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Category: Future of Sales Go to Market     Tags: , , , , , ,

The Sales Shift from Gatekeeper to Expediter

by Hank Barnes  |  January 27, 2015  |  Comments Off

Yes, I apologize if I am adding yet another post to the mass of content about how sales needs to shift.  But I hope you add this one to your “useful” pile and not your “I hope I never hear that again” pile.

After thinking about my post last week about respecting the buying process and the feedback I received, my mind started to go in some crazy directions.  How can sellers respect the buying process, but still meet their objectives?  Waiting for buyers to contact you, particularly if you work for a brand that is not well known, is a recipe for failure.   At the same time, contacting at the wrong time doesn’t work either.    What can you do.

I’d suggest yet another mind shift for sales is one part of the solution.  For years, and I think to a large extent it still happens today, many in sales felt that they were gatekeepers.      They sit in between the buyer and their organizations.   They want everything to go through them.   A buyer wants information, then sales wants to be the one to get it for you.  You want to talk to someone technical, it’s “not so fast,  let me make sure I can make that happen (and put a bunch of qualifiers on what I expect from you in order to make that connection).”    Gatekeepers often “extract their fee” for the act of unlocking the gate to get to what you need.

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It’s the wrong way to think and act today.  It’s also a bit delusional.

First, and we’ve known this for a while, customers don’t need sales to help them with access to information.  They can find it on their own.   Furthermore, if they have started on this path and then engage with sales, and a gatekeeper type discussion ensues, it’s likely to become a dead-end–one of the memorable moments (not in a good way) where they buyer seeks never to interact with that seller again.

But it is not just information.  It connecting to people.  Let’s talk references.  I’ll be exploring references in more detail in my next post, but one of the interesting facts that came out of a recent Gartner survey on buying was that “sales arranged references calls or visits” was the lowest ranked sales activity in terms of value from a buyer perspective.  This was startling.  The high tech sales world has always been driven by references.   What is going on?   We still need to dig deeper, but my hypothesis is that there are two factors at work:

  • Due to social computing, buyers can frequently find existing customers on their own and make contact without the seller even knowing it
  • Buyers may be feeling that the ‘brokered” contacts are too scripted and controlled, they may get some useful information but they have doubt in their mind about the full authenticity of the discussion.

How should sales be behaving?

I suggest they need to think and act like expediters.   An expediters understands the client situation and goal and works to find the fastest way to achieve that goal.   They don’t make money if they don’t help the client achieve the outcome.   They don’t keep people out—they connect (and get out of the way—-other than under.   To effectively expedite, sellers should:

  • Understand the buyers process–where they are and where they want to go
  • Guide them toward information and assets that speed the process
  • Help them avoid missteps and delays

And they have to do one very important thing for themselves.   They need to use the understanding of the buyer situation to make sure it is worth their time.  There is no reason to expedite efforts if there is no value to you, the seller in the end.   Your level of effort should be commensurate with how close to that value for you the buyer is.  Your time is valuable to.

But above all, don’t think that you have the ability to hold access to information and assets as a “chip” that you can play in return for getting the buyer to do something they may not want to do.  That doesn’t work.   They have other ways to get what they want.  You don’t want to be viewed as a roadblock. You want to be the one that gets them in the fast lane.

 

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Category: Future of Sales Go to Market     Tags: , ,

Tech Buyers Want Vendors to Respect Their Buying Process

by Hank Barnes  |  January 20, 2015  |  Comments Off

“Based on the 100+ marketing emails and 15+ cold calls I get a day, they seem to already have my contact details.”

“Vendors need to be aware of our buying cycle and process not their quarter end pressures.  Also corporates are increasingly mature and will conduct research, this [requesting content] is not a buying sign.”

These were  two  of the responses to a recent survey we did at Gartner, asking technology buyers about their willingness to share contact details with providers  via requests on landing pages or other Web vehicles.   Aggregating the sentiment of the bulk of the responses and the message was clear.  Buyers want tech providers to respect their process.

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When they are visiting your Web site, they are typically exploring new ideas or evaluating.  At that point, they really (and they mean really) don’t want to be sold to.   It is not the right time.    Most of the buyers said, “We will contact when the time is right.”    For some, asking for contact too soon, or placing a sales call too early, means immediate disqualification—they will go look elsewhere.   There was a strong tone of distrust in the feedback.  For example:

“We have consistently seen problems with vendors swamping us, by contacting every individual possible within our organization. This disrupts our business.  As a result, we wait as long as we possibly can before indicating any interest in any product/service.”

The perceived lack of respect for their time and their business hurts everyone.  Buyers put up more and more walls to protect their time.  They view every contact with skepticism.  Its an uphill battle for providers to get back trust and respect.

At the same time, buyers understand that selling is a job and they’ll share contact details as a result.   Despite figures from others that found that buyers are anywhere from 57-75% through their buying process before they will contact a provider and the  “we will call you when the time is right” sentiment,”  we did find a willingness to connect earlier in the process—the late in the process idea may not apply as much for technology.  One respondent voiced the challenge clearly:

“When I hand over my contact details, I’m apt to get bombarded repeatedly and far too frequently by vendors.  So I’m cautious about the timing, and it depends on how familiar I am already with the product or kind of technology.  If I’m uncertain or need advice I might make contact earlier in the process but it varies widely from one project to another.”

They are worried that contact may cause “bombardment”, but at the same time, will reach out if they want additional information.   This can happen early in the process,  For a provider, this is a make or break opportunity.   It starts with having enough compelling information available for the buyer to research on their own to gain interest.  If they do reach out or express a willingness to be contacted, respect their process.  If they are just exploring, offer insight and clarification to address their questions.Ask them about their buying process—then help it along the way.  Don’t force the sale.

Finally, two more  responses sum up the sentiment clearly:

“I expect a vendor’s publicly available material to provide a thorough explanation of the workings of their product. If that’s not the case, I am not likely to explore interest any further.”

“I respect the vendor’s time and their sales process. In return, I need my time and process to be respected. It’s in nobody’s best interest for conversations to take place before both parties are ready. Insofar as a vendor requests my contact details before I feel I’m ready, I’ll resist providing them and resent the vendor.”

The message:

1. Buyers expect to have ready (gate-free) access to enough information for them to assess if the provider is likely to be a good fit for their business.  Think case studies, product overviews, some detailed technical information, etc.   There is no magic formula of what is perfect for this, but I’d suggest you ask yourself (or your customers)—from what we share, can a potential customer effectively assess fit?

2. Buyers are conflicted.  They recognize, and value, the need for quality sales interactions.  But the overwheming volume of  time wasting interruptions. that are about selling and raraely about them,  leaves them jaded.   So they avoid contact unless its necessary for them to make progress.   If contact is made, then buyers want added value, not sales pitches.   Providers need to be prepared, using what they know about the buyers from their Web interactions, prior history, and personal research, to quickly learn where the buyer is in their process, to understand what additional information they want (or need), and to offer a path that works for the buyer.

We all know today’s buyer is able to, and wants to, do more personal research.  At the same time, technology buying requires lots of interactions with providers.  This can come early in the buying process or late.   What your team does when the opportunity to interact arises forms the basis for the customer experience going forward.  Will it move on a path of building trust or one of frustration, skepticism, and doubt?  The answer is driven by your understanding and respect for your customer’s buying process.

 

 

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Category: Future of Sales Go to Market     Tags: , , ,

Is Advocacy Marketing Driving Success for Technology Companies? — Maybe

by Hank Barnes  |  January 13, 2015  |  3 Comments

In early December, I published a post, requesting to hear from technology companies that executed successful programs through Advocacy Marketing in 2014.    This was a followup to my post at the beginning of 2014 asking if 2014 would be the year of Advocacy Marketing.  The December post generated a lot of comments from advocacy marketing proponents, so the interest seems high.

But I’m  having doubts.  Why?   To date, I have received ZERO (that’s right, zilch) stories.  I’m a little surprised, because of all the early interest and some exchanges and interactions I’ve had with providers of Advocacy Marketing solutions, but it is what it is.

zilch

Now, there could be several reasons for this, including:

  1. Timing – I probably asked for the stories at a pretty bad time.  People were closing out the year and preparing for the holidays.  I did ask for stories by the end of January, but many people may have simply forgotten or not gotten to it yet.
  2. Requirements – I am looking for stories with quantifiable impact from technology companies that are willing to also speak with me.  I proposed a format that Gartner advises clients to follow in their own stories, but can be challenging to follow when you a first learning it.  These requirements may have limited the willingness of people to followup with me.
  3.  Confusion – As I mentioned, I got a lot of comments.  If you just read the headline and scanned the post quickly, you might have thought comments were exactly what I wanted.  I really appreciate the comments, but I am looking for more.
  4. Audience – I may not have a big enough following to my blog.   I do have a decent readership level, but it not in the tens of thousands, so many may have missed the story (even with the interactions with Advocacy Marketing companies). I’m also limiting this to Advocacy Marketing in Technology companies (products or services).
  5. Reality/Inertia – The final possibility is that Advocacy Marketing is not yet delivering tangible results for a significant number of technology companies.   We can find some good case studies on provider sites, but that may be it.  The effort to change long-standing opinions on working with customers is impacting the speed and impact of Advocacy programs.

I suspect the biggest reason is the timing, followed by the reuquirements, of the request (and hope it is not inertia), but we’ll see what happens in the next few weeks.

I believe this is important for those of us who believe in Advocacy Marketing.   We need to share stories of success.    In our Hype Cycle for Digital Markeitng, 2014 (Gartner for Marketing Leaders subscription required), Advocacy/Loyalty Marketing is moving toward the trough of disillusionment—which often means users are struggling with finding ways to make the technology work for their company–struggling to acheive tangible value.  Now that hype cycle looks across many industries, not just the technology space, for its assessment of a category, but it still applies here.

We know buyers look to peers and third parties that they can trust, so its clear that helping them make connections with your existing customers is a good thing.  But perhaps we are still struggling to figure out the best ways to do that and systematic approaches that deliver results?  Stories will help others understand things they can consider.

Are they out there?

If so, let me reiterate the earlier request, but let’s adapt the requirements:

  1. If you’ve done some things with advocacy marketing and are a technology company AND you are willing to talk to me, drop  me an e-mail (hank DOT barnes AT gartner DOT com).   In the e-mail, share as much of the store as you can, but don’t worry about the exact format or detailed quantification of value (that is important and is what I am looking for so if you have no ability to assess value, even qualitatively, you may not want to submit).   I’ll followup with you and work to explore some of those details through our conversation.
  2. To provide a couple of examples, I am not looking for “We now have 200 advocates in our program, up from 50 at the beginning of the year.”  That is great information and how you did that might be interesting.  But I’m looking for applications  of Advocacy Marketing.  Like, “we enlisted our advocates to submit reviews on public review sites and now have over 50 reviews on the leading sites.  Since that has happened, we’ve seen our lead volume and quality increase”.   Or, “we deployed advocates through online chat to engage directly with potential clients.  When prospects chatted with an advocate, our close rate tripled.”  Or, “we asked our advocates to promote a new video we developed (that celebrated customer success) to their peers.  That video has the highest engagement rate of any video we have ever done and we have seen over 50 leads that we can attribute to the efforts of our advocates.”   Note: These are not real stories–they are examples of what I am hoping (expecting?) to hear.
  3. If you don’t want your company name shared (for whatever reason–most likely legal or other communications restrictions), that is fine.   I’ll either (a) not use the story publically or (b) use it and “anonymize it” (with your approval).
  4. If you want to submit on behalf a client (integrators or advocacy marketing providers), that is fine, but I will need to be able to talk speak with them at some point (happy to discuss with you first) if I am to use the story, even anonymously.

Does that help?  I hope so.  And look forward to hearing from many of you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Category: Go to Market     Tags:

A Mythical Million – Where I’d Spend Extra Marketing Dollars

by Hank Barnes  |  January 6, 2015  |  2 Comments

My colleagues, Tiffani Bova and Todd Berkowitz , and I came up with an idea for an interesting (we hope!) collection of blog posts to kick off 2015.  The three of us are independently writing a post about where we would allocate 1 million dollars if we ran marketing for a technology company.  Check out their ideas at the links above.

questions

The only assumption was that the basics are covered–this is an extra million to go above and beyond.  Also, think of the million as a relative figure. For some providers, a million is a small addition to the budget.  For others, it represents a significant addition.  But regardless of size, 1 million, spent well, should have a big impact.

With that as a setup, I would invest in 4 areas.  The exact amount for each would depend mostly on what we learn in the first activity listed.

  • Buying Process Knowledge –  I would perform targeted market research to understand, in depth, the buying process of my key target customers.  Using focus groups, individual interviews, and other tactics, I would prioritize getting a deep understanding of the major activities, hurdles, and intricacies that drive their buying processes.  That understanding would fuel much of my other marketing and sales activities.
  • Addressing Buying Gaps – Using the research above, I’d optimize my sales and marketing efforts to focus on providing the content and interactions that buyers need.   While I’d like to believe I’d already have this covered, I’m pretty sure there would be gaps.  Filling those gaps (and potentially dropping low value items) would become a priority.  In all likelihood, this would require continued development of compelling, focused stories to address different members of buying teams and different stages in buying.
  • Influencer and Advocacy Marketing  – I would not be working for a company that did not provide a product that I love, so I’m going to add an assumption that my company would have a collection of fans that love our products and our company.  With that assumption, I’d invest in implementing, or improving, our advocacy program–making it easier for customers that love us to share their stories and strengthen their voice in the market.  I’d look beyond our advocates to find others in the industry that buyers trust and look to gain their support–broadening our influencer reach.
  •  Sales Enablement – Finally, my last investment area would be sales enablement–focused heavily around three areas:
    • Buyer Understanding – Making sure our sales team understand our ideal customer profile and how to find and qualify the fit of their targets to that profile
    • Buying Process – Communicating the impact of the research on buying process mentioned above.  Guiding our sales teams on how to make it easier for their customers to buy.
    • Customer Marketing – Working on strategies to grow the value of existing customer relationships.  From encouraging customers to become advocates to exploring how to identify expansion opportunities to linking existing areas of value to new options to make it easier to cross-sell additional products and services, the focus would be on how to build off existing levels of value to go even further.

There you have it.  My approach to spending and extra million dollars.  As you can see, it is extremely buyer centric–as I think the key to success lies not inside our organization but in the hearts and minds of our buyers.

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Category: Future of Sales Go to Market     Tags: , , , , , ,

Caution on the Customer Experience Battlefield

by Hank Barnes  |  December 30, 2014  |  Comments Off

My colleague Jake Sorofman recently shared some results from a Gartner survey on the high level of  priority  marketing groups have given to customer experience (CX) in their 2015 plans, calling it “the new battlefield.”   I could not agree more, but want to express a word of caution.

yellowcard

Old marketing approaches are losers on this battlefield.

CX is not about marketing on its own.   Marketing can’t deliver a great customer experience independent of sales, service, and any other part of the organization, and your ecosystem,  that impacts how a customer perceives your company  and your products (and/or services).

Yes, personalized experiences during the buying process matter.  Yes, using extensive data analysis to gain insights for that personalization matters.  But those are just elements of the experience.  What matters most is consistency end to end—from the time buyers first learn about your company through the buying process and beyond–as they use the product and get value.    Without a holistic approach, you are really only hoping that you can deliver a great experience.

Before I joined Gartner, I was part of technology companies that believed in the importance, and value, of customer experience.  But those companies could be myopic.  We’d say  things like, “Customer Experience is about great content management” or “Customer Experience is a subset of digital marketing.”  We’d try to skew the customer experience focus to fit our products.   I’ve come to realize that does not help anyone.

If you are going to fight on the CX battlefield, you better bring a unified force of marketing, sales, service, and more.  In fact, you might want the front line of your battle force to be your advocates–current customers and influencers that love what you do and have seen for themselves the value you provide.   The main weapons on this battlefield are trust, credibility, and shared context.   Dazzling spectacles that entice can work, but if they aren’t steeped in authenticity, it will be a temporary win that  will soon be followed by losses.  The backlash when people discover reality will be huge.  Service realities matter the most in customer experience.

So, if you are part of a marketing team that is placing big bets onf CX, make sure you don’t think you can go it alone.  Your effort has to be an integrated part of a whole.  If marketing is still viewed in your organization largely, or solely, as “the people that generate leads”, you will fail.    That internal perception will wreak havoc on your efforts to create great experiences.

Is Marketing up to the challenge?  We’ll see.

Despite being proud to consider myself a marketer, I have my doubts.  I still feel that for this to work, a different approach is needed–something I blogged about a few years ago.  It will be interesting to see what happens.  But it will be a shame if the CX concept gets derailed due to half truths and disconnects across the customer lifecycle.

None of us can ever forget, we can’t “own” the customer experience.  It lives in the perceptions created in each customer’s mind by the all interactions they have with our companies.

 

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Category: Future of Sales Go to Market     Tags: , , , , ,

“Ignore our Web site, it needs work”

by Hank Barnes  |  December 23, 2014  |  Comments Off

In my role as a Gartner analyst working with technology providers, I often have what I would call ‘first time” inquiry calls–the first phone interaction between me and a client.  To prepare for these, I always try to do some homework. I look at their CRM records to see other interactions they have had.  I go visit their Web site.   And that sets the stage for some “fun.”

I would have to say that, more times than not (and that means easily over 200 times this year), I hear “Oh, our Web site needs to be updated, it doesn’t reflect what we do.”    It’s almost like the company wishes they could change the URL to www.PleaseDontVisitMeRightNow.com or www.DontTrustTheInformationHereItIsOutofDate.com.

Dontvisit

Ouch.   I wonder if they say that to their prospects and customers whenever they talk to them?    And if so, how does that go over?

Does this sound like you?

This is a big problem–one that needs to be considered primarily from the buyer’s perspective.   Our research into buying processes show  a few things:

  • Early in the buying process, buyers don’t go to provider Web sites looking for information.  They use trusted independent Web sites to get ideas, suggestions, and recommendations. So from that perspective, maybe it is not so bad.
  • As they get deeper into their process, they always visit the provider site, but they are usually not confident that they will get the information they want or can trust what they get.  This may be a symptom of the “our site is not up-to-date” situation.
  • Throughout the process, they look for validation of information they get in other places (including through interactions with sales teams) and they use the Web site to try to do this.  When they see different information they are at best confused and at worst filled with doubts about what the right story is.

Considered together, the inability to clearly communicate a value story that is current on your Web site has driven buyers to other places to find information they can trust and likely excludes you from or delays buying processes due to inconsistencies between what they see and hear.

What can be done about it?  Here are a few suggestions:

1. Simplify – Simplify your home page so that you can change it easily.  Make sure it always tells a simple story that include the value that you deliver and how your deliver it.   Include validation with customer ancedotes and quotes, third party endorsements, etc.   If you have more  resources you can build a more complex home page.  But always factor it against how fast can you change it to keep your message current.

2. Make Consistency a Priority – Once you get a great story, make sure you tell the same basic story (albeit with varying levels of detail and different examples) everywhere.   The story on your Web site should echo what you say in live interactions.  The stories you push out to other sites (to draw people to yours) should be reinforced and expanded at your Web site.     Part of consistency is don’t change too often—The basic story can stay the same–the way you tell it and the details can and should change.

3.  Synchronize Change – Unless you are just testing new ideas and stories (which is a good idea), make sure that when you decide to change, you synchronize things.  Don’t make the change in one area (e.g. sales presentations) and say “we’ll get to the Web site later”.   Make sure it is coordinated so that you can achieve consistency.  Simplification will also make synchornization easier.

Certainly there are times when this coordinated approach is not realistic or appropriate.  Testing, as mentioned above, is one example.  Another might be if you are previewing a new product or idea that has not launched.    But more often than not, coordination should be the mandate.

The next time you say to yourself, or anyone, “Our Web site does not reflect what we do or why we matter,” make sure you make it a priority to fix it fast.  Failure to do so diminishes the value of everything else you are doing from a sales and marketing perspective.    If you can move buyers to a new place, a place where they trust the information on your Web site, then you are giving yourself a significant advantage over most of your competition.

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