Sales and Marketing Performance Blog

The Need for Speed in Inbound Sales

Posted by Mark Gibson on Tue, Oct 22, 2013

Lately I have changed my strategy in responding to inbound leads, where a contact exchanges their contact details in return for an offer of an eBook, Whitepaper or Webinar on my Website.

I now make best efforts to respond to an inbound leads inside 5 minutes of receiving it. So far I have been able to reach 80% of contacts directly on the phone if I call within the first 10 minutes. I'm having at least an order of magnitude more constructive conversations with prospective customers than using my prior approach.

I wrote two blogs on this subject in the past week: -
The Quick and the Dead: Why Responsiveness Matters in Sales featured on the HubSpot Website.
The other, Responsiveness and the Dawn of a New Era in Sales Enablement featured on the WittyParrot site.

If you are interested in your team speaking with more leads to initiate more conversations and to improve the number of qualified leads in your pipeline, then I recommend reading both articles.

In the meantime you may find our Building Highly Responsive Sales Teams  eBook of value.

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Topics: buyer-seller alignment, responsive sales enablement, speed in sales

The B2B Buying Process and How to Influence it pt. 1

Posted by Mark Gibson on Tue, May 07, 2013

The B2B Buying Process - and how to influence it.

Buyer behavior has changed radically in the past 5 years; sales process unfortunately in most companies has not adapted and marketing has been slow to adapt.

I first noticed these changes 10 years ago, when buyers would come to meetings knowing more about the products and competitive approaches that I did. I began working on aligning buying and selling processes after meeting Dominic Rowsell, author of "Why Killer Products Don't Sell", on which much of this work is based. 

This article is the second in a series of articles on aligning marketing and sales with buying behavior and it will be of value to sales and marketing professionals who wish to adapt their process to align with buyer behavior. Last week's article "A Guide to Aligning Marketing & Sales Engagement with Buying Process" discussed buyer behavior and how it is affected by risk.

The beauty of this approach is that it's universal, simple and based on actual buyer behavior. When you understand each of the steps, you can ask buyers where they are in their buying process. Salespeople typically think that the sales opportunity is one or two steps in advance of where the buyer actually is in the buying cycle and this is a primary contributor to forecasting inaccuracy.

Phase 1: Idea or Identify  

The buying process starts with an idea at Identify. 

The Idea phase is usually an internal customer activity, as a result of an executive off-site meeting and blue-sky thinking, brainstorming opportunities or as a result of a strategy session. Business executives are constantly looking to identify trends in segments and markets which may yield opportunity.

A buying cycle can be initiated in answer to CXO questions like, "how can I grow revenue, expand reach, or contain cost", etc.  Similarly business leaders look for  economies of scale, acquisitions and to identify i mportant customer groupings as well as emerging  technologies that could help them become more competitive. Think about the last time you bought something of value...it was likely months after the idea came to you that you actually made a purchase.

Role for Marketing

Most B2B buying cycles now begin with an Internet search, but it's probably not a search for product in the first instance. Developing Mind-Share is the imperative for marketing and to get found in a Google search in response to the type of query your target buyers are using to identify possible approaches to solving the above problems. 

Marketing's role is publishing fresh and engaging ideas in various forms of content in blogs, videos, article marketing, social media. Thought-leadership content takes time and intellectual-effort to create, but is worth the effort as it creates an ongoing legacy of Web pages that create brand awareness as well as providing an evergreen source of ongoing referral traffic.

Role for Sales

  1. Understand the Value-chain of the customer's business - this is research and may not involve customer contact. 
  2. Engage CXO's in existing accounts in mindshare development in strategy sessions (not product related), but designed to truly understand the customer's business and to share ideas.
  3. Building connections with the visionaries in client organizations through social media - read their stuff, make comments on and retweet their ideas.

Risks for the Supplier

The likelihood is that salespeople will not be engaged in this phase, unless the sales team is working a multi-level strategy and senior execs are engaged at the top level of the client organization and the account team is proactive in running executive briefings. 

Other risks include:
  • The prospective client finds an innovative alternate approach through Google that leads to a competitor when doing "big idea" research,
  • Unvalidated market analysis...this means basing your marketing plans and growth assumptions on the size of the opportunity, customer propensity to buy, the price, or any number of factors, based on incorrect assumptions. Get out of the building...read Steve Blank's HBR "Lean Startup Changes Everything"
  • Lack of evidence to compare with your offering/idea....this problem is a big issue for start-ups with discontinuous technology.
  • The prospect found your Website, but clicked away because they did not understand you or your offerings due to lack of clarity

Risk Mediation

If you have a novel product/technology and you are not blogging and using social media to spread your ideas and build mind-share, you are at a distinct disadvantage, regardless of the merits of your technology.

At the outset you are not selling, you are sharing ideas on the Internet and in responding to early stage leads, you are looking to provide help and ideas in conversations of possibility.

Phase 2: Mentor

This phase is about finding and enrolling a Mentor or evangelist in the buying organization to run with/or who is already running with the idea. The Mentor is typically a senior manager or analyst who works with executive team, but is a recommender, not the decision maker.


The Mentor's role is to scope and test feasibility, credibility, acceptability of the idea. The Mentor works with a small team; the idea is still under wraps and not for public consumption in the business. 
  • Typically will use the Internet to gather ideas and research.
  • May use informal meetings with suppliers to get ideas
  • Could use an RFI to gather ideas, but typically will use social networks and Google to gather ideas
The Mentor produces a report for executive team.

If accepted the Mentor will start to plan how the breakthrough idea can be implemented as an initiative, how it will be presented and to whom and the route through the political maze.

Role for Marketing

Effective Content Marketing activity generates mind-share and inbound inquiries through publishing buyer-relevant, keyword rich content and placing it where it will get found on blogs, syndicated and curated Websites and in social media specialist groups.

Marketing Messaging across the Buying Cycle


Role for Sales

The role for sales is to field these inquiries and engage the buyer in a conversation of possibilities. These are early stage inquiries from customers gathering ideas and information. 
  1. Develop a high level engagement plan; this is not a detailed account plan or a blue-sheet; more an outline of the possible opportunity, the key players involved and the next steps for both buyer and supplier. (Mind-mapping is a perfect way of collecting and sharing high-level ideas).
  2. Risk analysis on customer vs. opportunity (are they the right fit, are they innovators, do they have money, can you access decision level, etc.)
    This means sales managers need two green lights; one from the client that there is an opportunity for further investigation, and one from salesperson that there is indeed a worthwhile paid engagement (proof of concept, feasibility study) as a next step.
  3. Develop conversations with prospects, - (you are not selling, you are consulting at this stage of the process). Visual confections are excellent tools for sharing big ideas, getting buyer to tell their story and getting buy-in from a wider audience in the prospective opportunity.
  4. If you are engaging existing accounts, sow seeds, share your ideas via hand written notes with relevant articles attached. (Emails get deleted, hand-written notes get read).
  5. Salespeople should try to understand buyer goals and the high level problems they are seeking to overcome.
Salespeople must identify the key players involved in the decision process; the salesperson is looking for a champion who can make things happen and to establish a relationship with that person.

Risks for the Supplier

  • If the salesperson is only talking to one person in the opportunity (which is the case most of the time), and that person is a weak mentor and is not giving them access to a champion or to key decision makers on the team, then you are wasting your time.
  • The customer wants you to do free work - this is a tricky call for many salespeople. As a rule in selling to the early adopter, all consulting on feasibility, product modification prototyping, etc., MUST be paid for; the supplier can refund if absolutely necessary on conclusion of a successful deal.
  • Salespeople are too aggressive in trying to close a deal, instead of engaging in fully understanding the landscape of the account and the needs and goals of the key players in the decision process.
  • Over-enthusiasm; the salesperson sees an opportunity and starts building expectation in the selling organization around it, without sufficient diagnosis and qualification
Now a tricky question for salespeople and their managers, What do you put in the forecast when it's still an idea on the horizon? (Answer: it does not appear on the forecast yet.)

Risk Mediation

  • Salespeople need to engage powerful sponsors - politely demand it. Use the qualification confirmation letter after each meeting with a buyer. If the buyer fails to respond within a week to your meeting summary letter and confirm that your summary of the meeting is correct and follow through on next steps, (which may include access to stakeholders), they are not a prospect. This letter really works - download the template and use it.
  • Identifying key players in the decision process is mandatory (also known as Stakeholder Mapping)
  • If the customer is unwilling to pay for consulting on feasibility, proof of concept, or product modification, they are not a prospect.

Phase 3: Position

Public discussion occurs within the key players on the executive team to make resources and funds available. The Mentor works hard to drive the project and their own personal credibility.


If the supplier's product is disruptive, this will arouse emotions and the positioning discussion will become POLITICAL; Change = Emotions.
Without executive sponsorship at this stage, the idea is unlikely to survive the internal battle for resources and funds. 

Many potential opportunities fail to turn into projects because they are killed off at the Position phase by competing priorities or strong adversaries who are either fighting to maintain status quo, are aligned with alternate approaches, or simply don't understand your offering and by default, oppose the idea. 


The transition from Position to Case is the specification for a project for the internal assessment of the idea.

Role for Marketing

After a Website visitor has converted into a lead on your Website, the process of building trust and credibility begins. Lead nurturing is the process of  sending the right message to the right prospect at the right time and in most cases, this is hit and miss.

Lead nurturing is a science and it takes dedicated effort and often professional help is needed to set-up and generate meaningful results that justify the investment in the marketing automation platform.

Email is the preferred vehicle for lead nurturing, based on sending appropriate content to segmented lists of your leads, based on buyer persona role, company demographics, interest areas and sundry other criteria.
 

Each email should follow a logical path to educate the buyer on the issues and advantages in your approach and move them to take action. Typically top and middle of the funnel content presents an opportunity to read a new article or download a white-paper or e-book.

Role for Sales

Position is make or break time for salespeople, although few ever know when or how it occurred. Typically, (80% of the time), the buyer goes radio silent and disappears and the opportunity is over for now.
  1. Support your mentor and find a champion
  2. Generate business support for an Assessment, meet key players
  3. Use the meeting summary and visual confections as well as providing links to relevant examples and proof points.
  4. Use white papers, eBooks and presentations to circulate ideas to stakeholders.
  5. Understand the politics and work with the mentor/champion to develop a sequence of events to fully scope the idea.

Risks

  • Strong adversaries aligned with the status-quo or alternate approaches,
  • Competition for scarce resources means your idea may not survive without sufficient emotional commitment from key stakeholders,
  • Behavior or process change are strongly resisted by the "USER"  stakeholder of the innovation,
  • Weak or no champion to fight for your solution,
  • The opportunity loses momentum and client goes "radio-silent"

Risk Mediation

Any work must be a paid engagement - if the idea is worth doing, it's worth paying a little to be sure. Work the key stakeholders, understand their roles, issues - create vision as to the value of your approach.

New- Selling with IMPACT Whitepaper
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Topics: killer products, buyer-seller alignment, B2B selling, buying behavior

A Guide to Aligning Marketing & Sales Engagement with Buying Process

Posted by Mark Gibson on Thu, May 02, 2013

Have you ever had a situation where you engaged a prospective lead, they showed a lot of interest, your meaningful conversations led to a demo or a presentation and then the prospective buyer went radio silent and disappeared?

This happens a lot; according to Scott Santucci of Forrester, 
at least 80% of the time leads fail to make it through the sales process.  There are many possible reasons why leads die, but I suggest that most early leads don't make it past the critical internal "fight for funds" (Positioning) phase in the buy cycle. 

Buying behavior has changed permanently and way faster than most sellers and marketers have been able to adapt their processes and their business. Much recent debate about the point at which salespeople are engaged in the buying process leads me to believe that an in depth review of buying-selling process is required. 

The Book that Launched a Thousand Others

"The Diffusion of Innovation," by Everett Rogers is a hugely influential study on the process by which innovations are adopted or diffused into a population. This work, now in its fifth edition was first published in 1962 and has spawned dozens of books like  "Crossing the Chasm," by Geoffrey Moore,  "The  Tipping Point," by Malcolm Gladwell and many others.

This series of article will help you understand why most early stage opportunities die, how buyers buy and how you can better influence a buying cycle in your favor. The articles are based on a collaboration with Dominic Rowsell, co-author of " Why Killer Products Don't Sell" and adds a layer of understanding from the buyers perspective on how they go about buying innovative or disruptive technology and how risk affects vendor engagement.

Understanding the buying process will help sellers to engage and optimize their value chain. This is new thinking for most sales teams and with insights gained from this work, we can adjust our selling process to serve our customers according to how they buy - which is governed by their tolerance for risk. 

Why do People Buy?

People buy for many and varied reasons; our role as sales professionals is to find out the underlying motives of the buyer and once in possession of this knowledge, do our best to satisfy the buyers needs. 

People buy technology solutions and consulting services for dozens of reasons, however most of these can be distilled into the following four business drivers, or buyers compass.
  • To grow top-line revenue
  • To reduce cost and improve profit
  • To create competitive advantage to attack new opportunities
  • To reduce risk exposure to the business

How do People Buy?

There is a pathway or process that all organizations and individuals follow to reach purchasing decisions. This pathway is universal and does not vary by culture or geography as it is inextricably linked to human nature. What changes from one company to another is the speed at which organizations or individuals travel through the process.

Every purchase goes through the IMPACT cycle, either formally or informally, - with or without the supplier.


Whether an airline is buying a fleet of Boeing Dreamliners, a small business is buying an innovative new software service, or a family is buying a new laptop computer for the home, every purchase goes through the same process. For a Boeing 787 it may take 20 people two years to decide, for a Laptop in the home, it might take a discussion with your partner, a visit to a few Websites and a couple of hours in total.

The six steps in the buying process use an acronym which is easy to remember as it has huge I-M-P-A-C-T on organizational performance. Every purchase goes through all six phases, with or without the supplier.

Engagement and the Cycle of Adoption 

The Cycle of Adoption shown in the visual confection below, layers the cycle of adoption over the universal buying process IMPACT and introduces the four buying behaviors and the point during the cycle of adoption that they engage buyers.

 

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Topics: buyer-seller alignment, buying cycle

Can You Send me a Sales Proposal? - I'm Sorry, we Don't Do Proposals

Posted by Mark Gibson on Thu, Jan 17, 2013

Why Responding to Proposals you did not Influence is a bad idea

In sales we get the opportunity to learn lessons by making mistakes and those lessons usually serve us well through our careers.

Occasionally we get to learn the same lessons over again, either because it was so long since the last time it happened and we forgot, or maybe we moved into a new line of business and went along with the buyer's request, because we were learning the ropes in the new market.

In December, I received two proposal requests; an inbound lead and an inbound phone call from seemingly genuine and very nice people. I typically generate about 50 inbound leads per month, but these are not proposal requests, they are downloads of ebooks or whitepapers or webinar registrations.

I don't advocate salespeople selling complex B2B products sending proposals when they are solicited by prospective customers and they come out of the blue. Why?

But what if the buyer has been reading your blogs for a while and follows you on Twitter....what's wrong with sending a proposal?

To understand my reasoning on this point we need to take a closer look at how customers buy and I will use the IMPACT cycle from the book Why Killer Product's don't Sell, by Dominic Rowselll and Ian Gotts to illustrate this point.

The Universal Buying Process IMPACT

There is a pathway or process that all organizations follow to reach purchasing decisions. This process does not vary across industries or even regions of the world, because it is inextricably linked to instinctive human behavior. It is just the speed that organizations or individuals travel through the process that differs. The process is called IMPACT.  

Identify -  Mentor - Position - Assessment -  Case -  Transaction

The IMPACT process may be followed in a formal way or it may be tacit and informal. It may involve large numbers of people, both inside and outside the organization, or it may be driven by one individual. It is guaranteed that any idea which leads to a purchase in an organization, be it corporately or personally driven, has followed this process.

The six key phases of the process are easy to remember as they have an enormous IMPACT on your company’s performance:


Every purchase goes through all six phases, with or without the supplier's assistance. What differs between the four different buying cultures is the point at which the supplier is given permission to engage with the customer and this is governed by product maturity and risk. If you are selling commodity products, you will be engaged at transaction. If you have a hot new disruptive technology product, early adopters looking for a jump on the competition will seek you out and you will be engaged at Mentor

The reason that most salespeople don't recognize this process is because the customer goes through the process on their own, and only invites the supplier in for the last one or two steps. This correlates strongly with current research that indicates the buyer is 60-70% through the buying process when they first  contact vendors. But more of this later. First, let’s understand the IMPACT process.

Phase 1: Identify


The identification of ideas for changing or improving a business that are good enough to warrant investigation. This is the ideas phase. This may be the executive team going on an offsite with strategic consultants to plan its future. The executive team will be looking for ways to grow revenues, create competitive advantage, increase shareholder value, contain or reduce costs. That is, it is “blue sky” thinking looking out into the future to see how technology will help the company become more competitive or impact its markets.

Phase 2: Mentor


Enrolling a mentor (evangelist) to the idea to validate it. The executive team will take the breakthrough ideas or big bets and give them to someone in senior management to act as a mentor for the ideas. These ideas are not for public consumption, and the mentor should only work with his close team and trusted advisors to ratify the thinking. The mentor will be scoping and testing the ideas, reading thought leadership articles, downloading whitepapers and looking for feasibility, credibility, and political acceptability as much as he can without drawing undue attention. If the decisions are not accepted then the ideas get buried forever.  Mentor is the point of engagement for Value Created selling and the point at which The Challenger salesperson seeks to influence through insight.

Phase 3: Position


The public decision to make resources and budget available to invest further in the idea. Buy-in is the big challenge because it involves managing politics. But why do politics play such a major part in this phase? The answer is simple.
The announcement of a new initiative is an announcement of impending change. And change will always produce an upsurge of emotions, both positive and negative. The mentor will need to find a sponsor, because to move forward into the next phase will require resources (money, people, time) to assess the value of the initiative. The sponsor will be the person or body of people with enough political muscle to get the resources.  

Phase 4: Assessment


The assessment of the good and the bad in the idea. The Assessment phase plays a very important part in the post-Enron corporate world where legislation now ensures company officers are held accountable for their decisions. Particularly ones involving investment and strategic direction, which has made the Assessment phase a big hurdle. But the Assessment phase is not about cost justification, it is an evaluation of everything, both quantitative and qualitative. And some executives would see this as personal insurance, keeping them out of prison.

Phase 5: Case


The creation of a quantified business case and assignment of resources/budget to it. The mentor will use the output from the Assessment phase to build a business and investment Case, possibly including solutions. Then, the Case can have a budget actually assigned to it and will be made public. If the organization requires that all external purchases are done via competitive tender, then this is when those tender documents are created and distributed.

Phase 6: Transaction


The confirmation of the project to all internal and external stakeholders and to the suppliers. Procurement will raise a purchase order and negotiate contracts for the solution put forward in the Case. Depending on the solution, market and company approach procurement may need to drive a formal procurement with competitive tendering, beauty parades, and all the fun and games that this entails.

Conclusion

If you have not influenced the buying process prior to Case and you are selling complex B2B technology, then the chances are that someone else has. The fact that the transaction is about to happen and you receive an invitation to respond typically means that someone else has been influencing the buying cycle and the customer is ready to make the buy. Because the buyer needs three bids, the usual suspects are rounded and up with whispers of promise from the buyer are suppliers are enticed into providing a quotation.

Your quotation serves as a benchmark against which the chosen vendor will be asked to compete on price.  Unless you are selling commodities, say no to RFP's.

Get the book, Why Killer Product's Don't Sell, it's a very good primer on buying behavior and may help your company realign the way it serves its customers.

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Topics: killer products, buyer-seller alignment, sales engagement

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