Sunday, September 17, 2017

Surveys Show the Growing Commitment to Sales Enablement

SiriusDecisions recently published the results of its 2017 Sales Enablement Study. The 2017 research was based on a survey of 250 B2B sales enablement professionals representing 45 industries. This study was somewhat skewed toward larger B2B enterprises, with 43% of the survey respondents coming from organizations  with more than $750 million in annual revenue

Sales Enablement is Widespread

Overall, 66% of survey respondents reported having a dedicated sales enablement function, up from 61% in the 2012 edition of the survey. But the use of sales enablement is significantly greater in larger enterprises. Eighty-three percent of respondents from organizations with revenue of $750 million or more said they have deployed or plan to deploy a dedicated sales enablement team.

It's interesting to compare the results of the SiriusDecisions research with a recent survey conducted by CSO Insights. In its 2016 Sales Enablement Optimization Study, CSO Insights found that 37.7% of companies have a dedicated sales enablement function. This lower percentage is likely due to the demographics of the CSO Insights study. Only about 27% of the respondents in the CSO Insights study were with organizations having more than $250 million in annual revenue.

Sales Enablement is Clearly a Sales-Led Function

Both the SiriusDecisions study and the CSO Insights study show that sales enablement is now firmly established as a sales-led function. In the SiriusDecisions survey, 40% of respondents said that sales enablement reports directly to sales leadership, 25% said it reports to the CEO, and 13% said it reports to sales operations. Only 10% of respondents indicated that sales enablement reports to marketing leadership.

In the CSO Insights study, 60.8% of survey respondents said their sales enablement function reports to executive sales management, and another 20.9% said that it reports to sales operations. Only 7.6% of the respondents said that sales enablement reports to marketing.

Commitment to Sales Enablement is Growing

The SiriusDecisions research also found that the commitment to sales enablement is large and growing. Twenty-eight percent of the survey respondents said they have seven or more full-time employees working in sales enablement, but this increases to 43% for high-performing companies. (Note:  The study defines high-performing organizations as those reporting that 80% or more of their full-time sales reps achieved quota in the most recent fiscal year.)

Even more significant, nearly three-fourths (74%) of the respondents said they plan to increase spending on sales enablement during the next 12 months.

No Major Surprises

The findings of these two studies are not particularly surprising. After all, improving sales effectiveness has been a top priority for company leaders for the past several years, according to the annual sales performance optimization studies by CSO Insights.

It's also not surprising that sales enablement is a sales-led function in most companies. View properly, sales enablement is a multi-faceted function that encompasses several types of activities and processes, including sales process improvement, sales training, sales technology, and sales content development and management. So, it seems appropriate to manage the sales enablement function withing the sales organization.

Image courtesy of Daniel Oines via Flickr CC.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

How to Make Your Content More Credible, and Why That Matters

Credibility is the single most important attribute of great marketing content. Effective content must also be relevant and valuable, but if potential buyers don't see your content as credible, they won't give you credit for relevance or value. Here are two ways to increase the credibility of your content.

Several recent research studies have contained both good news and bad news regarding B2B content marketing. First the good news. It's clear that content plays a vital role in B2B buying decisions.

Now for the not-so-good news. Numerous studies have painted a rather bleak picture regarding the level of engagement that content is producing. For example:
  • In a 2016 survey of business executives by The Economist Group, respondents reported that, on average, they engage with only about 25% of the thought leadership content they see every day.
  • A 2016 study by Beckon found that the amount of content published by brands had tripled in the previous year, but that customer engagement had remained flat. The study also found that just 5% of the total content produced garnered 90% of the total customer engagements, meaning that 19 out of 20 content pieces generated little or no engagements.
There are several possible explanations for this disappointing level of content engagement. One is that the tremendous growth in content volume makes lower rates of engagement inevitable. In The Economist Group study, 82% of surveyed executives reported that the volume of content available has made them more selective in what they consume.
Another possibility is that buyers simply don't see much value in much of the content they encounter. In the Edelman/LinkedIn study, respondents said they gained valuable insights from content only about 44% of the time.
Credible Content is Essential
It's also clear that lack of trust is undermining the impact of content. In a recent survey of technology buyers by TrustRadius, survey participants were asked to rate the helpfulness and trustworthiness of 12 sources of information used in buying decisions. Respondents ranked vendor or product websites and vendor collateral (ebooks, case studies, webinars, etc.) as the least helpful and trustworthy sources of information.
The reality is, most business buyers are conditioned to treat the information they receive from potential vendors with a healthy dose of skepticism. They recognize that prospective vendors have an agenda that is likely to cause most vendor-supplied information to be suspect. In essence, most business buyers presume that vendor content is biased and not altogether trustworthy. The challenge facing B2B marketers is to develop content that can overcome this presumption.
The single more critical attribute of effective content is credibility. Yes, great content will be relevant to the buyer's interests and needs, and it will provide the buyer with useful and valuable information. But if prospective buyers don't see your content as credible, they won't give you credit for relevance or value.
Credibility, like trust, cannot be manufactured, but there are some steps you can take to increase the credibility of your content. Here are two of the most important.

Make It Authoritative

Credible content is authoritative. Therefore, it's important not to fill your content with unsubstantiated claims or assertions. Marketing content doesn't need to read like an academic journal or a legal brief, but the main points you make should be supported by sound evidence, preferably from recognized and reputable sources.

Business buyers have repeatedly made their preference for authoritative content clear:

  • In its 2017 Content Preferences Survey, Demand Gen Report asked survey participants what recommendations they would make to improve the quality of the content provided by B2B vendors. Seventy-six percent of respondents said use more data and research to support content.
  • In a 2016 survey of senior business executives by Grist, survey participants were asked what qualities they find most valuable in thought leadership content. The third highest ranking attribute was content that is evidence-based and contains robust data. The survey also asked participants what turns them off about content. Forty percent of respondents said unsubstantiated opinions.
Make It (Mostly) Non-Promotional

Credible content is primarily non-promotional. This is a particularly important attribute for content that's designed for early-stage buyers, many of whom will quickly dismiss content that contains even a hint of self-serving promotion.

Once again, B2B buyers have made their preference for non-promotional content clear. In a 2017 survey of business buyers by the Content Marketing Institute and SmartBrief, survey participants were asked to identify the most desirable qualities of the content they use to make buying decisions. The third most important attribute identified by survey respondents was content that "is more educational than promotional in nature."

"Promotional content" normally refers to content that's about a company or its products or services, but the term "promotional" describes the tone of content as much as the content subject matter. Content can be highly promotional in tone even when it's not about a company or specific products or services. And, it's possible to develop company- or product-related content that's not overly promotional.

One key to keeping your content non-promotional is to avoid hyperbole. The dictionary definition of hyperbole is "an exaggerated statement or claim not meant to be taken literally." Example:  "There was enough food at the party to feed an army." Unfortunately, marketing content often contains claims or assertions that border on being hyperbolic, and most buyers will instinctively view such claims or assertions as lacking credibility.

In most cases, content will be more persuasive if it is less promotional. When I develop content resources for clients, I have a simple way to determine if a resource passes the promotional "smell test." I ask myself this question:  If an independent and respected journalist were writing an article about this topic, would the tone and content of the article be similar to my resource?

Keep It Real

B2B buyers have spoken, and they've made it clear that they want vendors to provide content that is credible, relevant, and insightful. Potential buyers will see your content as more credible if you make it authoritative and non-promotional.

Image courtesy of Ron Mader via Flickr CC.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Get the Basics Right to Deliver Great Customer Experiences

Today's customers clearly expect great experiences. But most of their expectations are focused on a few critical interactions. What most customers really want is fast and responsive service that addresses their needs, solves their problems, or makes their lives easier.

A recent study by the CMO Council and SAP Hybris provides several important insights regarding the kinds of customer experiences that consumers are really looking for. This research consisted of a survey of more than 2,000 consumers in the United States, Europe, and Canada. Although this study focused on consumers, it's likely that many of the findings are applicable to business buyers.

The CMO Council research revealed that consumers' expectations are high, but it also found that consumers tend to be fairly utilitarian when it comes to customer experience. What they really want from companies is fast and responsive service.

When the study participants were asked to identify the attributes of an exceptional customer experience, the top three choices were:

  1. "Fast response times to my needs and issues" (52% of survey respondents)
  2. "Knowledgeable staff ready to assist wherever and whenever I need it" (47%)
  3. "Rewards for my loyalty and recognition of how long I have been a customer" (42%)
It's equally important to see what survey respondents put at the bottom of their list of important attributes:
  • "Always-on automated service" (8% of respondents)
  • "Brand-developed social communities to connect with other customers" (9%)
  • "Multiple touchpoints that add value to my experience" (10%)
  • "Recognizing my history with the brand at every touchpoint" (12%)
Survey respondents also identified their major customer experience frustrations:
  • 36% are angry about not being treated like the loyal customers they are
  • 33% said slow service or dealing with reps that know nothing about past history or purchases
  • 27% said not being able to reach someone who can actually help
The CMO Council also found that most consumers are willing to share some personal data with companies so long as they receive value in exchange. And consumers are clear about what constitutes value. They want something that saves them money (77% of respondents), saves them time (49%), or makes their life easier (47%). What they don't value is something that connects them with other customers (5%), makes them feel happy (9%), or "celebrates" them (13%).

Overall, the findings of this research indicate that significant opportunities exist to improve customer experience by focusing on a relatively small number of critical customer interactions. Those basic "moments that matter" have a disproportionate impact on how customers feel about their experience.

Image courtesy of Ricardo Mangual via Flickr CC.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Why You Need to Be Careful With One Feature of the New Demand Waterfall

The new SiriusDecisions Demand Unit Waterfall has received lots of accolades since its introduction this spring, and the accolades are richly deserved. But one of the new demand stages should be labeled Use With Caution.

In May, SiriusDecisions unveiled the latest iteration of it venerable Demand Waterfall with great fanfare. SiriusDecisions calls the new version the Demand Unit Waterfall, and it's depicted in the following diagram:

Source:  SiriusDecisions

The first version of the Demand Waterfall was introduced in 2006, and over the past decade, thousands of B2B companies have used the waterfall model to track and manage their demand generation efforts. So it shouldn't be surprising that the introduction of the Demand Unit Waterfall has generated quite a bit of interest in the B2B marketing world. Here's a small sample of the reactions from pundits and practitioners:

For an in-depth discussion of the new Demand Unit Waterfall, I recommend that you watch the recording of this SiriusDecisions webinar.

The early reaction to the Demand Unit Waterfall has been overwhelmingly positive, and I agree with those who say that it more accurately reflects the realities of B2B demand generation.

  • By focusing on demand units, the new waterfall recognizes that most B2B buying decisions are made by groups of people, not by individuals.
  • By eliminating the waterfall stages that focused on the sources of individual leads and on the "ownership" of demand generation activities, the new waterfall implicitly recognizes that demand generation has become a team sport that involves marketing, business development, and sales throughout the whole process.
Use Caution With "Active Demand"
My biggest reservation about the new Demand Unit Waterfall is the possible implications of the Active Demand stage. SiriusDecisions defines Active Demand as the demand units that are showing evidence of acute need or buying intention. In other words, Active Demand refers to demand units that are currently "in-market" for the type of solution you sell.
SiriusDecisions analysts are suggesting that companies should focus their outbound demand generation activities on in-market prospects. Not surprisingly, this is the approach also advocated by many providers of B2B predictive analytics software.
This approach may work for some types of B2B companies, but it won't work for all. Here's why.
The identification of in-market prospects relies heavily on the use of intent data, which is data regarding the online behaviors of potential buyers. Intent data - particularly third-party intent data - can be valuable for some types of B2B companies, but it can be almost useless for others. To learn more about the limitations of intent data, take a look at this post by Jingcong Zhao at the Marketo blog, this post by Todd Berkowitz at the Gartner blog, and this white paper by Infer.
The bottom line is, business and marketing leaders should be cautious about relying on their ability to accurately identify in-market buyers. And they should be particularly cautious about focusing all - or even most - of their marketing efforts on such buyers. I've discussed this issue in two earlier posts. If you'd like to see my view on this issue, take a look at Why B2B Marketers Need to Care About "Casual Learning" and Why Marketers Shouldn't Go All In on In-Market Buyers.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Say What? Producers of Thought Leadership Undervalue Its Impact

Business buyers broadly agree that thought leadership content has a significant impact on their purchase decisions at every stage of the buying process. But they consistently rate the impact of their organization's thought leadership content substantially lower.

That is one of the more ironic findings of a recent study by Edelman and LinkedIn. How Thought Leadership Impacts B2B Demand Generation was based on a survey of 1,329 business decision makers representing a wide range of industries and company sizes. Fifty-one percent of the survey respondents worked for organizations that produce thought leadership content.

The goal of this study was to better understand how thought leadership content impacts B2B purchase decisions. So, Edelman and LinkedIn asked survey participants several specific questions about how thought leadership affects their own purchase behaviors. Survey participants whose companies produce thought leadership content were also asked comparable questions about the impact of their organization's content on the buying behaviors of their potential customers.

The following table shows how survey respondents evaluated the impact of thought leadership content on various aspects of the B2B demand generation process. In this table, "Thought Leadership Producers" refers to survey respondents who said their company uses thought leadership content in its marketing efforts. The study report indicates that these respondents were "typically marketers and communicators within an organization."

As this table shows, there are several significant differences between how decision makers view the impact of thought leadership on their attitudes and behaviors as buyers, and how they perceive the impact of their organization's thought leadership content on their potential customers. For example, 45% of decision makers said that thought leadership had directly led them to award business to a company, but only 20% of producers said that thought leadership content had helped them win business.

The authors of the study report contend that producers of thought leadership content tend to underestimate its impact on influencing sales. They write, "Beyond its ability to drive awareness, very few creators of thought leadership . . . ascribe downstream marketing and sales impact to their own thought leadership efforts."

It's likely that many business and marketing leaders are underestimating the impact of their company's thought leadership content, and it's easy to understand why this can happen. It's not hard for someone to recognize how good thought leadership content has affected his or her personal buying attitudes and behaviors. It's more difficult for a marketing organization to accurately measure the impact of thought leadership content on its potential customers.

The Edelman/LinkedIn research clearly shows that outstanding thought leadership content can make a significant impact on potential buyers at every stage of the buying process. So marketers need to be sure they aren't underestimating its value and impact.

Top image courtesy of mags via Flickr CC.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

B2B Customer Experience Still Requires a Human Touch

Customer experience is the new competitive battleground in B2B, and many companies are making big investments to deliver great experiences via digital channels. But, company leaders must remember that great customer experiences still need a deft human touch.

Providing great experiences to existing and potential customers has become a competitive necessity for all kinds of companies. It's also abundantly clear that most of us now rely extensively on digital technologies to consume information and communicate for both personal and business purposes. Therefore, many business leaders now view providing great customer experiences via digital channels as a top strategic priority.

While "digital customer experiences" are obviously important, human interactions still play a vital role in customer experience delivery, particularly for B2B companies. In fact, recent research indicates that business customers highly value the human component of the customer experience.

Earlier this year, KPMG Nunwood Consulting published a report discussing several important aspects of B2B customer experience. The report was based on a survey of 2,974 members of decision making units in B2B companies. Survey respondents included end Users, Influencers, and Decision Makers, and all were located in the US or the UK.

Not surprisingly, the research found that customer experience plays a vital role in competitive success. Three-fourths of the survey respondents considered customer experience as a major factor in supplier choice. The research identified six "pillars" that describe the psychology of customer experience, and the report argues that the key to customer experience success is preparing for the critical "moments that matter" across a customer's life cycle.

The study also addressed the role of the relationship manager in delivering great customer experiences, and the report identified four major relationship management models.

  1. A relationship manager owns the customer relationship, and that individual is the customer's primary, if not exclusive, contact.
  2. A relationship manager is the primary customer contact, but he or she has a supporting team that is involved in delivering experiences to the customer.
  3. The customer has a team of individuals at its disposal to provide support, but there is no single "owner" of the customer relationship.
  4. The company uses a fully automated solution - no human interaction is required.
The survey report states that "[customers] frequently prefer to have one person to deal with and have them acting as their ambassador - the one person in the organisation that champions their interests and ensures that the services are provided to them in the highest standard." 

Specifically, the research found that Influencers perceive the "sole relationship manager model" to be 19% better performing than the account team model. Decision Makers said the sole relationship manager model is 5% better, and Users said it is 9% better.

The most important lesson from this research is that great B2B customer experiences often require a human touch.

Image courtesy of Yoel Ben-Avraham via Flickr CC.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Beware! Thought Leadership is a Double-Edged Sword

There's no safe middle ground with it comes to thought leadership. It's a classic double-edged sword. Great thought leadership makes a positive impact on buyers at every stage of the buying process. Poor thought leadership, on the other hand, will result in lost business opportunities.

These are some of the major findings of a recent study by Edelman and LinkedIn. How Thought Leadership Impacts B2B Demand Generation was based on a survey of 1,329 business decision makers representing a wide range of industries and company sizes. Fourteen percent of the respondents were C-level executives, and another 43% had titles of Vice President or Director.

Like several other studies, the Edelman/LinkedIn research revealed that business buyers view thought leadership as important and spend considerable time consuming it. Nine out of ten survey respondents said that it is important or very important/critical for companies to produce thought leadership that provides a vision or point of view on important issues. About half (49%) of C-level respondents said they spend an hour or more per week reading and/or viewing thought leadership.

The Good News

Many B2B marketers have long believed that thought leadership content can be an effective tool for creating awareness and competitive differentiation. The Edelman/LinkedIn study shows that great thought leadership content has positive impacts at every stage of the buying process. For example:

  • Forty-four percent of respondents said that engaging with a company's thought leadership content can cause them to provide their contact information to the company for follow up, and 31% said that it can prompt them to reach out to the company to follow up on some of the points raised in the content.
  • Fifty-two percent of respondents said that looking through a company's thought leadership content is one important way they "vet" a company that they are thinking about working with.
  • Thought leadership content led 41% of C-level respondents to include a company in an RFP.
  • Over 80% of respondents said that a company's thought leadership content could increase their trust in the company.
  • Nearly half (48%) of C-level respondents said that a company's thought leadership content had directly led them to decide to do business with the company. 
The Bad News
So, the Edelman/LinkedIn research shows that thought leadership content can be a powerful demand generation tool, but it also shows that thought leadership is a double-edged sword. When it's done poorly, it has significant negative impacts on a company's demand generation performance. For example:
  • More than half (53%) of C-level respondents said they have lost respect and admiration for a company because of its poor thought leadership content.
  • Over a third (35%) of C-level respondents said that a company's poor thought leadership content had directly led them not to do business with the company.
The Lesson
The most important lesson for B2B marketers from the Edelman/LinkedIn research is this:  If you plan to use thought leadership content in your marketing effort, make sure that you invest enough time and money to develop thought leadership content that's truly valuable to your target audiences. Poor thought leadership content can be worse than none at all.

Image courtesy of Soren Niedziella via Flickr CC.