Sunday, July 31, 2011

Does Your Selling Process Need an Overhaul?

The 2011 Sales Performance Optimization survey by CSO Insights contains a wealth of information about the attributes and effectiveness of B2B selling.  One of the important findings in the survey is that sales success depends on how you sell as much as what you sell.

How you sell has two components in the CSO Insights framework.  The first is how customers (and potential customers) perceive the value that a company provides.  At the lowest level, customers see the company as nothing more than an approved vendor that provides acceptable products or services.  At the highest level, customers see the company as a trusted advisor whose products, services, and other contributions are key to their long-term success.

The second component of how you sell is the selling process you use.  CSO Insights says that companies fall into one of four levels when it comes to selling process.  Those at the lowest level don't have a defined selling process.  Every salesperson does his/her own thing.  At the highest level, a company has a formal, well-defined selling process, continuously monitors its use by the sales team, and adapts the process to changing market conditions.

The research by CSO Insights shows that the higher you are along these two dimensions, the more sales success you will have.  For example, high ranking companies have more salespeople who achieve their quotas and higher closing rates.

The quality of your selling process has become critical because of changes in the way business buyers make purchase decisions.  In essence, the buying process has become more complex, and you need a robust selling process to cope with this increased complexity.  Consider just three of the ways that B2B selling has become more challenging to manage (based on data from the CSO Insights survey).
  • Sales cycles are longer - About two-thirds of companies have sales cycles for new customers that are four months or longer.
  • It takes more calls to close a deal - Nearly six out of ten companies say it takes at least six sales calls to close a deal with a new customer.
  • More people are involved in the buying process - Three quarters of companies say that a final buying decision requires input from at least three people.
Is your current selling process up to the challenge of managing the new sales environment?  Do you have a formal process that is used consistently by your sales team?  Is your process documented in written form, and is it part of your training for new sales reps?  Do you consistently monitor the effectiveness of your selling process and adapt it to changing market conditions?

If you can't answer "yes" to all of these questions, you should probably take a close look at your current selling process.  There's a good chance you're leaving substantial revenue dollars of the table.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

How to Make Difficult Marketing Questions Easier to Answer

To develop a successful marketing program for your business, you must make some critical decisions, and those decisions require you to answer several difficult questions.
  • What kinds of organizations will make your best prospects?
  • What individuals in those prospect organizations will be the target audience for your marketing programs?
  • What "arguments" will you use in your marketing messages and materials to persuade potential buyers to purchase your products or services?
  • How will you demonstrate the return on investment that your products or services will deliver to a prospective customer?
  • What marketing channels will you use to communicate with your target audience?
How you answer these questions will define the shape of your marketing program and largely determine how successful your marketing efforts will be.  These questions are never easy to answer, but you can make the job a lot easier if you will first take the time to thoroughly understand and describe how your products or services create value for customers.

If you've ever watched someone install a tile or hardwood floor on a home improvement TV show, you may remember that the installer spends a great deal of time making sure that the first row of tiles or boards is straight and square with the walls of the room.  After the first row is in place, the rest of the installation goes fairly quickly.  That's because as long as the rest of the tiles or boards "fit" with the first row, the whole floor is almost guaranteed to turn out right.

A clear picture of how your products or services create value for buyers is like that first row of floor tiles or boards.  It provides the reference point for the decisions you will make when designing your marketing program.  Understanding how you create value will make it easier to determine who your best prospects are, to identify the individuals you need to market to, and to craft your marketing messages.

To understand and describe all of the significant ways your products or services can create value, you'll need to answer another set of questions.
  • What are all of the significant reasons that people have for purchasing a product or service like yours? What problems or needs motivate the buying decision?
  • What kinds of organizations are likely to have the problems or needs that underlie these reasons to buy?
  • Who within the prospect organization is affected by each problem or need?  Who has the most to gain if the problem is solved and the most to lose if it isn't?
  • What specific outcomes are these people seeking?
  • What features of your solution will produce these desired outcomes?
  • What will the economic benefits be if these desired outcomes are achieved (lower costs, increased revenues, etc.)?
The best tool for collecting and organizing this value information is called a customer value map or a customer value matrix.  We have a customer value matrix template that we use when working with clients on new marketing projects.  If you'd like a copy of this template, send me an e-mail at ddodd(at)pointbalance(dot)com.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Why the "Swiss Army Knife" Approach to Content Marketing Doesn't Work

Whenever I talk with prospective clients about starting a content marketing program, one of the first questions they ask is, "Why can't we create one content resource, say a white paper, that tells the whole story? It could include a description of the problems we can solve and the benefits our solution can provide, and we could include a couple of customer success stories to demonstrate that we can deliver what we promise."

At this point in the conversation, the image of a Swiss army knife always flashes in my mind.  As most of you probably know, a Swiss army knife is a tool that's about the size of a large pocket knife.  In addition to regular knife blades, it has several other attachments, such as a bottle opener, a can opener, a screwdriver, and a file.  So, a Swiss army knife is a real multi-tasking tool and a handy thing to have on a camping trip or a hike.

Many B2B marketers believe they can create one marketing content resource that will fill all (or most) of their content needs.  In essence, they want to create the marketing equivalent of a Swiss army knife. It's an appealing idea, and it would certainly simplify the job of content marketing.  Unfortunately, however, the Swiss army knife approach to content marketing doesn't work well for a number of reasons.

Diluted Relevance - When you create an "umbrella" content piece, you will inevitably include information that's not all that relevant to some potential buyers.  Suppose, for example, that you offer a technology product that must be "sold" to plant managers, IT Directors, and CFO's.  Each of these buyer types will have distinct issues, concerns, and priorities.  If you create a single content resource for all of these buyer types, you are essentially asking each potential buyer to wade through material that doesn't particularly interest him or her in order to find the information that addresses his or her primary interests and concerns.

Excessive Length - Even if the relevance problem doesn't exist, when you try to "cover all the bases" in one content resource, you are likely to end up with a very long resource - a 40-50 page white paper, for example.  The problem with long content pieces is that most potential buyers now have short attention spans.  They prefer to consume content in small doses, especially when they are in the early stages of the buying process. Most early-stage buyers simply won't be willing to invest the time it takes to read a 50 page white paper.

No Ammunition for Lead Nurturing - If you plan to have a lead nurturing program (and you should), you'll need several content resources to provide the "fuel" for the program.  Offering the same content asset over and over just won't work.

Reduced Credibility - Having only one content resource can also create a negative perception by potential buyers.  When I visit a company's website and see only one content resource, I can't help but question the company's expertise and capabilities.  Many potential buyers probably react in the same way.

The bottom line?  You need several content resources to have an effective marketing program. The good news is that creating multiple resources is not as difficult as it might appear.  The key is to repurpose your content.  For example, you can usually take one white paper and use it as the basis for two or three shorter content pieces.