Sunday, January 31, 2016

Effective Sales Enablement Requires More Than Technology

As I wrote in an earlier post, sales enablement was one of the hottest topics among B2B marketing and sales professionals during 2015. The growing interest in sales enablement is evidenced by the amount of research the topic has attracted.

During 2015, several firms conducted research studies regarding sales enablement. Many of these studies were produced by companies that offer sales enablement software, and these studies naturally focus on the benefits provided by sales enablement technology. However, there are some studies that examine sales enablement from a broader perspective, and what is clear from these broader studies is that companies with the most successful programs treat sales enablement as a distinct and multi-faceted business function.

The Power of Enablement:  Bridging the Sales Productivity Gap by Forbes Insights (in association with Brainshark) is based on a survey of 216 top executives in US-based companies. This research identified several key characteristics of companies that excel at sales productivity.

  • 59% of top-performing companies have a defined sales enablement role (versus only 30% of under-performing companies).
  • Three out of four (74%) of top-performing companies report good alignment between their marketing and sales functions, compared with only half (49%) of other firms. Forbes also found that companies with a defined sales enablement function say they they have better alignment between marketing and sales (61% vs. 42%).
  • Top-performing companies recognize the importance of providing sales reps effective coaching and training. When asked how they are investing in skills development to improve sales productivity, 74% of top performers cite training and reinforcement (vs. 50% of other companies).
The 2015 Sales Enablement Optimization Study by CSO Insights is a benchmarking study that examines how companies are actually implementing sales enablement. Here are some of the more interesting findings in the CSO Insights research:
  • 25.5% of survey respondents said they have personnel dedicated to increasing the effectiveness of the sales organization (i.e. a sales enablement function).
  • In over half (52.5%) of the companies that participated in the study, the sales enablement function reports to the chief sales officer, and in another one quarter (25.3%) of companies, sales enablement reports to sales operations.
  • A large majority (72.8%) of companies have fewer than four employees dedicated to sales enablement.
  • The top four goals of sales enablement programs are increasing sales efficiency (81.8% of study respondents), increasing revenues (75.8%), increasing new account acquisition (68.7%), and increasing the win rates of forecast deals (64.6%).
  • The top four services provided by the sales enablement function are sales training (74.7% of study participants), sales process improvements (67.7%), sales tools (66.7%), and CRM/technology management (59.6%).
Both of these studies provide more valuable insights than I can cover in a single blog post. For example, both studies discuss the importance of good content and the role of technology in effective sales enablement. 

I omitted any discussion of technology in this post because there is a tendency to view sales enablement as something that can be "solved" with a software application. The reality is, a successful sales enablement effort needs clear goals and objectives, the right mix of human skills, and a clear understanding of what services the sales enablement function will provide and what methods and processes it will use. With this foundation in place, the right sales enablement technology can be a powerful enabler of effective sales enablement and a potent "accelerant" of sales enablement success.

Illustration courtesy of iphonedigital via Flickr CC.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Are Your Lead Response Practices Costing You Sales?

One of the most important requirements for maximizing results from your lead generation efforts is responding to new lead inquiries in a timely and appropriate fashion. Unfortunately, it's clear that many companies still have work to do in order to satisfy this basic requirement.

Timely Response

Over the past decade, several research studies have examined the impact of lead response time on various aspects of lead generation success. One of the earliest was a 2007 study conducted by and Dr. James Oldroyd. This research addressed several issues related to lead response methods and practices, but the most striking results pertained to the impact of responding quickly to lead inquiries. Here are two of the most significant findings:

  • The odds of contacting a lead are 100 times greater when the initial contact attempt is made withing 5 minutes vs. 30 minutes after the inquiry is submitted.
  • The odds of qualifying a lead are 21 times greater when the initial contact attempt is made within 5 minutes vs. 30 minutes after the inquiry is submitted.
These findings relate specifically to telephone contacts, and they clearly show that leads go cold quickly.

Since 2007, has conducted several additional studies on this topic, the most recent of which is the Annual 2014 Lead Response Report. The 2014 study describes the lead response patterns of more than 9,500 companies that were successfully tested by during 2013. Here are three of the most significant findings:
  • 47% of the companies did not respond at all to the submitted inquiry.
  • The median first call response time of all companies that responded to the inquiry by telephone was 3 hours and 8 minutes.
  • Only 121 companies responded by telephone within the optimal 5-minute window.
Last year, Velocify published The Ultimate Guide to Inquiry Response. This study found that only 21% of web inquiries received a telephone response within 30 minutes after the inquiry was submitted. The Velocify research also found that calling a lead within one minute more than doubled conversion rates (compared to calling a lead 48 hours or more after the inquiry was submitted).

Appropriate Response

These studies clearly show that most companies need to significantly improve their lead response processes. It's also important, however, to understand what this research is not saying. In all of these studies, the potential buyer submitted an inquiry that asked for someone to contact him or her, requested information or a demo, or otherwise signaled that he or she wanted to communicate with the company. Common sense, as well as the research, says that companies should respond to these types of inquiries as quickly as possible.

These studies did not address the situation in which someone views or downloads a content resource or attends a webinar. This type of "inquiry" does not necessarily signal that the individual is ready to have a conversation with the company, especially when the download or webinar is the individual's first contact with the company. I have long argued that companies make a mistake when they respond too aggressively to these types of "inquiries," and these research studies don't contradict this important point.

I have to admit that is one of my major pet peeves. Because of my work, I download a lot of content resources, and I attend a lot of webinars. I often receive a telephone call even when my only contact with the company is one download or one webinar. And the call often comes before I've even had time to read the content resource.

When I accept one of these calls, what's even more frustrating is that it's clear that the caller has done nothing to learn about me, or what I do, or why I may have downloaded a resource or attended a webinar. In almost every case, if the caller had spent ten or fifteen minutes reviewing my LinkedIn profile, the articles I've published on LinkedIn, and the posts at this blog, we could have had a conversation that would have been much more valuable to the caller and his company.

The bottom line? When an inquiry signals that the individual is ready for a person-to-person conversation, then by all means, you should respond as quickly as possible. For other types of inquiries, immediate and aggressive person-to-person contacts may do more harm than good, especially if the caller hasn't done his or her homework.

Illustration courtesy of Search Engine People Blog via Flickr CC.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Why Marketing Can't Always Produce "Goldilocks" Content

Does this scenario sound familiar? You're talking with a marketer for a B2B company, and she says, "We're creating great content - and lots of it - but our sales reps don't use half of the content we develop." Then, you talk with sales reps from the same company, and they say," We need better content! A lot of the content that marketing provides doesn't really help us advance our sales opportunities."

Unfortunately, this scenario is far too common, and it's clear that sales reps don't use content resources produced by marketing for two main reasons. Either they can't find the resources when they need them, or they don't believe the resources will be useful in the selling situation they're facing.

SiriusDecisions recently estimated that 28% of all the content owned by B2B companies goes unused because it's unfindable, and that 37% isn't used because of low quality or lack of relevance. In a survey last year by Demand Metric, only 43% of sales respondents rated their marketing content assets as somewhat effective, and only 3% said they were very effective.

Some people argue that both of these problems can be solved.

  • Sales enablement technology can be used to make content resources easily findable by sales reps, and some sales enablement solutions can use data analytics to recommend specific content resources for specific sales interactions.
  • By collaborating with sales reps during the content development process, marketers can create content resources that will better meet the needs of salespeople.
Technology can certainly be used to make finding content assets easier, and collaboration between marketers and salespeople should enable marketers to develop content resources that will be more compelling to potential buyers. But can marketing be expected to always provide "Goldilocks" content - content that will be "just right" for every interaction that a sales rep has with a potential buyer? I don't think so, and here's why.

One vital characteristic of effective marketing content is personalization. By personalization, I mean the degree to which the material in a content asset is tailored based on the attributes and anticipated interests of the intended recipient. The following diagram shows the six levels of content personalization.

The table below describes each level of personalization.

Today, we know that marketing content should be segment-specific, persona-specific, and stage-specific. In other words, marketers should consistently develop and use content resources that are tailored for specific buyer personas who are affiliated with specific types of prospect organizations, and who are at specific stages of the buying process.

However, it's just about impossible for marketers to develop prospect-specific and lead-specific content because those levels of personalization require insights that can only be gained through personal interactions with potential buyers. So, these types of personalized content can only be produced by someone who is having direct conversations with the potential buyer - and that usually means a business development representative or a salesperson.

Last year, David Brock addressed this issue in a post at his Partners in EXCELLENCE Blog. Dave described prospect-specific and lead-specific content in captivating terms:

"It's marketing content for an audience of 1 - at this very moment . . . It's content that addresses my specific problem, concerns, and priorities right now - because they may be slightly different from those I have tomorrow . . . The content I need comes from you engaging me in conversations and a discussion about what I do, what my people do, what my boss is expecting of me, what my customers and suppliers want . . . It is specific to me and my priorities today."

For the past few years, the conventional wisdom has been that salespeople should not be spending their time developing content. But the reality is, there are some types of content that only a sales rep can produce. Instead of trying to eliminate all salesperson-created content, marketers should support sales reps in performing this vital job. And salespeople should stop expecting marketers to provide ready-made content for every selling situation.

Top illustration courtesy of CW Wells via Flickr CC.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

B2B Buyers Prefer Cold, Hard Facts

Last fall, the Content Marketing Institute and MarketingProfs published the findings of their latest annual B2B content marketing survey. This eagerly-awaited research covers a wide range of issues pertaining to content marketing, including content marketing usage, the overall effectiveness of content marketing, what specific tactics and channels marketers are using for content marketing, and how marketers rate the effectiveness of each channel or tactic.

The 2016 edition of the survey generated 1,521 responses from B2B marketers in North America. By design, therefore, the CMI/MarketingProfs survey addresses content marketing from the marketer's perspective, and it does not attempt to capture the attitudes or behaviors of B2B buyers regarding content consumption or content preferences. There are, however, several other firms that provide buyer-focused research. Three of the resources that I particularly like are the annual content preferences survey and the annual B2B buyer's survey by DemandGen Report, and the annual B2B technology content survey by Eccolo Media.

Research like the survey by CMI/MarketingProfs is important because it provides insights on the "state of content marketing" from the perspective of B2B marketers. But it's equally vital for marketers to understand how business buyers are using content to research purchase decisions and what types of content they prefer.

A new study by Blue Nile Research provides some interesting data points regarding the behaviors and content preferences of B2B buyers. The Blue Nile study is based on an online survey that produced 528 responses from individuals located in the United States. The survey respondents included both consumers and business buyers, but I'm focusing only on the findings that relate to B2B buyers.

Here are three of the major findings of the Blue Nile survey:

B2B Buyers Prefer "Hard" Information

When researching purchases, B2B buyers strongly prefer content that features data and statistics. When survey participants were asked what types of content in search results would make them most likely to click on a link, 46% of respondents said data and statistics, 18% said a blog post, 18% said video content, and 10% selected infographics. While this survey question specifically referred to content in search results, other research has shown that B2B buyers find content that includes strong supporting evidence to be particularly persuasive.

B2B Buyers are Multi-Channel Creatures

Seventy-six percent of B2B survey respondents said they use three or more channels to interact with a brand before making a purchase decision, and 26% of B2B respondents said they use five or more channels. This finding demonstrates the importance of providing high-quality content via multiple communication channels.

Search and Brand Websites are Preferred Research Channels

When survey participants were asked what channels they use when researching a purchase, eight out of ten B2B respondents chose online search and the brand's website. These two channels were much more popular with respondents that the other choices included in the survey - customer reviews/case studies (54%), blog posts (25%), social (20%), and mobile (14%).

This finding suggests that social and mobile are still playing a relatively limited role in B2B buying. However, the authors of the Blue Nile study report point out that this question relates specifically to the research phase of the buying process and that the responses may not reflect how much social and mobile channels are used earlier in the buying process.

Image courtesy of Jorge Franganillo via Flickr CC.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Why Content Marketing Success Will Be Harder to Achieve in 2016

We're now well into the prediction season, and it's easy to find articles, blog posts, and webinars that include forecasts of what will happen in marketing during the coming year. I tend to avoid making prognostications, but I feel confident in saying that content marketing will become more challenging in 2016.

During the past few months, several developments have suggested that storm clouds are building on the content marketing horizon. Last fall, the 2016 content marketing survey by the Content Marketing Institute and MarketingProfs revealed that only 30% of respondents rated their content marketing efforts as effective, down from 38% in the 2015 edition of the survey. The drop of eight percentage points is significant because the perception of effectiveness had been fairly steady for several years - 42% in 2014, 36% in 2013, and 40% in 2012.

The July 2015 version of Gartner's Hype Cycle for Digital Marketing showed content marketing on the decline - having passed the "peak of inflated expectations" and beginning the slide toward the "trough of disillusionment." In his column for the December 2015 issue of Chief Content Officer magazine, CMI founder Joe Pulizzi agreed with Gartner's assessment and wrote, "Now is when we will witness the greatest content marketing failures of all time.

In early 2015, research by TrackMaven found that during 2013 and 2014, the volume of content produced per brand increased by 78%, but the engagement produced by the content decreased by 60%. More recently, an analysis by BuzzSumo revealed that social shares of content have plummeted, even for highly-respected content sites.

Taken together, these developments indicate is that content marketing success is becoming more elusive and difficult to achieve. The reality is, "easy" content marketing successes are how harder to find. The "low hanging fruit" is mostly gone, and companies will need to devote more time, energy, and money to achieve above-average results from their content marketing efforts.

Successful content marketing has become more difficult to achieve for three reasons. First, as more and more companies have implemented content marketing programs, the volume of content available to potential buyers has increased exponentially, and so has the competition for buyer attention. Mark Schaefer saw this coming a couple of years ago and discussed it in his provocative blog post about "content shock."

Second, over the past few years, we have developed a substantial body of knowledge about how to do content marketing effectively. Overall, this has been a positive development, but it also has a downside. Many marketers have incorporated these "best practices" into their content marketing strategies, and therefore many content marketing programs tend to look alike, making them less effective for competitive differentiation.

Finally, while there is strong evidence that a lot of ineffective content is still being produced, there's also a growing volume of good to very good content available in the marketplace. This has allowed customers and prospects to become more selective about the content they will spend their valuable time consuming. Therefore, it's more challenging to produce content that will consistently win mindshare and create meaningful engagement.

There's no doubt that building an effective content marketing program is becoming more difficult, and there's no silver bullet solution that will make the challenges magically disappear. There are, however, several ways to improve your odds of success, and I'll discuss some of these tactics in future posts.

Image courtesy of filip bossuyt via Flickr CC.