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Monday, March 31, 2014

Do You Teach Yourself to Be an Expert Sales Professional?

We've all been part of the traditional "sales training" event a company organizes. Each quarter, or at least a couple times a year, companies bring the team in for training. It highlights new features or releases of the product(s), how to deal with objections, how to persuade, incentivize, progress deals through your pipeline.  New collateral is released, new use cases, new site features, etc. Usually people on the product side speak about industry trends and why this is a good fit. There might be some outside speakers that are engaging. The CEO is inspirational, the events are fun.  

But then what?

What do YOU do on your own to train YOURSELF?  It's an interesting question, as there have been countless studies on the effectiveness of outside sales training. In fact, US Companies spend over $20 Billion a year on sales training. Unfortunately, by the next quarter, it starts to lose some effect. Much of outside sales training success depends on how much one applies themselves to it. It is also very product focused, not personal to your interaction and relationship development with prospects. Some companies go a step further and adopt a methodology, like "Solution Selling" or "Strategic Account Selling" which is a more formalized approach to pipeline management.

There is little to no research on how the effort around "self-designed" sales training sticks. Yet, this is one of the best investments a professional can make in themselves. The retention and application of what a person learns in any field is much greater when they are motivated. Also, there is a big picture at play. Not just the company you are at now, but to you as a professional and how your career develops. The time you take to educate yourself ensures you are very well-versed in trends, news, industry publications, and are able to map what you learn to discussion points so you can quickly dive in at the level of your customer. 

When customers have participated in studies (great article with podcast by Harvard Business Review) about what they really want in a sales rep, top of the list is someone that understands their business and unique challenges. The knowledge of your product is important, but how it fits into the big picture with all the various scenarios they could be dealing with is what establishes you as an expert.

What can you do right now to invest in yourself?
  1. Pick 2 industry publications you will subscribe to. Not sales oriented but industry. Since everything we do is in enterprise tech, publications like CIO Magazine and Information Week are great to keep up on trends.
  2. Set Google Alerts for topics related to your customers and solution(s). Keep up with what is happening outside of your company.
  3. Start keeping track of social channels on Twitter and LinkedIn that has content you can learn from related to areas you are working on.
  4. Always step back and connect the dots, it's important to see how what was going on a year ago maps to now, and how there is overlap with all of it. 
  5. Build a reading list of books on new sales and management trends. Keep up on what is effective, and what is dated.
  6. Spend 15 minutes a day reading about your industry, verticals, trends, news, and other relevant information.
  7. Make an honest assessment of your strengths and challenges, and have a plan. Example, if you don't like to speak in front of groups, join Toastmasters. 
  8. Keep a list of what you want to learn about related to your industry, and work through it over the coming months. Is it understanding the history of Supply Chain Management? Networking/Telecom?  It isn't boring once you dive in, and it will give you a huge advantage when talking with customers/prospects when you bring a background of knowledge.

Are you doing any of these things above now? Spending 15 minutes a day developing yourself pays off for years to come. I'll look forward to hearing how some of your have implemented a "self-designed" model of sales training and the impact it has with your customers!

Thursday, February 06, 2014

Do You Have a Predatory Sales Culture?

Working with as many sales organizations as I have over the last 20 years, I've had a very broad exposure to every possible scenario in B2B sales. Everything from relationship-based, super-engaged teams and reps with high commitment of success to their clients to the reps that are numbers-focused, couldn't care less about their prospects other than the revenue they represent, and even referring to their prospects in hunting terms "can I kill it," "that are targets," go for the throat," and many other bloodthirsty terms.

The delta in the quality of the customer-side of sales practices is becoming more and more visible now because of the permanent shifts in the selling landscape and the platforms to promote (and tell on) a company's self-centered culture. Some of them include:
  • Social media. When you are a ME only focused person or company, everything you post and communicate is centered on "Buy our stuff." If you notice the companies that are very BUY OUR STUFF focused, they have low engagement and have few followers. Even huge companies have just a few, and many are their employees or a few customers that took the time.
  • Marketing Automation. Marketing automation rocks when it is in the right hands...given to the wrong person, it is like giving an automatic weapon level of capacity to now produce gobs of communication focused on "buy our stuff."
  • Sales Reps.  Now that buyers don't need reps so much anymore to make a decision, there are 3 options for reps. 1) learn how to add value and become aligned with how your prospect is buying and how you can enhance that experience. 2) Become more manipulative and use fear, subtle intimidation, and passive aggressive tactics. Become more aggressive with who you have. 3) Talk to more prospects, just keep 'em coming and throw out the long-term prospects or ones that are high maintenance and get the good ones in a sales cycle that is about as fun as a root canal.
It's critical CXO's in companies look downstream to see what is happening on the front lines. Especially if they have been around long enough as a company to go through a few era's of buyer profiles. Some companies had phones ringing off the hook 10 years ago with prospects that wanted what they have, and today there is a lot of real competition with leaner, less expensive competitors, and buyers have a lot of options. It's harder to get new customers, and the ones they have are always at risk. Where does the predator sales culture fit into this?
  1. Your prospects and customers should have nothing but awesome experiences interacting with your company. From their first cold call to reaching out to their rep with an issue--they need to feel the love all the time. Outreach should be focused not on "Hi, just checking in to see if it's time to buy more stuff." I remember once, my ISP was down from a storm.  I was annoyed enough that such a large company had such a poorly executed DR plan--but in the middle of all this turmoil I am having with email, site outages, etc., their rep called to sell me more stuff.  Their sales management should have been all over making sure existing customers were getting the best TLC ever during that crisis. 
  2. Your reps need to make sure they address issues and make sure they reinforce to clients they value them.  I have a client that made a significant investment in a platform a few years ago, during the sales cycle the rep was all over it--best friends.  After the deal was inked and it started rolling out, there were a lot of hiccups and problems. 45 days or so into it I asked the client when was the last time they heard from their rep, he said not since the day they signed the deal. 
Some of the sales breakdowns are rooted in a lack of communicating innovation in sales best-practices. Reps aren't systematically being educated about who their buyers are today and what they are doing. They are selling to a buyer profile that is greatly evolved and no longer exists in that form, and they don't really get that. 

The other fix is hiring people that get it. Educate CSO's and Sales VP's on what is really happening out there and WHY they are losing deals and customers, and WHY their reps can clear a room when they walk in. Maybe the Marketing VP feels all meetings should be onsite, that was fine 10 years ago but today most meetings are virtual, shorter, more frequent, and have a distributed executive team.  Executives want to be cautious they are not mirroring their own personal preferences onto their prospects and therefore missing a greater opportunity.  

There's a carelessness associated with predatory sales tactics. One major one, is the prospect only represents revenue--all of the personal aspects, emotional factors playing into choices, or other outside influences are secondary to the sale...the "kill." Another careless action is just throwing information together to respond to inquiries. Just the other day, I got an email from a sales rep--I had a question so I took them up on the offer of advice. The response back was in 4 different fonts, colors, sizes, and looked like some electronic ransom note. My assistant said "do you WANT their advice?" It was comical.

Some things companies can do to move away from a predatory approach to a customer centric approach:
  1. Make sure the CXO level really understands what is happening on the front lines. Aligning with real-world sales practices makes the difference. Educate VP's, Directors, and reps on what is really happening. 
  2. Making sure customers have great experiences with you as much as possible. Everything from sharing content that isn't about you but them, research, 3rd party articles. Put your best resources on the front lines to reach out and deal with them, not low-level people looking for appointments.
  3. Create a culture of customer value on the sales team. I know people are working bigger territories,lots of pressure, and don't have a lot of time. Tools like Squirro and Witty Parrot  will help be responsive and optimize their communication. Squirro can help them by even pushing out content that "hey your client so and so just got an award..." you can then send them a congrats note. 
Don't be stuck in the "Buy Our Stuff" mode.  You can break out of it and start giving to your prospect and customer community and THAT's what starts to create "sticky relationships" and loyalty. The personal experience prospects and customers have with you and your firm goes a LONG way to keep and continue to get new business. 

Friday, January 17, 2014

7 Things to Step Up in 2014 That Builds Pipeline

Let's face it, B2B selling has radically changed and it's not going back to the "old way" of doing things.  Buyers have empowered themselves by learning how to discover information about vendors/solutions without ever speaking with a rep. They can talk to your customers and get references, they can look up information about you, they can get all they need without leaving their desk of picking up a phone. This means talking to a rep needs to be a great experience, because you need them more than they need you.

Don't get me wrong, execs WILL still take calls and talk with sales reps, and it does progress the deal when it's a good experience. But the threshold for shutting down calls/meetings or ignoring emails that aren't a good use of their time has reached a ZERO tolerance. Buyers are highly sensitive and turned-off by bad communications and selfish approaches.

The thing is, while buyers have progressed in learning how to discover and apply information in the public domain, sales teams on the other hand are laggards to do what aligns with what their buyers are doing. In fact they are regressing because of other demands on their time such as increased quotas, bigger territories, etc. but they need to redirect that pressure to doing things better and not get stuck in the weeds.  The delta has become so huge it's creating massive breakdowns in sales cycles and pipeline management.

Instead of meeting the informed buyer equally informed and prepared, i.e., a level playing field...reps are going in even LESS prepared and become pushy to get a meeting on the calendar or force the issue. The thinking is "I will research them when I know they are worth my time."  You need to be worth your prospect's time though, and you do that through researching them and connecting the dots so you can offer knowledge and data points that impress them. Again, don't over interpret the term "research," you can do this in 10 minutes, but the point is....DO IT.  Prospects aren't responding to outdated sales tactics. Anything that makes your prospect feel unimportant or communicates in a non-gracious manner that you "don't care" will take you 10 steps back or lose them completely.

Prospects are people, there is a HUGE emotional and human element to sales that reps need to learn, apply, and create some empathy about what is going on and PAY ATTENTION to what they are doing.  I am going to cite 7 areas below, there are more I will mention in the coming weeks.  Applying and getting the point here is what separates successful reps from the ones that struggle or even fail. This needs to be important to management because they may not know this is happening and evaluating this will help retain prospects in your pipeline. You lose deals because of these things.

7 Things That Need to Change in 2014:

1. Respect your prospect's time. A rep gets a prospect to agree to a call, and they send a meeting invite for an hour. Unless the prospect asked for an hour, a first intro call should be short, 30 mins or less. It shows the prospect you respect their time, it's less commitment and easier to accept. I decline 60 minute meetings from someone I don't know as many other execs do. It is too much for my schedule to block off for something I don't know if I am that interested in--but if it's a good fit, believe me, the dialog will continue. 
  • If the prospect isn't there at the exact time--rather than go into disaster mode thinking they stood you up--a better way to approach it is realize they are busy. They were probably running late out of another meeting, they could be down the hall, any number of things could impact them, including something serious like they had a fender bender that morning or their kid is has nothing to do with you, just track them down. Zero out and tell the admin you had a call, can they please track them down. Do you have their cell?  Call them or text them, and be empathetic.  It isn't about you, 99% of the time it is some brief hiccup.  When a rep thinks the prospect flaked, they often do things that actually damage the chance of rescheduling the call by emailing them with something sounding scolding, and not show empathy. 
  • Pay attention to what is going on with Outlook.  Outlook will show a meeting shaded in until they accept. Your prospects get 300 or more real emails a day, not counting stupid ones, and it is easy to get buried in the list of unread email.  Instead of assuming the worst, realize Outlook is a small part of their day and workload, it is easy for your invite to go beneath their list of visible unread email. You may need to resend with something polite like "Hi so and so, I know you get a ton of email--just wanted to make sure you didn't miss this." 

2. Have a slide deck ready on a call, but FIRST let the prospect tell you what they are interested in so you can adjust how you present. Just talk with them and find out why they want to talk to you and what they want to discover in this meeting. There may be things you need to skip over that have a bigger footprint in your deck. Don't present topics they aren't interested in. Nothing is worse for a prospect to sit there looking at slides with a canned presentation that has nothing to do with their area of interest. Most presentations are about the company first, the solution (often using examples of companies NOT in their industry,) and then results last. That needs to be flipped to first talk about results companies like them are getting. Second, PROVE you know what they need, and then at the end talk about your company.  Ask them what they already know about your company so you can speak to gaps and not repeat what they know. How can you do this:
  • Be prepared to be spontaneous. Sounds like an oxymoron, but it's true, you have to be prepared to show them something real-time in an informal way as part of a great conversation you're having. If you are on a discovery phone call, be ready to show your desktop and give them a glimpse of how your solution works. So when you are on a prospect call, have things open you can show them spontaneously. Shut down chat or minimize it, close windows of your eBay shopping and anything that is distracting.  One of the most amusing calls I had like this, is I asked a company that was trying to sell me something to show me what the reporting looked like. They weren't prepared, and I told them to use (a free and fantastic real-time tool to share your desktop.) Their platform wasn't working right and they couldn't show me, then in the middle of this "presentation gone south," an IM box pops up of a customer complaining the system was grossly underperforming for them. The even better part of that is I knew the person that sent the IM, so I could call for a reference after and find out what's going on and how they like working with them. 
  • A product demo shouldn't be a like putting together the opening ceremony for the Olympics.  Most prospects want just an idea the first call, they want to see what it looks like enough to see if they need to bring others in to look more seriously. This means 3 things:
    • You should be able to know how to do this on the fly--if there is the option for you to know how to do this, you need to learn it. 
    • If your solution isn't a candidate for that because of complexity, you should have some screenshots you can show that are meaningful. "I can show you a couple of screenshots, are you in front of your desk?  Let me share a couple of slides real quick."
    • Sometimes reps see "requested demo" and start pulling together a massive event that is so overkill for what the prospect really wanted.  Usually they just wanted to see how easy it is to update a dashboard, or the level of visibility they have, or whatever it might be--it isn't what the rep "heard" when they saw demo. Ask them first, "did you want a full blown demo or did you want to see some specific areas?  What makes sense so I don't put something too big together for you."
3. Be a Guide for them. People are busy and you need to paint for them what your solution looks like with examples, scenarios, show what success looks like--show them how you can help them, ask the right questions, let them do the talking and show you care and know what they are dealing with by giving them examples of how this solves it. This is much more effective than pitch, push, commit. So many presentations leave the prospect thinking "I still don't know how this works with my environment."

Prospects are not a "piece of data" to push info on and then dump them if they don't do what you want. I had one rep call me 5 times this last year and every call was about my budget, my timing, am I looking at other vendors--he doesn't even know what I want done. Needless to say he doesn't get my business.

4. Make it EASY and AWESOME for prospects to know you. Make it easy to schedule something, make it easy to connect, make it easy to see your product. The graciousness of sales has gone out of the window in so many cases. So many companies follow this exact protocol:  A prospect is interested and wants to see a demo, the rep is more interested to know if they are "worth" a demo. So the first thing they do is when they have a call, they ask about budget/timing, etc. and if it doesn't line up with what they want, they wrap up the call.  I had someone call me recently that pursued me pretty heavily to get discussions going, they had some good ways to offer value that got me to respond but at one point they told me they have so many leads coming in, and because they can see I am looking at their site that I am "worth" an hour of their time. Really? Did you really just say that?  It only made me more committed to my existing vendor, and I am less interested in them than ever. 

For management—when you hire people like this, what they do has a long-term effect, even after they are gone.  The next time you call that company, they remember the experience they had before, and it is all the more difficult to reengage, if you ever have a chance.)  The memory isn't of the rep, the memory is about your company.

6. Be professional with your communication.  More and more I see emails with no greeting, information all pasted together looking like a ransom letter, or the name is in one font and the rest in another which shows the prospect the big effort you made in this is to put their name on something already written--and even then it is spelled wrong in some cases. I am so thankful I started my career in a time when you had better have your business letters put together well, and I still apply that to email, and even texts and chat. It shows you are polished and care.  People know we are all going a million miles an hour and are forgiving of a typo now and then, but never send something in all lower case with or worse yet, chat lingo. "john--chking 2 see if we r still on 4 demo today..." 

Believe me, it happens all the time and it reflects very poorly on the company whose reps do that. And the bigger picture for sales managers, it is digging a ditch with that prospect you may not be able to get out of down the road.

7. Social Selling is real, it isn't hard, and you need to apply some of it to your process. It is well covered in this recent blog post

So how will all this build pipeline?  Prospects will become reciprocal and actually engage with you. Early discussions become more meaningful, richer, and you will add value beyond what prospects find out on their own. They will respect you more as a peer and enable you to act in more of an advisory role. They will set you apart from the other reps contacting them because you care and you're different.  People still buy from people they "like" and when you are like-able and have skin in the game to make it work for them, they remember that.

To management, how can you minimize risk of hiring people that damage your prospect relationships?  Ask interviewees about a time they went above and beyond for a client. What did they do?  Give you some examples of how they have helped their company in a way that was not necessarily their job but something that needed to be done.  There's lots of ways to surface someone's spirit of generosity in their desire to help others.

Sales organizations are under tremendous pressure in 2014, but so often the pressure creates downgraded prospect experiences which lose sales instead of the other way around.  I've worked with smart companies that take these things to heart, and when we examine each step and each interaction to make it great for prospects..the deals happen as a result. 

What are your plans to step up in 2014?

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

What the "Social Buyer" Means to Social Selling

Social Selling is a VERY hot topic right now in B2B Sales. In fact, I spoke in a session at Dreamforce yesterday (here is a video of it) on this very topic along with Seema Kumar from, Mark Syneck from Sales Benchmark Index, Ralf VonSosen from LinkedIn and David Rogers from Pandora. Here is the Salesforce Blog Summary of the session.

Social Selling is on a rapid adoption curve with mainstream B2B sales.  But something that has advanced faster than the Social Seller is the "Social Buyer."

The Social Seller needs to catch up and meet the information stage their buyers are at. So many reps still go into meetings not knowing who they are going to meet with (live or a call) other than the company they are with, and plan to wait and see if they are enough of an influencer or a decision maker to spend the time on research to move the deal forward.

The problem with this approach is buyers are almost 60% more informed than they were 10 years ago, and you are engaging at a further stage in the pipeline. Your role is no longer to "present the company" but to help the buyer assimilate all the information they have about you correctly, undo any wrong impressions, help them connect the dots of what they are researching, and help them come to the right conclusion to work with you. It is a much more sophisticated role reps have today than 10 years ago. To do this effectively, you need to know your buyer going in. 

Something to consider, your buyer is likely making a lot of information about them available through LinkedIn, Twitter, and other social networks. This is "prospect-generated content" and they are giving you clues on how they buy. Missing out on that opportunity is impacting you more than you know.

"Why is that?" you might ask.  You can be sure your buyer isn't waiting to see if they want to do business with YOU before researching your company.  They already did enough homework to keep the meeting. You are in the meeting with them now because they confirmed they want to at least talk to you, and they also likely took the next step and looked YOU up too.   

What does this mean for you as a sales rep?
  • Your buyer knows more about you than you do about them - not a level playing field
  • You have missed the opportunity to engage on any common areas of interest or connections in your first meeting--this could have provided a more meaninful connection that motivated your buyer to pay more attention to your follow up
  • You don't know how long your customer has been in the space they are in now. Example: you are selling a supply chain solution for less than a year--your prospect has been in supply chain executive management for 15 years with some of the biggest companies in the world, they are published on the topic, and they have been at this company for 2 years but a year ago your company closed one of their former employers and they are an active reference.  But you don't know any of the conversation is pitching and presenting, lots of questions to the prospect you could have found out on their LinkedIn profile but you don't know that
  • Let's make this worse - you have been meaning to build out your LinkedIn profile and you have not. You just have one line descriptions of your jobs, and it says you are looking for an opportunity at the bottom.  Does your prospect see you as a supply chain expert or someone that will be their rep for a long time?
There is a lot of subconscious interpretation of discovery going on when companies check out providers, both from what you say, what you do not and how you present yourself. Do not depend on just your company to make the great impression, they are meeting with you and will look YOU up.

Often buyers, since they are in the position of strength, take the time to exploit every possible weakness of a vendor to better negotiate, leverage areas to get better terms, pit you against an incumbent, etc.  If you are not prepared for that, at a minimum they know you were the extreme they see risk working with you or the meeting was not strong enough to keep other vendors out of the discussion moving forward.

What does the "Social Buyer" have access to?
  • Reviews and industry placement
  • Expertise in the form of blogs, social presence, testimonials
  • Press and Industry recognition
  • Peers and colleagues that know your firm
  • Your customers you publish
  • Backgrounds of your executive team
  • Your financial backing
  • Bad reviews or bad experiences in forums
  • Product comparisons
  • Your background and expertise and who your network is
  • Customers you have on your site, they are easy access through LinkedIn
Buyers are smart, informed, understand the power of information in the public domain, and do not hesitate to find what they need without you.  

What can you do right now?  Three things: 
  1. Make sure your LinkedIn profile presents an expert in your field
  2. Research your prospects before meetings
  3. Learn how to interpret the information you discover into actionable discussion and discovery points
Reps making this investment in themselves are seeing the returns in a major way!

Monday, November 11, 2013

10 Things You Should Know About Social Selling

Social Selling is a HOT item right now.  I'm speaking in a session at Dreamforce next week on this very topic,  it's definitely something sales teams are looking to crack the code on.

You might ask "What IS Social Selling?" and if it even applies to you at all.  Many sales professionals think it is for tech sales reps, or a term for Millennials in sales, or for people that have Twitter accounts with 20K followers.  But that's isn't true at all, also...the principles behind it have been around a lot longer than Facebook and Twitter.

The principles behind Social Selling can be summed up by just being yourself, be a peer that is informed, not distant or disconnected from your prospect.  It's all about engagement, active engagement. Take off the sales persona, and connect with your prospects at a deeper level so they want to engage in return. When you add value by learning about them, prospects reciprocate because you invested in having a quality interaction.

Here's an example, 15 years ago you would meet with a prospect in their office and what did you see around their office?  Awards, Degrees, pictures of their family, vacations, accomplishments, books on a shelf....maybe they collect artifacts, have a nifty sword hanging on the wall, and a plethora of other things that told you about them as a professional and as a person.  Did you sometimes look at those and think..."hey I went to that school too" or "I've read that book" or obtained some insight into their interests based on what they surround themselves with.  Did you then make connections with things and people you knew to connect the dots for a better understanding of how to work with them?  If you were actively engaged at that time, you did just that. 

15 years ago, people that only cared about closing the deal and couldn't care less about their prospects went into a meeting, ignored the 25 items in the room around them they could mention and missed out on connecting on a whole new level. The equivalent today of calling a prospect without a clue of who they are.

Today meetings and calls are remote, we often aren't in their offices.  But that "virtual personal space" is all around us.  Did you look your prospect up on LinkedIn before the call?  Did you look at other social networks to see what you could learn about them?  Did you put some thought into what you discovered to paint a bigger picture of who they are and what their vantage point may be?  Have they done reviews, belong to industry groups, interact with peers online?  

Just like the rep that was in the same room with a prospect and picked up on the rich source of information all around them, reps today have even more access to information about their prospects and don't want to miss out on that. 

10 Things You Should Know About Social Selling:
  1. You don't need to be a power user of social networks to be effective with social selling, you just need to know how to find the right information.
  2. Social Selling prep doesn't need to be more than 15 minutes
  3. You can automate information in the public domain to be served to you, tools like Squirro,, Google Alerts, InsideView all have features to send updates to you
  4. What your prospects disclose is valuable, what they don't also has meaning. Are they conservative? Late adopters? Is risk mitigation more important than being the first one on the block to have something?
  5. Connect with your prospects on LinkedIn and share valuable content with them
  6. Do mention industry accolades your prospects have received, they worked hard for those--let them know you took the time to discover them
  7. Don't wait for your company to put a process in place, learn this--it's your income that is impacted
  8. Social Selling is not the job of Marketing, it improves front line communication with prospects
  9. Social Selling starts before the first call, and extends into the Account Management stage of the relationship
  10. Social Selling isn't just for sales, anyone dealing with prospects and clients (Marketing, Exec Management, etc.)  should take a pulse on what is happening with them if they are meeting with them.  It makes for stronger relationships at every stage.
If you are going to Dreamforce, catch the session on Social Selling and learn even more to build the case for yourself!

Thursday, October 17, 2013

The "Last Mile of Engagement" is Critical to Getting the Business

The last mile of engagement can be compared to the last reach before sliding into home base in a baseball game. So much effort is made by the batter to get to 1st, 2nd, 3rd. The player strategically steals 2nd, timed his sprint to 3rd perfectly, and seemed sure to make it to home base. But imagine if during that stretch from 3rd to home, the player decided to jog, or stop and wave to his family in the stands, or worse yet at the last 5 feet decided to walk to get his breath. You can be sure it would make all the prior effort worthless.

That is what often happens with lead generation programs. Marketing invests millions of dollars to generate leads that gets the team to each base. Each move is strategic and designed to develop a prospect; content is mapped to their interest stage, communication is carefully timed to send the right thing at the right time, whitepapers are researched and written, webinars are conducted, lists are built. So much effort goes into having a prospect say "we have a need, I want to know more."

Many marketing teams today are managed by results. They have very specific KPI's they are working towards and are under tremendous pressure to deliver on lead generation. So this is why marketers need to make sure the programs they run are executable for sales through processes, feedback, communication, and education. It is also a vendor responsibility to design workflow that supports the sales teams and have a feedback loop to monitor the success. Many of the companies we work with have longer sales cycles with big ticket enterprise solutions, so the relationships with prospects start months before the deal closes--there is a lot of white space in there that needs to be managed at each stage. When we build workflow we do it with both the sales teams need to engage with opportunities, and the marketing teams need for metrics and data.

A few things that make the last mile critical:

1. Lead generation is not a transactional effort, or at least it shouldn't be. Lead generation is the first step in a relationship with your client/prospect that progresses in stages. Some sales teams are eager to engage with later stage leads but where there isn't immediate gratification those leads get neglected. Calling those leads back the following quarter often ends up a discovery they bought from someone else that was engaged. To maximize the investment companies need to put systems in place to keep the dialog going in a progressive and meaningful way.

2. Acknowledge and define the administrative component to managing lead generation. Prospect intelligence needs to be aggregated, captured, and then managed throughout the lifecycle of the relationship. Sales is designed to close deals, Marketing is able to administer and understand behavior of a prospect on a website or build a nurturing activity that is mapped to the stage of that prospects journey of their purchase. It is important for each group to work together to get to "home base."

3. Each interaction with a prospect needs to be documented. Many times a lead is handed off to sales to drive the relationship, but then execs can look in their CRM instance and see notes like "sent email", or "had a call" with no context. It's marketing and sales teams' role to create a a protocol to capture info from sales so they know what to do on each subsequent call. If the "Last Mile" activity and process management rests only with Sales without involvement from Marketing, a lot of the lead management aspects of it will be against their DNA.

Marketing and Sales execs need to cooperate to ensure they are participating in their programs proactively, put systems in place at all stages of sales cycles, and they are actively involved with the program to make sure it's implemented for long-term success. It is extremely important there is a well planned launch and introduction to programs and leads are delivered with context. One thing that can happen is a company will run programs that are discussed with sales management but not launched to reps, then reps get leads they don't know the source of and they put a light effort into reaching them and then they fall off their radar. The management of the lead data is broken on both sides. This needs to be a top-down effort to get everyone working together and not to foster the sales and marketing divide but get both focused on the task at hand which is to create revenue.

Companies that implement their programs well, work with vendors that understand the "Last Mile," and enable their teams to be successful experience tremendous growth and success with their lead generation activity.

Tuesday, October 01, 2013

Winning The Battle of What You Say vs. What Prospects Hear

HOW you talk to your prospects and clients makes a huge difference in the success of your engagement with them, or more importantly if they engage with YOU.  It makes the difference if they treat you like a partner or "pest."

To give you some examples:
  1. Two reps can have the exact same talk track, one has a lengthy discussion with a prospect and the other fails within 5 seconds into the call.  Why is that if they SAID the exact same thing.  Experts say more than 90% of communication is non-verbal, this still applies even if you are on the phone.  In fact, it applies even more so since you don't have any physical communication to offset what the tone and inflection of your voice is communicating. A lack of confidence (or even OVER-confidence, i.e., pushy)  in your voice will just hang out there without your physical presence to offset it.    
  2. One rep continually gets to the executives they are calling and another gets blocked by admins or sent to the vendor line.  Again, same list, same executive, same words--different result.  The tone of 1 voice tells the person at the other end "I am a vendor--you don't know me!" while the other communicates trust, professionalism, comfortable tone, confidence, and doesn't raise red flags.  
  3. One rep calls 20 companies and books 3 meetings, the other calls through 100 and gets none.  Same list, same message, same "value prop." 
The results and examples are endless.  I get these calls all the time myself and I am always keen to listen to HOW reps engage with me, on the phone or in person.  I probably have a higher tolerance for bad calls because being in this business, I will let them finish talking--but the intention of the rep will quickly become clear and define the outcome.  Usually they could care less what I am really working on, and are just looking for the action on my part that gets their bonus, i.e., a meeting, another call, etc.

Two examples I'll use. First is this one company in the data space, I work with heavily, as well and InsideView, and those are my top two.  But there are a number of other providers in this space and I get approached by many of them.  One company in particular, I have met 2 of their reps over the last few years at events.  Just happened to cross paths--the first one immediately asked who he should talk to at my company to sell "data" to.  I was wondering "why wouldn't you try to have a meaningful dialog with the CEO instead of asking who my marketing admin is three levels down?" I could be a champion for you guys, have a much larger scope of discussion--but he wasn't incentivized to do that so why bother...just look for the deal.  The guy was only thinking about himself and thinking an intro from me down-stream would carry more weight, not interested in an industry connection or interacting with someone that can't do something for them.  The next person on their team I met at another event, after a light chat waiting in line--she asked who we use for data and I told her and her response was "well why aren't you using us!?" (ask the guy at the last event we were at) I thought, wow how weird and confrontational.  We exchanged info, and then she said "I'll have a rep call you."  You do that....I never responded.  I find companies often hire the same personality profile--so this was consistent.  They are a small player in the space and I know why.

Second example--a software development company sent me a LinkedIn message about what they do.  The timing was good so I responded and said let's talk.  The first call was to see what my budget was, when can we talk, when will I do this, what is my budget, and what is my budget--then of course, what do I think my budget will be.  While I was trying to figure out if my idea was on the right track, they were 100% focused on themselves.  So I said my Operations Exec was out of town, let's connect when he is back on Thursday--of course, the suggestion is to book a meeting on Thursday. I am not going to spend his first day back in a meeting with YOU.  After much pushing to get a next call, I said I will call them when I want to talk.  So probably after 45 minutes on the phone in total, I know nothing about what they can do and no discussion about my idea other than they are sure they can do it...if I have the budget.  Then in the meantime, an associate of mine with a company that does this reached out and we discussed where they could help. We spoke nothing about budget except at the end to figure out how much they could do for me, and then we tee'd off the next step to talk again. I know they understood what I needed, they understood my concept, they were going to present ideas to me.  So I tell this other guy when he calls back, that I am going to work with this other company.  He says they can do it cheaper (I don't care) and unless I am totally in love with them they still want my business.  They don't even know what my business is!

It's important to step outside of the discussion and think about what your prospects hear. Now these above are extreme examples, although more common than we would all like. Your prospects are listening to totally different things than you think.  They are looking for this:

1. Do they really understand my requirement
2. Should I trust them, what have they done before that is like my requirement
3. Are they more interested in closing a deal or helping me out
4. How much time did they spend understanding my business/me before they called
5. How did they deal with my concerns
6. Do I like these people

That's what prospects are looking for in early discussions.  When reps take an approach of just trying to get to the deal and ignoring everything else along the way--they get pushback they don't even know the source of it, but unfortunately it is them.

Another new trend is to ask for a connection on LinkedIn from someone in a group or that knows some of my colleagues after penning a personal message (at least they have learned that--I am not one of those crazy accept every invite kind of people, but I am glad to connect if it makes sense.) But then shortly after, a pitch message comes over. One I recently got "One thing I always do with new connections is...." and then the pitch. Don't waste your industry contacts by alienating me within the first day.

How can you measure your approach?

* Ask yourself how much you know about the company you last presented to?  How much did you spend ahead of time to look up the execs on the call and learn about them as a company and a team?
* How determined were you to find out early if they have a budget (that you like) and when are they spending it?
* Are you able to articulate in detail after the call what their pain was and why they are looking?
* Did they eagerly move to the next step?
* Did you discuss anything you have in common with them personally--like former companies you have worked with, or some industry connections to establish a good rapport? 
* Did you share something with them after the call that reinforced your understanding of their requirement?

These things can help you confirm you are on target or tell you to take some time and course correct.  It will do nothing but increase your performance in the end.