How CEOs Can Improve the Value of Sales and Marketing Efforts

CEO Marketing KeysCEOs have likely already conferred with their leadership teams about how they will deliver sales- and marketing-fueled growth for this year and beyond. Yet while no successful leader submerges him or herself in the nuts and bolts, you must have a dashboard, even an informal one, for guiding your team, asking the right questions and keeping your eye on the high-level feedback.

Here are 5 key ongoing conversations CEOs need to have with their sales and marketing leadership to achieve their teams’ visions of revenue growth:

1. Verify that you have strong processes in place for each of the 4 major parts of the marketing and sales model.

Sales Model Steps

The outcomes your leaders deliver will only be as good as the processes within these critical parts of the funnel (and the ones that connect them). It’s not for you to define and build minutiae, but rather to be able to speak to your team’s proposed plan for systematically managing profitable conversations within each part of the funnel and transferring prospects efficiently from one to the other.

2. Keep things simple and focused on as few priorities as possible. CEOs should be on alert when they feel they are looking at a sales and marketing plan with too many moving parts: too many products, too many offers and too many messages. If strategy is clear, the executive leader’s contribution is to provide critical focus so that resources won’t be spread too thin in half-execution of an overly broad plan. Trust your instincts when gauging if a plan will deny you concentration of force and offer guidance on where to pare activity.

3. Forge a service level agreement (SLA) between both departments. Aligning the efforts of your sales and marketing leaders for maximum impact—thereby removing vague areas that will eventually devolve to unproductive finger-pointing—is one of the best uses of your leadership muscle.

The SLA should specify:

  • The number of leads required, and when:
  • What constitutes a sales-ready lead
  • How leads are distributed to the field
  • How sales reps disposition leads
  • How marketing’s contribution is measured through a closed-loop system

4. Ensure that effective sales lead management is built into the process. When asked, your marketing chief should be able to succinctly tell you how he or she is going to qualify inbound inquiries and how they’re going to create an ongoing program to nurture these leads until they are ready to engage in the buying process. Quality sales lead management can boost sales performance by 100% or more. Ask, and if you don’t hear a brief and compelling answer, you’ve got a problem.

5. Require a consistent flow of relevant content. Just as your leadership should be expected to have a process for creating marketing campaigns and guiding prospects through the buying cycle, they should also be able to define and tell you how they are going to execute a process for delivering content that will create higher marketing and sales conversion rates. A systematic and disciplined stream of thought leadership, case studies, blog posts, white papers and more will all be critical to achieving your goals.

Starting these 5 critical conversations and shepherding their progress can have a profound impact on your revenue and profit this year. Executive attention—at the proper level of detail—is vital for progress, as is the ability to be nimble and pivot when market feedback dictates. In a business culture obsessed with disruption and “next big things,” it’s easy to forget the simple value of enforcing a solid sales and marketing plan—and backing it up with efficient processes.

Note: this article was originally posted at Chief Executive Magazine May 7, 2016.


The Marketing and Sales Gap of Disappointment

The leads and customers you get this month may not come from something you did this month, but rather something that you did last month, last year or even five years ago. Our expectations are that our marketing and sales efforts will be rewarded in a timely fashion. But the reality is quite different.

The following graphic, courtesy of Rand Fishkin, SEO Moz (“Gap of Disappointment“) illustrates exactly what I am talking about. During the honeymoon phase of an initiative, promising results are achieved, but this is often temporary. You sell your new software product to 2-3 companies you already have a relationship with. The list company sends you a sample, which gets great response. A few contacts congratulate you on your new blog. You think, “I am off to the races” and you mentally prepare for the new house, promotion, peer recognition, etc.


Marketing and Sales Gap of Disappointment

However, despite these early successes, you are about to enter the gap of disappointment. For a period of weeks or months (sometimes years) you find yourself putting out a lot of effort without achieving commensurate results. The natural tendency is to flee and stop doing that which is both painful and ineffective. So what’s to be done when you face the dreaded gap of disappointment? Having faced it more than once, I offer you these suggestions.

  • Be realistic. You have often heard that marketing and sales is a numbers game. While this is true, it doesn’t mean the numbers will always fall in a set pattern. For instance, a .333 hitter in baseball doesn’t get a hit every three times he is at the plate. He may get four hits in a row one game and go hitless for many games afterward. Time and intention have a tendency to normalize the numbers.
  • Get off your rear. The gap of disappointment can cause otherwise smart people to slip into inactivity. I’ve often talked about the principle of “practical serendipity.” My blog post, Actions Trump Ideas in B2B Marketing and Sales, addresses this. It is critical to keep putting yourself, your product and your company in a place where good things can happen.
  • Keep swinging. I know of one marketing services company that decided they needed to start blogging. They wrote six different posts on six different topics, all published within one week. That was three years ago. Yep, you guessed it – nothing since.       How do you feel as a client or prospect visiting this company’s website? Are they going to do one campaign for you and sit back and watch the results flood (more likely trickle) in?
  • Be consistent. One of my core marketing tenets is that consistency is more important than creativity. When the gap hits, don’t immediately change your marketing and sales strategy, messaging or business model.
  • Realize that it’s often darkest just before the dawn. This is not just the title of an Emmylou Harris song, but also an idiom that applies to many situations. You can be in the deepest part of the gap, the phone rings and you close your biggest deal. Or make a minor tweak to a campaign and the response doubles.

We all hear about the so-called overnight successes and lament the fact that things just seem harder for us. But when you scratch the surface, even these incredible victories are the result of a lot of effort and setbacks we can’t see. I hope you don’t have to face too many gaps of disappointment, but when you do, consistency and perseverance will bridge the gap.

Asking “Why” Makes Your Marketing Content More Effective

Why Marketing ContentThis post is short and sweet, but it also highly important to your success as a B2B marketer. As someone who writes lots of marketing content for clients as well as our own needs, I (and my more talented teammates) produce lots of copy on subjects like product features, benefits, positioning, FAQs, etc. But all of us have to be careful to make sure that we always keep in mind the fundamental “Why” questions that are being asked by our prospects:

  • Why should I stop what I am doing?
  • Why should I read your message?
  • Why should I go to your landing page?
  • Why should I click on the Submit button?
  • Why should I take the time to evaluate your offer?
  • Why should I spend my precious money with you?
  • Why should I trust you with my credit card details?
  • Why should I take the risk of doing business with you?

In the end, whether or not the prospect acts – either in a lead generation or sales situation – depends on one important equation: Is the value of what I am getting greater than the cost in time, money and risk? If the answer is no, you will not get the response or sale. And the best way of making sure the value equation comes out in your favor is to embed your marketing messages with clear, concise and credible responses to the questions listed above.

Whether you like it or not, these questions are being asked (sometimes subconsciously) and impacting your revenue and/or lead generation efforts.  As a suggestion, how about reviewing the last piece of marketing content you wrote. If it doesn’t satisfy the “why” questions, rewrite the text until it accomplishes this objective. Your bottom line will thank you.

How to Sell More by Selling Less

Sell more by selling less

My friend (and very smart marketer) Debbie Breemeersch recently shared a great article on LinkedIn: The Secret To Sales Success: Stop Selling!  The author is Atchison Frazer, CMO of Xangati. Frazer talked about his last two years at Cisco, when the company implemented go-to-market strategies that essentially flipped the “good selling” moniker on its head: “Stop selling –and start informing.”

Two great points made by Frazer have huge impact on B2B companies when they embrace them both as strategies and practices:

  • Digitally market-enable your solutions so that customers can sell to themselves.
  • Self-driven search trumps all other traditional categories of influence

I’ve written a fair amount on this subject and also always encourage our Fusion Marketing Partners’ clients to adopt the “sell more by selling less” mantra. The answer to creating a successful lead-to-revenue (L2R) machine is usually not to just throw more sales resources at the problem, but rather to create an environment where sales people are more efficient because they are dealing with prospects who are already at least partially motivated.

So how do you go from a company that is focused on trying to sell more to one that is focused on selling less, while increasing revenue and profits? Here are a few suggestions:

  1. As I said in a 2015 blog post, For B2B Companies, Selling Better is Not the Answer, your first goal needs to be: Make your company easy to discover.
  2. Make sure every prospect that visits your website (and they all do) has the information needed to educate and qualify themselves. The more information you can supply, the better — not only to educate your prospects, but also to satisfy the various search engine algorithms that will either put you in a good position to be found or consign you to a place hidden from all but the most persistent searchers.
  3. Use technology (CRM and marketing automation) to separate the prospects that are at the initial review stage from those that are ready to engage. Treat each of these disparate groups accordingly.
  4. Have the right resources (people, technology and content) available to work with the prospect at the right stage of the buyer journey.
  5. Speaking of the buyer journey, make sure you map this out, including items like: buyer stakeholders, marketing and sales touchpoints, team roles/responsibilities and content/messaging.

We sometimes run into situations where the B2B sales and marketing functions are led by an executive who believes in the hard-sell, “always be closing” approach. Some of these individuals are professionals who are really good at what they do. But in a sense, they are practicing strategies better suited to the past, where prospects were less informed and had fewer digital options to peruse prior to engaging with you.

The B2B Marketing Valley of Death

B2B ValleyAs an entrepreneur who has been both the recipient and provider of angel investment funds, I really enjoyed a recent article titled The Rise of Angel Investing. There are lots of great nuggets to be found in this article, but I especially enjoyed the part about the timing of angel investments and how the ability to generate this funding can either make or break a company. Viewing the graphic below will demonstrate the point. If the startup doesn’t receive the needed funding at or before the valley phase, it might not be around for long.

B2B Valley of DeathSo how does this “valley of death” timing issue apply to B2B marketing and sales?  Simply this: If you wait until the product launch or commercialization phase to crank up your marketing engine, you may be too late to generate positive results. This doesn’t just apply to startup companies; it is also important for each product launch at existing companies. Putting the word out today doesn’t necessarily lead to revenue today (or even tomorrow). There is a lag time to move prospects from “aware” to “interested,” and from “engaged” to “customer.” In some industries (e.g. enterprise software), this sales cycle can be six months or more – so the sales leads you close today first came to your attention quite some time ago.

The scary part about being in the valley of death is the fear that no matter what you do, a successful outcome is not assured. This is why it is hard to raise money and it is why we B2B marketers hold our breaths, hoping and praying that the next campaign will be the home run that leads to product launch victory.

So how do we improve the odds of victory? One strategy is to apply lean business planning and minimum viable product (MVP) principles to ensure that the investment in the product is reasonable in relation to the upside potential. Another important step is to test the viability of the marketing message and lead generation potential very early in the process. You can do this with online methods such as pay-per-click and SEO during the R&D part of the process. In fact, you may collect some data in your early marketing tests that help get your product development on a better path.

The good news is that the valley of death can be a lot more comfortable if you have a good sense of how the product will sell based on your early testing. As the book says, Hope is Not a Strategy, and when you ask investors (or your CFO) for money based on data, not just great intentions, you are much more likely to get that funding and achieve a successful launch.

How to Achieve Expert Status in B2B Marketing and Sales

B2B Marketing ExpertOn my last post, I talked about the huge difference between companies and individuals who are considered experts, versus those who are perceived as being competent or proficient. The difference between these categories may not seem great but the rewards in terms of compensation, respect and self-determination can be substantial. This principle is true in sports, entertainment, medicine, law, business, and equally true in B2B marketing and sales. Expert status has a large economic payoff.

Today, we are going to discuss the factors that can cause you to be perceived as an expert, and thus, worthy of greater recognition and compensation. I acknowledge that many experts are not considered as such, and many non-experts are thought of as experts. This is unfortunate but the reality is that no matter how good you are, the marketplace validates your expert status. You know what I mean if you have ever had the thought: “I know more than that person about my craft. Why is he/she rewarded more richly? Probably it is because they have created the perception – whether or not backed up by reality – that they know more and achieve better results.

In Malcom Gladwell’s book, Outliers, he explains the 10,000-hour rule. This rule states that people don’t become “masters” at complex things (programming, music, painting, free throws) until they have accrued 10,000-hours of practice. This would mean practicing your craft every working hour for five years. But the truth is that in an average work week, we spend only a fraction of our time practicing our actual craft (e.g. B2B marketing) and many hours doing repetitive tasks, going to meetings, research, administration, etc. Have you ever told someone, “Sorry but I can’t go to the weekly staff meeting because I need to get in more expert practice?”  I think not.

The good news is that you probably don’t need to spend 10,000 hours to gain expert status. You just have to practice the right strategies. Here are six that can help you get to acknowledged expert status.   

1.       Narrow focus. It is hard to gain expert status as a generalist. Figure out what you can be good at within a fairly narrow band. Doing this, you can often catapult to the top of the expert category much faster than presenting yourself as an expert generalist. 

2.       Continual learning.  B2B marketing and sales is a fast moving environment. You need to keep up with what is happening in your industry and devote at least part of your working hours to following thought leaders about new strategies, technologies and media.

3.       Expert practice. Note that I said “expert practice”, not just practice with the goal of always optimizing, streamlining and applying the latest techniques to stay at the top of your game.

4.       Credentials. These are the proof points that back up your claims of expertise. Such credentials can include university education, industry certifications, publications (books, papers, video, audio, blogs) and presentations at industry conferences. Testimonials and five star reviews are also good credibility boosters.  

5.       Results. Nothing will catapult you into the expert category faster than a reputation for producing strong results.  This is true for a Steve Jobs, Warren Buffet and Bill Gates, and it is equally true in the B2B marketing and sales world. A reputation for generating awareness, leads and revenue will keep you employed and attract plenty of clients, especially if you have an important and needed niche.  

6.       Self-Promotion. Assuming you execute on the five previous steps, you need to let the world know about what you are doing and why it is special. You can showcase your expertise through publications, social media and your website, and whenever possible by speaking at industry conferences and online events.

Showcase Your Expertise – Increase Your Market Value

Meg Rye, head of Design Recruitment at Facebook in the U.K., posted the following letter on LinkedIn. The letter was written by Mick Jagger to request that Andy Warhol design the cover artwork for the album Sticky Fingers. In addition to the fact that the subject matter is very cool, the communication has a number of important lessons for today’s marketing and sales professional – or any occupation, for that matter. It is a great illustration of how your market value is determined not by what you do, but instead by the differences in the way you do what you do it, and the value the market places on those differences.

Increase Your Value

How many of us have wished for a client to say, “Take as much time as you need and charge me whatever you want, just please do this work for me.” But remember that it is not the actual value of what you deliver that establishes your market value – it’s the perceived value. In the case of Andy Warhol, the perceived value to Jagger was huge. There were thousands of designers who would have done the album cover artwork for Jagger at a fraction of the cost (or even at no cost to get the portfolio bragging rights), but only one who was told to name his own price.

In every industry, there are tiers of providers, ranging from the highest-priced and highly differentiated  to the lowest-priced and least differentiated. The latter are what we call “commodity suppliers” and are almost always selling based primarily on price.

For example, in my own industry, there are various categories of B2B marketing and sales providers/outsourcers. There are some who gain clients only because they are the least expensive, and most of the time, they are not as effective – definitely not what I would consider experts. At the other end of the spectrum are extremely high-priced consultants, who, with a few exceptions, are not necessarily more skillful than many of those who charge much less. In this case, the client is paying for the perception, not the results received.

The Dreyfus Five-Stage Model of Adult Skills Acquisition is an accepted model of measuring skills across industries and breaks skill acquisition into five levels, explained in this chart:

Skill Acquistion










Isn’t it interesting that the only major difference between the proficient and expert category is that the expert is more likely to make decisions based on intuition instead of data analysis? This is true because the expert has experienced so many scenarios, they can quickly grasp situational patterns and decide accordingly. I call this “pattern recognition” and wrote a blog post about this that you can read here

Wouldn’t you like to know whether your dentist, attorney, physician, CPA, etc. is a true expert, instead of just being competent? Of course there are times when you need — and only want to pay for —someone at the “competent” or “proficient” level (e.g. house painter). And there are other times when you want — and are willing to pay for — a true expert (e.g. defense attorney, heart surgeon). Unfortunately, you don’t often get to hire the expert at the same rate as those who are merely competent or proficient.

So how do you tell where you are on the scale? In some professions there are established criteria, while in others (like mine), it is mostly subjective. For instance, while I believe I am an expert in B2B marketing, and have the results and credentials to demonstrate this, it does me little good if smart clients are unwilling to acknowledge this by paying me (and my team) fairly for our services. I am unlikely to become the Andy Warhol of B2B marketing, but I can certainly be the best Chris Ryan possible. And you can do the same by following the strategies I will outline in my next post. Stay tuned.

Actions Trump Ideas in B2B Marketing and Sales

Marketing ActionIn his seminal book, Managing Oneself, my favorite business management guru/consultant Peter Drucker made the following observation: “For example, a planner may find that his beautiful plans fail because he does not follow through on them. Like so many brilliant people, he believes that ideas move mountains. But bulldozers move mountains; ideas show where the bulldozers should go to work.”

I love this quote, and it doesn’t just apply to moving mountains, but also covers what we are involved in on a daily basis: moving prospects forward on their buyer’s journey. Planning is very important, but no one ever purchased anything because of a plan – rather, they purchased because someone took action and executed on a plan. No amount of magical thinking will make prospects respond to offers or purchase products and services. You and I need to take action to encourage people to act, or at least be there when they type in a search term that is related to what you are offering.

Smart people who work hard are often referred to as being lucky. You’ve probably heard the expression “The harder I work, the luckier I get.” Lucky people tend to put themselves out there by taking actions that often lead to good outcomes. This is what I refer to as “practical serendipity.” But serendipity is not some magic thing that happens to us out of the blue. It manifests when we expose ourselves to the right people and circumstances (e.g. putting yourself in front of people who can buy your products or services).

In The Power of Pull, John Hagel states, “Serendipity can be shaped: we can make choices that will increase our ability to attract people and resources to us that we never knew existed, leading to serendipitous encounters that prove enormously valuable.”  If you change the words in Hagel’s quote from “make choices” to “take actions,” you will achieve better outcomes and a gain a fruitful measure of practical serendipity.

As the character Morpheus stated in the movie The Matrix, “There’s a difference between knowing the path and walking the path.” When it comes to our B2B marketing and sales efforts, most of us could probably benefit from a little less knowing and a little more walking.

Crisp Sales and Marketing Execution – A Key to B2B Success

Marketing Execution

Planning is great, and having the right marketing and sales strategies in place is imperative, but it can be for naught if the sales and marketing execution part of your go-to-market activities is flawed. Unfortunately, this is the case with many companies. For example, MarketingSherpa states that only about one quarter of B2B companies have a lead generation and follow-up process that is routinely observed. And the following chart from Bain & Company shows that while sales effectiveness is a chief imperative, less than half of companies believe their own sales force is operating at full effectiveness.

Marketing ExecutionOur experience in B2B marketing and sales enablement shows that this “goals vs. outcomes” gap is equally true on the marketing side. All the planning on the front end and analytics on the back end won’t help you if you don’t have your act together from an execution standpoint. Once the strategic goals, processes and technology infrastructure are in place, crisp sales and marketing execution is what closes the gap between concept and revenue.    

Execution is not just about doing things right (efficiency) but more importantly, doing the right things (effectiveness). This means focusing on activities that enable reps to either make more sales calls or increase sales close rates. If you study how reps spend their time and find that a vast majority is spent on non-revenue producing activities like support, logistics or qualifying raw inquiries, you need to eliminate as much of this unproductive time as possible.     

One of the most important aspects of crisp marketing execution is to remain consistent. One of our clients had great technology, but also had a very bad habit of changing its product offerings and value proposition every six months or so. The sales team was encouraged to spend their time on the newest offerings instead of what had worked for them in the past. This required extensive retraining of the team, and they never found their rhythm. In a tough selling world, consistency can be the attribute that keeps your team on top.   

Clear communication of the goals and processes is a must, as well as a way to monitor performance. There is a tendency to resist change and keep doing what has always been done. Sometimes this is true because what makes sense at the corporate planning level totally flops when implemented where it counts: dealing with prospects. This is why we advise prototyping new processes on a small scale before rolling out to the larger group. However, if you make exceptions or allow for too much optional behavior, the best strategies and technology won’t save you.

What Types of Content Propels B2B Buyers

B2B Content MatrixI recently enjoyed an article titled, “Which Types of Content do B2B Tech Buyers Respond to Most?” The article is worthwhile because it provides a picture of how B2B buyers are now accepting and utilizing content as part of their buying journey. As the article so rightly points out, it’s not how much of it you produce that matters – it’s what you produce.

One of the key things to creating content that works is to marry the appropriate content with the right stage of the sales process. Note that the content and the way you present the content are not the same thing. For example, if you are a CRM vendor, a webinar aimed at people in the early stages (creating awareness) might be something like, The 10 Most Important Benefits of Using a CRM Solution. But if you are aiming a webinar at the needs of prospects who have already engaged with you, the title might be something like, 12 Tips for Fast Implementation of the XYZ CRM Solution. This is the same content tool (webinar) deployed in a completely different way to facilitate sales.

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