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Strategy and Results

Join us for actionable business-to-business insight that will help you get B2B sales and marketing results. You will find many valuable ideas here across a broad spectrum of B2B marketing topics and issues.

 

Death of the Hard Sell: Stop Closing and Start Empowering

The sales “closer” has an almost mythical reputation in the annals of business. Movies like Tin Men, Boiler Room, Door to Door and Wall Street show how the most successful at the craft of selling are also the most devious. A review of Elmer Gantry, produced in 1960, stated, “Elmer is a traveling Salesman, a con man, drunkard and a bum, but this guy could sell a ticket to the slaughterhouse to a suckling pig, make that a season’s pass, he was that good.” And anyone who has seen Glengarry Glen Ross remembers the famous Alec Baldwin scene where he tells the character played by Jack Lemmon, “Put that coffee down. Coffee’s for closers only.”

Sam Mallikarjunan, who works at HubSpot and writes for ThinkGrowth.org, wrote a really good article about this subject titled The Closer Is Dead. Long Live The Listener. There is a lot of good advice to be found in Sam’s article, but I can give you the gist in one quote: “The sales rep that doesn’t try to ‘control the process’ but instead functions as the objective trusted adviser to the prospect’s process is the sales rep that wins deals.”

While the hard-sell approach works in the movies, and perhaps in a bygone era, the days of the high-pressure closer are numbered. As HubSpot’s analysis shows, all the things we used to associate with being a great sales rep — such as being a convincing “closer” — actually hurt your chances of hitting quota long term. If you actually did what hard-selling proponents urge, your reps and company will make less money and have a much harder time holding onto customers.

As I said in my December 6 post, your focus should be on the buying process. Universal access to information and the amount of competition in almost every industry have empowered buyers much more than in the past. The fact is that most people like to buy, but very few of us like to be sold. So why not change your paradigm from “selling people stuff” to “helping people buy”? This might sound like a subtle distinction, but I assure you, it is not.

To make this clearer, here are some words that define how the new and effective sales rep approaches the B2B sales function:

  • Assist
  • Coach
  • Educate
  • Enable
  • Guide
  • Help
  • Listen
  • Nurture
  • Suggest
  • Teach

By contrast, here are some words that describe the mindset of the ineffective B2B sales rep – the high-pressure closer:

  • Close          High Pressure Sales
  • Command
  • Drive
  • Effort
  • Force
  • Pressure
  • Push
  • Talk
  • Tell

How Marketing can Support the New Sales Model

A key question for the marketing types who are reading this post is: What can we do to support a sales model that is based on guidance, coaching and education, and less on mastering high-pressure sales techniques? Here are five suggestions:

  1. Give prospects what they want – not what you think they need. Potential buyers do a lot of their research online and if you don’t supply the right information (product specs, reviews, use cases, pricing, etc.) at the right place in their buying journey, they will move on to your competitors’ websites. Holding back is usually counterproductive.
  2. Give sales reps what they want. When sales reps tell you that they want more or less of X, Y or Z, try to give them the benefit of the doubt. Their commission checks and even continuing employment, depends on making sales – they take this quite seriously.
  3. Make sure your messaging is crystal clear. Sales reps that represent companies with poor messaging face a tough burden. If the prospect doesn’t quickly (instantly) grasp that you are at least a potential solution, they won’t stick around to figure out what you do and how it benefits them. We see too many elevator pitches and brand statements that are totally ambiguous – don’t let this be true about yours.
  4. Establish a firm set of expectations with your sales counterparts. To do this, create a service-level agreement (SLA) that outlines exactly who is going to do what at every stage of the process.
  5. Revisit your lead-to-revenue (L2R) model. Don’t be afraid to challenge assumptions about how your company has been marketing and selling. While consistency is important, watch out for “we’ve always done it this way” syndrome. Read my 2015 article on this subject titled, Does Your B2B Sales Model Need an Overhaul or a Tune-up?

The “helping prospects buy” culture is not only easier on all concerned, it is also a better mindset to generate revenue and repeat customers. Make it a key part of your 2017 planning process.

Hard Facts About B2B Marketing and Sales

Hard Facts about Marketing

One of the most frustrating things about being a B2B marketing and/or sales professional is that there are circumstances and environmental factors totally outside your control. Ive seen truly great people seemingly stuck in situations where they are set up for failure.

Medium.com had an interesting article from Larry Kim titled “11 Things You Can’t Change, So Quit Wasting Your Time Trying.” Kim stated that no matter the method you use (e.g., working harder, caring more), “The fact is, there are some things you just cant change, no matter how hard you try.” I enjoyed the article because it reflects a hard truth I teach future entrepreneurs in my SBA and SCORE classes — to stay within their own zone of control.

This below graphic illustrates the zone of control. At the bottom is a list of a few of the things you have total personal control over. For example, you decide how hard you work and the skills you will develop to enhance your marketplace value. The middle section contains items you can influence but not necessarily control, like the overall messaging, your budget, and your boss. The outer circle consists of items you have little or no control over: The economy, technology, government, etc., are going where they are going and chances are, you have no opportunity to impact them. In other words, if the train is heading in a certain direction, you had best either hop on or watch it pass, instead of standing in front of it.

Zone of Marketing Control

So, hard fact number one is that you should operate in your zones of control and influence. Here are some additional facts that B2B marketing and sales professionals must face:

1.     It’s usually not personal. When the CEO criticizes the new website design, or the VP of sales complains about the lack (or quality) of leads, they have their own reasons that are usually not connected to personal animosity toward you. Disliking your performance on something is not the same as disliking you.

2.     You can’t always win. There are scenarios where the odds are so stacked against you, you are unlikely to achieve success. For example:

a.     A flawed business model that is not financially viable.

b.     An un-coachable owner/CEO who would rather be right than successful (sadly, there are such individuals).

c.      A product that is deeply flawed and/or not ready for the market.

d.     A highly dysfunctional management team.  

3.     You should quit focusing on the ones that got away. All of us who have been in marketing or sales for any length of time understand that no matter how talented/clever we are, many prospects will say no to even our best offers. Best you reconcile yourself to this to avoid undue anxiety.

4.     Life is not fair. If your mom or dad taught you this lesson early in your life, you should thank them. Attaching yourself emotionally to a certain outcome means that you will spend at least some of your time in a dark place.

5.     Great strategy won’t produce results without cooperation. I’ve seen brilliant concepts that could produce significant revenue shot down because of the unreasonableness of one or more parties. Regardless of motivation of the stubborn party, when you are faced with this situation, it’s sometimes best to cut your losses and move to the next idea.

You no doubt have your own list of unpleasant facts. I hope you accept them, and do what you need to do to have a healthy and prosperous 2017.

B2B Marketing Trends – What You Don’t Know Can Hurt You

Fusion Marketing Partners State of the Industry Report Trends in B2B Marketing and Lead to RevenueWe just published our 2017 B2B Marketing and Lead-to-Revenue Trends Report, available for download here. At the close of each calendar year, I publish a trends report detailing what our team sees as the important topics in B2B marketing and L2R. This year, in addition to our personal analysis, we’ve included data from 1425 respondents who work in B2B marketing and sales, the majority (62%) of which are at the VP level or above. We’ve also cross-validated this information with data and opinions from noted industry analysts and thought leaders. We found remarkable similarity between survey responses, what industry leaders like Forrester, Gartner and Forbes are saying and our own experiences and data from client engagements. We are also grateful to our survey partner CustomerThink for helping us to get the word out to their large subscriber base.

So what are the big takeaways from this initiative? For one thing, a majority of companies report that they are not generating enough leads to meet their revenue targets. Probably no big surprise – I’ve worked at companies where lead flow was strong and yet, people were complaining about a “lack of leads”.  What they mean is that they want their leads to be qualified and ready to purchase in the near future. This is the inevitable tension between lead quantity and lead quality. It’s fine to have plenty of lead flow, but not so fine if the vast majority of inbound inquiries are unqualified and will never buy what you are selling.

Another disconcerting result is that 62 percent of respondents report that their companies spend less than 10 percent of revenue on marketing (including personnel, technology and program expenses). There is no doubt that the strongest and most profitable companies drive growth through compelling and relentless marketing. If you truly believe (and I hope you do) that marketing has a big impact on revenue, you are doing your company a favor by helping them invest in an area that will have many positive benefits downstream.

Our survey also showed that companies will increase 2017 spending on two key areas that impact growth: marketing automation technology and content marketing.  Some of us are already fully engaged in these practices and are now in optimization mode, but a surprising number of companies are still taking baby steps. Regardless, smart companies invest in what works and try to get there before the competition does.

Finally, what are your peers and competitors most interested in measuring in 2017? Given a long list of potential KPIs, our survey respondents say they are focusing on these three, in priority order:

  1. Tracking sales performance (e.g. close rates) – 76.27 percent of respondents.
  2. Qualified lead conversions – 64 percent of respondents.
  3. Measuring website performance – 53 percent of respondents.

While it’s too late for you to take the survey, you can review the results by downloading the report. We designed the survey and report to provide you with actionable information and help you improve what you are doing in B2B marketing and sales. Most importantly, it is my hope and expectation that you will have a better 2017 than 2016.

Don’t Break the NEW Rules of B2B Sales and Marketing

Sales and Marketing RulesThose of us who have worked in B2B sales and marketing for some time agree that the rules have changed. But what exactly are the new rules and how do they differ from the traditional way of doing things?

Rule 1: Selling is not just “Telling”.  As a marketing professional, I always made it a point to understand what my company’s sales staff was learning – so I have attended several internal sales training programs where reps were taught how to identify, engage, nurture and close prospects. Sometimes, this is taught from a linear perspective – First you take step A, then B, etc., until you close the business. But smart sales reps know that the answer is not to find someone who will listen to you, then pitch, demo, re-pitch and so forth.  In last year’s B2B sales and marketing trends report, I talked about the “fuzzy funnel” and how prospects enter and exit the sales process in many different ways. You need to prepare for every scenario.

Rule 2: Your focus should be on the buying process.  Universal access to information and the amount of competition in almost every industry have empowered buyers much more than in the past. The fact is that most people like to buy but very few of us like to be sold. So why not change your paradigm from “selling people stuff” to “helping people buy”? This might sound like a subtle distinction but I assure you it is not.

Rule 3: Your website should do a lot of the heavy lifting. You can find a ton of information online regarding how much time prospects spend online researching products/solutions before engaging with a sales rep. Of course this depends on the industry but it can range from a low of 10-20 percent to as high as 90 percent. Regardless, this is a number that is going to increase over time so get your cyber act in order. Create and publish content that educates prospects and brings them closer to engagement.

Rule 4: Hiding your information is counterproductive. B2B companies are reluctant to share too much information for two primary reasons: 1. Competitors will steal it.  2. Prospects will use the information to build their own solution. But the fact is, there is a lot of information about your topic area in cyberspace and if prospects don’t find it from you, they will do so from your competitor, and even worse, buy from the competitor. Just remember the mantra, “The more you share, the more you receive.  The less you share, the less you receive.”

Rule 5: Nurturing is as important as selling.  Our client research has shown that among inbound inquiries, there are usually as many prospects who will buy in the future (e.g. after six months or more) as will purchase in the short-term (e.g. 30-90 days). In other words, the ability to stay in touch and feed suspects relevant information on a periodic basis can be just as lucrative as the ability to sell your current hot prospects today.

Rule 6: Prepare for disruption. Lots of companies have had their products and/or marketing and sales models disrupted. Sometimes the impact is minor or moderate (e.g. moving some part of sales to the web) and other times it is massive (Uber, AirBnB, self-driving cars). But as the book title suggests, you need to Disrupt Yourself before someone else disrupts your business. You do this by testing your hypotheses, processes, pricing, and so forth, before you are forced to do so.

Of course, these rules are suggested guidelines and not meant to be sacrosanct. As Richard Branson said, “You don’t learn to walk by following rules. You learn by doing, and by falling over.”

In B2B Marketing, the CFO May Be Your Most Important Customer

CFO MarketingMany B2B marketing managers believe that their primary customer is the Sales VP, or perhaps the end-customer, or even the CEO. While these are very important constituencies, you shouldn’t forget the person who may have the most influence over your career – the CFO.

My last blog post talked about how to get your share of the 2017 marketing budget, using several different budget allocation methods. However, none of these methods will work unless the CFO has faith that whatever you are spending contributes to revenue. This is what I call the “marketing as investment” model, instead of the traditional “marketing as expense” model.

Here are some things you don’t want your CFO to say to the CEO about you or your department:

  • Those guys spend a lot of money but I have no idea what they are accomplishing.
  • Why should we give marketing more budget if they can’t show better results?
  • Why is the sales team always complaining about the marketing department?
  • We have to cut the budget – let’s start with marketing since they are such a large expense.
  • Every time I ask marketing what they are doing, I hear a bunch of gobbledygook!

To make sure this type of language is never used to describe you, let’s look at what CFOs are looking for from their marketing departments. As you can see, four out of the top-six goals relate directly to measuring the effectiveness of B2B marketing spend and activities as a driver of sales pipeline and revenue.

CFO Marketing Survey

Note that the fourth goal listed is to achieve non-financial goals (i.e. brand awareness) but even here I would argue that the reason we spend time building the brand is to make it easier to achieve revenue. I’ve never met a CEO or CFO that would trade some of their revenue for a stronger brand (or for almost anything else). In the end, it comes down to the marketing department’s ability to increase awareness, generate leads and facilitate sales, all in the pursuit of more (profitable) revenue.

So how do you impress your CFO and ensure not only a favorable impression but more important, the necessary funds to accomplish your mission? Here are four strategies:

  1. Understand your customer.  Most CFOs have a set of challenges and objectives that are not the same as yours. See the world from their perspective and you are more likely to win the perception game.
  2. Tightly align with sales. Creating a service level agreement (SLA) to outline the processes, expectations and deliverables of both departments – will go a long way towards satisfying both the CFO and CEO. Chances are, if the sales team is happy with marketing, the executive suite will likewise be happy.
  3. Revenue…revenue…revenue. Whenever you can do so, shift the focus of the discussion from activities (expenses) to revenue (investment). Investments in revenue are much more palatable than increases in spending, so modify your language accordingly.
  4. Measure what matters. As a B2B marketer, you no doubt understand the importance of capturing all types of performance metrics. But the ones that matter most to the CFO will all point to how what you do, and what you spend, contribute to revenue. That is why our lead-to-revenue (L2R) modeling process always starts with revenue targets and works backward to set goals for inquiries, awareness, website traffic, and so forth.  

 I’ve worked with a couple of CFOs that had such a fundamental misunderstanding that they never could see the value in what their marketing department did. Fortunately, these types are not common and if you follow the above advice, you will not only have a more satisfactory working life but also a much healthier marketing budget.   

Secure Your Share of Rising B2B Marketing Budgets

Marketing BudgetThe press release announcing Gartner’s 2016-2017 Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) Spend Survey showed that marketing budgets rose for the third straight year.  Marketing budgets increased to 12 percent of company revenue in 2016, up from 11 percent in 2015. Fifty-seven percent of marketing leaders surveyed expect their budgets will increase further in 2017. Only 14 percent of marketers say they are bracing for budget cuts, but this is up from 3 percent just two years ago.

At Fusion Marketing Partners, we deal with lots of B2B companies and our experience echoes the Gartner research. Here are some observations about why marketing spend is on the rise and why you may be in a great position to justify a larger spend as you craft your 2017 marketing budget:

1.     Prospects and customers spend more of their time with marketing assets than sales assets. Studies range on the exact statistics, but most strongly point to the fact that prospects do a lot of their research online, prior to engaging with a sales rep. If you don’t have the right resources to guide them, you lose the prospect to the competitor.

2.     Throwing more sales reps into the mix is not solving the revenue challenge. You need a complete lead-to-revenue strategy that covers everything from creating initial awareness to closing deals.

3.     Marketing has accepted a wider range of responsibilities ranging from customer experience to revenue–generating systems. As Jake Sorofman, research vice president at Gartner stated, “Over the last several years, we’ve witnessed an expansion of the CMO mandate, from what was largely a promotional role to what is now often seen as the growth engine for the business. … In more than 30 percent of organizations, at least some aspects of sales, IT and customer experience now report into the CMO.”

4.     Smart marketing managers have learned how to prioritize spending on productive and measurable activities that tie into revenue. This ‘lead-to-revenue investment model’ makes the budget process more efficient and predictable. Read more about the top 10 sales and marketing metrics.           

Im often asked to advise companies on how to establish the correct marketing budget. In addition to the percentage of revenue described above, there are several other methods:

       Competitive Parity: With this method, you figure out what competitors are spending and then budget enough funds to keep up with, or surpass, the partner. The problem is, it’s usually difficult to find out what they are spending and their circumstances may be so different that a head-to-head comparison is not helpful.  

       Objective and Task: This is our go-to method. We set the objectives, identify the tasks necessary to achieve those objectives and then determine the budget necessary to complete those tasks.

       Lifetime Value (LtV): The LtV method works in scenarios where it is worth spending more to obtain a new customer because they produce so much revenue over the time they do business with you. This will often produce much higher spending scenarios than the more traditional and formulaic methods. For example, Salesforce.com spent $25.4 million to achieve its first $5.4 million in revenue. 

       What You Can Afford: Sometimes, your marketing spend is limited by the amount of money you have left over after other expenses — or the amount the CEO or CFO gives you to accomplish the mission.

       Lead-to-Revenue (L2R) Budgeting: With L2R, we establish the revenue targets and work backwards to determine how many opportunities, qualified leads and inquiries are needed to meet the revenue target. L2R is a highly effective way to make sure you spend the right amount on lead generation, but it is not so helpful when it comes to budgeting for other expenses like personnel, PR, website, etc. 

Regardless of the marketing budget methodology you use, it is important to start the process early enough in the planning cycle to ensure the right allocation. If you truly believe (and I hope you do) that marketing has a big impact on revenue, you are doing your company a favor by helping them invest in an area that will have many positive benefits downstream.

Improve Your B2B Marketing in 30 Minutes or Less

B2B Marketing Act NowYou are overwhelmed, I am overwhelmed – the whole darned world is overwhelmed. It seems there is so much required of each of us that we can’t find the time to get those big projects finished. But the good news is – there are many smaller actions you can take – in 30 minutes or less – that can individually or collectively have a big impact on your performance and your company’s results. Here are 20 such items.

  1. Obtain one (or more) customer testimonial(s).
  2. Call up a sales rep and really understand what is going on in his/her world. Better yet, call two.
  3. Write the introductory paragraph to the next great piece of sales collateral.
  4. Come up with a new and compelling offer.
  5. Call or email a strategic partner and get some joint marketing going.
  6. Figure out a strategy to add video and/or audio to your website and sales materials.
  7. Write a quick online customer survey to make sure you are on the right track.
  8. Improve your landing page performance by 10% or more by upgrading the copy, images or offer (perhaps all three?).
  9. Draft the outline for your next killer webinar.
  10. Tweak the copy on your best email promotion – with a goal of boosting response by 10%.
  11. Write the title and outline for your first or your next eBook.
  12. Evaluate your brand message/value proposition for differentiation and freshness.
  13. Figure out one way you can better support your company’s revenue goals.
  14. Write a memo to get budget authority for your next lead generation campaign.
  15. Come up with a theme for the next major social media outreach – perhaps one that will go viral.
  16. Write the first paragraph of your next blog (or the whole blog if you are really fast).
  17. Upgrade your metrics dashboard to best prove marketing’s contribution to revenue.
  18. Jot down three action items that can improve your website – from both an awareness and conversion perspective.
  19. Send a thank you note to a key customer, partner, vendor or colleague.
  20. Stop and ponder your good fortune – if possible, find a way to pay-it-forward.

Not all of these action items will require 30 minutes. Some will take you a bit more, some a bit less. But the point is, good marketing is not just about having a great overall strategy – it’s also about the daily smaller blocks of time – and how you can make these moments count. As I talked about in an earlier blog post, Actions Trump Ideas in B2B Marketing and Sales, we marketers are paid to make stuff happen.    

The Danger of B2B Marketing and Sales Statistics

Marketing LiesMark Twain made the following observation, which he attributed to Benjamin Disraeli, “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics.” Let’s talk about the third type of lie, statistics, and how misleading statistics impact B2B marketing and sales.

According to truthpizza.org, “an obvious problem with statistics is that they can be simply be fabricated. Of course this could be true with any claim, but because statistics use specific numbers, they have a quality of authority about them, and we may be a little less suspicious than we would be for a more descriptive argument. Saying “83% of high school students admit cheating on tests” just sounds more authoritative than “most high school students admit they cheat on tests.”

Take for instance, the below chart which has been widely disseminated and quoted. It supposedly shows how a seemingly reputable organization called the National Sales Executive Association compiled data on how multiple contacts impacts sales close rates. The first time I saw this chart, I had a feeling that the stats are bogus – the data totally conflicts with our team’s experience with lead-to-revenue programs and metrics.

Misleading Statistics

Let’s dig into one of these statistics – 2% of sales are made on the first contact. Are you kidding me? There are many industries where making the sales on the first call is the norm so where does this 2% figure come from?

Of course it is important to follow-up on sales leads and be persistent, which is the point of this graphic. However, these statistics are made up and not based on any credible study. Adam Honing published a very good article about these false claims on Customer Think and an internet search will quickly show you that the purported organization called National Sales Executives doesn’t even exist. The problem is that people who are basing any of their marketing and sales initiatives on these lies pay a price when the reality turns out to be different than what the so-called stats indicated.

As another example, a business/life coach posted the following on her LinkedIn update: “Nine out of 10 people would rather die than change”. Really? Go ask the next 10 people you meet whether they would rather die than change. But I won’t be surprised to find other people quoting this fabricated statistic.

In regards to B2B sales, I’ve had two senior sales executives tell me that their teams close 50% or more of all qualified leads. Really?  Between my client-side and provider-side experience, I’ve probably run and measured several dozen lead-to-revenue programs and have never seen this level of proficiency. And in both of these instances the actual data showed that the close rate was below 20 percent.

And don’t even get me started on the companies that publish misleading data to sell their products – e.g. “According to an independent study, 92 percent of the people who take our weight-loss supplement lose 20 or more pounds their first month.” These fraudulent marketers know that gullible prospects hear what they want to hear and will discard common sense to buy the magic pill.

The following story, from a blog called Talk Money Café, shows how statistics can be manipulated: A mathematician and an accountant are in the same room for a job interview. The interviewer’s first question to the mathematician is:  “How much is $500 plus $500?” The mathematician replies:  “$1,000, of course.” The interviewer then turns to the accountant and asks the same question: “How much is $500 plus $500?” The accountant replies:  “Whatever you want it to be.” The interviewer then tells the accountant: “You’re hired!”

The moral of this story is to be skeptical of statistics – especially those that defy common sense and make your marketing goals harder to accomplish.

Are You Practicing Sales Enablement or Sales Disablement?

Sales GrowthWe marketers like to think we are making a big contribution to revenue, but in fact, we may be doing all kinds of interesting stuff but being perceived as inefficient when it comes to truly enabling sales. The operative word here is “perceived” because regardless of what we are actually doing (and accomplishing), perception is what will guide our future in the organization. To put this another way, we not only have to do the right stuff, but also prove that the stuff we are doing has beneficial impact on sales.

Our job as marketers is to minimize complexity and help simplify the salesperson’s job, not overcomplicate it with more systems, processes and digital paperwork. So what can we do to enable sales without making their lives more difficult? Here are six suggestions that are guaranteed to increase your sales enablement effectiveness and marketing department’s value.

  1. Generate a steady stream of qualified leads. Yes, I know this is easier said than done but good leads are the lifeblood of the B2B sales organization.
  2. Have a great website that educates prospects, makes them more receptive and shortens the sales cycle.
  3. If marketing is responsible for the lead qualification process, do this quickly, accurately and relentlessly. Sales will love you for this!
  4. Help the sales team message correctly – with timely product training and by providing branding statements and messaging templates (e.g. email and presentations) that are compelling and consistent.
  5. Produce quality collateral that helps optimize every stage of the sales process.
  6. Organize collateral in a simple content management system (CMS) that lets reps quickly find the latest assets. Please choose one that is easy to use, not full of overly-complex features.

David Brock, President at Partners In EXCELLENCE, offers a great perspective on sales enablement with his recent post, Stop!, Your Help Is Killing Me!. Paraphrasing slightly, David says that when trying to help sales, we layer on training, tools, systems, processes, programs, and support teams, including content management systems, marketing automation, email, social selling, research tools, account planning, call planning, e-learning, territory management — and on and on. All of these tools are oriented to help sales people be more informed, prepared, productive, effective, and efficient. But in the spirit of being helpful, our own organizations are making our lives much more complex and difficult! Unintentionally, by giving sales people more, we are overwhelming them, often causing them to produce less.

One of my pet peeves is that, too often, the systems we foist upon the sales department are so complex and burdensome that they damage productivity and frustrate reps that would otherwise make their numbers. Marketing ProcessEdward Deming certainly had this right. It is much better to start with simple, efficient processes and then implement the right technology to automate these processes.

In the interest of candor, there is one additional factor to keep in mind. The person/people who will be most vocal about marketing’s contribution (or lack of contribution) to revenue may not always have your best interests in mind. Examples of this include the Sales VP who missed his/her numbers and wants someone else to share the blame, or the CFO who thinks the company finances would benefit from cutting your budget in half. This is why you must be impeccable not only in carrying out your mission but also in collecting the metrics that prove that you are keeping up with the service level agreement (SLA) you negotiated with your Sales counterpart.

Seven Simple Ways to Differentiate Your Company and Products

DifferentiationMy clients probably get tired of hearing me talk about the virtues of differentiation. But it’s usually better to remove the competition by developing your difference than it is to take on the competition directly. Companies that do the latter are considered commodity providers and this is not a good position to occupy in the marketplace. Following are seven ideas to help you achieve effective differentiation.

  1. Focus on the one thing! Don’t be like one of those companies that aspire to be the best in quality, service, pricing, innovation and every other attribute. While this sounds good in theory, life doesn’t work that way. There is a well-known saying in the upper levels of the sailing community: “Will it make the boat go faster”? Just like these elite sailing teams, you need to pick your core value and concentrate your forces on being the best in that area – whatever your version happens to be of “making the boat go faster.” Or as Curly said to Mitch in the movie City Slickers: “One thing. Just one thing. You stick to that and the rest don’t mean s***.”
  2. Give something away. On a recent trip to Gothenburg, Sweden, our tour guide gave everyone in the group a free shot of the local “fish vodka.” Since it was a free walking tour, the guide’s income comes only from the tips of satisfied tour participants.  Kurt found a great way to create goodwill with his customers – not to mention loosening them up a bit!
  3. Provide convenience. For many of us, time is the most valuable commodity. Whatever you can do to deliver your products and services quickly and effortlessly will be appreciated and set you apart. It starts with a quality website that makes it easy for prospects and customers to find what they need without talking to someone. This removes frustration and saves your sales reps’ valuable time. One important tip: What your engineers find to be understandable is not the same as what your prospects find to be understandable. This needs to be validated.
  4. Be a niche marketer. In both the B2B and B2C worlds, unless your marketing budget is large, it most often pays to fine-tune your target audience. This will not only differentiate you, but usually provides for better profit margins and close rates. For example, an enterprise software company could have different flavors of its offerings for the retail, manufacturing and services industries. The key is to provide not only product/feature differences, but also to communicate the value proposition in a way that speaks to the specifics of a particular audience.
  5. Show trustworthiness. People not only want to know that they are getting value; they also want to understand that the risks of the purchase are worth the cost. They want to know that you company and staff are credible. Customer case studies, reviews, guarantees and third party recognition are especially helpful.
  6. Provide a hearty welcome. This idea isn’t for everyone, but a company called Parking Spot has a driver who gives her Denver International Airport long-term parking customers a hug when they get on her bus. Her enthusiasm is contagious after a weary day of traveling and not only does the company benefit, but customers (including me), give her larger tips. Whether in-person, over the phone, or via the Internet, figure out a way to “hug your customers” that differentiates you from the competition.
  7. Offer a new pricing strategy. As an example, Rolls Royce has begun offering their aircraft engines for free, but charging for power by the hour while offering full support of the product. This is not only a disruption of the B2B manufacturing industry, but also highly differentiating. Pricing strategy deserves its own blog post but suffice it to say – this can be a quick way to differentiate yourself, especially if your pricing model makes it easier and less risky for the prospect to purchase.

Whether you manufacture jet engines or drive an airport parking bus, the principles are the same. But when you do find your one thing – your unique way of hugging the customer – don’t simply try it and go on to something else. Company reputations aren’t built on a single transaction, but rather over a series of positive interactions. Persistence and patience will win the day.