How to Choose the Right B2B Sales Model

Sales ModelA big factor in the entire lead-to-revenue (L2R) process is making sure that you start with the right marketing and sales model. In our initial engagements with B2B clients, we are sure to ask them the types of questions that let us know whether their go-to-market model needs just a tune-up or a complete overhaul. See related blog post on this subject.

Before you evaluate a new way of doing business, it is very helpful to make sure you fully understand your current situation. Here are six key questions to ask:

  1. How did your current marketing and sales model evolve? We find that many of the go-to-market models we see happened over time because of ad-hoc actions – and not a well thought-out and top-down strategic plan.
  2. What is your motivation for keeping the status quo? Sometimes people that want to do better stick to their current model because they know that change will be long and painful or because a CEO, founder or board member wants to keep it despite the flaws.
  3. Are you doing things out of habit or by deliberate choice? A lot of what we do, and not just in marketing and sales, is done out of habit. If that is the case at your company, ask the question: If we were starting over, would we design the system in its current form. If the answer is no, ditch the habits and implement a better model.
  4. Are your sales force and marketing teams earning their keep? We work with some great companies that have solid professionals in the marketing and sales ranks. But I have seen others where the team is just not up to the task of creating and implementing an optimized sales model. This question may lead to some tough decisions but it’s better to get this figured out early.
  5. Are your current processes helping or hindering progress? When designing a lead-to-revenue framework, you should start with processes. Here are seven items to confirm:
  • You use conversion ratios to monitor results at every step of the process and you utilize this data to consistently produce greater results.
  • The system produces a high percentage of qualified leads relative to raw inquires (this is a key conversion metric).
  • You follow up all leads in a timely manner (within 12-24 hours), except those that are obviously unqualified.
  • The inbound lead flow is balanced by territory, sales rep, and product line.
  • You produce inquiries/leads at a reasonable average cost per lead. These vary by industry and sales model.
  • You capture all information generated from inquiries and from follow up efforts immediately (and preferably automatically) in a database system.
  • You have a systematized nurturing process that converts a high percentage of today’s B2B sales leads to future customers.

You should also consider whether there any time bombs at your company? Time bombs are those issues that, if not addressed, could have serious consequences downstream. If you prefer a different analogy, think of time bombs as the potential “Achilles heels” of your organization – where you are most vulnerable to atrophy or attack.Here are a few of the most insidious time bombs:

  • Metrics that are way below standards – for example, a high cost of customer acquisition.
  • Good products, but a sales team that is stable, comfortable, and inefficient.
  • Channel partners that are leaving you for the competition.
  • A prohibitive cost-of-goods.
  • Products that are more than one generation behind the competition.
  • Staff that is mediocre or undependable.

Ask the tough questions early, decide whether you need a marketing and sales model tune-up or overhaul, and then take action to ensure a more successful 2018 B2B sales and lead-to-revenue model.

Use Pull Marketing for Easier and More Productive B2B Sales

Pull MarketingIn a recent conversation, a B2B sales rep told me something to the effect: “I hate my job because no one wants to talk to me. They don’t answer the phone, they don’t return my voice messages, and they almost never respond to my emails.” He also mentioned the fact that his sales cycles were getting longer, more people were involved in each deal and the entire process was more contentious. Other than that, everything was great (just kidding on this last part!).

This sales rep happens to be a nice person, but being nice is not much solace when you are working in a system that is set up to be adversarial and often painful. The model his company employs is called “push marketing” and the idea is to find out where the suspects are and push our way to them. The opposite end of this spectrum is what my company, Fusion Marketing Partners, practices, “pull marketing”.  Pull marketing is inbound focused – the idea is to get prospects to come to you.

Charles Green wrote a very interesting article about this titled, If Selling Is Too Hard, You’re Doing It Wrong. He talks about how much of selling is a competitive struggle between buyer and seller: “When we think this way, we spend an awful lot of energy. It’s hard work—particularly because much of it is spent trying to persuade customers to do what we (sellers) want them to do. And getting other people to do what we want them to do is never easy (if you have a teenager and/or a spouse, you know this well).

I’ve seen sales training where reps are encouraged to use aggressive and high pressure tactics on prospects. This is definitely a push model. From a marketing perspective, push tactics include cold calls and emails, overly forceful sales letters, and unsolicited pitches. LinkedIn has become a hotbed for aggressive sales tactics and this has caused many otherwise open networkers to be much more careful about accepting new connection requests.

Pull marketing is a great antidote to this competitive struggle because you are more often dealing with prospects who already have expressed an interest in what you are offering. Instead of hiding, they are more likely to accept the attention of a sales rep. The process becomes one where you help them buy instead of trying to sell them something. After all, most people like to buy but few of us enjoy being sold. A pull-oriented, buyer-centric marketing and sales model is more pleasant (and productive) for both the buyer and the seller.

Following are some of the characteristics of the push vs. pull models.

Push vs Pull Marketing

By the way, there are often instances where we can’t find enough pull traffic to fill the sales pipeline and we then use some push marketing methods to meet lead and revenue objectives – adding push marketing tactics over time. At the end of the day, pull marketing creates an environment of cooperation between the buyer and the seller so reps feel like they’re contributing to a win-win outcome, not endlessly bugging prospects who have no desire to talk. B2B sales reps (like the friend I mentioned above) love this change in marketing strategy because they see an easier, more enjoyable and more profitable light at the end of the tunnel.      

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

5 Reasons Why Your Channel Partners Are Underperforming

Sales EnablementChannel sales has so much promise for enterprise software and SaaS companies. The leverage you can get from a performing channel can be remarkable. A direct sales rep in a B2B SaaS business may be able to bring in $2.5M to $3M in revenue. A channel sales rep, making the same compensation, can bring in $5M to $7M in sales through partners.

Read More

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.”

Quick Insights for Creating Valuable Content

great content writing word cloud on a white lokta paper - business writing and content marketing concept

Content creation has become a key factor in driving marketplace differentiation, revenue growth and brand awareness. However, as the practice continues to evolve and flourish as part of a solid B2B strategy, there has been an influx of badly written, ineffective content generated by businesses who lack awareness of how to execute powerful, purposeful material for their consumers. How can you avoid joining the ranks of disappointing content offerings? Let’s take a look at a few of the hallmarks of effective content creation.

Read More

B2B Sales and Marketing Transformation

Sales and MarketingI just viewed a great online video that deserves its own blog post. The speaker is Barry Trailer, Chief Research Officer of CSO Insights (now a division of MHI Global) and the topic was the CSO 2016 Sales Best Practices Study Results. Barry and his colleague, Jim Dickie, have been following and reporting on the best practices and outcomes from sales organizations for over a decade. The information is always interesting and informative and as I will share below, it can help transform both the marketing and sales organizations.

As a B2B marketing professional, I make it a point to follow and understand what my clients (B2B sales organizations) are doing and thinking. This is important for you, as well. You may think of your customers as being the end users of your products or services, but in fact, if the sales team isn’t happy with you, life can be very unpleasant.

So what did Barry say that was so interesting?  You can see for yourself, but here are four key takeaways that stood out for me:

1. 94% of world-class companies indicate that sales and marketing are aligned (vs. 34% of all respondents). To be sure, sales and marketing alignment is somewhat subjective; there are no hard and fast metrics that prove or disprove alignment. However, if you don’t have it, you know it, and it is definitely costing you revenue and productivity.

2. 84% of world-class companies have specific criteria as to what constitutes an acceptable prospect. This has been a recurring theme with CSO and Trailer. The lack of well-defined criteria causes many problems, including:

  • Lost opportunity as reps forgo qualified prospects because they spend so much time chasing unqualified prospects.
  • Missed quotas due to reps spending time on potential deals that are actually undoable.
  • Discouragement and burnout from what would otherwise be effective reps.
  • Failure to accurately forecast revenue, leading to all types of problems with the C-suite, partners, customers, analysts, etc. (especially for public companies).

Many marketing departments are great at the “quantity” aspects of their jobs. If the sales department says it needs X number of leads to make its number, marketing salutes and delivers X number of leads. However, if our colleagues who carry business cards with a “sales” title believe that what we are giving them is a bunch of non-qualified, uninterested and non-relevant tire kickers, it makes for an unproductive and tense relationship.

Granted, the sales folks may not know exactly what they want or may have unreasonable expectations – but it is better to be upfront and address the issue early than pretend it is going to work out downstream.

3. Life gets really good when you move up the value chain. When you can move the perception of how your clients see you from a vendor to that of a consultant, contributor or trusted advisor/partner, everything changes in your favor. The image below (sorry for the poor quality) shows the differences in how sales reps approach the account and what they bring to the table.

Sales Value Chain

It requires a lot of mental energy and elbow grease to move up the value spectrum, but the rewards are great in terms of referrals, access, repeat business, trust and credibility. Equally important is what you will get less of: competition, sales cycle, price sensitivity and the importance of any particular feature.

Let’s use the last point as an example. If you are a trusted advisor/partner, contributor or consultant, it is great to not have the specter of your competitors coming out with a new feature that could cause your clients/customers to abandon you. Your higher-value relationship is a barrier that can prevent other companies from taking your revenue.

4. How you sell is more of a competitive differentiation than what you sell. You’ve probably heard this familiar refrain from salespeople and marketers alike: “Our product isn’t good enough to sell in this market,” or something like this. But the real problem may be that you are selling at the lower end of the value chain and being perceived as a commodity supplier, where sales cycles are long and price pressure is greatest. As Barry put in, the CSO definition of selling is “Establishing and elevating relationships over time.” Just remember the formula Elevated Relationships = More Revenue and More Profit.

In the spirit of not providing information without some practical application, let’s talk about what you and I should do as a result of these three takeaways:

  • Get aligned. If you want to be a world-class company, you need to do what 94% of them do: gain alignment between the marketing and sales organizations. For some relevant info on how to do this, read my article about marketing and sales alignment. Interestingly, this post was published four years ago and has an Olympic theme.
  • Get specific. While alignment is somewhat of a qualitative attribute (you know it when you experience it), you have to be very quantitative when it comes to establishing lead criteria. You need to create a service level agreement (SLA) that is specific about lead quantity + attributes.
  • Get close. By this, I mean that you should modify your marketing and selling processes to intentionally move up the value chain and get closer to your clients/customers. You may not be able to leapfrog levels – customers that now view you as a vendor may not instantly accept you as a contributor or partner – but you can begin the journey right now.

Any one of these three strategic actions can have a strong positive impact on your revenue and effectiveness. Combining all three can be transformational.

12 Quick B2B Sales and Marketing Fixes

Marketing FixAt Fusion Marketing Partners, we sometimes deal with clients who have both longer-term strategic issues (business model, lead-to-revenue strategy, etc.) but also a need for tactical quick fixes in the areas of lead generation, revenue and so forth. In medicine, they refer to this as the “chronic” vs. “acute” condition. And the challenge when dealing with both is similar to the expression about rebuilding the plane in mid-flight.

I write a lot about curing the chronic conditions of sales and marketing, but today will address the acute condition — when you need leads and revenue quickly. Here are 12 tactics to get you started:

  1. Stop doing what doesn’t work. Forgive me if this sounds blindingly obvious, but the fact is, inertia is a powerful force. We sometimes get caught up in our routines – even when they don’t produce such great results.
  2. Rebrand or reposition. I am not talking about a total rebrand or reposition here (which addresses the chronic condition), but rather modifying the messaging to match the needs of a particular target segment.
  3. Remarket to past prospects. There may be gold in your opt-in contact list, but you need to get out your shovel and mine that gold.
  4. Borrow an idea from your competitor(s). You may have competitors with large budgets and lots of marketing people whose entire goal in life is to take business away from you. Why not pay them back by borrowing one or more of their best tactics and modifying to your unique needs?
  5. Make a new offer. If your old standard offers are not working, try something entirely different. Do a drawing. Conduct a survey. Buy prospects pizza if they attend your lunch event or a coffee gift card if they talk to you in the morning. Test new offers until you find one or more that work.
  6. Send out a press release (or two). Although they are more of an awareness tool than a lead gen tool, press releases are a fast and inexpensive way to get the word out. And no, “My product is the greatest thing since sliced bread,” is not a proper subject for your release.
  7. Do 20% more. There are two major ways to improve marketing and sales productivity – do what you do better or do more of it. Sometimes the quickest fix is to focus on quantity.
  8. Measure and refine. If you aren’t measuring actual vs. anticipated results, you are likely not going to get better performance. I will be covering this topic in my upcoming webinar, How to Eliminate the “Promise vs. Reality Gap” of Marketing Automation.
  9. Incentivize your sales force. Smart sales managers know about the power of selective incentives to drive short-term gains in revenue. As one of my favorite CSOs often reminds me, sales reps are coin-operated — they go where the money is!
  10. Get rejected. Sales is both a quality and quantity game. If you are not being rejected often enough, you are probably not talking to enough potential prospects. When your revenue numbers are anemic, make sure your reps increase their activity at every stage of the sales cycle (e.g. do 20% more as mentioned above).
  11. Ask your prospects questions and then act on what they tell you. Here are four of the best questions:
    • What are you doing that is working?
    • What are you doing that isn’t working?
    • What is the one improvement that would add most to your success?
    • What does your ideal situation look like?
  12. Hire professionals. This may be a bit self-serving since my company does outsourced B2B marketing, but the fact is, those of us who have practiced these tactics hundreds, even thousands, of times usually have a good track record when it comes to getting results.

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.

B2B Sales and Marketing Trends for 2016

Marketing and Sales TrendsAt the end of each year, my team and I publish a report on the major B2B marketing and sales trends. The idea is not to show how smart we are but rather to provide ideas you can start using immediately to grow your business. Feel free to download the full report.

Trend 1 – Importance of Digital Reputation. B2B prospects spend lots of time searching online before engaging with a potential vendor and if the experience isn’t right, they will leave quickly. On the internal website side, you should have a website that is clean, professional and easily navigable. Externally, you need to find every site that a potential purchaser could use to learn about you or your business category, and make sure your presence there leaves a good impression. Content should be fresh and relevant and tightly related to your core value proposition.

Read More