Today’s B2B marketing environment is rapidly progressing with the abundance of tactics that are available and easy to adopt in the digital space. The purpose of this blog series to outline four simple tactics to help boost the effectiveness of your sales and marketing processes, while increasing quality lead generation. This blog, the first in the series, will discuss why you need to shift your channel strategy in order to maximize your marketing efforts, and ultimately close more business. Additionally, the impact of partnering with a company that does B2B marketing outsourcing and how they can sometimes be more effective than even the best internal teams will be discussed.
The first point of note is that it makes sense for any company, large or small, struggling or successful, to consider utilizing an outside partner in executing aspects of their sales, marketing and lead generation processes. Outsourcers can be hyper-effective in managing some or all aspects of a B2B company’s sales and marketing process.
Adopt A Multi-Channel Strategy
In today’s rapidly evolving B2B market, most companies can no longer rely on a single channel to produce enough closed business to stay ahead of the competition. You have to provide the opportunity for your buyers to when and how they so choose as there has been a dramatic shift in how to sell effectively. No longer can you try and drive buyers through your sales process; you have to help them through their buying process. Your choices are numerous and not all channels will generate closed business equally, depending on the nature of your business and the vertical you operate in.
How then is a business to decide which additional channels to pursue when there are so many available especially with the proliferation of the digital space?
First, it is imperative that when you pursue a new channel (or channels), you do so in a way that you are able to measure the effectiveness of the investment, so you can determine downstream whether it is something worth continually pursuing. There are many sources for data on which channels have proven the most effective within specific industries, so entities like Forrester or Marketing Sherpa are a great place to start, as well as analyzing your own historical data. Just remember to design your new approach/strategy in a way that you will be able to return actionable metrics from your efforts.
So then after you have chosen which channels you would like to expand into the question remains: “How should I execute this new strategy? Should I have my internal team try and tackle the extra workload? Should I hire additional personnel with expertise in the area?”
All three options are viable for moving your initiatives forward, which leads to the final question: “What is the most cost effective way to accomplish this new initiative?” The remainder of this blog will discuss how utilizing an outside partner can in many cases be the most cost conscious and effective strategy to expand your channel marketing.
B2B Marketing Outsourcing
Companies that specialize in outsourcing business processes are not a new concept. It is important to select a partner that you trust to handle such a crucial area of your business, because you are going to have to be willing to rely on their experience, expertise and methods to effectively help you close more business – because at the end of the day that’s what matters most for any organization.
Some outsourcers specialize in specific channels while others offer a more full-service approach and have the ability to successfully navigate multiple channels with an integrated approach. First things first, ensure that you select and organization that will provide transparency and robust success metrics of their efforts so you can accurately assess the ROI of your new relationship. However, it is important to point out that the most successful relationships are built on trust, and attempting to micro-manage a partnership like this can many times hurt the success of the campaign – you have to let the experts do what it is they know best, yet hold them accountable through metrics and transparent reporting.
In the next blog in this series, we will discuss the importance of pursuing lead quality over quantity, and how shifting your focus on lead generation can directly result in more effective sales teams and more closed business.
2. Focus on technical expertise and tactics rather than ‘big picture’ results.
When engaged in selling, it is very easy for consultants to emphasize how great they are at specific tasks or skill sets. While this information become relevant during later stages of the buying process and the delivery phase, it does not help ease your prospects worries concerning risk when they are considering a purchase. In other words, people want holes, not shovels. When selling B2B consulting, you need to help your prospects envision an end-state where their problems are solved before you get into technical details. Only once your prospects share your vision for the future will they listen to the tactical steps of how you are going to take them there.
3. Attempt to maintain control over the prospect and situation.
In any selling situation, there are going to be power dynamics involved. While it is rational to want to maintain some type of control or advantage to reduce perceived risk, this is not the way to get your prospects to trust you. This is because buyers are now used to controlling the sales cycle for most of their purchases and will react negatively if you try to take their buying power away.
Furthermore, because consulting services are perceived as high-risk purchases, selling consulting happens through a process of collaborative solutioning to build trust. The keywords are ‘collaborative’ and ‘trust’. This means anything you can do to make your prospects feel like your relationship is a team-effort (and that you are not trying to ‘pull a fast one’ on them) will help. Helping your customers succeed should always be your ultimate measure of your success.
A B2B consulting sale has always been something that is truly difficult. This is because the B2B consulting sale involves several unique aspects that aren’t found in other type of sales.
First, from the customer’s perspective, consulting is a high-risk purchase as the risk to benefit ration is considerably higher than other kinds of purchases. B2B Consulting sales also carry underlying emotional risks for the prospect (i.e. risk of public failure), which may not get talked about explicitly, but need to be addressed somehow.
In order to sell B2B consulting services, you need to do everything you can to reduce the perceived level of risk and generate trust. To demonstrate this idea, here are three things not to do when selling consulting.
3 Ways to Lose a B2B Consulting Sale:
Don’t listen; jump to conclusions.
Because selling consulting inherently involves a high level of risk, it is imperative that prospects feel like their needs have been understood. As a part of building trust with your prospect, you need to take all of the time it requires to get everything out on the table. This means asking follow-up questions—both to set context and to gauge underlying emotions.
Additionally, it is one thing to listen, but it is another thing to make your prospect feel heard. To do this, you need to affirm that you are hearing your prospects words by restating or paraphrasing what has just been said. Until you have proved that you have a clear grasp on their pains, needs and goals, your prospect will be closed to hearing your solutions.
For selling and marketing professional services your main objectives are:
targeting the right markets
generate qualified sales leads
The ways of selling have changed, however, and your sales and marketing operations need to adhere to these new rules of sales engagement. Integrating sales reps, pushing digital content and measuring the results with smart technologies are just part of the process. You also need to push and repurpose that sales content across different digital platforms to make it easier for your buyer to educate themselves about your product while also helping your sales reps have educated prospects helping them to close deals.
For more information, watch this brief 3 minute video to learn more about selling and marketing professional services:
As a recap of the first blog in this series – we know that the buying process has changed dramatically over the past several years. The buyer, not the seller, now controls the sales process and that process is being “consumerized”. In Part 1 of this series we discussed what you need to consider and be prepared for if you are ready to drive some meaningful cultural change and increased revenue for your organization. Part 2 we will now discuss how your culture, attitude and team dynamics may need to shift to facilitate you customer’s buying process not your sales process.
You need to be prepared for a longer sales cycle. You need to accept that buyers have extended their purchase cycle by 1.5X since 2008 (Sirius-2012) and revenue growth is now going to be both a marathon and a sprint. Your sales team job still needs to be focused on hitting monthly, quarterly and annual sales targets. You need to accept that they may get some deals into the pipe that are going to go through the first several stages of their buying cycle and your sales cycle and then the buyer is going to hit the pause button. You need to have a plan for what happens when this occurs. Does the lead stay with the sale rep or does it go back to your inside sales team? Is there a way to stay in front of them without the sales team wasting time and spinning their wheels?
That your buyers want and expect to be educated first. You may need to embrace the need to develop some new disciplines and commit to content marketing. This is probably the most radical change and your most significant opportunity. Marketing is going to need to take you buyer further through your sales process because that’s what your buyers want. The days when you generate a lead and toss it over to sales are over. And marketers can’t do this alone. They will need the support and contribution of your executives and product specialists as thought leaders. If your marketers can leverage your thought leaders, they can exponentially support your sales team and keep them focused on selling. Marketing can take care of early stage engagement. If you marketer has never been a sales person they may need some help on this front.
Sales and marketing need to work together. The days of working in a silo are over. For a lot of companies this is the biggest hurdle because it’s cultural. Sales doesn’t always care what marketing does (they just want more leads) and marketers don’t think sales appreciates or even understands what they do (and they are often correct). Like any successful team to compete and win, you are going to need to align sales and marketing with the tools, content, and processes you need to support your inside sales reps with the content you need to demonstrate your thought leadership and differentiators. There needs to be mutual respect.
Embrace technology. Because technology can bring the sales and marketing teams together – with the advent of marketing automation platforms, Google Analytics, and CRMs, you can now define and implement a Sales Architecture, Infrastructure, and Technology Platform that provides complete transparency and accountability throughout your entire sales process. Keeping score helps teams to flourish. This isn’t rocket science. Just head out to any Little League or Soccer Field on a Saturday during a game and compare it to what happens during practice. During practice the energy level and focus waxes and wanes. Put them on the field when they are accountable for a score and measured on the results and everything changes and it’s a great deal more fun as well.
You need to budget appropriately. As we mentioned previously, sales is now both a marathon and a sprint. While we appreciate the need and pressure to hit quarterly numbers, don’t expect a process to fall in place that quickly. You need plan on investing in this engine for at least 4 to 6 months until you will start seeing consistent results. As the process becomes imbedded into your culture and your teams align and start firing on all cylinders, revenue will go up and costs of sales will start to decrease. This double gain allows you to take your new revenue and your cost savings to grow the engine producing exponential results.
Summary – The line between sales and marketing is getting blurred
Your buyer now wants to be educated
They want access to your thought leadership and your product specialists for deeper education
Your thought leaders can’t spend time on deals that just want to be educated
Your buyer does not want to engage with sales until they are educated and ready to buy
You need to demonstrate you understand their situation and pain before your prospect will engage with sales.
Everyone understands the social contract between salesperson and buyer. The sales person’s job is to sell and the buyer’s job is to buy. Pain, gain, and solution selling are still important but, more and more, rather than having a sales rep get on the phone saying “lets understand your situation”, it’s becoming the job of your inside sales team and your marketers to do this by sharing thought leadership from your product specialists. Pressing the buyer to buy and introducing a sales rep prematurely before they are ready engage may win you a couple of deals in the short term but, it will drive even more deals into your competitors’ arms.
So the question is what does my sales and marketing organization need to look like to create demand for my sales team now that marketing’s job is to take my buyers well beyond creating awareness and driving leads into my sales funnel? Here is our next blog in the series that outlines The Core Competencies I Need From My Demand Generation Team.
This is the first blog in a four part series that talks about how to increase b2b sales volume, including the radical shift in B2B sales and the changes you can start to make to your to B2B lead generation and B2B demand generation tactics, and B2B sales tactics to set a course that can more than double your volume and revenue growth over the coming 18 months.
The series will discuss what has caused the shift in B2B sales (as a hint buyers don’t buy the way the used to), how this change in volume and revenue impacts your business and why you may need to change your approach , why marketers are more important than ever in your sales process and how you can turn this knowledge into a significant B2B sales and B2B lead generation advantage in 2013 to shift your approach to get it right.
And there is no doubt that you need to get it right because according to a recent study by Adam Needles companies that have embraced selling to the buyer the way they want to buy have seen an increase in revenue of 157% over the past 2 years. Companies that continue to sell “old school” (banging the phone, blindly running campaigns, and relying on solely on tradeshows and the occasional webcast) have seen stagnant sales while simultaneously experiencing an increase in what it costs to sell. Double downside vs double upside.
The good news is that, according to Forrester Research, we are still only at 10% market adoption of companies that have totally nailed the new paradigm, so you can turn your competitors ignorance into your gain. The even better news for Small Businesses is that according to the same study it takes a Fortune 2000 competitor 18 months and twice the costs to turn around their culture because of the fiefdoms and resistance inherent in larger organizations.
So what’s changed? Unless you have had your head in the sand you know that its tougher to get your buyer on the phone (our connect ratios – someone picking up the phone on the other end when you dial has dropped from 18%-21% to 6%-11% over the past 2 years). And we all know that the sales cycle has increased volume and revenue by about 1.5X to 2X (that’s months, quarters or even a calendar year depending on your sales cycle. It’s not rocket science to figure out that the buyer and not the seller now controls the sales process. That simple fact is the one thing you need to keep top of mind throughout this series.
Buyers are More Risk Adverse
It’s not 2006 anymore. The stock market bounces up and down daily. Experimental budgets have been cut. There are both real and imagined geo-political and domestic issues that get exacerbated and hyped by a 24 hour news cycle. There is a great deal more that is perceived to be out of our control so if you have a budget you do control folks are now much tighter with it. Buyers want to be smarter and more cautious before they buy.
There are more people involved in the buying process
Since 2009 there are more people involved in the buying process (confirming the point above there is safety in making “group” decisions). According to a Marketing Sherpa Study there are typically three people involved in transactions of 25K to 100K and four to eight people involved in a deal over 100K. And, according to the Harvard Business Review 90% Buying decisions now require both a technical decision maker and business decision maker in the final decision. All this requires your team to educate and sell to more people with different needs. In a nutshell companies are staggeringly more risk adverse and being much more diligent in their decision making process.
Software as a Service, Telco and Apple (among others) are turning B2B sales experience into a consumer sales experience for everyone
SaaS companies have done a great job turning a B2B sale in a “consumer” purchase experience. You come into the website, find the product you are looking for, research it and then in some cases just plug in your credit card. Buyers can in most cases never even speak with a sale rep unless you ‘the buyer’ feel the need to reach out to speak to a sale rep. This coupled with the fact that buyers can now make larger consumer purchases like smart phones, computers, and even cars by doing their own research and placing an order has made them even more comfortable buying without a sales rep. Consider how you purchase your home media now. I personally have bundled phone, internet, a cable sports package and layered in Netflix and Hulu streaming through a Blue Ray and my kids Wii without ever speaking with a “sales person” except to schedule an installation. Finally look at your experience in an Apple store. The “sales” people greet you, let you (and your family play) with the technology, have you queue to get help and then pull out an iPhone to take your $500-$2K. B2B sales and marketing teams have had the bar raised and need to strive to improve the ease of education and purchase wherever possible.
Why digital sales content is now critical
YouTube, Webcasts and Podcasting Twitter and Facebook may feel like they have been around forever but its only been several years. And serious adoption in the B2B sale is less than a couple years old. The average buyer now consumes 12 pieces of digital sales content before they purchase (up from 5 in 2011) and this trend is expected to continue.
Similar to SaaS sales and other technologies we discussed above consider how your family or friends now consume “entertainment” media. When I looked around my living room a couple nights ago my wife was on her iPhone posting videos of the kids for the grandparents on Facebook, while catching up on Twitter, my son was on the iPad checking out 2012 MLB stats, my daughter was self-publishing a “picture book” on the desktop and I was watching an NFL game (while DVRing the Amazing Race), flipping through the Sunday New York Times on my iPhone and pulling Google Analytics report for a meeting on Monday that compared mobile traffic during a time period in 2012 vs. 2011 (see below).
Mobile Traffic Oct 2012
Mobile Traffic 2011As consumers we are used to consuming content where we want to and when we want to. We are consuming across platforms. We are mixing our consumption of entertainment and work related content throughout the day and evening. And it’s easy. We now feel entitled. The same philosophy needs to be applied to how you sell to the B2B buyer. If they want to consider purchasing your solution on a Sunday evening let them.
Bottom line you need digital content because there are more people involved in the buying process. You need to share it effectively and you need to deliver your message in multiple formats so your buyer can educate and buy on their timeline and schedule, not yours.
You need to meet the buyer where they are in their buying cycle and not force them into your “sales cycle”
Inbound leads are coming much earlier in the decision making process when buyers are still at the education phase which means your initial job as a sales and marketing team is to educate first. This means you need to help educate a potential buyer before you “sell”. This gets tricky because this can increase your costs if you are over investing in “selling” to buyers that are not ready to transact. The flip side and potentially even more daunting is that we are now seeing that 25% of your buyers make their purchase decision after self-education and calling a sales rep after short listing online (Sirius -2012). This means that your team needs to be able to quickly figure out where a buyer is in the buying cycle quickly so they can treat them appropriately. So there is both an upside and a downside it getting this right.
If you sell too hard early we know that:
70% of leads are passed to Sales Reps before they are ready to engage ( Marketing Sherpa -2012)
80% of mishandled leads will buy from a competitor (Forrester -2011)
If you get it right we know that:
“Well nurtured leads close 23% faster and result in 40% more revenue” (Aberdeen-2012)
What’s happening right now is not a small shift. It’s the final transformation that was the promise of a connected world when the Internet first reared its head in almost 30 years ago. And in the last 2 years the shift is accelerating dramatically. Since the birth of modern banking during the Renaissance (and possibly before) the majority of transactions have been driven by a seller and buyer relationship. The seller had information and shared it with the buyer and then the buyer bought. What we are witnessing right now is the final stages of the seismic shift that has been slowly taking place since we first got the internet in the mid 90s and Google organized it for immediate access 10 years later. They buyer now expects to be able to buy without the intervention of sales whenever possible. They expect honest and authentic information and they want it now. If you don’t get prepared to do this for your buyer – to make this process fast, easy, not deeply sales rep dependent and your competitor does you will lose.
If all this seems a bit daunting in the short term you can also feel free to check out our Sell Smarter and Sell Fast Whitepaper to learn about short term tactics you can implement on your own right now.
Here are some quick links for additional reading:
Part 1 – Increasing Your B2B Sales Volume and Revenue – What’s Changed?