Bits o' Brian

Continuing the quest to align Marketing and Sales

Marketing & Sales Alignment: Mission (not) impossible

By Tim Riesterer, Chief Strategy and Marketing Officer, Corporate Visions, Inc. and Brian McGuire, Senior Director, Marketing Communications, ADP Added Value Services

Here are some statistics depressing enough to make even the most stoic and confident marketers and salespeople break down in frustration:

  • 80 percent of marketing-sourced leads are never used by your sales team. — Marketing Profs
  • When prospects do see your messaging, they only see 10 percent as relevant to them. — CEB & IDC

If this is the case, is it even possible for marketing and sales to work together to develop messaging that resonates with, and engages prospects and gets them thinking beyond the status quo?  We think so – but, just as IMF agents are equipped with detailed knowledge of the situation they’re walking into and mission-specific equipment to solve seemingly impossible problems, marketing and salespeople need to approach prospects with targeted messaging and the right tools to combat their resistance to change.

Here are some tools and strategies that work:

  • Get inside your prospect’s mind. Just as any good conversationalist knows, most people want to focus on themselves, not you.  The same goes for your customer – your messages should be about the customer, not about your business and product. Tell your story so that your customer recognizes him/herself as the star of the story, not your brand.
  • The door isn’t the only way into the room. Don’t approach the conversation in the obvious way.  Your messages should be so distinctive and intriguing that your prospects can’t help but imagine “what if?” and loosen their hold on the status quo.
  • The tools should fit the job. You wouldn’t use a hammer to rake your yard. A salesperson is equally ineffective if s/he approaches a prospect with the wrong tools.  The tool should suit the sales scenario (target buyer, sales stage, industry, etc.) and there should be at least one for every situation.  More importantly, the salesperson should be involved in the development of the tools and committed to using them.
  • No one is an expert right away. Secret agents – fictional or otherwise – are trained for years to do their jobs and use the tools they are given.  Salespeople are just as deserving. Sales teams shouldn’t be expected to “get it” right off the bat; they also need training on how and when to use the new tools you’ve created.

Prospect-centric and compelling messaging, delivered by properly trained and committed salespeople who know how and when to apply it, can work wonders to loosen a prospect’s hold on the status quo. Yes, the statistics are daunting, but armed with the right messages and training, all salespeople can have the skills and confidence of IMF agent Ethan Hunt. As Mission Commander Swanbeck says to him in MI:2, “Mr. Hunt, this isn’t mission difficult, it’s mission impossible. Difficult should be a walk in the park for you.”

Note: this is a post that Tim and I co-authored as part of our presentation at DemandCon 2012 in Boston. It originally appeared on the DemandCon blog and is reposted here with permission.

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Lead Toward Your Solution In Five Steps

I’ve been happily busy this past several weeks getting acclimated in my new role at ADP and loving it. I used a phrase the other day that I learned years ago and was reminded how relevant it is today for Marketers who are focused on filling a pipeline and enabling Sales to effectively sell.

“Lead toward your solution, not with your solution.” 

I don’t recall who first explained that simple, yet powerful phrase to me, but it was a gift. As we work to tell our company story, there is always that tendency to make the story about us, not about our customer. However, to be most effective, customers must see themselves in your story. To that end, you must start your story in the customer’s world…the challenges and obstacles he faces every day that prevent achievement of business objectives. You can then let the story progress toward how your unique solution addresses those challenges. Hint: if you start your story with features and benefits or a slide that has all the logos of your biggest clients, you’re getting it wrong. Here’s a simple framework for building a story that leads to your solution, not with it:

  1. Set up the business problem and support with one or more industry facts.
  2. Explain why the current situation creates business (or professional) risk.
  3. Describe how your solution addresses the problem (not a list of features).
  4. Explain what the situation could be like with your solution.
  5. Provide some proof point to make the story concrete.

(Image Long road used under CCL)

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Stories Without Contrast Are Just Irritating

I spoke on a panel discussion recently about “The Status Quo: Defeat Your Biggest Competitor in Marketing and Sales.”  One of the attendees asked what one tool we would arm our teams with if we could only have one. In answering the question, I said it would have to be a purpose-built story with which I could arm the Sales team that would describe how the prospect’s status quo was unsafe and would lead toward my solution.

But, not just any story. It has to be a story with contrast. Too often, we spend a great deal of time crafting a great story that makes a compelling case for our solution. What we often fail to do however is to draw a clear, and concrete contrast between the prospect’s current situation and what life will be like after implementing our solution. No matter how great we make life with our solution sound, we won’t be effective at loosening the status quo and moving the prospect toward a decision unless we can clearly articulate the contrast. If fact, without contrast, our stories are just well-told accounts of how great our solution is…and that’s just irritating to prospects as it sounds like everyone else.

Contrast can be underscored with a variety of techniques:

  • Clear verbal transitions between the bad and good;
  • If you’re writing or drawing, use different colors (red for bad and green for good);
  • If you’re presenting, make a clear transition with strong visuals and support with concrete narrative;
  • In sales tools, use front page/back page to depict the before and after
In my experience, the more complex and compelling a solution, the greater the risk that a firm will get trapped in building a great story for the solution but fail to spend time on clearly contrasting the new solution from the prospect’s status quo. According to Sales Benchmark Index, around 60% of deals in the pipeline are stalled because the prospect is stuck in status quo…they don’t feel a compelling reason to decide to move toward a new solution. By deploying stories with contrast, you can help unseat the prospect from status quo and lead toward your solution.

(Image Dog’s Face used under CCC)

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Are You Leaving a Gap For Your Sales Team? Use “Appointment Campaigns.”

I recently answered a question in a forum on selling to executives about whether or not it is a good practice to use a “cold email” approach to a decision-maker to get an appointment. In my answer, I advised the seller that email is fine, but it shouldn’t be about getting an appointment. It should be about loosening the target’s status quo. The content of the email should provide a provocative point-of-view about a business challenge and leave the target wanting more. That “more” may be a sales appointment or it may be another purpose-built element in an “appointment getting campaign.”

So this begs the question of whether or not organizations are leaving a dangerous chasm for sellers to cross when it comes to engaging qualified prospects in a sales conversation. For all the great work we may be doing in messaging, demand generation, and lead nurturing, we may be leaving our sellers with a large gap to close.

Consider adding an “Appointment Campaign” to your field toolkit. Depending on your organization, this can have varying degrees of flexibility from fully scripted and measured to a menu of tactics and content from which sellers can choose depending on the circumstances. The key here is to not put your sellers in the position of creating their own content and messaging as they attempt to convert qualified leads into sales appointments.

Leverage your message maps, personas (Status Quo Profiles), and meetings with the Sales team to develop a toolkit of content designed to help get decision-makers to take those next steps toward an active sales engagement. Some items to consider:

  • Introductory email(s). Pre-write email content that lets the seller establish a provocative point-of-view and credibility as a representative of a firm that has a unique approach to an industry challenge. Ask for the appropriate next step in the email…this may or may not be getting an appointment.
  • Video vignettes. Use Brainshark or other tools to create short, compelling content to help drive home the firm’s point-of-view. Include links in the initial email or use this as a follow-up tool. Brainshark allows the creation of customized introductions to pre-crafted content which allows a seller to send a “I pulled this together for you” message to the prospect.
  • Case study snippets. These are pretty classic, but consider a different approach. Rather than send a beautifully crafted, detailed case study, build short, concise (50 words or less) case study snippets. These can be embedded in an email or included in other correspondence.

This is a starting point of ideas. Don’t make it too complex, but don’t leave your sellers alone to cross the divide with their own tools and messages. A strong “Appointment Campaign” is a necessary catalyst to keep the commercial process moving once Sales has a qualified lead in hand.

(Image Long way down used under Creative Commons License)

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The Evolution of Personas

I’ve taken a short blogging hiatus to work on some career opportunities (stay tuned for more on that), however, a recent article by Corporate Visions caught my eye in which they’ve proposed that “Personas Can Lead Your Messaging Astray.” Being a big fan of personas and being well aligned with CVI’s approach to messaging, this post got my attention.

What this really entails is an evolution of personas from attitudinal and behavioral personality profiles (born in the B2C world) to profiles which articulate the B2B prospect’s reasons to either stay with their current situation/solution (Status Quo) or to move away from their current solution (preferably to yours). CVI calles these evolved personas “Status Quo Profiles” and goes on to articulate the information these profiles need to provide about your prospect:

  • How are decision makers solving the challenges your product or service offer to solve today?
  • Why do they think it’s great?
  • What issues, challenges, threats, risks or missed opportunities have arisen since they likely purchased their current solution or implemented their existing approach?
  • What gaps exist in the current approach that will keep them from avoiding these potential problems, or capitalizing on new opportunities?

So, I agree that personas need to evolve and become more effective guide posts for messaging that leads a prospect from his status quo to my solution. The provocative post by CVI go my attention and helps me put some stakes in the ground around our personas or “Staus Quo Profiles.” Properly designed, as articulated above by CVI, these profiles become a critical True North in the development and operationalization of our messaging. Especially in large, complex organizations where multiple product leaders vie or attention from the Marketing department and for customers mind share, these profiles remain a critical tool to keep us honest internally. In their evolved state, they put a rationale around the messaging that gets developed.

Traditional persona elements such as how the prospect gets his information, industry trends he follows, etc. will continue to be important for B2B marketers as we make decisions about channels and tactical execution of our messaging. But, the core of what drives purchase preference for the target needs to evolve as we seek to understand what, exactly, is the status quo that we must loosen before we can lead the prospect toward our unique solution to his problem.

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Field Messages Need To Be Field Tested and Field Tough

I was recently speaking with a colleague who is experiencing the classic Marketing and Sales alignment challenge in which the messaging created by the corporate marketing team isn’t used (is un-usable?) by the field. In fact studies (and my own internal audits) have shown that 90% of the messages and tools to deploy those messages are not used by Sales. Why? Because these usual suspect messages that we Marketers create in our Post-It Note papered conference rooms aren’t field ready.

Tim Riesterer, CMO of Corporate Visions, likes to say that “Sales people in the field with their lips moving are the last bastion of differentiation for most brands today.” I’ve been in the field and I’ve been in the Marketing office and I couldn’t agree more. So, we Marketers need to make sure that the messaging that we develop for the brand can maintain it’s velocity through the funnel and can translate into field tested and field tough messaging that is usable by our field teams.

Here are a few directional tips to get you there:

  • Your messages should be about the customer, not about you. As your lead generation campaigns and Sales teams engage customers, the customer needs to be the hero in the story…not your brand.
  • The messages need to loosen the prospect’s status quo by shaking things up a bit and being provocative.
  • You need tools that will actually be used by the Sales team. Those tools should fit the specific selling situation (target buyer, sales stage, industry, etc).
  • And, your Sales team needs training on how to deploy the field messaging and use the new tools you’ve created.

Messages that sound good in the Marketing office often don’t resonate in the field. High level brand messages have their role and need to be appropriately resourced, but we Marketers can’t stop there and expect Sales to translate this brand messaging into one-on-one customer conversations. There’s work to be done to close that gap and make sure that the messages our teams deploy in the field are tested and tough enough to loosen the customer’s status quo and move him toward the brand’s unique solution.

(Image Bolts used under Creative Commons License)

Filed under: Marketing & Sales Algnment, Sales Enablement, , , , , ,

14% Effectiveness…Who’s Ok With That?

This week, I joined Savo’s second in a series of webinars on sales enablement around my favorite topic, “messaging.” Tim Riesterer, CMO of Corporate Visions and Ken Powell, VP of Sales Enablement & Learning at Sungard were the featured presenters. As much as I’ve worked with these guys, I always learn something from these events. Yesterday, Tim highlighted a statistic from a study by the Corporate Executive Board that gave me a jolt. According to a survey of executive buyers, only 14% of messaging delivered by sales people creates a commercial impact.

That means that 86% of the messaging with which we arm our sales teams and they deliver to buyers creates no impact at all. I’m not ok with that, are you? Of course not. But, what do we do about it?

The issue isn’t that the non-impactful messaging is bad. The issue is that it sounds just like everyone else and, thus, it has no commercial impact on the buyer. To get out of the 86% hole, we must make messages that sound different and that provoke prospects to do something different. Tim calls this breaking the “Status Quo Barrier.” Tim and his co-author, Erik Peterson, cover this in detail in their book Conversations That Win The Complex Sale. The chapter, aptly titled “Bring a Little Bad News: If You Want Them to Care” talks about the need to shake things up so the customer can’t get your point-of-view about his problem out of his mind. In my experience, this is like magic in Marketing and Sales organizations that have driven their commercial engine solely on customer relationships and RFP response. I’ve employed Tim’s and Erik’s approach a number of times to get to messages that really sound different:

  • Identify a critical problem facing your customer
  • Formulate a provocative view of the problem
  • Lodge your provocation

Further to the challenge of getting out of the 86% bad place is the need to equip Sales people with the tools and skills needed to take these conversations in a different direction and leave the prospect itching for more. The Savo webinar covered ways to develop Sales toolkits that deploy tools such as interactive white papers at the right stage of the sales cycle. This gives Sales access to the right information and the right time for more targeted and focused impact. Training for Sales is critical going into a message re-engineering effort. Marketing and Sales should plan to spend as much time developing materials for the Sales team as they do for prospects/customers.

(Image bored used under Creative Commons License)

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Are You Talking To Me? Buyer Personas Keep Us Honest.

I recently read a great post by fellow blogger Ardath Albee entitled “What Purpose Do Buyer Personas Serve?” She shares some excellent insight about building personas that serve their intended purpose. For B2B marketers, the personas serve very different purposes than those for B2C marketers. Great insights, Ardath.

This reminded me of a recent Power Positioning workshop we did with Corporate Visions and how central the persona is to that work. At the very beginning of the process, we spent time defining the persona or “targeted conversation” for which we would build differentiated messaging and, ultimately a detailed Conversation Roadmap. The defined targeted conversation wasn’t fancy, or complex but it was very clear in terms of the persona’s business objectives and context in which he operates. During the course of the next three days, we referred often to the targeted conversation as our “true north” to help keep messaging on track. Otherwise, we would have diverged into messaging that was great, but that didn’t matter to the persona we are targeting.

It’s imperative for marketers to define and get alignment on personas up front to guide messaging and all that flows through the commercial process from messaging.

Now, just for fun, here’s an example of a campaign in which we brought our persona to life in an interactive viral video. It’s not your typical B2B fare and we had great results both internally and externally in creating awareness and familiarity with a new offering in a new space. “Bob” (our target persona) is a harried power plant operator who struggles with disconnected systems, lack of visibility into plant performance, and growing pressure from rapidly changing market conditions. Our targets saw themselves in the roles played by these actors and were immediately able to connect to the value proposition for the new offering. Take a look and enjoy helping this persona (Bob) make his choices.

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MarketingProfs Focus on Augmenting Content Effectiveness

MarketingProfs published an article on Three Ways to Augment the Effectiveness of Your B2B Content Marketing recently. This short article lends further support to the need to employ Marketing With Content That Engages Prospects. In this post, and in this most recent MarketingProfs article, findings from the study, B2B Content Marketing: 2012 Benchmarks, Budgets, and Trends.

Combine this with recent findings from Corporate Visions in their 4th Quarter Marketing and Sales Messaging report in which supports the findings that only about half of companies believe their content is effective at helping to get a sales appointment. There has to be a huge focus here, Marketers. If you are not talking about content marketing in your planning meetings, then you could be falling behind a curve that is already stacked against effectiveness of content marketing.

Here are the three practical solutions suggested by MarketingProfs to help focus your efforts on improved content marketing.

  1. Increase investment in content. Studies show that best-in-class firms spend around 31% of their total budget on content (if your numbers for space advertising still look like this, it’s time to rethink your strategy).
  2. Align content to the way customers buy. Nearly half of the best-in-class firms segment their content based on the target customer buying cycle. This is an important one, especially if you shift your focus and resources to content as in #1 above. Don’t fall victim to the typical opening the floodgates of stories about this production, that customer success, and that commercial win. Make sure you have a strategy and a framework that clearly maps content to the entire buying cycle. Start with lead nurturing and work all the way through deal closure.
  3. Get the C-Suite behind you first. These changes require changes in funding allocation and potentially organizational structure and talent. If you are trying to gain alignment upward and downward at the same time, you risk getting squeezed to the point of ineffectiveness. MarketingProfs report that 92% of best-in-class content marketers have C-Suite buy-in.

Solid support for focus on content marketing. This can and should be a key topic for current business planning cycles. As with many things we discuss here, it requires recognition of the issue within the specific dynamics of your firm and then it requires a solid vision and the discipline to shift the organizational dynamics to help you get there.

(Image Focus used under Creative Content License)

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Fat Tuesday: What Bad Marketing Habits Will You Give Up Tomorrow?

Today is Mardi Gras (Fat Tuesday). It’s a day for many to celebrate in advance of the Christian tradition of giving up something meaningful for the season of Lent. So marketers, if you’re still holding on to some of those practices which compromise Marketing and Sales alignment, what better time than now to plan to give one (or more) of them up.

In case you’re focused on what you will wear to the Mardi Gras parade today, I’ve taken the liberty of cataloging some items for you. Take your pick. Giving up any of these (and replacing with better practices) will move you down the path of better Marketing and Sales alignment:

  1. Stories and messages about you. Or “Why your story should not be YOUR story.” If you look at your messaging, your company overview presentation, etc. and you find that most of the content is about you, consider giving it up. Rather, make your stories and messages about your customer and the obstacles he faces in meeting his business objectives. You’ll sound different than everyone else and have a better chance of moving him away from status quo.
  2. Lead nurturing that fails to move prospects. You need lead nurturing content that gets prospects moving away from their status quo, feeling the potential pain of staying where they are, and toward your unique solution to their problem. If your lead nurturing content is not setting Sales up for a differentiated conversation that matters to the prospect, then you should consider giving this “just like everybody else” approach up and replacing it with engaging content that loosens status quo and begins to move the prospect your way. The content should be provocative to the degree that prospects take notice.
  3. Assuming that Sales knows what to say when they get there. When you build tools for your Sales team to use, do they actually get used or does Sales have to tweak them or, worse yet, make their own? You need to invest the time and resources necessary to help Sales nail the message when they get that hard-earned first meeting. Make sure that customer-facing collateral supports the differentiated conversation about the customer’s challenges and your unique solution (see #1 above). Also, make sure you provide Sales with their own toolkit of materials to get smart on the message before the conversation. If you have product-focused collateral that your sellers don’t find particularly useful, take it to the shredder and use it for confetti at the parade today.
  4. Failing to connect Marketing metrics to business metrics. 77% of CEOs believe that Marketing is not well aligned to measurable business objectives. If you have this problem with your CEO, then you need to tackle three things: learn a new language that naturally connects Marketing metrics to business goals; seek to improve your operations such that you can directly link higher level marketing success to more granular revenue, sales acceleration or other targets; and work on your marketing and sales ecosystem to improve overall alignment so that all the great work you do to build a strong brand can translate into the selling process.

These and other factors reduce Marketing and Sales alignment and, thus, put pressure on your firm’s commercial effectiveness. Try giving up some bad habits (or at least begin to shine the light of truth on some of them) and you’re next parade can be to celebrate new wins in the market.

(Image Mardis Gras used under Creative Commons License)

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A bit about Brian…

Brian McGuire is a senior Marketing and Sales alignment leader (read bio here). He blogs from his experience, research and observations about the challenges B2B firms face as they connect their brand, their product innovations, and their capability to the needs and objectives of their customers. All views and opinions expressed are his alone.

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