Bits o' Brian

Continuing the quest to align Marketing and Sales

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)

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

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)

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

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)

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

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)

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

Nail The Sale…Is Your Toolbox Missing a Hammer?

In my role, I spend a lot of time developing messaging and associated narratives to create a unique point-of-view in the marketplace. Certainly, a key aspect of deploying this story is to create tools that your Sales teams can use to help further the narrative, move the prospect away from his status quo and toward your unique solution. Usual suspects here even include those tools that Marketing uses in lead nurturing campaigns to start the story before Sales resources get directly involved.

However, as Marketers, we may be missing the need for some key tools to help enable our Sales teams. These are internal learning tools that customers never see, but have as much rigor put into them for the benefit of your Sales teams as you would a brochure or other collateral for customers’ eyes. Why is this critical?

  • The selling environment grows more and more complex and flooded with product feature-based information;
  • Time passes from an initial launch or splash and when a Sales professional actually needs to gain the attention of a prospect;
  • As we create better messaging with a unique point-of-view, we need to make that messaging come alive for Sales folks

When we launch new messaging, our sales toolkit is usually about half internal-only materials solely to help Sales learn, remember, and crispen their delivery of the messaging. We use creative resources to provide engaging visual layout, simple copy to allow the messaging to shine through, and deploy the tools into systems that put the right content in front of the seller depending on the selling situation she is in.

Yes, this is more work for the Marketing team, burns more agency hours, and requires more time to build a deployment plan. However, these are the very tools that make the conversations at the seller-buyer level work. The customer-facing tools support the conversation during or afterward. So take a look at your sales toolbox and make sure that, if you give them nails, also give them a hammer.

(Image Hammer to Fall used under Creative Commons License)

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

Lead Nurturing Messaging Matters

Corporate Visions just released its 4th Quarter Sales and Messaging report which focuses on lead nuturing. In this report, they’ve found that within the 55% of companies in the study that have an automated lead nurturing program in place:

  • Only half believe that the leads passed to sales are better qualified;
  • An integrated mix of email and phone calls are used along with rich content such as video, webinars, white papers, etc.;
  • Just over half believe that the content used in their nurturing program is “good enough”

It’s no secret that I’m a fan of the work these guys do and have employed their methodology numerous times as we seek to reposition a brand or retool our sales enablement efforts. In this report, they’ve underscored a concern I have about the risk of marketing delivering poorly qualified leads to sales (Leads that don’t lead to a bake-off). If we develop a differentiated position and a distinct point-of-view that is designed to move prospects away from their status quo and set us apart as the one firm that can uniquely provide a solution to their challenge, we must make sure that the whole conversation is leading to that end…not just the one that starts when Sales shows up.

The Conversation Roadmap™ produced by Corporate Visions is a guide to an entire targeted conversation with a prospect for whom you’ve identified a business goal, challenges, and how your solutions uniquely address those challenges. Why not deploy this in the early conversation your firm has with prospects while they are in a lead nurturing program? While you may have revamped your sales tools to help support this new, customer-based story that loosens the status quo and moves prospects toward a buying decision, you probably have more work to do to put the same effort into your lead nurturing content. Here’s a great idea for your first Marketing team workout in 2012:

  1. Take a look at your lead capture hooks such as social media, SEO/SEM, etc. and see if they are simply touting the brand or if they are truly starting a conversation to loosen a prospect’s status quo. Hint: if they start with “What if you could…” you are probably on the right track.
  2. Now, consider the content you deploy once a lead is in your system. Do the follow-up emails and/or phone scripts continue the conversation by adding more clarity about the risk of status quo, or do they revert back to the usual “this is who we are, and this is what we do” brand speak?
  3. What about the rich content that you deploy as prospects move deeper into your nurturing program? Do your webinars, white papers, videos, etc. yield to the temptation to talk about a product or service offering, or do they have the discipline to further the conversation that should have started at “What if you could…” and begin to uncover a bit more about your firm’s distinct point-of-view of this target’s business challenge?

I’ve been here (still am, honestly, as the journey continues to differentiate conversations across the entire prospect/customer lifecycle). I think you’ll find that Marketing has a lot of work to do to insure the lead nurturing programs in place or on your goals for 2012 start and continue a differentiated conversation so that you don’t sound just like your competitors. Your customer-centric messaging must be deployed into your lead nurturing content and your sales-ready tools. Otherwise, you run the risk of telling a very disconnected and non-compelling story to prospects allowing them painlessly choose either to engage in a competitive bake-off, or to simply stay where the are today, making no buying decision at all.

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

Marketing’s Problem With CEOs and Three Fixes

A recent study by the Fournaise Group cited that most CEOs believe that Marketing is disconnected from business metrics that matter.

77% of CEOs interviewed said of Marketing:

“They keep on talking about brand, brand values, brand equity and other similar parameters that their top management has great difficulties linking back to results that really matter: revenue, sales, EBIT or even market valuation.”

I might add my favorite topic, “story” into that mix of words that might not easily connect to the metrics that matter. So, Marketing, we have a problem. Unless my “bad day in the office” fantasy of setting up a bar on a remote beach someplace pans out, I suppose we need to work on this problem. Marketing needs to:

  • Learn a new language. We all understand the inherent value in our company’s brand and reputation. Yet, it is difficult to value from a business metrics perspective. As marketers, we need to learn how to connect the value of brand and reputation to measurable results…not explicitly but we need to connect the dots. So, learn to speak about brand and reputation value in the context of metrics that matter. “Strong recognition and reputation of our brand helps accelerate our commercial pipeline, thus delivering revenue earlier and decreasing the cost per deal of our Sales resources.” You can cite pertinent studies in your industry or from the AMA regarding the impact of brand awareness on purchase preference, etc.
  • Improve operations. Much of what Marketing does indeed drives revenue, sales productivity, etc. Improve your operations to maximize your ability to tie campaigns to increased consideration, lead generation, etc. and then tie those results to increased sales, better sales (percentage of opportunities with target segments), etc. We all know that this is fraught with difficulty and is the source of many internal debates about who gets credit for what. Consider the use of service level agreements to improve the connectivity of marketing generated leads to sales opportunities. At the very least, use the “learn a new language” lessons above and discuss how the activity connects, even if you don’t have the processes and tools to measure the impact (yet).
  • Work on your marketing and sales ecosystem. The deal is, even if you have a brand that rocks, you aren’t going to effectively impact metrics that drive your business if you have a big gap in your commercial conversation. You need to make sure that your brand value translates into demand generation efforts that will resonate with prospects and get them to do something, that there is a strong sales enablement effort in place that gives the sales team the knowledge and the tools to carry that commercial conversation forward, and that they have the skills needed to keep those prospects moving toward a closed deal. Corporate Visions, who I cite often here, has a great view of this ecosystem when they talk about “messages that matter, tools that get used, and skills to deliver conversations that win.”

We know Marketing drives key business metrics. However, we often don’t tell our own story internally very well, build the internal systems that will shine a light on the function’s impact, or identify and close the gaps we have between our brand and the one-on-one customer conversation.

(Image Problems are Opportunities used under Creative Commons License)

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

Building a Pipeline? Don’t Forget the Blueprints.

When it comes to Sales’ role in the customer conversation, there’s no doubt this is where the rubber meets the road. Sellers get it done (or not) when it comes to turning the theoretical opportunities in your pipeline into recognized revenue. We know the work of selling is more complex today than ever, yet businesses must continue to add to Sales’ plate  as they innovate and develop new products to meet the evolving needs of their markets. Does Marketing adequately equip Sales to succeed in adding new products to a company’s set of solutions?

Sure, Marketing does a great job of creating tools for Sales to use with customers when a new product is launched, and that launch is often done with fanfare and excitement. However, we often give Sales the tools, but not the blueprint. That is to say, we don’t help Sales understand how a new product fits into the Company story and how to sell it. In a solution brief from Savo, they describe the problem this way:

“A quick rollout training program, a few brochures, some presentation slides, and your sales reps head into the  field. Even if they manage to remember it all for a week or two, apathy takes hold as the new product buzz  begins to fade. Soon, sellers fall back into their old routine, selling old familiar products. They are comfortable  with the old products and know how to sell them, while the new product is still just a blur. Often the individual  reps continue to meet their personal quotas, but the company misses its overall target because new products fail to reach their full revenue potential.”

We must equip our Sales teams not only with the tools they will use with customers to build a pipeline for our new products, but we must also give them the blueprint or roadmap for how to sell these new products…not just today, but going forward any time they are in a selling scenario that is a match for the new offering.

Some of the most successful product launches I’ve seen are those in which as much time and attention goes into the materials that Sales will use but customers will never see. Those internal training tools that help Sales fit new products into the Company story, have differentiated conversations with customers, and ultimately build the long-term, robust pipeline of opportunities that will deliver the product development ROI for the new products. These tools are reference materials for the overwhelmed seller when those opportunities arise months after a new product introduction and help make her as comfortable (or more so) selling the new product as the old familiar ones.

(Image Construction 2 used under Creative Commons License)

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

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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