Category Archives for "Sales Process"

Keep on Qualifying – A Secret Weapon in Longer Sales Cycles!

B2B marketing services
Always be Qualifying

Anyone who has carried a sales bag likely knows the expression “Always be Closing,” or ABC for short. Alec Baldwin made this term famous in the classic 1992 movie, Glengarry Glen Ross. (a must-see for salespeople). Good advice generally speaking, but if you sell something with a relatively long, complex sales cycle, you should add “Keep on Qualifying” to your list of mantras, and best-practices. 

The risk in a longer sales cycle is that things often change, and this can result in a slowdown or stall of the buying process. Sometimes your prospect has a legitimate higher priority. However, but it often signifies that something else is disrupting the decision, and you didn’t see it coming. 

Don’t feel bad since this happens to virtually every salesperson at least once. The good news is that it’s a mistake that can be avoided if you keep on qualifying from start to finish. 

Common Sales Cycle Breakdowns

There are many reasons salespeople get side-swiped during sales cycles that last months or longer. Some typical factors are:

  • Information Quality:  Vital pieces of information were not collected or fully understood early on. Often these are specifics around: compelling reasons to buy; decision-making processes; identifying key stakeholders and influencers; decision criteria; options and competitors; and timing.
  • Unreliable Information:  Your “coach” (hopefully you have one) doesn’t have all the information you need, or has inadvertently misled you based on their view of the situation.
  • Failure to Reconfirm:  Things seemed clear early on, but as time went by, the information initially collected is now out-of-date or has been forgotten. If you don't keep on qualifying, it can lead to unexpected scrambling at the 11th hour or even worse outcomes.
  • Overconfidence:  With some opportunities, everything seems to click, and eventually, you start telling your boss, “it’s in the bag”. Salespeople tend to be confident and assertive. But, until there is “ink on the paper,” any number of factors can quickly turn delusion into a disaster. 
  • Losing Steam:  This is common as things drag on, and there are new shiny objects to chase. Most salespeople, like the thrill of the hunt and if there is an easier, more exciting road available, they often take it. Patience is a virtue when it comes to larger, more complex deals, but hang in there if the payoff justifies the persistence.

"Keep on Qualifying" Essentials

How can getting derailed be avoided? As with most things in business, it all comes down to reliable processes and clear insight. So to make sure you don’t let promising deals slip away before you realize it’s too late, try the following:

  • Stay Engaged:  Stay top-of-mind during the entire opportunity. Sometimes in long cycles, it's easy for weeks to fly by without a prospect interaction. Try creating a documented deal strategy and regularly schedule update calls that continually drive towards the next steps or actions. Find every excuse you can to talk with your contacts and share something of value.
  • Re-Validate Data:  it’s easy to think of your initial data-gathering exercise as a one-time event. But, until you have closed the deal, examine everything you think you know and keep confirming your information. Don’t assume what you learned in the qualification stage will be valid months later. 
  • Seek Perspective:  Don’t rely on a single source of information in the account. A sizable, long sale usually has multiple stakeholders on both teams. Ensure you get perspective from other influences in the account, your sales manager, and others involved on your team. By forming this data into a clear picture of where things are, you create an “early warning system” to better anticipate change.
  • Eliminate Emotion:  Let knowledge be your guide. Facts are more reliable than “feelings,” and your emotion is usually a by-product of events that have already taken place. If you are getting a “bad vibe” about your opportunity, ask questions, find out why things are not moving as discussed, and quickly adapt. Delays are often used as an excuse by prospects because the competition is firmly in the driver's seat, and they are keeping you at arm's length while performing their due diligence.

Conclusion

No one knows when changes will occur, but if you keep on qualifying through the entire sales cycle, preferably with some face-to-face meetings, chances are you will stay ahead of the curve. If you have been adding value along the way, you have earned the right to ask questions, even if you start repeating yourself.

The answers may force you to regroup and step back, and you may need to repeat some work you have already done, but that’s better than losing a deal because the rules changed and you didn’t get your copy of the new game plan.

Please share any ideas or thoughts you may have on this topic and contact us if we can assist in any way. To get notified when new articles are published, please hit the button!

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Randy Fougere, President, Think2Grow Marketing
With a passion for building brand awareness and lead generation, I started Think2Grow for B2B clients looking to accelerate growth through better marketing strategy and execution - something I have been doing for more than 30 years now.

Face-to-Face Meetings – 6 Great Reasons to Have Them

meetings
meetings

Don’t get me wrong, I love social media and fully embrace all forms of electronic communications. They are woven into the very fabrics of our business and personal lives, and it’s an exciting ride.

But, these days of hyper-digital interactions and an utter reliance on technology, come at a price. it’s easy to forget the impact that good old-fashioned, in-person meetings can have in growing a business.

For most of us, and especially those in direct sales, face-to-face meetings are still by far the most powerful form of engagement. This fact seems intuitive, yet many salespeople continue to ignore them. They often use email or a social channel in situations that would be better served by “pressing the flesh.”

Every dialogue requires us to select the most appropriate vehicle. Sometimes email is best. In other situations, a phone call or web-conferencing makes sense. That said, there are times when sitting across the table from a prospect, client or partner, is the absolute best choice.

My rule of thumb when deciding what to do is to think about the purpose, complexity, impact, and sensitivity of any given situation. Sounds like a lot of decision-making here, but the process becomes fairly automatic if you make it a habit of considering your options.

We all strive to save precious time, so meeting in person has to be for a valid reason with a planned agenda and outcome. If you go prepared, it will be time well spent.

Face-time is of particular importance in B2B sales with high-ticket items or long cycles. In these situations, building credibility and trust is critical.

Key Benefits of Face-to-Face Meetings

#1 – Higher Impact:

Let’s say you just got handed a pre-qualified lead for a significant opportunity. Wouldn’t pushing for a meeting with the prospect be a better first step than a long phone conversation or multiple emails? You should assume the prospect has done their online and other research because chances are they have.

#2 – Leverage Non-Verbal Queues:

You can’t read body language over the phone or from behind a keyboard. Experts say that roughly 93% of communication in meetings comes from body language and tonal queues. Getting to know people, and helping them get to know you, is much easier when you have the whole picture.

#3 – Build Better Relationships:

It’s a fact that people buy more often from those they know, like and trust. I’ll concede that relationships can get built to a surprising extent in the virtual world, but you can’t beat the personal touch! Often you gain an advantage just because your competitors won’t bother to make the effort. And if you’re first in, that’s usually a definite plus.

#5 – Gain Valuable Insight:

Being in the lobby, on a plant floor, in a boardroom, or a prospect’s office can provide valuable insight if you look, listen and learn. The attitude of the employees, signs on walls, pictures on desks, and other clues can tell you a great deal about the company, culture, and its people. These nuances can provide essential inputs for your sales strategy and how you should engage moving forward.

#6 – Personal Fulfillment:

Forget closing deals for a moment – OK that’s long enough! If you like people, and you should if you’re in a job dealing with them all day, a meeting can be a very satisfying experience. If your interpersonal skills are reasonably well-honed, you can turn your face-time into real personal connections that can be rewarding and energizing for all.

Digital technology has enabled us to communicate faster and more efficiently than ever imagined even a few decades ago. But the next time you have a significant opportunity, or need to take care of a delicate issue, I urge you to stop and ask yourself a simple question, “would this situation be handled better with a face-to-face meeting?”

4 Insanely Unacceptable Reasons Salespeople Resist CRM

Resist CRM
Resist CRM

A well-planned and deployed Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system can be the single most valuable resource for organizations looking to build a systematic, predictable and productive process for its sales force.

In recent years, things have somewhat improved, but numerous studies still show that on average 40-50% of salespeople still resist CRM. Consider data from recent survey by ZS Associates citing that 72% of sales leaders don’t believe their people are spending enough time in CRM.

To still have this size of a gap in adoption 30 years after the first CRM hit the market just doesn’t make sense! That first incarnation was ACT! by the way – launched in 1986, it was essentially a digital Rolodex. You would think embracing CRM is a “no-brainer” with all it has to offer in helping people manage their territories better and ultimately make more sales – yet, here we are.

In fairness, there are some perfectly understandable reasons why this continues to be problematic and the major ones are listed below.

Valid Reasons Salespeople May Resist CRM

  1. It hasn’t been designed, deployed and customized to make it as simple as possible to use
  2. It’s the wrong CRM for the business – usually because the right people weren’t included in the selection process
  3. The “executive” and/or senior sales leaders haven’t fully “bought into” CRM, so it never gets ingrained into the organizational or sale cultures – if the brass doesn’t care, salespeople won’t. For example, I recently heard a sales VP at a large company tell me “my reps only have to use the CRM if they are below plan – after that, I don’t care”
  4. The setup and flow of the CRM and its use, are misaligned with the sales methodology or other critical processes
  5. People haven’t been properly trained, or there is no on-going support and continued training – in this situation, there often isn’t a “champion” or owner driving the program

There are others you can read about here, but the points above are key fundamentals that need to be in place for CRM to succeed. For the most part, if the system has been carefully planned, set up with the user in mind and fully supported, the vast majority of salespeople will adopt – the exceptionally good ones will recognize CRM as a way to help them become even better.

Unacceptable, Lame and Over-Used Excuses!

Assuming the CRM “house” is in order, no salesperson worth the title should have a reason to make any of the following claims. If they are, I suspect it’s part of a larger issue. As you will see, I’m being a bit playful with this. But I know sales managers continue to get these excuses because I occasionally still hear them in my travels.

“I can’t learn it, it’s too complicated“

Learning any new technology can be a challenge, but once you figure it out, the journey often comes with some satisfaction from the accomplishment, plus a new marketable skill. Here are some of my favorite complaints about learning CRM, along with my responses – as brutally honest as some may seem. When the words “I can’t” are used, that often translates to “I don’t want to,” or “I’m not going to.”

  • “I’m not very not technical”
    Really? How is anyone without the ability to learn technology holding down a sales job or any job for that matter in 2016? Learning CRM is not rocket science if people make the effort. The irony is that the people using this excuse likely figured out how to use social media, a mobile device and MS Office suite all on their own. If they can master those marvels of technology, they can surely learn how to use a CRM.
  • “I’m too old to learn this”
    I didn’t want to go here, but maybe it’s time for these folks to think about playing more golf, buying an RV, or any other activities that will occupy their former work days.
  • “I don’t have time to learn anything new”
    They have to make the time! Either they are doing too many of the wrong things or their patches are way too fat and some should be given to their team-mates to help them cope with the time management problems. Learning is part of the job. Would these same people bow out of sales training because they don’t have time? Are they too busy to research prospects before calling on them?

This is an age when we must all continually learn or get left behind. Yes, it takes an open mind and commitment, but technology is not going away anytime soon!

“I don’t need a CRM because I’m already organized”

First off, if someone’s style of record keeping involves multiple versions of spreadsheets, sticky notes, or cocktail napkins, they are definitely not “already organized.”

If on the other hand, they honestly believe everything is fully under control at all times, congratulation them – that means they should have time to learn all about the new CRM. This is not just about staying organized in any case – it’s also about these important benefits:

  • building a historical base of information about your accounts, territory and all sales opportunities – which a company technically owns and would very much like to have for all the years to come.
  • leveraging the many other valuable features in today’s CRMs that go far beyond simply organizing prospects and clients. CRMs also helps people manage their sales cycles, communicate inside and outside the organization, access collateral and selling tools, store proposals, manage critical activities, automate repetitive tasks, receive notifications when something in the business changes, and much more.

The bottom line is that CRM is a tool to help people think more strategically about their sales approach and then execute better – this leads to greater productivity and more sales. Who in their right mind doesn’t want that?

“I don’t have time because I’m too busy actually selling.”

This is one of my favorite themes and it can be for anything that a “busy” salesperson thinks is too administrative or a waste of time – this can include sales reports and meetings, 1-on-1s with managers, corporate meetings, call planning, follow-ups, submitting paperwork – well, you get the picture.

If someone honestly believes that using a tool to help them become more strategic and efficient is a waste of time, then maybe they’re right and should be out randomly knocking on doors until their knuckles bleed. But I think most would agree this is not the best approach.

For those with hundreds of accounts, how can they possibly manage them without things falling through the cracks? How can they run reports showing activities they need to focus on to keep sales cycles progressing? How can they share a pipeline report with a sales manager if they’re not updating CRM?

The fact is, all these things are fundamental components in the sales process and being strategic and prepared will produce far better results than just winging it. The time spent in CRM is vitally important and when used as it should be, the investments made upfront will actually provide more quality selling time soon after.

“This is for the company’s benefit, not mine”

Yes, the deep dark secret is out – Big Brother is watching every move. Deal with it! A salesperson essentially gets paid to run their own little business within a larger partner. To succeed, both parties need metrics, forecasts, pipeline reports and other pieces of information to make better decisions, learn and adjust. The company has every right to know what employees are doing and how. For anyone running a business, this makes perfect sense. So why is it so hard for some people to grasp?

No one should take it personally – if they’re doing their job, there’s nothing to fear. If the quota is getting knocked out of the park, the CRM, or any other reporting tool becomes suddenly becomes a best friend when others are looking at the data. It’s not like sales managers everywhere had an epiphany one morning and suddenly wanted to know how things are going. Keeping tabs on sales people happened long before CRMs came to be. The difference is that the tracking is far easier and more useful than ever before. You stragglers out there need to understand that CRM can help you increase your income. When you win – so does the company. They are not out to get you!

Many salespeople will tell you they love CRM and can’t imagine working without it. Others will accept it, use it as intended, but not necessarily like it. For those still digging in their heels and making a conscious decision to resist CRM, it’s time to suck it up and get with the program. If someone finds CRM that difficult to use, they should make suggestions to improve it and ask for more help. As the saying goes – they need to become part of the solution!

Turn Marketing Process into Your Competitive Advantage

Marketing Process
Marketing Process

I’m sure some people saw the words marketing process in the title and quickly hit the back button. But if you’re still here, it probably means you’re at least neutral on the subject, or better yet, a fan.

For many, process has gained the reputation of being boring, time-consuming, and overly administrative. If it’s not properly planned or managed, a process can indeed become those things. It can start to work against you instead of helping.

But when it’s done well, process can be brilliant, elegant and creative. When exceptional, process can differentiate companies in powerful ways. How businesses consistently do things can actually become as important as the products or services they sell. So why not take what many of your peers view as a “necessary evil”, and transform marketing process into your strategic advantage?

​“If you can’t describe what you are doing as a process, you don’t know what you’re doing.”
W. Edwards Deming

What is Process and Why Does it Matter?

​Most dictionaries will loosely define a process as “a series of actions that you take in order to achieve a result.” Imagine governments, hospitals, sports teams, or software developers without it. A sound process is the only way to get things done when managing high levels of complexity. So what value does reliable process bring to the table?

  • It’s predictable, repeatable and scalable
  • It defines how people work together
  • It provides a documented roadmap of how tasks should be executed
  • It helps you plan for contingencies and adapt
  • It can be continually refined and improved

Why Marketing Needs Reliable Processes

Every department in an organization relies on good process to operate efficiently. Like other areas of business, marketing has a unique set of characteristics that makes process particularly important. Marketing is complex, very subjective and the stakes are high.

It may seem simple on the surface to some, but there are many moving parts in a well-run program. Dozens if not hundreds of small details for any given project or campaign need to be well-planned and tightly managed. Your reputation is very public, and it’s on the line every time you communicate. Also, marketing tends to be more of a discretionary spend for most companies, so if it’s not showing ROI in reasonable timeframes, the outcome is usually not positive.

Why Marketing Needs Reliable Processes

Two distinct sets of advantages develop from improved marketing process. First, you end up producing higher quality work that has more impact. Secondly, you gain efficiencies that increase productivity. When combined, these benefits ultimately lead to better results for less cost and with less time invested. Here are just a few of the many reasons why you should consider embracing marketing process as a way to achieve more:

  • ​Important details don’t get overlooked – this improves quality and saves valuable time usually needed for re-work or fixing problems
  • You create consistency in the execution because you start doing things the same way every time meaning fewer mistakes – also, on-going projects become simpler to manage and they finish sooner
  • Everyone on the team knows what to do and how to do it – this alignment saves time and effort
  • When process is running smoothly, you free up more time for research and creative thinking – this always leads to better marketing
  • You learn to leverage previous work and ideas by staying organized – this frees up more time for learning and creativity
  • Contingencies will have been considered while planning your processes – if you need to re-adjust, there are backup plans

​Some people are highly structured by nature. I tend to naturally be more free-wheeling which means I absolutely need process to function. Over the years I have come to appreciate, respect and even admire process. The fact Moneyball is one of my “Top 5” movies of all time may be an indication of how far I’ve come.

I firmly hold to the notion that well-conceived marketing process is a key factor in making a good marketing team great. Further, in a function that is constantly struggling to break through the clutter externally while proving its worth internally, strong marketing process can make all the difference.

Marketing Process

Sales and Marketing – Why Can’t we be Friends?

Sales and Marketing
Sales and Marketing

By this point in time, wouldn’t you think that the age-old rift between Sales and Marketing would have completely disappeared? I was certainly leaning that way.

But in recent travels, the same old rhetoric used in both camps about people in the other, appears to be alive and kicking. I’m not saying it’s this way in every organization because I have seen some very good alignment out there. But the fact remains that in many companies, there is still an “us” and “them” undertone between these two functions that rely so heavily upon on each. After all, we do typically group them together as “Sales and Marketing” right?

So let’s have a bit of fun now. I have listed actual direct quotes from sales and marketing people about each other and their respective teams. Mind you, I have toned down the language in spots to be polite. I have served in both areas for years and heard many more comments like these in the past. I must reluctantly admit, I may have thought (even said) some of these things long ago depending on which side of the fence I was on at the time (come on, be honest – you probably have too.) It’s even trickier when you manage both functions – then you have no one to blame but yourself when sales take a dip! So here are my all-time personal favorites. 

Sales people’s quotes about their Marketing colleagues:

  • “What do those guys do all day? If we don’t get some more shirts and giveaways soon, I’m not going to close any deals this quarter.”
  • “Why do I waste time following up on leads from Marketing? they’re all garbage anyhow!”
  • “I don’t get why I have to go and stand around at these events – what a total waste of time.”
  • “Next to Finance, Marketing seems like our biggest sales prevention department.”
  • “Almost everything that comes out of Marketing sucks!”
  • “I would be making my numbers if the people in Marketing were doing their jobs right.”

Marketers quotes about their Sales colleagues: 

  • “We work our butts off, but Sales never bothers to follow up on the great leads we create.”
  • “We basically do all the work on these deals – I should be making commission on them!”
  • “What do Salespeople do all day? It’s a joke, they’re never around the office.”
  • “Why should I have to put together sales decks and help with proposals? That’s not my job!”
  • “I might as well go into Sales, half the work for twice the pay.”
  • “When we’re doing well, it’s because of Sales. When the numbers are down, it’s all our fault.”

I’m sure these quotes are bringing smiles to at least a few faces out there. Let’s be perfectly honest though – to much lesser degrees, there are grains of truth in some of these gripes because not all sales or marketing people are created equally. Sure, there are times when Sales drops the ball on leads and times when Marketing doesn’t qualify properly. However, there are usually reasons or constraints, and hey, mistakes do happen. Like any form of ignorance, when these comments become broad-stroked and reinforced until they form attitudes, the environment can become one of frustration, resentment and even hostility. The simple truth is that without marketing, selling would be even tougher and in some cases, nearly impossible. Without sales, there is no need for Marketing, or many other functions in the company for that matter. This all comes down to the crux of all healthy human interaction – empathy! Come on sales and marketing people – let’s start to understand, appreciate, support and respect one another! Who knows, we could even become friends someday!

Competitive Analysis – The 3 Essential Building Blocks

Competitive Analysis
Competitive Analysis

An area of sales and marketing that often gets overlooked and underserved is developing a comprehensive competitive analysis.

Most times we know who we compete against on a regular basis, but it’s typically high level. The fact is that most companies don’t invest nearly enough time and energy understanding their competition deeply enough. They also neglect to create a process for feedback needed to keep the information current. In a study by the CMO Council, only 9% of companies surveyed had extensively analyzed their competitors. To make things worse, a surprising number of businesses don’t make it a priority to understand how they won or lost deals by doing formal reviews after the fact.

“Know your enemy and know yourself and you can fight a hundred battles without disaster.”  ~ Sun Tzu, The Art of War

Knowing your competition inside and out will help you: learn what others in your industry are doing; what prospects want; and how to position and differentiate your company with more impact. All of which eventually leads to more sales! If this makes so much sense, why don’t companies do enough of it? Why can’t they sustain it once they have started? Great questions and a few simple answers come immediately to mind:

Competitive Profiles

​ 1. They have glossed through the exercise 5 years ago and feel they still have it covered
 2. They don’t make it a priority and it sits on a long to-do list somewhere
 3. There is no ownership or process to keep the information current
 4. They don’t know how to do it well or don’t have a disciplined process to manage it

#1 Competitive Profiles

The starting point for doing a competitive analysis is something I call competitive profiling. This process is the research conducted to get a complete view of who your competitors are, what they do, and their strengths and weaknesses. Think of this as your “pre-game preparation.” The output of this effort is a “Competitive Profile” – which is a detailed summary of each key competitor you face on a regular basis (usually a 2-page document, or small slide deck).

#2 Product Face-Offs

These usually involve creating tools such as feature-benefit checklists or side-by-side comparisons. Be sure to think about them from the buyer’s point of view since having product attributes that are not relevant from their perspective is a waste of time. It’s a good practice to think about your product comparisons in terms of:

  • Table-Stakes: The features that are minimum requirements. and
  • Differentiators: The features that add more value than competitive offerings

Other critical aspects of Product Face-Offs are quality, pricing, packaging and service and support levels. Going through this exercise will help you understand two important things:

  • The direction your product development needs to take, and
  • How to position more successfully against others with what you have today

#3 Win-Loss Analysis

Thoughtful forensic work on past sales opportunities will help you understand the reasons a buyer selected you, or your competitor. It provides key insights into the perceptions buyers have about your products, pricing, and approach. Even though we call it Win-Loss Analysis, people tend to focus much more on lost opportunities and often ignore the “win side” of the equation. Although it may have been a well run sales campaign (at least in the salesperson’s mind), there is still a great deal that can be learned when you ask people why they bought from you. For more information about the power of analyzing your “wins”, see Win Analysis: A Neglected Hero of Analytics.

How Much Detail is Enough?

Competitive Analysis can be as deep and detailed as you want. There is, of course, a rational balance between what you need to know versus the merely interesting. The level of depth you need for a Competitive Analysis and the types of information you gather, will be determined in large part by your industry and offering. For example, if you sell high-ticket products or services in multi-year contracts, or your products require a high degree of aftermarket support – then prospects will have more interest in factors such as the vendor’s stability, reputation, and service structure. In this scenario, your Competitive Profile will focus more heavily on those things. If the product is a one-time purchase with little post-sale interaction – an increased focus may be placed on factors such as the product specifications, pricing, return policies, etc. Before building a Competitive Profile template, you must decide what things will be most significant in your market.

Who Owns the Competitive Analysis Process?

Competitive Analysis is always a team effort, but typically Marketing drives the process and creates the frameworks and artifacts needed. If your organization is large enough to have a dedicated Product Marketing function, that group would normally be responsible. Sales will play the strongest supporting role in gathering the intelligence. After all, they are in the trenches day in and day out. Also, executives, customer support, service staff and anyone else who interacts with clients and prospects on a regular basis will be good sources of feedback. It’s important to make the process clearly understood and as simple as possible for those who contribute. A good practice it to use standardized templates and forms and make sure they get stored in a place that is easy to access – a folder on your company Intranet, or CRM as examples.

Using Competitive Analysis

Now that you have all this great information, how can it will it be used to help close more business? Marketing will use it for market positioning, messaging, and targeted competitive campaigns. Salespeople will rely on it to help them “position” and focus the prospect on the right factors in competitive sales cycles. The knowledge will also help your salespeople build credibility by showing they know their industry. It’s best to share Competitive Analysis through formal training sessions as new profiles are created. It’s also a good idea to make sharing competitive strategy and best-practices a formal and ongoing part of your sales meetings. There is some subtlety in leveraging competitive information. Sales must always be honest and tactful when contrasting with competitors, and they should never put a company, it’s product or people down! Those who blatantly “slam” competitors will seldom leave a good impression and at times it’s disastrous. Instead, sales should focus more on what’s most important to the prospect, how you positively differ from others, and how your offering will best satisfy the need.

Conclusion

Leads and opportunities are not easy or inexpensive to develop. The vast majority of sales cycles are tough battles fought against one or more adversaries. Competitive analysis will help you win more business if you invest the right amount of time, thought and energy into it. If you don’t have the bandwidth, resources or know-how, you may want to consider outsourcing. For a higher level view of industry analysis and competition, you may be interested in this good overview of Porter’s Five Forces Analysis.

I hope you have enjoyed this article and would love to hear your thoughts about Competitive Analysis or any experiences you can share. Please follow us on your favorite social feed and Contact us if we can help in any way.

Selling Services: “In-House” is the Toughest Competitor

Selling Services
Selling Services

​In a recent article called Competitive Analysis – Know More, Win More!, I stressed the importance of getting to know your competitors.

​It struck me afterward that for those selling services, particularly in the B2B space, the toughest battle is usually fought against in-house resources. It’s often easy for us to lose sight of this vital fact, and I think there is a missed opportunity when we don’t pay it the attention it deserves.

​In-House or Outsource?

​There are plenty of arguments for and against outsourcing. Should manufacturing companies run their own cafeteria? Should legal firms run printing departments? If those activities are not core to their respective missions and strengths, then the reasonable answer is “no.”

There are certainly situations when running non-core functions in-house can make sense, but hidden costs and lost opportunity should always be major considerations. So why do companies hold onto activities that don’t serve a strategic purpose? Some common reasons are as follows:

  • They believe doing as much as possible in-house gives them more control
  • They think they are saving money (in some cases this may be true)
  • They have some capacity available and they want to keep people busy
  • Challenges in finding, trusting and then managing outsourcing partners
  • A previous bad experience with outsourcing – regrettably this can happen
  • For some business leaders, it’s a mix of ego and human nature – “why pay someone else to do it when we have people here?”

​Selling Services More Effectively Against In-House

​The intent of this article is not really to answer the outsource / in-house question. The goal is to get you thinking about the part of your market choosing to do what you provide, themselves.

You should view this group as a unique market segment and in a real sense, a formidable competitor. When selling services to these companies, you should be as strategic as you would when facing an external rival. Here are some ideas that may help:

  • ​Know your industry well enough to get a sense of the size of the “Doing-it-Themselves” portion of it
  • If a high ratio of companies in your addressable market are performing your services themselves, you need to know why and how
  • The insights from the point above will help your positioning and messaging have greater impact
  • If this is your situation, the messaging gets more heavily weighted on “why they should be outsourcing” first – followed by “why they should outsource with you”
  • Focus on clearly articulating the value of outsourcing – help prospects understand how they win!
    • Build a business case and use cost-analysis tools showing ROI and the advantages of leaving it to the experts. There is always interest in saving money and doing what makes sense for the company. It’s important to show the many hidden costs as well.
    • Point out how your prospect can focus on other aspects of their business that are more strategic. For example, if you are an IT hosting company, your message may be something like “Ms. Prospect, you are accountants. Rather than investing time and money managing servers, networks and storage – let us do that! You can reduce headcount and get IT working on internal and client-facing applications that will improve your business and help you differentiate.”
    • Show proven results and metrics from similar companies using your services. Leverage testimonials and case studies. – a sure way to gain the attention of your “in-house” prospects.
    • Build the “value of outsourcing” story into your presentations, sales talk-tracks and other collateral, and lead with it
  • Think about the migration path and be able to show them how they will transition. Again, use real-world scenarios and map out the processes you have in place to make it easy and smooth.

​Some of this may seem obvious but make no mistake – selling services requires a different kind of positioning. And, if you have a large portion of potential prospects written off because they don’t outsource now, you are missing a significant opportunity! Change your approach by heavily educating these prospects on why outsourcing makes sense. If not, your pitch will almost certainly fall on deaf ears.

Please share any thoughts or experiences you may have with this topic. Contact us if we can help you with your marketing in any way, or point you in the right direction.

B2B Lead Generation: 7 Proven Steps for More Sales with eMail

B2B Lead Generation
B2B Lead Generation

​There is no denying the power of social media, SEO, and other inbound marketing programs to attract and engage prospects.

​However, direct B2B lead generation still has it’s rightful place in the mix if aimed at the right people, with the right messages, and in the right way. With the addition of tightly-focused outbound campaigns, you can greatly enhance your marketing effectiveness and increase sales.

The following framework outlines a 7-step process that offers a practical way to create new leads and opportunities. It’s best to think of these steps as an on-going cycle of multiple activities that form a series of campaigns over time. The fact is, you need to repeatedly reach out if you want to create interest and engagement. If you connect with prospects during the buying cycle with a strong call-to-action, your odds significantly improve.

B2B Lead Generation

​Key Success Factors for B2B Lead Generation

As with most marketing programs, B2B lead generation is a complex system with many moving parts. In order to make it work, you must flawlessly execute, or risk creating a bad impression and perhaps lost opportunity. Your chances of success will dramatically rise based on a combination of the following factors:

  • ​How well your target audience is defined and the quality of your lists.
  • How valuable and relevant your offering is to the people you are reaching out to.
  • How well your messages resonate with those receiving it.
  • How differentiated your company and offering appears to be.
  • The number of “touch-points” over time, consistently reinforcing your value proposition.
  • The timeliness and quality of your sales follow-up.

​By using the following steps, you will increase conversion rates and also build a solid foundation for on-going activity. As with most things, the more thoughtful and creative you are, the better the results!

​1. Create Strategy

  • ​Define the objectives and key metrics of your campaign. Leverage your historic data and be realistic.
  • Decide on the campaign duration and the number of distinct activities that will be part of it.
  • Select the vehicles you will use (email, direct mail, webinars, events, telesales, etc.)
  • If the campaign is complex enough, create a project plan and build an execution calendar defining the task owners, due dates and dependencies.

​2. Define Target Audience

  • ​Create “ideal prospect profiles” grouped by attributes such as geography, company size, industry challenges, etc. Clear market segmentation helps ensure you are talking with the right people. The shot-gun approach is far more time-consuming and ultimately more expensive.
  • Identify the titles in the organization you believe are important to connect with – those who will benefit most from your offering.
  • Define what problems your products or services will address for the people in those roles.

​3. Build Account / Contact List

  • ​Leverage your CRM and other data, or consider buying new lists based on one or more of the attributes defined in Step 2. You should end up with multiple key contacts for each account.
  • Validate key contacts leveraging LinkedIn, web searches, or subscription services such as Data.com or ZoomInfo. This is great part-time work for a student or intern. You can rely on what you have, but it’s often outdated and this step will improve the quality of your list for follow-up initiatives.
  • Merge any new data with your existing CRM records and ensure a field is tagged in CRM at the account, contact and campaign levels in order to isolate these records for reporting.
  • If you are using an automation tool, ensure it’s synchronized with your CRM.

​4. Create Theme / Messages

  • ​Decide on the central theme of the campaign. What is the single most important idea you want to convey? What will the “feel and tone” of the campaign be?
  • Create high-impact messages to support your theme for each functional target contact. For example, the message for a VP of Marketing will be different than a CFO’s. Focus on benefits, not features!
  • As a backdrop to your thinking, consider the client pain-points, your competition and why the receiver should care. Your perspective should always be from their point of view.
  • If possible, include a call-to-action and / or value offering (promotion, whitepaper, research report, etc.) Give people a reason to engage.

​5. Develop Content

  • ​Create your copy using the theme and key messages for each group of potential buyers and influencers. Your copy should be concise, differentiated and compelling.
  • Decide on the appropriate graphics to create or buy, and ensure they effectively support your copy. As a rule, images have far more impact than words.
  • Optimize your final layout to deliver a crisp and professional appearance. Make it stand out as you only have a few seconds to grab attention.
  • Personalize and customize your content as much as possible. Talk to the recipient in their industry terms for a stronger connection.
  • If you have the resources, consider A|B testing different variations of your content to find out what works best. If you go this route, early results monitoring will be important.
  • Leverage unique landing pages for web-based content as this provides an easy way to isolate and measure the progress.

​6. Execute Campaign

  • ​If you are sending email to Canadian prospects, you must understand and comply with Canada’s Anti-Spam Legislation (CASL). If you haven’t already, do the homework.
  • Send a communication internally to make sure your sales and marketing teams are aware and prepared once the campaign starts to run.
  • Deliver your communications as planned in Step 1. Consider the optimal timing to get the highest response. An event on Friday afternoon before a long weekend is bad timing!
  • As responses start to build, update your CRM. Be sure to “score” or “weight” your responses so you can prioritize accordingly. Marketing automation tools such as SharpSpring  provides strong capabilities for managing the lead nurturing process following initial contact. These companies are also great sources of marketing and content information.
  • As leads and opportunities become qualified, pass them immediately to inside or direct sales for follow-up, and make sure this happens in a timely manner.
  • Immediately unsubscribe contacts who request it and confirm back once you have.

​7. Measure / Follow-up

  • ​At regular checkpoints during the campaign, monitor the results to see how you are tracking.
  • When the campaign ends, report the results achieved compared to the projected metrics. You may want to do this a week or two after completion as well in case late responses come in.
  • Document and analyze the final results and review the insights and lessons learned. This is an important step for continuous improvement.

​With the barrage of emails and advertising people receive daily, it’s extremely difficult to get noticed, never mind have someone engage. However, delivering the right messages, to the right people, the right way – will produce results. There is no “silver bullet” though and it takes commitment, investment, and a structured approach over time to be effective. If you are focused and patient, however, you will undoubtedly find more than enough new business to make it well-worth the effort. This process has worked extremely well for me and hopefully you found some of this helpful.

If you are so inclined, please share any ideas, thoughts or experiences you may have with this topic. Contact us if we can help with your B2B lead generation, or simply answer a question.

CRM Best Practices: Building the Foundation

CRM Best Practices
CRM Best Practices

For most companies today, their CRM (Customer Relationship Management) system is the primary tool for managing sales and marketing information.

A forecast from Gartner estimates the CRM market was worth $27.5 billion worldwide in 2015 and anticipates it rising to $37 billion by 2017. This year, Gartner expects Enterprise CRM will outpace ERP sales for the first time in history. As compelling as the story is for CRM, it’s not an easy road for some – especially if adoption is a struggle. Getting sales and others on board is often cultural or process challenge rather than issues with the CRM itself. Fortunately, research shows that adoption numbers are turning a corner as companies get better at deploying and managing their CRMs.

I have always been a huge CRM fan because I’ve experienced first-hand the many advantages. Of course, I’ve seen the “belly flops” in my travels as well. Through it all, I’ve learned much about how to make CRM add real value to a business, In this article, I’ll share six highly foundational and strategic tips that can help your CRM project get off to a great start. These are essential if you want to succeed and create a solid ROI – or any for that matter.

Shown below is an overview of the key benefits and capabilities sales and marketing should expect from their CRM if it’s done right. I’ve included a separate marketing automation system, which is an optional but integral part of an “ideal” scenario. Most CRMs these days include some level of automation built in, but they’re not as robust as standalone applications.

Ideal CRM Scenario for Sales & Marketing

Building a Solid CRM Foundation

#1 Gain Executive Buy-In
A high-functioning CRM can produce impressive results, but It’s usually a big investment among many competing priorities. The fate of CRM success depends heavily on the level of executive support. This means your CEO can’t stand in front of the team a few months from now talking about your new CRM, and then ask “how do I sign into this darned thing?” The sales, marketing, IT and other leaders involved must share the same level of commitment, or your CRM project will likely not survive. Success will rely on your people and processes more than the technology. For the owner of the project, this means a great deal of executive communication and collaboration – before, during and after the decision has been made to proceed.

#2 Create a Plan
CRM is typically a large-scale corporate undertaking involving many complexities and stakeholders. Before you deploy it, be clear about what you want to achieve. Decide who will use it and how. Understand what the data mapping will be relative to other connected systems. Clearly define how you will deploy, test, train, support and improve your CRM over time. It sounds intuitive, but you would be surprised how many companies fail to do this adequately and then pay the price later. Be sure to think about how success should be measured. It’s also important to know the needs and concerns of your different user groups and then plan how you will address them to gain support.

#3 Build It for Users
CRM is designed to improve effectiveness and productivity, but that can only happen when your users see the benefits and embrace them. Don’t design or position the system as a management tool for “big brother” to keep watch. Don’t make it overly complicated either. If you do one or both of these, the CRM simply won’t fly, so stop now and save your money! Some ways to help this will be presented at another time. However, the key themes are: keep it relevant, keep it simple, and ensure it’s set up to help people do their jobs easier and better.

#4 Provide Training & Support
This is two-fold. First, the people responsible for CRM will need to be well trained – including the system itself, plus the customizations and processes you will use. Most vendors offer a “train the trainer” program. The core team could be internal, consultants, or a combination of both. Next, come the end-users. Make sure everyone understands the importance of CRM to the strategy and growth of the organization. Ensure each user is clear on the CRM’s use as it relates to their respective roles. Document your training for new people coming in and as a reference for existing users. It’s better still if you can create instructional click-by-click videos. Once training is complete, there will be questions, so be sure to offer responsive support to help get users up to speed as quickly as possible. This is crucial during the first few months.

#5 Mandate Adoption
This area is by far the one that “makes or breaks” CRM success. For sales, in particular, I would argue that CRM usage should be part of the job description and have some weight in performance appraisals. There simply can’t be exceptions. I once had a sales VP tell me “our reps only have to bother with CRM until they make their quotas – after that, they can do what they want.” How well do you think that CRM program worked? Adoption starts from the top and must be continually reinforced.

One of the best ways to get sales people using CRM is to stop the “spreadsheet madness” that comes with pipeline and forecast review meetings. Don’t accept any data not sitting in the CRM – period! I like the adage “if an opportunity isn’t in CRM, it doesn’t exist.” It’s best to review the data directly from your CRM on a projected screen in sales meetings and use custom views showing the key fields you need to see. People will be a little embarrassed in this situation if they haven’t come prepared, and the behavior should quickly change. If not, the Sales Manager may need to take a more aggressive stance. Again, 100% adoption must be enforced if your CRM is to deliver on it’s full potential. Successful sales people usually see the value in short order and take full advantage of it. But, if others don’t get with the program, understand why and fix it. It does take some time to learn a new system, so it’s best to have a pre-defined cut-off point if you’re moving into a new CRM. A few weeks to a month after training should be more than enough time in most cases.

#6 Communicate Results
Track, measure and communicate results and benefits shown from using CRM over time. Show how it’s impacting sales productivity, marketing campaigns, customer satisfaction, and service (if CRM is used for that purpose.) The more value you can show to senior management, the more support you will have. When you create a positive buzz from end-users, they get others excited about adoption as well. Ideally, in your planning phase, you have established some goals and metrics that you can track against in a meaningful way.

Hopefully, you have picked up a point or two here that helps. I’m coming at this from the B2B sales and marketing perspective and didn’t touch on the many powerful CRM capabilities around service, support, social media tracking, and help desk integration. For B2C and retail, CRM tends to be more focused on direct customer interaction and end-client experience. That said, these tips are applicable to any CRM implementation. They build the critical foundation needed for CRM to have the significant impact it can and should. In the next installment of the series, I’ll focus on ways to make CRM easier to use, better maintained, and explore added functionality to draw out further value.

I hope you have enjoyed this article and would love to hear your thoughts about CRM implementations or any experiences you can share. Please follow us on your favorite social feed and contact us if we can help in any way.

CRM Best Practices: Make CRM Easier to Use & Increase Adoption

Making CRM Easier
Making CRM Easier

In a previous post called CRM Best Practices: Building the Foundation, we walked through 6 crucial steps needed to get CRM off to a great start.

In the post, we outlined the key foundational components of CRM effectiveness. In this article, we’ll look at 8 practical and proven ways to make CRM easier to use.

Today’s CRMs are incredibly powerful and robust but this can be a double-edged sword. As with most software programs, vendors continually increase functionality, flexibility, customization and integration options. These are all good things, but they also add complexity and can make the system more difficult to learn and use.

The following ideas will help make CRM easier to use for both end-users and the people managing the system. Full adoption of CRM is critical and most times it’s an “all or nothing” proposition. Your CRM must be fully utilized if you want to standardize and simplify processes, have accurate reporting and ultimately increase sales.

Here’s a quick re-cap of the “foundational” tips that were presented in CRM Best Practices: Building the Foundation:
1. Gain Executive Buy-In
2. Create a Plan
3. Build it for Users
4. Provide Training & Support
5. Mandate Adoption
6. Communicate Results

Ideal CRM Scenario for Sales & Marketing

8 Tips for Making CRM Easier to Use

#1 Minimize Fields
When deploying CRM, people have a tendency to include fields that are rarely if ever used. People think “we might need this” but don’t stop to ask themselves “why.” In the planning phase, a good approach is to critically challenge every field you want to include. Why is it important? What purpose does it serve? Does it feed a measurement that needs reporting? If you don’t have a valid reason for a field, exclude it.

#2 Customize Page Layouts
Most CRMs allow you to define roles, permissions and page layouts based on different user groups. Use this feature when you set up your CRM. Only show fields that are relevant to each user type. For example, Marketing often creates custom fields to track awareness and engagement levels before opportunities convert. If people in the Service department use the CRM, they don’t need this data and likely don’t care about it. So don’t include it in their respective views of the system. This keeps their screens from being too distracting.

Another aspect of simplifying page layout involves “related lists.” Accounts, Contacts, and Opportunities typically reside in distinct sections of the CRM and are often referred to as objects. These objects can contain data from other objects that sit under the main body of information. Often, the default includes a number of related lists that seldom get used. It’s best to take those off your page layouts if they’re not useful.

#3 Reduce Required Fields
The primary way to “force” a user to input specific data is with the dreaded “required field.” Some fields are absolutely a must, but think about your process and make sure you don’t have required fields that are not essential. Nothing annoys a user more than making them enter data they don’t think is relevant. If a field is important and should be required, a good start is explaining why it matters. Keeping required fields to a bare minimum helps productivity and reduces frustration.

#4 Simplify Lead Creation
When it comes to leads in CRM, most are early stage or not prospects at all. This is why CRMs typically use a separate lead database so you don’t clutter up your accounts with useless data. The idea is to create (or import) leads in a way that takes very little time. Keep your lead record simple! The company name, contact name, lead source, interest, industry, city, email, and phone number will generally do. If you import lists with full addresses and other information, that’s fine – but, don’t ask people to type it in. Once leads convert and there is substance to an opportunity, data will increasingly be added during the sales cycle.

#5 Use Automated Formatting
Most CRMs allow some degree of automation. It varies between products so to start you should invest time learning about your CRM’s capabilities specifically around: 1) Easing data entry by automatically formatting certain types of information and leveraging dependent picklists: and 2) Any other features that save keystrokes or unnecessary navigation.

#6 Simplify Field Names
Don’t confuse users with field names that differ from other internal systems. If your entire company refers to those who have bought your products as “clients,” don’t name the CRM field “customers”. Creating a corporate “standard naming convention” document is a great idea if you don’t have one already. The more familiar you make your field names in CRM, the better. If you use custom fields, make them intuitive, short and simple. Titles that are too long will make your reporting unwieldy.

#7 Use Help Buttons
A great feature of most CRMs is that you can customize help buttons (usually a question mark symbol) to provide real-time instruction if people are not sure about a specific field. If you have this feature, use it. Obviously, you don’t need to explain what a zip code is, but if it’s a custom field, this is a perfect way to help users understand what the field is for and how to use it properly. For required fields, this is a good place to describe why a field is needed. This also makes training for your CRM easier and helps people get up to speed faster.

#8 Make it Mobile
Like websites and other Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) applications – it needs to be mobile. Many users work in the field – especially salespeople. If they can’t access their CRM data in a way that’s productive, that is a severe limitation. The good news is that virtually all SaaS-based CRMs offer a mobile app version of their software. If they don’t, or you’re considering a licensed CRM without strong mobile capabilities – stop now and save your money!

Conclusion

If you have built a good foundation, making your CRM easier to use is guaranteed to improve adoption and effectiveness. Ease-of-use is heavily impacted by simplicity, a clean interface, and relevance. Think about CRM from the user’s perspective and always challenge yourself in your set-up decisions. It’s been proven time and again that whether it’s a machine, a website, or a software application – positive user experience is often the difference between success and failure.

Please share any ideas, thoughts, or experiences you may have on this topic. Contact us if we can help with your CRM project, or point you in the right direction.