Recent thinking from our Market Intelligence team
2018 Commercial Cards Excerpt
Market Intelligence Report from DigitalPulse™ Research
Ok, maybe firing the entire sales force is a little radical. But wait…put yourself in the shoes of a product exec trying to grow her business unit within a mid- to large-size enterprise. Here is what many, many executives are experiencing in the digital transformation of the four Ps — product, price, promotion, place:
Digital Transformation’s Changing 4P’s
Digitally Transformed Product
|Physical product or service (bare metal servers, professional services)||Cloud Service (e.g. on-line storage, streaming media, SaaS)|
|One-time purchase||On-going subscription, either by usage or PEPM (per employee, per month)|
|Direct marketing, product spec sheets||Content marketing, online demos, trials/freemiums|
|Field sales, inside sales, local channel partners||Traditional channels plus ecommerce with instant delivery, employee-in approaches, remote specialists, and new or completely transformed channels|
Clearly, he or she sees value in their company’s legacy sales force; they have relationships with strategic buyers, existing purchase agreements, and plenty of arcane knowledge about the existing product base. But as new products are introduced or mature products upgraded—and today that means digital product enhancements—it can often be a challenge to get traditional sales channels to sell new or upgraded digitally transformed products and services.
Why? Well, most sales reps (and we have ALL been there) seek the fastest, easiest path to make their quota. Typically that means selling a) the products they know, b) to the buyers they know, c) based on traditional product pricing and compensation models. But as more companies go through digital transformations that change both product form (e.g. from a physical device to a cloud service) and pricing model (e.g. one-time purchase to subscription), new/next gen products become a real challenge for legacy sales channels.
Consider this story: In 2017 the #2 executive in a Fortune 1000 company was being presented a critical new product launch plan. The new product added significant digital features and capabilities to a traditional, on-premise physical product. This product launch was BIG. Wall Street was watching. The company had an installed base of over 500,000 B2B customers, but new, startup competitors were offering totally cloud-based SaaS platforms. It was now or never. As the launch team reviewed the results from a 3-month sales pilot against the skills of a 100-person legacy inside sales team, the senior exec stated out loud, “I don’t think this channel can sell this new product.” She quickly decided on two actions: 1) over the next 12 months, replace as many as 70% of the sales team, and 2) rapidly pursue additional 3rd partner channel partners with the required skills and buyer relationships.
The pitfall is that execs too often rely solely on “upskilling” traditional sales channels (e.g. new product training, sales enablement tools, and re-jiggered comp plans) to incent new product launches. That is necessary and can partially work, but with our clients we are learning that very often “you just can’t change the stripes on a zebra!”
So as your digital transformation efforts turn to a practical Go-To-Market strategy, you may need to create entirely new channels and/or skill sets to be successful. Here are five questions to ask:
- How do customers want to buy?
It’s no secret…buyers actually prefer less frequent but more value-added engagement from sales reps. Blanketed by emails and inbound telesales calls, buyers just don’t have the time to schedule meetings and listen to pitches. Prospects are self-guiding their purchase process through digital research, social media, and analyst/peer reviews. They are going to reduce their vendor consideration set very quickly to those players who meet their preferred buying motion. Advice: “Staple yourself” to a few customers’ buying processes and see how they make decisions.
- Do traditional channels have the right skills and incentives to compete? Increasingly it’s a value vs. volume game….sales channels need to be experts, not just dial-and-smile professionals. By the way, this is what the next gen sales professionals wants; to become experts and make money based on their product knowledge. Advice: Find the sales reps who are intellectually curious about the product they are selling. They may not be writing code, but they are “citizen engineers” who know their industry, product and the precise ways it solves buyer problems.
- What are the affordable cost-to-sell economics?
Candidly, physical geographic territories to “farm” are steadily becoming obsolete. Face-to-face prospect meetings are important but very expensive. Complicating the process are new subscription pricing dynamics where the cost-to-sell (e.g pay the channel) has to be amortized over multiple years. Advice: Sharpen your pencils and do the math.
- Do you have the necessary customer data to target the right prospects?
Human prospecting is tedious and expensive. But there is so much great predictive customer data available—online activity, past purchase history, product usage (e.g. IoT), customer service logs—that solid analytics can send direct sales channels to the highest propensity buyers.
- Do you have the right digital content to accelerate the sales process?
As prospects advance from a qualified opportunity to close, they want more content (case studies, testimonials, videos, online demos, etc). And, candidly, they want less overt “have I got a deal for you” selling.
Final thought: just remember that buying more software and technology to “automate channels” is not the answer. Your existing marketing automation, CRM, and website platforms have plenty of technology firepower. Don’t forget “channels don’t choose customers; customers choose channels.” Digital transformation requires building the right channels to fit your product portfolio.
The art of selling parallels the discipline of time management. Selling, like time management, is knowing how to prioritize and manage your time. Today, most sellers go through a manual process to figure out who to touch, when to do it, and what to say on a monthly, weekly and daily basis. Yet, artificial Intelligence is changing sales prioritization and doing so at a rapid pace.
Take the manual prospecting process today (does not include AI) …
When you compile your outreach list, you look at the universe of thousands or tens of thousands of prospects and decide who receives your precious outreach. You might build your list based on descriptive attributes such as title, tenure, industry, and more – all in efforts to collect a solid foundation of who needs help and who is most likely to buy.
Next it’s who to call first… and then second… then third… But how does the typical seller prioritize the order of their lead list? Enter intuition – the seller’s instinct – as the individual contributor’s black box. THIS is the source of wild variance in selling performance across your team and a source of obvious tension between sales and marketing.
Why? Because the stakes of mistimed outreach are high:
- Call too early and you wasted an outreach on someone who is not ready when you could have called someone who was
- Call too late and you will find out your competitor has already won the business
Here are some key stats driving home the criticality of timing:
- The first viable vendor to reach a decision maker and set the buying vision has a 74% average close ratio. (Forrester)
- Sales teams have a 56% greater chance of attaining quota if they engage with buyers before those buyers contact the seller. (SalesBenchmark Index) SBI research shows that sales forces doing this will rarely compete on price and often win deals with zero competition because they “got in early.”
- 50% of buyers choose the vendor that responds to them first. (InsideSales.com)
What’s changing for the better…
Prior to the data revolution, competitive advantages in sales were created through relationships. You hired a salesperson with a robust contact list and your teams spent extravagantly on dinners and travel to build that relationship. Now that the buying process has migrated to the web, your anticipation and foresight into prospects’ intentions outweigh traditional tactics.
By deciphering customers’ digital behavior (sometimes using AI), we can compile complete lists of prospect profiles and predict where revenue will be generated. It’s no longer instinct. Art has become science. And it is painting a portrait any sales or marketer would find beautiful.
The single question that I get asked the most as a Sales Operations lead is “When?!” In today’s tangled web of sales stack tools, data and analytics, sales leaders want to know “how quickly can we can install all the new shiny sales tools?” But instead of asking when, the first question should be “Are these tools (or apps) even necessary?” In my opinion, most of the time the answer is “no” because:
- We can already do that with our existing tools but I haven’t had the time to get it running yet (quite literally!) OR reps aren’t using the functionality that currently exists.
- This tool doesn’t look like something that could lead to substantial efficiency, effectiveness or ROI for the team.
- The tool only solves one short term problem.
Here’s the deal . . . we know the process and sales tools better than anyone. We know the workflow gaps, and most importantly, we know that implementing, managing and ensuring user adoption will ultimately fall on our laps. I highly recommend consulting with your Sales Ops lead from the beginning of any sales technology evaluation and purchase. If you haven’t consulted with your Sales Ops lead on where to omit, invest or expand just yet, I here are 5 things they might say:
1. Omit: No more tech “tools” or quick fix “apps”
Reps are tasked enough with learning a complex CRM system as it is… Why give them so many tools on top of that? Today it takes the average rep 7+ tools and 19+ minutes to contact one single opportunity. If the technology you are considering doesn’t sit within a rep’s typical prospecting, research and outreach flow, be sure to add a at least a few minutes to every sales outreach if you purchase that tool. What you thought was going to add efficiency, may not.
2. Invest: Robust solutions that solve multiple process gaps.
There are a few process gaps that I typically hear when talking to peers:
– The marketing to sales handoff process is complicated, and because of this, sales rarely follows up on leads or follow-up is not tracked. Did marketing’s leads turn into ROI? Who knows!
– Sales does not know which product to pitch to buyers and better yet, when buyers are pitched to, what pitch is working or what content is captivating them is unknown. We can ask each team member these questions but wouldn’t it be better if we could get this view in our systems so we just know?
– We’re stuck in day to day admin work – replying to one off requests, data cleansing, building lists, etc. How can we look at our process from a high level to build a longer-term strategy for the team?
Any solution, strategy or technology that can effectively mend these gaps is a worthwhile contender, but adding multiple sales tools to try and solve each one of these gaps is not ideal.
3. Invest: A streamlined, consistent sales process.
Whenever we try something new, I get asked by my executives “Did that work?” The hardest thing for me is to tell them is “well, the team did something differently so I can’t report back.” Change is hard for many sales teams, and rolling out something new that does not yield user adoption is even more disappointing to your sales ops lead who takes on this responsibility. Each team may go about researching prospects in a slightly different way, but how they record their sales plays, track them, and input their progress has to be consistent for us to get a 360 degree view of the sales process. Having too many Sales tools compounds this process and does not give your organization clear visibility.
4. Expand: Leverage more of our current investments and their capabilities.
We have some incredible technology on our hands nowadays. And most Sales Ops people I talk to aren’t skimming the surface on the capabilities that exist inside their existing CRM. The biggest problem is bandwidth to get these running. As opposed to buying new tech, we should be asking how can we increase resources and experts to use our existing technology (that reps are already using) to the fullest extent?
5. Invest: Guidance and prioritization of contacts/accounts for every rep.
A statistic we like to throw around internally at MarketBridge is we believe that most reps are only focusing on the top 10% of their accounts. That 10% is made up of those they think are most likely to close deals or those that reps have an existing relationship with. Now that may prove to be a good way for reps spend their time, but what about those who have CLEARLY signaled buying interest outside of the top 10%? Those whom are perusing our website, or existing customers whose product usage is off the charts (hence – upsell!). This data exists – it’s just sometimes hidden in other marketing or internal company systems, or even sitting at the contact level. Even at the contact level, the rep needs to know THAT there is something “hidden” in order to look for those signals.
Sales Ops leaders alike want to give reps clear direction on how to plan their day upfront, without searching through their entire territory to find a needle in a haystack that “seems promising.” We need to give reps specific automation, triggers, and plays for front-and-center visibility on likely buyers to follow-up with next.
In conclusion, we get it, you wanted that tech tool implemented yesterday, but If Sales Ops has to add, configure and manage another tool that an executive bought (without consulting them first), you might hear some screams.
So my advice? Just ask Sales Ops what is truly needed before signing that contract. Always have them play a larger role in the evaluation and buying process of any sales technology. We wont slow the process down, if anything having us involved will provide better execution and adoption.
We speak with heads of sales every week. It’s what we do as a business. Here’s what we’re hearing out in the market…
The world ran to cool new tools, technologies, data, training systems, sales methodologies, and a series of experiments in the post-recession era. But rather than fixing the sales problem, it led to a convoluted sales process with too much to manage and a data mess.
Today, sales leaders are focused on getting back to basics in 3 ways:
- Organizational Redesign
Everyone knows the buying process has changed and it’s now understood across the entire organization. Board teams and C-level teams are asking themselves, “Do we have the right skills for the right role in this new buying era? How do I redesign my organization to think through the kinds of skills we need?” As a result, companies are scaling down the number of field reps they have in the field and increasing the number of sales development reps on their inside sales teams.
- Process and Incentive Redesign
The next category is sales process. A lot is being done to make the buying process easier on the customer. Steps are being taken to rework contracts, rework communications plans, and/or move from an annual-based revenue model to a monthly recurring revenue model. These changes are key in making it easier for customers to do business.
- Getting Better Data and Content into Workflow
Lastly, getting back to basics means strategizing the workflow and process of the seller. Thinking through the selling motions of each salesperson and identifying coverage gaps across their territory is a huge priority for folks. Prescribing who, what, when and how to go after potential buyers has become extremely important.
- Organizational Redesign
At MarketBridge we believe getting back to basics is important – especially getting better data and content directly into a solid workflow. Having the right data and content is the only way to uncover critical information about your customers. With the right data and content, sales teams can maximize cross-sell opportunities, expand their coverage, and reduce the number of tech tools sales reps access on a daily basis. In our next blog, we dive into how data and content can guide sales reps to the most-likely buyers every single day. Stay tuned…
Here at MarketBridge, we had collective smiles on our faces when we heard the news. We have been predicting and investing against this scenario for over two years and it’s great to see the big players validate our strategy.
Ok, so we didn’t exactly predict this deal, but what MSFT sees is that the era of marketing and sales automation is waning as the new era of marketing and sales intelligence enters its early innings. LinkedIn is the worlds best B2B database – full of information on buyer’s backgrounds, interests, and network connections. The opportunity to connect LinkedIn data with Outlook and Dynamics CRM apps is incredibly powerful.
BUT FIRST, take a step back and look at where B2B companies have invested in Sales & Marketing automation over the past 10 years. CRM systems are powerful, but you will be hard pressed to find many sales reps who love their CRM platform. Marketing automation is great, but for most companies it just enables them to send out 1000s more emails and increasingly marketers are receiving lower and lower response rates. For sales, automated “robo-dialers” increase call volume and reduce costs, but get increasingly low answer rates and simply annoy customers.
The common thread among all these technologies is a race to the bottom to achieve sales efficiency. But more outbound emails and calls are proving to overwhelm the inbound capacity of sales reps to convert leads to closed deals. What Marketing and Sales teams need is effectiveness – the ability to focus on the best sales opportunities, get deeper buyer insight, and respond with the right message, content, and offer at the right time. The future is in integrating LinkedIn and other customer intelligence data sources with today’s existing Marketing and Sales platforms.
Sales reps are not going to be automated out of existence no matter how hard some coders try! Rather, the new world of sales enablement is about connecting multiple workflow and data platforms – social media, CRM, marketing automation – with intelligent buyer insight and clear sales plays. Microsoft has put itself in the shoes of sales professionals and realized what they need now is intelligent sales enablement, not more sales automation.
Personalization: It’s on everyone’s mind. How to provide that hyper-personalized experience to show your customers that you know, and can provide them, what they need. While there is a lot of talk as to how to deliver personalized messages effectively and efficiently, there’s a big first step: How do you even figure out what they need and want in the first place? And how can you accelerate the sales cycle by knowing before they do? Let’s take a look at some customer insights that can help you increase your conversions:
Accelerate Sales Using Personalization
1) Identify Where Your Customers are in the Sales Cycle
Throughout the sales cycle, you continuously modify your contact strategy: you serve different content, change your messaging, shift your focus, and even change how often you reach out. With the right analytics you can identify where your customers are without having a 1:1 conversation. The first factor you should consider is content digestion. Analyzing clicks, time on page, and scroll depth can give you insights as to the content they’re interested in…
- High-level (top of the funnel) vs. more detailed (bottom of the funnel)
- Brand-focused (top of the funnel) vs. product-focused (bottom of the funnel)
- Short/easy-to-digest (top of the funnel) vs. long (bottom of the funnel)
Tag your content by these parameters to make it easy to discover on a user-level what each prospect is digesting to identify patterns without extra grunt work.
2) Discover Their Interests
In marketing and sales we spend a lot of time trying to determine what our customers are interested in so we can tailor our value proposition, messaging, and product offerings. Until you have that first sales conversation to learn your customers’ challenges, try some of these tactics:
- Ask, but creatively. Publish a quick and fun quiz that either directly asks your prospects what they’re are looking for, or infers it from related questions. Make sure there’s a “fun” spin so it’s enticing and lives on its own as a feature.
- Utilize your email opt-in. Add an opt-in layer where you ask users which topics they would like to receive information on.
- Look at topic digestion. While users may say they’re interested in one thing, their activity may say another. Look at which topics they view online – particularly time spent on page – and make sure that information reaches their CRM profile.
- Sell Socially. You can find out a lot of information just by plugging into your prospects’ social networks. The most progressive sales teams are leveraging technologies to pull data from LinkedIn into their CRM to enable customization.
3) Look at What They Already Purchased
For existing customers, transactional data can be a gold mine of insightful information. You can look at what they’ve purchased before and try to repeat it, but there’s also an opportunity to sell them something new:
- Time of Purchase. How long ago was the last purchase and what is the normal lifecycle for the product? If they are repeat purchasers, is there a pattern? Use that timing to drive when you reach out and use that outreach to upsell or cross-sell. Ensure you tailor messaging at other times to other complimentary products.
- Purchase Authority. Is your prospect the key decision maker, or are there other who need to weigh in? Identify their role in the past purchase and the role of the others involved so you know who to talk to and when.
- Product Specs. Products change and advance, enabling the opportunity for upgrades. Keep a clear view of the new products/solutions in market and their upgrades so you can continuously visit your CRM to identify new sales opportunities.
Personalize Your Outreach
Now that you have some additional customer information, what can you do with it?
- Use the information in your sales conversations – focus on particular topics you know they’re interested in
- Insert information regarding the content piece they viewed most within your outreach
- Use appropriate sales enablement materials based on where they are in the buyer’s journey
- Time your communications based on their past purchase behavior and include complimentary products as appropriate
- …and more!
At the end of October our team attended the CEB Sales & Marketing Summit in Las Vegas. Over 1,200 sales and marketing leaders convened for, what we believe to be, the most valuable B2B sales and marketing event of the year. (If you are in this space, you need to get to this conference.)
The content was thought provoking, on-point with today’s challenges, and controversial by design. If you’ve read CEB’s The Challenger Sale or The Challenger Customer then you are well aware that the B2B buying process isn’t what it used to be, so we were delighted to return from Vegas with some actionable ideas and tactics to adapt our B2B marketing and sales to the new buyer.
But first, here’s a refresher (not a substitute) on the findings illustrated in CEB’s books:
- Customers are 57% of the way through the buying process before they engage a supplier. They are self-educating online, building decision making groups, and learning about their issues and solutions before they ever reach out to their supplier’s sales and marketing teams.
- There is an increasing number of decision makers within the buying process in complex sales.
- On average, there are 5.4 stakeholders in the decision making group, each with different needs, expectations, and motivations.
- This causes more decisions to end up with keeping the status quo and sales cycles that are 2x longer than they have been in the past.
- There is a selling profile that engages buyers and wins more deals. The Challenger sales rep teaches, tailors, and takes control and is 4x more likely to be a high performer in today’s environment.
- There is a customer profile that is more likely to be sought out by Challengers and to drive consensus buying groups. The Mobilizer is more likely to break through the status quo and drive change with customer organizations. And you can identify them in organizations that you are targeting.
- The way to engage the Mobilizers is by leading with insight, teaching content which re-frames the prospects view on unknown or underappreciated opportunities and risks in their business and which leads to (not with) the supplier’s products and services.
Across the three days, there was tremendous breadth and depth of content and insight – bringing many opportunities to implement these ideas.
Here are our top 3 takeaways from the summit:
Stop “enabling” your buyers
The conventional wisdom has always been to “enable” the buyer. Reps think they need to react quickly to their requests, provide more information (as much as they can), and consider every stakeholder’s motivation and perspective. This leads most reps to push more and more information to their customer (ironically, making the decision process harder and harder). The insight we took away is to be much more prescriptive with what you send prospects, when, and for what purpose. Send them what they need, not necessarily what they ask for. And teach them how to buy as you lead them through the buying process. There is huge potential impact around this insight with implications through the entire marketing and sales organization, from content strategy, to buyer journey, to sales enablement, and sales behavior. Also – huge opportunity for organizations to be prescriptive to their sales reps on what to do, when, and why as they engage customers.
Understand the buyer group, find the “Mobilizer” and empower them to sell for you
The insight uncovered by CEB is that tailoring your message too much for every stakeholder can do more harm than good. It can polarize the decision group and make competing priorities within that group more pronounced. The answer is to understand the buying group (through research, profiling, deal strategy, etc.), find the “Mobilizer,” and coach them (with the right positioning, content, etc.) to facilitate the internal decision process towards your solution. The implications for this are significant (in fact it may create a whole new category of content for marketing to develop around arming the Mobilizer to sell on your behalf). This raises interesting questions like “how do you identify the right buyers to engage” and “how can you ensure that sales uses the right content at the right time.”
Make it easier for customers to buy by reducing buyer options and degrees of freedom
This might not be such a new idea, but CEB’s insight here is valuable. In a world where sales and marketing teams attempt to pack in more reasons to buy (new features, long lists of benefits, multiple purchasing options – cover every need of a prospect), the best organizations and sellers are really whittling it down to a single value driver aligned to the biggest area of priority or impact for the organization. This does a couple things. First – it makes the decision easier to make (because it reduces the degree of difficulty for the buyer group to consider). Second – it makes it easier for the Mobilizer to push forward and sell on your behalf.
Interesting stuff…and important areas for B2B marketers and sellers to focus on.
Would love feedback on what you are doing in these areas, let us know!
Cookie and Privacy Settings
Click on the different category headings to find out more. You can also change some of your preferences. Note that blocking some types of cookies may impact your experience on our websites and the services we are able to offer.
These cookies are strictly necessary to provide you with services available through our website and to use some of its features.
Because these cookies are strictly necessary to deliver the website, you cannot refuse them without impacting how our site functions. You can block or delete them by changing your browser settings and force blocking all cookies on this website.
We also use different external services like Google Webfonts, Google Maps and external Video providers. Since these providers may collect personal data like your IP address we allow you to block them here. Please be aware that this might heavily reduce the functionality and appearance of our site. Changes will take effect once you reload the page.
Google Webfont Settings:
Google Map Settings:
Vimeo and Youtube video embeds: