The Selling Conundrum

The Selling Conundrum

thumbs up and thumbs down hand signs

There is an interesting infographic making its rounds on the internet describing how the typical rep follow up and the time it takes a buyer to make a decision don’t align.

Unless you refuse to surf the web, you’ve probably seen it and, like me, you probably agree with the information, especially if you work in sales. I’ve never been able to trace back the source of this infographic until recently when I read a very interesting article entitled, “Why it Takes 7 to 13+ Touches to Deliver a Qualified Sales Lead (Part 1)”. This article cites a study done by Microsoft that offers identical statistics to the one contained in the infographic, so I may have found the elusive source. As a bonus, the article is a pretty worthwhile read as well.


To me, the main premise of the infographic, and the referenced article, is that most sales reps give up trying to engage with prospects before they even generate interest. This makes perfect sense when you consider how technology has increased the ability to mass communicate, creating a noise barrier with potential customers. It becomes very difficult to break through the noise and capture the attention of the prospect regardless of how good the offering may be, so skillful messaging and repetition are critical to successful engagement.


In addition to the current state of prospect information overload,
there are many sales experts that state that the majority of leads are not effectively pursued. For example, in his book “The Truth about Leads”, Dan McDade makes the statement that 95% of leads are not effectively pursued by sales people. From personal experience, selling a solution centered around lead generation, one of the most common objections my sales team experiences is that the prospect’s sales team is either not following up on leads or not receiving a quick response and giving up, in other words, bad leads.


If information overload and reluctant sales teams aren’t bad enough, let’s add to that the well- established trend that prospective buyers are increasingly not engaging with sellers until they are looking for a price. That’s exactly NOT when the sales professional wants to engage. Good sales people want to be involved with the problem definition and provide insight and guidance to the prospect. They want to provide the best solution to the customer because they want a long term partnership where they are viewed as a valuable resource and in turn sell more over time. Good luck with that if all you are doing is providing a requested price quote. By the way, if you’re a prospective buyer and someone is willing to undercut the competition without even asking what you are trying to accomplish, caveat emptor.


So, to summarize the selling conundrum, information overloaded buyers are delaying engagement with frustrated sellers until they are looking for a price quote, while the frustrated sellers are giving up trying to engage early, in large part due their perception of leads supplied by marketing. Anybody that has been in sales for more than 5 years will likely agree that the struggle to acquire new, really new, customers continues to become more challenging.

Here are some thoughts:

Sales and Marketing MUST work together. The article I referenced at the beginning of the blog talks about the pre-qualification process for a lead. For many organizations this level of qualification will require the help of sales. Books could be written on the subject, but simply put, Marketing should abandon the play on volume of leads and focus on quality, while Sales needs to do their part by treating higher quality leads with the attention they deserve, insuring that a solid follow up process is in place.

 

Marketing needs to provide transparency to the lead gen process. I suggest a tier structure on the quality of a lead and then inform sales on how the lead was generated. Pass along ALL relevant information from the lead. Utilize all available resources to try and garner the highest quality leads to be moved forward to sales for further qualification. Quality over quantity.

 

Sales needs to develop a replicable, accountable and consistent sales process that can provide feedback to marketing. The team needs to know how the lead was generated, and when possible, where the prospect has shown interest. Once a lead tier structure is established and the information is flowing, they should then be held accountable to continuing the qualification process for engagement. By now, most serious sales professionals understand the infographic contained in the article, however, maintaining a disciplined approach to follow up is challenging. That challenge is made easier as the reps understand the quality of the leads supplied.

 

Marketing needs to supply the best possible leads to sales. Web registrations are great if you’re the low cost provider. Click through on marketing campaigns is great if the people doing the clicking are also the economic decision makers. Opens on email campaigns become a little sketchy based on the possibility of false positives. Purchased lists provide data but no sense of interest. Anonymous website visitor tracking provides early insight to interest at a company level, but not the person. Of course if you’re focusing on decision makers, you can get that information from other sources. In the end, the marketer needs to feed the sales machine with the highest quality leads they can find.

 

Sales needs to consistently follow up on the leads provided in a personalized manner. When Sales and Marketing can agree that leads provided are the best available, sales needs to make sure that there is consistent follow up. As the infographic in the article shows, engagement success increases dramatically as the amount of touches increase. Just because the prospect doesn’t knock down your door after one quick email does not mean the lead is bad. Sales needs to develop personalized messaging that provides insights and ideas specific to the prospect’s business, we all know prospects don’t want to be sold too. Provide continual feedback to marketing on progress. Qualify early and often. A personalized consistent approach requires more time and effort, so make sure that time is spent on the highest value prospects. When supplied specific information on prospect interest utilize that information within your personalized messaging.

Technology has made selling both easier and more difficult.

There are many tools to automate processes, track progress and generate leads to help both sales and marketing. At the same time the ease of mass communication has made it much more difficult to engage with prospective clients. Working together, Sales and Marketing can leverage the available resources to create a strategy to address the selling conundrum.

Sales Person:  “Oh, great…another lead (laced with sarcasm)

Sales Person: “Oh, great…another lead (laced with sarcasm)

marketing automation Blog image

Is this a common response you, or a member of your sales team, has when presented with a lead?  The answer probably depends on many variables within your organization, but for those of you that chuckled, read on.  The definition and importance of a lead means different things to different people and is predicated on a number of company specific factors.  If you’re still reading, your organization has most likely invested in some type of lead generation process and the volume of leads flowing to you or your sales team is significant.  Previous blog posts on this site have discussed the difference between a lead and a name and how “not all leads are created equal”, so this discussion is focused on the sales process employed in handling leads and overcoming the indifference often exhibited by sales professionals when tasked with following up on leads.

To set the stage, consider some of the generally accepted truths about the business environment today. 

Prospects are utilizing the web to guide them through their buying decisions much more frequently than in the past.  Additionally, employees in general are tasked to do more in less time due to the assistance of ever advancing technology.  Technology has also made it easier to target and message prospects, so they are receiving more and more unsolicited information about solutions to their needs.  The logical result is an overtaxed prospect that blocks out communication attempts while researching internally defined problems without outside assistance.  Since the primary role of a consultative sales person is to help the prospect define a need, uncover root cause and provide the best solution, it is easy to see how the modern buying cycle and sales cycle are at odds with one another.  Based on this, it is logical to assume a lead that has shown an expressed interest will likely have a much higher sales conversion probability than a name generated from a target market list.

Because of the above, the first step in developing a sales process around leads is to rank the perceived interest level of the customer.  Obviously, a lead generated by a prospect filling out a web form would demonstrate a high interest level, whereas a name generated from a target list has no known interest level.  Unfortunately, we also know that only about 2% of website visitors will fill out a form, in part because they have the ability to conduct their own research to determine what solution they believe will best meet their needs.  So as a first step in the process, develop a ranking system of leads based on how the lead was generated.  A suggestion would be to rank form fills at the top, followed by visits to target pages to a site, followed by mail campaign opens, all the way down to target market lists.

The next step in the process is to determine how to follow up with the leads in each category of your ranking system.

As part of this step it is critical that each member of the sales team understands how the leads are ranked and why they are ranked in a certain way.  Additionally, each sales team member needs to understand the specific process to be utilized for each lead category.  It is up to the sales leader to determine the frequency and type of contact for each category, but much more time and effort should be spent on highly ranked leads.  Most research on the subject of engagement leans towards six or more attempts over a defined time period utilizing multiple communication channels.  This seems reasonable considering the workload of the typical prospect and the information “noise” to which they are subjected.  If the sales team understands the ranking system and the reasoning behind the subsequent process, indifference will be reduced and high interest leads will be given the necessary attention.

Once a ranking system and a contact process has been established it is also critical to develop messaging that will resonate with the prospect and hopefully cut through the noise of all the information the prospect is currently receiving.  Messaging is probably one of the most challenging aspects of developing a replicable sales process.  Again, messaging will be dependent on your particular value proposition and the specific client needs addressed, but, generally, the more specifically you address your target prospect (read personalized here) the more likelihood of success in engagement over time.  Suggestions here would be to make the message as customer centric as possible and utilize multiple messages to avoid becoming repetitive over the course of the contact period.

As a final step, it is extremely important to have a tracking mechanism in place to monitor progress and gauge success.

Preferably, this would be handled with a CRM, however it can be as simple as a spreadsheet.  Whatever the vehicle, it is critical that the team members and the leader are able to track the activity to make sure the process is followed and results can be measured.  The individual sales person needs a vehicle to keep track of what message was delivered to what client at what time.  Once measurement provides insight into increased results from higher quality leads, the comment about “another lead” will likely be met with more enthusiasm and less sarcasm.

The Trouble With Contact Forms

Tribbles

Contact forms?  So what’s the problem?

I am dating myself here (and outing my inner nerd), but does anyone remember that Star Trek Episode: The Trouble with Tribbles?

At first, Captain Kirk and his crew loved these fuzzy little creatures. Everyone wanted one. But, as they began to re-produce by the 1000’s the Tribbles became a big problem. Nobody was sure what to do with all of them!

Enter marketing automation. The savior of all things digital marketing. The adoption of marketing automation tools over past years has been vigorous to say the least. The institution created an entire industry around building content to “feed the machine”.  The goal being to produce the ever coveted conversion (read: contact form completion). These forms represent rapidly expanding galaxy of leads being created for B2B sales teams.

Contact Form Submitted . . . Guess what? It may be too late!

Do you find that the deal is mostly sealed by the time the prospect completes the most coveted form of all (the form asking for a conversation with a sales person)? Does it feel like the only thing left to negotiate is the price?

If you are reading this post, you probably agree that the B2B landscape has been changing. The transformation is largely due to a prolific amount of content on the web. Content designed to help the prospect maneuver their way along the buyer journey. Infographics, ebooks, whitepapers, videos, webinars, revenue calculators . . . . scores of content that helps the buyer form an opinion, set purchase criteria, make a “short-list” of vendors to consider and be pretty sure of the offering they like best (often with up to 70% certainty). Much of the previously mentioned checklist is well under way before a prospect completes a form requesting a conversation with a sales person.

Sales teams that wait for contact forms to be completed may be putting themselves in danger of being too far behind in the buyer journey.

The result:  Lost traction with the prospective buyer.  The sales person is forced into reactive mode, responding to RFQ’s with pre-defined requirements that are often more suited to the competition’s offering than their own. The opportunity for influence has gone out the window, and the scramble is on to find a way to preserve what little margin remains in the deal.

Successful sales organizations (and the marketers that support them) know that getting ahead of the buyer journey is key to a sales person’s success. By coupling a deeper understanding of their prospect’s digital body language and the ability to identify who is anonymously visiting their website can be very powerful.  This is especially true if you consider that often less than 5% of website visitors fill out a contact form. Gaining intelligence on these engaged prospects (most of whom are invisible to you. . .your CRM. . .and your automation tool), early in the buyer journey, could be just the thing you need to differentiate yourself from the competition.

If you are relying on contact form conversions as the ONLY source for identifying interested buyers, you could end up being late to the party.

Beam me up Scotty, time to go close some deals.

What Marketing Automation Platforms Are Missing.

What Marketing Automation Platforms Are Missing.

marketing automation Blog image

Do I Know You?

Stop me if you’ve heard this one. A marketing executive – let’s call her Sally – decides it’s time to invest in a marketing automation platform. It’s a new year and the new plan says sales must increase 30% over last year. There is no way the marketing team can generate enough new leads to fuel this growth by doing marketing campaigns manually. It’s just Sally, a marketing administrator and the email service provider (ESP).

Anticipating the need, Sally did her research and found out she can get a SaaS marketing automation tool that suits her needs for about $3,000 per month. The platform she has in mind comes with an email “engine” so Sally figures she can offset $800 per month expense by canceling her subscription with the ESP. So, for a net increase of about $2,200 per month, Sally can automate marketing and meet the demand for new sales leads. Seems like a pretty good investment considering it would take adding another fulltime marketing administrator to do the same work manually – easily twice the expense of “upgrading” to a marketing automation platform.

Sally pulls the trigger and signs up for the marketing automation tool. The first few days go okay. There are a few more data migration and system configuration challenges than what Sally was led to believe by the vendor, but Sally isn’t worried about a few short term set-up issues. The new marketing automation platform is a strategic investment. The additional “out of scope” implementation costs will be more than covered by the efficiency gained from the tool and by the incremental leads for sales. Plus, Sally is really looking forward to the reporting capabilities in the marketing platform. The email campaign measurement reports she has gotten from the ESP were pretty limited. With the marketing platform, Sally is looking forward to getting a more complete picture of her campaign results – email opens, click-throughs, web visitor traffic, and web conversions.

Fast forward a few weeks. Sally’s new marketing automation platform is set up with her existing contacts plus a new list of contacts she purchased just for the new email campaign. The campaign is configured for a three touch process over a six week period. Perfect to test the new marketing platform. The web landing pages are set up; new web forms are built; even a couple of new collateral pieces have been added to the web site. So that Sally and her administrator can track who views these new pieces, the collateral is “gated”, meaning that the interested web visitors need to complete a contact form to view the collateral. The campaign is set up according to the best practices tips sheet Sally got from her marketing automation vendor. All systems go. Ready to launch!
A couple of days after the campaign launch, Sally starts checking the campaign measurements as reported by the new tool. As promised, the key campaign metrics are reported in the new dashboard: email response rates, total web visitors, web conversion rates, data on web visitor traffic and a summary of the names sent to sales as new leads from the campaign responses. The campaign data reported by the new marketing automation platform is delivered as promised.

Sounds good, right? Well, there’s something wrong with this picture.

If you consider what the marketing automation tool is designed to do and report on, Sally is getting what she paid for. But, if Sally wants to get a true picture of her campaign results and if she wants to maximize the number of leads she can deliver to sales, there is a big problem. The picture is incomplete. The problem is the marketing automation platform is tracking and reporting only on the contacts Sally can identify. What about the other 95% of the web visitors Sally can’t immediately identify because they haven’t directly responded to the email campaign or they haven’t self-identified via a web form? These “invisible” visitors go undetected and are not included in the metrics reported by Sally’s marketing automation platform.

Here’s why. Marketing automation platforms are process automation systems for marketing. Just like financial accounting software that automates the “best practices” and rules of accounting, marketing automation tools implement marketing “best practices” that have evolved over time. And, there in lie the core of why Sally has a problem. The marketing “best practices” implemented in marketing automation platforms go all the way back to before digital marketing – back to the days of “snail mail” and direct marketing. The assumption used in the design of marketing automation platforms is that the user has the contact information of the target. How else would a marketer know how to reach their target buyer? And, because these systems assume the user knows who their target buyers are, marketing automation platforms track and report only on web visitors they can identify.

“Out of the box,” B2B marketing automation tools are blind to invisible visitors.

To get a complete picture of her campaign results, Sally needs to add anonymous web visitor data to her marketing automation platform reporting. Sally needs VisitorTrack from netFactor. VisitorTrack is specifically designed to identify and report on the web visitors that digital marketers like Sally can’t identify using their marketing automation platform. VisitorTrack “reads” the IP address of the visitor(s), then identifies the company to whom the IP is registered. Once the visitor company is known, VisitorTrack will provide the key contacts and their contact information at these companies. If the contact is already in her marketing database, Sally can tie the visitor back to her campaign data. If the company or key contact is new, Sally can add the information to her marketing automation platform. In either case, Sally now has the ability to track, monitor and measure on B2B web visitors that would otherwise remain unknown. Sally gets more compete data and sales gets more leads.

Marketing automation platforms are great for what they are designed to do.  By adding VisitorTrack to their marketing systems investment, digital marketing executives like Sally can get a more complete view of their campaign results and maximize the number of leads for sales.

Get the picture?

B2B Sales Cycle:  The Game Has Changed

B2B Sales Cycle: The Game Has Changed

Sale Cycle

From one sales professional to another, after close to 20 years in various B2B sales roles and industries, I feel confident in saying one thing with absolute certainty…

The game has changed in the B2B Sales Cycle.

This is not only true for the constantly evolving sales process and methodology, but for customer decision making and technology as well. Nothing like pointing out the obvious, right?  Back when I started my sales career the mantra was “people buy from people they like and trust” and the concept of “solution selling” was just starting to gain traction. My manager armed me with a phone card, and the yellow pages were my lead list. The sales team shared one computer because no one was sure if that email “thing” was ever going to take off. On a side note, before I date myself completely, my first employer was not exactly on the cutting edge of technology. From a customer perspective, voice mail was the new gatekeeper, and if a prospect had a question they picked up the phone and called sales.

Now, let’s fast forward to today. While likability and credibility are still critical components of a sound business relationship, to gain a prospect’s attention you need to tell them something that will separate you from the pack. While email has become the communication vehicle of choice for many sales reps and customers alike, it has also amplified the “noise” of vendors seeking a share of wallet. Technology has afforded sales the ability to reach more qualified prospects, more quickly and more often. As a result, prospective customers are inundated with a barrage of messages around how a product or service will save them time and money. At the same time that technology has made it easier for sales to reach out, it has also made it easier for prospects to shut sales down. Additionally, prospective buyers now have the resources available to research how to fill their needs without involving a sales professional, and that trend is increasing every year. The vast majority of people in today’s business environment are tasked with doing more in less time, so as the noise of vendor solicitations continues to increase, prospects decide to shut off communication by ignoring the incoming messages and conducting their own research as needs arise. Unfortunately, there are a number of issues with this approach. Has the prospect identified the need correctly? Has the prospect considered all the possible alternatives? What real issues within the company aren’t being addressed? Often, it takes a professional from outside the organization to identify problems and find optimal solutions.

As a sales professional, ask yourself this question. What is the value to me of knowing when a prospect is interested in my solution before they have identified themselves to me?

Before you answer the question, here are a few interesting data points from various research studies. Over 40% of businesses now conduct research prior to engaging a vendor, at which point they have already completed close to 60% of their decision making process. Of the businesses that conduct research on a vendor’s website less than 2% identify themselves by filling out a contact form. Over 70% of vendors that engage with a prospect first, get the deal.

Based on that, let’s assume you agree there is value in early identification of prospects visiting your website, but you are now struggling with quantifying what that value is. As a sales professional, you know your close ratios, your average selling price and how many additional qualified opportunities you or your sales team can handle. Multiply the additional opportunities by your average sales price and your close ratio and you should have a reasonable guess of additional sales potential. Be warned, depending on your business model, your result may look too good to be true. Just remember, it is still up to you and/or your sales team to follow a solid sales process to close the additional opportunities. In today’s environment, part of that process needs to include client centered impact messaging and consistent follow up. Having that messaging and consistency take place with someone that has already shown interest should increase the probability of a business relationship significantly.

Since you’re reading this blog, you may already have VisitorTrack, in which case, congratulations, you have what you need to get started in targeting the prospects that have already shown an interest in your offering. It’s easy, but you can always call us to get some guidance.  If you don’t have a tool for early identification, considering the trend and your company’s specific challenges, you may want to look into it. The science (yes I said science instead of art) of selling continues to evolve and initial engagement is becoming more and more challenging. Good luck in your selling efforts.