What are you doing?
Have you stopped to wonder what our daily business lives would be like if we didn’t have productivity software programs and computers? Some of us can remember the days when nearly every business had a highly skilled, highly productive worker called a secretary. For most businesses, secretaries were indispensable. They were among the very few workers who could proficiently type. They kept calendars and scheduled conference rooms. They knew how to make mimeograph copies of business documents. Secretaries in larger businesses were best friends with the folks in the central mail room. Do you remember when businesses had central mail rooms? You know, before email.
Secretaries were indispensable because they had function-specific skills to perform daily repetitive routine activities. For businesses with more than a few workers, a secretary added huge productivity value by consolidating routine office tasks that would otherwise be performed by everyone else – and, not nearly as well as a secretary could do. Software programs and the computerization of the office changed the game.
With the proliferation of enterprise software it is easy to get confused about the core utility value being delivered. Software improves worker productivity by automating activities. But, not all activities have the same utility value to the business. Business activities can be divided into three buckets (see diagram below): Routine, Initiative and Reactive.
Types of Activities
By far, the most prevalent business activities are routine. These are tasks performed every day and are highly repetitive. At the worker level, typing is a routine function that has been replaced by word processing software and personal computers. At the departmental level, direct marketing is a routine function that has been replaced by marketing automation software. Routine activities are planned or scheduled tasks that are performed using consistent processes. These basic characteristics – frequent, repetitive, planned, consistent processes – make routine activities obvious targets for software automation. The utility value of automating routine functions is tactical. Process automation software like marketing and sales automation free up worker time for doing higher value tasks.
Initiative driven activities are at the opposite end of the volume/value scale from routine activities. Initiative driven tasks are the world of knowledge workers and decision makers. They are fewest in number – how many times do you make a target market segmentation decision? – but they are the highest value activities performed. Like routine activities, initiative driven tasks are planned; however, they occur much less frequently and are not always performed in the same way. Creating the marketing communications plan is an initiative driven activity as is creating the pricing plan for a new product. Both of these activities are planned events but the decision process to create the marketing communications plan is much different than what goes into creating the pricing plan for a new product.
Software that improves the productivity or efficiency of initiative driven activities is decision support software – software that creates and delivers better data to the knowledge workers. VisitorTrack from netFactor is a good example of software that improves decision making for marketers and sales reps. VisitorTrack provides information on anonymous web visitors. This web visitor data is added to data captured by process automation tools like Marketo or Hubspot and used by marketers to measure the efficacy of marketing campaigns. VisitorTrack data is used by sales reps to identify prospective customers that may otherwise go unnoticed. Both of these activities are initiative driven, yet each is very different from the other.
Initiative productivity software like VisitorTrack is designed to help knowledge workers make better decisions. The utility value of software that supports an initiative driven activity is strategic. Maximizing the information available to support better decisions can be the difference in winning or losing, therefore the ROI can be huge.
The third type of business activity is reactive. If an activity isn’t routine or initiative, it is reactive. We all do them every day. Reaction is caused by gaps in routine activities and by making poorly informed decisions. In the examples above, a poorly executed communication plan could result in sending an inappropriate email campaign to the wrong audience. The marketing automation platform did its job of getting the emails out as scheduled, but the knowledge worker failed in making sure the right content was included in the campaign. When the error is identified, the marketer goes into react mode. The sales rep doesn’t find out the prospect is interested in her/his product until after the prospect has done their homework. The rep goes into react mode in an effort to reframe the prospect’s decision criteria. Reactive tasks are productivity killers.
The goal is to minimize or get rid of reactive activities by automating routine tasks to give knowledge workers more time for initiative driven activities and by using decision support tools to help knowledge workers make better decisions.
Drive out reactive activities by automating routine tasks and getting better data for initiatives.
Software technology is not a one-size-fits-all proposition. The right investment in software depends on your goal. If your goal is to gain process productivity so that you can do more with the same or fewer workers, you should invest in process automation technology like a marketing automation platform. On the other hand, if your goal is to enable knowledge workers to make better decisions, you should invest in decision support tools like VisitorTrack that deliver information to the marketing and sales knowledge workers.
How do you know which investment to make? Look at where you spend time in react mode. Identify the root cause for your reactive behaviors and measure the lost productivity. If you are like most businesses, you will get a much higher ROI by investing in making better decisions than you will in adding one more process automation tool.
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?
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.
Align your B2B Sales Strategy with the B2B Buyer Journey
Since the days of the cavemen, humans have been reading body language to understand the intentions of others. In the sales process, reading body language and buying signals has long been used to shorten the sales cycle. With the dawn of the digital age much of the buying cycle is now conducted online. This evolution has drastically impacted the sales cycle for B2B companies.
- Research shows that as many as 65% of business buyers use the web to start their research for a solution.*
- Due to the proliferation of content and product information that is on the web, prospects are often 57% through the buying process before they connect with a sales person.**
- Fear of email blasts and hounding phone calls have caused savvy business buyers to show more reluctance to fill out contact forms than ever before. In some cases, only 1 – 2% of B2B web visitors fill out a form announcing their interest.
5 TIPS TO READ YOUR B2B PROSPECT’S ONLINE BODY LANGUAGE
1. Identify Web Pages That Support the Buying Decision
The first step is to identify the pages on your website that support the traditional buying process. Your explainer video, about us page, value proposition pages, and testimonials all support buying decisions and were once part of the traditional selling process. Identifying these high value pages that relate to your sales process will help you focus in on the most important digital buying signals. The opportunity to identify and connect with the visitors to these pages before they engage with a competitor is key to your success!
2. Understand Page Visit Behavior
When a visitor moves through your site and looks at pages that are designed to move them through the buyer journey, take notice of their behavior! Visits to these pages indicate that a prospective client has engaged in the buying process and is researching the offerings of your company (and probably your competitors offerings as well). For example, a pricing page visit can be a strong indicator that a prospect is starting to seriously think about buying. You will find that many prospects land on your website and go immediately to your pricing section. These prospects might be interested, but they’re likely still in their initial information gathering stage. On the other hand, a prospect who signed up for a demo or actively tried your product, and then visits your pricing page is probably getting ready to make a decision.
3. Where They Click Tells A Story
Once you have identified your high value web pages, the next step is to understand the story they tell. As a prospect visitor moves through your website, where they click can reveal the nature and level of their interest. Say a visitor enters your site from an email campaign and then proceeds to view two or three key product information pages, then views the client testimonials page, and finally the “request a demo page”; spending several minutes on each of these pages. This behavior indicates a strong interest in your offering. Because buyers are becoming more self-educated, you can map their online interactions to your sales process and start checking off elements they have seen. This process will allow you to reach out to the most sales ready prospects!
4. Find Out If They Leave Before They Hit “Submit”
Imagine the value if you could identify prospects that have enough interest to visit your “request for quote”, “free trial”, or “contact us” page but for some reason never complete and submit the form. Did they get distracted? Change their mind? Or did they decide to reach out to a competitor and complete their form first? By tracking and identifying the companies visiting contact form pages, you can get a “heads-up” on the best opportunities among your website visitors.
5. When The Crowd Converges
If one of your objectives is to win with larger target companies, this is for you! Return visits or multiple clicks from an email campaign indicate that there may be interest from many stakeholders in the prospect company. It is likely the more stakeholders, the larger the company. Lots of people visiting, lots of people clicking means it is very likely an internal discussion has been brewing around your solution or product offering. Reaching out to these prospect companies early in the discussion gives you a jump on your competition.
*2014 B2B Buyer Behavior Survey, Demand Gen Report
**B2B Marketing and Sales practices Insight: CEB Marketing Council and Google