Sunday, March 01, 2015

3 Big Takeaways from SiriusDecisions Sales Leadership Exchange

I had the pleasure of attending SiriusDecisions Sales Leadership Exchange last week, an exclusive gathering of some 120 sales executives and sales enablement leaders.

The two-day conference featured top analysts and proven practitioners, discussing how to best achieve intelligent growth. Here are my three top takeaways:

#1:  Disrupt or Die

Technology is advancing quickly, and if you don’t leverage these advances to disrupt the way your sales reps and channel partners engage with customers, you yourself may be disrupted instead, this according to the futurist and author James Canton. (@futureguru). 

The key? Celebrate experimentation, as a Trend Setter (leading the way off the beaten path) and Adapter (someone who is always eager to learn something new), versus a Traditionalist or Maintainer, (clinging to and preserving the status-quo, to the detriment of the organizations long term health and viability).

One of the trends James Canton highlighted is the evolution of your buyers. They are now hyper connected and as a result, more empowered via online and social collaboration and information. As a result, they are demanding a more customized and streamlined purchase experience.

As a result, Mr. Canton pronounced that “Marketing as we know it is dead”.  Although the crowd reacted with some shock at his eulogy, if you think about it, he is spot on. The old way of marketing evolved from a world of mass production. Marketing’s job was to push mass-produced products to buyers who did not have many sources to spark and fuel the purchase decision.

Today, B2B marketing is world of noise: unfortunately bombarding prospects with more advertising, white paper download offers, emails and cold calls than ever before (32% more than 2 years ago according to SiriusDecisions). More is not more, and as a result, current mass marketing is becoming less and less effective every year.  Instead, marketing needs to realize the buyer is in control, migrating from pushing product pitches to offering value added content and resources instead.

With marketing less than effective, Mr. Canton indicated how it was vitally important for your organizations to begin experimenting with g a better way to sell: Predictive Sales. This involves leveraging analytics to better understand your prospects, and personalized content, social collaboration and better value articulation to improve customer engagement and elevate the buying experience.

#2:  Differentiate from Your Competition

In a brand new survey by SiriusDecisions, 100% of sales executives indicated that they expect sales to grow, with the majority targeting between 10% and 20%. However, only 38% are confident they can hit these forecasted growth targets

For the majority who are clearly unsure they will hit these growth goals, Competition is the executives biggest concern.  Almost 1/3rd of respondents indicated Competition challenges versus concerns over sales talent, products and buyer engagement.

So how can you address the Competition challenge, assuring that your sales reps can differentiate your solution from the competition?

An interview we did a couple of weeks ago with Jim Ninivaggi, the head of SiriusDecisions Sales Enablement practice and one of the key presenters at the event, reveals that in today’s competitive B2B market, it’s really difficult to distinguish yourself on the basis of your company, product, service or price any longer. The vendors who excel are those who transcend this, to sell and market better than the rest - to deliver a better customer experience.

However, most B2B sellers are missing the mark by pitching their products versus marketing and selling their value. They’re not meeting the minimum expectations of today’s prospects, much less delivering a superior experience.

Delivering a better experience begins and ends with the customer conversation – the precious time your sales reps and channel partners spend with prospects, or early in the buyer’s journey when your marketing content is doing the speaking for you. The key question to ask is, “Is my content marketing and are my sales reps effectively articulating and delivering value in each conversation?”

#3:  Improve Value Articulation

Unfortunately, most sales reps still can’t effectively articulate your unique value, making this challenge again the number one sales performance challenge – for the 4th year in a row, according to SiriusDecisions.

Most organizations realize they need to pivot from pitching products to selling value, however, the majority of sales reps and channel partners haven’t changed the way they engage.

And so the Value Gap persists, between the way sales reps continue to focus on your company, products, demo and price and buyers who would instead like Sales to more effectively diagnose their issues, provide best practice advice and communicate / quantify the value you can deliver.

Perhaps the Value Gap exists because the majority of training remains product centric? Perhaps we haven’t provided enough executive support and made a strong enough case for change, helping reps and partners to understand they have to evolve or they will be disrupted? Perhaps we haven’t armed reps and partners with the right value messaging, sales tools, training, coaching and support?

Regardless of the shortfalls, the sales organizations that can overcome this and the other challenges will achieve much higher quota success and indeed be the disruptor vs. the disrupted.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Can Your Sales Reps Handle these Four Key Buying Objections?

The ability for your reps to “handle objections” is a key to achieving 2015 sales success, this according to a recent interview of Jim Ninivaggi, Sales Enablement Practice Director for SiriusDecisions.

Too often companies are lumping objection handling into one big bucket, but it is important to distinctly arm sales reps and channel partners to handle each of the four common objections no matter where / when they occur.

Originally outlined in Xerox’s training program from Jim’s experience back in the day, these four objections are just as, if not even more relevant to sellers today.

According to Jim, here are the four key objections and the best way to turn them into selling success:

1)   Skepticism
This is the objection you want to hear. This means that the buyer is interested, but they are not quite convinced. They want to buy, but want proof.  To them, your proposal sounds good, but how do they know you can actually deliver on the promises you are making.

Skepticism usually occurs during the middle part of the buyer’s journey, during the consideration phase, where the buyer has committed to change and they are in an active buying decision. This is where the buyer researches what solutions exist to help solve their challenges, what their requirements are, what solutions are available that meet these requirements, and what is the short list of providers we want to consider.

Overcoming Skepticism: The buyer needs to answer a couple of key questions: Have you done this for other companies like ours? What can we expect as a return on investment?

When the buyer is asking for proof, you need to give them the evidence they need to overcome the skepticism and build strong trust. You need to prove to them that the results are real and achievable. It is important that the evidence:
  • Tells a credible story aligned precisely with the buyer, so they can see themselves in the results and
  • Providing concrete proof of value achieved– the same industry, size, geo, as well as matching the buyer’s role and from someone who has faced similar challenges. 
  • Comes straight from a 3rd party, such as independent analyst research, customer success stories and “voice of customer” videos.

2)  Misunderstanding
This is often a “need in disguise” – I am looking for XYZ, but you don’t provide that.  And often misunderstandings are going to be planted by your competitors.  This objection typically occurs in the middle to later phases of the journey.

According to Jim, SiriusDecisions actually faced this objection themselves – hearing from several prospects (prompted by the competition) that they didn’t have analysts with real world practical work experience – academics instead - when in fact that was far from the truth.

Overcoming a Misunderstanding:  Instead of jumping in with a direct rebuttal of the misunderstanding, indicating that “no our analysts have over 15-20 years experience in their area of practice”, the salesperson should first verify “Is that important to you… what is the concern?”. 

You are providing an opportunity for the buyer to clarify the need: “I want to work with folks who have actually done the job.“ This allows the rep to turn the misunderstanding into a need, and then your sales rep can respond to clarify, showing how you specifically meet that need.

3)  Drawback
A drawback highlights a perceived shortcoming in the solution by the buyer – a missing feature or function, or a common one today: that your price is too high.

According to Jim, you hope that a drawback comes later in the buyer’s journey, during the decision phase, where the buyer has to justify the purchase decision and make a specific vendor / proposal decision. This unfortunately is the stage where more deals are getting stuck, because it’s where the decision becomes real, and individuals and organizations are so frugal and risk averse.

Overcoming a Drawback: If you have made a good case for value, you can usually overcome a drawback. According to Jim, the key is to reframe all of the things they agreed they would get from your solution and the value you can provide. When the value is perceived as overwhelming, the drawbacks are then minimized in perspective.

Jim recounted a story of selling his home recently. Towards the end of the process, a home inspection unfortunately revealed that Jim’s house had a chimney in need of $5,000 in repairs. The real estate agent recommended crediting the buyer the repair funds as part of the deal, but Jim held strong.

He told the real estate agent to remind the buyer how the home meets all their requirements. They wanted to live on a cul de sac, they wanted X amount of property, they wanted X number of rooms, they wanted the best school district … remind them of all the things they are going to get with this home, and if they are really going to walk away from all of this because of a $5,000 repair?  The good news, Jim was able to get his price and get the deal closed.

This is true even in B2B deals, as everyone gets focused on the one drawback, especially price, so you have to take the buyer back to everything they are getting for the investment – where the drawback, the price and requested discount, is so insignificant compared to the great value they are going to get.

4)    Indifference
Early in the buyer’s decision-making process, a buyer will often indicate: “I don’t have a need for your solution.” And this is because they are either” happy with what they have”, or ignorance is bliss, and they “Don’t know what they don’t know.”

During the discovery phase of the buyer’s journey, the buyer is often unaware that they even have an issue worth addressing, and if they are aware of the issue, may not be putting enough priority on addressing the issues at this time. This is especially true today, when buyer’s are “doing more with less”, and have little time and even less resources / budget to tackle newer issues proactively.

Overcoming Indifference: According to Jim, this is often the toughest objection to handle and overcome. – to get someone who says “I don’t see a need for your solution,” or “we’re not ready right now” to develop enough need and urgency for them to say ‘you know, you are right, we need to fix this problem”.

At this stage, it’s not about the solution or benefits, but about the challenges the buyer is facing. You have to answer the question: “Why Change Now?” Providing sales reps and channel partners with the ability to help the buyer uncover the true scope of the issues they have: helping to educate the buyer on common issues you are seeing at other accounts similar to theirs, diagnose and prioritize their unique challenges, and provocatively communicate and quantify how costly “do nothing” really is, specifically for this buyer.

The Bottom-Line

According to Jim Ninivaggi, selling is more difficult today because:
  • The buyer’s journey is a non-linear, more complex process than ever
  • More stakeholders are involved, with each stakeholder perhaps at a different point in thir personal decision making journey and with each having a unique perspective on value
  • The vendor may intercept the journey at any point, sometime early, but too often late.

In order to help facilitate the buyer’s journey, it is clear that your sales reps and channel partners will encounter objections along the way, and that these objections don’t neatly fit into only one bucket.

As a result, they need to be armed to handle each of four key types of objections effectively, with the right value messaging to handle and overcome the objection no matter where or when they might occur in the sales process.

Checkout the full interview here: 

Friday, February 13, 2015

The Content Marketing – Buyer Disconnect

By Dan Sixsmith
According to a newly published report, there is a serious disconnect between the content that B2B buyers expect from marketers, and what is actually being produced and delivered. In the new study from The Economist Group , 93% of B2B marketers are incorrectly connecting their content to a product or service. Translation: a sales pitch.

Unfortunately, most marketing is not what buyer’s expect - value focused and personalized. Instead, the majority of content marketing is being perceived as one-size-fits-all messaging which is inwardly focused-on the vendors company, team, history, awards, products, features, functions.

The good news: B2B execs still seek out help from solution providers to solve their complex issues and often turn to online content for critical challenge-focused information. The bad news: they are having trouble finding the content they need.

So how do marketers better align their content marketing to what prospective buyers want? A few thoughts to chew on:

It's Not One and Done: A piece of content should not be viewed as a one and done proposition by marketers. The reality is that it typically takes 9 touches just to connect with the prospect, and consumption of 12 pieces of content before a prospect is ready to speak to sales. Your content marketing should be about building a lasting relationship with the prospect, versus trying to close the deal on the first date. You have amassed a treasure trove of valuable content. Delivering the right content to the buyer at the right point in the customer journey is key. View your content much as a publisher - as a step on the way to deeper connections with your audience.

It's Not Me, It's You: Content is best when it focuses on the addressable business challenges you can help the buyer solve, and the business benefits that can be achieved. Prospects favor content that is not a company / product pitch, but focuses on their challenges and positive outcomes, Even though you have every right to be proud of what you market and sell, buyers don’t really care about that. Instead, they care about themselves – the pains they are living and how you can help them. Guy Kawasaki, the former Mac evangelist and current thought leader declared,” Show people how you will make history together. Sell the dream (of a better future), not a product."

The 5S's of Content Marketing - Marketing used to be about the 4P's, now it should be more about the 5S's: storytelling, substance, speed, simplicity and science. Powerful content needs all of these components:
1.   Storytelling – A primitive part of our brains connects with stories, as if we are still sitting around the fire recanting stories of a good hunt or harvest. The story should reflect the essence of the brand and be leveraged to create personalized customer experiences that last beyond the sale and deliver long-term relationships. Everyone loves a story where a hero tangles with and finally defeats a villain. Introduce the antagonist. What is the current challenge out there that needs solving? Describe the pain the prospect is feeling, the magnitude and cause of this problem and then prescribe a cure. How did you save the day? Make it exciting. The brain doesn't pay attention to boring things, according to scientist John Medina.

2.   Substance - The messaging needs align with a buyer challenge, an issue that the marketplace and buyer needs resolved. In some cases, this challenge might be hidden, and the typical buyer might not even know how serious it is. Explain the 'why' before the 'how.' Original content backed by research scores best with audiences. Establish authority and subject matter expertise. A solution in search of a problem carries far less appeal. Customers don't buy products or services, they first buy into solving a significant, priority challenge.

3.   Speed - It is 'short attention span theatre' out there. You have 8 seconds to get and keep a buyers attention so your content needs to get to the point as to what challenges should be addressed and how you will help solve their woes. Content should be fast paced and loaded with excitement. Think simple visuals, contrast and the Elevator Pitch.

4.   Simplicity - The task of leaders is to simplify. Tell the prospect how you will make her life better, the expected value--not about your feeds and speeds. And do it concisely.  Create content about the challenges, loss, opportunity, solution and evidence that can fit on the “back of a napkin”.

5.   Science - Leverage data you have collected about your prospects to create relevant content across all customer touch points. Where is the prospect on his decision journey? What flavor of content should you offer? What do you know about them that can help customize the content to their industry, role and challenges?

The Bottom-Line

There is a tremendous opportunity for marketers to align their content to what today’s buyer expects – personalized and value-focused – and more. effectively connect and engage prospective clients to drive more demand and incremental revenue. The keys? Take a longer-term view of content, center it around business challenges, and leverage the 5S's of content marketing to drive more wins.