Wednesday, November 30, 2011

How will the Economy Affect the Buyer’s Decision Process in 2012?

Anyone who has driven a corporate purchase decision knows that it can be a frustrating and long process, one which many buyers wish they could streamline. However, continued economic uncertainty will make this desire hard to fulfill.

Frugalnomics is in full effect, leaving few resources to evaluate opportunities and the organization risk adverse to change, giving more control to finance and requiring more economic justification on each proposal. Serious budget constraints make even high ROI projects hard to get approved.

Solution providers that can help facilitate this ever more difficult process will have an advantage in 2012. So let’s review each stage of the process, how the current conditions are making the journey more difficult, and how B2B solution providers can optimize their content and engagement practices to help facilitate and shorten cycles.

Optimizing Content to Facilitate the Economy-Focused Buyer’s Journey
The Buyer’s Journey represents a set of steps an organization needs to go through in order to make a purchase. The steps may vary based on the organization and purchase, but a typical process includes a set of phases, especially Discovery, Consideration and Decision.

You can think of the journey as a complex change management process that can be difficult, frustrating and time consuming for the buyer, therefore, the more facilitation provided by the solution provider to streamline and remove friction from the process, the better.

In the first part of the buyer’s journey, decision makers need to be convinced that the status-quo should change, and the buyer must convince not just themselves, but many other stakeholders that the change is beneficial and worthy.

In today’s do-more-with-less environment, most organizations are doing all they can to keep the lights on, much less consider new projects. In such a stressed environment, buyer’s might be feeling pain, but not have the resources to address, and in many instances are not self-aware of what ails them.  For those that are aware of issues, convincing the multitude of stakeholders in the organization and finance to make the necessary and precious investments can be a challenge.  After all, for most organizations it is easier and less risky to do nothing, than to change from the status quo.

At this critical stage, defining the vision for the project, most buyers are researching options on their own, and not involving sales in the process. However, it is during this early phase that buyer’s indicate establishing strong provider preferences, with Forrester indicating that 65% of vendors who create the buying vision during these early phases of the journey getting the deal. For many solution providers, lack of engagement means a “failure to launch”.

Solution providers can help facilitate the decision making process during Discovery in a number of ways, including:

·         Guiding understanding and prioritizing of issues – helping the buyer to confirm that the pain they are feeling is real and should be a priority, and helping illuminate issues of which they might not have been aware. This can be done best via research and case studies, helping the buyer realize that others are experiencing similar pains, that these issues are a priority, and that solutions exist to meet the challenges. Diagnostic assessments are even more provocative, surveying the buyer on spending, goals and priorities issues, capability and maturity to understand where they are currently, benchmarking them to best practice leaders and peers to identify and prioritize issues, and prescribing specific solutions to remedy the highest priority opportunities.

·         Quantifying the cost-of-doing-nothing – many organizations won’t change unless they understand that maintaining the status-quo has a cost that exceeds the investment / risks of change, and the cost-of-doing-nothing is high enough to make the project a priority.  Research papers and case studies can be used to help convince buyers that not changing has significant cost, TCO calculators can be used to quantify the current costs in comparison to costs post change, and benefit estimators can be used to quantify the savings and incremental value available, but not being realized.
Once a buyer has committed to change and prioritized the project, the decision makers need to research possible solution approaches and create a short-list of specific providers. During this phase it is difficult for buyers to wade through the copious amounts of research and marketing materials to understand the various advantages and benefits that each solution approach might provide.

Solution providers can help facilitate the Consideration phase, providing content and engagement tools to help:

·         Quantify the incremental benefits and TCO of various solution options – to help buyers understand the differences amongst various solution approaches, solution providers should provide research, case studies and analysis tools to help buyers understand the various competitive options and advantages of different approaches, quantify the total cost of ownership (TCO) differences, and illuminate the incremental benefits of the solution compared to other solution alternatives.

·         Provide Solution Demos and Trials – spoiled by consumer “try-before-you-buy” options, prove the capabilities of your solution versus others with demos and trials.
In the final stage of the buyer’s journey, the procurement team must reach consensus on a particular proposal, and gain selection approval from the many stakeholders involved in the decision making process. Finance in particular has become more involved in economic justification and the final vendor selection process, providing more price pressure and financial diligence.

In the final Decision best-value bake-off phase, Forrester indicates that 35% of vendor selection decisions are made, making it more important to get connected and engaged in earlier phases. However, many deals get stalled by a failure to overcome objections and drive consensus during this phase, making it vital to effectively address.

To make it easier for stakeholders to grant approval, risk must be mitigated and justified, with the solution provider providing content and engagements to:  

·         Provide financial justification – providing the research, case studies and ROI tools to help quantify the required investment, benefits, ROI, payback and other key metrics that financial executives need to make the case for change;

·         Quantify price / value trade off – delivering comparisons that prove competitive advantages of the selected product / service, especially quantifying the total cost of ownership (TCO) advantages, incremental benefits, and lower risks.
The Bottom-Line
Buyers continue to be challenged by the economy in 2012, making it more difficult to make investments and drive change.  Buyers are looking for solution providers who can help facilitate the buyer’s journey, helping uncover and prioritize opportunities for improvement, recommend solution options and justify decisions.

Solution providers have a unique opportunity to help facilitate this ever more difficult buyer’s journey with content and engagement practices to help facilitate and shorten cycles. Throughout the journey, marketing and sales engagements can provide content to help facilitate change and the decision making process, especially research insights, case studies, diagnostic assessments, benefit estimators, demos and trials, ROI business case and TCO comparison tools.

CFOs are Large and in Charge of Buying Process in 2012

The financial relief most expected in 2011 never came, as the European debt crisis and US credit rating downgrade renewed pessimism, and may even be driving us to another recession. The continued economic uncertainty may define 2012, as “Frugalnomics” remains in full effect driving companies to be more spendthrift and risk adverse. To better manage spending and risk, finance is playing a more active role in most purchase decisions, this according to a recent study by CFO Magazine.

According to the 570 US executives surveyed, CFO Magazine reports that three-quarters of the organizations surveyed have increased the involvement of finance in the buying process, with the survey indicating that the top areas of involvement now include:

1.       Developing/reviewing business and functional requirements (98%)

2.       Preparing/reviewing financial justification and ROI analyses (95%)

3.       Speaking with and evaluating prospective vendors (85%).

Of particular note, not only is the finance team involved in assuring business alignment and financial due diligence, but has advanced to now being involved in the evaluation and selection of vendors. And the criteria finance uses to make the vendor selection is different than most. Of 13 different factors, the most critical vendor selection factors indicated in the executive survey includes:

1. Vendor attention to the firm’s specific problems and needs (67%)

2. Price/value relationship (60%)

3. Proven performance/reliability (functionality, efficiency, productivity, ROI, etc.) (57%)

Clearly the role of finance teams has increased, with involvement throughout the decision making and selection process, particularly playing a more active role in final decisions.

The increased involvement requires vendors to build strong marketing and sales relationships with these finance executives, providing key sales and marketing content and engagements to help fight Frugalnomics, particularly diagnosing and illuminating opportunities and needs, quantifying the price / value advantages of proposed solutions, and delivering financial justification.

According to survey results, CFO Magazine recommends that vendors must improve the way the communicate with finance executives, particularly dumping the product speak and technology jargon to instead listen to and diagnose customer needs and provide a clear ROI business case. As pricing tends to be an issue in tougher times, survey results indicate that vendors need to be proactively transparent on pricing, proving total cost of ownership (TCO) and incremental ROI advantages, and helping illustrate the price / value for the expenditures.

With ROI being so important to the finance teams selection criteria, the CFO Magazine survey revealed a broad set of tangible and intangible factors that finance uses to judge vendor success, including:

1.       Direct Cost Reductions or Purchase Avoidance

2.       Labor Savings/Increased Speed

3.       Increased Revenues

4.       Enhancements In Productivity/Efficiencies

5.       Acceptance/Use by Staff & Customers

6.       Ease Of Use

7.       Whether Performance was Achieved as Promised

 Best Practices for Connecting, Engaging and Selling to Finance Execs
Vendor sales and marketing teams can achieve better effectiveness and competitive advantage if they are better able to connect, engage and sell to the finance executive. With the importance of finance in the selection process, the following five best practices can help drive better success in 2012:

1.       Specific problems and needs – implement content, tools and engagements designed to uncover and diagnose specific problems and needs, helping to illuminate and prioritize unique opportunities, and codifying how recommended solutions specifically align to the opportunities and address the need;

2.       Prove the Cost of Doing Nothing - Since many organizations are frozen in times of uncertainty, it is important to help the buyer understand that the status-quo won’t do, providing tangible evidence that there is a “cost of doing nothing”;

3.       Provide ROI justification – prove that the proposed solution can deliver substantial cost and labor savings, improved productivity and efficiency, and/or incremental revenue, providing a substantial ROI and quick payback;

4.       Quantify price / value relationship – buyers are looking for deals, and can fixate on purchase price if not careful. Therefore, it’s important to proactively prove that the proposed solutions represent a lower total cost of ownership and good competitive value;

5.       Prove ROI and success post deliver – finance is focused not just on the pre-sales selection process, but assuring that delivered solutions netted the promised ROI with measurable savings, improvements and value.

The Bottom-Line
With the economic uncertainty continuing into 2012, finance will maintain a strong and increasing involvement in purchase diligence and vendor selection. Finance is less emotionally involved in the purchase decision, requiring proof that your proposals show a clear understanding of the buyer’s challenges and issues, can deliver tangible bottom-line impact and ROI, and deliver superior competitive value. New content and engagement techniques need to be evolved to provide the diagnostics, ROI justification business case, superior value proof points and post-delivery success measures.

CFO Independent Research Study: The Senior Finance Team and Corporate Purchasing Decisions - The online research project, sponsored by CFO Magazine, was conducted independently in July, 2011 by Martin Akel & Associates (Chester, NJ, USA). The study reflects the opinions and activities of 570 U.S. corporate executives.

Additional articles and research regarding value selling and marketing can be found at

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Iron Mountain Cost Savings Advisor Interactive White Paper

Iron Mountain needed to better connect and engage with busy executives, to help these prospects understand the potential risk mitigation and costs savings from improving eDiscovery best practices.

Alinean worked with Iron Mountain subject matter experts to create the Cost Savings Advisor Interactive White Paper.

A few questions answered by the prospect produces a completely relevant, personalized and compelling 6-page white paper.

The Alinean powered Interactive White Paper campaign produced more qualified leads, better opportunities and shorter sales cycles than traditional white paper campaigns.

You can try the Interactive White Paper for yourself by clicking here.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

4 Ways to Optimize Content for the Economy-Focused Buyer in 2012

Businesses entered 2011 with optimism that an economic recovery was at hand and anxiously put plans in place for much-needed new projects, a return to growth and innovation.

As we know, 2011 is best characterized by the recovery that never came. The Greek crises and European woes, U.S. debt downgrades, and budget conflicts all conspired to put a damper on the year and set a pessimistic stage for 2012.

Read this compelling Content Marketing Institute article to learn how the continued economic troubles drive our content marketing & sales enablement predictions for 2012:

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Alinean Translates Fight Frugalnomics Momentum into Strong Third Quarter 2011 Performance

Demand for Interactive White Papers, Diagnostic Assessments, ROI Calculators and TCO Comparison Tools Drives Growth.

For 2011 Q3, we are delighted to announce the addition of six important new customers, two major partnerships, and several significant awards during the third quarter of 2011.

Building on demand for its Fight Frugalnomics movement, an initiative to arm sales and marketing with value-focused sales and marketing tools , Alinean added several new customers including NetSuite, IGT, Falconstor, Palo Alto Software, Xirrus and Lifesize. During the quarter, Alinean also expanded its partner community to include leading IT publisher IDG, and leading marketing automation firm Marketo.

"As the economic malaise continues through 2011, Frugalnomics remains in full effect, with more buyers continuing to guard budgets and demanding quantifiable business benefits from any new investments," said Tom Pisello, Chairman and Founder of Alinean. "Savvy B2B solution providers recognize that new value-focused marketing content and sales tools are needed to connect, engage and sell to these more empowered, skeptical and frugal buyers."

As the demand for value-based sales and marketing tools grows, Alinean continues to expand its significant customer and partner base, proving to be the preferred value-based interactive content marketing and diagnostic sales tool provider.

Accomplishments by Alinean this past quarter includes:
  • The Inc. 500 / 5000 listing Alinean for the second year in a row as one of the fastest-growing U.S. private companies, ranking 299 among the top Advertising & Marketing providers and 3,354 overall, recognizing it’s 55% revenue growth over the last three years;
  • The Orlando Business Journal awarding Alinean as an Outstanding Small Business;
  • The Launch of Interactive Content Connectors, enabling the integration of Alinean’s value-based sales and marketing solutions, and the rich customer intelligence these tools collect, with CRM / marketing automation solutions including, Eloqua and Marketo;
  • Being featured at Eloqua’s Markies Award ceremony where Alinean was recognized as a "Must See" for its innovative approach to interactive, personalized content for lead-gen campaigns;
  • Launch of the Ask the ROI Guy FAQ with over 100 blog / video resources to the most common questions marketers / sales enablement professionals have about implementing value-based sales / marketing tools and campaigns.
Thank you all for joining us in the Fight Frugalnomics movement, and for your continued support!

Integrate Value Marketing & Selling with CRM & Marketing Automation

Easy integration of value marketing & selling tools with CRM and marketing automation systems is essential to properly connect, engage and sell to today’s more empowered, skeptical and frugal buyers. With this integration, intelligence can be shared and leveraged, campaigns can be better targeted, and prospects can be better nurtured and engaged.

To empower this integration, Alinean announces the availability of a new version of the XcelLive platform (v5.3), adding Interactive Content Connectors (ICCs) to provide streamlined data exchange between Alinean sales & marketing tools and external applications, especially marketing automation & CRM systems.

The functions include Data-In, Data-Out, Single Sign-On (SSO), and Registration services, used to:

  Pre-populate profile data in Alinean tools

o  Feed profile data from CRM / marketing automation system, registration, or web page

o  Reduce user data entry requirements

o  Automate analysis / report development

o  Save users time and improve accuracy of reports

  Collect rich data from Alinean tool users:

o  Automatically collect and feed valuable profile, configuration, opportunity, solution, assessment and value / ROI results into CRM and marketing automation systems

o  More knowledge means better targeting, nurturing, and sell through

  SSO: Enhance and expedite security

  Leverage existing registration systems to capture prospect data

For more information on Alinean XcelLive, click here:

Monday, November 14, 2011

Recovery Makes Selling IT Much Easier into 2012? Fahgettaboudit!

They said 2011 was going to be the year for IT execs to refocus on revenue growth versus cost savings, loosen budgets for backlogged / new projects, and return to innovation and growth. But that was then, and this is now. The now is after the U.S .credit ratings debacle, the European debt crises, renewed pessimism worldwide and, perhaps worse, a double-dip recession.

As 2011 unfolded, pundits’ predictions for significant IT spending growth were dashed. Forrester, originally estimating worldwide IT budget increases north of 7% at the start of the year, have now revised their predictions downward, as have many other analysts.

How can you align your IT sales and marketing strategy with these downward revisions to achieve sales and marketing success in 2012?

Click here to read this feature article:

SMBs a Bright Spot for IT Sales and Marketing into the New Year?

Hopes for the much anticipated economic recovery in 2011 were recently dashed as the European debt crisis proved worse than anticipated, and the US credit downgrade added additional uncertainty.  As a result, several analyst firms have dropped their spending outlooks, and are predicting tight IT budgets for the New Year. IT solution providers are quickly reacting to the pessimistic forecasts with a sales and marketing strategy rethink – trying to appeal to today’s more stressed and frugal buyer.

But the news is NOT all bad. According to SpiceWorks latest State of SMB IT report, there was a 9% increase in second half 2011 budget forecasts, the highest planned budget uptick over the past two years. Despite all of the negative worldwide economic news and sentiment , and decided impact enterprise IT spending, small and medium business leaders are optimistic enough to grow IT spending further.

According to the 962 respondents, SMB IT spending on hardware, software and services has increased from an average of $108K per organization in 2009, to a planned $143K in the second half of 2011. Hiring demands are increasing at the same time, from a low of only 20% planning staff additions in the latter half of 2010, to 31% currently planning staff additions. These findings are leading some to predict that the ability to attract and retain talent will quickly become a major IT challenge.

SMBs are leveraging more cost efficient and agile IT strategies to be frugal,  but at the driving business operating efficiency and effectiveness. As a result, SMBs have invested more in certain infrastructure areas, especially virtualization, up 7% from prior period, and cloud computing, nearly doubling every six months, especially in storage and backup services.  Spurred by mobility and usability demands, the survey revealed that tablets are taking SMBs by storm as well.

SMBs Ready to Celebrate Good Times?
Even though growth is evident for SMBs, pressures remain to drive IT and business operations cost savings, while creating a more flexible / mobile environment for business success.

Here’s where we think the SMB challenges will  be for 2012, and tips for how IT solution provider sales and marketers can best succeed in addressing these opportunities:

1)      Do More with Less – SMB IT has to wear many hats, and although budgets are increasing, likely the innovation and service demands on IT are outstripping the modest increases. As a result, SMB IT will struggle just keeping the lights on, having little time to investigate new opportunities, and struggling to find the time and budgets for new and innovative projects.

Tip#1: Be Provocative – SMB IT leaders are looking for consultative help to identify issues and opportunities they might not have been aware of, and prioritizing key issues/ opportunities of which they are readily aware, but having a hard time convincing  frugal senior management to address. Leveraging research white papers, case studies and diagnostic assessments, sales and marketing can help increase opportunity awareness and prioritize that important IT infrastructure or business solution.

2)      Risk Adverse – small businesses have to get the most out of every investment, and although they are more optimistic than larger enterprises, remain risk adverse, fearful that they might make a wrong project bet. For SMB IT leaders, and the senior business managers and owners they report to, it is often easier to maintain the status-quo, than to take a chance and risk change.

Tip #2: Prove that there is a “cost of doing nothing” – armed with research, case studies and tools, sales and marketing can help quantify that the status-quo is costing the organization more than expected. This can importantly prove that the SMB is spending more than they should be on IT or business operations, wasting money with poor business processes and productivity inhibitors, or losing key business opportunities.

3)      Price Focused – As one might expect when times get rough and budgets are constrained, price dominates the decision making process for the vast majority of buyers, with some 64% of 448 small and medium business respondents indicating such in a TricomB2B / University of Dayton survey: The Considered Purchase Decision. 

Tip #3: Elevate the Discussions beyond Initial Purchase Price: In a price-focused environment, discounts will gain attention and often can be enticing to frugal buyers. Appealing to the discount shopper in us all can prove successful; however, most solution providers need to elevate beyond the “discount dance”, elevating the discussion so that buyers understand that lower initial price might actually be more costly. Research, case studies and tools to quantify lower total cost of ownership (TCO), the cost to own and operate the asset or service over the useful life, can help move the focus from up-front price. As well, quantifying the incremental business value of the proposed solution can help SMB IT understand the ROI and payback of perhaps paying more up-front .

4)      Need to Leverage and Empower Business Resources – Most small and medium businesses have limited human capital and business assets by which to succeed. They need to get the most out of each and every resource, and technology is often utilized as a potential multiplier of business efficiency.

Tip #4: Prove Business Value: With the current economic-focus, it is important to help quantify how IT could potentially be leveraged to improve business productivity, streamline processes and drive resource utilization improvements. White papers, case studies and tools that can help IT quantify the value of proposed business-focused IT investments can help to economically justify and prioritize such projects.

5)      Need to Serve Customers Better and Innovate to Gain Competitive Advantage – Most markets are experiencing more empowered customers with heightened expectations, more pressure from competitors to keep customer relationships secure and market pressures to capture and grow limited new revenue opportunities. There is more pressure than ever to improving customer relationships and competitive advantage via social, marketing, sales and service technology.

Tip #5: Prove Customer / Competitive Value: Each SMB has unique and growing customer and competitive challenges. Providing the research, white papers and tools to tie solutions and proposals to addressing these key goals, and quantifying the value of improved customer relationships (such as increased customer retention and lifetime value) and competitive market share improvements, can help to justify and prioritize proposed customer / competitive focused IT projects to frugal senior managers / owners.
The Bottom-Line
Even though good economic news is hard to come by, SMBs might represent the one bright spot for IT vendors in 2012. 

However, even with the proposed budget increases, SMB IT leaders are still forced to do more with less, remaining quite risk adverse and price-focused. Business, customer and competitive demands all remain high, likely outstripping the modest expected budget gains. This presents unique challenges for IT solution providers seeking to capture more SMB opportunities in the New Year.

Successful sales and marketing groups will recognize the spending bright spot, putting in place the content marketing and sales enablement strategies to help facilitate SMB IT to address the challenges of modestly increasing budgets in tough times. This should include:

1)      Being provocative to help consultatively uncover and prioritize opportunities;

2)      Helping prove to buyers that there is a “cost of doing nothing”;

3)      Educating the buyer that initial purchase price should not be the only decision factor, instead elevating the discussion to include total cost of ownership (TCO) and incremental value

4)      Quantifying the business value of solutions, particularly how IT can be used to improve business efficiency;

5)      Proving the customer / competitive advantage of proposed solutions, especially how IT can be used to drive business effectiveness.

State of SMB IT 2H 2011, SpiceWorks