The downside of sales hustle and automation

Are your sales reps hitting the phones and sending more cold emails? To drive growth, the mandate for sales organizations is to make more calls, send more emails. Sales reps are hustling and using automated tools to move faster. But sales hustle and automation have a downside: they can hurt customer experience and push people […]

The post The downside of sales hustle and automation appeared first on the B2B Lead Blog.

New research: Empathy and solving buying problems

New research: Empathy and solving buying problems

Most of us are solving sales and marketing problems. But instead, we need focus on solving customer buying problems with empathy.

Why? Because buying is harder today than ever been. You need to think about what your customer is thinking/feeling.

According to Brent Adamson, Principal Executive Advisor, Gartner, “empathy” is the one word that matters most to sales [and marketing] success.

This is part two of my interview with Brent Adamson (@brentadamson), co-author of The Challenger Sale and The Challenger Customer.

Continue reading New research: Empathy and solving buying problems at B2B Lead Blog.

New research: Boost organic growth from current customers

CEOs and sales leaders have long wondered: how can we drive organic growth and increase sales from existing customers?

But it’s elusive. In fact, the traditional approach is no longer working.

According to CEB, now Gartner, “Only 28% of sales leaders report that account management channels regularly meet their cross-selling and account growth targets.”

That’s why I interviewed Brent Adamson (@brentadamson), Principal Executive Advisor at Gartner, and the co-author of The Challenger Sale and The Challenger Customer.

Can you tell our listeners a little bit about you and your background?

Brent Adamson:  I work with an organization formerly known as CEB and has now been acquired by Gartner.

I work with the Sales & Service and Marketing & Communications practices here at the company. And it’s sort of our mission in life, at least in the business to business space where I spend most of my time, trying to understand with data, with research, with analytics, what does world-class B2B selling and marketing look like?

We get after that, again, with all sorts of analysis and research. It’s funny, we’re actually industry agnostic. We work across industries, go to market models, geographies, and try to understand (across all of the different kinds of companies out there) what do we all have in common?

What’s the recipe for success that’s going to help us all move the dial, do a little bit better, in sales, in marketing and ideally in sales and marketing?

How can sellers drive account growth?  

Well, sure. This is brand new research for us. In some way or another, we always study growth, right? Because that’s what sales and marketing are all about.

There’s a certain almost urgency, or we like to call the “Why Now?”, of this growth question, especially in sales, which is especially relevant for us today.

And that is simply the journey that we’ve all been on over the last five years, five months, 10 years, 20 years of building out broader capabilities across our organization to offer our customers, if you will, solutions as opposed to individual products and/or services.

The idea that if you can offer your customer broader solutions, that’s going to allow you to stand out, to differentiate yourself, to command price premiums in the marketplace. All good things to do and good reasons to do it.

The thing that’s interesting though, Brian, as you add all those capabilities to your portfolio that you can now bring to your customer to add that additional value. The actual value they create for you as a supplier is of course directly contingent on your ability to actually sell them, to get your customer actually to buy those incremental capabilities.

Not surprisingly, companies all around the world, in their efforts to grow, are looking to existing customers to buy into more of the cart, as we all like to say, to penetrate that account more deeply and get them to buy into more of the value that we can offer.

It turns out this is a huge challenge for B2B organizations around the world, which is, simply put, to get existing customers to buy more of what we have to sell; to essentially drive growth with existing customers. That is the challenge or the terrain, as we like to say, that we dove into this year.

What can sales do better?

What can we, as sales organizations, do to do a better job of driving growth with those existing customers? When you dig into it what’s interesting is the amount of frustration with sales organizations around the world in making that happen. There’s only about roughly a quarter of the heads of sales that we surveyed this year who told us that their account teams were meeting, let alone exceeding, cross-sales or up-sales across portfolio goals.

Whether you call it up-sales, cross-sales, land-and-expand, whatever you might call it, we’re all struggling to get that incremental revenue from our customers.

Let me take a breath there, but that’s sort of the terrain that we dived into to try and understand what’s going on. I would imagine, Brian, that’s something you hear a lot about too across your listenership.

Brian: Yeah. I was just talking with a CEO and his team, and that’s really a struggle. They were wondering how do they grow organically?

They talked about customer success, and they talked about how they could service their account above and beyond, but that just didn’t seem to be enough.

Driving organic growth (it’s counterintuitive)

Brent: Well, no. You’re right. It was counterintuitive even to us. We always have these hypotheses that we test in all our research, but it’s interesting to see how the data and the research shake out.

What we found is a couple of things here in this world of account managers, if you will, that this is the farming side of the hunting/farming debate. Right?

That’s about our farmers, and they must be nurturers and take care of our current customers, and then when they fail to grow, we think, “Oh, they need to be harder, and they need to be tougher, and they need to be more aggressive. We need to get them in there.”

What’s interesting is when we fail to drive growth with current customers, we often blame the people. We need more hunter-oriented sales professionals in our account management ranks, or we need someone that is going to ask for the business or be more aggressive as opposed to being so nurturing.

There’s an interesting tendency to fall back on DNA or at least on individual traits and assume that the lack of growth is the result of the wrong people.

Then you get the CEO saying, “We need better people. We need different people.” What we’ve come to understand really is not only is it the structure of the role.

Growing and keeping customers what you need to do differently

Yes, you’re on the hook for driving growth in existing accounts, but let’s not forget you’re also on the hook for not losing the business that you’ve already won.

At the same time, you’re partly on the hook, or at least partially you’re involved in the servicing of those accounts as well. You’ve got success or managing, making sure they get value from that which they’ve already bought, and then driving incremental growth.

What happens in the account management role, unlike a pure hunting role, is that when you’re sitting over, or at least involved in, all three of those categories simultaneously, not only your time, but your attention and focus gets split in some interesting ways that create all sorts of tension.

So, if I’m a pure hunter, all I’m tasked to do is to go out and bring out new logos or new customers altogether. But if I’m a farmer, if I’m someone in an account management role, yes, I’ve got to bring in incremental business, but never at the cost of losing the business that we’ve won already.

That’s the thing we say: the single thing worse than failing to grow an account is failing to keep it all together.

What you have now is this interesting tension of an account manager trying to pat your head and rub your tummy at the same time. They’re trying to do very different things simultaneously, which is grow the account but not lose the account.

Balancing account growth with retention

And the reason why that matters is that what you’re asking the customer to do in this environment is two very different things.

To keep the customer you essentially must get the customer to agree to the status quo. So, keep doing what you’re doing, sign up for it again, renew that contract, buy the same amount, renew that business if it was a renewal-based business, so that’s a status quo decision.

But a growth decision is to do something different, to buy more, to expand to more seats, to go to a new geography, to incorporate this new service or new technology.

From an account management perspective, I’ve got two tensions simultaneously. One tension is to try to get them to grow without losing what I’ve got already. And simultaneously I’m trying to get my customer to change and not change their behavior at the same time, and this turns out to be hard, right?

So, this stuff’s really fascinating from a social science perspective.

You think about, how do I play that card, what’s the strategy for winning and driving growth in that environment. So full circle back to your question, Brian.

Does over servicing customers drive growth?  

We find that the predominant mental model of account managers in this world is, well, first things first, before I get the growth I’ve got to get the “maintain,” I’ve got to get the “retain.”

Let’s make sure that they’re happy, let’s make sure they’re taken care of, let’s make sure they’re satisfied. In fact, let’s make sure they’re delighted with whatever we sold in the past.

So, let’s over-serve them, let’s provide world-class service, and if we do that we’re going to, at some point, achieve a threshold, permission, and if we can get over that permission threshold, then we’ll have won the right to ask them for growth.

And somehow, the fact of just by being so happy with the service we provided in the past, will drive growth.

And so that brings us full circle to the punchline of a lot of our data.

What we found is when you provide a world-class level, even just an above average level of service and success to your customers, they are twice as likely to renew.

So, we can find no statistically significant impact on that level of service, and the likelihood of that customer to grow.

So, put it all together and what you get is service drives retention, but it doesn’t drive growth.

service-on-account-growth

And that’s a really interesting thing to find in a world where the mental model, essentially the working hypothesis of not only account managers but all the way up to the CEO is, let’s serve our customers. Let’s create these world-class moments of delight, and that will earn us the permission for growth.

And we just don’t find that to be the case at all in our research.

The zone of wasted effort

Brian: The rationale and logic has always been, go the extra mile, delight. What your data’s showing us is that there is a point of overserving our customers?

Brent: We gave it a sort of provocative name, so if you draw this out in a set of curves, and we’ve got graphics to go along with this.

But the idea is if you think more service equals higher likelihood to grow, so you think of almost sort of like a… If you grasp this regarding growth likelihood, it almost looks like a 45-degree angle going up and to the right.

So service is on the horizontal axis, likelihood to grow is on the vertical and the more service I provide, the farther I go to the right, the higher I get on the vertical. Because service leads to growth.

service-and-account-growth

What we find is in fact that the line doesn’t go up and to the right endlessly, but it shanks to the right. It levels off and ends to your point regarding diminishing returns, and at some point, no matter how much more service you provide, you pour into that account, the chances of driving growth do not go up, because service doesn’t equal growth.

And so, what happens is that you keep providing more and more service with absolutely no incremental impact on growth likelihood.  It creates this huge gap between the amount of service provided and the amount of service that you needed to provide simply to get retention.

We call that gap the Zone of Wasted Effort, which is somewhat provocative.

But the Zone of Wasted Effort is in fact that.

It is effort that you’ve expended in serving the customer, in delighting the customer in hopes of getting growth that will never actually get you growth.

Because it doesn’t lead to growth, and so at the very least, in that Zone of Wasted Effort, there’s all sorts of questions there, but one of them is simply: what are the opportunity costs of our time?

How much time, money, effort, people are we pouring into a customer to provide world-class service when, in fact, the customer’s going to renew or retain anyway?

Strategies to drive organic growth

Just in Atlanta two weeks ago, one head of sales said, “We do this all the time.” The real price is not just the opportunity cost/time that you pay, but the fact that you are now raising expectations for your customer way above anything that you ever originally promised, and your recalibrating, or resetting their expectations for the next deal.

So yes, it gets you attention, which you were going to get anyway, doesn’t get you growth because it can’t get you growth. What it does do though is it makes the next deal you do with the customer even that much more expensive because you’ve recalibrated their expectations way higher than you ever needed to do originally just to keep the account.

Brian: This is a problem that’s affecting nearly every B2B company: “How do we drive organic growth?” What are some of the strategies, the things you’ve found, that sellers can do differently?

Set clear expectations

Brent: A couple thoughts on this. One is, to get back to the previous point, it becomes really important in this world to set very clear expectations.

The thing that heads of sales ask us all the time is, “Okay, I get it, or I kind of get it. I’m on board. I see the data makes sense, so I understand that at some point there’s diminishing returns to providing greater and greater service but how do I know how much service is enough? How do I know when I’ve reached that threshold; I’ve maximized the benefit for retention knowing that there is no benefit for growth? How do I figure out what that moment is?”

And the answer simply is, “It’s in simply meeting the expectations that you’ve established with your customer in advance. Whether it’s formally, through something like service level agreements or more informally through quarterly reviews or business reviews, or account planning processes.

But one way or another, setting those expectations very clearly, probably in writing with not only your customers but your own team, so that you don’t perform way above them, because all that does is add cost with no real return.” So that’s point one: setting expectations is super important.

That is more of a cost mitigation strategy, it’s not really a growth strategy as you asked for. So, Brian, the flip side is now how do I drive the growth?

Focus on customer improvement

Well, what our data has led us to understand is there is a completely different strategy altogether, which is something that we’ve come to call “Customer Improvement.”

For any of the listeners on the podcast who are familiar with our work that we’ve done in The Challenger Sale, in The Challenger Customer, this idea will sound very familiar. Effectively, it’s a subset of behaviors, or attributes that are all completely consistent with the Challenger body of work.

We tested a whole bunch of different attributes in our data across about 750 B2B customers, individual stakeholders involved in a big B2B purchase.

And what we found is for those suppliers who were perceived by those customers as providing a set of interactions that we’ve labeled “Customer Improvement”, they were significantly more likely to buy incremental services, additional geographies, additional features, additional products from that supplier.

Customer Improvement is the ability of a supplier to help critically assess the customer’s business in a way the customer hasn’t fully appreciated on their own, and help them identify new ways to grow, to make money, to save money, to lay out the ROI of taking a step in that direction.

Get customers to embrace change

If your goal is retention or renewal, what you’re trying to do there is just get your customers to embrace the status quo, to just keep doing what they’ve already decided to do in the past.

But to get them to grow, you need to get them to embrace change – to do something different, to buy something different, and if you want your customers to do something different, well that’s change.  Change is perceived as risky, and if I’m going to do anything risky, if I’m going to do anything that’s involving change you’ve got to make the business case not for buying your solution, but for changing their behavior.

And that’s what Customer Improvement is all about. It’s building a business case and articulating a business case to your customers for why they need not to buy your solution, but why they need to change their behavior in a way that’s going to improve their business.

It’s a really powerful lesson completely consistent with what we’ve found in the past, but what’s so stark about it in this context is that for existing accounts, while service and success do not drive growth, Customer Improvement does, dramatically so in fact.

Go from reactive to forward-looking

Brian: It sounds like what you’re saying is we need to move from being more reactive and looking at how do we deliver and retain, to proactive, being forward-looking.

I was thinking of this conversation I had with this CEO and his team. They have this customer success strategy, and it was really helping their customers become like gold medal athletes at performing what they do.

And the problem is the customers weren’t wanting to be gold medalists. What they wanted to be is to get their job done more effectively simply and there wasn’t that vision. And so, what I’m hearing is, you need to help someone.  If they want to embrace that level, it is to know where they want to go and how you can help take them there. Is that what you’re saying?

The difference between customer success and improvement

Brent: A little bit, yeah, it is. I would use slightly different language, only in the sense that the term Customer Success, at least in the world of software service for example, the big cloud providers, and that sort of world, the term success or Success Team has taken on a very specific definition or framework.

So, a Success Team there is generally designed to make sure the customer gets as much value from that which they’ve bought from you in the past as possible.

So, this is a proactive team that would reach out to the customer and say, “Hey you’ve got this subscription from us,” for example or, “You’ve bought this product or service from us. Did you know it has this capability you can take advantage of? Or, did you know there are these ways we can help you based on the contract we already have in place?”

So, it’s a proactive call. It’s not reactive in the sense that a customer calls you when they’re upset because something doesn’t work but because you’re proactively calling them and helping them get value from that which they’ve already bought. It’s proactive but backward-looking.

It’s focused on what you bought from us as a supplier in the past and making sure you get as much success from that as possible.

Now the Customer Improvement thing is not a thing.

The Customer Improvement concept, or the approach, is not backward-looking, but forward-looking.

And it’s not about your capabilities but the customers.

In fact, it’s completely supplier agnostic in way that will just drive you crazy.

It’s weird to try to get your customer to buy something without talking about your capabilities, which you will eventually, not at the beginning of the conversation though, but at the end.

So, if you think about a four-square, where the vertical dimension is supplier across the bottom, customer across the top and then the left-right is on the left, it’s sort of backward-looking, and the right is forward-looking.

account-health-model

Success Teams tend to be in the bottom left box. Success Teams tend to be backward-looking around the supplier’s capability. So, let’s make sure you get as much value from that which you’ve bought already. It’s a proactive push but around that which you’ve bought already.

Customer improvement isn’t about you

The Customer Improvement story up in the top right is not about you at all, it’s about the customer and how they can change the way they think about their business, in a way that’s going to help them reap greater returns in the future, going forward.

So, back to your point that the customer doesn’t want to be a gold medalist. In this world, what you need to do is figure out what your customer is ultimately trying to achieve, who are they trying to be? If not, a gold medalist then is it a silver medalist? Is it not a medalist at all?

Or, what are their ultimate goals as a commercial organization and you can ask yourself:

Okay, if that’s looking forward to the future, what they’re trying to achieve? What is it about that strategy that is incomplete or perhaps even misplaced?

How are they going to get there and what have they missed? If that’s what’s important to them, how can I help them get there better than if they ultimately are planning on getting there on their own?

And I suppose if you wanted to raise it up a notch in altitude, if you really wanted to you could go in and argue with, “That’s not even a good place for you to be starting within the first place.”

That is a higher-level argument, which is sometimes harder to have with your customer and I would never use the word argument per se, but “debate” if you will.

But one way or another you will find that this is the case, that your customers were always going to be oriented towards the status quo.

Because change is expensive, it’s disruptive, it’s scary, it’s risky, and if you’re going to get your customers to change their behavior, the first thing you’ve got to do is convince them that that change is even worth it in the first place.

That maybe it is worth it to become a gold medalist. Or if you only want to be a silver medalist that’s fine, but let me show you how the path that you’re on towards the silver medal isn’t going to get you there nearly as fast or as effectively as you thought it was going to.

Related resources:

Driving Growth Through Smarter Account Management

Quotable: Why Changing Behavior Is Your Biggest Sales Challenge

[Video] Rethinking Customer Understanding with Brent Adamson: Part 1

[Video] Rethinking Customer Understanding with Brent Adamson: Part 2

Why customer advocacy should be at the heart of your marketing

How customer-hero stories help you connect better

How to Attract B2B Buyers with Amazing Content

The post New research: Boost organic growth from current customers appeared first on the B2B Lead Blog.

10 Most Popular B2B Lead Generation Blog Posts of 2017

10 most popular B2B Lead Generation Posts

January is a time for new beginnings.

To help you launch into a great year, I’ve compiled a list of the top ten most popular and shared posts on the B2B Lead Generation Blog in 2017.

This following list was compiled based on aggregate social shares across Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook and views.

The list starts at number 10 moving up.

#10: How to Improve Lead Routing to Skyrocket Sales 

lead-routingHave you intentionally optimized your sales lead routing and assignment process? If not, you could be losing sales, and marketing ROI not see it.

For example, LeadData’s new report, The State of Lead Management, based on a survey of 527 B2B sellers and marketers found an average 25.5 % of marketing-generated leads get assigned to the wrong account owner.

Did you catch that? Over 25% of marketing-generated leads get assigned to the wrong person. In this post, you’ll get 7 tips to increase your lead generation ROI by improving how you route leads.

Read about How to Improve Lead Routing to Skyrocket Sales Results

 #9: Getting sales enablement right to increase results

sales_enablement

Sales enablement is intended to help raise performance, but a lot of efforts have backfired due to departmental silos. And now there’s growing gap between what salespeople need and what they’re getting to improve performance.

So how do you get sales enablement right?

I interviewed Dave Brock (@davidabrock), author of the Sales Manager Survival Guide, also CEO of Partners in EXCELLENCE. Dave’s brilliance is his focus on practical simplification.

Find out how to get sales enablement right to increase results

#8: How to do lead management that improves conversion

Have you looked at your lead management approach from the perspective of customer experience? If not, you may want to start now.

Here’s why: According to Forrester, top performers convert 1.54% of marketing qualified leads to revenue. This means almost 98% people who start the customer journey are lost.

Find out 5 areas you need to focus on to improve lead management and increase conversion.

Read more: How to do lead management that improves conversion

#7: Seven Tips to Boost Lead Nurturing Email Results

People aren’t looking for a reason to read your lead nurturing email messages, they’re looking for a reason to delete them. Think about it.

Marketers rely on email as the top lead nurturing tactic. And according to Econsultancy email is the best digital channel for ROI.

Read 7 Tips to Boost Lead Nurturing Email Results

#6: Stuck on words: how can marketing connect with customers better?

customer connectionHow can marketers better connect with people we hope will become our customers?

Why? Because the trust gap between marketers and customers has never been bigger.

For example, this survey by Hubspot showed that only 3 percent of buyers surveyed consider marketers and salespeople trustworthy. Yikes.

It starts with the words we use which ultimately affects how we think and act towards others.

Read Stuck on words: how can marketing connect with customers better?

#5: How customer-hero stories help you connect emotionally and sell better

customer-hero storiesJust 13% of salespeople produce 87% of revenue in a typical organization according to the Sales Benchmark Index.

You may be wondering: what do the 13% do differently?

They connect emotionally with their buyers.

I interviewed Mike Bosworth. If you don’t know Mike Bosworth already, he is a thought leader in the B2B sales/marketing space.

Read more: How customer-hero stories help you connect better

#4: New B2B Persona Research from Salesforce and LinkedIn Study

Getting the right content to the right people continues to be a challenge in B2B marketing and lead generation.

Salesforce analyzed more than 15 million data points, spanning a four-year period, from two of the most massive B2B databases: Data.com and LinkedIn.

The results will surprise you.

I interviewed Mathew Sweezey (@msweezey). Mathew works with Salesforce and is the Principal of Marketing Insights to talk about the report, B2B Personas: Targeting Audiences.

Check out the New B2B Persona Research from Salesforce and LinkedIn Study

#3: Lead Nurturing: 5 Useful Tactics to Get More Opportunities

Lead-Nurturing-TacticsLead nurturing is one of those things that’s easy to talk about but hard to do.

Find out how to apply lead nurturing to help advance leads through three stages of your lead generation funnel to get more qualified opportunities.

Learn 5 tactics you can use immediately to improve lead-to-customer conversion.

Read more: Lead Nurturing: 5 Useful Tactics to Get More Opportunities

#2: Why customer advocacy should be at the heart of your marketing

Customer advocacy marketing programs help you increase revenue by improving customer acquisition and retention (and they’re also your best source of leads).

I interviewed Mark Organ (@markorgan). Mark is the Founder and CEO of Influitive, and he’s been a thought leader in the space of sales/marketing technology and customer advocacy.

Read about Why customer advocacy should be at the heart of your marketing

#1: Who should own lead generation for a complex sale?

Who should own B2B lead generation: sales, marketing or both?

You might be thinking, “isn’t the answer obvious?” It’s not.

Let me explain.

Sales and marketing don’t do a great job of lead generation because they both believe it’s the others job.

I asked the 19,830 members the B2B Lead Roundtable LinkedIn Group about this topic. In this post, you’ll get a ton of actionable tips.

Read Who should own lead generation for a complex sale?

Conclusion

The single biggest issue for B2B revenue growth remains lead generation: increasing lead quality and quantity. This analysis into the most popular posts gives a glimpse into what subjects readers found most relevant.

Additionally, this list shows that increasing conversion, understanding customer motivation, managing and nurturing leads better, and improving sales performance are topics on the minds of readers.  At the same time, connecting and building trust with buyers has never been harder.

That’s why we need to go beyond rational-logic based marketing to understand how our customers feel. Empathy is not just a “soft” skill, it’s an incredibly powerful tool to understand customer motivation and increase lead conversion. I’ll be sharing more about how we can connect with customers better using applied empathy.

The post 10 Most Popular B2B Lead Generation Blog Posts of 2017 appeared first on the B2B Lead Blog.

What actions will have the greatest impact on your customers?

The “Big Three” customer expectations – Personalization, Ease, and Speed – came through clearly, but what actions are companies taking to meet the demands of customers? We asked this question through our Customers 2020 research. Here’s what we heard. In-depth interviews During the in-depth interviews we asked what companies are doing to prepare for the...

Continue reading

The post What actions will have the greatest impact on your customers? appeared first on CX Advantage.

Insights Into the World of Content Marketing

Last week, Content Marketing Institute and MarketingProfs released their annual B2B Content Marketing Study that dives into the practices and habits of B2B content marketers in North America.
Content marketing is a key component of any customer experience strategy and while the overwhelming majority of B2B organizations are producing content, the study shows that successful execution may still be elusive.
In looking at this year’s study there are some thoughts and musings I have listed below.

Content Marketing Continues Upward... But Is It Successful?

According to this year’s study, 91% of organizations are using content marketing (an increase of 2% compared with last year’s study) and 38% of respondents expect that their spending on content marketing will increase next year. While there is no doubt that content marketing is a necessary and useful discipline to drive customer engagement, the majority of B2B organizations do not truly understand the impact it is having within their company or their audience.
According to the study, respondents stated the following in regards to the measurement of their content marketing performance:
Only 19% are “excellent” or “very good” at aligning their metrics and content marketing goals only 35% of organizations consistently measure the ROI of their content marketing
Given that so much time, effort and money is being spent on content marketing, it is incumbent upon marketers that they begin to measure the impact content marketing is having on corporate performance. Regardless of “no formal justification being required “, as 38% stated. If content marketers are going to know if they are successful, then they must measure the outcomes of their work and be able to show the impact they are making.

Questioning Commitment

When asked how committed their organizations were to content marketing, 63% of organizations stated they were either extremely committed or very committed to content marketing. However, this “commitment” does not seem to be producing success, as only 24% of respondents stated they are “extremely successful or very successful” with their organization’s approach to content marketing.
So what are organizations committed to when it comes to content marketing? The definition of content marketing within the study is as follows:
“A strategic marketing approach focused on creating and distributing valuable, relevant and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly defined audience – and ultimately to drive profitable customer action.”
Using that as the definition combined with the lack of success or lack of understanding if they are successful, are these organizations truly committed to “profitable actions?”
Simply creating content is not commitment. Being able to demonstrate the profitable actions that customer acre taking in response to content is what will demonstrate commitment.

Talk Is Not A Strategy

When asked if they have a content marketing strategy, 37% stated that they do indeed have a strategy and it is documented. Another 38% of respondents stated they have a strategy but it is not documented.
Any strategy that is not documented and known by key stakeholders in the organization is no strategy at all.  Strategies are documented and not merely spoken.  B2B content marketing professionals need to stop fooling themselves into thinking that having a discussion about their approach to content marketing is akin to a strategy.
For organizations to see success in their content marketing performance they need to document their strategy and re-visit on a regular basis. This allows them to see what adjustments may need to be made and how they are following this strategy, simply talking about it is not strategic in any way.

Time To Re-Think The Approach To Content

Content marketing is a must for any organization looking to connect with their customers; however simply generating content for content’s sake is not a viable approach. This year’s study, as in years past, shows that content marketers are still struggling to make an impact. I believe it may be time to slow down the content factory and be more customer-centric and purposeful in the approach to content marketing.

The post Insights Into the World of Content Marketing appeared first on the B2B Lead Blog.

Getting sales enablement right to increase results

sales_enablement

Sales enablement is intended to help raise performance, but a lot of efforts have backfired due to departmental silos. And now there’s growing gap between what salespeople need and what they’re getting to improve performance.

For example, Corporate Visions recently surveyed 500 B2B marketers and sales professionals that 20% of organization content creators “just do what they think is best” with no overarching structure at all. And just 27% of organizations are content that focuses squarely on customers and rather than their own story.

And all the tools and technologies meant to help boost sales productivity are now are slowing things down.

What’s the bottom line?

Salespeople are getting overwhelmed and slowed down with increased complexity just like the customers they’re selling too.

That’s why I interviewed Dave Brock (@davidabrock), author of the Sales Manager Survival Guide, also CEO of Partners in EXCELLENCE. Dave’s brilliance is his focus on practical simplification. And I’m excited to bring his thinking on sales enablement and what can be done to raise sales team performance.

Can you tell us a little bit about your background?

Dave: Brian, thanks so much. I really appreciate the chance to continue the conversation we started in Washington, and appreciate you inviting me to this.

By background, I actually started out as a physicist in my career, and ended up going to the dark side of selling, and sold mainframe computers for IBM a number of years. Went up the food chain to more senior management roles, then left to become EVP of sales for a technology company as part of a turnaround, later held VP of Sales or CEO roles in several technology companies.

And now run the consulting company – we help our clients actually solve some of the most challenging problems in sales and marketing, and dealing with the new buyers that there are. We have a highly collaborative approach in helping really outstanding people, solve really, really difficult problems.

What is the biggest trend you see affecting your work and sellers today?

Well, clearly, it’s the convergence of some things that we see in the marketplace. It’s the new buyer. Everybody’s changing the way they buy, and learning how we engage these new buyers, both through marketing, sales, and customer experience is critical.

At the same time, we see tremendous transformations in business and business models, whether it’s the digital transformation that virtually every company is undertaking, or just older business models being displaced with new business models.

We have some of the classics of Airbnb, turning the hotel and lodging market upside down or Uber turning the taxi and limo business upside down. We see that the new business models occurring are driving real stress on customers.

And then the final thing is just overwhelming complexity, just between the rate of change, the amount of information we’re deluged with every day. Most of the people I’m meeting are really struggling with at least one of those three things. I see it impacting virtually everybody.

Brian: I can relate to those challenges. I think just in talking about complexity for sellers and marketers, I was having a conversation with someone earlier and it’s just an overwhelming number of tools an average salesperson uses, or a marketer uses. It also creates challenges around collaboration, that internal collaboration.

How do you get internal collaboration to improve sales performance?

Dave: The easy answer is to break down the silos and start talking to each other. It’s easier said than done. The thing that we see is a lot of the issues we face, regarding internal complexity and internal collaboration, is just people being well-intended doing their jobs, but somehow their jobs aren’t aligned with each other, or there are things about their jobs that cause them to conflict with other people. Simple things like aligning roles and responsibilities, aligning metrics, some classic value stream types of analysis.

I just had a conversation earlier today with a marketing executive and his top management team. We were talking about what’s the value proposition they create for sales, and sales is the downstream customer of theirs.

I think, again, we have to rethink our working relationship, rethink the classic business process re-engineering of our workflows, our roles, and responsibilities. And really get some alignment in metrics, so that we realize we’re all on the same team, with the same end goal.

Brian: That’s helpful. And something that’s really come to age recently is sales enablement.

What’s the role of sales enablement to help achieve this?

sales_enablement-silosI think I’m on the wrong side of some debates on this. I look at sales enablement as more a set of processes in a set of activities than a separate function within the organization.

If you look at what sales enablement processes are supposed to do, they’re meant to be able to help maximize the salesperson’s ability to perform. And so, you look at that and say they are a whole collection of things that we can do to do that.

The first is the frontline sales manager and their role in coaching and developing everybody on their team to perform at maximum capability. But then these frontline sales managers need a lot of support in a lot of areas, whether it’s tools and technology, whether it’s new programs, whether it’s people selection and performance management, whether it’s training, whether it’s content and so on.

So, you start looking at seeing all these things contribute to enabling the salesperson to perform at the highest level as possible.

Now, who does that stuff? It could be all over the place. It could be marketing that’s doing some of this stuff. It could be HR that’s working on a lot of the talent management types of things. It could be sales operations, or it could be people in the sales function.

So, I think the discussion around sales enablement is more powerful when we look at: what are the things that we need to do, and then, look at who in the organization can do those most effectively and most efficiently.

Brian: I like how you talk about it because I often think when I speak of enablement, I often am looking at marketing and sales. But, as you’re talking, it’s bringing in the finance team, the human resources team, so it’s a collective effort, not just one single group or department. That’s the whole point you were saying earlier, about bringing down the silos. Do I understand that correctly?

Bringing down the silos that get in the way sales enablement

Exactly. I got engaged in debate not long ago about how sales enablement earns a spot at the CEO’s table. To me, that was one of the most ridiculous discussions I’ve ever seen.

We now have sales enablement executives that not only want to have a spot at the Chief Sales Officer’s table but now they believe they should have a place at the CEO’s table. The CEO’s table’s getting pretty crowded.

I think it goes away from the point of what we’re trying to do. And, I believe that it actually starts building more barriers to collaboration and working. We’re building to the degree that we are creating another silo and another set of functions competing for attention and corporate resources.

Again, I tend to like to look at these as more processes and workflows, and what are the things that need to be done. And then we look at who can do those most effectively. And if it a sales enablement organization, well that’s really powerful, but we shouldn’t overlook the other parts of the organization.

Brian: We spent time talking about sales enablement. Marketing does have a significant role in helping raise the level of performance for the sales team. As you and I were in D.C., we talked about how often marketing is looked to as the “leads people.” We need to think beyond that, regarding how they can impact efficiency and effectiveness of each individual sales rep.

How do you think marketing can help raise the level of performance of sales?

I believe that we must change our mindset from marketing being the “awareness people,” the “create interest people,” the “leads people,” the “demand gen people,” and so on and so forth, and look at the entire customer buying journey. Look at what that is and who can contribute to that.

We have the traditional feeling that marketing does demand gen, and lead gen, and tosses those over the wall to sales. And sales immediately reject all of them as being bad and tosses them back. But we separate these processes.

I think modern sales and modern marketing is very different. I like to look at modern marketing and sales as kind of like a basketball team. On a basketball team, every person has their defined roles. You have a couple of guards, you have a couple of forwards, you have a center, and you practice plays, and everybody tries and plays those roles. You get really expert at that. But then in the game, you’re very agile and nimble and adapt to what’s happening with competition and what’s going on with the game.

I think we need to look at marketing and sales more like a basketball team. What are our roles? What are our responsibilities? What are the plays that we execute? Who executes those?

Working as an agile team

But I think we have to be very agile in working with each other in saying, “Who’s the person that should be taking the shot right now? Who should be bringing the ball down the court?”

I look at marketing and sales, not as the sequential process where marketing gets the leads and gives them to sales, and sales takes care of everything throughout, but we work together in the demand gen process, and we cooperate in the buying process.

There’s a huge amount that marketing can bring to the party with qualified opportunities. Whether it’s case studies, whether it’s tools, whether it’s content relevant to where the person is towards the end of the buying journey, and those kinds of things. We really need to look at it as an interrelated, and integrated set of processes.

Brian: It makes a lot of sense, what you’re talking about. I think the challenge is that marketing and sales often are doing the same things. They might have different words for it.

For example, marketing may call it lead gen, lead generation, or inbound sales might call it prospecting, social selling, etc. They’re doing the same things. As I’ve talked to salespeople, they often are feeling they’re succeeding despite marketing, not because of it. I was talking to someone trying to build his own pipeline. He was getting leads from marketing, they weren’t helping. He was prospecting, trying to figure out how to cold-call, etc.

Do you think salespeople are getting it wrong with how they prospect? 

I do think we’re getting a lot wrong about prospecting. One is I don’t think enough salespeople are prospecting.

Most everybody I talk to is opportunity-starved, but we have a lot of these kinds of mindsets and mentalities that say, “Well, it’s marketing’s job to get those leads. And if they aren’t getting the leads, then you know, there’s nothing I can do. Or it’s the SDR’s role to take those leads and qualify them or do something with them. And then my job is just to take those great leads that the SDR gives to me.”

I think the first thing we do is we must change salespeople’s mentality and say, you know, marketing is going to do everything they can to get you the right kind of leads, and the right kinds of opportunities. SDR’s are going to do everything they can. But if the volume isn’t sufficient, you have to go out and start finding business yourself. You have to prospect. You have to generate new business.

You might go to marketing and ask them for help in doing that, maybe giving you a particular program that you can execute as well. The other thing too is I sometimes think we get our prospecting models, and particularly the SDR-driven type models a little bit backward.

What’s not working with the current sales development rep (SDR) model

I think we do a disservice to SDRs. Most organizations, the SDR is kind of an entry-level job to selling. They do something that most salespeople would refuse to do, which is to call people they’ve never spoken to before and prospect them. It’s a really tough job.

But one of the disconnects we have is these poor SDRs often calling on C-level people.

I get SDRs calling me every day. I feel really sorry for them because they’ll call me and say, “We believe we can help you improve your business.” And I say, “Cool. What am I doing wrong? How should I be developing my business?” and they’re floored. They don’t know how to carry on that conversation. They shouldn’t be expected to. If they’re brand new to selling, why are they calling me, a C-level executive, albeit of a small company, but a C-level executive? We’re matching the wrong people up with the target audience.

As a result, we’re creating terrible first impressions. If somebody calls me and they can’t have a powerful, engaging first conversation, I’m going to have a negative opinion both of that individual and of their company.

I think we’re missing huge amounts of opportunities by not having the right people. I wrote an article about a year ago saying, “Maybe we need to get some of our most talented senior-level salespeople being SDRs.” If they’re creating that first impression, and if our target persona is this C-level person, then those are the people that have the best capability of setting up a very, very positive first impression, and opening up far more opportunities than a brand new SDR without that experience base.

Brian: I love that suggestion. It reminds me before it was called an SDR, that’s what I started as at 23. I was on the phone. I was calling C-level people, 23 years old. There was very little training advice, coaching. It was on the job. Later, I started a company helping people do that. I worked for a company that, myself, I was CEO. I made calls with the team who was on the phone, and the whole point was to learn, to see what they were experiencing, to understand.

This is really a great transition into talking about this idea of empathy. That’s the hard part: how can somebody who doesn’t have experience connect with someone else and understand their perspective and feeling?

How can sellers be more empathy-based with their approach to customers?

Dave: I think there are some things. First of all, empathy is about caring. You’ve got to care about your customers, whoever those customers are. If you’re only in business to say, “How can I get an order?” then you’re never going to be successful at all.

You’ve got to care about your customers. You’ve got to care about their success in achieving their goals. If you’re driven by that, it changes your whole orientation and your process for engaging the customer in the conversations you have.

That shouldn’t be a do-good or Pollyanna-ish kind of mentality.  The only people I’m going to engage are people who I know have the problems that I can solve. I’m not wasting my time calling on people, and engaging them, and caring about them and their success if they don’t have the problems that I can help them solve. It is very focused on calling the right people that we can do some things with. And then it’s understanding who they are. It’s kind of sitting behind their desk or being able to walk in their shoes.

There are a whole number of ways you can do that. I used to sell to the large money center banks in New York City. To learn about banking, you hang out where the bankers hang out, and they hung out at Harry’s at Hanover Square. I’d learn a lot by just talking to them over a beer about what their businesses were, what their dreams were, where their problems were, which enabled me to connect much more effectively with those people in the business.

We’ve got to start hanging out where our customers hang out, whether it’s discussion groups, whether it’s trade shows. It’s really learning about where they live, and what they worry about every day. It’s asking questions, it’s getting engaged in those conversations. I think along with caring, is curiosity. If you have those two attributes, you’re going to figure out what the customer’s about. You’re going to know how to engage the customers. You’re going to understand how your products and solutions might serve the client and help them. Two fundamental attributes: caring and curiosity.

Our empathy is our marketing/selling intuition

Brian: That is terrific. I really liked how you brought it together, regarding meeting those elements, then immersing yourself in the world of your customer, going where they are.

It’s interesting, as I

was listening to you, I don’t know that the marketers who are reaching out, or making that initial impression, have actually been able to get in the world of the people they’re hoping to influence and help to drive change, to work with them through their journey. I would say that what you shared, what you did, as a salesperson, we need to do that in marketing too: get in the world of the customer and observe. From that, we’re going to have the empathy, or to put it another way, we’ll have the intuition.

Our empathy is our marketing and sales intuition; to know how to best move forward in what some of those opportunities are.

Dave: It’s really funny how some of these cycles go, but I remember maybe 10, 15 years ago, when there were a lot of initiatives around understanding the voice of the customer. When you looked at the way a lot of those initiatives were implemented, some of them literally would live for several weeks with the customers and sit and observe them in their jobs, etc.

Getting marketers out and treating the customers less as an intellectual exercise, or an analytic exercise, but actually visiting the customers. Spending a few days of watching them work, talking to them not about what we sell and whether they like these things that we sell, but talking to them about what they do, and what they feel, and how they think.  And then bringing that back in and say, “Now we know the customer, and we’ve seen where they live. How do we take that information and best leverage it to engage them where they’re at?”

Brian: Fantastic.

What other actionable advice do you have for those who want to help improve sales enablement? 

Dave: I think it’s a little bit counterintuitive. It may sound simplistic, but we don’t do it. So many of our initiatives, so much of our thinking is driven inward-out, rather than outward-in.

We have our products, and we have our services. We think about what we want to do, and how we want to bring those to market, and so we develop all our launch programs, all our marketing programs, all our sales programs, from an internally-based orientation, about what’s most effective and what’s most efficient for us.

Usually, when we execute those, we find we’ve missed one thing: we’ve forgotten about the customer. What we do that may be most effective and efficient for us, but may not be effective or efficient for the customer.

So generally, I find the fastest way to the best and most effective solution is always to work your way back in from the customer.

Who are they?
Where are they?
How do they work?
What drives them?
What do they care about?
What are their dreams?
How do they buy?
How do they self-educate?
How do they learn about things?

Trace those things back into the design the process that meets them where they’re at, rather than trying to force them to find us and meet us where we’re at.

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The post Getting sales enablement right to increase results appeared first on the B2B Lead Blog.

How customer-hero stories help you connect better

customer-hero storiesDespite all the time, money, resources spent on improving sales productivity, just 13% of sales people produce 87% of revenue in a typical organization according to the Sales Benchmark Index.

So, what do the 13% high achievers have that others don’t? They connect emotionally with their buyers.

That’s why interviewed Mike Bosworth. If you don’t know Mike Bosworth already, he is a thought leader in the sales space. And he’s had a profound influence on how we sell and market, especially those who are in B2B.

In this interview, we’re going to focus on the power of customer-hero stories to connect emotionally with buyers to facilitate their buying journey.

Author’s Note: The transcript was edited for publication.

Can you tell us a little bit more about your background?

Mike: Well, it’s interesting because, I think today, it’s incredible how cloud technology is forcing companies to be more empathic in their sales and marketing. It’s forcing them to. Because with the cloud, the conversation has to shift from the old “our-solution” marketing: our solution will do this, and our solution will do that.

So, making that shift from that to how-the-customer-uses-our-stuff marketing: customer usage marketing or what we in Story Seekers call customer hero marketing. I want marketing to think about what are we really doing marketing for– I’m hoping we’re trying to create customers and sales is also trying to create customers.

If we’re going to sell empathically then, ideally, we won’t even be “selling”. We’ll be facilitating the buying journey of our customer and facilitating their customer experience because human beings love to buy, and they hate to feel sold.

What inspired you to talk about integrating with marketing and sales?

Well, for my whole career as a sales productivity consultant and sales trainer, my stated mission was to help my client lift the bottom 80% of their sales force. The top 20%, the ones who bring in 80% of the revenue, they’ve been doing well for years and continue to. I figured I want to help my customers bump up at least the next 50% because if you could get a 10% increase in productivity from that next 50%. Do the math on that for most companies: it’s a lot of money.

Brian:      It is. As you’ve been working with companies and clients, there’s something that’s existed longer than probably both of us have been doing our work.

Tell us the things most important for marketing and sales to agree on?

In most companies I deal with, they’re really two different silos and they’re pointing fingers at each other.  Marketing thinks they’re sending these great leads to sales, and sales, they go into a black hole and then there’s no follow-up. Sales thinks that the leads from marketing are coming from the janitorial staff of the company that they’re selling to.

Quite a while ago, it occurred to me that if we can find the touch point in integrating sales and marketing, we could really help things out and so Tim Riester and I, we dove into it, and we’ve made the touchpoint, the definition of a lead.

If both the chief sales officer and the chief marketing officer can specifically agree on the definition of a qualified lead then the “integration” really starts getting a lot easier.

That word integration is messing people up in this day and age, and, if you think about it, it gets most people thinking about IT issues. APIs, and what plugs into this and what feeds into that, and that’s disabling true integration. A couple of weeks ago, I just swapped out the word integration for agreement. Golly, does it seem to simplify things.

If sales and marketing can agree on a finite number of things, great things can happen.

Brian:  I really love the word agreement and I think that’s the challenge. Without an agreement, we don’t have common ground. I’d love to hear from you and I think a lot of people have lead definitions. I wrote about the universal lead definition in my book.

What’s the definition of a qualified lead that sales and marketing should agree upon?

Well, there’s a prerequisite to that, and the prerequisite for even defining the qualified lead is sales and marketing first must agree on:

What buyer personas are we selling to?
Who do we envision our best customers to be?
Where we can help them be a hero?
Where we can help them achieve a goal or solve a problem?

Back in my Xerox days, we were selling manufacturing productivity improvement software so we were selling to buyer personas. One buyer persona would be a VP manufacturing who’s missing his shipment schedule. Another one would be a materials manager had shortages and another one would be a CSO who’s missing his sales forecast.

Once you have those buyer personas targeted, now, we go in and think what psychological buying process would they go through in their organization, and when would they start bringing in other people and how would they share information and all that stuff. Ideally, if we can help our customer buy, they never feel any pressure from us.

Facilitating the buying journey

My philosophy has always been: we’re trying to facilitate the buying.  A study by Sales Benchmark Index of 1,100 of B2B sales forces came back in 2008 and they found in their case study base that 13% of the salespeople brought in 87% of that revenue.

I felt like I’ve been kicked in the stomach because my whole mission was to help the bottom 80% get better and it had gotten worse and that caused me to go into a breakdown of a bit.

Building emotional connection and trust

I started studying the problem, and in most cases, 80% of the people in sales aren’t very good at building an emotional connection and building trust with a stranger in a short amount of time. They’re just not very good at it.

They end up diving into their solution or their technology or their knowledge or their discovery questions before the buyer trusts them enough to allow themselves to be questioned.

Over the years, the number one complaint I have from solution selling and customer centric selling clients of mine would be the VP of sales would say, hey said “Mike, the top 20% love solution selling, but the bottom 80% quit using it within two weeks of the workshop.”

If you think about why they quit using it (and my intellectual arrogance caused me to not really study it as well as I should have) it’s that inability to intuitively connect and know when you’ve built enough trust and connection that you can get out your listed discovery questions, and with solution selling, the bottom 80% lack the intuition.

They went to their discovery questions too soon, prematurely, and the buyer said, “You don’t know me well enough to ask me all these questions” and pushed them away, and so if you’re pushed away for two weeks, you quit using it.

Brian: As we’re talking about the definition, I wanted to go back.

Recap the best definition of a lead for sales/marketing to agree upon

Mike: I went off on a tangent because it was the prerequisite of a qualified lead.

Brian: We have to know it. I agree.

Mike: A named targeted buyer persona  (John Doe at the ABC company) is curious how we helped a peer job title, another whatever, chief accounting manager at another company, achieve a goal or solve a problem. We have somebody curious how we’ve helped their peer.

Brian: In and of itself, for those that are listening that are in marketing, I was just talking with a salesperson today, who was struggling trying to build his own pipeline and he talked about his experience of a lead. Mike, I tested your definition with him and he said, “Yes. I would love that.”

He reiterated his experience of getting a “lead” of someone who didn’t actually want to talk with them. They weren’t curious. They were someone who had agreed to a meeting, but they didn’t know why.

Mike: Agreeing to a meeting. They might have been curious that we didn’t capture that curiosity.

Brian: Earlier you talked a bit about the problem with product marketing and you brought up customer hero marketing. Why should we in marketing start focusing on making our customer the hero, instead of what we’re doing right now which is focusing on the product or what we do or what we sell?

What are customer-hero stories and why should we focus on them now?

Mike: First of all, it is going to be the mission of the company to do customer hero selling and customer hero marketing? It really has to come from the top. It’s really a paradigm. Years ago, Gerhard Gschwandtner, the publisher of Selling Power magazine, said that the CEO’s definition of selling is the DNA of the customer’s experience.

If you really believe in your heart that people love to buy and hate to be sold, then why wouldn’t we make it our mission as a company to facilitate, to architect, our customer’s experience? To really think about how they would go through a natural buying process and feel comfortable and then let us facilitate that buying, using storytelling and story tending.

Thus, making story the foundation because stories allow people with problems to visualize seeing themselves solve that problem.  What happens is we create a little story in their brain. And the story involves seeing themselves responding to that once a month problem they have differently, if they just had somebody’s help or technology or capability.

The customer is a hero by using the product and so let’s not market the product as the hero. Let’s market our past customers as the hero and we’re looking to help new prospects become heroes via customer hero selling. If we really agreed on the definition of a qualified lead, now customer hero marketing feeds right into the customer hero selling.

Brian: I love the definition and distinction because, I know from the customer’s side, they’re curious about someone like me who’s had a problem like me and I think that is the challenge that we have, bridging that gap of trust.

What can marketers and sellers do to apply empathy and better connect with customers?

Mike: It’s such a paradigm shift.  What we’re trying to do is teach salespeople to create a big juicy buying vision, a customer hero vision where this guy sees himself as a hero in his own company. Saving money, making money, solving a problem, achieving a goal, that he hasn’t been able to do before.

We teach people how to do connective-listening. Once the buyer starts talking freely. We teach the salespeople how to tend the buyer story and then send that buyer a written version of his customer hero story.

Brian: As I’m listening to you, it sounds like you’re building a relationship by helping someone else relate to the story, see themselves in it, and then also starting to bridge the trust gap because you’re connecting with something that they can identify with and how they’re likely feeling.

Mike: It’s the product usage. That’s why the customer hero stories bridge the cloud gap now too, or the cloud is forcing all these technology companies that have all this high-powered product marketing talent and most of the product collateral ends up being “it” based or “our solution” based. It will do this, it will do that, or our solution will do this or our solution will do that.

That’s making the product the hero. It’s disabling the buying process because now the buyer is going to feel the pressure of somebody wanting to sell them some piece of technology.

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The post How customer-hero stories help you connect better appeared first on the B2B Lead Blog.

How customer-hero stories help you connect better

Do you focus on capturing product stories or customer-hero stories? The answer can make a huge difference in your sales and marketing results.

Let me explain.

Despite all the time, money, resources spent on improving sales productivity, just 13% of sales people produce 87% of revenue in a typical organization according to the Sales Benchmark Index.

So, what do the 13% high achievers have that others don’t? They connect emotionally with their buyers.

That’s why I interviewed Mike Bosworth. If you don’t know Mike Bosworth already, he is a thought leader in the sales space. And he’s had a profound influence on how we sell and market, especially those who are in B2B.

In this interview, we talk about the power of customer-hero stories to connect emotionally with buyers to facilitate their buying journey.

Author’s Note: The transcript was edited for publication.

Can you tell us a little bit more about your background?

Mike: Well, it’s interesting because, I think today, it’s incredible how cloud technology is forcing companies to be more empathic in their sales and marketing. It’s forcing them to. Because with the cloud, the conversation has to shift from the old “our-solution” marketing: our solution will do this, and our solution will do that.

So, making that shift from that to how-the-customer-uses-our-stuff marketing: customer usage marketing or what we in Story Seekers call customer hero marketing. I want marketing to think about what are we really doing marketing for– I’m hoping we’re trying to create customers and sales is also trying to create customers.

If we’re going to sell empathically then, ideally, we won’t even be “selling”. We’ll be facilitating the buying journey of our customer and facilitating their customer experience because human beings love to buy, and they hate to feel sold.

What inspired you to talk about integrating with marketing and sales?

Well, for my whole career as a sales productivity consultant and sales trainer, my stated mission was to help my client lift the bottom 80% of their sales force. The top 20%, the ones who bring in 80% of the revenue, they’ve been doing well for years and continue to. I figured I want to help my customers bump up at least the next 50% because if you could get a 10% increase in productivity from that next 50%. Do the math on that for most companies: it’s a lot of money.

Brian: It is. As you’ve been working with companies and clients, there’s something that’s existed longer than probably both of us have been doing our work.

Tell us the things most important for marketing and sales to agree on?

In most companies I deal with, they’re really two different silos and they’re pointing fingers at each other.  Marketing thinks they’re sending these great leads to sales, and sales, they go into a black hole and then there’s no follow-up. Sales thinks that the leads from marketing are coming from the janitorial staff of the company that they’re selling to.

Quite a while ago, it occurred to me that if we can find the touch point in integrating sales and marketing, we could really help things out and so Tim Riester and I, we dove into it, and we’ve made the touchpoint, the definition of a lead.

If both the chief sales officer and the chief marketing officer can specifically agree on the definition of a qualified lead then the “integration” really starts getting a lot easier.

That word integration is messing people up in this day and age, and, if you think about it, it gets most people thinking about IT issues. APIs, and what plugs into this and what feeds into that, and that’s disabling true integration. A couple of weeks ago, I just swapped out the word integration for agreement. Golly, does it seem to simplify things.

If sales and marketing can agree on a finite number of things, great things can happen.

Brian:  I really love the word agreement and I think that’s the challenge. Without an agreement, we don’t have common ground. I’d love to hear from you and I think a lot of people have lead definitions. I wrote about the universal lead definition in my book.

What’s the definition of a qualified lead that sales and marketing should agree upon?

Well, there’s a prerequisite to that, and the prerequisite for even defining the qualified lead is sales and marketing first must agree on:

What buyer personas are we selling to?
Who do we envision our best customers to be?
Where we can help them be a hero?
Where we can help them achieve a goal or solve a problem?

Back in my Xerox days, we were selling manufacturing productivity improvement software so we were selling to buyer personas. One buyer persona would be a VP manufacturing who’s missing his shipment schedule. Another one would be a materials manager had shortages and another one would be a CSO who’s missing his sales forecast.

Once you have those buyer personas targeted, now, we go in and think what psychological buying process would they go through in their organization, and when would they start bringing in other people and how would they share information and all that stuff. Ideally, if we can help our customer buy, they never feel any pressure from us.

Facilitating the buying journey

My philosophy has always been: we’re trying to facilitate the buying.  A study by Sales Benchmark Index of 1,100 of B2B sales forces came back in 2008 and they found in their case study base that 13% of the salespeople brought in 87% of that revenue.

I felt like I’ve been kicked in the stomach because my whole mission was to help the bottom 80% get better and it had gotten worse and that caused me to go into a breakdown of a bit.

Building emotional connection and trust

I started studying the problem, and in most cases, 80% of the people in sales aren’t very good at building an emotional connection and building trust with a stranger in a short amount of time. They’re just not very good at it.

They end up diving into their solution or their technology or their knowledge or their discovery questions before the buyer trusts them enough to allow themselves to be questioned.

Over the years, the number one complaint I have from solution selling and customer centric selling clients of mine would be the VP of sales would say, hey said “Mike, the top 20% love solution selling, but the bottom 80% quit using it within two weeks of the workshop.”

If you think about why they quit using it (and my intellectual arrogance caused me to not really study it as well as I should have) it’s that inability to intuitively connect and know when you’ve built enough trust and connection that you can get out your listed discovery questions, and with solution selling, the bottom 80% lack the intuition.

They went to their discovery questions too soon, prematurely, and the buyer said, “You don’t know me well enough to ask me all these questions” and pushed them away, and so if you’re pushed away for two weeks, you quit using it.

Brian: As we’re talking about the definition, I wanted to go back.

Recap the best definition of a lead for sales/marketing to agree upon

Mike: I went off on a tangent because it was the prerequisite of a qualified lead.

Brian: We have to know it. I agree.

Mike: A named targeted buyer persona  (John Doe at the ABC company) is curious how we helped a peer job title, another whatever, chief accounting manager at another company, achieve a goal or solve a problem. We have somebody curious how we’ve helped their peer.

Brian: In and of itself, for those that are listening that are in marketing, I was just talking with a salesperson today, who was struggling trying to build his own pipeline and he talked about his experience of a lead. Mike, I tested your definition with him and he said, “Yes. I would love that.”

He reiterated his experience of getting a “lead” of someone who didn’t actually want to talk with them. They weren’t curious. They were someone who had agreed to a meeting, but they didn’t know why.

Mike: Agreeing to a meeting. They might have been curious that we didn’t capture that curiosity.

Brian: Earlier you talked a bit about the problem with product marketing and you brought up customer hero marketing. Why should we in marketing start focusing on making our customer the hero, instead of what we’re doing right now which is focusing on the product or what we do or what we sell?

What are customer-hero stories and why should we focus on them now?

Mike: First of all, it is going to be the mission of the company to do customer hero selling and customer hero marketing? It really has to come from the top. It’s really a paradigm. Years ago, Gerhard Gschwandtner, the publisher of Selling Power magazine, said that the CEO’s definition of selling is the DNA of the customer’s experience.

If you really believe in your heart that people love to buy and hate to be sold, then why wouldn’t we make it our mission as a company to facilitate, to architect, our customer’s experience? To really think about how they would go through a natural buying process and feel comfortable and then let us facilitate that buying, using storytelling and story tending.

Thus, making story the foundation because stories allow people with problems to visualize seeing themselves solve that problem.  What happens is we create a little story in their brain. And the story involves seeing themselves responding to that once a month problem they have differently, if they just had somebody’s help or technology or capability.

The customer is a hero by using the product and so let’s not market the product as the hero. Let’s market our past customers as the hero and we’re looking to help new prospects become heroes via customer hero selling. If we really agreed on the definition of a qualified lead, now customer hero marketing feeds right into the customer hero selling.

Brian: I love the definition and distinction because, I know from the customer’s side, they’re curious about someone like me who’s had a problem like me and I think that is the challenge that we have, bridging that gap of trust.

What can marketers and sellers do to apply empathy and better connect with customers?

Mike: It’s such a paradigm shift.  What we’re trying to do is teach salespeople to create a big juicy buying vision, a customer hero vision where this guy sees himself as a hero in his own company. Saving money, making money, solving a problem, achieving a goal, that he hasn’t been able to do before.

We teach people how to do connective-listening. Once the buyer starts talking freely. We teach the salespeople how to tend the buyer story and then send that buyer a written version of his customer hero story.

Brian: As I’m listening to you, it sounds like you’re building a relationship by helping someone else relate to the story, see themselves in it, and then also starting to bridge the trust gap because you’re connecting with something that they can identify with and how they’re likely feeling.

Mike: It’s the product usage. That’s why the customer hero stories bridge the cloud gap now too, or the cloud is forcing all these technology companies that have all this high-powered product marketing talent and most of the product collateral ends up being “it” based or “our solution” based. It will do this, it will do that, or our solution will do this or our solution will do that.

That’s making the product the hero. It’s disabling the buying process because now the buyer is going to feel the pressure of somebody wanting to sell them some piece of technology.

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How Empathy Will Grow Your Sales and Marketing Pipeline

empatheticmarketing

Writers note: I’m writing this as a primer for my session at Dreamforce 2016 next week.

We have more marketing channels and more content being created than ever before, but there’s a growing disconnect between our customers and us. Today’s customers are weary of pitches, cold emails, hype, and manipulative messages, and as a result, they tune them out.

There’s a trust gap. In our rush to obtain leads, drive opportunities and close sales to move the sales needle, it’s too easy to forget that we need to address the emotional needs (fears, hopes, wants, and aspirations) of our customers. Neuroscientist, Antonio Damasio stated, “We are not thinking machines that feel, we are feeling machines that think.”

This is particularly the case for companies that have a complex sale where B2B buyers face daunting decisions that involve huge risks, and where sellers struggle to articulate their similar sounding value propositions and differentiate themselves from competitors.

Our customers aren’t saying, “We need solutions.” Instead, they’re saying, “We need to solve a problem.”

So what would happen if we focused on helping them do just that?

I believe you can’t really answer that question unless you know precisely what your customers want. This requires letting go of our own assumptions of what we think they want and putting ourselves in their place.

This requires empathy, which according to Miriam-Webster, “is the ability to share someone else’s feeling.” To feel what they feel and think what they think.

What is empathic marketing?

Empathetic marketing is about moving out of our own mind and into the mind of the customer. Moving away from business-centric thinking to customer-centric thinking and speaking to our customer’s motivations. Empathetic marketing is built on the following ideas:

  • The best marketing feels like helping
  • Marketing isn’t something you do to people, it’s something you do for people
  • Empathize with your customer’s feelings and walk in their shoes to understand their problems
  • Think like your clients when they set out to solve a problem and understand each step they take to solve that problem
  • Learn how you can help make your customers lives better
  • Provide your customers what they want by understanding what motivates them.
  • Helping clients identify and solve problems
  • Give customers content and expertise that helps them gain clarity
  • Empower employees who touch your customers with the resources, training, and tools to really help them

Applying empathy to grow your sales and marketing pipeline

Here’s an overview of 7 ways to practice empathetic marketing. I plan on expanding on these points during my talk at Dreamforce and future blog posts.

  1. Be customer focused first. Instead of worrying about being interesting, we need to first be interested. Understand your customer’s motivation (what they want) and make sure that’s aligned with what you can deliver. So much of what we see today are product-centric claims aimed at impressing the prospect. When I was Chief Evangelist at MECLABS, we discovered that the real driver of customer conversion is motivation. The root word of emotion and motivate is the same. Buyers base most of their actions on feelings and then backfill with logic. That’s why it’s so important to get beyond the product to and speak to the end results and the feelings the buyer seeks.
  2. Listen and seek to understand.Most people don’t listen with the intent to understand – they listen with the intent to reply. First, we need to get out of the office. Join sales people on customer visits and just listen and seek to understand customer motivations. It’s shocking how little of this happens. Too many marketers’s rely on survey data or focus groups to tell them how customer’s think and feel, but that’s not enough. Empathy is not the product of survey data, it comes from context and understanding the pressures the facing your customer.  The key to understanding another person is empathetic listening – really trying to understand everything (including the nonverbal signals) the other person is communicating. What’s emotions are motivating them? You listen for feeling and for meaning, for behavior and other signals.
  1. Focus on developing conversations, not campaigns. Don’t err on the side of pushing our agenda rather than extending an invitation to converse. To the customer, it feels like “somebody wants something from me” rather than “maybe they can help me get what I want.” We need to demonstrate that we’re interested in their world and their motivations. Invite, listen, engage and recommend. They know authentic-sincere communication from the massively scaled messages we send through marketing automation. They feel it. And as customers, we’re aware of it too. Use empathy maps and personas to understand your customer and how to better connect with them in conversations. For more on this read Copyblogger: Empathy Maps: A Complete Guide to Crawling Inside Your Customer’s Head
  2. The best marketing feels like helping (because it is). Our marketing and lead nurturing need to be built on this concept. We can feel when someone’s trying to push us to do something. We also recognize when someone really cares. We know it when they’re interested in us. They’re not trying to push their agenda, and they’re sincerely trying to help us. Ask this as your approach your marketing: Is that how we’d like to be treated? Is this how we’d like a friend or loved one to be treated?
  3. Give them content they’ll want to share. This content organically emerges from the first four points of placing the customer first, understanding them, conversing with them and helping them. But so much of today’s content does not do that. We’ve become publishing machines, creating content for content’s sake. Customers don’t need more content. They need useful content that helps them convince colleagues inside their companies to choose a different path. Most of today’s content lacks that empathetic context, and content without empathy is just noise. Unfortunately, it’s gotten very noisy in the B2B marketing.
  4. Remember that proximity is influence.We formulate our opinions about companies based on our interactions with their people. Empower those closest to your customer – the sales team, sales development reps, inside sales, sales engineers, and customer service people – to be able to achieve the points above.
  5. Practice empathy personally to set an example. Our customers are everyone we serve – including our staff and our coworkers. Show them how it’s done by practicing empathy yourself. I’ve painfully learned that it’s futile to make changes outside before we make changes inside. This requires a different kind of thinking to drive a different way of marketing.

Here’s an example of an A/B test from MarketingExperiments of an email sent to prospects who began a form completion but did not complete it. Note the difference in tone.

abempathetictone

The email on the left was “sales speak.”  The tone of the email on the right was changed to be more empathetic and yielded a conversion rate of 7% versus 1.5% for the control email. By addressing the customer’s anxiety (with empathy) through the tone of the email, they saw a 349% increase in total lead inquiries.

Another example I recently wrote about Dave Gerhardt at Drift in this post. Gerhardt shared about how his CEO, called him one day and told him “I think we should get rid of our forms.”

Gerhardt realized that marketing was becoming more about getting people to convert i.e. fill out forms or jump through the next hoop. According to Gerhardt, this results in us, “treating people like leads and email addresses instead of treating people like people.” When you give people what they value or find useful without expecting anything in return, you build a connection and eventually trust.

Closing thoughts

This all may seem altruistic, but it’s not. It has an economic benefit. If we can give customers what they want, we can create a competitive advantage that will reap higher margins and profits.

For example, Slack (currently the fastest growing start-up in history) practices empathy in their marketing and empathy is part of their core values. In this interview, Slack CEO Stewart Butterfield stated, “It’s very difficult to design something for someone if you have no empathy.”

Additionally, IBM is gearing up to become the world’s largest design company. As part of their boot camps, employees are learning how to apply empathy to connect better with colleagues and clients. They’re learning how to tap into their customers’ and colleagues’ feelings and need to come up with better solutions.

IDEO’s Empathy on Edge puts it this way, “When organizations allow a deep emotional understanding of people’s needs to inspire them—and transform their work, their teams and even their organization at large—they unlock the creative capacity for innovation.”

I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Join me for my session at Dreamforce 2016 How Empathy Will Improve Your Marketing & Sales Pipeline

The post How Empathy Will Grow Your Sales and Marketing Pipeline appeared first on B2B Lead Blog.