The No. 1 Question You Need to Ask During Any Business Interaction

Put yourself in someone else's shoes.

The Dangers of Being an Empathetic Leader

Empathy on its own is not enough

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.

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.

3 Simple Ways to Increase Empathy at Work

Empathy is a great way to climb the career ladder.

Empathy, Web & People: Improving The B2B Customer Experience

Some businesses make it hard to work with them. It seems at times that many B2B organizations have made it so complex and uncomfortable to work with that customers are forced to find an alternative even if their current provider offers a better product or solution.
As connected consumers, we want ease, we want a good experience, we have an expectation of those with whom we spend our money. We have seen this with 1-click ordering, same day delivery, and improved e-commerce experiences. Given that we want this as consumers, it makes sense that when we move into our professional worlds, we want to work with and buy from companies that have the same kind of focus on customer experience.
However, according to a recent article on DesitnationCRM.com, most B2B organizations are failing in providing a positive customer experience with fewer than 10% of organizations saying they do.
The article goes on to provide some tips that B2B organizations can adopt to improve the customer experience. While I agree with all of the suggestions in the article, there are a few more that I have added here.

Apply Empathy

In a blog post written by Brian Carroll he writes the following:
Neuroscientist, Antonio Damasio discovered, “We are not thinking machines that feel, we are feeling machines that think.” Damasio made this groundbreaking discovery:  when emotions are impaired, so is decision-making. What does this mean? We need to go beyond logic to understand how our customers feel.
This is particularly important if you have a complex sale where B2B buyers face daunting decisions that involve huge risks. Our customers aren’t saying, “We need solutions.” Instead, they’re saying, “We need to solve a problem” So what would happen if you focused on helping them do just that?
One of the questions I am routinely asked by new clients is, “are we the worst case you have ever seen?”  What they are really saying is, “we know we have problems and can you help us. We want to improve.”
Many times the first meeting I have with a client is listening, inquiring and assuring them that all will be ok. It is applying empathy and letting them know that together we will improve.
I spoke with a CEO yesterday who told me, “We have to stop speaking about our platform and begin speaking to our customer's issues and let them know we understand.”  This is empathy in action and he is intent on moving his company in this direction.

Improve The Web Experience

I sat with a prospect a few days ago who said, “if you go to our website you have to have a PhD. to understand what we do.”  She was right. The site is overly complex, hard to understand and trying to find any kind of content is extremely difficult.
The reality is that in most cases, buyers and customers consume content digitally and if organizations make it hard to find or use overly complex language, it makes it harder to do business.
One executive, I spoke with this week told me, “I am not trying to be insulting, but we look to develop content and design our product so that a high school freshman could understand it. We want it to be super easy for our customers.”
Having long web forms, gating all of your content, making a buyer go through multiple clicks and pages to access content, or making your site hard to navigate are all reasons why customers will look elsewhere.
Organizations need to think about the fact that often the first interaction a potential customer will have with your brand is your website, if it is a poor experience, they may not come back.

Focus On Your People

Ever engaged with an employee of a company who hates their job? If you have, chances are you could feel it in the interaction, in the approach they took to you as a customer and it is an all-together negative experience.
One of the places to start in improving customer experience is with your employees. Many companies want to ensure their customers have a great experience but skip over the all to important step of first developing a positive employee experience.
Employees that feel appreciated, are recognized, are given opportunities to enhance their skill set, and given an opportunity to reap the benefits of the organization's success are employees that bring that positive vibe to your customers. This has to be a foundation for any organization if customer experience is going to be realized.
Customer experience is quickly becoming one of the top buying decision and loyalty factors for B2B customers. Organizations can no longer afford to fail at it and need to move quickly to a customer-centric point of view or be left behind.
The full post on empathy by Brian Carroll can be found here
Image courtesy of Halogen Software

The post Empathy, Web & People: Improving The B2B Customer Experience appeared first on the B2B Lead Blog.

Wonder Women Use Empathy as Their Leadership Superpower

Sure, Wonder Woman is an Amazon, but she leads like the best female disrupters -- by taking the time to understand the people in her world.

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.

You may also like:

How to do lead management that improves conversion
How customer-hero stories help you connect better
Lead Nurturing: 5 Useful Tactics to Get More Opportunities
The Biggest Contributor to B2B Revenue

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

Why customer advocacy should be at the heart of your marketing

Are you connecting with and empowering your customer advocates? If not, you should. Here’s why.

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

How? Because you’re helping to encourage and motivate happy customers to speak about you positively to others. And delighted customers are your most powerful hidden sales force.

For example, in 2016, IDC research found that only 10% B2B companies surveyed had a customer advocacy program in place. This year, “The Role of Marketing in Customer Advocacy” report found that has increased to 67% which is a 570% increase.

That’s why 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 and marketing technology; a real innovator. I’m excited to bring his thinking to you on customer advocacy.

Tell us a little bit about your background and what inspired you to start Influitive?

Mark: Yeah, thanks. I’m really excited to be here, Brian. I think this is an amazing podcast and I’m excited to share my story. I’ve lived a number of lives already. One of them, before I started Eloqua in 2000, was as a research scientist. I was actually a Ph.D. candidate in neuroscience at Northwestern University in Chicago. I was really fascinated by how the brain works and what were the biological bases of behavior. It was fascinating for me. Although research, while fascinating, has some challenges concerning it, especially getting paid well. I also wanted to spend more time with my wife, so I left the research world to get in the business world and joined a Bain & Company as a management consultant; from there I started Eloqua.

The other big thread in my life other than being a scientist was being an entrepreneur. I started companies even as a teenager, as far back as age 13. I’ve always been really fascinated with working for myself and satisfying customers. Really, I think now I’m bringing both of those together in my company where I still feel like I’m a scientist. I still feel like I’m trying to discover what makes human beings really work and tick, but also being an entrepreneur, building software for marketers and leveraging the understanding of people and what drives them.

Regarding what motivated me to start Influitive – we’re an advocate marketing software company. So we believe that the future belongs to companies who, as opposed to marketing directly, they do a better job of discovering and nurturing and mobilizing their customers to do the marketing for them. We think the future is for companies to get their customers to do the sales and marketing for them. We built some software for discovering, nurturing and mobilizing advocates.

I got the idea while I was at Eloqua. It was 2005, and great VC convinced me to spend a couple of weeks out in the field to understand how and why people bought my software. What I learned was when we sold software efficiently it was because there was tons of this advocacy involved. There were multiple referrals on the way in. There were lots of case studies that were relevant on the website, the best references and those prospects went very quickly.

At the time, Eloqua was a bootstrap startup, so selling our software quickly was super important. I got really excited about this idea of advocacy, but it turns it was way harder than I thought to generate consistent advocacy. That’s because we didn’t actually understand what motivated the advocates.

I really wanted to understand better what motivated the advocates. Through some interviews and lots of other things like that, I began to figure out what drove advocacy and unfortunately, I couldn’t work on that at the time I was at Eloqua, but when I had a chance to transition out I had an opportunity to work on it at Influitive.

What are some of the lesson’s you’ve learned about building a company with the customer at the heart of your business?

Brian: That’s really cool just hearing how you brought together the two worlds as the scientist to understand what motivates people and then putting in a way that you’re able to help people. I’d love to hear some of the lessons you’ve learned about building a company where from the beginning the customer is at the heart of your business model.

Mark: I’ve learned a lot just of how to build a company. Regarding putting customers at the heart of your business model, one of the things I learned the hard way, coming from Eloqua, was how important the employee experience is. I think one of the big differences between the two companies is that while I was at Eloqua I was very obsessed with what we called our True North, which was measurable value to the customer, and that’s a pretty good thing to obsess about. If you are making your customer money every day, you’re likely to have some success, but one big change that I made at Influitive was really treating my employees as my primary customer, making sure that I was providing the best possible experience for them.

There is so much money that’s available for companies if you can generate the growth and if you can generate an efficient business model. The people who create that efficient business model and that growth are our people. Talent is a scarce resource today. That’s a big fundamental shift for me, and honestly, I think it mirrors a significant shift even in the marketplace. I think that if companies today don’t treat their employees as their primary customer, the future is not going to look too bright for them. That’s one key thing that I learned regarding building a company.

The way we built our software came from the knowledge that I gained from interviewing hundreds of super advocates. Literally, understanding people who might generate several referrals a quarter and be available for references on demand and love to speak on stage for you…all those active advocates that all of us really depend on. None of us can build a successful business without having our customers who are doing that sales and marketing for us. Our lifetime value of the customer and the cost of customer acquisition would be entirely out of whack if we didn’t have that working in our favor. There were some things that I’ve learned about that.

Three important things about customer advocacy

customer conversationOn the macro level, there are three things that I’ve learned that are really important.

The first was that people advocate more when they feel like their part of an exclusive tribe, like when they belong to something that’s bigger than themselves then that’s when you see a lot more advocacy. For example, you can see that at a sporting event. When you go to your local stadium, you’ll find people whose faces are painted in the colors of the team. Why do they do that? Well, they do that because they want to belong to something that’s bigger. They want to be part of an exclusive tribe. That’s what we found. When companies do advocacy programs, if they can give it the right name and the right feel and the right brand and really make people feel like they are special and exclusive you get a lot more advocacy. That’s the first thing.

Second, we learned is that people want to be able to experience the impact that they made on a company. I learned this firsthand. As part of foundational learning for starting my company, one of the things that I was excited to do was learn Mandarin Chinese. I thought it would be a cool thing to do. I learned to speak enough Chinese with this amazing product that, after six months, I was able to have a meeting in China without an interpreter. It was a pretty amazing experience. I used this product called ChinesePod.com and what I found was that (you can see now, I’m still advocating for it) my advocacy really waned over time and it was because I wasn’t really feeling the impact I was making on the company. I didn’t know what the results were of the referrals that I made as an example.

We’ve learned that if you give advocates feedback, they respond better. If you let people know the impact of those referrals that they’ve made if you let people know if they’ve written a guest blog post or they’ve been on a podcast, just like this, how many hits did that podcast get? Did they get a thumbs up? Those sorts of things generate a lot more advocacy because people are getting that feedback.

The third is social capital. If people are experiencing benefits in their life, their career, as a result of the advocacy they are making, they are going to do a lot more of that.

Those are three sorts of social/psychological things that I learned were really important in generating a lot of advocacy. Then, there are the micro-levelists – making it easy, making it fun, making it more rewarding. For example, a lot of games do that. They build things to make it more addictive, all work. We’ve bottled all that and we’ve put that into our product so that you’ve got that exclusive tribe, the people are getting feedback, they’re getting social capital and they make it “game-ified” and fun, so that people want to come back in again and again. It really works. We’ve now come to the point where I think that we’re building something that is going to become a new standard for how companies go to market by putting their customers at the heart of the way they go to market.

Brian: That’s really cool.

How important are customer advocates and why should we create or be involved in their community?

Mark: Here’s one of the things that I’ve seen, especially lately, maybe it’s because I’m running a company that’s all about advocacy, but the industry leaders in almost every sector are also the advocacy leaders. Like for example, Tesla in cars. Tesla’s market cap is equivalent to, I think, nearly all the other car companies combined at this point or very close to it. I’m thinking, why is that? They are also an advocacy leader. They don’t have any commissioned salespeople. They don’t do traditional marketing. All their marketing is done really through their own customers. The impact of that is just incredible because you’ve got this massive unpaid sales force that’s way more efficient than any sales force that you hired could be.

Brian: Right.

Mark: The other thing that we’ve learned is that advocacy is kind of like a beneficial virus. For example, a company that’s built with advocacy, that has a lot of advocacy, those customers that become a new customer because an advocate recommended them, they, themselves, are much more likely to advocate. Essentially, there is a culture of advocacy around these companies. These companies rocket up to being industry leaders. They are so much more efficient regarding their sales and marketing, and they’ve got the culture that keeps this sort of positive feedback group happening, which I think is really exciting. We see that with a lot of our customers, they’re industry leaders. So many of our startup customers have gone public (i.e., MuleSoft) or there’s so many of them that have gone public, or they’re industry leaders like Oracle or SalesForce, IBM. I think why they do well is because of this financial power of having a large unpaid army of advocates.

It feels amazing to work for companies that have a lot of customer advocacy. It gives you that sense of purpose, like, I know why I’m here. We’re adding real value. Look at all these customers we’re delighting, but they are helping us grow. It’s such an empowering, exciting thing to be a part of. I think the most important thing entrepreneurs can do is to build advocates and mobilize them. Now, also having a fantastic product and terrific service but we don’t actually get involved in that area. We actually only work with companies that have a great product, and that’s because we’ve learned the hard way that our product works really well for companies that are already delighting customers.

Early in our history, we had a couple of customers who, frankly, were not doing a great job, but they might have had a handful of happy customers. And they wanted us to help give them a megaphone to mostly make it look like they had that kind of advocacy even if they didn’t. Honestly, we’ve learned that’s not a good business skill. We tend to work with companies that already do an excellent job delighting customers and we make sure they win. It feels like we are really doing good for the world because we’re helping the good guys win.

Brian: I appreciate you saying that. This is going to segue us into talking a little bit about empathy. Often in marketing and sales, it had been outside-in, and what I’m hearing from you is, no, it’s from the inside out. It needs to be authentic. You connect with your employees.

As you know, I’ve been doing some work in empathy-based marketing and selling and how it can help us connect with our customers and create better results.

How can empathy and advocacy based-marketing connect and help empower companies?

Mark: I love this work you are doing on empathy. As an entrepreneur, with every year that goes by I realize more that it’s the number one skill, I think, that business leaders need to develop to win. Often it’s thought of in an employee context for sure. For example, I’ve worked with a coach for the last three or four years namely working on developing my skills as a leader, which includes being more empathetic. Meaning truly and deeply understanding my employees and in particular, feeling what they are feeling, but it extends way beyond employees.

That is why I love the work you are doing about being empathetic for companies and understanding their experience. In fact, this whole business that I’m doing came from a place of empathy in the beginning, because it was all about understanding what the most desirable buying process for someone to go through.

Brian: Yes.

Mark: If you think about the last amazing buying experience you’ve had for something that wasn’t just a commodity, but something you had to think about really. The chances are that process you went through had some trusted people whether those were other customers you trusted or that salesperson you worked with did such a good job that you truly and deeply trusted that person. You trusted this individual had your best interest in their heart. The chances are that trust and that transparency was just completely interwoven in that buying process you had.

That’s what I learned when I was at Eloqua and trying to figure what was going on that some of these prospects who bought in four days instead of four months?

That experience had tons of advocacy all over it. People talk about customer experience all the time, right? I’m not sure some people even know what it means. To me, customer experience is all about feelings. It’s all about the way people feel at different parts of their journey with you and so if we want to make people feel great, if we want to make people feel like there’s trust then you’ve got to infuse that buying process with the power of authenticity, authentic other customers. There’s an intersection right there.

If you care about your buyer, if you care about their experience, and you want them to feel great when they are working with you then, you should probably talk less as a salesperson and as a marketer. And have more of their trusted, relevant peers do the talking for you, not because it’s more effective, but because they like it. That’s the experience that they really want more than anything. I think there is a massive overlap between the ideas of empathy and advocacy.

Brian: I love that and I agree with this as I’ve done research in understanding this perspective and thinking of customers and how are they feeling. They want to know, how you’ve helped people like me? What has worked for others in my field and how can I get better doing what I’m doing? Because there is that authentic someone who’s been in my space or experience.

I just wanted to talk about some actual tips you might have for our listeners today who feel inspired. They realize they have advocates right now, they may not have even used that term. I love the word advocate and what it means.

How can marketers start identifying and better supporting their customer advocates?  

Mark: That’s a great question. We’ve produced an interesting piece of software to help mobilize advocates at scale, but it doesn’t mean you have to do that. Really, every company in the world should be doing advocate marketing and it may be as simple as just having a meal a couple of times a year with some of your best customers. There’s really no agenda there other than to get people together and to ask how to improve and maybe share a little bit about where you’re going as a company. That alone can cost very little.

We have these dinners all the time, and they cost $1,000 to get eight people together at nice restaurant and have a small boutique meal and wow, it just makes a big impact. Because those people are your best customers, they want to affect your company, right? They want to help shape your company. In some cases, they may already feel like they are more a part of your business than their company because they believe so passionately in your idea. By giving them an exclusive tribe and saying hey, this dinner is not just for any one of our customers. It’s for our most special customers. Not because you buy a lot from us either, by the way. It’s not about purchasing. It’s because you get it. It’s because you believe and we think that your ideas are leading edge and are going to be ones that everyone else is going to subscribe to, so we want to spend more time listening to you. We want to take care of you. That message will always be well received. It’s very inexpensive, and it’s got a very high ROI. Just beginning there is a great place to start.

I know a lot of companies are already doing that before we start talking to them and they have people believe in advocacy and it appeals to them. The next step is to centralize your advocacy with a single person doing the talking. A lot of the companies that we work with before we started working with them, had four or five different people in their organization who are all doing little bits and pieces of advocacy in their own way. You might have one person in charge of referrals, another person in charge of talking to customers. The problem there is you’re really missing out on a lot of potential advocacy. That same person that can be a reference for you is also willing to speak on stage. If you have a point person who is in charge of advocacy for your company, you’ll get a lot more, three or four times as much, without spending any more money. In fact, you could actually end up saving a lot of time, money and frustration because you centralize that process.

Again, that’s actually a very empathetic thing, right? Because what you’re saying is: you know what I care about more than the types of things that advocates do? We care about the advocates themselves. We actually care about people. We care about their experience. We want their experience to be great.

By having a single person in your company in charge of that, I think that is showing a lot of respect and appreciation for these very important people. If you just do those two things alone without buying any fancy software, you’ll get a lot more of this very valuable advocacy for your company and it could be quite transformational. Then, maybe you’ll be ready to have a really scaled up advocacy program, and that’s what we do at Influitive.

We create communities where there are some virtual places on the internet and on mobile where you can invite your advocates in, make them feel like a million bucks, let them know how they can help you and get them to interact with each other. We have about 300 great companies that are doing that. They are enjoying the experience, but there again, you don’t have to do anything fancy. Just get people together and show some appreciation. You’ll get a lot of value out of it.

Brian: That’s terrific Mark and thank you for the action points. I was going to ask you one last question before we close. What’s the question you wished I asked but haven’t yet?

Mark: Maybe something about the future? Often a good one is to bring out the crystal ball and see what we see in the future of marketing and that sort of thing.

Brian: That would be great.

What do you see in the future for B2B marketing or selling macro trends?

Mark: Something which I’ve sort of alluded to in this conversation was around the “whys” of customer experience and the role that marketing is going to have play in customer experience. One of the things that you’ll notice, some of the best companies that we have, particularly in the west, are ones that are obsessed with customer experience.

I think as you have more buyers that are inundated with emails and websites and all sorts of stuff like that. Marketers are going to need to have some control over the customer experience in the future because that is going to be the main source of where their best leads are going to come from and their ability to convert those leads.

We see with our customers, which tend to be on the leading edge of the curve, where marketing and customer success are starting to merge a little bit. It’s very analogous to how sales and marketing began to come together in my Eloqua days, under the idea of the standard definition of a lead.

Brian: Yes.

Mark: I have done sales and marketing stuff together, and you’ve done a lot of writing on that. I’ve learned much from you over the years on that. There is a similar thing that is happening now. The customer success and marketing and product are coming together to define what the optimal customer experience is and that is a big, big move. Marketers who can get on that and understand this new language of customer experience and be able to drive it are going to do very well over the next few years. I think that’s one big trend.

I do think that this idea of marketing by proxy is tremendous. It’s a huge thing and these are skills that most marketers do not have today. Marketers now are good at running these cross-functional, multimodal, nurturing-style campaigns to drive leads and this sort of thing. The ability to do that has been really dominant over the last 10 years.

That’s changing as buyers are becoming kind of inundated with that stuff, yet, the ability to get others to do the marketing for you and learning those skills are going to be pretty significant. Because there is such little knowledge in this area, we actually have quite an education effort out there.

You can go to Influitive.com and check out our resources page, and there are lots of educational materials, as we are trying to train this next generation of marketers in how to think this way. Instead of thinking about, how do I bombard people to get my way? It’s how to find the right individuals who are relevant and trusted and how do I get them to carry our message for me? I think that’s going to be a big deal.

https://youtu.be/sK_FWihgnKk

And thirdly, everyone is talking about machine learning and all that these days and I think it’s probably going to create just as big an impact. I think AI machine learning is probably at the very top of the high curve right now.

Brian: Right.

Mark: Three years from now everyone is going to say well, I don’t know what that was all about, I guess that was all hyped up, but then in ten years from now people go wow, that really was a huge change.

So I think it’s definitely worth tracking what’s going on in that technology and we’re certainly spending quite a bit of time playing around with it here. Some of the things I see for marketers, (and actually, there are a lot of sales professionals who listen to your podcast) I think empathy is just as important if not more so for sellers and so is advocacy, so is mobilizing your proxies if you are in the sales profession as well. I think there are a lot of parallels.

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