How sales hustle and automation hurt customer experience

Sales reps are hustling and using automated tools to move faster. But it can hurt customer experience. Here’s why: You can’t automate trust I registered for a demo account for CRM software. Five minutes later I got a call. Didn’t answer. Wanted to try the demo first. I got another call five minutes later. Checked caller […]

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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.

5 Reasons Why Your Buyer Persona’s Aren’t Good Enough

How often do you spend weeks or even months putting blood, sweat, and tears into a new marketing campaign, only to have it fall flat?

You swear you did everything right, but when it comes time for the results to pour in, they never show.  It’s a marketer’s worst nightmare.

The likely culprit? Bad buyer personas.

Think about it, your buyer personas are the building blocks of your marketing campaigns. If they’re not good enough, every part of your marketing strategy will suffer.

That’s why we’re teaching you five easy ways to improve your buyer personas. Keep reading!

What is a buyer persona?

In the most basic sense of the phrase, a buyer persona is a profile of your ideal customer.  These profiles are made up of existing customer data, anecdotal observations, industry research and much, much more.

Large companies often have multiple buyer personas that span multiple industries, demographics, and product offerings. Whereas smaller companies often have fewer, less targeted buyer personas.

To create a buyer persona, you must analyze your current customer base and identify any common traits and characteristics.

Do your customers work at companies of a certain size?
Do they hold similar job titles?
Do they all work within the same industry?
Do they use the same software?

Alone, these traits may not be significant—but when combined inside a buyer persona, they give you a comprehensive view of your typical customer.

What does a buyer persona look like?

A very basic buyer persona looks like this: A 30 to 45-year old male, who works in software sales, at a company of 300+ employees. A more complex buyer persona extends beyond surface level details and includes other factors like common complaints, shared opinions, buying preferences, and more.

Here’s a basic example from Brightspark Consulting:

Unfortunately, the more complex your buyer persona, the longer it takes to construct. The best buyer personas are highly targeted and require a significant amount of analysis, research, and time.

Before we dive in, let us explain why buyer personas are so important.

Why are buyer personas critical to modern marketing?

Buyer personas are a modern marketer’s best friend. When you use buyer personas to inform each and every part of your marketing strategy, you tailor your decisions to the preferences of your ideal customers. Therefore, a set of detailed buyer personas can have a massive effect on your marketing results. Consider these statistics (source):

  • Companies who exceed lead and revenue goals are four times as likely to use buyer personas for demand generation than those who missed lead and revenue goals.
  • 56% of companies have generated higher quality leads using buyer personas.
  • 36% of companies have created shorted sales cycles using buyer personas.
  • 24% of companies generated more leads using buyer personas.
  • 93% of companies who exceed lead and revenue goals segment their database by buyer persona.

Five reasons your buyer personas aren’t good enough

It’s evident that buyer personas are critical to marketing performance.

But shockingly, 60-70% of B2B marketers admit that they don’t truly understand their buyers (source).

This means that, although many marketers create buyer personas, they probably aren’t very effective.  Today we solve that problem.

If you’re not reaching the right audience, or your marketing results have plateaued, perhaps we can tell you why. Keep reading for the five most common reasons your buyer personas aren’t as effective as they could be.

Reason #1: They don’t include technographic information

Marketers have been using demographic information to target potential customers since the dawn of time. Technographics, on the other hand, are relatively new.

For those who aren’t familiar, technographics are the tools and technologies a company uses to operate. This includes everything from social media management tools to the platform a company uses to manage their website. But, technographic data isn’t just a tool or set of tools. It also includes vital information about how your prospects use and purchase technology.

Although demographic and firmographic data is essential, your buyer personas aren’t complete without technographic data. Consider this—with insight into the tools your prospects use, you can target your competitor’s customer base or identify important trends happening within your industry.

Here’s an example from VentureBeat: A financial tech firm noticed that Eloqua marketing automation was a predictive signal for its top prospects. The company is in a completely separate vertical, so it wouldn’t make sense to personalize messages about this platform.

However, it did help them deduce a few things. They recognized that companies running Eloqua tend to have a certain level of technical sophistication, and are usually big enough to be able to afford premium enterprise systems.

Reason #2: They’re built off of biases

As hard as we try not to, all marketers have their own biases. It’s easy to forget that not everyone thinks about your products or your brand the way you do. Unfortunately, these biases can influence your buyer personas and make them unreliable.

 If you’re not sure whether your own biases have influenced your buyer personas, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Do my personas mirror the customer journey we most commonly see?
  • Do I have evidence to support each and every assertion within my buyer personas?
  • If a customer read this profile of themselves, would they agree with it?
  • If my sales team read this profile of our best buyer, would they agree with it?
  • Do I ever overstate or overestimate the need for the product I’m trying to sell?
  • Do I ever overstate or overestimate the product’s ability to solve my customer’s problem?

Ask yourself these questions and truly try to think like your customer. If all else fails, hire an analyst, survey your customers, and ask other departments within your company to check your work.

Reason #3: You set it and forget it

If you’ve been in marketing for any length of time, it’s likely that you’ve already created your buyer personas. Maybe they’re effective—maybe they’re not. But chances are, if it’s been longer than six months, you need to revisit them.

Data changes, trends fade, and buying habits evolve as technology advances. It’s important that your buyer personas take these changes into account.  After initial buyer persona creation, put a recurring meeting on your calendar to review them.

Keep track of any important changes within the industry, your company, your product, technological advances, and buying motivators. When it comes time to review, make sure your personas reflect these changes. After all, your customers aren’t static and neither are your buyer personas. Don’t treat them as such.

Reason #4: You don’t have enough

If you’re a small company with one product, a single buyer persona may be enough to fuel your marketing campaigns. But chances are, it won’t be enough.

If you feel like your buyer personas are ineffective, it could be that they’re not granular enough.

In today’s marketing landscape, your customers expect all marketing communications to be tailored to their specific wants and needs. Consider these statistics:

  • Over 78% of consumers will only engage offers if they have been personalized to their previous engagements with the brand (source).
  • 81% of consumers want brands to get to know them and understand when to approach them and when not to (source).
  • 87% of consumers surveyed say that personally relevant branded content positively influences how they feel about a brand (source).
  • 63% of respondents are highly annoyed by the way brands to continue to rely on the old-fashioned strategy of blasting generic ad messages repeatedly (source).
  • 63% of consumers said they’d think more positively of a brand if it gave them content that was more valuable, interesting or relevant (source).

 Take a look at each of your personas and the campaigns you’ve used to target them. Is the content you’re serving truly relevant to each person within that audience? Consider removing any outliers and creating a separate buyer persona for them.

Reason #5: They lack motivation and emotive context

If you only use quantitative metrics to compose your buyer personas, they likely won’t perform well.

This is because your customers and prospects are people—not numbers. Some people buy products on a whim. Others take a year to consult with an entire buying committee before spending money. Something that triggers a purchase for one customer may have no effect on another customer.

To create effective buyer personas, you must consult your sales and customer service teams to gather anecdotal evidence.

Determine what motivates each of your buyers to make a purchase. Is it frustration? Is it the satisfaction of getting a good deal? Or did you just catch them at the right time?

This information is crucial. Without it, you don’t truly understand your customers.

Key Takeaways

Buyer personas are essential to marketing—but only if they’re created correctly and aren’t neglected. It’s important that, as a marketer, you recognize the power of buyer personas and dedicate the time and effort needed to create them.

The post 5 Reasons Why Your Buyer Persona’s Aren’t Good Enough appeared first on the B2B Lead Blog.

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.

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:

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The Biggest Contributor to B2B Revenue

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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.

You May Also Like:

Advocate marketing blog: What the heck is advocacy marketing?

Lead Nurturing: 4 Steps to walking the buying path with your customers

How Empathy Will Grow Your Sales and Marketing Pipeline

How customer-hero stories help you connect better

The post Why customer advocacy should be at the heart of your marketing 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.

You may also like

Four stories sales people need
Why purpose matters to marketing: growth, revenue, and profit
7 Tips to Boost Lead Nurturing Email Results Immediately

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.

You may also like

Four stories sales people need
Why purpose matters to marketing: growth, revenue, and profit
7 Tips to Boost Lead Nurturing Email Results Immediately

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

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

Over the past year, I’ve been researching why there’s such a disconnect between marketing and customers so I can understand how to bridge that gap.

Why? Because right now, the trust gap between marketers and customers has never been wider.

For example, this recent Gallup Poll shows that confidence in the honesty and ethics of marketers and sellers isn’t much higher than Members of Congress.

And this survey by Hubspot showed that only 3 percent of people surveyed consider marketers and salespeople trustworthy.

The self-inflicted problem we all face in sales and marketing

So, I’ve been stewing on this for a while, and I could use your help. I’m trying to pull two things together and could use your input on this because I keep pulling on this thread and it doesn’t end.

You see, I’ve worked in the world of complex sales, B2B marketing, and lead generation for two decades. And lately, I’ve been doing self-reflection as I’m working on a new company which you’ll hear more about soon.

First, let me start by saying, I initially started feeling cynical but now a bit hopeful.

Let me explain:

I think we marketers can be cynical and even snarky at times. We know good marketing. We know when something is legit. And we have well-tuned B.S. meters. It’s harder for me is to detect my own B.S., so I depend on others to give me feedback. And at times, I’m told I’m full of it.

It’s about the words we use

So, I’ve been stuck using certain words to describe what I do. By that, I mean the words we use in sales and marketing.

Back when I wrote the book Lead Generation for the Complex Sale which succeeded beyond my hopes. Back then, I felt marketing and sales are about relationships. And I still do.

Yet I think we have a major problem in marketing and sales. And I’d venture to say a big part of the problem is self-inflicted.

To help, I’ve written about things like: remember that leads are people. Be human. Be authentic. Use empathy. But, I need your help discussing something more foundational: the words we choose in marketing and sales to describe what we do and the people we’re doing it for.

Why? Because our words affect how we think. It’s something that linguists call the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis which shows that the words and the language we choose influences our thinking.

Our words can actually change our brains (and others)

In my experience, words reflect our intention and values. And our customers feel it. This is why customer empathy is essential. But surprisingly, our words actually influence our brain function i.e. how we think.

Andrew Newberg, M.D., and Mark Robert Waldman the authors of Words Can Change Your Brain confirm this through their extensive research.

According to Newberg and Waldman, “We communicate in so many different ways and in so many situations, but if we don’t bring self-reflective consciousness into the equation by reflecting on what we say before we say it, we’ll fail to reach the depths of intimacy and cooperation that we are capable of.“

You can read more of their Newberg and Waldman’s research about how words influence our brain here.

For example, the minute I call someone a “lead” or “prospect,” I turn them into an object in my mind. And when I see someone as an object, I treat my marketing as something I DO to people rather than something I do FOR them.

Nobody wants to be treated an object.

Instead, we need to address others as thinking and feeling people with individual needs and relate to their humanity.

Also, I think marketing is a spiritual thing. It’s the intention behind what we say and what we do. And I believe marketing and sales can and should be a force for good by being genuinely helpful. We have this incredible capacity to influence people positively or negatively.

Help influence and change the words we use 

This starts with us (you and me) and the words we use which ultimately affects how we think and act towards others.

There’s so much else that I’d like to say, but I want to ask you two questions.

  1. How can we change the way we talk about people (customers and future customers) we want to help and positively influence? 
  2. How can we do to change the way we talk about what we do inside (an outside) our companies?

The language we use to objectify customers includes leads, prospects, suspects, conversions, opportunities, pipeline, MQLs, SQLs and more.  We also use phrases like, “crush your quota,” “lead magnets, “wins,” ”closes,” “deals,” and more.

We need to find congruency in the words we use and what I believe the ultimate purpose of marketing which is to help attract, build and grow customer relationships.

When I put myself in my customers’ shoes and use empathy, I can start to see how we talk in a way that dehumanizes. And I know what it feels like when I’m treated I’m an object to convert not a person who needs help.

It’s no wonder the perception of marketers and sellers is negative, and we have a trust gap. And we’re due for a change.

You may also like:

4 Ways You Can Humanize Marketing and Build Relationships
Lead Nurturing: 4 Steps to walking the buying path with your customers
How to put your customers first with lead generation
How Empathy Will Grow Your Sales and Marketing Pipeline
Why purpose matters to marketing: growth, revenue, and profit

The post Stuck on words: how can marketing connect with customers better? appeared first on the B2B Lead Blog.

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

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

Over the past year, I’ve been researching why there’s such a disconnect between marketing and customers so I can understand how to bridge that gap.

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

For example, this recent Gallup Poll showed that public confidence in the honesty and ethics of marketers and sellers is at the bottom of the list (just above Members of Congress.)

And this survey by Hubspot showed that only 3 percent of people surveyed consider marketers and salespeople trustworthy. Yikes.

You may be asking yourself: how can things get better?

The problem we all face in sales and marketing

So, I’ve been stewing on this for a while, and I could use your help and input on this because it affects all of us in sales and marketing.

You see, I’ve worked in the world of complex sales, B2B marketing, and lead generation for two decades. And lately, I’ve been doing self-reflection as I’m working on a new company which you’ll hear more about soon.

Here’s what I mean:

I think we marketers can be cynical and even snarky at times. We know good marketing. We know when something is legit. And we have well-tuned B.S. meters. It’s harder for me is to detect my own B.S., so I depend on people I trust to give me feedback. And at times, I’m told I’m full of it. That’s ok. It’s part of learning and growing.

For example, I talked with a VP of Marketing yesterday about these ideas and he shared a recent negative marketing experience he had as a customer. He said, “It sucks, but here’s the thing: I’m guilty of doing the same thing too.”

I asked him why marketers struggle with connecting with customers and he replied:

I think it’s easier for us in marketing to talk about what we’re comfortable with which is the product/service we sell. And we LOVE to talk them. But what I’m not very good at is understanding what motivates our customer and how to best talk to them.

He’s not alone. I’ve done the same thing.

This is one part problem we face in marketing and sales. And as you’ll see much of problem is self-inflicted.

To improve, we need to look at the words we use

The big part of the problem is the words and jargon we choose in marketing and sales to describe what we do and the people we’re doing it for.

Why? Because our words affect how we think.

It’s something linguists call the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis which suggests that the words and the language we choose influences our thinking. I understood this intuitively but I don’t know that I’ve helped much.

A decade ago, I wrote the book Lead Generation for the Complex Sale and it succeeded beyond my hopes. Back then, I wrote that marketing and sales come down to one thing: starting and growing relationships. And I still believe that’s true.

To help, I’ve written about things like leads are people. Be human. Be authentic. Use empathy.

But I realize that didn’t articulate the problem which is the words we use in the sales and marketing are object-centered, not people-centered.

Our words and jargon influence our brains (and others)

In my experience, our words express more than our thoughts and feelings. They reflect our motivations and values. And our customers feel them. This is why customer empathy is essential.

But more than that, our words influence brain function i.e. how we think.

Case in point, Andrew Newberg, M.D., and Mark Robert Waldman the authors of Words Can Change Your Brain confirm this through their extensive research. In sum, their research shows that our words actually change brain function and we are astonishingly unskilled when it comes to our understanding and communicating with others.

According to Newberg and Waldman, “We communicate in so many different ways and in so many situations, but if we don’t bring self-reflective consciousness into the equation by reflecting on what we say before we say it, we’ll fail to reach the depths of intimacy and cooperation that we are capable of.“  You can read more about how words influence our brain here.

For example, the minute I call someone a “lead” or “prospect,” I turn them into an object in my mind. And when I see someone as an object, I treat my marketing as something I DO to people rather than something I do FOR them.

We objectify people when we use jargon like leads, prospects, suspects, conversions, opportunities, pipeline, MQLs, SQLs and more.  We also use phrases like, “crush your quota,” “lead magnets, “wins,” ”closes,” “deals,” and more.

When we put ourselves in our customers’ shoes and use empathy, we can begin to see how we unwittingly talk in a way that dehumanizes people and treats them as objects.

Nobody wants to be treated as an object to convert. Instead, we need to address others as thinking and feeling people with individual needs.  So how can we identify with others and connect on a human level?

Closing thoughts

It’s no wonder the perception of marketers and sellers is negative, and we have a trust gap. And we’re due for a change.

It starts with the words we use which ultimately affects how we think and act towards others. We need to think about how we can connect in a more human and engaging manner.

We have this incredible capacity to influence people positively or negatively.

That’s why we need to find congruency in the words we use and the ultimate purpose of marketing which is to help start and grow customer relationships.

To do this, immerse yourself in your customer’s world and think from their experience. Begin by looking at what you see and hear. And then consider the words you use from your client’s perspective. This will help inspire new language.

Also, use of words that people centered. For example, instead of leads, you can talk about change makers, potential customers, future customers, future advocates instead. See what I mean?

There’s so much else that I’d like to say, but I want to close by asking you two questions.

  1. How can you change the words that you use to describe customers and future customers?  
  2. How can we do to change the way we talk about what we do inside (an outside) our companies to treat people like humans rather than objects?  

Based on the words and jargon we use, it’s no wonder the perception of marketers and sellers is negative, and we have a trust gap. It’s time for a change.

You may also like:

4 Ways You Can Humanize Marketing and Build Relationships
Lead Nurturing: 4 Steps to walking the buying path with your customers
How to put your customers first with lead generation
How Empathy Will Grow Your Sales and Marketing Pipeline
Why purpose matters to marketing: growth, revenue, and profit