Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Alignment or Collaboration?

IDC and Lattice Engines recently hosted a diverse group of executives with a wide range of responsibilities and interests, including: corporate marketing, industry marketing, demand generation, sales operations, business operations, and customer intimacy. The following is a brief thought piece based on our conversation.

Tom Barrieau, IDC sales enablement analyst, provided a foundation for the conversation with his comments on how the buyer’s journey has changed and the impact of those changes on the disciplines of marketing and selling. Technology has enabled better, more effective, contextually relevant marketing and selling. Yet marketing and sales organizations are finding it difficult to collaborate at a high level because the processes for doing so are still being thought out…

For those of us who started our sales careers in the days of “feature and benefit” selling (how quaint!), we remember that sellers held the information and the power. Buyers were reliant on their vendors for most product and much usage information. Sellers would conduct extensive discovery about their prospects while providing that education. White papers provided a primary vehicle to educate prospects on how to acquire, implement and derive value from technology purchases.

Today, in both the B2B and B2C worlds, buyers may engage prospective vendors after having completed much, perhaps most of their research and due diligence. Buyers will leverage third party sites, forums, social media, events, etc., where they gather information (not all of it accurate, by the way!). The buyer or buying team may then initiate an RFI or RFP process based on what they’ve learned from this research.

This new world presents several challenges. A buyer or buying team may go through the process of evaluating, purchasing and implementing a specific product or service no more than once or twice in their careers and may not know all of the issues to consider or how to prioritize and value the information they gather.

Here’s a personal example…

A few years ago, as an active road cyclist, I decided to take up the sport of cyclocross racing. Long popular in Europe, cyclocross has an active community in New England and in other parts of the US. This flavor of bike racing takes place in fields and on singletrack paths, occasionally requiring jumping off the bike and running up a slope with the bike on one’s shoulder or bunnyhopping a 12 to 18” tall obstruction on the course.

I’ve been bike racing for a long time and I’m comfortable purchasing bike goodies on eBay. So I purchased a used cyclocross bike on Ebay, from one of the top builders in Europe. Got a pretty good deal. The only problem with the bike was its color – an unattractive mustard yellow. I visited a local bike builder, Toby Stanton of Hot Tubes, who offered frame refinishing services and asked him to repaint the frame in my favorite color – a deep blue.

Toby asked why I wanted to have the frame repainted.

I responded: “Because I don’t like the color…”

He responded: “Well sure, I could paint it for you, but it still won’t fit you properly

As an uninformed buyer, I made the incorrect assumption that a cyclocross frame should be the same size as my road frame. A knowledgeable seller, if I had engaged with one rather than venturing out on eBay, would have caught my mistake early in the engagement process. Fortunately Toby didn't follow me down the path; instead he offered to build me a sweet custom deep blue cyclocross frame, which I'm still riding and racing 15 years later!

It’s the job of knowledgeable sellers to guide their buyers through their process, to help them avoid the mistakes they would otherwise make because they simply lack the experience of evaluating/acquiring a specific type of product or service.

Technology allows us to conduct some of that buyer discovery independently of any specific interactions with the buyer. Today, when a B2B buyer first visits a website, data augmentation techniques allow us to build a comprehensive profile of the buyer’s organization – all of that company’s firmographics, technology stack, prior engagements with the company, even a propensity to buy based on the company’s success model. It’s even possible to append specific psychographic information to an individual visitor.

Contextual Relevance

This capability allows companies to respond via their marketing automation platform with contextually relevant information.

Hospitals use different language than insurance companies. Buy side versus sell side. Public sector versus private. Discrete versus process manufacturing. Consulting versus professional services. Large company versus small. Hierarchical business model versus federated. Open source versus proprietary. Cloud versus on-prem. VC funded versus family owned.

Use the wrong language, the contextually incorrect information, and you will be moved to the bottom of the list. “That company just doesn’t understand us…”

Most companies understand this requirement, and many are moving to implement the capability. The challenge is not technical; it’s a process problem. Who’s going to create all of the contextually relevant content? Who will keep it fresh? How do we know we’ve got it right? And organizations, aware that much of their externally facing content is never consumed, are reluctant to create more. Just think of all the permutations…size X ownership model X industry X tech stack X growth rate…

An Early Warning System

Technology also helps companies to identify prospects just starting out in their buying journey, months before they first visit the company’s website or engage with a sales person. Consider the case of a midsized financial services firm, whose board has just mandated an active focus on security and specific actions to be taken within the current fiscal year. Senior executives, managers and individual contributors will start researching security issues and options – DDOS, managed security, mobile device management, personnel background checks, etc.

This activity will rise beyond the “normal” level of casual browsing…more people at a given company conducting research, a concentration on specific topics, search terms, vendors, etc. A buying group is in the process of forming. And their online behavior is signaling “intent.”

Intent monitoring allows a provider to identify this early interest and to act accordingly. In a few cases, due to prior history or target company status, it might be appropriate for a sales person to place a call directly to the Chief Information Security Officer. More commonly, the proper response is for the provider to implement (or expand) a targeted nurture marketing campaign with contextually relevant display advertising, marketing emails, etc. If done correctly, the campaign will both inform and steer the nascent buying committee, perhaps making the case for managed services or sharing a well thought out security evaluation process published by an industry analyst firm.

Mind the Gap

The unknown ground, the gap, so to speak, is how to effectively include/engage/enable the sales team in this process. The buyer (or the buying team) is undertaking a potentially lengthy buying process or journey, one that might take months before they, organically, initiate contact with any vendors. So, how do we enable the sales person to follow the buyer in that journey, to engage at the proper time, and to be on the same page, so to speak, as the buyer. Or…to be slightly ahead of the buyer and be just a bit provocative (provocation based selling) or challenging (the challenger model) in their approach. In this case, the sales person must have a good grounding in the customer’s business, their industry and the lessons learned from other customers.

Actions to Take

If you’re a savvy marketer or sales operations executive, you already know that you can accelerate your revenue flow with the proper application of technology.

The devil is in the details…so sit down with your sales or marketing counterparts, select a bite size opportunity, map out the processes, content and technology required for success.

Engage with your trusted vendors for their advice and counsel; they’ve been through this before and they can help you identify best practices and potential pitfalls. Make sure you have executive sponsorship and support, sales leadership buy-in, and enough runway that you can actually prove your hypotheses.

·       Give up the concept of marketing and sales alignment. Alignment simply means “agreement or having common goals.”
·       Adopt the context of marketing and sales collaboration. Collaboration requires both alignment and relevant, shared action to further those common goals.

And remember, you’re not the only one facing these challenges and opportunities!