Objective -- create better, more profitable relationships between buyers and sellers.
Through this blog, Thoughts On Selling, Lee Levitt explores strategic issues in sales effectiveness, productivity, sales operations, sales enablement, and sales strategy. Lee leverages his significant experience in sales, sales management, sales enablement and operations and channel development, along with substantial sales productivity research and consulting as an analyst at IDC.
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 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…
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.
This capability allows
companies to respond via their marketing automation platform with contextually
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
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
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
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!