Sunday, September 29, 2013

4 Keys to Open the Door to More B2B Sales

Do you wish that your salespeople were better at closing? Or that their sales forecasts were more accurate?  Are you frustrated that apparently well-qualified opportunities end up with the prospect deciding to do nothing? If so, you’re not alone. I hear these complaints all the time.

These sound like classic “bottom of funnel” challenges. But when I take a closer look at many of these situations, more often than not the real problem lies elsewhere - not at the bottom of the funnel, but at the top. When salespeople repeatedly struggle to close opportunities, the issue often lies with how they started the sale, and not with how they are trying to close it.

It’s not how well you close, it’s how well you open

Don’t get me wrong. Salespeople need to be able to close. It’s an important skill - but it’s not enough, and no amount of closing skill can compensate for the failure to qualify the opportunity accurately, or for the inability to influence the buying decision process from an early stage in the cycle.

Losing to “no decision” is particularly galling. Being defeated by the status quo is just as unproductive as being defeated by a conventional competitor. Inertia is just as powerful an enemy as the organization you’re wrestling with for market share.

You can expect your prospects to be asking themselves, “why should I change at all?”or “why should I change now?” and “why should I change to you?” Here are a handful of strategies that could enable you to swing the odds in your favor:

1. Your prospect must have a compelling reason to do something

You can engage prospects in conversation about issues that are interesting to them. You can get them to evaluate your solution if it appears to address an important issue. But unless they have a critical reason do actually do something, odds are they will stick with the status quo. Have you established a compelling case for change?

2. Engage a sponsor who is a mobilizer, and not just a talker

It’s easy to assume that you’re on the right track if you are engaged with a helpful, supportive sponsor. But unless your sponsor has the power, authority and respect necessary to successfully catalyze change within their organization, chances are the decision will be to “do nothing.”

3. Be positioned as the least risky of all available options

It used to be said that “nobody got fired for buying IBM”. Today’s more common sentiment is that “nobody got fired for not sticking their neck out”. Buyers have become more risk averse. If you’re going to win, you need to emerge as the least risky of all their available options, including simply staying as they are.

4. Continuously re-qualify the opportunity

Even if the opportunity initially looks promising, you’ve got to coach and encourage your sales people to continuously re-evaluate each sales situation. Is the prospect’s need critical? What are the odds of them doing anything? What are the chances of doing it with us? And - last but not least - will the effort be worth it?
If your sales organization embraces this discipline, you’ll probably find that a lot more deals drop out early in the sales cycle. The total value of your pipeline may even seem to go down. But your revenue potential will have risen, perhaps dramatically. Well-qualified, well-managed opportunities will close naturally, and at a predictable time.

And because your sales people will be opening up and managing opportunities in a much more effective, they (and you) will be fretting a lot less about their closing skills. You might like to start by identifying your idea customer profiles, and embedding this into a progressive approach to opportunity qualification.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

10 Lessons in Customer Satisfaction

From 1992 to 2009, I ran online survey companies Decisive Technology and CustomerSat. Here are ten customer satisfaction lessons I learned in those 17 years:

1. Timeliness is critical to every customer.

No matter the industry or touchpoint, timeliness of response is becoming ever more important as a driver of overall satisfaction. The reasons: business is moving ever faster; waiting is frustrating; attention spans are declining; and speedy responses eliminate uncertainty.

2. Focus increases satisfaction.

American General sells just life insurance; 21stCentury, just auto insurance.  Both enjoy higher satisfaction than other companies that sell many types. Serving one set of customers well is hard enough; serving many different customer sets is much harder. Execs at those businesses can’t be as familiar with the requirements of each customer set; they misestimate or misunderstand requirements; and use precious resources and time trading-off one set for another.

3. Satisfaction scores vary widely among attributes.

A 7.5 on a 10-point scale can be high for one attribute but low for another. “Courtesy and professionalism” may be a full point higher than “how well your representative knows my company.” Human-based attributes like these tend to get higher scores than inanimate ones such as documentation. People are more willing to criticize processes and technology than humans.

4. Benchmarks make metrics meaningful and actionable.

By itself, a score of 7.5 conveys little, even if we know that standard deviation is .6. But adding that the relevant benchmark score is 8.1 reveals that performance is one full standard deviation below benchmark.  That tells us a great deal.
Benchmarks let us more effectively prioritize areas of improvement. If our smart phone scores 7.7 in compactness and 7.3 in style, it might appear that style deserves higher priority.  But, if for all brands in the target market, the norm is 7.0 for style and 8.0 for compactness, our scores relative to benchmarks are -.3 on compactness and +.3 on style, giving a very different picture.

5. Every corporate unit benefits.

With today’s feedback systems, teams, departments and business units can all be held accountable for their satisfaction performance and can take immediate and targeted action when problems arise. These enterprise-wide benefits are elevating Customer Advocacy and its importance in organizations, in some cases to the office of the COO.

6. Behavioral data is trumping survey data.

Behaviors include how and when customers make purchases; calls to technical support; attendance at training courses and webinars; “Likes” of Facebook pages; Tweets and re-Tweets; paths walked in retail store aisles; and body language and facial expressions. The number of ways we can track these behaviors – including GPS, cams, motion detectors, RFID tags, and a growing variety of micro-sensors – is skyrocketing. Gathering behaviors typically requires no respondent cooperation. Since survey response rates are falling at the same time, expect to see surveys increasingly becoming tools to validate and interpret behavioral data rather than ends in themselves.

7. Track market share.

Mainframes, fax machines, and travel agencies all enjoyed high customer satisfaction ratings as they lost market share over the last three decades. The last holdouts of a product or service are often the most loyal and satisfied. So track market share as well as satisfaction.

8. Use many metrics.

No one would want to be a passenger in a plane whose pilot had only a single gauge in the cockpit. Similarly, multiple metrics – financial, customer, employee, and market – provide the most complete picture of your business. Any claim that this or that is the “only metric you’ll ever need” is nonsense.

9. Customer advocacy goes through fads.

These including service quality, expectations, loyalty, customer value analysis, six sigma, NPS, and customer engagement over the last two decades. Some of these have little merit but survive by dint of marketing and simplicity; others are rigorous but have relatively few users due to complexity.  The customer metric that has best withstood the test of time is – you guessed it – satisfaction.

10. Feedback truly makes a difference.  

Customer feedback can improve dozens of decisions large and small: product features and positioning, service quality, staffing, organization, order management, even mergers and acquisitions. The evidence from many sources is overwhelming: companies that consistently measure and act on customer feedback really do perform better.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

30 Inspirational Content Marketing Quotes from Experts


Ready to get inspired to create great content? Last week Content Marketing World dominated Cleveland, Ohio with marketers from around the globe including experts such as Joe Pulizzi, Ann Handley, Jay Baer, Lee Odden and many, many more. We collected their inspirational quotes during the conference, creating this post and this free poster below.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

The Number 1 Way to Close Twice as Many Deals


If you’re among those who think referral selling doesn’t scale, consider this: B2B sales representatives report that referrals generate at least twice as many closed deals as marketing-generated leads, according to Sales Benchmark Index

In addition,
referral programs generate 300 to 400 percent more ROI than all other campaigns combined.
Yes, referrals rock! But, you must earn the right to ask for them.

Start by Earning Trust

People do business with people they know, like, and trust. You would never refer someone who doesn't meet these three criteria. Referral selling is very personal. Your reputation is on the line when you vouch for people. So you need to trust that they will take as good care of your contacts or clients as you would, that they'll follow up, that they will add value to the discussion, and that they will act with integrity. This is why you must earn the right to ask for referrals. So where do you start?

You’ve Already Earned the Right With…

Existing clients are our best—and often most under-leveraged—source of referrals. With them, we have already earned the right to ask, because they:
  • Know first-hand the value of our solutions
  • Can attest to the ROI they’ve received from working with us
  • Trust us (or else they wouldn’t do business with us)
You don’t even have to wait until your solution is implemented and producing ROI.

You can ask:

  • During the sales process when you’ve added value
  • When your client has thanked you
  • Those with whom you and your team interact during the implementation process

If You Don’t Ask, You Don’t Get

Your work may speak for itself, but your clients probably won’t—unless you ask. Many salespeople expect satisfied customers to automatically refer them. But here's the deal: your clients have their own businesses to worry about. They have a lot of competing issues, systems to upgrade, leadership challenges to meet, and a myriad of other decisions to make every day. You are just not top of mind for them.
You might be surprised by how willing your clients are to help you. All you have to do is ask.

Where Else Have You Earned the Right?

You have tons of people in your network—former and current colleagues, other salespeople, workout partners, good friends, your CPA, bankers, or attorneys. Begin with those with whom you have the best relationships. Never assume someone won’t make a great referral source. You never know who others know … until you ask.

Cut to the Chase

Remember to ask for an introduction, not just a name and contact info. When you receive a referral introduction, your prospect expects your call. He knows about you and why it’s beneficial for the two of you to talk. You begin the conversation “knowing about” each other. When you make referral selling your go-to strategy for business development and your No. 1 sales priority, you reduce your cost of sales, shorten your sales cycle, and convert prospects into clients more than 50 percent of the time. Why would you work any other way? For more on how to build and leverage your referral network, read “Your New Referral Network: It’s Always About the People You Know.”

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Marc Benioff: Win Customers by Treating Them Like Partners


For all of you sales leaders out there, here is an excerpt from CEO Marc Benioff's book "Behind the Cloud." This time, Marc delves into The Sales Playbook and offers us a look at winning over your first customers by treating them like partners. 
Thanks to our developers’ talent and our earliest test users’ guidance, we developed a quality beta application. Finally, it was time to go out and win actual customers. Suddenly, we stumbled upon our newest and biggest test: making people comfortable putting their most sensitive data (proprietary customer lists) on our servers. Everyone was concerned about security breaches. It was challenging to convince prospects to try our service, and it was especially challenging to convince the first one. Most people don’t want to be the first to take a giant risk. Realizing that truism was pivotal. We finessed our strategy to target pioneers who saw an opportunity to participate in something new and exciting.

That first pioneer came in the form of Blue Martini Software, one of the small software companies in which I had previously invested. I knew I was asking for a favor when I called the founder, Monte Zweben, but I also knew I was offering something that he really needed. Monte’s sales team was using spreadsheets and wanted a CRM system, but it couldn’t afford traditional enterprise software. Blue Martini also needed a service without the complexities of enterprise software, because Monte wanted his sales team to be focused on selling, not getting a system up and running.

Monte floated the idea of using our new service by his sales force (the end users), and they immediately embraced it. Blue Martini (which has since been acquired and is now known as Escalate Retail) became our first customer in August 1999. The service was up and running within two weeks—not the months or years by which other software implementations were measured. Even better, Blue Martini did not have to make a million-dollar investment.

We did not have a formal sales organization at this time so in our quest for early customers, everyone on the team was encouraged to contact anyone he or she knew in any industry, or at any start-up. Diane Mark, our product manager, won our second client while she was standing in line at the local market, Mollie Stone’s. She ran into a former colleague who was working as a sales manager at iSyndicate, a company that sold syndicated content over the Web. She asked him what the company used to manage its sales process.

“ACT! And Excel,” he replied. “It’s a mess.”
After a short meeting with the iSyndicate executives, they signed on as our second customer. By September, we had five pilot customers using for free. They were more like beta customers, but I called them design partners to recognize their real contributions.

Our design partners’ insights were essential to the development of our application. We contacted them frequently to discuss their experience using the service, and they became the eyes and ears of the engineering team. They discovered features and tools and functionalities that they needed. We added a button that allowed any user to immediately send us an idea, and we could react very quickly. We created “bugforce,” a scaled-down database to track bugs and new ideas, which helped us rate the frequency of the problems or requests. The development team built all additional functionality in a very short time—a matter of weeks, which was unheard of in the industry. Being small, nimble, and in constant communication with our earliest customers is what enabled us to produce a terrific service.

In fall 1999, once we had honed the service into something of measurable value to customers, we hired our first dedicated salesperson (and fifteenth employee) to help acquire additional free users and to convert our free users into paying customers. The plan worked exactly as intended. Blue Martini soon started paying for the service. Before long,, a datacenter provider, was paying for twenty-five sales reps to use and touting our service in the press, explaining that it cost a fraction of a traditional enterprise product.

Our conversion strategy was successful for several reasons. First, through the free trial, prospects had already experienced the service, and they knew it worked. Second, it was a very low risk proposition because the service was billed monthly and there was freedom to change the plan or quit without any penalties. Third, it was such a good product that users became addicted. They needed it.

Go from Adoption to Addiction with a Feedback Loop

Be open to including all customers, and treat them as partners. To do so, utilize a fast and prioritized “feedback loop.”
  1. Stay in touch with customers.
  2. Develop a way to track their requests.
  3. Respond to their requests quickly.
  4. Ask if their needs have been satisfactorily met.
  5. Pay attention to how they are using the product.
This is an excerpt from Marc Benioff's book "Behind the Cloud."