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Apr 29 16

High Velocity Prospecting

by David Brock
customer experience

I’m a huge fan of high velocity outbound calls — at least when done well.  Recently, I needed to buy a new car, my current car was coming off lease, I thought I’d take advantage of some of the end of quarter promotions.

I did my research, narrowed down to a couple of different models, configured those models at the manufacturer’s sites (Build Your Car) to get an idea of pricing.  I researched the various sites to find the promotions, deals, discounts I might get for the vehicles I was considering.  Finally, I made some internet queries to a few dealerships suggested as having the best pricing on the web.  Many of you have done this before, you fill out a form with contact information and what you are looking for, and submit it.  In the end, I was looking at 3 dealers each for the two models I was considering.

You know what happened next.  Within two minutes, I had six phone calls and 9 email messages in response to my queries.  I actually only answered the first one, the others went into voicemail since I was already on the phone.  To be truthful, each sales person did an outstanding job.  They qualified me for my purchase urgency, understood what I wanted both in the vehicles and the deal structure.  Most got back to me with very responsive proposals.  After a few hours, I made a decision, bought a car, did much of the paperwork online.  Later in the day, I picked up my new car.  All in all, a very pleasant shopping experience.

Each of the sales people were leveraging tools for high velocity responses.  They knew, if they got back to me quickly, they would be likely to catch my attention and interest.  The cars were still on my mind, 2 minutes after submitting my requests, so I was very interested in the conversations.  What I appreciated was the speed, efficiency, and most importantly, the relevance of the conversations.  They knew I had done my research (the proverbial 57-70%), I was knowledgeable, so each of the conversations was focused and highly relevant.

But high velocity can backfire tremendously.

During this same period of time, I happened to notice a few white papers and market research reports on sales productivity issues.  I downloaded the white papers, then slowly started counting.

You guessed it, these B2B sellers called me within a couple of minutes of submitting my requests, just like the car dealers.  In one case, I hadn’t even downloaded the white paper, in the other two cases, I hadn’t even had the ability to read the research reports/white papers.  But that didn’t make any difference to the sales people calling me.  All they wanted to talk about was my interest in their products, so the fact that I hadn’t seen the white papers/research didn’t deter them.

Each was confused when I responded, “I’m not interested in your products, I’m interested in understanding the research and the white papers.”

One of the sales people tried to challenge me, “Those white papers are about our products, let me save you some time…..”  I was confused, “I thought I downloaded a market research report?  I really don’t care about your products.”  He persisted, “Companies like  yours get huge value out of these products.  Google, Microsoft, GE are all producing great results…..”

You know I had to interrupt, “But we aren’t like those companies, what value to companies like ours get?”  He stumbled a little, “What do you do…….”  You can guess where this went.

I let some of the other sales people run with their pitches, as well.  Not any different.  They went into their pitches, telling me about all the wonderful things their products did.   None of the conversations referred to the materials I had downloaded.  No one asked me about my interest in the materials.  None, leveraged the “context” of my interest.  All of them immediately assumed I was interested in buying their products — even after I told them I was only interested in the white papers.

All of these calls were a total waste of my time, a waste of the sales people’s time.  While they were leveraging High Velocity principles, they had no idea who I was, what was driving my interest, or what might be the most relevant, engaging, or impactful conversations.

Each could have probed a little, “What was your interest in the white paper/research?”  “Why are you interested in those topics?”  Even better, they once they determined my interest, they could have highlighted certain parts of the materials that were most relevant, or they could have offered observations about additional points that were relevant to my interest.  They might have probed about my company a little, to determine whether we were in their sweet spot as customer–in each of these cases, I knew we were far from being customers of these companies, but we might have been influential recommenders.  Or they might have delayed their calls by 30-45 seconds to bring up my LinkedIn Profile to learn a little about me, but none did.

Imagine how much more effective sales people could be if they took the time to be relevant.  It only takes a minute–you know what I’m interested in because of what I downloaded.  Talk to me about that.  Take a moment to look me up–tie that into the conversation.

Years ago, the National Traffic Safety Council had an advertising campaign, “Speed Kills.”  I wonder if they were thinking about prospecting as well?

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Apr 27 16

Inbound Works—Until It Doesn’t

by David Brock
call center

I’m a great fan of inbound marketing/demand gen approaches.  What sales person wouldn’t be?

It’s great to be able to talk to someone who actually is interested in your products and services!  Before the first conversation, you have a context of their interests.  You know marketing programs they’ve responded to, you know the content, which provides an indication of their interest.  If you do your homework, quickly researching them and their company, you can engage them in meaningful conversations about their problems and challenges.  Some will have a need to buy, we qualify them move them into the pipeline and start working the deal.

Hopefully, the math works—you have enough inbound activity, you qualify your fair share, you compete and win your fair share, and you make your number!  What could be better?

None of this stuff about prospecting!  No time wasted trying to find or create new opportunities!  What could be easier than the customer coming to you?

There are some great business models, focused on volume/velocity, that work brilliantly.  They know the dials to turn–increase SEO, Adwords, drive marketing programs……

But not all businesses are tuned to the volume/velocity model, particularly those in which the customer buying process is highly complex.

Yes, inbound does contribute a huge amount to those types of companies, but what happens if it isn’t enough?  Virtually every complex B2B sales organization I work with is opportunity starved–that is they don’t have enough qualified pipeline opportunities to meet their goals.  I’ve never encountered a sales executive saying, “Dave, we simply have too many qualified opportunities.”  Usually, it’s the opposite, “Dave, how do I get my sales people prospecting to get more opportunities in the pipeline?”

Yes marketing is doing everything it can to generate more.  But most research studies still say sales people for Complex B2B Buying Processes,  find and qualify a significant number of opportunities on their own (with help from programs from marketing).  Depending on the study, it’s anywhere from 40-60% of the deals that ultimately find their way into the pipeline.

There’s another problem with strictly inbound.  We have to wait for the customer!

Is that right for them?  What about those that don’t know there may be better ways of doing things–they aren’t looking/searching, they aren’t consuming content, because they are happy with the status quo.  Yet their businesses may be underperforming.  Or those that are simply too busy to do something.  If I’m fighting the alligators every day, I may forget or not have the time to Google “What’s the best pump to drain a swamp?”

What about those who frame their problem in a certain way?  But if they changed it, they might consider entirely different solutions–including ours?  They may have been researching for a while, but they may not be asking the right questions, they might gain more if they shifted their perspective.  They may have defined their problem/solution in a way that doesn’t allow them to capture as much value as possible?  Of course, we do everything we can to shift their views, but if they are toward the end of their process, they may not be willing to listen.

From our own selfish internal point of view, what if we aren’t getting enough inbound activity to achieve our goals?  We are still accountable for making the numbers!  If we aren’t getting enough inbound activity, sure we can beat marketing up for more, but we have to make up the deficit!  It is unacceptable to walk into your manager saying, “Boss, I missed my numbers this quarter and next quarter is a little sketchy—we don’t have enough inbound activity…..”

Inbound activity is fantastic, as long as it works, as long as it is producing the volume and quality of opportunities we need to maximize our value and make our numbers.

But when it stops working, we have to hunt down our own opportunities to fill the gap!

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Apr 26 16

Complex Or Simple Buying Process

by David Brock
fork in the road

Over the past few months, I’ve been reviewing a lot of my thinking about business to business buying and selling processes, and how we achieve success in both.  I’m not sure I’ve changed any of my position, but perhaps clarified some of my thinking.  Hope you don’t mind my “thinking aloud.”

First, probably some definitions are in order, so we are at least on the same page.

When I refer to the complex buying process, or the complex selling process, it’s typically one involving many people in the decision-making process, typically a consensus driven decision by the “5.4” or however many you think are involved.  It’s a process that involves aligning disparate agenda’s, personal goals, and issues among the team.  The issues or problems customers are seeking to address are typically more complex, maybe only because of the impact on the organization.  For example, selecting a CRM system is basically not complex–flip a coin, any will do the job–but implementation, integration, utilization, process re-engineering make the decision-making process more complex.  It may carry higher risk, at least a perceived by the buyers.  It may or may not be a “high value purchase.” (That is the purchase can be $1,ooo’s and up.)  Usually, the sales cycles are longer, typically months to years.

When I refer to a simple buying process, it is typically one that involves very few decision makers–usually just one.  There may be other people involved, but typically an individual makes a decision.  The risk is usually smaller.  For example, you face a pissed off customer, not a customer who has lost their job as a result of the decision or whose business may have suffered because of the decision.  Implementation issues, change management issues are pretty small, buying cycles are usually short–several meetings over days/weeks.  Transaction values tend to be less than those in complex buying situations–but it’s a matter of context.  Since these typically focus on the individual or a small group, the magnitude of the transaction may be smaller than an enterprise purchase.  But the dollar values can range from $100’s up.  (For example, a friend recently bought a corporate jet (actually replaced an older one).  While it was a multimillion transaction, the buying process was very simple.

Some people refer to these simple buying processes as “transactional,” or “commoditized.”  I don’t like using these words–more because the examples used are seldom really “transactional” or “commoditized” examples.  (e.g. selection of RF shielding for a smartphone, selection of specific bulk chemicals).

I, also, don’t believe we can segment these based on the type of product or solution the customer is buying.  The same product can be the focus of a simple or complex buying process.  Buying a year subscription to 1 seat of a CRM system, is a very different process than an enterprise considering a year subscription to 2000 seats of the same CRM system.  (which is the very issue many maturing SaaS companies face.).

The simple buying/selling process is a volume and velocity focused process.  You make money simply by getting more people to say “Yes,” quickly.  It’s easier to templatize and formularize this process.   It’s very well known and has been studied for millennia.  It’s a model targeted primarily to B2C.  The B2B incarnation of this is simply business buyers looking after their own personal or department’s interests.  Buyers are interested in getting their jobs done, they have little concern about how the person at the desk facing them gets their job done—though they may later advocate by bragging about the cool new thing they bought.

Developing value is different in these sales situations.  Typically, the funding will come out of some individual or department’s budget.  While sales people may argue productivity, the decisions probably focus on “simplifying my too complex life, help me do my job better.”  Pricing becomes more important in these sales. (not that it isn’t important in any sale.)

The skills critical to success in selling in simple buying processes are dramatically different than those for complex process.  The ability to handle volumes of leads, quickly is critical.  The ability to determine, are you a customer for my product, within minutes is critical.  The ability to guide the customer through their buying process in as fast a time as possible, with as few touches is critical.  The ability to abandon a deal, moving to the next one when something gets stuck is critical.  While quality of engagement is important, volume and velocity are critical—there are always another 100, or 1000 to call.

From a sales management point of view, metrics become pretty easy and pretty predictable.  Because volume and velocity is high, historical run rates, trend analysis provide great insight to sales growth.  Challenges are hiring, onboarding, and making sure there are the right scripts/content for the sales people to use.

Scaling over the long term becomes a challenge.  If 3 people are required to drive $1M, 30 drive $10M and so on.  Over time, cost of selling becomes an issue, as the company scales.  Most of the time, as long as the buying process is still a simple process, the goal of sales execs is to migrate more of the process to the web.  But since the process in so predictable and formularized, much of it can be automated.  It can be moved to web/ecommerce.  The ideal is to move 100% to the web, eliminating the need for sales people.  When we read about “the death of sales people,” it is largely sales people in this category that are most threatened.

The complex buying/selling process presents very different challenges.  These challenges actually have less to do with the product/service being sold, or even the transaction value.  Even commoditized products are involved in complex buying/sales processes.  The challenges have more to do with the customer; getting them committed to change, getting their project organized, aligning diverse interests/priorities/agendas, managing risk, facilitating the buying process, justifying the investments.  It’s because these solutions impact so many parts of the organization, and the number of people involved (directly or indirectly) that drive the complexity in the buying selling process.

The skills needed for sales people to be successful in helping customers, are very different than those required in simple sales processes. The sales deployment models are also very different, often requiring specialists, partners, and other unique skills for success.

Sometimes, things that used to be characterized by simple buying/selling can shift and become complex buying/selling.  For example, many of the SaaS companies now moving into enterprise sales are seeing this shift.  This shift has profound impacts to the sales organizations.  Since the skills and capabilities are very different for each process, an organization involved in this shift may face huge changes in the people, processes, tools needed for success.

Sometimes, situations that have been characterized as complex buying/selling shift and become simple.  As decision risks, become smaller or more easily managed, the process can become a simple process.  Again, organizations going through these changes see profound shifts in the requirements for their sales teams.  People who had been good in managing complex situations are not as good at managing the simple processes.

Sales executives have to constantly be tuned to the dynamics of their businesses, understanding how things are changing and making sure they have the right skills, systems, tools, capabilities to support their customers buying process–whether simple, complex, or both.

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Apr 25 16

Rethinking The Sales Organization

by David Brock

In the “old days” the structure of the sales organization was pretty simple.  Hire a bunch of people, give them territories with goals and turn them loose to sell.  There were variations of that theme, sometimes we used indirect sales organizations, like manufacturer’s reps, resellers, channel partners, and others to sell for us.  Sometimes all the selling was done over the phone.  Sometimes the territory was geographically defined, sometimes it was industry/segment defined, sometimes it was defined by accounts.

But the model was pretty simple.  A sales person had a territory and was responsible for selling all the company’s products and services into the territory.

Likewise, our customers were probably a little simpler then.  Fewer people were involved in the decision making process, they had few alternatives to consider.  There probably weren’t as many of them.  So the model worked–kind of.

I’m constantly amazed by the number of organizations that still use that basic model.  A sales person, assigned to a territory, responsible for all the products and services, doing everything from prospecting, deal management, product/solution/segment expert.

Our own businesses and the breadth of our solutions is often so great, varied, and complex that a single person cannot be expected to be expert at more than a few.

Our customers organizations, the problems they face have become so complex, that one individual can’t possibly have the expertise, or even the bandwidth to cover everyone we need to engage, across each customer, across the territories.

The customer buying process/our selling process are becoming so complex, that a single person can seldom master all the competencies needed to prospect and find customers, qualify, facilitate the buying process, grow and expand our relationships.

The old models of the sales person being all things to the customer is no longer sufficient for many organizations.

Specialization has become increasingly important.  It’s actually been around for some time.

We’ve had organizations organized by product line—each going after the customer separately.  Sometimes, competing with each other for customer attention and spending.  We, also, have introduced the concept of “overlays,” sales specialists working collaboratively with account managers.

The process of how we engage customers have changed.  We used to be face to face, increasingly our engagement strategies no longer need face to face contact, leveraging phones, web conferencing and other approaches.

We segment the sales/buying process, SDR’s, BDR’s and others cover much of the front end, passing customer opportunities to others–account managers, sales specialists.

And with all of this, much has moved to eCommerce.  Customers order products from the web, not needing much sales engagement.

Changes in technology, changes in how our customers buy, the demand to provide coverage for all potential customers have driven huge changes in the way we deploy sales organizations.

Underlying this, sales executives are driven by “cost of selling.”  We have to achieve our revenue growth and other market objectives, but we have to do this in a way that’s affordable–so we have to be concerned about the cost of selling.

The problem is, too often, as we reassess our deployment strategies, we optimize them for our own organization and our target cost of selling.

The customer becomes an afterthought.  We design a sales deployment strategy optimized to our objectives, yet may not take into account the customer and how they want to be engaged.

But customers are good at solving that problem–they find the suppliers that engage them the way the prefer.  But it may not include us.

How we engage our customers, how we deploy our resources to work with customers, doing that in affordable manner is a constant challenge.

The perspective we take in designing the organization is important.  Are we designing it based on what suits our objectives?  Are we starting with the customer and how they want to buy?

We can always meet our cost of selling goals with either approach.  Bu the outcomes produced can be very different.

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