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Jan 26 15

Powerful Email Marketing

by David Brock

I wish I were smart enough to make up these stories.  Today, I received an unsolicited email titled, “Would you like to blog about sales automation.”

Here is the text, the only thing I have changed is the company/product name (I’m calling it Company X).  I did highlight the spelling errors.  I started to highlight the grammar errors, but when the entire first sentence was RED, I stopped.

Hi David,

I’ve been reading your blog for several month now, especially I liked the article on [ARTICLE NAME]. I happenned to use these ideas when I built my own business, so thanks for that!

I’ve got a relatively new site that focuses specifically on sales automation, and I had a couple ideas for guest posts that I thought might be a really good fit for your resource.

Please, let me know if your audience would find articles on one of these topics valuble (the articles are ready by this moment):

10 SaaS Tools for Prospecting – This is about 10 most useful software services for prospecting (the article would be valuable for sales team leads and representatives)
How automate your sales emails and still sound like a human – This is a detalied step-by-step guide on sales emails and follow up automation using our software Company X (screenshots included)
7 Tips to Make Killer Sales emails (+ templates) – I found that there are tons of writings on this topic, but little of them contained exact templates to follow, so I included them as Gmail screenshots.

I hope we can stay in touch as I really appreciate your guidance.

All the best,

Where do I start?

Perhaps it’s the multiple spelling and grammar problems?

Or then, I notice, this company and product provide tools to optimize our ability to leverage and automate email prospecting, maximizing their impact.  I suppose he used his tool to send this email, demonstrating it’s powerful functionality and capabilities.  Then I notice the tremendous personalization in the email.  I searched my blog, I can’t find the article he references—- [ARTICLE NAME] —– in my posts  ;-)

Hmmm, am I missing something?

I’ll stop here, there is just so much wrong from an expert on email marketing and prospecting.  Caveat Emptor!

I really do wish I were clever enough to make this stuff up–fortunately, people executing terribly badly; presenting themselves, their companies, their solutions in the worst possible light provide me enough material for a great stand-up routine.


At least this will provide me endless blogging and consulting opportunities.

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Jan 25 15

Our Customers Can’t Afford For Us To Wait Until They Are 70% Through Their Buying Cycle!

by David Brock
head in sand 3

It’s that time of year again, there are lots of posts around the popular research that indicates, “Customers aren’t engaging sales until they are, 57, 70, 90 (depending on the research you read) through their buying cycle.”

As usual with the posts, there are the usual doom and gloom announcements about the future of selling and the “death of the traditional sales person.”  Depending on the point of view being promoted and the services or tools being sold by the writer, things are shifting to social, marketing automation, content, inbound inside sales, and any other configuration of whatever is being promoted.

I’m always surprised at the number of sales professionals prepared to fold their tents and accept this.  Or perhaps they want to, perhaps it’s easier just to become RFP fodder, churning out responses to customers who have figured out what they need through the 57, 70, 90% of the buying process.  Playing the numbers and pricing game to win their fair share of RFP’s.

Accepting that customers can do without sales help for most of the buying cycle is terribly dangerous–not for us, but for the customers.  Customer can’t afford to wait to engage sales professionals late in their buying process.  There is too much at stake for them to wait.  We as sales professionals can’t let customers do this to themselves and must engage early in the process.

Let me drill into this a little further–I’ve written about this before, I apologize to the regular readers who think I’m a broken record.  Let’s look at flaws to the thinking that customers don’t need professional sales until they are 57, 70, 90% of the way through their buying cycle.

First, this whole 57, 70, 90% thing assumes the customer has recognized they have a problem and need to change.  The problem with this is too often, they don’t recognize the need to change until it may be too late and they are operating in crisis mode.  In today’s world, customers are so consumed with just getting through day to day, the last thing the want to do is disrupt what they are doing and change!  For them, doing nothing is pragmatic, even survival.  While they may recognize there are better ways to do something, until the current situation becomes intolerable, few sane people will drive for change.  “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

Often, customers are too busy with the day to day survival, they are blind to the opportunities they are missing, or that there are better, more efficient ways of achieving their goals.

So one of the key roles of the modern sales professional is to help educate the customer about these things.  They need to help the customer realize they are missing opportunities, they have to help teach the customer there are more effective and efficient ways of achieving their goals.  They have to help the customer understand their markets, customers, and competitors are changing, perhaps creating threats the customer is unaware of.

Whether it’s Insight, Provocation, Teaching, or something else, a key role or sales professionals is to help the customer realize they must change, they must look at new approaches and new methods.  As a result, the sales professional is key in helping customer initiate the buying cycle.

Second, this whole “self educating” idea is flawed in that it assumes the customer knows the questions they should be asking themselves, the things they should be looking at.  It assumes they perfectly understand the desired outcomes they want to achieve and the things they need to get there.  If they do, then it’s fair they can self educate, do web research, participate in conference discussions, rely on high quality content from vendors.  But in complex B2B sales, it’s highly unlikely they have such clarity and know what to look at, what questions they should be asking.  Even if they have bought similar things in the past, unless they are buying the same thing every week, it’s highly likely the solutions and vendors have changed tremendously since they were last in a buying cycle.

I’ve used these examples before, but how many times in a Development VP’s career, have they looked at a new project management system, changed their design tools, and so forth.  Or a manufacturing VP implementing a new manufacturing line or system, or a Marketing VP implementing new Marketing Automation tools, or a Sales Exec looking at new CRM and Sales Automation tools, or a CFO looking for new financial systems.  They make these decisions so infrequently that the capabilities of the solutions–even the needs driving the changes are very different.  So they don’t know what they should be looking for.

So the modern sales professional helps educate the customer not about the products, but the questions they should be asking themselves, the issues they should be considering.

Third, related to the previous point is what I have termed “the last mile problem.”  The web is great for providing general information, case studies, use cases and other general information.  New tools and great content programs might provide information relevant to a persona, a specific industry/market, an enterprise sizes (i.e. SMB), but it can never provide the very specific answers to the question, “How does this apply to my specific situation?”  This is where modern sales professionals help.  They invest the time in understanding the customer–who will be impacted, current issues, priorities, risk profile, capabilities, and many other things unique to the customer at this time.  They can then recommend the solution that best fits what the customer is trying to achieve.  They can identify the issues the customer should be concerned about in implementation.  One of the roles of the modern professional sales person is to help the customer understand the last mile problem and to make sure the solution solves their specific problems.

Fourth, the 57, 70, 90% issue assumes the customer can organize themselves to buy.  That they know who to involve, how to align diverse priorities, interests, agendas.  But the data shows something quite the contrary.  Well over 40% of forecast deals, end in No Decision Made.  So if we look at pipeline deals and others, that number can only go up.

There are simply too many things that can derail our customers for sales professionals to abandon 57, 70. 90% of their buying process—leaving it to them. Too much is at stake for them, lost opportunities, lost revenue, their jobs, their companies!

We owe it to our customers not to let them do this.  We owe it to them to provide leadership—helping them recognize they need to change, guiding them through the buying process.

This is what value creation is really about.  This is what our customers expect of us.

But all of this demands change within our own organizations.  Both in how we help the customer learn and how we engage them.  It requires tightly aligned sales and marketing organizations.  It requires new skills and capabilities of our marketers and sales people (and managers).

Sales people stuck in educating customers about products and solutions—regardless of whether they pitch products/solutions, or do it consultatively will become the dinosaurs of our profession.

All the traditional skills of a sales person, whether it’s called solutions, consultative, insight selling or goes by the names offered by various sales training vendors are just table stakes for the modern sales professional.  Modern sales professionals are business people–helping their customers’ businesses achieve the highest levels of performance.  To do this, modern sales professionals have extraordinary business/financial acumen, they have rich critical thinking and problem solving skills.  They are strong project managers, able to align resources from many organizations and help them through their process.  They’re fantastic collaborators–again leveraging resources in the customer, in partner organizations, and within their own organization to help customers achieve their goals.  They are agile, nimble–adapting quickly to changes.  They are obsessive about learning and relentless in their execution.

If we value our customers, if we want to create the greatest value for our customers, we have to recognize our customers can’t afford to have us wait until they are 57, 70, 90% of the way through their cycle.

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Jan 23 15

Sales People, We Have A PR Problem

by David Brock
Car salesperson

Sales people, we have a PR problem, …’s Real,…… and we probably deserve it, ….  and we need to do something about it.

I just read this post by Brian de Haaff, CEO of Aha, This CEO Will Never Hire A Sales Person.  My initial reaction was, “This guy is clueless about professional sales.”

He spoke about displacing sales with a Customer Success team, people dedicated to making sure customers are successful.  People on a profit sharing plan, but with no quota, not prospecting, without commissions, dedicated to the customers’ success.

He went on to explain companies like his need to be driven by relationships, authenticity, collaboration, and information.

In reading his description, I thought—this is exactly what high performing sales people do, how they act, and how they behave.

The problem is, Brian is not alone in his perception, I (we all) encounter this every day.  We see customers who abhor sales people because their experience of sales people is horrible.  They see sales people who are poorly prepared, don’t understand what the customer is trying to achieve, don’t understand their own products, are not interested in the customer success, but only their own commissions, and on and on an on.

We’ve all been there, heard that, seen that.  We (most of this audience) know that’s not what high performing sales professionals do.

But perception is reality.  Brian’s experience has caused him to have a serious mis understanding of what sales professionals really do and how they perform.  Because of this misunderstanding, he is cheating himself and his company of developing a high performance sales team that can be devoted to customer success, while at the same time driving the growth and success of Aha.

Lashing out at Brian and others is the wrong thing to do.  Changing our image, demonstrating what top sales professionals do, how they create value, how they build trust, how they help customers achieve goals they may not have realized possible is the only way we can start to change opinions of what sales professionals truly do.

We have a huge uphill battle.  We have to overcome centuries of shoddy practice.  We have to overcome the bottom feeders that exist in every profession, but seem to multiply in sales–those hucksters and charlatans that pretend to be sales people, but actually are not.

But to be honest, the biggest thing we need to overcome is mediocrity.  Far worse, far more pervasive than the hucksters and charlatans, is the mediocrity we see in sales performance.  Managers and people who know what they should be doing, who’ve been involved in sales training, who are using the best tools, who know we can’t be pitching, that we have to understand our customer problems, that we have to be prepared, knowledgeable…..

But too many sales people are too busy or too lazy to do this.  They slip back into mediocre practice, they look for short cuts, they get sloppy.  Or they us the excuse of busyness to do things half heartedly.  We’ve all heard the excuses–some are legitimate for a moment of time, but never as a sustained issue.

CEO’s, sales executives, sales managers should demand the highest levels of performance–but must set that example themselves.  They have to coach, develop, and hold people accountable for doing what we know is right for professional selling, and performing at the highest levels.

We should not tolerate mediocrity in our own performance and in the performance of the people we work with.

Slowly, after demonstrating this, we will start to shift the perceptions of the many people, like Brian, who do not understand, and probably haven’t met a true sales high performing sales professional.

There are a lot of things Brian has wrong in his post, or at least I disagree with:

No prospecting….  unfortunately, I see this in too many of the SaaS companies.  Unwittingly product focused, thinking of a “field of dreams—build it and they will come” approach.  It’s interesting, that the largest, fastest growing, and most successful SaaS and SaaS like companies have large proactively focused sales organizations, aggressively looking to find and serve new customers.  But I’ll write more about this in a future post.

Then there’s that commission thing…..  Brian, and many like him are opposed to commission, but still revel in bonus programs.  Commission is just one form of “pay for performance,” compensation programs, as is any sort of bonus and profit sharing program.  The issue is not “pay for performance,” but the design of the program.  It’s actually very easy to design commission or other programs that achieve the goals Brian is trying to achieve, and drive business growth.

Finally, the quota thing and not tying compensation to deals–in other words, performance.  I suspect when Brian sits with his Board of Directors, they are interested in:  “How have you grown revenue?  Have you hit your plan?  How can you grow more?  How are your growing profits/margins?”  I suspect, each year, when the look at his bonus, it is impacted by his attainment of those and other goals.

Quota is nothing more than a goal we hold people accountable for.  Everyone in the organization has–or should have goals.  Whether it’s launching a product on time, with certain functionality, whether it’s manufacturing a product at certain costs, quality, cycle time, whether it’s reducing DSO and improving cash management, or acquiring new customers and new business.

People must be and expect to be accountable.  We achieve nothing for our organizations and people if we don’t hold them accountable–and give them the tools, systems, processes, coaching and development so they can perform.

So, while I disagree with Brian’s solution (and I suspect, much of his post was firing for effect), he along with hundreds of other customers continue to have an inaccurate perception of what professional selling is about.

It’s our job to change that perception, by changing the way we perform, by not accepting anything but the best in what we can do.

My friend, Anthony Iannarino, has another take on this, take a look at his post.

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Jan 22 15

The Product Focused Company

by David Brock
confused 02

I spend a good amount of time calling on the customers and prospects of my clients.  Recently, I was doing some win reviews.  We were very interested in learning more about why these customers bought from my client.  The key competitor was much larger and the dominant force in the industry.  Winning against them was a real coup, we wanted to learn more about how we could repeat that.

The competitor, like my client, had a very broad product line.  There were significant overlaps between the product lines, both those of the competition and those of my client.  So the customer was slightly confused and concerned about which solution from each vendor would best fit their requirements.

My client spent time understanding what the customer wanted to achieve, probed, asked some questions, talked to many of the people that would be using the solution on a day to day basis.  Finally, they determined the best solution for the customer, recommended it, explaining why they were recommending that solution to the customer.

The competitor had a very different approach.  They were strongly product focused.  They were organized around major product line groupings—it’s a fairly common thing.  They had product divisions with product managers, marketing, sales, customer service.  Each product division was focused on maximizing their own growth and share of the market.  They knew there were overlaps between the products, but thought the “healthy” competition between divisions would drive stronger growth overall.  In some ways, from the company point of view, that wasn’t a bad strategy.

The problem was, from a customer point of view it looked very different.

They had two different sales organizations (actually channel partners of the competitor) calling on them, selling the competitor’s products.  Each, representing their solution was the best fit for the customer.  Naturally, the customer was confused.  They thought, “Both solutions can’t be the best solution for us, which is the solution from this vendor that is really the best for us?”

Every time they challenged the sales people representing this competitor, they kept coming back, saying their solution was the best solution.  In the end, they were forcing the customer to figure it out for themselves.

In interviewing the customer, they repeatedly said, “It’s not my job to sort through your offerings.  I expect the sales person to understand us, what we are trying to achieve, and recommend the single best solution to achieve our goals.  After all, they know these solutions far better than we do.  Plus we just don’t have the time to figure it out.”

They cited my client’s approach.  “They had overlapping products, when we looked at them, we were very confused about what would be the best for us.  But that’s where the sales people stepped in, making it easy for us to buy.  They spent time understanding what we wanted to do, presented a single solution for us, explaining why they had chosen that solution over the alternatives.  It made it simple and easy for us.”

The strategy adopted by my client’s competition isn’t that unusual, we see all sorts of manifestations of it.  When I first started selling at IBM, we had two computer divisions–one selling high end computers, basically focused on large enterprises, the other selling mid range business computers, technically focused on small/medium businesses.  But the product lines started overlapping, and there were different implementation alternatives (a company could install a large central computer, or there could be departmental computers).  I would sometimes find myself competing against the sales people from another division.  Fortunately, we had a process for working this out internally, so we could go to the customer with the single best solution.

Organizing by product lines is a very common business strategy.  There’s some great power to this, but if we inflict our organizational structure on the customer, making it hard for them to buy, they’ll always default to the easy to buy choice.

There are other forms of inflicting our organization on customers which make it difficult for them to buy.  Sometimes we have organizations that have differentiated, complementary products.  For example, Sales Automation Tools, Marketing Automation Tools, Customer Care Tools.  If our sales teams believe they are competing for the same customer dollar, they create great confusion for the customer by competing against each other, rather than saying, “Based on your strategies, priorities, and needs, you should start with this tool…”  Or better, collaborate with your peers, develop a strong business case and implementation plan to buy more than just one of the tools.

I’ll stop here, you can think of many examples yourself, perhaps even within your own organization.

However we organize ourselves to develop and manage our solutions, in developing our go to customer strategies, we have to think about, the customer buying experience and how we help them select the single best solution we can offer.



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