What’s Your Level of B2B Marketing Expertise?

expert

After 15 years of working with B2B marketers, I’ve found the most expert ones understand how to formulate and communicate the value of their offering, and then deliver on it. These levels of expertise are evident in four stages of the B2B marketing cycle: two in the pre-sale phase and two in the post-sale phase. Here’s a closer look at each stage, including tips on how you can improve in each one.

Stage One (Pre-Sale): Appeal to the Buyer’s Bottom Line
All B2B marketers are responsible for speaking a language that will attract buyers. However, many marketers make the mistake of thinking about their value proposition in terms of features, functions, and benefits — and that’s not how business decision makers think.

Think about how your offering will impact your customer’s ability to save money or grow revenue. Ask yourself, “What are the direct revenue enhancing, cost reducing, and strategic business benefits associated with our offering?” Providing your customers with a business value framework is an excellent way to capture business decision makers’ attention and interest.

Stage Two (Pre-Sale): Help Sales Show ROI
Good marketers empower the sales team in a variety of ways. If you want to become a valuable asset to sales, help them find ways to measure and illustrate the buyer’s return on investment (ROI) in purchasing your solution. The ability to show ROI reduces the amount of time the buyer takes to make a decision, and can also help the buyer get budget approval to purchase your offering.

Stage Three (Post-Sale): Explore Opportunities to Improve
Part of your value proposition is providing customers with support and insight to help them achieve business results after they sign on the dotted line. Great marketers work with customers to measure the business impact you’ve forecasted, identify where value isn’t being captured, and take corrective action. This can be an incredible way to build customer loyalty and drive associated services and follow-on sales opportunities.

Stage Four (Post-Sale): Create Shared Value
At this stage, your company has entered into shared risk, reward, and gain sharing arrangements with the customer. Most marketers ultimately want to do business at this level when they are confident of the value being delivered to their customers, and want to maximize the amount of money earned from any client.

Inherently every offering has a value proposition. It’s just a matter of how well you define your value proposition and how effectively you can convey your value to customers. If your sales are suffering, it could be due to an ineffective or poorly articulated value proposition.

Are you not getting enough qualified leads? Suffering from poor buyer awareness? Click here to see our solutions to these common marketing problems and more.

[Image: Flickr / Derek Dysart]

Remove “ity” Words from Your B2B Value Proposition

By Jeff Bennett and Darrin Fleming

value messaging b2b marketing

When building relationships with buyers, it’s important to choose your words carefully. We’re not just referring to small talk or the language of negotiation. We’re talking about the specific words you use to describe your offering and what differentiates it.

A lot of sellers and marketers make the mistake of using what we call “ity” words when attempting to convey the value of their offering. For example:

  • Reliability
  • Quality
  • Durability
  • Flexibility
  • Elasticity
  • Viscosity

We’re not down on these words in general. In fact, depending on who you’re talking to, they can be important descriptors. Although the words above might describe your offering, the problem is that they fail to convey the value of your offering.

For example, let’s say your product increases elasticity by five percent. That’s a fine statement for your messaging. It describes to engineers and technical experts what your product actually does. But it means almost nothing to the people in charge of giving up a budget to purchase your product. Unless you can describe exactly how that five percent increase in elasticity will advance your customer’s business, you’re not going to make the sale based on that statement alone.

The other problem with “ity” words is that they’re relative. Context is everything. For example, some would say that Energizer batteries have a high degree of reliability. But the assumption is that you’ll use that Energizer battery in a toy. If you tried to use it in a space shuttle, would you still be able to say the product is highly reliable?

“Ity” words can also be so vague as to become meaningless. For example, for years, Ford’s slogan was “Quality is Job 1.” But what does that mean? Say you’re in India manufacturing cars, and you call them “high quality” because they last for three years, and that conforms to consumer needs and expectations. If you want to expand to a U.S. market, the claim that you make the “highest quality” cars in India suddenly means something very different, because American consumers have a different expectation about the length of time a car should last.

Similarly, a person buying a Porsche isn’t looking for the same definition of quality as a person buying a four-door sedan. In those cases, quality means different things to different consumers. To translate product features into value, be specific. For example, does quality mean “lasts longer,” “uses the most advanced technologies,” or “requires fewer trips to the service garage”? (For more insight on this topic read “How Does Quality Relate to Value?”.)

Most words that end in “ity” are either so vague or so relative that they fail to usefully convey your value to customers. It’s essential to convey to the customer how your product will impact his or her financial statement. Adjectives might describe your product accurately, but for the purposes of your value proposition, you need to push beyond “ity” words. When you come across these words, ask “why?” several times to understand how this adjective conveys to the customer how your offering will impact his or her business.

Again, we wouldn’t advise removing “ity” words from your messaging, because if you make a material with a high viscosity, that’s something the customer should know. Just remember that you need to be able to push past features and benefits when talking to buyers (and particularly financial buyers) if you want to close the sale.

What adjectives do you use to describe your product when talking to customers? Share your thoughts in the comments section.

[Image: Flickr / Martha Soukup]

Three Ways Marketing Can Help Sales Get More Appointments

By Doyle Slayton

sales and marketing collaboration

The most difficult part of a salesperson’s job is finding interested prospects and getting the appointment.

The solution is in creating prospecting alignment between marketing and sales. We need to be more strategic about our prospecting list. Stop calling everybody and start focusing on real prospects.

Executing on the strategy can appear complicated, highly variable, and overwhelming at first, but teamwork between marketing and sales determines its success.

Here’s a list of 3 ways marketing can help sales get more appointments.

1) Market Research

How many times has a sales manager walked up to a struggling sales rep and asked, “Hey, how are things going today?” and the salesperson responds, “Just doing a little research…”

Of course sales has to do “some research” on individual accounts to figure our why a prospect might be interested… review their personal profilecompany website, market trends, and business intelligence to learn about current initiatives, etc., but it can’t be an all day, or worse, an all week kind of thing. Every minute your sales team spends on research is less time spent on selling.

Great marketing teams take the lead on research and then collaborate with sales on tactical decisions to define a process for identifying and satisfying customer needs. They target buyer personas and common industry challenges to maximize potential opportunities. Next, sales and marketing build a unified messaging program that aligns demand generation with sales prospecting activities.

2) Demand Generation

The first step to building awareness is to determine what questions your customers are asking and look for creative ways to provide answers. Focus around core topics that will intrigue, challenge, and inspire your readers. Be innovative and passionate about covering topics and trends that influence your industry, and share your ideas through a variety of channels and formats.

The best content doesn’t focus “directly” on what your company’s products and services do. Instead, it shares ideas and strategies for solving real business problems. When people like the way your company thinks, they’ll want to do business with you.

3) Follow-Up Strategy

It’s easy for salespeople to get into rut when working the phones, “Hi David, I’m just calling to see where you are in the decision making process…” as a common example.

Develop a collaborative follow-up strategy between marketing and sales. Share the campaign schedule with your sales team and develop a follow up strategy with core messaging sales should use to follow up via phone and email. Provide articles, white papers, case studies, videos, etc. that build upon your core topics and align with the current campaign.

You can change the game by providing the sales rep with value added content that allows them to say, “Hi Karen, the last time we spoke you talked about the overwhelming challenge of executing on new initiatives, I’m sending you a list of seven questions that will help you activate alignment between marketing, sales, and sales operations. I think you’ll find it helpful.”

Track engagement throughout each campaign. Observe which prospects are opening your emails, visiting your website, and engaging on social sites. Sales can take these insights and craft targeted reasons for why the prospect would want to schedule time to meet.

This post appeared originally here on the xoombi blog and is used with permission. 

Doyle Slayton xoombi
Doyle Slayton is an internationally-recognized sales and leadership strategist, speaker, and blogger. He is co-founder of xoombi, a sales acceleration company with the breakthrough software and methodology that aligns marketing, sales, and sales operations. Xoombi helps create elite performance teams that generate high conversion leads and close more new business. 

[Image: Flickr / Yahoo]

Three Tips to Drive Urgency Among B2B Decision Makers

Sometimes the way you talk about a customer’s problem can make all the difference. In our experience, there are lots of ways to encourage prospects to think about their business problems with renewed urgency. The next time you want to light a fire under your prospect, try one of the following conversational approaches.

Tip #1: Highlight the “cost-to-delay.”

The cost-to-delay is how much your prospect is losing per month (or week or year) by not investing in your solution. It’s an easy number to calculate (simply divide the value your solution delivers per year by 12) and can make a huge impact during a sales conversation. The minute you say, “Not doing anything about this problem that our solution solves is costing you $25,000 a month,” the prospect typically starts to think about the situation with new urgency.

value calculator ROI cost to delay

Tip #2: Show the payback period.

Calculating the project’s payback period (the amount of time usually expressed in months before the incoming cash flows from the project exceed the project’s costs) can lower your buyer’s perception of risk. Many buyers often ascribe a shorter payback period with the thought that less can go wrong in the short term. You can use this to your advantage by telling your prospects, for example, “If we start now, you’ll already be ahead three months from now.”

Tip #3: Focus on where you have the biggest impact.

Sometimes you can have more influence with prospects if you focus on only the biggest value drivers in your conversations.

This came to light with one of our clients, Nuance, which offers scanning and printing solutions. One thing we discovered was that the biggest value driver for them is labor savings — using Nuance solutions, companies no longer have to spend as much money on having employees deal with managing paper documents. Nuance was aware that this was one of their value points, but they were weighting this equally with other value points (for example, the savings in paper and print cartridges) in their messaging. By focusing the conversation to pinpoint labor savings (which is a much larger savings in their case), they help prospects understand their solution’s value right away. You can learn more about the Nuance story here.

When deals stall it’s often because the buyer lacks the financial justification for your solution. Using the three tips above can get you back on track to quickly close the deal by proving the buyer with business case necessary to obtain internal budget approval. The next time you face a deal that is seemingly going nowhere try out this approach and let me know your results.

To learn more about how value calculators can increase urgency and drive buyers through the sales cycle faster, visit https://tools.estimatebusinessvalue.com/stratavant/ValueCalculator/Home/Home.

How to Credibly Show Revenue Gains in your Business Case

Believe

One thing that B2B sellers and marketers always have to contend with is buyer skepticism around proof points — and especially promised revenue gains.

I have previously written on how to handle indirect benefits in a business case (and tips on how to address one specific category, labor savings, is discussed here). But what about sales growth?

Specificity is the key to overcoming a customer’s natural skepticism in this area. If you say you’ll increase sales by one percent, that doesn’t really mean anything to the customer. They might be thinking to themselves, “Yeah, I’ve heard that one before.” By contrast, if you say you can take two weeks off their sales cycle that starts to bring your value proposition into focus and ward off objections. Customers will be more receptive to hearing about removing barriers to closing deals or increasing the number or quality of leads than just about generic promises of revenue increases.

How We Talk about Revenue with Clients

When we talk with customers, we focus on four specific aspects of how ROI-selling can impact revenue instead of talking about generic top line revenue gains.

One, ROI selling increases the number of leads and the quality of leads. Here’s how it works. First, we work with our clients to create a value calculator. Then, the client makes the value calculator available on their website. When prospects visit our client’s website, they can use the value calculator to evaluate whether our client’s offering delivers enough value to be interesting. However, to download the report, prospects must first fill out a registration form, which then goes to our client as a lead. That results in not only more leads for our client but leads that are typically assigned higher lead scores because they have spent the time to evaluate the value of the offering.

Two, ROI selling improves close ratios. Obviously when leads are better qualified, close ratios will also improve. Also, because the tool itself provides a cost justification for purchase, using our tool helps increase the probability that the project will be approved during an internal evaluation. This will also impact close ratios positively.

Three, ROI selling shortens the sales cycle. An ROI tool helps take the legwork out of building business cases via spreadsheets. Less time on preparing a business case means a shorter sales cycle. And the business case compels prospects to make a faster buying decision, especially when you include such metrics as “cost to delay per month” (which we will talk more about in an upcoming post).

Four, ROI selling increases the average selling price of an offering. Value calculators, ROI tools, and the like quantify for buyers the value they can receive from a solution. In turn, this reduces pricing pressure because buyers already believe they are getting a good deal. It can also enable you to quantify the value of add-ons and options, thereby increasing the selling price even further.

Only when the specific impact on the buying process is established can you credibly show how your offering will increase sales revenue. The conversation then turns to, “What impact on sales would more and better qualified leads have? What if your close ratio was higher and your sales cycle shorter?”

One final point on revenue growth. Be prepared for the prospect to still push back and discount the impact of revenue gains. Lots of things need to happen to achieve revenue growth and typically the company is already engaged in many activities designed to increase revenue. It is OK to show the total potential revenue increase, but you need to allow the prospect to discount the net result to ensure that both they and the project approvers will believe it. Since revenue gains will usually have the largest impact of any type of benefit, even discounting it by 50% or more will still likely result in significant value.

It is fine to show top line growth using case studies from your other customers as part of the discussion, but I believe you’ll get better traction if you tie those proof points to the process changes that drove that revenue growth (shortened sales cycles, better leads, etc.). That is the best way to justify the cost of your solution and show the customer the level of value your offering can deliver.

Does your offering enable revenue gains for your customers? If so, how have you been able to convince prospects of the revenue gains? 

[Image: Flickr / Spike55151]

How Much Does Brand Awareness Matter?

Recently I read a MarketingProfs blog post reporting that business decision-makers are 10% more likely to consider B2B brands that consumers know and feel connected to.

The report, which was based on data from a survey of 9,500 global consumers and 450 business decision-makers, included some interesting charts and categorized companies in four ways.

  • Known, but not relevant
  • Highly relevant
  • Limited relevance
  • Not relevant

According to the blog post “relevant” meant that consumers knew the companies and felt an attachment to them. “Known but not relevant” meant customers recognize the name but aren’t sure what the company does and do not feel a strong connection to the brand.

I found it interesting to compare some of the companies on the “known but not relevant list” to ones on the “highly relevant” list.

Known but not relevant

Boeing
COSCO
Airbus
Huawei
Citigroup
BASF
BP

Highly relevant

Google
Microsoft
Intel
Bosch
Dell
FedEx
3M

Namely, I thought it was interesting that BASF landed in the “known but not relevant” quadrant. Does anyone else remember the old BASF commercials? The tagline was, “We don’t make a lot of the products you buy. We make a lot of the products you buy, better.”

I’m sure BASF has spent tens of millions of dollars on advertising campaigns; if their goal was to raise brand awareness, it worked. If their goal was to raise awareness and create a sense of connection with consumers, then they fell short (at least according to this one study).

In a B2B setting, I do think awareness and relevance can help you. But it will generally only help you get a seat at the table. In B2C, that brand awareness is absolutely crucial, because people will buy based on brand. But, as we’ve said before, B2B buyers care more about value than branding. My belief is that B2B branding — whether in the form of positioning, messaging, colors, slogan, logo, advertising, brand strategy, or any other form of promotion — will only be effective in the long run if it supports a company’s true value proposition.

Are companies that have good brand awareness more successful? According to the study:

Besides increasing the likelihood of purchase, high consumer awareness was also linked to better financial performance: When the 10 most-known B2B brands examined were compared with the 10 least-known, those with high consumer awareness had 27% more growth in stock value between 2010 and 2013, and 31% greater growth in revenue.

I’m not sure the data in this study is enough to prove that brand awareness causes high revenues and stock value. I think there might be a correlation (where variables move together), but not causation (where one variable causes another to move). In this case, correlation doesn’t imply causation. The companies with strong value propositions end up being more successful resulting in a stronger brand, not the other way around. Success is not caused by brand, brand is the result of success. In a B2B world, brand is the result of the sum total of the market’s experience, and therefore not the cause of success.

For example, consider Google and Microsoft, both of which landed in the “highly relevant” category. Google doesn’t do much advertising. But they don’t need to, because they’re Google. Same with Microsoft, which spends relatively little on advertising, given the size of the company. (Microsoft spends less than 1% of sales on advertising whereas P&G spends greater than 11% of sales.) Yet almost every PC (except those from Apple) shows a Microsoft logo when you fire it up.

I’m not saying that building a brand name doesn’t help sales. But saying that spending lots of money on branding is going to increase your sales is a bit off the mark. Even if that’s true, it’s going to cost a lot of money — and who’s to say there aren’t other, more valuable areas of the business you could choose to invest?

It comes back to this: Branding is not the same thing as advertising. Your brand is the sum total of everything you do. And, if that’s the case, of course the companies with the best brand — the best overall experience — will have the highest sales. What’s the real takeaway from that? I would argue that it isn’t to invest a lot of money in brand awareness. It’s to be the best company — the best sum total experience.

Think of it this way. You can’t take a bad company with bad products and go out and try to improve your brand by advertising and promoting it because that will just accelerate the awareness that your products aren’t valuable. In a B2B environment, success comes from delivering value and creating something that people want to buy. If you have those two things first, branding will likely help you get a seat at the table. But it won’t necessarily help you close more business.

Which do you think matters more, brand awareness or value? Share your thoughts in the comments section.

Why Value Based Selling Is So Successful

by Jim Heffernan

light bulbs

Value-based sales is a popular term that gets thrown around an awful lot these days. Many major companies claim to provide this service to their customers while citing different reasons for why their particular organization has the best value. From tech support to delivery speed, from warranty policies to company reputability, there are many factors that a company will claim makes them a “value-based seller.” 

What is Value Selling? 

If you go online and search for the keywords “value based sales” or “value selling,” you will be practically bombarded with articles about how the process works or what value selling really means. For example, Sequeira Consulting’s website defines value based selling as an approach “built on quantifying the impact the service makes on the customer’s financial performance,” a definition mostly suited for business to business (B2B) transactions because it points out the mutual benefits to both the service provider and the client in financial terms. In an article for SalesResources.com, Dave Kahle defined the “value” in value selling as something “defined by the customer, not the supplier,” a definition more in line with the traditional “the customer is always right” mode of thought prevalent in the customer service industry.

In truth, value selling is all of the above and more. In both of the above examples, the emphasis is on what would best serve the needs or wants of the customer, not the price of the service given. Even though a B2B transaction is usually negotiated with both sides looking squarely at the return on investment (ROI), that ROI consideration is only a part of the value being sold to the customer. When a salesperson uses value selling techniques to identify the needs of the customer and highlight how those needs are met by the product being sold, the customer becomes more invested in acquiring that product. When a customer is invested in acquiring a product, that customer is much less likely to allow the transaction negotiation to become stuck or fall through. This applies equally to both B2B and private consumer transactions.

How to Make Value-Based Sales Work for You 

By refocusing the discussion between buyer and seller from price to value, the seller can mitigate the risk of lengthy, time-consuming debates and haggling sessions over the cost of the product and keep the buyer from attempting to discount the product to a price which makes it virtually unprofitable.

Using a simple example, a new start-up business is moving into an office and needs to buy light bulbs in bulk because the office was supplied with defective bulbs that burned out within a month. The sales representative of the bulk light bulb company offers the customer high-quality bulbs that are both long-lasting and energy efficient, but it would cost $500 for enough bulbs to fill the office and the buyer only budgeted for $350. If the seller were to drop the price, the light bulb company would barely make enough profit to justify the sale. Cheaper bulbs would burn out too quickly, and the buyer is now wary of “bargain” brand pricing because of the defective product from earlier.

Here is where value-based sales techniques can really shine. The sales rep, knowing that the customer wants the better-quality bulb, can establish the long-term value to the buyer. Even though the initial price of the bulbs is just a little above the customer’s assumed budget the seller can stress the long-term benefits of the high-efficiency bulbs. In this instance, the sales rep would inform the customer about the value of not having to replace the bulbs for up to four times as long as the standard product, thus curtailing the need to continuously budget $350 per year just for new lights, or even mention that the high-efficiency bulbs use half the kilowatt hours of their lower-price counterparts, reducing monthly energy costs. By helping the customer understand the measurable value the product will deliver to his business, the customer will feel less compelled to haggle.

The reason value-based selling works is because it takes into account the needs and wants of the customer to create an approach that best influences the customer’s purchase decision. If a sales rep can create in the customer the impression that the product being sold is indispensable to his or her needs and that the value of the transaction more than justifies the price, that is value-based selling.

Value-based selling engages customers and creates a buying situation where the customer is less focused on price and more anxious to start realizing the benefits This allows sellers to successfully close transactions more often with better profit margins and saves time that can then be dedicated to more customers.

Identifying and addressing a customer’s needs with a product and guiding the customer into recognizing the value of that product is the way in which such involvement builds a healthy, stable relationship between buyer and seller. Buyers who simply receive a product that is cheap without being made aware of the value that they are receiving from the seller will quickly switch to another supplier if they find a cheaper source of the product. Why? Because, without the sense of investment in a product that is supplied by a value-based sales approach, the customer is only focused on the cost of obtaining the product and not the value of what they are getting.

However, when a customer has been invested in the seller’s product through a discussion of the value that is being given, they will consider more than just the price of a competitor product before making a decision to abandon their current supplier. If the seller can keep the customer convinced that their product is a better value overall, they are able to keep the customer’s business without having to sacrifice profits by dropping the cost of the product.

In Conclusion 

Ultimately, value-based selling is successful because it provides customers with the understanding that they are making worthwhile investments of their money. Good value-based sales techniques are tailored to the needs of the customer, making them understand why they are buying a quality product for the asking price. Value selling resolves potential customer issues with pricing and prevents the stalling of important deals and the wasting of precious employee man-hours. The rewards for masterfully exploiting value-based sales techniques are well worth the investment for any company with a product to value.

Jim Heffernan

Jim Heffernan is Sales Performance Consultant at Miller Heiman and President of Insights53. This post appeared originally on the Insights53 blog and is published here with permission. 

 

[Image via Flickr / kennymatic]