Reimagine Your Sales Process and Become Visible to Buyers

It’s commonly accepted that the large majority of today’s B2B buying process is completed before vendors are even aware that there is an opportunity. Imagine that! Or better, reimagine what you can do about it.Buying Process Visibility

The challenge facing vendors is how to increase their visibility earlier in the buying process. We all learned the typical sales process in Sales 101. However, that’s what’s hindering success in today’s marketplace. Throw it out!

Think in the terms of your buyers. What’s on their mind? I bet they’re asking questions like these:

Is there a better way?”

“How much is what we’re doing today costing us?”

“How do I justify asking for such a large expenditure?”

Buyers are doing research and answering these questions alone; meanwhile, they are invisible to vendors. With the right approach, though, you can help answer these questions and identify prospective buyers.

Step 1: Help prospects identify their own performance gaps.

The buying cycle begins when prospects start to question their status quo. By making assessment tools available to your target market, you can help buyers identify their performance gaps and, at the same time, position yourself as a resource to help buyers solve their problems. Read how one of my clients, Halogen Software, uses this approach for demand generation and lead capture purposes.

Step 2: Help prospects understand the value of your offering.

The next step in the buying process is for buyers to ask themselves if the problem is worth solving. At this stage, buyers are starting to educate themselves about solutions and the financial impact a given solution can have on their organization. Giving prospects access to a value calculator through your website (or through a targeted campaign) is a great way to help them understand the value of your offering as it relates to their unique circumstances. Not only does this position you as an industry leader but you will receive leads that are often better qualified than those you receive from your other lead-generation activities. Another one of my clients, Nuance, uses a value calculator to raise awareness and capture leads by asking users to calculate their “hidden costs.”

Step 3: Show financial metrics that spur prospects to action.

Once buyers are convinced they have a problem and the problem is worth solving, the next logical question is, “But at what cost?” By now, prospects have narrowed their vendor evaluation to a meaningful few. To stand out, vendors must build upon the approaches advocated above and now show buyers their offering’s net value. An ROI calculator is a great way to illustrate your offering’s net value and move buyers to action. I’d guess two-thirds of my clients use this method: 1) create demand and capture leads via an assessment tool and/or value calculator and 2) close deals using an ROI calculator. Tribute is a representative example of how to use this one-two combination.

Vendors late to the party are often being played without realizing it. They see a lead come in and check the box for step one in their sales process, then check the box for step two, etc. What a waste of time! Vendors with the insurmountable advantage are those that identify buyers early and engage in meaningful exchanges around business value. It might take some imagination to accomplish this but I hope the ideas advocated above get you started.

How do you see your sales process? Is it aligned with established internal procedures created long ago? Or has it evolved to match how today’s buyers educate themselves? Share your thoughts in the comments section.

Value-Based Content Marketing Improves Lead Conversion Rates

the best

Why do B2B marketers invest in producing blog posts, white papers, reports, articles, and videos? The general aim is to attract an audience to their website so they can engage them and (hopefully) turn them into customers over time.

As I wrote last week, I believe that marketers often don’t consider ROI tools and value calculators when planning their content marketing mix, and I think this is a missed opportunity. If marketers want a high volumes of well-qualified leads, then my view is that value calculators and ROI tools can often pack a much bigger punch than other forms of digital content.

I’m not saying that traditional modes of content marketing aren’t important. But I don’t believe blogs, articles, and white papers have the power to deliver well-qualified leads in the same way that a targeted value calculator can. Someone who engages with a value calculator is demonstrating an interest in understanding the problem that you can solve for them and evaluating the economics of your solution to their business. To me, that indicates a serious buyer. Someone who wants to read a white paper might be a serious buyer — on the other hand she might just be looking for general information about that topic.

When you make a value calculator available on your site, you typically want to allow them to use it to evaluate the economics of your offering in an open fashion (not gated). In order to download the business value report generated by the calculator, though, you typically want to capture their contact information before providing the report. Someone who is interested enough in the analysis to provide their contact information to get the report is more likely to be thinking about how your offering will impact his or her business and is a more serious prospect. By definition, this person is probably a better and more qualified lead for you than someone who downloads a white paper or visits your site to read general content.

Of course value calculators are just one piece of an overall content marketing strategy. Blog posts, articles, and white papers, etc. help establish your brand and position you as an authority. (Those assets are also likely to drive more general traffic to your site.) However, I do think ROI tools and value calculators can help companies capture better-qualified leads than other types of content. If you can deliver better qualified leads to sales, then salespeople naturally spend less time chasing leads who have little or no intention of actually making a purchase. The more time salespeople can spend in conversations with serious prospects, the more likely they are to close more deals. Who wouldn’t want that?

What types of content do you include in your marketing mix? Do you use value calculators or ROI tools? Share your thoughts in the comments section.

[Image via Stuart Miles / FreeDigitalPhotos.net]

Is There Value in Your B2B Content Marketing?

Content marketing is a term that gets a lot of buzz these days, but the basic concept of capturing prospects and buyers through stories has been around for generations.

This video put together by Content Marketing World shows a full timeline of the history of content marketing, including examples. According to the video, the term “content marketing” emerged only around 2001, but the concept itself started over a century ago. The earliest example they cite is John Deere’s magazine, The Furrow, launched in 1895. (This magazine is still around, with a circulation of 1.5 million in 40 countries and 12 different languages.) The video also calls out “The Michelin Guides” put forth by tire manufacturer Michelin back in 1900 to help drivers maintain their cars and find good inns and hotels while traveling.

What is the ultimate aim of content marketing? Broadly speaking the goal is to get prospects and buyers to connect with what you have to offer through storytelling and education. The Content Marketing Institute is even more specific in its definition of content marketing:

The technique of creating and distributing relevant and valuable content to attract, acquire and engage a clearly defined target audience in order to drive profitable customer action.”

If the purpose of content marketing is not only to attract prospects but also to turn them into customers, then it only makes sense in a B2B context to focus closely on your value proposition. In other words, B2B marketers need to remember that there’s generally a big difference between the ways B2C marketers approach content in contrast to their B2B counterparts. In a previous post, “Why Branding Doesn’t Work on B2B Customers,” we made clear distinction between the “rational” world of the B2B customer and the “irrational” world of the B2C customer.

“B2C marketing efforts are frequently driven by such irrational factors as image, self-satisfaction, fashion, the need to be cool, sex appeal, etc. That’s why consumer marketing generally lives and dies by advertising. Very few consumer products or services can survive without it. Consumer ads, promotions and other image projections often establish the product’s value and create the demand for it.

The B2B world, by contrast, is rooted in the rational. Branding that appeals to irrational or perceived needs just isn’t going to work, because in the end businesses will not buy nor continue to buy things that don’t actually help their business.”

In other words, the B2B decision-maker looks for economic value when investing in a solution. While a great story might be appealing to B2B prospects, they won’t become customers unless that story can illustrate how you can help them save or make money.

Although many B2B marketers think of content marketing in terms of articles, blog posts, PDFs, white papers, video, and infographics — all great and valid forms of content that can engage prospects and customers — I don’t often hear about assets that can help a prospective customer understand the value that an offering can deliver as part of the discussion. These assets include such things as value calculators and ROI tools and I believe that they’re a critical component of a content marketing strategy if the offering is more than a standard transactional decision and constitutes a significant investment. Considering the interest the B2B buyer has in financial metrics, I think that is a missed opportunity.

What kinds of content marketing do you rely on to attract prospects and turn them into customers? Do you use ROI tools or value calculators as part of your content marketing strategy?  Please share your thoughts in the comments section.

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]

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.