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.

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]

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]

Articulating Value for the Complex Solution: Tips from the Sales 2.0 Conference

by Kayleigh Bush

Last week I was lucky enough to attend the Sales 2.0 Conference in San Francisco. Among all the speakers, I found Jeff Thull’s presentation the most compelling.

At Stratavant, we create solutions that help our customers articulate the value of their complex B2B solutions to their own customers. So Jeff’s presentation topic, “Unquantified Value: The Greatest Threat to Profitable Sales Results,” was right up my alley.

As the author of Mastering the Complex Sale and Exceptional Selling, Jeff has built a reputation for being a thought leader for sellers and marketers, particularly when it comes to relationship management for businesses engaged in complex sales. (He has designed and implemented business transformation and professional development programs for companies like Microsoft, IBM, HP and Georgia-Pacific, as well as many fast track, start-up companies.)

As Jeff pointed out (and as we’ve talked about on this blog before), the percentage of sales pursuits that end in “no decision” is high, and win rates are dropping. Whenever the customer is not motivated to solve their own business problem, Jeff said there are three possible causes:

1)   Your solution has no value.

2)   The process and tools to quantify the new potential impact of your solution are not effective.

3)   Your field organization is unable to execute effectively.

As Jeff sees it, a multi-faceted and complex solution creates a complex decision-making cycle for the customer. In other words, when customers are unable to make a decision, it’s typically because they have difficulty understanding and differentiating the complex solutions that the market is presenting to them. They’re unsure about their ability to successfully change and achieve expected value. Jeff theorized that this is exactly why so many deals are being lost to “no decision.” As he said onstage:

“What often looks like a sales problem is actually an organizational challenge. Uncertainty is what’s defeating decisions. Value clarity will defeat uncertainty. If you can provide a higher level of certainty in a world that is very uncertain to them, you’ll have a considerable competitive advantage.”

For those not familiar with the Sales 2.0 Conference, it is a chance for sales and marketing professionals to gather and improve their strategies with the ever-changing culture and technology of the business world along with the resources to help. People got really into it posting pictures and insights at the conference. Even I got involved.

I met some incredibly dynamic sales experts there and enjoyed my first experience representing Stratavant at an industry event. I am hoping that this post will get a good conversation going around value. Please join the discussion!

Do you agree deals are being lost to “no decision” because customers do not understand the value of offerings in the market? Share your thoughts in the comments section.

Are You Wasting Your Investment in Lead Generation?

Danilo Rizzuti arrowsEach year InsideSales.com conducts an audit of lead-response patterns among 14,000 companies to see how quickly and effectively they respond to Web-based inquiries. (They define response time as “the period between the submission of a Web lead and the first contact attempt by a company representative.”) Here are three major takeaways from their Annual 2014 Lead Response Report:

Takeaway #1: U.S. companies are spending more on lead generation, but they are not improving in lead response times.

While companies increased lead-generation expenditures by 82% between 2005 and 2009), just 37% of these companies responded to Web leads within an hour. Meanwhile, 24% took more than 24 hours to respond. [Harvard Business Review]

Takeaway #2: Many companies are wasting their investment on lead generation.

Of the 9,538 companies that received a “test lead” as part of the Lead Response Report, 47% did not respond at all. Forbes has estimated that B2B companies spend between $30 and $200 per lead generated by marketing. As the Lead Response Report points out, any delay in response times to those leads is a waste. “It is highly likely that company executives do not realize the potential return on investment (ROI) gains that can occur with improved lead-response management.” [Forbes]

Takeaway #3: Many companies are giving up on leads too quickly.

InsideSales.com research indicates that sales professionals, on average, call leads 1.3 times before giving up. Results from the Lead Response Report indicate that the median number of contact attempts (for those companies that responded at all) was 1; the average was 2.2. Ken Krogue, president and co-founder of InsideSales.com says salespeople should be making between 8-12 follow up calls in order to be successful. [KenKrogues.com]

We probably all agree that it’s better to follow up sooner rather than later to inbound marketing leads. Years ago I learned this lesson firsthand, before marketing automation was even a thing. After we sent an email blast, I called a lead who was still viewing our Website by using a real-time email tracking program. His first question was, “How did you do that?” At the end of our chat he asked me to send a proposal; we closed a deal the following week.

We routinely tell Stratavant customers who purchase our Value Calculators that they need to follow up within five minutes to a Web lead. That’s how much response time matters. When you consider how much inbound marketing has grown, response time might even matter more. It is unlikely today that I would even be asked how I knew whether or not someone had visited our Website, because most companies are using tracking tools and many customers have come to expect that kind of custom and immediate response.

Customers take it for granted that we’re watching their online behavior and responding accordingly. Not only that, but I would venture to say that their attention spans are shorter. I can remember calling on someone within hours after he visited our Website and he had no recollection of it.

Lead response times are just as important as lead generation. If your account teams complain about junk leads, ask them how quickly and persistently they’re following up. It could be that with some simple adjustments in process and behavior you could realize the full potential of your investment in lead generation.

How quickly do you respond to leads? Have you ever closed a deal because you responded within minutes to a Web visitor? Share your thoughts in the comments section.

[Image via freedigitalphotos.net / Danilo Rizzuti]

Which Matters More to B2B Buyers, ROI or NPV?

We recently wrote about the correct usage of the term ROI in a B2B sales event. A great follow-up question we received was, “How do I know what to show my customer, ROI or NPV (net present value)?” Let’s take a look.

We’ve already looked closer at ROI, so let’s spend a moment on NPV. Net present value is important because it measures the incoming cash flow from an investment over time, and converts that cash flow to today’s dollars. To quote Investopedia:

NPV compares the value of a dollar today to the value of that same dollar in the future, taking inflation and returns into account. If the NPV of a prospective project is positive, it should be accepted. However, if NPV is negative, the project should probably be rejected because cash flows will also be negative.

Your prospects are concerned with the potential profitability of their investments, so if you want them to spend money with you, NPV is something you should be prepared to discuss. (As a side note, we’ve previously discussed why preparing a business case is critical to sales success. We also wrote about how to inspire confidence in your proposal. Those are two initial considerations before you even get to NPV.)

Now, let’s imagine your prospect is comparing your offering (Investment A) to an unrelated investment opportunity (Investment B). The NPV for Investment A is $3,760 and for Investment B it’s $2,949. Remember, NPV measures the cash flow over time from an investment and converts that cash flow to today’s dollars. (For those of you scoring at home, we used an eight percent discount rate in this example.) So, you’re feeling pretty good because your investment opportunity provides a higher NPV.

But what if I told you that the ROI for Investment A is 21 percent and the ROI for Investment B is 1,025 percent? ROI is a simple metric that suggests the rate of expected return for every dollar invested in a project. Now you are thinking, uh-oh, my offering’s ROI is much lower.

Let’s introduce a third metric, payback period. Payback period tells us how long before the cash flow from a project turns positive. In our example, Investment A has a five-month payback period and Investment B has an eight-month payback period.

Which Matters More, ROI or NPV?Present your business case and let it stand on its own merit. The evaluation of the financial indicators is going to vary from prospect to prospect. One prospect might focus on the payback period because they want to know how soon they are going to get back their investment. In this case, the prospect would favor Investment A. Another prospect may be risk-averse and focus on finding the highest ROI with lowest project costs because they are thinking how much capital they’ll lose if the investment doesn’t deliver the benefits. This favors Investment B.

The only guarantee is that if you don’t quantify the value of your solution for prospects, none of the above will matter because your deal will never merit serious consideration.

Do you always give prospects a business case? Are you comfortable with concepts such as ROI and NPV? Share your thoughts in the comments section.

Test Your Credibility as a Sales or Marketing Professional

Last week we published some thoughts from RainToday editor Michelle Davidson, who offered three great points about what buyers want from sellers and marketers. The very first point she made was that buyers want to deal with knowledgeable sales and marketing teams. As she stated, today’s buyer has no need or patience for a sales pitch. They want answers, analysis, and advice.

Image via freedigitalphotos.net / samuiblue

Image via freedigitalphotos.net / samuiblue

This is a message we are passionate about and feel it cannot be stated often enough: trust in B2B selling and marketing is built on credibility.

In the past, knowledge mostly meant knowing everything about your product or solution (as well as that of your competitor). And credibility was about how you acted — prospects preferred to buy from vendors who were helpful, honest, and delivered on their promises.

Those things still matter, of course. But credibility today now encompasses knowledge of a more sophisticated nature. As I wrote in a blog post last year, I believe buyers now take for it granted that you’ll include a business case as part of your sales pitch or proposal. I believe credible sellers and marketers are those who can answer “yes” to the following questions:

  1. Do you understand your prospect’s business challenges and do you have tools to help you express those business challenges in financial terms?
  2. Do you understand how to highlight business/financial challenges the prospect has but might not be aware of?
  3. Can you demonstrate an awareness of how the prospect’s options (buying from a competitor, doing nothing, or buying from you) compare to one another?
  4. Can you talk about ROI knowledgably with the Chief Financial Officer and/or CEO?

Beyond looking for integrity in all the traditional realms, buyers today trust vendors who can demonstrate this level of business acumen. Today, you must help prospects see their problems, envision solutions, overcome internal objections to investing in your solution, and achieve measurable results. That is how we need to start thinking about credibility as sellers and marketers.

How well do you score on the credibility scale? Share your thoughts in the comments section.