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.

Why Having an ROI Calculator Is Good for Sales

I truly believe in the power of ROI tools and value calculators to help generate better, more qualified leads for B2B marketers and enhance a B2B salesperson’s ability to close a deal. (If I didn’t, I wouldn’t be in the business of selling them.)

So when I read Jean-Marc Bellot’s blog post, “Why You Should Get Rid of Your ROI Calculator,” last month on LinkedIn, I felt compelled to put together a response.

Here is a summary of his points:

  1. Putting an ROI tool on your website assumes that all customers are identical.
  2. Having an ROI tool on your website provides your prospects with the justification to buy from your competitors.
  3. Encouraging your salespeople to use your ROI calculator encourages them to make “really stupid statements.”
  4. Reducing the concept of value creation to a calculator decreases the customers buying experience and castrates sales.
  5. For a customer, ROI calculation is not an event, but a process.

Let’s examine these points one by one.

Point 1: Putting an ROI tool on your website assumes that all customers are identical.

It’s true that no two customers are alike. The thing is, good ROI calculators actually account for that fact.

A good value/ROI calculator is built to help a prospect decide if a given solution is a sound economic investment. That means the tool incorporates industry and benchmark data; but it also allows the prospect to modify any data inputs or assumptions to make the calculation reflect the economic realities that drive his or her business.

Takeaway: Look for an ROI tool that provides the ability to modify the inputs, not one with hidden assumptions and blind calculations of value.

Point 2: Having an ROI tool on your website provides your prospects with the justification to buy from your competitors.

So, prospects are using your ROI calculator to research pricing and then they end up buying from your competitors? If this is the case, I’m not sure your ROI tool is the problem.

When you think about market definitions, you’ve got two ends of the spectrum to consider. On one end, you have sales teams that sell absolute commodities. In this environment, competitors all deliver the same amount of value. In that case, the lowest-cost competitor should always win. Any company that invests in an ROI calculator on their website to help prospects evaluate their purchase decision in a commoditized market is wasting money. (After all, you don’t need a calculator to tell you which company offers the lowest price.)

On the other end of the spectrum, you have companies that provide differentiated offerings that deliver more value relative to the competition. In that case, the value calculator or ROI tool only emphasizes why the prospect should buy from you. (Unless you do not, in fact, offer the value you think you do.)

Takeaway: If your offering delivers value differently than your competition, a value calculator on your web site is one of the best ways to communicate that value, generate buyer interest, and capture leads.

Point 3: Encouraging your salespeople to use your ROI calculator provides them with an incentive to make “really stupid statements.”

No respectable tool incentivizes salespeople to make stupid statements.

That’s because a well-built value calculator or ROI tool doesn’t make any absolute or fixed assumptions about the value that will be delivered. Instead, it provides the salesperson with a tool to have a discussion with the customer about the problems that they are having and how their solution could

  1. solve those problems,
  2. provide value to their business, and
  3. justify the investment in the proposed solution.

We’ve written before on our blog about how some sales teams put the focus on the wrong benefit with certain customers (for example, serving up “labor savings” as a benefit to companies that, for a variety of reasons, really aren’t interested in labor savings). Salespeople definitely need a basic level of business acumen to understand these kinds of trade-offs that customers make. However, they should not be expected to become financial experts.

Takeaway: If your ROI tool causes the salesperson to make a “stupid statement,” then it isn’t an effective tool and should be updated.

Point four: Reducing the concept of “value creation” to a calculator decreases the customers buying experience and castrates sales.

Customers are now in the mode of conducting the majority of their buying process online before ever talking to a salesperson. Consider these statistics.

  • A CEB study of more than 1,400 B2B customers across industries revealed that 57% of a typical purchase decision is made before a customer even talks to a supplier.
  • Sirius Decisions research indicates that 67% of B2B buyers begin their purchasing journey online.
  • Other B2B sales and marketing experts have put this figure as high as 92%.

The bottom line is, if you aren’t providing tools to help a customer learn more about you and what you can offer, you are likely being eliminated before they even talk to you. It is hard for me to imagine a better way to castrate sales then to not allow them to talk to over 50% of prospective buyers.

Takeaway: Any tool you can put online to help prospects make their buying decision — especially if it helps them to understand why they should purchase your offering — is a good thing.

Point five: For a customer, ROI calculation is not an event, but a process.

That’s true. Many companies treat the business case analysis (or ROI analysis) as a one-time event, but every business decision should be evaluated continually. Once you make the investment in a solution, however, the cost of that initial investment becomes sunk cost and is no longer relevant in the ongoing analysis of the investment.  However, vendors can use ROI tools at renewal time to justify the ongoing investment in their solution.

Takeaway: Every company should continually evaluate the performance of its investments and ROI tools can aid in that ongoing evaluation.

What’s your take on the value of ROI calculators in your marketing and sales process? Please share your thoughts in the comments section. 

Why Are Industrial Companies Missing from Social Media?

industrial companies social mediaThe number of industrial companies that have not embraced social media as a channel for sales and marketing continues to surprise me. Here are three reasons why they should:

Reason #1: Social networks are incredibly popular.

Most of us agree that the job of sales and marketing teams is to be where your buyer is. Literally billions of people are active on social networks on at least a monthly basis. Although the growth of social networks is slowing in some countries, certain areas (like India) are still catching up; eMarketer estimates that 2.33 billion people around the world will be active on social media by 2017.

Reason #2: The buying process frequently begins online, via search engines and social media.

Despite the perception that social media is successful mostly for B2C companies, it’s  undeniable that many B2B customers turn to search engines to shop. Social selling evangelist Jill Rowley has estimated that 37 percent of buyers look for suggestions or feedback on social sites. And ADP Vice President of Inside Sales Strategy and Innovation Liz Gelb O’Conner has reported that 88 percent of B2B buyers use the Internet to do initial research on purchases. If you and your company lack a social media presence, you’re automatically invisible. Meanwhile, if your competitor has a YouTube channel and their best salespeople have active and engaging LinkedIn and Twitter accounts, those are likely the pages your prospect is going to find during an online search related to your product or solution.

Reason #3: Many enterprise companies use social media to build brand awareness, create relationships with prospects and customers, and generate revenue.

Aberdeen Group has reported that sales professionals who use social selling help best-in-class companies achieve a 16 percent gain in year-over-year revenue, four times better than typical companies. Last year, at least one survey found that three quarters of reps using social media exceeded quota 23 percent more often than their peers. In 2009, Dell was one of the first companies to hop on the social bandwagon; the company used promotions via Twitter to generate $6.5 million in sales of PCs, accessories, and software. More recently, ADP has closed deals ranging from $2,500 to more than $1 million via social selling tactics and tools like Google Alerts, LinkedIn Groups, and LinkedIn’s Advanced People Search.

Despite all the evidence pointing to the value of leveraging social media for selling and marketing, many executives at industrial companies still aren’t convinced. The employees at many industrial companies aren’t even allowed to log onto to Twitter, YouTube, or Facebook while they’re at work. I’ve heard the leaders of these companies say things like, “Our buyers want to meet face-to-face. That’s the only way to build relationships in our industry,” or “We don’t need to be on social media to create awareness. Our brand has been around for 50 years. Everyone already knows who we are.”

In my view, this is a huge mistake. Social media is now part of the buying process for everyone. Social a great way to get insight, gain access, and build trust. Any company not investing in social media initiatives is missing out on revenue opportunities, and I believe that gap will only continue to increase over time.

If you want to see how adding social media to your sales and marketing mix would impact your bottom line, check out our Social Media ROI Calculator.

[Photo: Flickr

Five Reasons Hosted ROI Calculators Trump Excel Spreadsheets

When prospects come to your website, do you make it easy for them to see how much money you can save them? Do you have ways of clearly showing on your website how much more revenue you can help them generate?

Moreover, when your sales reps actually get to interact with prospects, are they well equipped to show the value of your solution in dollars and cents?

Whether for lead generation or closing deals, many sales and marketing teams have generated spreadsheets using Excel to illustrate the value of their solution or product. However, spreadsheets pose a number of problems — in the worst cases, these problems result in prospective buyers moving on to the next vendor’s website or dropping out of deals altogether.

An online ROI calculator built using a dedicated platform can help you avoid these challenges. Consider the following reasons spreadsheets fail and why hosted ROI tools are typically superior.

1. Salespeople dislike overly complex marketing assets. Whenever sales reps think a spreadsheet looks too complicated or dense, they usually opt to leave it by the wayside rather than incorporate it into their selling process. This is a waste of marketing dollars and needlessly leaves reps unable to illustrate your solution’s value. Consider the complexities in the image below, which is from an internally-created ROI calculator shared with me by one of my clients, a $1.2 billion technology company. One of the reasons they came to me is they were looking for a simple, attractive user interface to overcome sales resistance, an example of which is also shown below.

Spreadsheet SummaryROI Tool Summary2. It is difficult to create compelling summary reports within spreadsheets. Again, from my same client, the images below show the difference in presentation. Prospects today expect reports that not only look professional but also are easy to share with colleagues.

Spreadsheet ReportROI Tool Report3. Spreadsheets are notoriously error prone and difficult to maintain. This is one of the biggest reasons spreadsheets tend to fall into disuse. By contrast, ROI platforms are centrally managed and maintained, and thereby eliminate version control issues, outdated data, field modifications, and unauthorized usage.

4. Prospective buyers question the credibility of spreadsheets created by vendors. Generally speaking, ROI calculators created by third parties are viewed as more trustworthy than homegrown spreadsheets.

5. Spreadsheets are not mobile-friendly. Mobile devices limit the user’s ability to access and easily view spreadsheets. Contemporary ROI tools are designed to accommodate all types of devices.

Changes in B2B buyers’ behavior and the ubiquity of mobile devices have converged to make spreadsheet-based ROI tools passé. What’s a savvy B2B marketing and sales organization to do then? Many companies decide they’ll build a tool on their own. However, based on my experience, this usually incurs internal costs that can be far higher than simply contracting with an established vendor that creates ROI tools. My recommendation is to find a vendor with an ROI platform that can easily deploy, maintain, and update your ROI tools. This will allow you to drive the most incremental revenue and to do so with a cost effective budget.

What are you doing today to show prospects the value of your solution? What are the pros and cons of your approach? Please share your experience below.

B2B Sales Always Comes Back to Selling Value

I recently came across this insightful blog post, How to Sell Value to Your Customer, that outlines a four-step process on how to sell on value. I want to take the last two steps and point you to some real life examples that might help you better relate to the points and achieve sales success.B2B Sales Always Comes Back to Selling Value

Step 3 – Identify Specific Values

This step really comes down to finding, for whatever problem your solution solves, where and how that problem manifests in your prospect’s organization. Read The Hidden Cost of Office Printing and Scanning: The Nuance Story to learn how one of my clients successfully addressed that challenge.

Step 4 – Quantify the Value

I would like to take point this a bit further. I believe that you not only need to provide an estimate of your offering’s value that is conservative to maintain credibility but also that the estimated value has to be something your customer believes. Your conservatism does no good if your prospect is even more conservative. It’s always a good idea to start with an industry benchmark or proof point if possible, but don’t let the conversation end there. Spend time with your customer until he or she is on board with the projected value. Read Success Story: How One ERP Vendor Proved Value to Prospects to discover how one of my clients used an ROI calculator to do just that.

How do you sell on value? Share your thoughts in the comments section.

Four Mistakes Sellers and Marketers Make

Making mistakes can be uncomfortable, but they’re a good opportunity to learn and improve (or at least move on). Here are four mistakes we’ve written about recently on our blog that we see in sales and marketing organizations. Feel free to share some of the major missteps you see among sellers and marketers in the comments section.

Mistake #1: Relying on spreadsheets for your presentations.

Have you ever made calculations in Excel to help convince a prospect to invest in your solution, only to find that a simple data-entry error foiled the end result? An analysis of multiple studies on spreadsheets from 2008 found that 88% of spreadsheets have errors. In addition, even the most carefully assembled spreadsheets contain errors in one percent or more of all formula cells. A complex sale typically involves complex calculations. The more faith you put in manual data-entry into spreadsheets, the more you risk making a simple error that could potentially result in a mistaken conclusion. An ROI calculator can easily prevent this. Not only will an ROI calculator prevent data-entry errors, many prospects are more inclined to put their faith in numbers generated by a calculator that’s been created by a third-party vendor.

Mistake #2: Not properly preparing reps to make sales calls.

According to Forrester research, only 13% of customers believe salespeople can demonstrate an understanding of their business challenges and how to solve them. What does this mean? Sales leaders are sending their reps into the field without giving them the tools to win. If this describes your sales team, I would say it’s time to dig into two areas of the organization. One is sales management. Explore sales coaching and training options you can provide for your reps. The second is product marketing. Strong assets from marketing can help reps explain in clear financial terms how they can help solve a prospect’s business challenges (which is a must-have skill in today’s business environment).

Mistake #3: Talking about ROI without understanding what it really means.

Do you every talk about “ROI”? Do you know what the term really means? During my first job out of college as an engineer, I became an economic evaluator. That meant part of my job was to evaluate capital investments and decide whether they represented a good investment for the company (including evaluating the payback period, NPV, and ROI). So that was where I learned a lot about financial analysis and how to talk about numbers with CFOs. I frequently hear people use the term “ROI” inaccurately. In a casual conversation, people might still give you the benefit of the doubt and have faith that you know your stuff. However, if you’re making a formal presentation or having a serious conversation with a prospect who’s well versed in financial terminology, any misuse of the term could obviously leave a disastrous impression about you and your company. Don’t let this happen to you — learn the proper definition of ROI and how to use the term to your advantage.

Mistake #4: Asking sales reps to become financial experts.

A salesperson’s biggest strengths are building rapport, understanding business problems, negotiating, etc. Although business acumen is important, some sales organizations are taking it a step too far by asking reps to essentially build what amounts to a financial analysis so that reps can say to prospects, “Here’s what the ROI would be when you invest in our solution.” This is putting too much on a sales rep’s plate. A better approach would be to embrace an ROI calculator that can be used over and over again with prospects in your target segment. With simple navigation and ease of use, an ROI calculator built upon a software platform can easily uncover the costs of buyers’ problems. These sales enablement tools seamlessly calculate the key financial metrics.

What are some mistakes you see in sales and marketing? Share your thoughts in the comments section. 

Three Qualities That Will Win a Buyer’s Business

Why does one sales team win a customer’s business, while another sales team finishes in second place? According to research announced in this blog post, New Sales Research: What Sales Winners Do Differently, three simple selling behaviors separate winning sales teams from their competition.

The findings of the study, published by RAIN Group, are based on an analysis of more than 700 B2B purchases from buyers representing $3.1 billion in annual purchases. Let’s look at the top three factors that buyers attributed to sales teams that won the buyer’s business:

  1. Educated me with new ideas or perspectives,
  2. Collaborated with me,
  3. Persuaded me we would achieve results.

Now let’s look at these same factors and see how buyers ranked second-place finishers in their ability to demonstrate these attributes:

  1. Educated me with new ideas or perspectives – 42nd place (dead last),
  2. Collaborated with me – 26th place,
  3. Persuaded me we would achieve results – 41st place.

Obviously the second-place sales teams were not trying to lose the deals on purpose. I think the likely problem is their failure to adapt to changing buyer behavior. For the second-place teams, unless they recognize what has changed (see the top three factors above), their only chance for success is if the winner is not in the deal and they are only competing against the third-and fourth-place vendors.

What I found encouraging was the behavior of sales winners. The three main verbs from their success factors (educate, collaborate, and persuade) are the building blocks of the approach that I advocate (aka, ROI-based selling). The keys are for salespeople to help prospects:

  1. Better see the magnitude of their problems,
  2. More clearly imagine how things could be better,
  3. Work with them to project measurable results, and
  4. Deliver a business case to overcome internal objections.

There are different types of tools that can help salespeople accomplish each of these four points and communicate value at different stages of the sales cycle. Regardless which tool you use, the fundamental approach remains the same: educate, collaborate, persuade. By shifting their focus to what buyers really want, I believe that second-place finishers can become sales winners.

Do you use tools that help you educate, collaborate, and persuade buyers? Do you agree these are key selling behaviors to win with buyers today? Share your thoughts in the comments section.