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.

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]

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.

Three Keys to Influencing B2B Customers

On a very basic level, the job of sellers and marketers is to help the customer through a decision-making process. Recently Ilya Bogorad addressed the topic of decision making in a terrific blog post, “Making a Case: How to Become a Thought Leader and Influence Decisions,” and I highly recommend that anyone in sales or marketing read it. His insights on how to create a convincing business case are worth your time.

In my view, there are three important things to keep in mind as you travel along the decision-making journey with a customer or prospect.

One: Understand what they’re trying to accomplish. What is the main objective of your client? If you’re not playing from the same sheet of music, your deal won’t go far.

Two: Understand what they’re being measured against. How will the client define success? Is that a three percent increase top line revenue? A twenty percent reduction in labor costs? To craft a solution jointly, you must first understand what success looks like from their perspective.

Three: Understand what their alternatives are. Find out what they’re considering as alternatives to investing in your solution. That could be a competitor’s solution, but it could also be making an investment in an unrelated area. This last point is key, because sometimes sellers don’t understand that even if you’re talking to a customer and saying, “Hey, this problem is worth solving and we are the best ones to help you solve it,” that customer still might have to go back and compare against other alternatives as a matter of protocol.

When it comes to making a business case to invest in your solution, this is where a TCO comparison and ROI tools could help you. A TCO tool illustrates what the prospect’s best choice is relative to other alternatives, usually a competitor. An ROI tool shows how much the prospect stands to gain (in revenue, cost savings, or both) by investing in your solution relative to the status quo.

At the end of the day, any B2B company is concerned about one thing: dollars and cents. But it is also subject to the personalities and decision-making styles of the decision-makers. As you help your prospect through the buying journey, keep your focus on their unique situation as well as their potential financial risks and benefits. This is the best way to gain trust and influence, no matter what style of decision-maker you’re dealing with.

What are your tips to gain influence with decision makers? Share your thoughts in the comments section.

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.