Turning Nightmares into Sales

The number one challenge for a sales person is overcoming inertia. Every sales person knows this well. Far more often than losing a sale to the competition, you lose to a non-decision, essentially a default to maintain the status quo. In all likelihood, it’s not that you weren’t able to convey your value proposition or demonstrate the potential ROI of substituting your solution for their existing practices. It’s simply a matter of prospects having to confront the often irrational fear of abandoning what they have been doing up until now, that has been failing them, to adopt a new process that has the prospect of being far better. Change is that scary and inertia is that powerful.

Inertia, and the irrational fear of change, can and has caused companies to fail. Ironically, inertia is often more powerful in the most critical situations in which the problems have existed for a long time. What else could explain the delay by an otherwise smart and rational business person to identify and implement a solution with far greater potential to resolve the problems before things reach a critical stage?

Compare it, if you will, to an individual with a phobia. According to the American Psychiatric Association, a phobia is defined as an irrational and excessive fear of an object or situation. In most cases, the phobia involves a sense of endangerment or a fear of harm. Phobias strike very smart people as often as people who are less intellectually gifted. It is intelligence neutral so to speak.

One of the most successful approaches to treating phobias is by the use of guided imagery, in which patients are systematically desensitized to the object of their fears by visualizing situations in which they can calmly and safely coexist with the object of their fears.

So how does that inform the sales process, especially as it relates to the fear of change?

When you are presenting your value proposition, after having assessed and diagnosed their needs and crafted a solution, it will help if you are able to give them a meaningful opportunity to visualize life after the change is implemented. Help them imagine how they will feel about the success of adopting a new and improved solution. Let them dwell on that. Indeed, encourage that actively.

Encourage them to be active participants in that endeavor. It’s just like the beer commercial where you see two (or more) attractive people sitting on a lounge chair on the beach with a slice of lime hanging off the rim of their beer bottles listening to the waves crashing on the shore.

Ask them... literally ask them ... to picture themselves in the absence of the problems caused by their current practices (or their lack of an adequate solution). How would that free them up to deal with more important issues? How would other people regard them in the light of that success? How would they feel if they had a solution that will enable them to sleep at night unfettered by the challenges they are facing now?

By helping the prospect imagine and embrace a positive outcome - instead of being haunted by the nightmare of what catastrophe change might cause - you will give them a path to embracing change instead of fearing it. It’s as if you could give a claustrophobic locked in a closet the power to imagine that the door is transparent or invisible.

Most Sales People Still Don’t Get It

Recently my wife and I went out to buy a washing machine. We really had no choice and couldn’t wait. The old one broke after 20 years. The need was imperative. So we went through the very same experience that virtually every buyer goes through as we shopped for exactly the right appliance to meet our needs. Ultimately, with alot of research and effort. we were able to find a product that met our needs at a value that made sense for us.

But virtually all of the sales people we spoke with were absolutely useless and, as a result, failed to gain our sale.

Let me describe our experience. It will ring familiar. And they were serial experiences in several showrooms, so it wasn’t simply one bad dealer. It was almost universal.

We walk into the appliance showroom. We are ignored for a while as we wander around looking at various appliances. Maybe their sales manager taught them to do that on purpose. It was certainly a universal experience.

Ultimately, a sales rep comes up and asks, “Can I help you?”

“We’re interested in a washing machine”, we say.

What comes next?

“Let me show you the models we have.” “This one has the fastest spin cycle in the industry.” “This one is the most energy efficient washer on the planet.” “This one is best on gentle fabrics, and this one.....”

Not once did any of them ask us simple, relationship building, helpful, guiding questions like...

  • Do you already have a washing machine?
  • What kind?
  • How long have you had it?
  • What did you like about it?
  • Why are you looking to replace it now?
  • How important to you is replacing it immediately?
  • How frequently is it used?
  • How big is your family (kids)?
  • Do your kids play sports or get very dirty?
  • Do you wash your dress shirts or send them to the cleaners?
  • How is it used (colors/whites/shirts/heavy dirt)?
  • How important to you is energy efficiency?

How much were you looking to spend? (Well this one they do ask, but way down the road)

You get the drift.

If they simply took the time to ask us these questions BEFORE they overhelm us with 30 different makes and models, most of which we have no interest in, they could close the sale in a flash. We could have saved hours of comparison research, and they would have gained a loyal, long-term appliance customer.

But, no. They chose reflexively to inundate us with a never-ending list of features and benefits,presumably as a way of differentiating each product. Wow! It felt like it went on for a mind-numbing lifetime.

Of course, that robotic approach lead to the inevitable ending that every salesperson has heard, in one form or another more than once until, of course, they gain the requisite insight to mitigate it: “Do you have any brochures? We’d like to review them, think about it, and get back to you.”

By the way, we also went car shopping. That was even more fun.

When will they ever learn?

What’s eti’s “secret sauce?”

If you're curious ....

  • What makes eti’s solution so special?
  • Why can’t I do it in-house (better and or cheaper)?
  • Why is eti’s solution better than the competition?
  • What is eti’s “secret sauce”?

    We thought we’d share a list of some of the key ingredients that go into making eti’s solution extraordinary in a new article posted on the ETI site.

Building Trust and Being Authentic is Critical in Sales

I recently read a Management Tip of the Day from Harvard Business Review that said: “When working in a foreign setting with different norms and rules, you're likely to make cultural mistakes. But you can lessen their impact by engendering people's trust in the first place. Make sure your foreign counterparts believe you care enough to try to learn about their culture, even if you haven't fully mastered the rules. Work hard to show genuine interest, curiosity, and respect.

But, you also need to be authentic. Don't fake an interest in Indian food, for example, if you could care less about culinary arts. Find a pursuit that genuinely appeals to you and explore that. Otherwise, it will be clear to your colleagues that you're trying to ingratiate yourself, not learn about the ins and outs of their culture.”

This advice applies equally to all aspects of client relationships. If you can’t build an honest and trusting relationship with a prospect or a client, you will never be able to take the relationship to where it creates the win-win needed for all to benefit.

Think about the process for prospecting or selling (up-selling or cross-selling too). You may have a better solution for your client or prospect, but they won’t be amenable to hearing about it unless and until they feel the trust and respect from you that warrants their attention.

And trust is based, quite substantially, on honesty. That means you need to tell the truth. If your solution isn’t the best one to meet the prospect’s needs, they need to hear that from you first. Tell them why you think that’s the case and give them the very same advice you’d give your best friend, even if you don’t benefit directly.

You may lose the sale as a result, but you will have gained the ongoing trust that will ultimately earn you far more business, from either that prospect or client or someone they refer you to. That kind of approach takes courage and it’s very different from the “sell at all costs / sell ice to Eskimos” traditional selling story.

But, in the long term, both you and your company will benefit from this approach.

Bells & Whistles vs Need, Pain & Interest

I got a call yesterday from a young inside sales rep who works for a company that specializes in automated tools to assist the inside sales process. The call resulted in one of those rare win-win-win outcomes, although he might not see it quite that way. Let me explain.

He introduced himself by saying something about some vague connection between me and the CEO of his company, implying that somehow he and I had spoken or communicated or knew one another. I don’t think so.

More likely, he was responding to my click on a broadcast email I had received earlier in the day from his company inviting me to an all day web conference on the topic of inside sales. Although I had an interest in the topic, my schedule precluded my attending, so I was just poking around to see what I might have missed.

Other than raising my suspicion with his introduction, the young man was otherwise quite articulate and seemingly knowledgeable about his company’s product line. He explained that he had done some research on our company and had determined that they could help us because their products focused on assisting companies with inside sales and lead generation missions by providing automation tools to enhance productivity.

He then asked if we had a CRM (I suppose if I said we didn’t, he’d offer to sell me some very large index card cabinets). I explained we ran a very robust, proprietary application on an Oracle platform that basically ran our entire business as well as providing ourselves and our clients with web-based CRM capabilities.

Without skipping a beat, he launched into a discourse about some of their products and how they could help us do everything short of creating world peace and climate control. Very impressive promises, indeed.

What he forgot to do was to earn my trust. He never asked me about how we use our CRM, what were its capabilities and perceived shortcomings, or what, if anything, we’d love to have that we didn’t already have. What made him think we needed his magic tools?

So he never really earned the right to move to the next level of relationship building. He turned the conversation on a dime from me and us, to him and them, without giving me a chance to tell him more about what we do or might need.

When I told him that the promised bells and whistles had strained my sense of credibility, he offered to connect me with a subject matter expert who would explain how it worked and why they could do what he promised they could do.

Suffice it to say that he had lost me.

Faced with his offer, I was left with two options. I could tell him I wasn’t interested and hang up, or I could ask for him to email me some information so I could think about it more before wasting my time and that of his subject matter expert. After a little push back, that’s what he did.

The material he sent was basically a link to a video presentation by a sales manager about their Salesforce.com solution. It was nicely done. However, because our application also integrates with Salesforce.com, the presentation had little value. And although there were some slick features included, most of these are already have been embedded in our application for many years.

The real win for me was in getting an idea from their presentation about how we might present calling information in our application that might make it more useful. Neat, easy to do, and a contribution that made my time on the call worthwhile for us.

But at the outset I promised that it was a win-win-win outcome. Where are the other two wins? Here they are.

The win for him was the fact that I was not, and would likely never be, a qualified prospect for his company’s Salesforce.com tools. Had I agreed to speak with a subject matter expert, he would have recorded this as a positive outcome in his records when, in fact, it wasn’t. A false positive is not a real positive.

The subject matter expert also got a win -- by saving his own time and not making a presentation to an unqualified prospect without any potential whatsoever to make a purchase. By saying no to the invitation to meet I had enhanced his sales productivity.

So that was the win-win-win outcome I promised, but what is the real takeaway here?

If you are going to initiate a meaningful relationship with a prospect, new or otherwise, you need to do more than satisfy yourself that they are a suspect. You need to earn their trust by probing to understand their needs, challenges, interests and aspirations. What keeps them up at night?

Bells and whistles are interesting to present, but they are all about you. And prospects have no reason to care at all about you. Qualifying a prospect requires an in-depth understanding of them, because it’s always all about them (as it should be). You don’t earn the right to speak about yourself until they have finished speaking about themselves and you have something to offer that will help them meet their needs, achieve their goals, resolve their challenges, or sleep better at night.

The Seasonality of Lead Generation

Summer

About this time of year, every year, we get questions about the effectiveness of Lead Generation in the summer months. The thinking is that summer is a slow time where decision makers are away and generally things slow down. That’s true - to a very limited extent. To clarify the situation for ourselves and our clients we decided to analyze the results we achieved in the summer months measured against results from the rest of the year - over the last 20 years.

The projects we reviewed showed conversion rates which ranged from well over 30% to as little as 3%. The results indicated that conversion rates in the summer months were practically the same. In other words the research revealed that seasonality made no practical difference to results achieved

  • Summer months conversion ratio - 13.51%
  • All other months - 13.37%

We also wished to know whether the amount of effort (hours worked) required more hours worked in the summer months compared with the rest of the year.

Actually not. Using the same 20 year period we found that on average the exact same number of hours per lead is required when comparing summer months to all other months.

What accounts for this? We believe that the primary reason is that while fewer decision makers are accessible in the summer, there are also fewer obstacles in getting through to them. Buyers appear to be more relaxed and more amenable to engage in meaningful discussion.

Is it different over the Christmas holiday period? Nope. Pretty much the same.

So in terms of B2B Lead Generation we can definitively state that results do not vary seasonally (unless of course your business is inherently seasonal.)

How Good is Your Sales Execution?

We have a valued client company that is expert in what they term “Retail Execution Solutions”. In essence, they enable large retailers to “have the right product in the right place at the right time.” While they do have some very powerful proprietary solutions, very few of the specific services they provide are truly unique. In fact, virtually every retailer is already conducting the standard activities that our client provides as services. They include inventory, space planning, shrinkage and supply chain audits and a program for site design and organization. Retailers may not be doing each of these activities as efficiently or effectively and cohesively as our client would, but these are all essential business practices that every retail operation must conduct to stay alive.

The unique aspect that our client brings is a highly systematic, integrated approach that enables them to link all of those disparate, essential activities, giving them the power to bring the results to bear on the full scope of their operations. Hence, the term “Retail Execution.” As I said before, it gives them the ability to “have the right product in the right place at the right time.”

As I was thinking about all of this, it dawned on me that what our client provides to retailers is analogous to what we provide to our clients. We provide “Sales Execution Solutions.”

Surely every company we work with is already doing the basics: generating leads, perhaps even pre-qualifying them, they have sales forces and, especially nowadays, they may have access to some kind of CRM to track their leads and sales activities.

They might want or need more leads, or better qualified leads. Or they may need help managing their database and tracking their prospects, leads and sales activities. And they may need to better understand their market or ways to develop new markets or bring new products to market. But the basics elements are there in order for them to survive.

So where does Sales Execution come into play? In the very same way our client supports their retailers: our deliverable is in providing clients with a systematic, repeatable, successful closed-loop process for growing revenue, developing and managing new business opportunities and targeting their marketing investment on vehicles that have the best potential for revenue growth and the successful development of their company.

By engaging with a company that focuses on Sales Execution (or enhancing sales productivity), you are focusing your sales resources precisely on those qualified prospects and customers that are ready to make a purchase decision in the near term (“the right contact in the right prospect company at the right time”).

There are many companies that can provide pieces of this kind of solution on an outsourced basis, some at a far lower cost than managing it internally. But the real trick is in creating an environment in which all of the pieces of the business development puzzle can work together, seamlessly, and one in which they augment one another to create true, powerful sales execution.

So, while “Retail Execution” enables a retail company to have the right product in the right place at the right time, “Sales Execution” enables a company to put their sales people in front of the right prospects at the right company at the right time.

I’d love your comments and questions.

Successful Sales and Marketing Strategies for Both Good Times and Bad

Ever notice that, even in the very toughest economic environments, 20 to 25% of companies still manage increase their sales? These winning companies are successful even in the face of the most punishing economic conditions. Their competitors, often with the same or even superior products and services, struggle and all too often fail.

What’s even more telling is that these very same companies thrive to a greater degree during good times. When everyone else is selling successfully they far outsell their competition and steadily increase their share of market.

Clearly, their success is not based on having a better solution. It’s really based upon the application of time-tested, solid sales and marketing strategies that keep them headed in the right direction regardless of the environment.

At ETI we've worked with many of these world class companies over the past 25 years. We have been witness to the strategies they employ that have created the most success. We've also learned from their failures.

We've distilled some of the insights we've gleaned from our clients' successes and many of the best practices employed by these winning organizations in a new eBook entitled Successful Sales and Marketing Strategies for Both Good Times and Bad. As a business leader with an interest in strategic business development, we'd like to share with you those strategies for success.

The eBook is yours to download for FREE by clicking here. There’s no obligation whatsoever, so click here to get your copy.

If you find it interesting, please feel free to share it and discuss it with your colleagues. And if you have any questions or comments when you’re done reading, feel free to give us a call.

A 25 year Milestone

Little did we know when we my wife Riki and my 2 sons then aged 6 and 4 arrived in the US in 1987, what an interesting and challenging thing it would be to become and succeed as an entrepreneur in the US. From our humble beginnings in a renovated barn in Greenburgh, NY to our current modern facilities in Valhalla, NY, we have continued to grow and thrive. And our family of clients and staff has also grown with us.

I’m happy to say ETI Sales Support continues to be at the forefront, in terms of technology as well as with the maturation of our unique approach to lead generation and lead qualification efforts in the B2B space. We continue to evolve, innovate and stay relevant. And, we are committed to do so in the future.

A word of thanks to all of our clients, employees and suppliers over the years. We may have created the environment, but without your support we could never have been successful.

Last night we celebrated in style at a local restaurant in Pleasantville. A good time was had by all!

~ mf

Good and bad technologies impacting the B2B Call Center

Technology has had a significant impact on how B2B Teleprospecting and Call center operations are run. Some technologies however are a positive and some negative.Here is a perspective on how ETI considers some of the primary applications:

Predictive Dialing.

  1. A technology (primarily used in Business to Consumer environments) which programs a PBX to dial ahead of the “operator” because statistically one can anticipate that X number of calls are required to find someone to talk to.
  2. When someone picks up the call is transferred to an available “operator”.

eti does not and will never entertain using such technology. Some reasons …

  • Our Business Developers (BDs) are required to fully prepare themselves prior to initialing a call.  This includes reviewing prior contact history,  notes, results as well as in circumstances doing research to familiarize themselves with the prospect company prior to engaging a prospect in a consultative dialogue.   Preparation is key in our world.
  • 99% of all businesses will answer their phones. But navigating within an organization and getting to the key stakeholder/decision maker is an entirely different matter.
  • If you’re dialing an extension then in all probability the call will be answered … even if only by the person’s voice mail. So “busys” and wrong numbers are usually not a major factor in a B2B environment.
  • Typically there is a pause – anywhere between 2 and 20 seconds while the dialer finds an operator to take the call. When this occurs the poor prospect says … Hello …. Hello … Helloooooo … until someone comes on the line. It's unlikey the prospect will view this positively?
  • Bottom line is we don't see this technology as a way to drive a high quality communications with high level prospects in complex B2B environments.

Preview Dialers.

  1. The prospect record is brought up via a call queue or search result and the prospects' telephone number can then be dialed dynamically when the BD clicks on the number.

eti has used Preview Dialing technology extensively since its inception. It’s quick and efficient and allows for adequate preparation by the BD prior to initiating a call.

Automatic dialers (aka Robo Dialers).

These systems dial numbers (usually sequentially) and deliver a prerecorded message automatically to the recipient when they pick up or on their personal voice mail. It is not used much in B2B environments for many of the same reasons that Predictive Dialers should be avoided.

Targeting consumers or business people in this manner – whether you’re a politician, a charity, credit card or a bank – is (in at least this writers opinion) unprofessional and ineffective. Indeed, it may even be regarded as a relationship-breaker.

Automatic Call Distribution (ACD).

  • This is primarily used by call centers to handle incoming calls and is effective in managing the flow and volume of calls coming in.
  • When used correctly it is very useful and practical for both the caller and the recipient organization.  The problem is that often unsuspecting callers are many times placed in holding “purgatory” for lengthy periods of time. That can be solved of course by providing sufficient levels of staffing. But, many operations don’t because that increases costs significantly.

There is nothing better (and more effective) than having a prospect call and, immediately, there is immediately someone live to talk to.  And when that person is knowledgeable, speaks their language, and relates to them culturally it is worth its weight in gold. So ACD’s in a B2B environment are useful but should be used for limited purposes.

eti does use ACD’s and endeavors to deliver the following average results.

  • 99.9% of all calls are answered by a Business Developer within 1 minute.
  • 80% within 20 seconds.
  • When a queue is backed up we provide the caller with an estimated hold time (or their position in the queue)
  • We always offer the caller the ability to leave a message. Call backs are usually initiated within 4 hours

On Line Live Chat.

  • Chat comes in two flavors: Passive and Active.
    •   Passive involves the placement of a button on a typical web page and requires the prospect to click on the link/button to engage in an interaction.
    •   Active takes a more pro-active approach. Using powerful algorithms one can program the system to pop up an invitation to chat based on the users history (clicks and pages visited) and time on the site.

While the latter can be perceived as intrusive, it is very easy for the prospect to dismiss the offer to chat. Those who do pro-actively engage can be converted to real marketing qualified leads (MQL's) if handled professionally.

eti has an expanded practice that now offers B2B Business Developers to field chat interactions. Our primary role leverages both smarts BD's, phone and chat in order to convert prospects into highly qualified sales opportunities. Please see my recent blog for more about this capability. (Note: We do not undertake technical support efforts.)

To find our more about ETI's capabilities to meet your company's lead generation needs please call 1.800.466.4384 (914.747.03030).

 

Is your channel partner selling your solution or someone else’s?

Are you confronted with a situation where a channel partner, who sells your solution as well as that of the competition's is favoring the competition? This happens all the time.

To help gain the upper hand, companies constantly come up with incentives to build direct relationships with channel partner sales people.  Relying on this strategy, however, leaves you at the whim of the channel's sales staff.  That’s not the best position to be in.

The most effective way to win consistently is to ensure you engage with the end user directly, and making sure that, when they’re ready to buy, your solution will be preferred.

That’s where an effective, ongoing lead generation effort focusing on your best targeted prospects comes in. By developing an organized ongoing lead generation effort you will achieve the following:

  • You'll build trust
  • You'll ensure that those involved in decision making are familiar with your solution and how it can best meet their needs
  • You'll lay the groundwork for the prospect to understand that your solutions is the best fit
  • You'll help promote your brand as the industry leader

When you build and nurture personal relationships consistently over time you’ll find that when prospects are ready to buy (i.e., to effect change) your company will be top of mind, the first to receive the call.

It’s an investment well worth making, and one that over time will beat the competition hands down.

Think twice before you grow your sales force!

With the economy picking up, you may be contemplating ramping up sales operations by taking on more sales staff. Some food for thought.

Depending on the additional costs of hiring a new sales person (in real terms probably about double his/her salary), you might instead want to consider investing that money in a professionally run lead generation and qualification campaign to maximize your existing sales force’s productivity.

For example - using only one sales recruit as an example (and you can play with the numbers as they may be applicable to your business): Salary - $60k + commissions.    Assume $75k (low by any standards for most B2B industries.)

Overhead x2 (travel, recruitment, training, social costs, management, etc.).  Real costs are probably in the range of $150k.

If you assume that the cost of identifying a qualified sales opportunity to be in the range of $1,000, then for the same $150k, you could deliver 150 newly minted, highly qualified sales opportunities to your existing sales force. And if the cost were $500 per qualified opportunity, that’ would present 300 new opportunities.

Looking at this conservatively (@$1k per), let’s say your sales team can convert 20% (1 out of 5 of those qualified opportunities) into a new client. That would generate 30 additional sales at your average sales value. If each average sale was worth $50k in revenue, that’s an additional $1.5 million in new revenue. (Not to mention the potential recurring value of that new client relationship).

Let’s take a more optimist tack. If the cost per qualified opportunity was actually as low as $500, and the resulting 300 additional sales opportunities converted at a better rate, such as 25%, this would net you 75 sales (to new clients).  And using the same $50k average per initial sale, this would net $3.75 million in additional revenue.

Not chump change!

So, in lieu of investing in new sales reps who need to be recruited, trained and mentored, and who will take some time and effort to hit the street running, it may well be more lucrative to increase the productivity of the existing sales force.   Also consider your recruitment success metrics.  How many new recruits  succeed out of the block.  What is your cost of failure?  And will an investment of $150k for example net you between 30 and 70 new customers with between $1.5 and $3.75 million in new net incremental revenue?  It’s doubtful.

Of course, your company might be among the very few that has a sales force that is really productive and has no need for additional qualified sales opportunities to work with.  But, in the 25 years we’ve been in business, I’ve never come across one.

Remember that for every minute your high cost field sales people are not out there selling to prospects and customers that have a need for your solutions, you’re losing a selling opportunity!

By the way, ETI has a great Sales Opportunity cost calculator that you may find useful.

For more on how ETI can help you ramp up your sales please call us at 1.800.466.4384 (914.747.3030).

Can a highly qualified lead EVER be worth $500?

The other day I received an invitation from a group moderator on LinkedIn to weigh in on a discussion in his group on the topic “Can a highly qualified lead EVER be worth $500?” It seems that they had conducted a group survey that showed that, despite the fact over 55% of respondents said they get more than $10,000 in revenue from the average customer in a given year, only 8.8% of the survey participants felt that they would be willing to pay $500 for a super-duper qualified B2B lead.

He asked me “Why do you think so few companies are willing to pay $500 for a highly qualified lead? Have leads simply become passé? Do few companies even know what to do with good leads to begin with?”

My response went something like this:

It seems to me that some of the respondents to your question spoke to some of the metrics that matter such as closing ratios, acquisition cost and margins; others raised the issue of trust (also extremely important). I didn't see anyone address lifetime value of a new relationship or even ROI (perhaps I gave up reading too soon). In my view, those are more important issues (along with trust). But they are still beside the point.

The basic flaw in the question is why does the cost of a lead matter at all? Buying leads, no matter how qualified, is a bottom-feeding strategy doomed to failure.

The key to lasting business development success is in investing in building a systematic methodology for touching prospects proactively, profiling their interests and challenges (what keeps them up at night), raising their awareness of your brand and solutions and building their trust and nurturing a relationship by engaging them in ways in which they can address successfully those things that disturb their sleep and the areas in which they have expressed interest.

The objective should NOT be to buy prospects, not matter how qualified. It should be driven toward investing in a growing prospect pipeline that will feed and nurture your company for many years to come, and has the potential to retain those clients for the long term once they have been converted from prospect status to client. The argument is akin to the analogy of providing a hungry person with a fish rather than teaching them how to fish so they never have to ask you for food again.

In the final analysis, a thoughtful lead generation buyer (and seller) should move their focus away from cost per lead (or even acquisition cost, which is far more meaningful) to infrastructure investment. Move the focus from one-off outcomes to a built to last solution and you'll change the tenor of the dialogue significantly.

Half of all sales inquiries are no good. The challenge is finding which half.

Guest post by James W. Obermayer, CEO of the Sales Lead Management Association www.salesleadmgmtassn.com. Well, this isn’t entirely true.  The actual number is 45% of all inquiries turn into a sale for someone.   When Mike Simon (founder of Inquiry Handling Service, now Harte Hanks) taught me that number, I was a wee communications manager just out of college.  The information changed my marketing and sales career.

Of course, I only half believed him that half of the inquiries I gave our salespeople at Beckman Instruments were as worthy as he contended.   I had to prove it to myself.

After completing several “Did You Buy Studies” (necessary because the salespeople reported back on only 25% of the inquiries given them), sure enough…45% of inquirers had bought something within one year (we surveyed inquirers that were 12 months old).  24-26% of inquirers bought something that were six months old (yep, we went to a different group).   And 12-15% of inquirers bought within three months from a different set only three months old.

Yes, we measured conversion from a single source (tied to avoid mixed sources), but always from a single point in time within 30 days.

Once we had these numbers, I started to report to management on the ROI from various lead generation sources.  That stirred up a few hornets.  Some sacred-cow lead generation sources were proved to be less than stellar, while some thought to be ‘fillers’ were purchasing more than expected.

The variable we found was us.  We knew that our lead generation activities found buyers, but with only 25% follow-up by our salespeople we were not participating in 75% of the opportunities.  Duh!

Simple variable, but oh so hard to change!

Increase follow-up and you will increase sales.   We found that increasing follow-up, by almost any means, increased sales.   Hence, the justified claims from marketing automation software and lead generation and qualification companies that their programs increased sales 200-300%.  No surprise there.

The lesson learned?  If you can’t get your salespeople to follow up 100% of the inquiries, find an outside firm to nurture the leads for you.  No budget?  Think about the lost opportunities.  Begging your salespeople to do the obvious usually doesn’t work.  Spend a few bucks and have professionals nurture the leads until each is sales ready.

Toss in nurturing with a marketing automation program and you’ll be beating 75% of your competitors.  Why only 75% you ask?  That’s because 25% have already figured out that half of the inquirers buy something from someone… and that someone is the person and company that follows up.

James Obermayer, Sales & Marketing 365, A year of wisdom at your fingertips, Racom Communications, Chicago, Il, Number 14 of 365 Tips & Tricks,  http://www.racombooks.com/

What was the biggest b-2-b marketing success in 2011?

The other day we were asked by an editor at the American Marketing Association for an answer to the question “What was the biggest b-2-b marketing success in 2011?” Because she was on deadline, she wanted a response via email. My first thought was that it was not an easy question to answer, and I told her that.Then I went on to say:

With regard to your request, as I said in the voice message I left for you a short while ago, I don't think it's easy to transmit via email the complexity of a response to your question about the biggest B2B marketing success in 2011.

Certainly the widespread (and growing) use of marketing automation tools has had an impact on the environment. But, this technology is only a tool that has been added to the arsenal of those who are actively marketing in the B2B space. It is far from a panacea.

Like all tools that seem to be game changers, a cult begins to arise around them. These tools and techniques are being promoted as the key to sales success. Not too far behind are those who profess that social media (from Facebook and Twitter to LinkedIn) are competitors for the mantle of greatest thing since sliced bread.

But the truth is that the principles of selling remain unchanged, most especially in the arena of complex, non-commoditized products and services. The key to success in that arena is the ability to build trust relationships, and all of the technology in the world is inferior to personal connection when building trust. There are no technological shortcuts available.

Social media and technology can assist in the process by streamlining and enabling but, in the final analysis, a sale is consummated only after a good listener can engage the key stakeholders in an organization in a consultative dialogue about what keeps them up at night and how to best find a solution that will help them rest more easily.

Then, this morning, I received an email from Ari Galper entitled “Predictions and the New Currency of Business for 2012” and, lo and behold, he said pretty much the same thing. It’s a worthwhile read. He even posits that direct mail will make a comeback. I’m not sure that I quite agree with that one, buy maybe….

In any case, sales people and marketers are no different from anyone else in the sense that we are always seeking the Holy Grail — the magic bullet. Whether we’re thinking about weight loss, making money, making friends or any other human endeavor, there really are no shortcuts. The universal truth is that all of this requires hard work and concentrated effort to reach a level of success. And in the world of sales, nothing beats developing and cultivating a trusting relationship. Nothing.

Are you losing business because of your choice of words?

Today’s Guest Blogger is Joseph Olewitz .  In addition to being Founder and Principal Consultant at 22nd Story Strategies, Inc., Joseph currently shares experiences derived from years of pitching large professional services deals to major corporate brands on his blog: Intentional Growth. How precise is your business language? When Shelly Sachs of ETI Sales Support asked me to write a guest post, I immediately thought of the lesson I learned from him earlier this year. Even though I always operate as though word choice is critical, in a joint presentation we were making to a client of mine, Shelly pointed out that I had represented a core part of my recommended strategy as promoting the “USP” (Unique Selling Proposition) when it seemed that using “UVP” (Unique Value Proposition) as a title for the same presentation would be more customer-centric and a much better focus on benefits. I have not only used this term with other clients until now, but I also had recently written a blog about using USP to increase revenue.

Mea Culpa: Shelly was right of course and that caused me not only to immediately correct USP to UVP but to realize that I had been using a lot of terms in my vocabulary for a long time and that regular re-examination and consideration of language is imperative. “Sales” in my universe is a powerful and useful term – but not always! In services sales, when talking about the relationship between my offering and my client’s they want to know how I will help them increase sales or revenues. However, their customer wants to know about the “Value” that’s being brought to market and that’s the term that should be used when describing your unique positioning.

I am now regularly reviewing words chosen for business communications with an additional POV perch – that of asking the question: “How powerful and how appropriate is that term in this specific context?” And I think we all need to do that much more often.

Some thoughts:

  • Ask some of your clients to read and comment on existing promotional material – with no sacred cows (include website, one-sheets, signage and more).
  • Have someone who was not involved in the writing review the proposal before it’s sent out.
  • Carefully look at how the client will respond to the pitch language (is it culturally appropriate?)
  • Remember to keep revising as time goes on, things change – and you do, too.

I’m now more attuned to the downfalls of complacency – how about you?

The Marketing Automation Donut Hole

One of the key elements of Marketing Automation is the ability to track and then score how prospects navigate your website. The idea assumes that certain behaviors (clicks, downloads, etc.) indicate a relative level of interest in your products or solutions.The problem is that, in many cases, the person doing the research by visiting your site is not the decision maker but, more often, an assistant or surrogate. This is more likely the case if you have complex products being marketed to equally complex companies and decision making environments.In this case, there is some level of interest no question - but just how much interest and the locus of their concerns requires direct engagement in a conversation that allows you to quality and quantify need, imperative and interest as well as who are the relevant decision makers who will engage in any purchase decision. The best time to do that is precisely when the prospect is nibbling, and that may be the best time to have ETI initiate a contact on your behalf. We’ll get in front of the prospects, identify all of the key stakeholders, and engage in a (consultative) dialogue to ferret out all of the dynamics of the situation and fully qualify it.  If you don’t do it first, then your competition might beat you to the punch. Remember, the prospect isn’t waiting around for their score to get higher.

For more information about how we can help you maximize your Marketing Automation investment give us a call at 914.747.3030.  (We already have successful integrations with Eloqua, MarketBright and ActOn.)

And, if you haven’t yet invested in a marketing automation solution, but have an interest in exploring one, we’d be happy to work with you to make that happen.

Marketing automation revisited

Shortly after my last blog post (“Content may be king; relationships are personal”), I came across the September 19 issue of BtoB Magazine. I noticed some interesting graphics on the Opinion Page that provided poll results for some recent Webcasts. I actually found these data fascinating. If you’re seeing them for the very first time, you might well share my interest.

In the first chart we discover that more than a third of those who responded to the August Webcast survey were regularly employing marketing automation technology, and that an additional 20% were in an early deployment phase. So more than half of those folks are using marketing automation techniques, and the balance are considering deployment.

It’s hard to know the degree of overlap between the attendees of the August Webcast and those who attended the one in September, but I think it’s safe to assume that the audience was not all that dissimilar. And, if the overlap was significant, then the results of the survey to the September Webcast are quite disconcerting.

That survey asked respondents to assess their level of sophistication in data cleansing. The clear takeaway from their responses is that three quarters of them have real concerns about the integrity of their data and that fewer than 4% are highly confident that their data are sufficiently clean and up to date.

The follow up question, related to the same webcast, drives that point home with a sledgehammer. Nearly three in five respondents feel they are either merely tossing stuff on the wall and hoping it sticks, or have significant doubts that they really know the audience to whom they are marketing.

I fully realize that the Webcast was designed to drive home exactly that point, and to encourage people to focus their efforts on data cleansing. Nevertheless, I find that result astonishing. Why in the world would a company use marketing automation tools to send streams of automated messages to people about whom they know virtually nothing? How do you think the recipients feel about the companies who are, at best, sending them material in which they likely have no interest and, at worst, are spamming them?

In my view, this is not a ringing endorsement for the use of marketing automation. I am a firm believer in the notion that every time I touch a customer or prospective customer, I need to bring positive value for them to that encounter. I can’t see how I could do that without first knowing something about them, can you?

The Case for and against a Universal Lead Definition (ULD)

There is a tendency by some marketing departments (pushed possibly by some marketing consultancies) to develop a Universal Lead Definition for their organizations.  The idea of course, is to get buy in from Sales to say that if you (Marketing) send me a lead with XY & Z characteristics then this meets our definition of a good lead and that in turn we (Sales) will commit to investing the time and resources in trying to close this opportunity.From the outset let me say I’ve never been in favor of this approach.  Especially if the definition consists of a tight BANT (Budget, Authority, Need and Timing) definition.  See Sheldon Sach’s detailed blog on this subject.

That said there are some positives.  If Sales accepts and commit to this arrangement and do actually invest time and resources then the alignment of Sales and Marketing is greatly improved and even if the leads are not what they might be then overall result will be more positive.  And from marketing’s standpoint they now have an agreed to formula to perform to. But there are lots of negatives.

First having worked with both marketing and sales departments for some 24 years I can tell you that in all this time I have yet to see a sales operation that will dance to marketing’s tune – regardless of the upfront commitments.  The one time I’ve seen some success is when management made a huge commitment to implementing a strategy and when the sales force balked – they fired 50% of them.  Are you ready to do this?  Most companies are not. The fact is a good sales lead involves a lot of subjectivity.  There are inevitably countless nuances that cannot be quantified of scored in any way.

Here is a list of some factors that are beyond the usefulness of a ULD:

  • Some sales people are good closers.  Some are not.
    • Some sales people feel a lead must be an order taking opportunity while others understand that it’s just a foot in the door.
  • The Pareto principle applies as much to Sales – as it does to Marketing
    • 80% of sales are brought in by your top 20% salespeople
    • Only 20% of leads provided by Marketing closes
    • Only 20% of leads provided by Marketing are worthwhile
    • And so on.
  • Some leads may have long lead times … others will close in the short term.
    • Typically the larger more complex sales take longer to close and many sales people cannot be bothered because it will not affect their quota in the short term.
    • Yes sales people for the most part do not see the long term.  And even if they do they do not manage a pipeline for the long term.
  • More and more there is no one decision maker.  Even in the smallest companies decisions are now being made by (formal or informal) committees.
  • If the lead fits the BANT model you’re probably too late for the party.

At ETI we’ve opted for a more customized approach.  We prefer to work with individual sales people and deliver tailored leads that work for them.

Can one effectively do this?  Of course and we’ve done so for many years.   Which do you prefer? Do you prefer pushing a standard lead model (a round peg) down a square (sales force) hole?

Give us a call at 1.800.466.4384 (914.747.3030).  We’ll be happy to discuss this and other needs you may have in more detail.

 

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