The Changing Sales Landscape – The Buyer

Prognostication is risky. Especially when it comes to business.

This article goes out on a bit of a limb, connecting seismic shifts in B2B purchasing to a new set of competencies professional sales people will need to be more efficient producers.

In this first of four articles, we’ll look at the buyer.

By now, we are all familiar with this insight from The Challenger Sale (2012):

Corporate Executive Board (CEB) reported that “In our most recent survey of thousands of participants in a typical B2B purchase, we found that on average customers are nearly 60% of the way through a purchase prior to proactively reaching out to a supplier for their input.” (2012, Adamson, CEB Blog).

The purchase dance of old will never be the same. The days of the salesperson showing up on a white horse with a previously unknown product or solution are long gone.

Front and center today are:

  • Information
  • Product
  • Service and Adoption

Information about products, services, and brands – once hard to get – is now as close as your search bar. And companies who at first were shy about dipping their toes into the waters of Sales/Marketing 2.0 are now, in 2013-2014, all wet.

White papers, presentations, articles, and videos – the backbone of search, email, and lead generation efforts and the domain of marketing – are trumpeting the value propositions of B2B businesses products and services all over the internet before the salesperson even opens their mouth.

The product is on a higher pedestal than ever before. The “digital enabled sales model” allows for trials of nearly fully functioning cloud-based software and solutions. Trials are now an expected part of the sales process – and at no cost.  So too is the “competitive shoot-out” where customers conduct exhaustive due diligence before making any major purchase decision.

While healthy relationship skills may get salespeople in the door, to actually win the deal, the product must prevail empirically.

Finally, shifts in revenue recognition practices mandated by Sarbanes-Oxley (recognizing sales monthly and not in one big up front lump sum) has put the spotlight on service and adoption.  With annual subscriptions and “seats” in play every year, vendors must make sure that products not only do as promised, but they must also actually get used. Detailed web analytics make adoption stats impossible to avoid. On-boarding, training, service – not the usual domain of sales – can make the difference between an increase or a drop (or sharp cut in the number of seats) at renewal time.

What does this all this mean for the sales professional?

Next time we’ll look at The Changing Sales Landscape – The Hunter.

References

McKinsey Digital Sales Model retrieved from http://www.forbes.com/sites/mckinsey/2013/10/15/sales-disruption-eruption-b2b-sales-go-consumer/

Challenger Sale quote retrieved from http://www.executiveboard.com/blogs/the-single-most-important-question-for-the-challenger-sale/?business_line=sales-service

The Changing Sales Landscape – The Hunter

The traditional sales “hunter” is in trouble.

That “large Rolodex” is about as dated as the strategy of hiring a well-connected veteran rep to lead the new business charge.

Most b2b purchasing decisions today are made by committee – not by that one key contact. Plus, more tactically, decision makers (and the public) simply don’t pick up their phones anymore.

And voice-mail? Well, a recent Harvard Business Review (HBR) blog post title says it all, “Time to hang up on voicemail!”

Sophisticated auto-dialers, including some that mask caller ID, have basically killed the cold call as a reliable tool for sales people.

Even the venerated PewResearch struggles with response rates for their highly respected surveys:

The growth in the number of unsolicited telephone calls has also resulted in people employing more sophisticated technology for screening their calls (e.g., voice mail, caller identification, call blocking and privacy managers). This has resulted in fewer people participating in telephone polls … response rates have continued to decline over the past decade. (2012. PewResearch)

With the outbound phone call nearly dead, what does a hunter need to do to grab a b2b buyers attention?

LaughingSquid reported a case of a photographer creating action figures of himself and sending them out to prospects to get their attention. This story went viral. As creative as this approach is, doesn’t it smack of desperation? After all, getting in the door, even with an action figure, hardly guarantees you will win the sale.

As a result, smart companies no longer seek veteran sales pros to smile and dial their way to the next big contract.  Instead, they focus on lead generation vehicles like organic and paid search, AdWords, webinars, and email campaigns – mostly all the domain of marketing – to find the next qualified prospect.

And in this brave new world of prospecting, what matters most? Timing.

Again from the HBR,

… leads go cold—a phenomenon we explored in a separate study, which involved 1.25 million sales leads received by 29 B2C and 13 B2B companies in the U.S. Firms that tried to contact potential customers within an hour of receiving a query were nearly seven times as likely to qualify the lead (which we defined as having a meaningful conversation with a key decision maker) as those that tried to contact the customer even an hour later— and more than 60 times as likely as companies that waited 24 hours or longer.  Oldroyd J., McElheran K. & Elkington D.. “The Short Life of Online Sales Leads.” Harvard Business Review. March 2011.

Consequently, many organizations with an eye to winning new business are investing in sales enablement tools that quickly route leads to the right person. Along the way, these prospects are scored and appended with rich internal and 3rd party intelligence that helps the rep better qualify and ultimately move the sale. This blend of sales and technology is the new frontier. Done well it’s art.

Even when done poorly, it is still better than ‘there are your phone and computer, now go make some sales Tiger!”

Hunters today should:

  • Be adroit with technology. CRM and sales enablement tools are mission critical to winning a new deal.
  • Be quick studies that are good on the phone. A rep who can quickly digest information about the customer and then casually bring it into the conversation will elevate the conversation and gain trust.
  • Be happy being part of a team. Being able to hand off at the right time to the right person keeps the sales process alive. Customer acquisition, once the domain of the lone wolf,  is now a team sport loaded with effective handoffs.

Next time: The Changing Sales Landscape – The Account Rep

References

PewResearch retrieved from: http://www.people-press.org/methodology/collecting-survey-data/the-problem-of-declining-response-rates/

HBR retrieved from http://blogs.hbr.org/2013/09/time-to-hang-up-on-voice-mail/

HBR retrieved from: http://hbr.org/2011/03/the-short-life-of-online-sales-leads/ar/1

Laughing Squid retrieved from: http://laughingsquid.com/photographer-makes-400-action-figures-of-himself-for-clever-self-promotion-mailer/

What Can We Learn from Hubspot About Marketing

Remember the classic oversimplification of product, price, and promotion – the so-called three Ps?

They are all still very much in play only much differently. The internet has really put that last P (promotion) through the wringer.

Way back when the formula was pretty well established.  Agencies, long before Adobe CS6 brought advanced capabilities the masses, held many of the marketing cards. Ad copy and layouts, brochures and the campaigns that used them were largely the domain of the all-powerful Agency. Marketing had advice, but for many companies choosing the right agency and creative was the key to success. Well executed campaigns trumped superior products.

Marketers, back at the office, were concerned specifically with “direct marketing”  and generating leads for their sales departments. Here too the formula was pretty well-worn. Participate in trade shows soliciting business cards while there in attendance. Purchase 3rd party lists and create a database. Mail to them. Call them. With a bit of targeting, the right message, and some frequency with mail and calls this was a sure way to produce qualified leads that would lead to sales.

Today this is not the way it works. Agencies don’t swing the same big club they used to as high-quality creative has gone in-house or can be crowdsourced for much less. Plus, there is shrinking evidence that high-concept (read expensive) agency engagements offer measurable ROI. Volatility in the agency space has ensued, and there have been some very odd mergers and acquisitions signaling a potential paradigm shift within that space. It’s still shaking out.

The real product, more than ever before, has come front and center. Competitive differentiations and product limitations can not be glossed over as product details are now discoverable on the internet. Products must perform as advertised or they won’t survive.  Bad news travels fast on the web.

Direct marketing too has seen its share of seismic shifts.  Snail mail may still have its place, but far more limited that ever.  And calling? Well, how many decision makers answer their phones these days? Going out on a limb here…NONE! With caller ID the only chance a sales person has to get through to a decision maker is by using questionable harassment tactics with auto-dialers and calls placed off hours.

For many businesses, the marketing game is shifting from lists acquired through purchase to more “organic” lists built with prospect click-throughs sourced from organic and paid search. Creating these types of lists requires some pretty heavy lifting for a companies infrastructure.

Organic lead gen and capture usually require at least a content management system (CMS), an email service provider (ESP), and some search engine optimization (SEO) for paid and organic search. Each one of these areas is a specialty unto themselves with many vendors, platforms, and approaches. Coordinating these disparate technologies to produce tangible results can be a cultural and IT high wire act. It’s tough. This whole activity now comes under the umbrella called  “Inbound Marketing.”

Enter Hubspot. Founded in 2006, Hubspot is the golden child of the tech pre-IPO world. This is because Hubspot has carved a unique niche for themselves providing all this marketing/lead gen infrastructure to their over 8,000 clients in a way that actually works.  With intuitive dashboards providing robust analytics, Hubspot’s value proposition is always front and center, and for now, rock solid.

Hubspot also has an unrivaled content marketing machine that produces fantastic Infographics, PowerPoints, and Whitepapers (largely about themselves). Search the web for marketing, leads, email, and similar topics Hubspot comes on the first page with terrific original content that takes you back to their landing page that captures your email address. This is their model. They practice what they preach. They do it brilliantly. Hence the over $100 million in investment capital.

But as rabid as their customers are frustrations are brewing in the nascent inbound marketing space. It is the age-old marketing problem of not producing enough high-quality leads. As good a job as Hubspot does, many of their clients need more leads that the Hubspot tool/method provides. By itself, Inbound marketing simply doesn’t get the job done. More mature marketers will deploy both inbound and outbound strategies to meet their growth goals.

The big question is whether inbound marketing, a relatively new tool for generating leads, offers something sustainable for marketers. One has to concede that much of the success with inbound has been with early adopters. Many have been able to get the upper hand against stodgy market leaders with lame multipurpose websites that add no value to their customer bases. In addition to not being optimized for search, many of these sites don’t even answer the most basic customer questions. Oh, and many of these sites have no landing pages that capture leads.

Content evangelist and author Jay Baer (of website Convince and Convert) speak of a paradigm shift to “helping” from selling. Baer suggests that businesses who give real value through their content will sell more. He references Marcus Sheridan who created a unique website about fiberglass pools. By anticipating and answering almost every question someone buying a pool would ask, Sheridan’s company differentiated themselves and actually grew during the recent recession selling pools!  It’s a great story, and Bauer and Sheridan encourage others to learn from their model of serving the customer with relevant content. Sheridan is now a consultant and huge Hubspot advocate.

The dark cloud on the horizon for inbound has precedent with “showrooming” in retail. Showrooming is where a customer gathers information about a product from a brick and mortar retail store he has no intention of buying from. He goes in the store, asks all kinds of product questions, then purchases somewhere else. This practice is partly what killed “Good to Great” company Circuit City. Circuit City educated tens of thousands of customers who then made more informed purchases at Wal-Mart, Target, and Costco where the price was lower. For Americans, where price is king, the helping strategy was not an effective one.

It remains to be seen if “killer content” on the web will do better than great information provided by retailers like Circuit City did. Once everyone is creating their own content, the first mover advantage will be gone.

When that happens, the more ominous fact will emerge. The sheer volume of tweets, posts, discussions, events, whitepapers, articles, presentations and websites that will be generated for the search engines to index and navigate will be staggering. They already are. Pingdom reported that 51 million websites were added to the web in 2012 putting the site total at 634 million. The total number of pages on the internet?  It’s likely in the trillions.

Finally, there is the very practical issue of time. Searching, reading, signing up for white papers and attending webinars takes time. A lot of time. Do really B2B buyers and decision makers have an unlimited supply of time to engage with all who will be leveraging Hubspot inbound tactics? This is a rhetorical “no.”

Do B2B sellers need to be found on the internet? Absolutely. Do they need materials that clearly explain what they offer? Yes. Do they need prospect and customer lists to market to? Yes. And finally, do they need salespeople to manage the sales process? Yes. Sounds likes the same things marketers have always needed. “Meet the new boss, same as the old boss!”

So is Hubspot and inbound marketing the future of commercialization? Partly, yes.

Credits

Image: ©iStockphoto.com/StalkerJ

Convince and Convert article retrieved from http://www.convinceandconvert.com/integrated-marketing-and-media/is-youtility-the-future-of-marketing/

Smartphone Checking Disorder – SCD

Are you more interested in your smartphone than friends, family, or coworkers?

You are not alone.

According to the Mobile Mindset study conducted May 2012 by Harris Research for Lookout Mobile Security, the stats may give you pause.

The key findings were:

  • 60% of smartphone users can’t go an hour without checking their phones.
  • 40% check their phone on the toilet.
  • 30% check their phone during a meal with others.
  • 24% check their phone while driving.

Those randomly sampled responses were from adults. Don’t they seem low?

Mary Meeker & Liang Wu in their 2013 Internet Trends report for Kleiner Perkins Caulfield Byers (KPCB) said smartphone owners check their phones an average of 150 times a day. That sounds a bit more like it.

So why do so many engage in what is clearly rude and sometimes downright dangerous behavior?

I’m convinced it’s because they are compelled to.  It’s beyond the user’s conscious control. It’s some sort of disease.

Dr. Buzz Ringer of Cell Tech says, “I call it Compulsive Smartphone Checking Disorder (CSCD), and it belongs in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) alongside Internet Addiction Disorder.”

“In fact,” the graduate of the Florida College of Communication (FCC) continues, “I’d tell you more, but I have a call coming in now I just have to take!”

This is obviously a bit of silly fiction, but it does illustrate how people have no idea they are rude or dangerous to those around them.

And is it all that far-fetched? Internet Addiction Disorder was actually is in the DSM-IV. For real!

Then there is “Nomophobia” – no-mobile-phone phobia – coined in 2008 during a UK study conducted by YouGuv showing increased anxiety levels in people who do not have immediate cell phone contact.

The point here is that every technological advance may include a downside. With smartphones, I am sure most have no idea how often they check them.

Start paying attention!

And here’s a novel idea – put it away or turn it off for several hours EVERY DAY. At lunch, during meetings, and while driving at the minimum. You may be surprised to learn that you can actually keep your job while being more efficient at getting things done. Email, texts, and calls are often a disruption that takes you out of whatever you are supposed to be concentrated on doing.

Smartphones are great – but so too is civility.

Credits

Image: ©iStockphoto.com/StalkerJ

Mail Online article retrieved from http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-2141169/The-biggest-phobia-world-Nomophobia–fear-mobile–affects-66-cent-us.html

Psychology Today article retrieved from http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/reading-between-the-headlines/201307/smartphone-addiction

How Am i Doing – Three Quick Spot Check Questions

I don’t know about anyone else, but for me, I am always doing a “how I am doing on my life journey” type of gut-check.

Not sure this is a good thing either. To paraphrase and slightly amend Socrates, “The over-examined life is not worth living!”

Over examination is so automatic in our self-centered, self-obsessed, “Me, me, me!” culture.

Plus, I am not entirely confident in my ability to objectively self-assess.

As Nobel laureate, Richard Feynman famously said, “One rule of life, never fool yourself while remembering you are the easiest to fool!”

Often my expectations are simply out of whack. America’s cultural obsession with celebrity and wealth as the barometers of success have scarred me with the belief that if I am not a billionaire with six-pack abs, I have somehow messed up. That’s just ridiculous, isn’t it?

So to “right size” my life, I do the following spot check. This helps me simplify my life.

Am I happy and at peace now?

If the answer is yes, move on.

If the answer is no, then I need to work and fix it right away. After all, nothing trumps being happy and at peace.

Good news is there is lots of research and information on how to remedy a lack of happiness and peace. Surprisingly, happiness has little to do with what we might think it does. Abs and millions by themselves aren’t enough.

It turns out it is the little things in life that give the most to a happy demeanor.

As for peace-of-mind – that’s a bit more complex. Physical components like regular exercise, healthy eating, and adequate sleep are integral parts of the inner-peace recipe. So too is meditation.  Maybe not so surprisingly, it is altruism – doing for others without expecting anything in return – that may have the biggest impact on feeling peaceful.

Do I have great people in my life that I interact with regularly!

Again, if the answer is yes, move on.

When I was a brooding loner in high school, my older brother told me that “life is about other people, it’s not all about Jim!” Wow, was he ever right!

Since then I have worked consistently at bringing people I like and admire into my life. Not surprisingly, this has required effort. But for the returns I get, I have found the effort to be small.

What do I do to develop and keep up these relationships?  I make them a priority! I like them first and lower my expectations of what I need from them. I see it as my job, not theirs to be the friend!

A wise man told me once, “Friends are hard to get and once gotten, impossible to replace!” They are worth all the effort!

And one last thing – when I am with someone – I give them my full attention. I turn the phone off. I listen and pay attention during the time we’re together.

Am I growing – personally and professionally?

This is the one I find hardest to self-assess as my emotions often cloud the reality in both arenas.  I make the mistake of taking things personally (often in the wrong way) when I really should not.

In graduate school, my thesis adviser told me my first draft was, “not graduate school material.”  Ouch! I took it personally and got all defensive.

But, you know what, the time he was making to point out the errors and directing me to how to fix them represented a real care for me being successful. There was no reason to be defensive or feel hurt. That interfered with what he was actually trying to do, help me get better.

Friends and coworkers are the right people to seek feedback from. Keep in mind, that in almost all cases, underlying their comments is almost always a sincere desire to help.

So not growing? Then it is time to take a risk – step out and challenge yourself.  Raise the bar on yourself, learn or do something new.

Getting married, becoming a dad, going to grad school, and changing jobs were all risks that I had balked at due to fear of things that never happened.

Ironically, those are the events in my life that have helped me grow the most and made contributed most to my happiness.

Come to think of it, why should I have been afraid anyway?

So if you answer these questions yes, you might get a break from all those ab crunches at the gym tonight!

The New Simplicity – Alacrity with Complexity

150 years ago, in a shack he built in the woods, Henry David Thoreau wrote, “Simplify, simplify, simplify!”

In saying this, the Harvard grad and one-time pencil maker tapped into a seemingly perennial human yearning for simplicity in all things.

This desire for simplicity remains today in full force. Look no further than “The Life-Changing Magic of  Tidying Up – The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing” – a NY Times best-seller for over a year.  Here the promised payoff for the right simplification is “life-changing magic!”

As anyone who has made a trip to Goodwill knows, the thrill of finally getting rid of that turntable that had been collecting dust in the garage is short lived and hardly prestidigitating.   Years later when you learn that vinyl is shockingly back in vogue, you may experience some simplifiers remorse – wishing you still had that sick AR record player.

That book, however, is about possessions.  It’s been almost three decades since comedian George Carlin nailed this idea about “a place for your stuff.” We don’t need to watch an episode of “Hoarders” to understand that having too much stuff might be a tad psychotic.

What about the complimentary urge to simplifying life itself?

Haven’t working, relationships and parenting become similarly cluttered with complexity?  Can’t we tidy those up! Can’t we apply a few foundational principles and make everything proceed swimmingly?

I so want to believe we can. I even wrote and article about it here.

My calculus here would be to blend the golden rule, Kant’s Categorical Imperative, Moore’s Law, and Occam’s Razor into some jacked-up formula I could apply to my life.  I would achieve perfect harmony. I could understand morality, reciprocity, growth and parsimony through the deft application of these principles in one magnificent and unselfish life.

Unfortunately, these are merely carbohydrates and white sugar infused treats I crave devoid of any real nutritional value.

As the Bard of Baltimore, H.L. Mencken said, “There is always an easy solution to every human problem, neat, plausible and wrong.”

You mean to suggest that the monthly Harvard Business Review article that breaks down every major business problem into three points might be a tad oversimplified?

The world we live in, arguably, is more complicated than ever. There are more data points, more connections, and richer matrixes that define the systems in the world. Add to this the information torrent created by technology that shows no sign of slowing down.  It seems logical that meaningful problem-solving today should acknowledge and address these complex, systems-oriented layers.  Anything else should be considered sophistry.

And if we believe in Miller’s Law – the so-called “magic number” of seven plus or minus two being the limits of human memory/cognition – this comfort with complexity is innately difficult if not impossible without the help of machines.

And there is the rub: do we crave simple solutions because they are more in line with our innate capacity?

Whether it is that or just because simplicity has an irresistibly elegant aesthetic – the truth is we need to move beyond the simple if we want to solve today’s problems which are complex.

What we need is an alacrity with complexity. This is the new simplicity. This “new simplicity” stretches human capacity with the help technology. 

We also need to not get bogged down with overwhelm every time we get hit with a multi-dimensional issue or problem.

My millennial co-workers do this every day remaining calm while juggling cell phones, chats, social networks, and the constant blast of podcasts and music into their always-in head buds. It’s amazing. Whatever we “mature” folks argue about “Myth of Multitasking” the undeniable reality is “some are good at it.”

The challenge then for all of us is to embrace this new standard knowing the desire for something simpler is a useless vestige. A phantom artifact from our days “in the woods” that needs to be abandoned if we are to move forward and tackle some complex problems.

Some Rules For Business Smartphone Use – Avoid Rudeness Creep

We all know that smartphones can provide maps and directions, a quick shot of information on virtually any topic (in the nick of time), and in most cities, they can hail you an Uber. They can take professional quality pictures. They can text. Most importantly, they can receive and deliver email, all the time, from nearly everywhere.

As a result, we can’t leave these devices alone. They are irresistible. Gallup reported we check our smartphones hundreds of times a day. This constant checking addiction is a real problem as the Huffington Post reports that 1 in 4 traffic accidents is caused by texting and driving.

One unforeseen consequence of smartphone ubiquity has occurred in the workplace as jobs for many have become increasingly an “always on” affair. Traditional boundaries around work and working are now completely blurred as it is now possible to check in at work, via email accessed through the smartphone, anywhere anytime.

The result is a new worker expectation – being available evenings, weekends, and holidays.  Anecdotally I know this is true. I have seen coworkers deliver email replies during weddings, surgeries, baby deliveries, funerals, client meetings, and even during annual reviews. The new work day, thanks to the smartphone, is 24/7/365.

Whatever the business value is of all this connectivity, can we pause for a moment and think, at what price?

I mean, isn’t it sort of rude to let those in your direct company play second fiddle to your phone/work during a meeting, meal or vacation? I think it is.

Moreover, I see in myself and others a general “rudeness creep” that is becoming more tolerated thanks in part to smartphones and this new always-on worker.

I don’t like it – I don’t want to be rude. So, I have adopted a few rules for myself:

  • Give people my undivided attention. Leave the phone in the car. Turn the computer off. Don’t multi-task when there is someone in front of me. BTW- what is more valuable than your undivided attention? Nothing.
  • Ask others for their undivided attention. What is more rude, someone ignoring you while they multi-task or requesting someone’s full attention during your time together? Chances are they don’t even know they are not giving it to you or that it matters.
  • Ask permission to use the smartphone. “Would you mind if I checked my email or looked up something on Wikipedia?” It may be rude, but at least you were polite about it.
  • Make holidays – holidays! My family deserves my full attention on a vacation – why bring them all into work? Impossible with your job/company? Then set up one or two check-in times with work. You may be surprised to learn they’ll survive and you’ll return to work more rested with greater zeal!
  • Have smartphone free times/zones.  Ordering your Starbucks coffee in person while simultaneously talking on the phone? Great way to disrespect two people at that same time. Sneaking peeks at your phone during a business meeting and missing the key point? Maybe adopt some smartphone free zones.  I know several companies that now require all smartphones be turned into a basket during certain events/meetings. Great idea. Imagine, undistracted collaboration!

Look, I know Digital Natives think these ideas are the ridiculous vestige of a bygone era where face to face meetings was, well, overvalued. The more quick assessment for them is, “the smartphone is an innocuous part of a new more efficient reality that improves work and life. So, deal with it old man!”

Perhaps.

But isn’t that sort of rude? Doesn’t it make my point?