by Katie Weisz Estimated read time: Less than 1 minute
The conversation of “Do we really need outbound sales anymore?” continued with another lively interview, this time featuring special guest, Brent Adamson. Brent is a distinguished VP at Gartner, and a published author with a lot to say about the case between sales and marketing.
In the interview, CEO, Scott Gillum, and Brent unpack the idea of Challenger, debunking it as a “sales methodology”, and how both sales and marketing should be co-owning the process of the customer and buyer experience.
Brent also shares three very distinctive approaches (giving, telling, and sense-making) that sales reps are adopting towards information in order to connect with potential customers and buyers.
In this clip, Brent dives into the topic of “the world is crowded with good information.” In sales and marketing, the customer is now surrounded by good, quality information, which is having an impact on their decision making and buying process.
To hear the interview with Brent, listen or download here.
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A couple years ago during Gartner’s Sales and Marketing Thought Leaders roundtable, I asked the group, “Do we really need sales anymore?”
The question was in response to research Gartner shared about the challenges facing sales in gaining a consensus from the internal buying group to move forward with a purchase decision. This insight, built on top of the previous CEB (now Gartner) research showing that buyers are 57% of the way through the sales process before engaging sales, prompted me to think about their effectiveness.
Knowing that half of the room was filled with sales thought leaders, I asked the question in jest to provoke a lively conversation. This year, after seeing Gartner’s latest research on B2B sales, I asked the question again with a twist, “Do we really need outbound sales anymore?” This time it wasn’t meant in jest, it was a serious question about the value of a Sales Development Rep (SDR).
SDR’s according to Payscale, earn on average of $42,000 a year to “make outbound sales by reaching out to clients to obtain leads and schedule appointments for the sales team.” They are the voice on the other end of the phone after your download information off a vendor’s website.
The data point that caused me to question their value is based on how little time buyers spent speaking with sales during a purchase decision. In 2017 Gartner found that only 17% of a buying group’s time is spent with sales. In the latest meeting Brent Adamson, vice president at Gartner, shared that in the most recent research the number is now down to 16%. And as you might have guessed (based on the 57% data point mentioned above) most, if not all, of that time is spent at the end of the buying process.
That leads us back to the SDR. Their role is aligned at the front end of the process. Perhaps you could argue that they play a valuable role in creating leverage for the more seasoned and costly sales executives by screening inquiries, and as the definition describes, scheduling appointments for the sales team.
So, let’s explore how effectively they perform this role using a recent experience I had with an SDR of a SaaS company. We were running an RFP bid process for a client. As a mid-market company, they are looking for an online collaboration tool that fits their unique needs. We collected a list of potential providers and I came across an additional vendor late in the process. Here’s my actual email exchange with the SDR after I signed up for a demo.
You guessed it, he didn’t make it happen. As a result, I didn’t have the information needed to add them to the list. If his organization had allowed me to view the demo on their website without being screened, they may have been included in the bid.
Ironically, the well-defined lead qualification process the rep was following killed the deal before he was able to qualify the opportunity.
I’m not alone in my experience. Gartner’s research asked buyers to define the factors that contributed to a “High Quality, Low Regret” deal. In other words, what factors contributed to them feeling like they made a good informed decision.
Interestingly enough, the factors that made buyers feel less confident about their purchase decisions are directly tied to the seller, specifically buyers didn’t trust them to provide all the relevant and/or unbiased information needed to feel well informed.
On the other side of the chart, buyers commented that they felt confident in their ability to ask the right questions, collect the right information and draw out the insights needed to make a good decision.
Now the dilemma…
We are at the intersection of inbound marketing and sales engagement.
With the increasing sophistication of content management platforms and the risk associated with the sales person negatively impacting the information collection process, we face two very strategic questions for sales and marketing executives.
The first — where do you draw the line between allowing the customer to direct themselves to the right information needed to make a “high quality and low regret” decision and inserting the SDR to help guide them?
The second — when do you do it? Do you allow the buyer to self-identify and request help or do you proactively reach out to them?
The answer may come down to simply how you view the process. If it is truly a “buying process,” then the buyer is in control. You allow them to go as far as they need and allow them to reach out to sales.
If it’s viewed as a sales process, then you reach out to them and help them find what you think they need, which according to the research, is the riskier path.
Based on my experience, I think the answer is clear. And if you believe that sales is a “numbers game,” then the numbers in the research are not in favor of outbound sales.
Let the debate begin.
To hear the interview with David, listen or download here.
Recently we had a chance to discuss customer segmentation with a B2B marketer with a recurring revenue stream. The approach we proposed was “experiential” segmentation. Whereas most B2B marketing segmentation is organized around categorical differences like company size, spend, or industry vertical, experiential segmentation wraps those factors around a core of attitudinal differences.
Here is the list of capabilities B2B brands can radically improve by adopting the experiential segmentation approach.
1. Persuade using stories instead of arguments.
How? By systematically organizing marketing communications around insights into the relationship of customer motivations to the solutions and experiences offered across our industry.
Why is this important? Story-telling activates the connection between a brand’s offering and the identity-related motives that cause people to act. Factual arguments have their role, but research by CEB (now Gartner) shows that B2B buyers are more powerfully motivated to action when identity-value is activated.
2. Reduce reliance on direct mail to drive customer acquisition.
How? By enabling a digital content-marketing strategy that more efficiently attracts and converts inbound traffic through persona-based personalization.
Why is this important? In the short-term, tactics with high customer acquisition costs can be justified based on lifetime-customer-value, but there’s a catch: LTV embeds an assumption about the future rate of customer churn. If churn goes up in the future, the organization will find itself addicted to costly tactics with declining marginal utility. A strong inbound content ecosystem defends against this kind of deterioration.
3. Predict and pre-empt churn in response to disruptive technology.
How? By overlaying churn-model classification with persona insights to understand not just who will churn in response to technology disruption, but also why.
Why is this important? Disruptive technology does show up from time to time. Faced with this situation, and no organized theory about the actual motivations of the people churning out, the response quickly devolves into discounting that harms margins and offers little assurance that you’ve done anything more than delayed the inevitable.
4. Reduce the reliance on aggressive pricing as a lever for influencing buyer behavior.
How? By activating insight into buyer motivations as an alternative to price as a behavioral trigger. (See 1, 2 & 3 above.)
Why is this important? Studies of B2B buying by CEB/Gartner show that price is not typically the most important factor in buyer loyalty. Treating price as the key behavioral lever commodifies your value proposition and leaves money on the table.
5. Elevate solution-selling ability of business development reps.
How? By providing inside-sales with (a) easy-to-grasp persona-based sales enablement tools and (b) visibility into the persona profile attributed to customers and prospects they are interacting with.
Why is this important? Customers expect sales-people to treat them with a certain amount of empathy. Equipping BDRs with personas that speak to customer attitudes helps them do so, despite the pressures of the inside-sales environment, including, in many cases, a short period of time on the job.
6. Increase customer “share of wallet.”
How? By examining the cohort of customers represented by each persona from the standpoint of the trade-offs they experience, and attenuating that experience of trade-offs through thoughtful cross-selling, and by evolving the solution portfolio through new products and partnerships according to a persona-based gap analysis.
Why is that important? If your competitors are accessing a similar value-chain of component providers, business will migrate to the marketer who can integrate those components in ways that make the most sense to the customer.
7. Shift from product-centric to customer-centric offers and experiences.
How? By attaching a persona tag to each customer file, and by using the personas as a core resource in the creative briefs for content and experiences in all channels.
Why is that important? If you have attitudinal insight to drive personalization, you have a choice between leading with or leading to your products and solutions.
8. Migrate marketing spend from paid to owned media channels.
How? Narrow the job of paid media from “selling offers” to the more modest goal of directing traffic towards owned channels where the persona-based design can guide personalized buying experiences.
Why is that important? B2B marketing sometimes demands content richness (currency, depth, personalization) that is at odds with the constraints of paid media.
9. Guide new product/ introduction.
How? By acting as a framework for problem-finding, product screening, market sizing, user-experience design, pre-launch research respondent profiling, and market launch targeting.
Why is that important? Breaking down the silos between product development and marketing can improve the success of both.
10. Build a stronger brand.
How? By taking a systematic step in the corporation’s capacity to treat customers empathetically.
Why is that important? When customers feel that they are seen, heard, understood, and appreciated they are more likely to appreciate (and recommend) the brand in return.
Consider the ten capabilities listed above. They are the core disciplines of marketing in a experience-driven, customer-led, digitally-powered, and fast-moving world. If you’re good at them all now, then your segmentation is serving you well. But if you’re not, then it might be time to ask if outdated theories, hiding in your segmentation model, are the root cause that’s holding you back.
As Peter Drucker pointed out in The Theory of the Business — segmentation is core to the business model and the business model is an integrated framework of assumptions. A segmentation reset can be transformative because it offers a chance for the organization to pause, examine and update its deep assumptions. Those that seize this opportunity stand to gain an impressive jump in capabilities. Those that don’t will likely settle for a solution that rests on industrial-age beliefs and reinforces industrial-era actions.
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The NFL season has begun and three games into the season Kirk Cousins is once again one of the top passers in the league. This is a position he’s enjoyed consistently over the last three seasons by throwing for more than 4000 yards a year (becoming one of only 11 to do so) as the quarterback of the Washington Redskins.
Given the success, most quarterbacks would have been content to stay in an offensive system that produced those results. Cousins, backed by his stats, moved to Minnesota in the off-season, signing a history deal guaranteeing him $84 million over the next three years. Why did Cousins change teams? Because he had leverage. Kirk knew he was a consistent and proven performer in a very tight market for experienced quarterbacks in their prime.
At a recent Gartner meeting, Brent Adamson presented information on the US labor market, along with an outlook on the demand for sales executives. As the chart below illustrates, sales organizations (on average) have to replace a quarter of the sales force each year, in what is now a very tight labor market. In fact, it now takes an average of 70 days to fill a position, an increase of close to 20 days over the last two years.
Given these facts, is it time for proven sales executives to become free agents, like Kurt Cousins? Consider this …Cousins made $44M his last two years under the franchise tag. Making close to $24 million last year, which is more than he will make this year under his new contract. For Cousins, this wasn’t just about the money. He also wanted out of Washington, a team he viewed as never really wanting him (Cousins was drafted in the 4th round of the 2012 draft by the Redskins after taking Robert Griffin III with their first pick).
Consider these two points as you think about your career. You may be making great money but are you in an environment that makes you feel valued or wanted? For a short period of time top performers have leverage in the market.
Another consideration, the other members on your team. Is your bonus tied to the performance of the team, or the company? Cousins chose Minnesota over a richer offer by the Jets because it gave him a better chance at winning a title. Minnesota not only has many offensive weapons but it also features one of the best defenses in the NFC. Is there another team out there that could offer you a better chance of success, not only now, but also in the future?
One thing is certain, the market will change. For now the demand is high and the supply is low for top performing sales executives who can consistently deliver results. Currently, there are over a million open sales positions listed in Indeed.com, close to 200,000 alone with salaries of $70,000 or more. As they say, “sales is a numbers game.” Maybe it’s time to find out what your number is worth.
The organization has a short-term ‘sales culture’ so almost everything marketing does is oriented to creating a lead. You know that there are larger system/infrastructure issues that are impacting performance but you can’t anyone to invest/focus on them. You’re on a trend mill running as fast as you can, but going nowhere.
It’s a nightmare thousand of marketers are living everyday, so let’s get to fixing this issue, permanently. The problem, at its core, is money. Yes, resources and time are also issue but the bigger challenge is that you have is a budget loaded with program dollars intended to be spent on media, events and other lead generating activities. Unfortunately, little are earmarked to fix the web infrastructure, navigation and content issues that are keeping leads from converting. You have a system problem, without system dollars to fix it.
Step one in the process is to get a capex budget. Just like the one used to build the corporate website. And get a big one, depending on size of the website you’ll need at least $500K, and perhaps over $1M, to build a “system” that will improve conversion rates. Here’s how you’re going to spend it.
Assessing Search – does the organization know what it wants to be known for (what topics, products, solutions) and how audiences search for those items? If not, pull together a top 10 list and get to work finding out. Use tools like Google Keyword Planner, Moz Open Site Explorer and Moz Keyword Explorer to gauge popularity and set priorities from your existing website.
Increasing SEM spend – after assessing your top 10 priorities you’ll most likely find you need to increase your spend to improve your position. Determine how much, and for how long.
Inventorying & Assessing Content – while your marketing dollars are working to help audience find you, the next step is to help visitors find the information they are looking for quickly. Assess the content on the following criteria: relevance (is it current, audience aligned, and insightful), accessibility (clicks and public view), and scanablity (ease of assessing key points)
Evaluating Readability – time to take a hard look at the content you’re producing. Is it written in the audience language or your engineers? Is it compelling, will it engage audiences. Use tools like Flesch Kincaid Reading Ease and the Gunning Fog Index to help score content.
Modifying Content – this could be painful. Try to leverage existing material. If you have videos, carve them up into 2 minute or less “snackable” insights. Long form content like white papers, etc., do the same. Chunk content into smaller more digestible bits. Next, create templates and guidelines for producers to follow so they know the type of content that will work best for marketing needs.
Investing in UX – find out how visitors really navigate your site. You may be shocked by their lack of sophistication, and patience. Use tools like Validately to help assess users experience with your web properties.
Optimization Everything – create pilot pages based on the UX findings and watch how visitors navigate and consume content. Use tools like Hot Jar to help track visitor clicks. Set performance metrics for bounce rates, time on page and conversion rates. Performance optimization is an ongoing effort so become comfortable with constant experimentation.
Training Everyone – to produce the right content, invest the time and resources to train on how to use the new templates — product marketers on how to produce audience focused content, marketing folks on how to write ad copy that’s compelling, etc. Use insights gathered in steps 5 and 7 to convince folks to get onboard.
Hiring an advisor – if this sounds like a lot of work, it is. If you don’t have the staff, the time, or the desire to take it on get someone to help you. You have a day job producing leads so put someone else on a parallel path of improving the process and performance. Chunk up the work plan mentioned above into quarters, align it to the marketing and the organizations priorities and set reasonable expectation on making progress.
Inbound marketing, content marketing, digital marketing, whatever you want to call it is not a marketing “tactic,” it is an ecosystem built from the outside in and requires a system thinking approach. The steps above will help you pinpoint issues within the system. “Digitalizing” an organization starts with audience facing sites so try to align this effort with any organizational effort related to digital transformation.
Getting the funding, use data points to prove the value of building a robust inbound lead generation capability. According to CEB, 71% of buyers start their purchase journey on the web. Build a market visibility index using your pipeline/waterfall metrics and market share. Reverse the numbers and find out what percent of the total opportunities available are in your pipeline. If you need more benchmarks, download Hubspot latest report on inbound marketing.
Need a case study? The process I just describe was implemented at a client this year. The results of the investment and effort have produced a 95% increased in MQL’s and an improvement in conversion rates by 65%. Inbound is now the top lead source in volume and performance. This organization has a hardcore outbound sales culture…which now, believes in the power of inbound marketing.