Speedskating B Stefanov shutterstock_49076566

Pipeline Progression: 7 Steps to Synch Sales Enablement and the Sales Cycle

In my last post, I discussed how sales can improve pipeline visibility by identifying what reps should hear from the customer at each stage of the sales cycle.   Uncovering the right comments helps qualify the opportunity and ensure proper pipeline progression.

Marketing plays a key role in this effort.  I’m not talking about qualifying inquiries at the top of the sales funnel.  I’m talking about an opportunity that has entered the sales cycle.  The customer contact has been qualified.  Sales has accepted the lead.   Marketing and sales work together to pursue the opportunity, like short track skaters drafting off of one another.

Marketing’s role in pipeline progression

Pipeline progression – isn’t that the job of sales management, not marketing?  True, but it is also another important area of CMO-CSO alignment.  For marketing to be effective in producing sales enablement kit, we have to deliver what the sales team needs at each stage of the cycle.

This task is pretty clear when you use an approach to pipeline progression that is based on what you expect to hear from the customer.   The deck below shows a real world example.

Seven Steps to Synch with Sales

Here are seven lessons learned from our approach to enabling the field for pipeline progression.

1. Make the first pitch without pre-sales

baseball-89612_640Although our product was technically innovative, we kept our sales presentation at the business level, using a Challenger Sale approach.  We based the first sales milestone on uncovering urgency and differentiation, rather than product features.  Our sales team ran this stage without pre-sales, helping to keep the conversation focused on business topics.

2. Nail the business issues up front

In order to validate the urgency of getting a cloud service to market, we needed to discover the buyer’s strategic, financial, and personal goals.  The only way to do that was to demonstrate credibility and situational fluency.  Our deck needed to quickly show that we understood the goals and challenges of the cloud market, based on our experience with other customers.

3. Recount relevant customer stories

To validate that our solution provided compelling business value, we built short summaries of relevant customer success stories into the sales deck.  We trained our sales reps so they could tell these stories, as if they were personally involved in each account.

4. Deliver a dynamic demo

Since our design goal was to complete the first pipeline milestone without pre-sales, we recorded a short, compelling demo that explained how our product’s technical capabilities helped customers achieve business goals.  We armed the sales team with product information to augment the demo, but deferred deeper technical discussion until later in the sales engagement.

5. Publish customer case studies in several formats

You never know how your prospect will want to consume a customer case study, so publish them in as many formats as possible.  We used the following:

  • Publicly available website information from customers using our product as the basis for their solutions.  Here’s an example.
  • The usual suspects:  summaries on our website and in pdf format.
  • YouTube videos of customers discussing cool topics they did with our product.
  • Blog posts about customers highlighting their successes.
  • Implementation summaries covering the technical and operational information on how the service was built.

6. Project profit with a financial model

money-167733_640Our competitive advantage was that service providers could use our product to roll out cloud services faster, and at a higher profit margin, than they could with alternative solutions.  To frame this argument, marketing created a detailed financial model to project the profit of the planned cloud service portfolio.  We worked with the customer to tailor the model to their situation, so they could use it in the financial justification for investing in our solution.

7. Generate a Go To Market plan

For our customers to have the confidence to invest with us, they needed to see a clear path to building and launching their cloud services on our platform.  So our kit included implementation and go to market plans to accelerate the customer’s launch.  The plans included timelines, templates, training, and examples based on our experience with other customers.

Are You Synched with Sales on Pipeline Progression?

If you’re a product marketer, you need to know that your kit is being actively used by sales as they progress deals through the sales cycle.   If you’re not sure, that’s a slippery slope.   Find out, or you might take a spill on the next turn.    Let me know how you stay aligned!

Speed skating photo credit:  B Stefanov

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pipeline visibility

Sales Opportunity Pipeline Visibility: You’ll See Better With Your Ears!

We like to think sales opportunity pipeline visibility is a science.  Or at least well-founded math.

Create five or six stages based on the major milestones of the sales cycle.   Assign percentages to represent the probability of closure for that particular sales step.

Sales Pipeline Stages

Drive the business by reviewing the opportunity pipeline every week.  Query the reps on actions they’re taking to progress their deals.  Excellent pipeline visibility is key to ensuring revenue goals are met.

The inconvenient truth about pipeline visibility

If pipeline visibility is such a science, why do so many deals die late in the funnel?

We’ve all been there.  A deal that was at 60% suddenly gets killed off  for reasons that appear out of the blue.

  • No funding
  • Not a strategic project
  • Lost sponsorship

Management goes nuts because the reps should have identified these issues way earlier in the sales cycle.  Before they invested so much time and resources.   So much for visibility!

Why does this happen?  That’s obvious.  The reps didn’t ask the hard questions early enough in the sales cycle.  Why not?  There are many reasons.  I think that one contributing factor lies in how sales management manages the pipeline in the first place.

Emphasizing sales activity causes you to focus in the wrong area

You end up managing what your sales guys are doing, rather than what they are learning from the customer.   Your reps respond accordingly.  They focus on activities like giving the pitch and doing the demo, rather than uncovering the buyer’s pain points.

You get great visibility into your sales reps’ activities, but not into the customer’s buying cycle.

There’s a reason it’s called the customer buying cycle.  It’s based on the information the customer needs before they buy.  Not on what your sales reps do at each stage.  In order to know what the customer needs at each stage you have to listen.

Define your pipeline stages by what you should hear

radar-dish-63013_640You’ll get better pipeline visibility if you specify what your reps should hear at each stage when they ask the right questions.    You’ll hear what the customer is thinking, as they progress along the buying cycle.  And that will give you better visibility into whether or not the deal will close.

A Real World Example

In a recent role, I ran marketing for the cloud platform group within a large company.  We sold our product to service providers who wanted to launch high margin cloud services.   Our product was a true innovation.  Its unique capabilities allowed service providers to get to market fast and with lower capital and operational expenditures.

We faced a real problem with sales opportunity pipeline visibility.  Customers were hugely interested in our product because it was such an innovation.   But interest didn’t always translate into investment.  Deals would fall out of the pipeline after the teams had devoted significant time to presentations, demos, proofs of concept, and reference calls.  We were spending too much time on deals that were never properly qualified.

To improve pipeline visibility, we redefined our pipeline stages.  We knew from successful deals the types of comments our sales reps should hear from the customer at each stage.  We did this along two tracks.  One for business conversations.  The other for product and implementation conversations.    This post focuses only on the business track.

What you should hear at the 20% stage

Deal Progression 20The goal for the 20% “Research” stage was to uncover whether the customer had an urgent business need for a cloud launch, or just interest in learning about our product.  If it was just interest, we’d know not to invest time into prosecuting the deal.

We wanted our reps to hear the business owner say something like the quote in the yellow box.  Anything else less urgent would indicate a risk that the opportunity was not real.  True sense of urgency would be indicated by competitive pressures, specific customer demand, financial targets and a specified time frame for cloud launch.

Pipeline visibility at 40%

Deal Progression 40

At the 40% “Verify” stage, we wanted our reps to hear comments in two different areas.  First, we wanted to hear validation of the cloud service portfolio that the buyer intended to bring to market.  Knowing the specific cloud services they intended to launch would help us orient our demos and customer reference stories appropriately.

Second, we needed to hear as much detail about the decision making process to get a deal done. We needed to understand the business justification our buyer would need to make, in order to justify the investment in our solution.   In our selling approach, we worked with the buyer to build this justification.  So, at this stage, we wanted to learn about the audience, the format, and the level of detail.

What you should hear at 60%

Deal Progression 60

At the 60% “Prove” stage, our goal was to show that our company provided the best way for the service provider to achieve their cloud service goals.  The key deliverable at this stage was a financial model created jointly with the customer projecting the revenue and profit of the planned cloud service portfolio.   We needed to hear the buyer express confidence in the model so that she would feel comfortable presenting it to the Board or investment committee.

Pipeline visibility:   See better by listening better

Once we built this approach into our sales training and sales enablement kit, we had much better pipeline visibility.  Verifying the urgency of cloud service launch at the 20% stage provided a tough hurdle.  But the diligence that the team expended resulted in much less pipeline leakage at later stages.

Try this approach for your business.  What do you need to hear at each stage to improve your pipeline visibility?

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5 Steps to Using Hoshin Kanri for Marketing Goal Setting

“Using WHAT?!”  I know, I know.  I lost you with those strange words.  And I also know I risk losing you irretrievably if I tell you that Hoshin Kanri is a Six Sigma strategy tool used to ensure the whole company pushes in the same direction.   But I’ll take the risk, because the start of a new year is a great time to use Hoshin Kanri for marketing goal setting.

As an endurance athlete, I know that results take time.  So, I’m not surprised if my first post on Six Sigma and inbound marketing  hasn’t convinced you of the role Six Sigma can play in improving marketing strategy and execution.  I respect your skepticism.

So PLEASE STOP READING this article UNLESS any of the following challenges apply to you:

  1. Communicating how your team supports the company strategy.
  2. Creating a high performance team.
  3. Ensuring everyone knows where they stand relative to achieving goals.
  4. Holding your team accountable for the achievement of targets.
  5. Fostering innovation at all levels of your team.

Still reading?  That’s what I figured.

Hoshin Kanri Background

Hoshin translates literally to compass
Ho (direction) + shin (needle) = Hoshin (compass)

Hoshin Kanri was developed in Japan as part of the quality effort of the 1950s. Translated literally as “compass management,” it is a process for setting strategic direction that leverages the collective expertise of everyone on a team.

Hoshin Kanri differs from other approaches in two critical ways.  First, in Hoshin Kanri, two way communication is key.  Top management sets the overall direction, but delegates as much as possible to the front line teams to determine HOW best to achieve the goals.  Second, Hoshin Kanri calls for a Plan-Do-Check-Act cycle to regularly measure actual results against the plan, and to take corrective action for root causes.

How to Use Hoshin Kanri for Marketing Goal Setting

Here are five critical steps to using Hoshin Kanri for marketing goal setting.

Step 1:  Build the annual strategy & corporate goals

The executive team builds the annual corporate strategy, including SMART goals for the critical few metrics that define corporate success.   For B2B software companies, these generally include revenue, new customer acquisition, and new product launch.

Step 2:  Cascade the company goals to the departments

waterfall-199204_640Department heads support the corporate strategy by identifying goals for their teams that align directly to the corporate goals.  Some departments coordinate to achieve mutual goals, such as marketing and sales for revenue and customer acquisition targets.  Bi-directional communication among departments and the executive team solidifies goals and inter-dependencies.

In this step, marketing identifies goals for  demand generation, awareness, and sales enablement.   For a B2B software company,  marketing is normally expected to build pipeline for 15-30% of new revenue.   This translates into a goal for number of leads in the marketing funnel, based on average sales price, sales cycle, and historical conversation ratios of marketing programs.

Step 3:  Use the team to identify supporting tactics

Here is where Hoshin Kanri really drives innovation through two way communication.  With so many variables to consider, the entire B2B marketing team is needed to identify the best tactics to support the goals.   Leverage the expertise of those who run the programs, execute SEO and SEM, and build the content and messaging.   When complete, the marketing plan identifies tactics, timeframes, projected costs, and expected results for each element.

Step 4:  Link achievement of metrics to individual performance

The best way to ensure the marketing team remains focused and aligned is to directly tie achievement of the target metrics to individual team members’ performance.  Use the performance management system to tie variable compensation to goal attainment.  A combination of shared goals and specific goals ensures the marketing team works together, while each individual strives to hit the numbers for which she is responsible.

Step 5:  Measure and adjust regularly

vu-meter-70433_640Regular comparison of actual results to plan is a fundamental aspect of Hoshin Kanri.  Frequently measure key marketing metrics to determine whether tactics are working as planned.   The metrics will vary, but should include both inputs and outputs.  Investigate any variance from the plan, and analyze the dependencies between causes and effects.  For example, if a webcast didn’t achieve the target audience, was the problem the content, the promotion, or the outreach?

The Benefits of Using Hoshin Kanri for Marketing

Once you get beyond its name, you can see the benefits of using Hoshin Kanri for marketing goal setting.   Understanding how marketing contributes to the company goals.  Clear focus on achieving targets.  Constant analysis of achievement vs plan.  Employee engagement in building the plan.

Despite its reputation for being cumbersome and overly techie, Six Sigma has much to offer to marketing.   Today’s marketers need to be both creative and analytical.   Hoshin Kanri is one tool that can help achieve this balance.

What do you think?  Have you used this approach?  What was your experience?



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Driving on Ice: BMW Branded Content and Bobsleds: 8 Marketing Tips

BMW, known for producing the “Ultimate Driving Machine,” could also be known as the “Ultimate Branded Content Machine.”  This Sunday, I took a break from watching football to catch the BMW produced documentary/commercial “Driving on Ice.”  This short film provides a behind-the-scenes view of how BMW worked with the US Bobsled and Skeleton Federation to completely redesign the two man bobsled for next month’s Olympics in Sochi.

Was it a compelling story?  Absolutely.  Will it result in a gold medal?  We’ll find out.  But as the New York Times summarized, what “Driving on Ice” absolutely shows is how BMW continues to advance the use of branded content in its marketing.  It also provides us B2B marketers with eight cool tips.

BMW and Athletes Both Have Something to Gain

Since 2010, BMW has been the Official Mobility Partner of the US Olympic Committee.  Aside from financial support and advertising, both sides have gained from vehicle-to-athlete technology transfer.   The bobsled team leveraged BMW’s expertise in light-weight materials and aerodynamics to improve the twenty year old previous design.

BMW marketing has delivered a compelling branded content story that cuts through the clutter of the myriad of car commercials and provides an emotional response to the BMW brand.

High Stakes Promotion of the Ultimate Sliding Machine

This is the third time that BMW has used technology transfer to help the US Olympic team.

swimmer underwater-79592_640In advance of the 2012 London games, BMW provided USA Swimming with underwater camera motion tracking system.  The system tracked the performance of six body parts as swimmers exploded off the walls with powerful dolphin kicks.  US coaches used this data to find how to shave off every last hundredth of a second in time from their starts and turns.

One one-hundredth of a second makes all the difference.  Just ask Michael Phelps.  That was the margin of victory as he out-touched Serbia’s Milorad Cavic in the final stroke of the 100m butterfly in the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

BMW also provided real-time velocity measurement to USA Track & Field to help optimize the performance of long-jumpers.

With this technology transfer, the stakes are higher, both for the bobsledders and for BMW.  The US hasn’t won an Olympic gold medal in two man bobsled since 1936.   The first two cases of technology transfer were behind the scenes software.  This time, with the focus on aerodynamics, control, and materials, there’s a direct connection to vehicles.   So the corresponding impact to BMW’s brand will be huge.

Eight Cool B2B Marketing Tips

Here are eight points from “Driving on Ice” that relate to B2B marketing.

1.  Know the Customer Experience First Hand

Before taking on the bobsled work, designer Michael Scully rides in a two man sled on a real course, to experience the violence, vibration, and G forces involved in the sport.   Nothing beats direct exposure to the buyer’s pains, persona, and journey.

2.  Focus First on the Critical Few Metrics

Scully focuses the redesign on two areas.  He improves the aerodynamics by making the sled smaller and narrower.   And he modifies the weight distribution of the sled to improve handling.  Numerous modifications follow as the details are addressed, but all of the tactics support these goals.   Similarly, B2B marketers align their tactics to big major goals, like revenue contribution.

3.  Start with a Low Risk Trial

The first prototype of the new sled is done on the relatively tame course of the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics.  Of course, the first trial results in a myriad of modifications.    Similarly, B2B marketers get customers started in a low risk way with freemium models.

4.  Iterate Often, based on Customer Feedback

The designers get input from the athletes after each run.   Like in agile product development, the changes come fast and furiously.  The athletes receive prototype #2 with no time to practice on it before their next  race.   More work is clearly needed.  An improperly placed steering cord causes the driver to crash into the wall immediately after starting.

5.  Uncover the Underlying Need

After the unsuccessful run, designer Scully meets with veteran driver Steven Holcomb to discuss the steering problem.  Holcomb wants more of a range of motion, but Scully isn’t sure whether that means on the steering handle or in the runners.  By clarifying the underlying need, Scully is able to make the right adjustment.

6.   Creative and Analytical:  You Need Both

One set of skills is not enough.  At the US Olympic Trials, driver Elana Meyers emphasizes the need for mental toughness, as well as physical strength and skill.  All of the work in the gym and on the track must be augmented with calm and courage.   Similarly, B2B marketers must be both creative and analytical.

7.  Adjust on the Fly

Optimizing performance is a continuous effort.  At the Olympic Trials, constant tinkering is done to the sled to fine tune its performance based on real-time track conditions.  B2B marketers must make similar adjustments to their demand generation and awareness tactics based on their own real-time metrics.

8.  Keep Your Eye on the Prize

With a month to the Olympics, the redesign appears to be on track. The US is ranked #1 in the World Cup standings.   But success will be defined by who gets the gold in Sochi.

I think BMW achieved its goals with “Driving on Ice.”  The BMW commercials interspersed throughout the film relate directly to the points in the film.  As cars drive through snowy roads, messages of the technical proficiency, advanced materials, and handling are clearly reflected by what was shown on the bobsled track.

What do you think of BMW’s branded content strategy?  Want to pull 5 Gs in turn 8 on the Sochi course?


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