Tag Archives: sales enablement

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Sales Kick Off Time is Jeopardy Time!

It’s that time of year again! Yes, Super Bowl weekend is only days away, and my New England Patriots are contending once again! We New England folk have left “Deflate-gate” behind, and looking forward to a competitive game and another Patriots win.  But it’s also the time of year for a different kind of kick off – the annual sales kick off. And this year, I came up with an innovative spin, worth of a Bill Belichick eligible receiver tactic.

My company just wrapped up sales kick off, and after celebrating a very successful 2014, we set our sights on this fiscal year. My job includes not only creating the sales enablement kit for the company, but also verifying that the sales teams actually KNOW the content. (For a related topic on designing highly effective sales enablement material, see my post “Beware the Thing of Beauty.”) Rather than presenting to the sales team the key content, which would have taken hours anyway), I used a game of “Jeopardy” to quiz them on their knowledge of the material.

The game was great fun, even after a late night of partying. And it was highly effective at achieving its goal – pointing out where additional study was needed.

8 Steps to Run a Sales Kick Off Jeopardy Game

Here are the eight essential steps to our Sales Kick Off Jeopardy Game. Feel free to innovate, modify and explore for your own purposes.

1. Set the Teams to Generate Competition

Sales people are natural competitors. They love to match up against their peers. And they love to win. We set our Jeopardy teams based on the sales teams’ geographic regions – east, west, federal, and Europe. Since our Customer Services teams are responsible for generating business from existing customers, we also had them compete as well. And we set all of these teams against a team of Pre-sales engineers, generally regarded throughout the company as masters of the product. Early input from the Vegas odds-makers had the Pre-Sales team as the heavy favorites.

2. Use a Live Studio Audience to Raise the Pressure

audienceWe held our game in front of the whole company, and we promoted it as such in advance. The sales teams knew that their answers would be seen and heard by the management team, the engineers, the customer support staff, etc. Everyone in the company. So there was incentive to review the content to avoid embarrassment.

3. No Hidden Agendas – Publish and Promote the Source Material

We built our questions only on material that the sales teams had all previously received and which they had ready access to. There was no hidden agenda, or content based on “tribal knowledge.”

4. We’re All in the Same Boat – Every Team Member Must Answer

shutterstock_38366425Each of teams was comprised of six team members, and we charged team members with ensuring that every team member answered at least one question. That way, no team could rely on their “ace” – the heavy hitter who knows the answer to everything. After all, the goal of any sales enablement effort is to ensure the WHOLE sales team is highly effective at uncovering customer pain points and differentiating your product.

5. Include New Hires to Set the Bar High

We’ve added additional sales staff over the past few weeks to continue our growth. Even the team members who have been with our company for only a few weeks had to play.  No one got a “bye,” although new hires did have option to use a “lifeline” to ask someone in the audience (not on their team) to answer the question for them. This had the added benefit of emphasizing the need for everyone in the company to be familiar with our positioning.

6. Base the Content on Your Selling Priorities

We chose the categories and the questions themselves based on our most likely selling scenarios and the biggest selling opportunities for 2014. We had two categories of questions that had to do with differentiating our product from those in related market segments. And we had two categories of questions on mobility and one on virtualization, since those represent large growth drivers for the company.

7. Make it Fun

We found funny-sounding buzzers for each team to use, based on farm animal sounds and noises that emanate from the human body. This helped to keep the scene pretty light.

8. End on a High Note

We scheduled the game at the very end of the sales kick off meeting. It was a high energy, fun way to end the session. And before we handed out the trophies (to the Pre-sales team, as expected), we emphasized the importance of studying the content. After all, the whole purpose of the game was to set ourselves up for another successful year.

What’s Your Sales Kick Off Strategy?

Our Jeopardy game approached worked so well. The feedback was amazing, even from the sales teams who didn’t perform well. The management team loved the approach, and we’re already planning follow-up sessions. What’s your sales kick off strategy for emphasizing sales enablement?  Share your ideas. I’d love to hear them.

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Marketing Tips from Rowing

Marketing Tips from Rowing, Part 2 – Cadence

Well, they did it! And it was sure fun to watch! As I mentioned in Part 1 of Marketing Tips from Rowing, last weekend was the Head of the Charles Regatta here in the Boston area. Sure enough, the Cambridge Boat Club not only defended their title and won the Men’s Senior Master Fours, but finished only .3 seconds off the course record they set in 2013! Riding my bike on the closed streets along the Charles River, I could see them gradually opening up a lead on the other boats.  Although I wasn’t quite close enough to hear their coxswain call the cadence, I’m sure that, at some point, she called for “Ten Big Ones” of extra effort, as they stroked to victory.

Power Last Week, Cadence This Week

In my first Marketing Tips from Rowing post,  I equated rowing with B2B marketing by focusing on power and cadence as the key drivers of effectiveness for both. A boat’s speed depends on how powerfully the rowers pull the oars, and the rate at which they do so.

Similarly, power and cadence can also be considered the two major drivers of an effective B2B marketing strategy.  Last week I covered power – how the power of a marketing program depends on how precisely the messaging and selling efforts engage the target buyer. This week’s Marketing Tips from Rowing post will cover cadence – the frequency of activities relating to awareness, demand generation, and sales enablement.

Marketing Cadence: 5 Tips to Finish Off “10 Big Ones”

Boys in the BoatLast week I also mentioned the powerful impact of Daniel James Brown’s “The Boys in the Boat,” the story of the background of the members of the American rowers who won the gold in the Mens Eights in the 1936 Berlin Olympics.

When extra effort was needed, the coxswain would call out, “Give me 10 big ones!” The rowers would respond with extra effort over ten strokes.  Here, then, are five tips that relate to cadence that will drive your B2B marketing effort forward.

1. Blogging Cadence

B2B marketers realize the importance of blogging as part of an inbound marketing strategy. Reaching your intended audience with compelling, useful information is a key way to drive them into, and through the inbound buying cycle.  The question is around cadence. How often should a company blog in order to maximize the impact on inbound traffic?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHubspot has published some great data on exactly this question. Check out the charts in the Hubspot post covering the impact of blogging frequency on website traffic.  The key data point is that companies that blog 15 times or month get 5 times as much website traffic as those that don’t blog at all. So, the answer, like in rowing, is that higher cadence drives better results.  But, also like rowing, the caveat is that cadence must not come at the expense of power. Just like fast sloppy strokes won’t make a fast boat, content must be of high quality in order to be effective.

Of course, the follow up question is how does a B2B marketer build a team to help develop that volume of blogs?  I covered that topic in a recent post called “Content Generation is a Team Sport.”

2. Refresh Customer Data to Validate Your Value Proposition

A key sales enablement initiative for any B2B marketer is to arm his or her sales colleagues with messaging and supporting data that will help drive buyers through the buying cycle.

Challenger Sale book coverIn past posts, I’ve written about my experience implementing the Challenger Sale  sales methodology.  One key to this approach is to identify and leverage a commercial insight. The commercial insight is the content, based on your product’s unique advantages, that sales uses to uncover a previously unknown problem in the current way the customer does business.   The commercial insight disrupts how the customer thinks about her business,  and ultimately leads to your product as the unique solution to the problem.

Whether you use Challenger Sale methodology or not, value propositions must be supported with actual customer data. Real results that customers have achieved using your product, that validate your unique advantages. Marketing messages are just words. Numbers add compelling context. Like Quality Guru W. Edwards Deming once said, “In God we trust. All others bring data.”

Ideally, you’ll gather supporting data for all of the key vertical markets you sell to, and in all of the geographic regions in which you sell.  You’ll have numbers that support each of the key use cases your product addresses.  You’ll put this into a searchable database that your marketing and sales team can access. And most importantly, you must continually add to the data set. I’ve found that the right cadence is quarterly updates for new case studies.

3. Reboot the Mission – Monthly

Along with your company’s moral, or core beliefs, your company’s mission statement is key to articulating your company’s business goals and differentiation. Your mission is  directly connected to your value proposition and competitive advantages.  Revisit these high level points with your marketing and sales teams frequently, at least monthly, so they remain top of mind.

4. Frequency of Touches – More is Better

There’s healthy debate as to whether or not it’s still relevant to discuss the number of touches required to convert a prospect into a qualified lead. In the world of inbound marketing, when most buyers are well educated about how to solve their problem even before sales engages, some inbound marketers believe that focusing on the number of touches no longer applies.  Others suggest that marketers should plan on between 7 and 13 touches to deliver a sales qualified lead. No matter what you believe, it’s important to keep up the cadence of interaction with your target buyers by providing them compelling content that educates them on the problems your solution addresses.

5. Check Your Splits – Weekly

stop-watch-396862_1280As the Cambridge Boat Club Men’s Senior Master Four pulled along-side the boat house after their win, I noticed their coxswain pull a packet of information out of her jacket  pocket. I learned that she carrier along with her the boat’s splits from the previous year’s race, so that she could compare their performance this year to their record-setting pace from last year.

Similarly, B2B marketers should compare metrics for actual attainment vs. plan, at least weekly, to track progress toward monthly, quarterly, and annual goals.  This allows for early course correction if the trends aren’t going in the right direction. Or identification of particularly effective tactics that can be repeated for additional success.

What Are Your “10 Big Ones?”

So, there you have it.  Marketing tips from rowing, brought to you by the Head of the Charles Regatta. 5 tips for marketing cadence here. And 5 tips for marketing power in the last post.  Tell me what you think regarding either one. Do you have other best practices for getting more power, cadence, or overall speed?

 

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Content creation is team effort

Marketing Tips from Rowing: “Give Me 10 Big Ones!” Part I

I have rowing on my mind these days. October brings the Head of the Charles Regatta to the Boston area.  My good friend and training buddy, Greg, rows for the Cambridge Boat Club Senior Master Fours, who are defending champions and course record holders.  Boys in the BoatI’ve also been riveted by “The Boys in the Boat,” Daniel James Brown’s story of the American rowers who competed in the 1936 Berlin Olympics. The book not only covers the backgrounds of the University of Washington rowers as they struggle through their ruthless training regimen, but it also provides the historical context of the Great Depression, the Dust Bowl, and, of course, the rise of Hitler.

What does rowing have to do with B2B marketing? You’re right to be skeptical, but it turns out that the factors that drive a fast boat also drive an effective B2B marketing program.

Power and Cadence:  Keys to a Fast Boat, and Effective Marketing

Moving an eight-oared boat through the water requires a complex choreography of physical effort and coordination. But the simple fact is that a boat’s speed depends on two factors: how powerfully the rowers pull the oars in the drive phase of the stroke, and the rate at which they do so.  A rower’s power depends on how accurately he sets his oar blade in the water at the “catch,” and how precisely he engages his legs, back, and arms to pull it through during the “drive.” Cadence is driven by the number of strokes per minute. Stronger pulls and more strokes per minute mean more speed.

The coxswain sets the power and cadence of the boat
The coxswain sets the power and cadence of the boat

It is the coxswain’s job to watch the competition and set the race strategy by dictating the power and cadence for the rowers.

Power and cadence can also be considered the two major drivers of an effective B2B marketing strategy. Just as the power of the stroke is driven by the accuracy and strength of the oar blade’s engagement with the water, the power of a marketing program depends on how precisely the messaging and selling efforts engage the target buyer. Cadence of a marketing program is set not by strokes per minute, but the frequency of activities relating to awareness, demand generation, and enablement. Just like a winning boat, a successful marketing program must have the right combination of power and cadence.

Driving Forward:  “Give Me Ten Big Ones!”

The 1936 US Olympic eight achieved its success by waiting until the last possible moment in races to drive up the stroke rate. Because of their conditioning, the team could maintain contact with their competition at a high power and moderate stroke rate, then raise the cadence in the final moments of a race and break away to the finish line.

Occasionally, the coxswain called for the rowers to increase their power for a fixed number of strokes in order to stay within striking range of their competition. Hearing “Give me ten big ones,” the rowers applied extra strength for ten strokes while maintaining a set cadence, thus vaulting the boat forward.  Here are the “Ten Big Ones” that relate B2B marketing to rowing, under the headings of power and cadence.

Marketing Power: Engaging the Buyer

shutterstock_38366425Just like a rower applies power through the rowing cycle, from catch, to drive, to recovery, the power of a marketing program is driven by the engagement with the target buyer through the buying cycle.  Many factors impact marketing program power, but here are the five with which I’ve had the most success.

1. Identify Your Moral, then Leverage It

My company has been lucky enough to work with Small Army, self-described story-tellers masquerading as an advertising agency. The Small Army team has helped us articulate our moral, or core beliefs, and leverage them in our awareness, demand generation, and enablement materials. Since so much marketing language sounds the same, core beliefs can often be a company’s key differentiation.

2. Focus Relentlessly on Target Buyer Personas

Buyer Personas help you get the most out of your marketing programs by focusing on the demographics, behavior patterns, motivations and goals of your key prospects. Your marketing program will deliver more power by crisply articulating the problems your prospects have, their objectives in solving the problem, where they go and the experience they want in seeking solutions, and their common objections.

3. Develop a Compelling Commercial Insight

In a previous post on the Challenger Sale Methodology, I discussed the importance of developing a compelling  Challenger Sale commercial insight. “A compelling, defensible perspective from a supplier that materially impacts  a customer’s performance and directly leads back to their unique capabilities.”  The commercial insight is the content, based on your product’s unique advantages,  that sales uses to uncover a previously unknown problem in the current way the customer does business.   The commercial insight disrupts how the customer thinks about her business,  and ultimately leads to your product as the unique solution to the problem.

Identifying the Commercial Insight truly takes a team, as I discussed in the earlier post. Engage your colleagues in sales, pre-sales, product management, and support to be sure you have it nailed.

4. Quantify the Business Benefit

In addition to having a laser focus on your target buyer and a compelling, unique value proposition, you need to have numbers. Words can be confusing, generic, and nuanced, but numbers don’t lie. On a rowing erg, average wattage shows exactly what the output of a rower is. Similarly, prospects want to know what business benefits can be achieved using your solution. Increased revenue. Better customer satisfaction. Faster customer service time. Lower operational cost. Fewer problems. Like average wattage, these are the metrics that matter.

Marketers need these metrics for all of the vertical markets they serve, and for all of their key solution areas. Maintain a database that can be searched by geography, vertical market, and problem area, and maintain it over time, so it continually grows. Nothing is more compelling to a prospect than a story of how someone just like them, in the same industry, addressing a similar problem, achieved a significant, quantifiable business benefit.

5. Move Forward Faster with Effective CTAs

Just before a rower’s oar blade exits the water to begin the recovery and set-up for the next stroke, she applies a strong “finish” to get every last bit of propulsion out of her effort. A strong finish is needed to deliver the maximum benefit of the preceding stroke.

Similarly, a strong Call to Action is needed to maximize the benefit of a web page, or call campaign, or sales presentation. Delivering compelling CTAs will enable marketers to successfully drive their prospects through to the next stage in the buying cycle.

Next Up:  Marketing Cadence

This post covers the first category of marketing tips from rowing – power. The next post will cover cadence. I’ll wait for the completion of the Head of the Charles Regatta for that. I may just finish “The Boys in the Boat” by then too. In the mean time, please tell me what you think.

 

 

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siren-259021_1280

Beware the Thing of Beauty – Remember E=QxA

Beware the Thing of Beauty. That’s one thing I have learned the hard way in my years as a B2B marketer.  Like the Sirens, with their beautiful voices, luring sailors to their deaths in the shallow waters and rocky coasts of their islands, the Thing of Beauty can lead the unwary B2B marketer off course.  Oh, you think you haven’t encountered the Thing of Beauty?

Tell the truth. As a B2B marketer, have you ever rolled out a program, or a sales enablement tool, like a presentation or an ROI calculator, that was so incredibly well-thought, detailed, and thorough, only to have it fail in the field, for no apparent reason? I sure have, and I bet you have too. How could that be? Well, I’ll share with you my experience, and the key equation that will arm you against the allures of the Thing of Beauty.

The Enchantment of the Thing of Beauty

The problem we B2B marketers can have is that we get enchanted by complexity. fractal-429034_1280If we’re not careful, we design programs or build presentations and ROI calculators that address any potential sales scenario, or use case. Encouraged to be thoughtful, deep thinkers, we can respond with content, collateral, and programs that ensure any corner case is well-covered. That’s how we avoid pitfalls, isn’t it? We wrestle all of these issues to the ground, and produce a deliverable that addresses any possible scenario. This output can only be described as a Thing of Beauty because of its comprehensiveness.

After spending days or even weeks designing our Thing of Beauty, we roll it out to the field, or to the rest of the organization. Then, like Captain Renault in Casablanca, upon discovering that gambling takes place in the cafe, we’re shocked, shocked, that our Thing of Beauty doesn’t succeed. How could that be? There is no doubt about the quality of our deliverable. What could have happened?

E=QxA – The Equation that Arms You Against the Thing of Beauty

The error we make is that we equate the quality of our deliverable with its effectiveness. We believe that if our deliverable is of high quality, then it will be highly effective. Even further, we believe that the higher the quality of our deliverable, the MORE useful it will be. Putting this understanding into an equation, we can say that we believe that the Effectiveness (E) of any program or deliverable is equal to (or proportional to) the Quality (Q) of that program or deliverable.

In fact, thinking this way is dead wrong, because it fails to account for a key variable.

The Equation that is the Antidote to the Thing of Beauty
The Equation that is the antidote to the Thing of Beauty

Effectiveness (E) is not equal to, or proportional to just Quality (Q).  The Effectiveness of any program or deliverable certainly depends on the Quality, but it also depends on the Acceptance (A) of that program or deliverable by the intended audience.  The equation that will keep you safe from the allures of the Thing of Beauty is E=QxA.

Effectiveness = Quality x Acceptance

Acceptance drives Effectiveness as much as Quality does
Acceptance drives Effectiveness as much as Quality does

Acceptance is as important a factor in determining the effectiveness of a deliverable as is Quality.  The sales team won’t use your presentation if speaking to the slides requires memorizing too many non-intuitive notes.  The pre-sales teams won’t use your ROI calculator if it requires updating an Excel file on the fly, in front of a customer, with the inherent risks of obtaining an incorrect outcome.  Your business plan template, although beautiful in its format and comprehensive coverage of every possible partnership component, won’t be used if it takes your business development team weeks to fill out.  Take it from me. I know. Each of these is a real example of a way I fell under the spell of a Thing of Beauty.

To be effective, you have to produce deliverables that have high Acceptance.  If your teams accept them, they’ll be used, and they’ll help you achieve your goals. If they don’t, they’ll be wonderful Things of Beauty for you to admire alone, as they park on your bookshelf or hang on your wall. Wonderful for you to admire.  Useless for the business.

Remember Acceptance.  Design your deliverables with high quality, but make sure they aren’t so complex that your audience can’t use them. Simplicity may be better if it means higher Acceptance. Sure, maybe you can’t cover ALL of the use cases, but if you can cover the 80% that the field encounters on a regular basis, then you’ll be more effective.

What about you? Have you fallen for the Siren song of the Thing of Beauty? How do you arm yourself against it happening again?  Please let me know what you think.

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Patriot 2014 Still Life

Racing Season is Here – Time to Deliver Results!

It’s my favorite time of year again – triathlon racing season!  Time to deliver results for all of the hard training time invested over the past year.  Time to compare my performance to not only other racers, but also to my performance in years past.  Time to determine whether I hit my goals for the year, or came up short.  And to analyze what I can do better for the future. To deliver results in the three disciplines of triathlon is a lot like delivering results in the three disciplines of B2B marketing.  There are skills that are common across swimming, cycling, and running, like building a strong aerobic base, just as there are skills that are common across awareness, demand generation, and sales enablement, like having a strong positioning statement.  There are also capabilities that are unique to each individual area, in both triathlon, and B2B marketing.

3rd place podium finish
3rd place podium finish at the 2014 Patriot Half

Last week I competed for the 7th year in the Patriot Half Triathlon, in East Freetown, MA.  Voted “Best Small Race” by New England triathletes, the race consists of a 1.2 mile swim in Long Pond, a 56 mile bike through the rolling hills, cranberry bogs, and local ponds, and a 13.1 mile run with 3 nasty hills.  I had a great race, beating my goal time, and finishing third in my age group.  In this post, I’ll analyze my result by leg, and point to additional posts that relate B2B marketing to swimming, cycling, and running.

Top 5 Lessons from the Top 5 Finishers

A few things are apparent by looking at the top 5 finishers in my age group.

Top 5 finishers, men 50-54
Top 5 finishers, men 50-54
  1. The winner of my age group finished 4th in the whole race!  Unbelievable!
  2. There’s a big time separation between the top 2 finishers and the rest of us.  It’s darn hard to break 5 hours in this race!
  3.  Big gains happen out of the water.  The swim is the shortest leg, so it’s easy to make up any lost time on the bike and the run.  Just compare my results to the 2nd place finisher to see this.
  4.  It all comes down to the run.  Having a fast bike leg, but leaving no energy for the run can be devastating.  This is most apparent when comparing my results to the 4th place finisher.
  5.  It can pay to be a fast swimmer.  Sometimes the swim proves to be the difference in finishing position. See this by comparing my results to the #5 finisher.

B2B Marketing and the Swim Leg

Ironman, triathlonNormally, races begin with a mass start of 40-50 athletes within a cohort.  The starting gun goes off, and swimmers jockey for position at the front of the pack, each seeking the best line to the first buoy.  If you’re not a strong swimmer, it can be scary, and dangerous.  Swimming isn’t known as a contact sport, but in triathlon it is.   Arms get tangled.  Faces get kicked.  Bodies get trampled. Patriot 2014 Swim

The swim start of this year’s race was done much differently than in any other race.  We were sent off in threes, every 10 seconds, in a time trial start.  The start was so civilized!  No massive scrum.  No crawling over bodies.  With less pressure to sprint out in front of the main pack, I had a swim leg that was a minute or so slower than usual, but a much more enjoyable experience.   For posts on how B2B Marketing relates to swimming, check out my post on the 4Ps of the Marketing Mix.

Cycling and B2B Marketing

Patriot 2014 BikeOver the past several years, my biggest struggle in triathlon is determining how hard to push on the bike leg.  Push too hard, and my legs are jelly when it comes to the run.  Walking tends not to have a good impact on one’s finishing time.  Go too slow, and I give up valuable time.  I’ve never found the right balance of speed and energy conservation.

Until this year.  This year’s bike leg was effortlessly fast.  I’m not quite sure why.  Spring weather wasn’t conducive to a lot of long rides, and I did fewer outside miles this year than any past year.  For whatever the reason, I averaged 20.7 mph on the bike, and felt like I could have gone faster without much effort.  During the bike leg, I knew that three racers from my age group passed me, but I expected that. For a cycling approach to B2B marketing, check out my blog on using a team pursuit for building a Challenger Sale commercial insight.

It All Comes Down to the Run

Patriot 2014 RunYou wouldn’t know it from this picture, but I had my best run leg ever at this year’s race.  Part of it was the weather.  High 60s and overcast the whole race.  Part of it was my energy conservation on the bike.  And part of it was my constant mantra to just keep running.  For the first time, I avoided walking.  I averaged 8:13s for the half marathon, taking a few walking steps at each aid station to swallow a bit of energy drink, and then getting back into my stride.  The best part of the run was at mile 12, when I caught and passed the competitor who ultimately finished fourth. Read my post on how coming up to speed as an exec at a new company is like a runner catching the leaders on Heartbreak Hill at the Boston Marathon.

How’s Your Season Shaping Up?

In future posts, I’ll share results in the three areas of B2B Marketing.  Until then, tell me what you think.  How’s your racing season shaping up?  Have you been able to deliver results according to your plan?

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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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