Archive for the ‘value proposition’ Tag

Sales Gone Bad, Blame it on the Customers

You hired a new sales person and for unexplained reason, they cannot perform. They had all of the references, met quota since the dawn of time, etc. When you ask them about it,  they blame it on the customers not buying in this economy. Having run both sales and marketing in previous recessions, I know how bad conditions are for revenue generation in this market. Unemployment in some states is now double what it was just a couple of years ago. Some industries sales are off 25% or more.

It is a tough market, but… with unemployment at 10%, that still means 90% of people are employed. Sales are off 25%, that means you still have a base of 75%. Numbers mean a lot, but only to justify the point of the moment. Good companies grow even during recesssions and I grew sales 280% over one year in the last recession. You have to work harder, smarter, hire good people, and be more innovative.

So, back to your sales person. Not working out as expected? Explainable as a bad hire, yes.

3rd or 4th sales person who came in like a rock star and left like a roadie?  No, probably something else is too blame.

Chances are that you have a marketing problem masquerading as a sales problem. Not just a marketing communications problem, but chances are the sales people are having to do too much conceptual selling too early in the sales process. It shows up in presentations and meetings. What should be a 2-3 minute concept overview turns into a half hour explanation. Good sales people are natural story tellers, but if they don’t feel comfortable, don’t tell the same story each time, or look wooden; you probably have a marketing (messaging) problem.

Marketing’s role is to communicate the concept, support the sales process, and make it repeatable. Sales people in large organizations who take roles with smaller companies, which don’t have the sales support infrastructure, have a hard time transitioning to the new environment. I call it comfort with ambiguity. It is a lot harder to sell without the references, brand, collateral, and case studies.

Also, smaller organizations require sales teams to build the activity structure that large sales organization provide to their sales teams in the form of reports, quotas, and direct management. It takes a lot of self-discipline to build the structure on your own. Some larger organizational sales people do that instinctively and will work through the transition, but others need a more established sales support structure and tools to make them successful.

Marketing can only fix half the support issues (messaging and tools), but will not fix the self-discpline issue. A good marketer will come in and review your marketing collateral and listen to the “story”. Chances are that the value proposition is “fuzzy” and the audience is not well defined. By reviewing the product offering, the marketer can reset the value proposition of the offering and map it to the audience. If the core is correct, building marketing materials to tell the “story” becomes an exercise in building the visual elements that assist in communicating the concept.

A key to success is interviewing potential and existing customers. You have to speak their language and speak to their motivations.

Finally, a good marketer will adjust the marketing materials to support and accelerate each stage of the sales process. One key challenge in any sale is the “porpoise effect.” You gain momentum during a sales call, but lose it in the interim between contacts. This usually results in the sales person reselling the solution multiple times because the stakeholder gets busy and isn’t able to remember the value proposition. Good sales support from marketing allows the sales person to focus on the heavy lifting around the relationship; providing the support tools to do the communication of the concept, value proposition, and credential the organization.

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Is Your Marketing Like Teaching A Dog to Read? Part 2

In part 1 of this series, I shared a story about a professor who taught his dog to read… obviously, the dog could not read at the end of the semester, but the professor “taught” the dog. Unfortunately, this is very common in marketing, especially in emerging growth companies. The companies have very “pretty” marketing materials; website, collateral, powerpoints, but when you cannot really understand the audience, value proposition, or why they are different.

The litmus test for marketing materials is whether you can use your competitors name in your materials and it would apply. Or you could insert a company name from another industry and it reads just fine. Finally, you could insert any company name and no one understands what you do.

The real challenge is that the organization did not go through a structured exercise to map the value chain: audiences to benefits to functionality to features. Here is a high-level process to do just that:

1. Focus on identifying the market & associated segments

2. Fnd the pain – immediate call to action – for each segment; ie. this is the problem or opportunity you address; your solution = benefits

3. Communicate in the language the market understands – means you need to have a market SME, customer advisory board, or perform lots of prospect interviews to understand their needs in their language.

4. Test your messaging – social media participation, sales calls, speaking events, networking events, advisory boards, analysts, etc. Frequency and time allow you to polish your messaging. I know that I am ready when I can get through the 1st several meetings with a prospect or an investor without them finding holes in my presentation and Q&A. Doesn’t mean your offering won’t have challenges in due diligence, but if you are targeted to the right audience with the right solution, the first two meetings should be about concept, relationship, and “fit”.

5. Model your marketing on the sales process – each stage is idenitfied and marketing’s support required – One of the biggest challenges to getting the marketing materials “right” is identifying the scenarios under which it will be used. If your sales process is to work through partners, then providing a generic sales presentation won’t work. If you are selling into a specific vertical, then understanding the buying process may mean that you have to have 2 different presentations; one executive and one technical for different meetings. Collateral and sales support materials are very expensive to produce (opportunity costs) so focusing on a limited number of high-quality tools versus having a checkmark for materials is critical.

6. Focus on how to speed up the sales process – optimize, accelerate, replicate – momentum, reselling, bridging – One of the biggest challenges in any sales process is the “porpoise effect”. You build momentum and then it subsides, you resell and build momentum, and then it subsides. Most qualified buyer sales that seemingly look qualified with a need, but don’t get beyond the initial sponsor die due to lack of momentum. Either the sponsor could not sell internally or lost focus… The ability to empower your sponsor to be an evangelist will assist you in maintaining momentum. Everything in sales support should be around how do we help the potential customer make a decision faster. You will close more sales this way.

7. Participate in the early sales – look for objections – price, package, credentialling, references, technology, features/functionality, language, benefits, positioning, competitors. My biggest beef with some marketing communications people is that they don’t understand the market, customers, or the products. I want to get in front of the customers and interact with the market. I need to understand the buyer behavior and get feedback to fine tune the messaging.

8. “Save your powder” – the first set of sales to early adopters doesn’t require big marketing; focus on sales support, business development, online marketing, andPR; expensive marcom, tradeshows, events, and brochureware after the message has been tested. Save the marketing dollars till you have proofed the model and are ready to grow big. My approach to marketing budgeting is like “rolling a snowball downhill”. Make a small investment to credential your sales process;  when the market is proofed, build upon the foundation.

9. Build a customer lifecycle early. Know where you are going and how you will get there. Build towards a critical mass of referencable customers. Shrink the product’s functionality & features to slightly beyond what your target market requires. Also, make sure you set customer expectations so that you can exceed them. Make sure the roadmap is clearly articulated and scales with your customer expectations and your identified new market segments.

10. Your first set of references and referrals are the most expensive & the most valuable. Focus the organization on wowing the customer and tie all organizational goals to customer satisfaction.

Making sure your marketing “dog” can actually read is critical to scaling your business. If you have to personally evangelize to every new prospect to get them to understand the concept of your product and the value for them, you will have a very expensive sales process. Even service companies need to package their services to scale effectively.

Part 3 will address the challenges of Mid-Market companies.

Part 4 will address the challenges of Established Brands.

Is Your Marketing Like Teaching a Dog to Read? Part 1

I had an accounting professor who told us a story about a colleague of his who decided to teach his dog to read. This professor crafter a full lesson plan and spent 12 weeks delivering a daily lecture to his dog. At the end of the semester, he certified that he had taught his dog to read. This obviously doesn’t actually mean the dog could read, but he delivered a beautifully, executed lesson plan.

This is a common occurance in Marketing, as well. It manifests itself in several ways:

Smaller, Emerging Growth Companies – Marketing Collateral Which Doesn’t Say Anything

A common challenge for smaller companies is the mistake that Marketing Communications equates to Marketing Strategy. The first thing early stage companies do is engage with a marcom firm and focus on building the prettiest branded website they can afford. Then they throw in the logo, marketing slicks, and a powerpoint. All of these are important, but they skip some important steps; like defining the product target audience, defining the value proposition, and mapping the features/functionality to the product benefits, validating the pricing and packaging, and then testing the messaging to make sure the priorities of the market are accounted for in their planning. This results in a marketing program that “teaches the dog to read”, but doesn’t actually communicate a clear call to action or even explain what the company does for whom…. the end result is that the actual communication and education about the product’s value has to actually occur during a sales call which isn’t very scalable. Part 2

Mid-Market Companies – Siloed Marketing Communications Channels

More established mid-market companies have a different problem in that they have mostly grown organically so they have done a good job of communicating the concept & value of their offerings. The common approach to marketing tends towards mimicking what larger, enterprise companies have done with a “pasta method” approach to marketing… throwing everything up against the wall to see what sticks… Without the coordination or the brand recognition of larger established brands, the market really doesn’t see the “get” the value of the offerings because there isn’t a cohesive multi-channel story. The lesson plan is a fully fleshed out lesson with multi-media slides, but you only get to hear half of it….

Established, Enterprise BrandsFighting Economies of Scale

Large enterprise brands have the resources and the history to communicate brand strategy. The challenge for large enterprises is the challenges of coordinating the vast organization to deliver a consistent message. A friend of mine told me about working with one major brand that had a different agency of record for each communication channel. And the different agencies didn’t play very nicely. Now, add in multiple products, divisions, and new communications channels. Large enterprises have the access to talent and the resources to deliver the “whole lesson plan”, but without the ability to coordinate, it is like having the lecture delivered by multiple professors on different campuses.

The rest of the series will focus on strategies to enable companies of different sizes to build sustainable foundations for communicating the value of the product offerings. At the end of the day, if you cannot get your message across in a way that is compelling & differentiated, translated into actionable prospect leads, and resulting in closed sales; it is like “teaching your dog to read.”

Part 2 – Emerging Growth Companies