Imagine you have an audience of 350 people. Now imagine you have them captive in a room for several hours. How would you use that time? What if that audience were already your customers?  I am guessing that handing out a catalog of random products and serving water in paper cups would not be the first items on your list.  Unfortunately, they are the ONLY things United Airlines could come up with.

I pick on United because they kept me sitting on a runway for over 4 hours recently, with a cup of water after 3.5 hours being the only concession.  They did actually serve food (liberal interpretation) and show a movie during the 12 hours in the air.  But they could have, among other things,

  • Sold DVDs or downloads of the movies they were showing
  • Sold CDs or downloads of the music they play on various earphone channels
  • Surveyed passengers about travel habits, plans, and airline selection criteria. (Fill out a survey, get extra frequent flier miles.)
  • Gathered data on behalf of a paying third party.
  • Sacrificed one seat in the back to offer in-flight neck or foot massages. I’d pay!
  • Sold neck pillows and other travel-specific items
  • Offered free informational pod-casts (from sponsoring organizations?) or audio books via the audio system (and then sold the audio and ebooks, of course)

These are all revenue-generating for the airline, and valuable to customers. But they weren’t done.  Seems that in a financial crisis, innovation applies only to cost-cutting.   Why not focus on revenue sources in stead?

I see many companies passing up opportunities to add value and generate additional revenue.   In the course of conducting research for one client, we concluded each customer interview with a very simple question: “What will help you get more value from this product?”  Several customers mentioned they wanted our client to offer post-sale services to fine-tune product usage 6 to 12 months after deployment.  This discovery was unexpected, unplanned, and pointed to a completely new revenue and relationship-building opportunity.   To find it, all we did was ask.

To find those hidden, yet in hindsight obvious, revenue opportunities, look in two places:

  • Can you address additional or broader needs for the customers you already serve?
  • Can you meet the same needs you address today, but for new audiences or segments?
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Friday I received the hard-copy of my book, ’42 Rules for Growing Enterprise Revenue’.  The publisher had the printer send me the first one off the press.

I held it with a mix of relief, excitement, and terror.

Relief that it is done. Done.  DONE!!!

42 Rules for Growing Enterprise Revenue

First one off the press

Excitement to be holding the product of a year of interviewing, researching, writing, re-writing, debating (with self and others), and some more re-writing and editing.  Also excitement at the upcoming process of promoting and talking about the book and the ideas.  One of the reasons I began this process was for the opportunity to distill the ideas and lessons from years of work.   Having written them down, the concepts feel more usable and concrete.

Terror that now it we be read, and judged.  Its one thing to hand a deliverable to a client or a piece of completed work to a colleague.  They’ve participated, had lots of input, been involved in the process all along.   It’s as good as they and I can make it.

It’s completely another thing to write something (like this, come to think of it) that will be read by unknown readers whose only and complete image of the author are the words on the page.  Here on the blog, I hit that blue “publish” button with a bit of hesitation, and one last look-over.  But I can always go back and update.   With a book, no number of look-overs ever seemed to bring the thing to a point of complete satisfaction. Like a remodeling project, a book is never really finished.  One must just stop at some point.

So I’ve stopped.  Now the fun begins!

freepuppy_cropped

Better than "Please Don't Touch"

Pam Fox Rollin, Executive and Leadership Coach extroadinnaire,  shared this photo recently.   Its a perfect example of using insight about your audience’s complete context to make your message more relevant and notable.

The owners of this store didn’t just state what was important to them (i.e. “Don’t touch” or “Watch your children”)  They thought about what would make the request really stand out to busy parents.  They thought about the reality of the lives of those busy parents, and came up with great, catchy, and funny sign instead.

Are you thinking about your customers’ real life when you design your messages?

Great discussion last nigh at the SVAMA event about how B2B marketers can leverage social media to generate leads.  Check out the summary by Kirsty Scott of SD Design

A few points I thought were esp. interesting, insightful, or controversial.

1. Create LOTS of interesting, relevant content.  But how, given limited resources?  The panelists suggested:

  • One person can generate a lot of content and a lot of buzz – it doesn’t take an army
  • You don’t have to be a professional writer. Just get your ideas across.
  • Give your community a forum for creating content. WD40 fan club is a great example of community-generated content.

2. “The internet is a great medium for experimentation,” Mike Linton.

  • Its easy to try out different tactics, different language, and different social media hubs.  You quickly can learn a lot about what works and what doesn’t.
  • Its easy to overcome resistance inside your company by suggesting, “Let’s just run it as a test.”

3. The community is there. Deal with it.

  • If your company thinks its not “doing social media,” its wrong. Users, customers, and probably employees are talking about you, whether you’re there or not.  Best to join the conversation than to be ignorant. (Sounds like parenting advice!)
  • Communities take on a life of their own. Don’t expect to control or even guide the conversation.  Instead find an employee most like your audience and ask them to participate in the dialogue.
  • Develop a thick skin.  Even within communities you create, someone will find something negative to say, and chance are, it will get disseminated.  Don’t be taken by surprise, and don’t panic.

4. Lead Gen is a process, not an event.

  • Include calls to action – SUBTLE ones – in your content.
  • Give people the opportunity to “self identify” as interested though their actions and responses to many different forms of interactions (Blogs, tweets, webinars, emails, facebook fan clubs, LinkedIn group participation, etc.)
  • Track participation and score interest level based on those interactions.  It takes time and experimentation to find the most promising patterns.

5. Traditional PR is in trouble, and reporting is dead (or at least, in the re-animation ward).

  • If everyone if writing about the latest events, for free, what’s a reporter left to do?
  • PR’s traditional emphasis on providing access to reporters and providing reporters with story no longer provides the value it once did.

Were you there?  Tell us about other great insights from the evening.

Do you agree or are these suggestions off the mark?  Share your B2B Lead Gen experiences via Social Media.

Later this week I’ll be moderating Silicon Valley American Marketing Association’s event on Social Media for B2B Lead Generation. The keynote speaker and panel are as well-informed a group on this topic as you’re likely to find: David Meerman Scott,  author of New Rules of Marketing and PR, Brian Halligan, CEO of HubSpot and author of Inbound Marketing, Mike Linton, former CMO at eBay and before that at Best Buy, and Zack Urlocker from MySQL (now Sun Microsystems).

What would you ask this group about using Social Media to drive a sales pipeline?  Here are some of the questions I’ll have for them:

  1. How do you move from conversation to lead generation within social networking environments, and without angering the people you’ve engaged?
  2. How does a company select the social media hubs that are most important to their business and their audiences?
  3. What constitutes a “qualified lead” in the social media context?
  4. How do you estimate the resources required to create a presence in social mediums?
  5. What can B2B companies learn from BtoC practices?
  6. What’s your advice for the change agents who are advocating greater investment in social media by their companies?
  7. How should resource-strapped start-ups allocate the time and resources for social media?
  8. What are the top three do’s and dont’s for using social media to feed a sales pipeline?

Your turn!  What would you ask?  I’ll post some of the answers to your questions here after the event.

I just watched a great TED presentation by Dan Pink on the science of motivation. The net is that rewards work well for very simple tasks that require no creativity.  They actually produce worse performance for complex tasks requiring insight, creativity, and innovation.  What works for the latter, according to Dan Pink,  in intrinsic motivation created by autonomy, mastery, and purpose in people’s jobs.

How much of these three does the typical B2B enterprise sales rep have?  Some autonomy in terms of work hours and location. But not much in terms of processes, procedures, reporting, pricing, etc…

Mastery? Everyone is moving to “self-paced learning,” which means you watch a video or presentation on your PC while multitasking.  What kind of in-depth, hands-on education can you really get that way?  Hardly the best way to teach negotiation, interviewing and discovery, listening, rapport-building, solution design, or anything else that’s truly core to a complex sale into a large account.

Purpose?  (Other than the commission?)  I can’t even begin to count the number of times I’ve heard sales and corporate management say, “the reps are coin-operated.”  Create a spiff, and get the result.  True. You get SOME result.  But what if instead of a spiff (or in addition to one), you convinced your reps that what they are selling is meaningful, significant, and really matters?   That they have to be the sages and advisors who will help customers save their companies? That meeting the quota isn’t about going to “Club,” but about saving or creating jobs and livelihoods for others?

Maybe sales reps don’t operate by the same rules as all other humans. But I doubt it.  Would love to know for sure.  Anyone out there who’s tried something other than a spiff to motivate sales?

Let’s face it.  Sales can generate revenue without Marketing.   Not so in reverse.   The true purpose of marketing – of the messages, and the programs, and the collateral, and the PR –  is to accelerate and amplify sales efforts.  When that’s forgotten, sales-marketing misalignment follows.

Companies focus lots of attention on understanding customer needs, designing messages and programs for them, and gathering feedback to improve products and go-to-market efforts.  Unfortunately, when Marketers forget what marketing is for, they often neglect their other, one might even argue primary, audience: Sales.   (To clarify, by “Sales” I mean both direct and indirect channels, so partners are definitely included in this discussion.)

You probably have a process in place to measure customer satisfaction and gather customer input.  Whether via survey, customer advisory board, or support call analysis, some form of customer feedback is influencing your business.  What feedback mechanism do you have in place for the Sales team?

Here are five simple ideas to help understand Sales’ needs and align Sales and Marketing:

1. Conduct an annual sales survey.  Just like a customer satisfaction survey, this tool can assess current perceptions, determine needs, and prioritize their importance.  Use a survey to find out what tools, information, and skills will improve sales productivity, and to assess how well various marketing organizations are supporting and collaborating with Sales.

2. Gather input through your sales and partner portals. Create a visible and easily accessible request form and encourage Sales to ask for tools, training, content, information, or other changes that will help them accelerate and close deals.   Then use your existing sales and partner communications to highlight requests that have been implemented.

3. Create sales and partner advisory boards. Be sure to select a diverse set of members.  This group can be a sounding board for new initiatives or programs such as Sales Kickoff agendas, improvements to product launches, or training curricula.

4. Place Marketing and Sales in the same room. The most effective marketing people are those that spend time out in the field, accompanying reps to sales meetings and listening to partners.  You can’t regularly send everyone in marketing out into the field, but you can provide opportunities for greater interaction.  Send marketing people to sales training, where they can see what sales is learning, and build relationships and hear feedback directly from their classmates.   Have marketing folks who are involved in lead-gen and sales enablement activities participate in sales meetings and calls, so they can hear the issues and challenges Sales faces, and play a more direct role in helping overcome them.

5.  Plan together. During your annual planning process, ask Sales and Marketing executives to identify specific dependencies on each other.   The leadership team should then acknowledge  each dependency, and jointly make decisions about whether and how each organization will fulfill their obligations to the other groups that depend on them.  They should also agree on changes to the plan if the obligations can’t be met.  Such collaboration early and at the highest levels of leadership permeates through both groups.  (Of course, the same process should be used for the entire executive staff, not only the Sales and Marketing leaders.)

Marketers and Sales and Channel managers: Please share how your marketing organization gets feedback from your sales channels.

Customer centricity is well over a decade old. Companies have gotten better at tracking customer information, incorporating customer input into product design, and identifying customer needs in their sales and marketing messages. Despite these advances, the most frequent complaint by decision-makers involved in complex purchases is that vendors don’t listen, don’t understand their problems, and don’t convincingly articulate value.

Something is obviously missing from all that customer-centric activity.

Just about every discussion of being customer centric focuses on “understanding customer needs”.   Unfortunately, most vendors focus on their customers’ needs, but not on the way their customers do business. That may sound like a subtle difference. It’s not. A focus on needs often misses the context for those needs. That’s important, because the context, not the need, determines value.

Let me repeat that.  The CONTEXT, not the need, determines value.

Only by focusing on needs in context can you be truly, uniquely relevant.  To become more relevant and valuable to customers (and grow revenue),  find the needs that matter most now within the context of your customer’s internal and external business situation, and to which you can add the greatest value.  Then sell and fulfill your offering in the way best suited to the customer’s way of doing business.

A great set of tips about on-the-fly sketching from XPlane are directly related to a recent post here about “2.0ing your sales meetings

Happy to see that collaborative selling approaches are becoming popular, and now insightful companies like XPlane and WhiteBoard Selling are helping sales reps get more interactive and collaborative.   That can only translate into greater customer relevance, and more productive and valuable sales meetings.

The highly popular Net Promoter Scoring (NPS) customer satisfaction measure (originally created by Bain & Co.) has gained broad adoption in the last five years.  Customers’ likelihood to recommend you to others is a great measure of their satisfaction and loyalty.  Unfortunately, Net Promoter Scoring limits visibility and can lead your customer satisfaction initiatives astray.

There are two key issues with traditional NPS:

1. It asks customers to predict their own behavior. The standard NPS question is, “Would you recommend us?”   Many companies have found that customers say they WOULD recommend, but over half of those that say they would, don’t.

2. A Net Promoter Score is not actionable alone. Simply knowing how much customers expect to recommend you doesn’t provide clues as to how to improve their loyalty and word of mouth.

Despite these drawbacks, the core concept of NPS is an important one:  Happy customers create new business.  The key to leveraging this concept is to tweak NPS to ask more actionable questions, and then incorporate it into a broader customer intelligence effort.

Read more in my recent Beyond NPS brief...