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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?

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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.

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.

I’m amazed how often I ask enterprise sales reps about how the product they just sold will be used, and they don’t know!

Understanding the use-case for your product is essential to making the sale.  If your sales reps can’t answer the following questions, then they don’t understand the customer and they can’t be relevant nor articulate your value and uniqueness.

Why is the customer purchasing?

What initiatives, objectives, or pressures is the company responding to via this and related purchases and actions?  What’s at stake for each participant in the purchase decision?

How will the product be used?

Which business processes will it be involved in? Who will the users be?  How will it change people’s day-to-day jobs?  What performance and business metrics will it impact? How will it change your customer’s customers’ experiences?

What’s the context?

What other systems, processes, and business areas will your product interact with? What else is going on within the company that will determine the value of what you’re selling?

Your sales reps need to know how your customers think about their customers.     How educated are they about this? Everyone gets product training, but other desperately needed enterprise sales education topics are neglected.  Here are a few:

  • Listening skills
  • Customers’ industries, business processes, and critical business metrics
  • Usage situations (“use-cases”) of your products / services
  • Negotiation in a style that fits your brand and company character
  • Long-term account planning (Not the sales process. The relationship process.)
  • Research, information gathering, and asking questions to discover pains and opportunities
  • Presentation skills sans Power Point

Idea Design’s blog about asking is right on – and applies to businesses as much as to charities. At the end are three points that may as well have been written for businesses – here they are,  with business terms inserted:

“1. Be where your [customers and prospects] are. Hang out with them. Learn their language and be relevant to them.

2. If you want to [close deals] sooner or later you are going to have to ask for [the sale].

3. And when you do ask, ask in a way that is appropriate to your [customer]. ”

In a business, these apply to the sales reps, and to the rest of your organization.   Get your messages into the places customers look to for information (note – first place they look is not your website).   Your marketing, services, and product development / design staff should be attending the same events, reading the same publications, and participating in the same discussions on and off-line that your target audiences do.

Most sales people don’t have much trouble asking for a sale – but they often fail to do their homework and communicate why their offer should matter to the customer in the customer’s terms.  That makes the ask inappropriate.  To increase the frequency of yeses, increaes the relevance of your offers.  To make that relevance natural, as Idea Design suggests, hang out with the customers.

I hate hate hate pricing my consulting work.   There is always a tension between the value it brings to the client (which gurus like Alan Weiss will tell you is the only thing that matters), the reality of the client’s budget, the amount of effort and expertise required, internal company politics, etc.

So even before reading the article about a coffee shop that does not post prices, I had tried handing the pricing reigns to clients by asking some version of, “What do you think this work should cost, given the value you expect it will bring?”

Results?  Some clients did not want to name a number, and I ended up pricing the project as usual.  Some DID name a price: always higher than I would have quoted.   The difference:  Clients who were comfortable naming a price already knew me and had worked with my firm before.  It seems letting your customer set the price may be a great model when:

1. The customer is well-informed about the product and its value, or can become informed easily and quickly as in the case of the coffee shop. (This is the basis for free trials: Assume the customer will assign little or no value when first encountering a product. Depend on familiarity leading customers to agree with you on price.)

2. The customer has had some exposure to competing products and prices, and has a basis for comparing the relative worth of your product vs. the others.

3. The customer has a relationship with you, even if only a momentary one (note in the video that the cafe owner describes people “looking him in the eye and stating what they think is fair”)

Share your thoughts on if and when letting customers set the price is the right thing to do.

Given that segmentation is the cornerstone of marketing, I am often surprised at how little of it B-to-B companies actually do.  Company size and geography are often the only criteria for segmentation, with industry being a distant third. There are other ways to slice and dice.  A few ideas:

1. Look at customer characteristics such as tolerance for risk, speed of technology adoption, core business driver (are they technology-driven, customer-driven, supply-chain driven, etc.)  – some may be much more likely to buy from you than others.

2. Separate customers with different levels of familiarity and experience with your company and products – your objectives and sales approach will be very different.

3. Split companies up by specific situations, business processes, or use-cases that are common to an industry or a business models.   The solutions and services you offer them will vary drastically.

4. Define audiences based on their roles and responsibilities within an organization or within the decision-making process.   Also consider segmenting by organization structure and culture – highly hierarchical, process-focused companies need a different sale then flat and agile organizations.

5. This seems painfully obvious, but then again, its rarely done:  Segment based on actual customer objectives.   This one is difficult and takes account-specific research to determine who fits where.  So we tend to just assume that all companies in an industry, experiencing the same pressures (you know, the slide that says “Increased competition, Decreasing customer loyalty / ease of switching, regulation and/or deregulation, growing complexity of IT environment..”) must have the same objectives.  But in fact, some are looking to get bought, some want to grow internationally, some want to raise revenue from existing customers, while other are focused on boosting profitability.

Most companies also under-utilize the insights that segmentation provies.  Next time we’ll explore the uses of segment characteristics in various parts of your organization.

Comment and share some innovative segmentation criteria you’ve seen used by BtoB companies.

It was great to be speaking to a room full of entrepreneurs last Thursday at the TechCoire panel, Strategies to Drive Revenue in a Recession.   Gopan Madathil masterfully organized the event.  The big takeaways form our panelists (Igor Shoifot of Fotki, Rajat Paharia of Bunchball, and Vadim Rosenberg of CA) for generating revenue in this economy:

  • Listen more carefully than ever to customer requests and use them to create new revenue-generation initiatives
  • Look at the ideas you’ve accumulated but never executed. This might be the time to finally try a few.
  • Don’t walk away from customers who like what you’re offering but don’t have the budget.  Instead get creative about restructuring the deal – change payment terms, deliver in phases, start with smaller volumes, etc.
  • Always be on the lookout to great sales people – those who know how to connect and build rapport with customers.
  • MOST IMPORTANTLY: Revenue generation is the top priority for just about any company right now.  Resuscitate stalled deals and accelerate the close by showing how you can help customer sell more.

Got more ideas for driving revenue while everyone clutches their wallet ?  Comment!

Companies used to selling products struggle to shift to “solution selling”.   There are lots of obstacles – product-oriented habits,  the never-ending argument of “what’s a solution, anyway?” (more on that in a future post), sales reluctance to adopt new techniques, etc.    Before we put the big strategy and sales kickoff program in place to “transform Sales”, however, lets first look upstream at marketing.

As any sales approach, solution selling starts with customer-relevant content, programs, and ultimately (we hope)  leads.  All supplied by marketing.   In this case, by Solution Marketing.   Understanding how its different from product marketing can pave the way to a smoother transition and solution selling success.

Solutions Marketing is about shifting your perspective and context. A solutions approach to marketing places your offerings within the context of the customers’ broader situation and needs.   It starts with the customer and their desired outcomes, instead of with you and your products. (Note – their objective is NOT to buy a product.)   Focusing on the customer’s broader context means solution marketing can encompass aspects of the customer’s needs that your own product or service may not solve.  The value prop IS the customer’s desired outcome, not your product’s superiority.

Let’s be really clear – “Solution Selling” and “Solution Marketing” are not the same as actually selling and marketing solutions. They are approaches to how your customers become aware of, learn about, interact with, and commit to your business. They don’t require that you actually offer a complete solution – only that you understand the role you play in helping customers achieve their objectives.

Ultimately, solutions marketing must support solution selling. That means giving sales reps and channel partners the knowledge and tools they need to carry the customer-centric view through the entire sales process and beyond.