Executives who earned their stripes in the pre-internet days sometimes cling to the notion that aggressive sales tactics are still the path to success. Tyson Roberts doesn’t agree. The former sales star who is now a CMO and content marketing expert, explains why he changed his tune.
Tyson Roberts is a CMO with a rare background. Tyson, who is CMO of Yesler, the agency division of ProjectLine, an award-winning B2B marketing services company headquartered in Seattle, now works with leading tech companies to develop and implement their content strategies. But earlier in his career, Tyson carried a bag – selling software and services for Avenue A, Razorfish, Check Point Software, and even as the CEO of a start-up he founded he carried the largest quota. I recently talked to Tyson about how his approach to creating customers has changed.
Tyson, you had some pointed things to say about how ineffective aggressive sales people are today. Yet, you used to be one of these sales people – and a successful one. Tell us about that.
When I was on the start-up sales team at online advertising agency Avenue A (AQNT) in the late 1990’s, it was just like GlenGarry GlenRoss. Very simple. We generated our own leads. Our intern would give us a daily spreadsheet of every internet advertisement placed that day along with a phone number. We literally called every one. In hindsight, it was terribly inefficient – maybe a 2% contact rate and 10% (0.2% net) meeting rate. It worked. We grew, but at a cost.
In the sales pit we proudly displayed a “wall of shame” – a collection of letters and emails pleading for an end to our efforts to contact them. Some even contained threats. The expectation was: You earn big money, “bring us heads on sticks or we’ll find someone who can”. We couldn’t blame our lack of success on the marketing people or anyone else for that matter.
So, where was marketing in all of this?
Marketing built collateral and ran point on our presence at events like ad:tech. I recall very little interaction between sales and marketing. They would get our input and approval on the sales kit, but that was it. Marketing would also drop hundreds of leads on our head after each event. We quickly learned to ignore the leads or cherry pick them because so many were unqualified. Our sales intern got better leads manually surfing the web all day. It was true that many leads provided by marketing would begin advertising online in the next 6-12 months, but we needed to make this month’s and this quarter’s numbers.
Now you work with marketers to implement and refine modern demand centers. Yet you just said that sales people can’t depend on marketing – why have you changed your view?
The “wall of shame” was a foreshadowing of things to come. A lot has changed in the past 15 years. Tactics that were seen as just aggressive in the 90’s, today come across as unsophisticated, clumsy, and desperate. At one of our clients, the sales people were constantly complaining about the lack of leads from marketing. We helped produce the first 500 inbound leads they’d seen in years. Then I learned that the sales team just started dialing every one and asking each to buy! That’s like going speed dating and propositioning each person you sit across from.
Buyers have taken control of the purchase process and are doing a lot more self-directed investigation prior to engaging with sales. If sales people don’t recognize and adapt to this, not only will your success rate be dismal, but you’re branding yourself as a genuine tool at the same time. This is not the way to build rapport, trust, a relationship, or a brand.
What works now?
Companies must provide a quality path from initial interaction to happy customer. All the pieces to build this are available. In the modern B2B organization marketing owns everything from initial interaction with a lead through to sales readiness. Sales people focus exclusively on the opportunity pipeline. This clear separation and definition of duties is a fundamental driver of improved demand economies.
The cold call should be no part of your demand generation strategy. You have to switch to an opt-in model. Leverage an army of content at the front end. Then the sale rep adds spots of personal touch and completes the close.
The old sales business development model is inefficient. You can scale business development more easily and get better results at a lower cost by using modern marketing with its methods, systems, and automation than you can by using sales with its people, personalities, and talents. You definitely need sales effort – but you need less.
What advice do you have for CMOs facing the challenge of a head of sales that is still “old school”?
The first step to modern B2B demand generation is realizing that your prospects don’t give a rip about your company or its beloved solutions. That’s the bad news. The good news is that your prospects are narcissistically obsessed with their own company and its challenges and opportunities. This obsession is the key to being relevant, earning attention, consideration and ultimately business.
I was surprised to hear so much talk about the ‘buyer’s journey’ at a recent Sales 2.0 conference. More talk than I often hear at marketing conferences! Having said this, it was clear that many people who talked about buyer’s journeys did not know what the term meant.
A hesitant raise of hands at one sales enablement panel showed that a little more than half the room thought that their company used a buyer’s journey framework. The panelists didn’t buy that answer. Sniffed one, “Most companies lift the sales stages right out of their CRM system and call that a buyer’s journey.”
What isn’t a buyer’s journey? It isn’t a sales methodology. It isn’t build rapport, uncover needs, identify options, propose solutions, and close the deal. It isn’t a product life-cycle. It isn’t development, launch, grow, mature, decline. It isn’t marketing stages. It isn’t build awareness, create interest, engage, and persuade. All of these processes can be useful to guide an important function. However, they all describe vendor’s journeys – not buyer’s journeys.
So, what is a buyer’s journey? A buyer’s journey is a framework that describes the cognitive process each buyer must personally traverse leading from Apathy (Do I care?) to Commitment (How can I buy this?). IDC’s Customer Creation Framework highlights three simple stages of this journey: Exploration, Evaluation, and Purchase. You can break these stages into sub-steps if you like.
In the simplest terms, a buyer’s journey is really nothing more than a list of questions. Buyers have different questions at different steps of their journey. If buyers get their questions answered clearly, positively, credibly, and with relevance, they will take another step. If they do not, they stall or abandon their quest.
Let’s take the example of some questions on a buyer’s journey towards a new car:
- Exploration: Is my current car headed for a problem – how do I know? Are there new cars that I would like better? What cars are new this year? What do I really need?
- Evaluation: Which cars offer the best value? Which do I find most attractive? Is this supplier trust-worthy? What do the experts say? What do my friends think? How can I test drive?
- Purchase: How much can I afford? Should I buy this now? Do I find terms acceptable?
Where do you get these questions? Ask your buyers! Ask the people in your company who talk to buyers – sales people, customer support, systems engineers, etc. Listen to social media chatter. My experience has been that you can collect 95% of the questions you need after you have talked to about 30 people who have a broad range of roles and backgrounds.
2) Answer the questions.
Do not avoid the thorny and evil questions! I like this quote from Robert Frost, “The best way out is always through.” Every unanswered question is a place where prospects can get frustrated and where leads will stall or fall out of your pipeline.
You can collect both the questions and the answers in a spreadsheet or an FAQ document.
3) Put the answers on your website and give them to your sales team.
But these are secondary issues. If you don’t first have the answers that your buyer needs, all these secondary questions are a total waste of time.
We are now publishing the results of our major annual Tech Marketing Benchmarks survey. Our tenth year of doing so!
My thoughts today:
1) Most importantly: The Marketing Transformation effort is accelerating. Many vendors have been at this for a few years but as we now do some accounting for results, we see as many false-starts as we do successes. And so there are renewed and bigger efforts underway to Transform. The best evidence of this is in recent, aggressive marketing budget overhauls and larger, more sweeping re-organizations of the marketing function.
The good news is that top marketing execs and C-Level execs DO understand that “future” Marketing can and should be the game-changer function, and so they are going to keep at the Transformation efforts until they see results.
Here are three major outcomes to watch for and benchmark, on your own Transformation journey: Shorter purchase cycles; reduced overall cost of (combined) Marketing + Sales; and vastly improved customer analytics as a result of integrated marketing plus sales automation efforts.
2) Budgets remain under pressure: we see the average large Tech Vendor getting a 1.7% budget increase this year. That is 1/2 the increase of last year…and we were even “closer” to the 2008-2009 recession at that point. The main culprit is the economy: management teams not willing to spend until better signs of demand pick up. The second factor is media shift: going-to-market with digital ve traditional media.
3) Tech vendors still spend 3-5 times as much on selling as they do on marketing. Heavy salesmanship has deep deep roots in IT vending. My belief is that the future holds a more even application of monies and activities between selling and marketing.
IDC CMO Advisory Service’s latest best practice report, Realizing the Vision of 21st Century Lead Management, presents a newer, smarter way to conduct lead management that is better adapted to the reality of how customers buy today. Combining proven management science methods with best practices from leading technology companies, the new model is more scientific, more data driven, more agile, more automated, more aligned between sales and marketing, and more customer service oriented, than the 100+ year-old funnel.
- Complexity: Lead management used to consist only of qualifying leads and passing the best ones to the sales team. Now marketers must juggle this task while simultaneously conducting a perpetual digital dialog that informs and influences the prospect. Wrestling this complexity requires a more sophisticated and formalized lead management process.
- Orchestration of digital and human communication: The traditional funnel dictated a one-way “hand off” from marketing to sales. However, because buyers are always online, the concept of a binary “hand off” is obsolete. Marketing can never truly disengage. Rather than make a true marketing exit, a team orientation is maintained.
- Marketing accountability: B2B marketing departments are under considerable pressure to be accountable. Financial pressure from economic uncertainty and slipping sales productivity has brought the lead management process into harsh scrutiny. Expectations have risen because of the availability of spreadsheets, dashboards, and analytics tools to slice and dice any facet of marketing. The C-suite is becoming aware of how much more of their destiny now rides in the hands of the CMO.
Although each company must operate lead management with an eye for their own unique set of environmental requirements and logistical challenges, there are basic tasks that remain the same in every case. The tasks are: strategic planning, capture, assess, advance, develop, close and monitor/measure/analyze.
The building blocks of lead management success
One common misconception is that the tasks assessment (qualification), advancement (routing), and development (nurturing), occur only once in a lead life-cycle. This may have been true in the simple, old, days. However, most companies today have a requirement for a more sophisticated multi-channel approach. The IDC model treats the assess/advance/develop tasks as a modular block or cell. A simple workflow starts with a single cell that can do a little work. By using multiples of this same simple block – and applying best practices to the tasks in each block – marketers can build a measurable, optimized, multi-celled organism that can do amazing things – including blending with the sales methodology.
IDC found 16 important success factors including:
- Define consistent global standards, including a common language. More companies attribute their lead management success to this practice than to any other. By eliminating unnecessary complexity and redundancy, companies gain better control and achieve more predictable performance. Calibrating data to standards also opens the door for predictive analytics and trusted insight.
- Establish long-term, cross-functional councils. Best practice companies realize that lead management, while led by marketing, is part of an enterprise process. One firm teams up a 30-person council each year for three months to prioritize projects, determine standards and processes, and resolve issues.
- Treat leads like valuable but limited assets. Companies experienced in 21st century lead management operate in ways that express respect for buyers. Leads are carefully vetted, nurtured in a personalized way, and sometimes recycled rather than merely captured, qualified, and thrown over to sales. Best practice marketers use automation extensively. To remove hurdles and assist a buyer, this automation is integrated with the human factor — telefunctions and blended media, such as chat and social, as well as high-touch sales.
Clients of the IDC CMO Advisory Service can access the full report here.
Lead scoring is a well established technique for marketers to translate digital responses into levels of qualification for next stage outreach. For companies with no direct sales or sales cycles of 30 days or less lead scoring methodologies can be rapidly optimized around purchase behavior. For long cycle B2B sales processes, the optimization process goes only as fast as opportunity development which for many high tech companies can be 18 months or more. This is a crucial time for B2B marketers and they need to be just as exacting in how they manage the post-lead qualification journey as they are in getting prospects to the starting line.
B2B marketers need to segment, message, time, and target their communications with their direct sales reps just like they do with external prospects and customers. In my previous blog post Six Key Table Stakes for B2B Sales and Marketing Alignment marketers were tasked with three things:
- Treat the sales force like a market segment
- Market collateral (and leads) like solutions
- Take an account-centric approach to lead generation
Lead distribution scoring touches on all three. Lead distribution scoring is a second stage scoring process for marketing qualified leads that enables marketers to “get the right information to the right sales rep in the right format at the right time to move an opportunity forward.” This is IDC’s definition of Sales Enablement and is a fundamental concept that should govern how marketing markets all of its output to direct sales (leads, campaigns, collateral, etc.) The days of posting to a portal or flowing and forgetting MQLs into the CRM are over. Lead distribution scoring incorporates dimensions such as:
- What type of rep is this contact going to?
- By segment
- By tenure
- By region
- By product line, etc.
- Does the rep need many leads or a very limited number of leads?
- What account is the lead associated with?
- Is the sales rep meeting with this account in the next four weeks, next two weeks?
- How is this contact connected to others in the account?
- Is this contact interested in the same solution as other contacts in the account?
Using a lead distribution scoring methodology will bring sales and marketing into much more direct alignment on a one to one basis. It can be applied not only to leads but to collateral, campaign training, and more. Marketing output can be “made to order” for sales reps so that it is not only highly qualified, it is also has high immediacy and relevancy to the reps’ call sheets. If the relationship between marketing and sales so bad that accessing call sheets is a non-starter, then look for friendly reps who might be willing to give a little more to get a little more from marketing.
Of all the lead management best practices a company can invest in, the one that stands out as most important is defining standards. Recently, IDC interviewed technology marketing executives to learn what’s working and what’s not in 21st Century lead management. When asked for a description of their greatest success, many more companies stated consistent global standards (including a common language) than gave any other answer.
- Definitions: “All marketing groups and geographies use the same stages, taxonomies, and definitions of what it means to be sourced, what it means to touch a lead.”
- Data: “We strive for a single version of the truth.” “Instead of a 60-minute meeting on why my data is better than your data, we now talk about results – why is Hong Kong doing better?”
- Procedures: “We consolidated 40 lead queues into six. We standardized BANT criteria, implemented standard SLA’s, standardized everything.” “Even though we are a decentralized company, we run a single process.”
- Systems: “Everyone uses the same common business intelligence system so we pull data from the same source.” “Using the same marketing automation system enforces our processes. It has accelerated best practice sharing.”
Marketing leaders acknowledge the difficulty in getting alignment on standards and offer tips from their experiences:
- Cross-functional groups: “Bring together a core cross-functional group (regions, field marketing sales), people who are passionate and have a direct stake in the outcome.”
- High-level sponsorship: “The sponsor was responsible for both sales and marketing. She publically gave me power.”
- Appropriate specificity: “At first we standardized at too high a level – defining one stage as an “opportunity” for example, and things were too confusing. By getting more granular, putting in more stages, making routing rules more specific, we’ve gotten better results.”
- Persistence: “The secret is to keep revisiting the model and the results. We’ve needed to revise it multiple times to accommodate changes in sales and marketing capability.”
- Transparency: “Collect the data and let everyone see how bad it is. Then pick your battle.”
- Training: “We conducted initial roll-out training as well as ongoing training to maintain momentum.”
Recognize the Limits of Standards and Allow for Some Flexibility
The IDC Sales and Marketing Automation Framework
Sales and marketing organizations are seeing a rapid evolution of solutions for automating their core business processes. While we are years away from anything like an integrated ERP-class solution that can manage the full range of sales and marketing activities, the building blocks are available today. CRM vendors have established that a single system of record is within reach for the sales team, and an emerging group of companies are is starting to prove that this goal is attainable for the marketing side of the house as well.
However, automating these two organizations will be a major undertaking for large companies. There will be significant process, cultural, and technical challenges. But the benefits are self-evident: lower cost, higher efficiency and productivity, greater accountability, better performance, improved customer experience, and potentially shorter sales cycles.
The Need for Alignment
The 80/20 Rule and the 50/50 Rule: IDC research shows that up to 80% of the content marketing generates is not used by Sales, even though a lot of it is specifically created for Sales and Channel enablement. Additionally, customers say that Sales reps are insufficiently prepared for their initial meeting 50% of the time. Clearly a massive disconnect is at work.
IDC’s Framework for Sales and Marketing automation is, therefore, focused on the tight alignment of key Sales and Marketing processes. This framework represents only those processes that must be coordinated (potentially integrated) between the two organizations. It is not meant to be a comprehensive map of all the processes in which each organization must engage to be successful – there are many activities on each side of the dynamic that do not have a corollary on the other.
Each high level process in Sales that has a counterpart in Marketing must share:
- A common set of definitions for inputs and outputs
- Proportional allocation of budget and resources based on overall business objectives
- Phase-appropriate performance metrics
- An integrated IT ecosystem
IDC recommends that sales and marketing automation efforts be tightly coordinated across both organizations so that the customer experience and lead management processes are handled seamlessly by all parts of the infrastructure. Even if a marketing implementation will have no sales users and vice versa, the data definitions and flow will be critical for both organizations. IDC recommends that:
- Senior marketing and sales leaders meet regularly to plan, review, and asses automation projects
- Marketing operations and sales enablement teams are especially critical, they should have representatives from both organizations with senior level sponsorship.
- Marketing needs to be very cognizant of how leads and lead details will flow into the SFA/CRM environment.
- Sales needs to be diligent in making sure marketing is capturing the high priority prospects and the high priority details so that lead acceptance criteria is routinely fulfilled.
One of the key issues for automating sales and marketing is establishing a shared automation road map. Upcoming research from IDC will help you: prioritize your plans based on business impact and implement best practices to be most successful.
How do you get busy marketers in a room for 2 hours to discuss some of their interactive marketing practices? One way is to offer them breakfast, exposure to several leading marketing organizations and industry experts, and introduction to a couple of digital marketing vendors. BtoB did just that this morning in Waltham, MA. Panelists included John Smits, Global Dir. Dbse. Mktg. and Segmentation, EMC; Leigh Day, Sr. Dir. Corp. Comm, Red Hat; and Paul Gillin of Paul Gillin Communications. Vendors included Brightcove and ZoomInfo.
Here are a couple of key takeaways from the meeting:
How do you avoid “campaign collisions” [EMC insight]
- Problem: multiple BUs and regions were sending communications to the same individuals (e.g., CIOs) about different EMC events on the same day
Solution: “Deliver the most appropriate information, to the most relevant audience via the user’s medium of choice” [sounds easy, no?]
– “Centralized Demand Center” created a couple of years ago –> a single global database
– Segmentation strategy used to profile individuals and their needs, leveraging intrinsic and extrinsic information from disparate sources to best understand who should be targeted for which go-to-market(GTM) activities
– “Plan, calendar and govern”. . . only give folks access to prospects/customers that meet specific criteria, thereby improving the quality of interaction of EMC with specific individuals as part of GTM activities
Results: For a specific launch activity (email) for one of their platforms, they achieved a >20% open rate and <0.05%>
- Ongoing challenges. . .”How do you “control” prospect interactions across all BUs and regions?”: Less about control, more about leveraging common interests; Involve users in decision-marketing processes; Offer value for use of corporate database (e.g., access to valuable infrastructure, higher quality contact information) [leverage Mktg. Shared Services as another part of this execution strategy]
Some key success factors for your digital marketing strategy
- Red Hat
– news blog with an RSS feed, headlines on Twitter
– offer high quality content and value for customers: Red Hat KnowledgeBase to provide relevant and valuable info. to customers; “Carve Out Costs with Red Hat” campaign- an online resource site to help customers deal with the downturn
– Leverage multiple types of technology to reach different audiences (e.g., video, podcast, whitepapers); yet content must be written differently for each medium (“don’t just webify a white paper”) [earlier Blog on video]
- Paul Gillen
– “must lead with your business objective, not the latest social media tool”
– To optimize participation in a community you need to identify and leverage peoples’ interests and passion for participation and collaboration
– The real action now is branded and special interest communities. For example, “Opinion Panelists” by Hilton (private panel): direct feedback from their best (~300) customers. . . virtually replaced focus groups for Hilton. . .save $, immediate feedback, etc. . . get loyalty points for participation
- EMC: Leverage social media to broaden the impact and value of other marketing activities: EMC World. . “we’ve started marketing this in-person event months before its start date– e.g., getting people online to engage and discuss key topics and then gather these folks together when in-person at the event
How many times have we heard in the B-to-B marketing press the past several months about the importance of increasing content relevance to our prospects and customers, better engaging them through digital marketing vehicles and improving our ability to generate and qualify marketing leads? Yes, all extremely important priorities for us as marketers, however, if you’re a $100M+ company none of this can be accomplished in an efficient and effective manner without the back-office infrastructure to support it. And we all know how difficult an infrastructure conversation is in this economic downturn. For the purposes of this conversation, let’s focus on the area of database marketing.
Even the best marketing organizations struggle with consistency in database marketing processes; consolidation of prospect and customer data across the multitude of databases in use across the world; cleansing of data to prevent a “bad data in = bad data out” scenario; and overcoming the complexity of data analysis and list pulls, especially with the increased data flow from digital marketing activities. In a recent best practices study, we spoke with (12) multi-billion $, complex organizations representing in total over $250B in revenue. When asked to indicate their marketing organization’s satisfaction with the components of database marketing, some of the most fundamental elements of this area were identified as being the weakest. . . . including data cleansing, digital data integration and contact management.
So enough about the problems out there: that’s the easy part to identify. What are a couple concrete things that you can do to help improve marketing’s “back-office”, especially in these difficult economic times when “throwing money” at the problem is not even a possibility?. . .
- Establish a global database marketing council or team to set standards and govern processes and technology. (yes, virtual if need be and it will take more time out of your day . . . but this will pay off in the long-term)
- Leverage third party partnerships for external expertise and best practices (e.g., data cleansing). Establish an approved vendor supply list to achieve economies of scale and better govern data standards.
- Develop a process to enable the average marketer to obtain a highly targeted list for their activities or campaigns. A 100% self-service model will lead to supplier proliferation, poor leverage of scare marketing resources and an inability to leverage the power of your data. Ideas include: establish a relationship marketing team, deploy a shared services model to get dbse. marketing experts closer to the field (more on shared services to come in future blogs), create an expert analytics team that can do some of the “heavy lifting” for your team’s larger projects (e.g., predictive modeling).
- Reduce and consolidate disparate data sources. If you’re lucky enough to have or pursue a universal data mart or EDW then great. For the rest of us, another option may be deploying an application that serves as the front-end for multiple databases. This option is available through several marketing automation vendors.
- Ensure your database marketing and lead management teams are working together if not part of the same group. This is particularly important for establishing a closed-loop lead management process.
- And last but certainly not least, establish metrics and targets to measure the performance of your database marketing capabilities. (e.g., data quality indicators, lead generation data to track the success of list pull activities, response times and internal customer satisfaction if you’re leveraging a shared services model)
If you’re fortunate enough to have a marketing operations individual or team, then turn to these folks for help in deploying the process rigor needed to initiate these actions.