Busting the Myth of Sales Disintermediation

Are IT Buyers so self sufficient that sales people will no longer be needed? Much was made in 2013 of the notion that IT Buyers make a large percent of their decision before engaging with sales. Every major market research company had its own number but they all ranged north of 50%, a scary thought especially if it represented a rising trend.
As shown in the figure below, enterprise IT buyers actually rely very heavily on vendor input for enterprise solutions. Buyers can make categorical decisions like “we need a new CRM or billing system.” But they need a great deal of information from marketing, sales and technical sales in order to complete their decision making processes.
Finding the Right Mix of Marketing and Sales Engagement
Q.        What percent of your decision for an enterprise-level purchase when multiple vendors are competing for your business has been made by the time you first speak with a salesperson?
Source: IDC’s 2013 IT Buyer Experience Survey, n = 193
The implications for supporting customer journeys is significant. For purchases that are low cost, familiar and low risk customers want to be as self sufficient as possible. And sellers need them to be because it costs too much for even telesales or online chat to support these transactions. At the other end of the spectrum of course it gets far more complex and that translates into opportunity for vendors – if they are truly aligned with the buyer’s journey
One of the most important value adds that most sales and marketing lacks is the need to educate customers on how to buy as much as what to buy. For costly complex purchases, customers need guidance on:
  1. How to evaluate the strategic priority of the solution as well as the technical and business benefits
  2. How to build consensus across line of business, corporate IT and other key players in the decision making process.
According to our latest IT Buyer Experience research, marketing and sales teams that provide this insight early and often will help buyers make their decisions up to 40% faster, putting them ahead of the competition and ahead of forecast.
For more information on this and related research please contact me at gmurray(at)idc(dot)com.

Sales process – the missing ingredient for marketing ROI

Most marketers in B2B enterprises have never been trained on sales process. If I were running your marketing or sales organization this would be the first thing on my agenda. Why? Because without understanding sales process, marketing is essentially set up to fail. How can anyone improve or contribute effectively to something if they don’t know how it works. It’s like setting up your manufacturing to produce blue widgets but not telling your suppliers what parts you need for your particular widgets. So they ship you tons of blue stuff and hope that somehow it all works out. That’s the position, to one degree or another that most enterprise marketing organizations are in even at some of the most advanced process-centric companies in the world. Largely because they have chopped up the customer creation process into a collection of departmentally independent activities. 

In a large enterprise with many products lines, business units and segments, there are likely to be a number of different sales processes. Marketing and sales resources should be aligned against these processes horizontally. This is the key to making the shift from a siloed command and control organization to a responsive, integrated customer focused one. Not only is it important to design around sales process, which should be designed around the buyer’s journey, but it is important to design for change. Markets are dynamic and sales processes change.
Marketing automation systems, especially those that are integrated with the sales force automation or customer relationship management system, have begun to provide marketing with some clues to sales process. At least they can see what happens or does not happen when they deliver something to sales. But the data does not always explain why, and that’s the critical part. Marketing needs to understand very specifically how Sales operates in order to optimize around customer outcomes. The alternative is for marketing to optimize around departmentally focused KPIs like the number of MQLs (ugh), or SALs, or worse vanity metrics like hits, sentiment, likes, etc. These metrics are useful indicators for some marketing activities, but not as business drivers for marketing investment.
Aligning marketing and sales around sales process is the first step to formulating an enterprise customer creation process that extends across all customer touch points, including: billing, fulfillment, service and support. At each stage of maturity, marketing, as well as all the other customer facing departments, gain much greater visibility and accountability to the whole process and its connection to corporate objectives for growth, market share, and margin. This is all necessary for a true picture of marketing ROI.
Your action items:
  • Marketers: lobby your top executives to make regular sales process training for marketing a priority. 
  • Sales executives: demand that marketing know how the different parts of your sales force work so they can more effectively develop prospects and serve customers. 
  • CEOs: get smart about your customer supply chain by applying the same level of due diligence and process discipline to it that you have to your product and services units. As a result, you will make much more effective use of marketing investment and be able to hold your whole customer facing team accountable for its contribution to your strategic objectives.

Using Data as a Service for Scalable Channel Enablement

The magic ingredient for successful channel enablement at scale is data. Imagine having the financial, operational, and behavioral data you need on partners to optimize new product launches, coverage models, and channel programs. Imagine being able to show partners — no matter how new or small or niche their focus — how other partners like them have achieved high return on investment (ROI) on their business with you. IDC’s Channel Enablement Maturity Model provides a stage-by-stage guide for advancing the organizational, process, technology, and data infrastructure necessary to transform your channel marketing and sales enablement operations. The journey along IDC’s Channel Enablement Maturity Model is one of evolving from a publishing/transactional framework to a process-driven one.

IDC’s Channel Enablement Maturity Model – Summary View
Stage 1:
Ad Hoc
Stage 2: Opportunistic
Stage 3: Repeatable
Stage 4: Managed
Stage 5:
Optimized for Scale
Key characteristic
“Every product for itself”
“Portals grow like weeds”
“Consolidation but still stuck in publishing mode”
“Central control over process-driven approach”
“It’s all about analytics (Data as a Service)”

Source: IDC 2013

The DNA for Success is in the Data 
IDC defines channel enablement as “developing the right competencies in the right partners to deliver the right solutions to the most profitable customers.” Ultimately, the goal is to provide a scalable model to identify high ROI best practices and propagate them throughout the partner population at a very granular level. There are three ways in which manufacturers can capture the partner data needed to support the analysis:

  • Contractual obligation: Requires significant time and effort from partner account management, is limited to the largest partners, and is periodic at best. 
  • Operationalized data capture: The partner platform should be thought of as a SaaS offering that provides a wide range of functionality but also collects data on every partner interaction. The ideal platform will consolidate all of the interactions with partners by offering personalized access to content and transactional systems, as well as execution platforms for marketing, sales, and support. By virtue of this consolidation, it captures an increasingly large portion of partner interactions and thus provides a great deal of valuable data to inform channel marketing and management. 
  • Data as a service: Externalize partner performance data and make it available to partners in a way that captures even more data from more partners. The level of detail they get depends on the level of detail they provide. As a result, they can get actionable insights on how to better manage their businesses and market, sell, and support specific solutions. The database is in a virtuous cycle of enrichment. They should be able to get insight into a wide variety of strategic and tactical questions such as: 
    • How many people do I need in marketing, sales, technical, and support roles? 
    • What level of skills and training should they have? 
    • What marketing activities are most effective? 
    • What sales methodologies and plays are most effective at what stage? 
    • What manufacturer resources and networks should staff be utilizing most frequently? 

While data is the crown jewel, there are significant people, process, and technology prerequisites for success. To find out more please see IDC’s Channel Enablement Maturity Model or contact me at gmurray (at) idc (dot) com.

Connectedness – The Missing Metric for Sales Enablement

Enablement programs for B2B sales and channel resources tend to focus on activities – trainings, certifications, portal visits, most popular assets, most posts per person, ratings, etc. These are all indicators suggesting enablement resources may have been consumed. But they don’t do a very good job of measuring one of the most important objectives of enablement – changing behavior. New platforms that integrate publishing, process, and social capabilities are making it possible to track behavior patterns in the context of specific business processes. Hidden in this data are the daily habits that differentiate our best direct and indirect sales resources. Sales enablement professionals need to find this data and share it with the rest of their sales audience.
This is a particularly crucial for the on-boarding process. Regardless of whether you’re training a new/replacement sales rep or bringing on a new partner and their employees, connectedness is a key metric that you need to capture and track. It is the only way to continually optimize behavior. You can capture financial and operational data with most of the content management, CRM, and marketing automation technology out there. But these systems are not explicitly designed to capture patterns of behavior. Even those with social networking capabilities are not being used effectively in this regard.

Sales enablement professionals need to use social networking as a basis for propagating best practices. The measurement should span not only person to person networking, but also track community membership, links to all manner of resources from internal portals, as well as communication with subject matter experts, peers and mentors. To be most effective, this capability should be deployed within a process driven platform for sales enablement, as opposed to an old school portal based on a publishing model. These new platforms go beyond simply providing access to content. They are process driven and deliver content, sales plays, transactional capabilities, and more all in the context of the company’s go to market strategy. In addition they have or are easily integrated with enterprise social networking capabilities which are crucial to facilitating and capturing how people interact with all the great resources they contain. 

There are two key dimensions the connectedness metrics should include – the number of connections to the right resources and the cadence of communication. For example:
  •          Which internal portals/systems do they log into – how often?
  •          Which SMEs do they interact with – how often?
  •          Which internal communities have they joined – how often do they visit and contribute?
This data can be invaluable in helping new reps and partners become more effective faster. What behaviors do our “A” reps and best partner reps exhibit? The intention is not to gratuitously boost hits and visits to marketing collateral, but to find the right level of connectedness for different types of reps. Being able to show other reps and partners that they can boost performance by making simple behavioral changes like subscribing to certain resources, joining communities they didn’t know existed, or increasing the frequency of communication is the path of least resistance to effectiveness.

Today many large high tech companies report it takes a year to get a sales rep fully up to speed with the pipeline needed to meet quota in the following year. Clearly there can be a lot of process, product, market, customer, competitive, etc. knowledge that needs to be transferred. But don’t neglect to transfer the behaviors that will help them  best utilize the resources the organization has offer.

For more information on IDC’s sales enablement research, please contact me: gmurray (at) idc (dot) com.

Start Operationalizing Your Buyer’s Journey

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?
Operationalizing a buyer’s journey
 
1) Collect a list of questions.
 
Start small. Select just one of your products and its most typical buyer. What questions does this buyer have about the problem? About alternative solutions? About acquiring, adopting, and using products like the one you offer? Finally, what questions might a buyer have specifically about your product?  Most companies will need multiple question lists for multiple situations. But don’t boil the ocean at the beginning.

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.

 
If your company has EVER sold a product, then somewhere, someone has the answers to the buyer’s questions. It probably isn’t the marketing team – but that’s okay. Go back the same people and places from which you gathered the questions.  Some questions can be answered easily. Others will be thorny.  Some questions will have happy answers. Other questions will be evil.

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.

 
Keep your initial content super simple. Make sure the answers to all the important questions are easily found on your website. Make sure that your sales team has easy access to all of the answers.
 

 4) Improve

 
Later, you can explore the best way to deliver your answers to buyers – how should the message be voiced? What content types and media work best at different steps and with different buyer personas? How do I best map the buyer’s journey steps to the sales process?

 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.

 
 
 

Lead Distribution Scoring – a key differentiator for B2B marketers

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:

  1. Treat the sales force like a market segment
  2. Market collateral (and leads) like solutions
  3. 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.

Six Key Table Stakes for B2B Sales and Marketing Alignment

The IDC CMO and Sales advisory services held their most recent client leadership meeting in Santa Clara on June 5th. One of the key topics of the day was sales enablement. The ensuing dialog between the sales and marketing execs in the room was as impassioned as it was ineffective. Many of the usual themes were expressed (in the nicest possible way): “marketing leads are crap”, “sales doesn’t follow up”, etc. etc.

Whenever I hear this conversation it always sounds like the two sides are talking past one another. Neither really understands how to express their frustration in a way that has any meaning to the other. What’s missing are some basic table stakes:

Sales 

1. Train marketing on sales process. It is impossible to effectively contribute to, much less consistently improve, an unknown process. No marketing team should be expected to deliver effective collateral or leads to a sales organization until they have been fully trained on sales process and methodology. In a large organization with multiple business units and product lines there will be many sales processes and the marketing teams charged with supported them must receive the same depth and cadence of training that the sales reps get.

Marketing 

2. Treat the sales force like a market segment. There are great variations in the needs of different kinds of reps in your organization and you must understand them on a rep by rep basis no less urgently than you do for your external marketing targets. The needs of an enterprise rep with two accounts are radically different than an SMB rep with 400 accounts or a territory where they may not know all the potential customers. Don’t throw 10,000 leads a month at both of them. You get the idea. Nurture your sales reps like any other targets and tune the metrics accordingly.

3. Market sales collateral like solutions. Marketing tends to market its wares to the sales force like products whose benefits are self evident. Assets are often “published” or “distributed” generically with tags to help reps “find” them. Imagine what would happen to the funnel if that was the extent of external marketing efforts! Sales support assets should be marketed through targeted nurture campaigns. Once you get going on #2 above, you can start to address the needs of each rep and market your leads, collateral and other assets as solutions to the right sales problem at the right time!

4. Take an account centric approach to lead generation. Marketing is generally great at understanding the world in terms of segments and contacts. These are fundamental concepts for planning, budgeting, and executing marketing activity. However, sales reps think of the world in terms of accounts. Marketing needs to make leads more relevant to reps by delivering them in an account context.

Sales and Marketing

5. Define customer creation as an enterprise process. This is the most effective way to change the corporate culture and gain executive support for addressing the many alignment issues across all customer facing functions in the enterprise. The analogy here is supply chain. Before it was defined as an enterprise process the people, processes, technology, data, and budgets within it were managed on a purely departmental basis. Defining it as an enterprise process made it possible to optimize and continually improve the supply chain based on overall business performance. The customer creation process – from prospecting to closing to upselling – needs to be owned and measured in the same way.

6. Implement customer data as an enterprise service. Once customer creation is established as an enterprise process, it requires an enterprise approach to customer data management in order for the optimization and continuous improvement to take place based on core business metrics and not on a collection of disassociated departmental KPIs.

These six table stakes should be treated as urgent action items for all high tech Sales Operations and Marketing Operations personnel. Some organizations are doing some of these things, but no one has implemented all of them as organizational norms.

The Customer Cloud: The Killer App for the Social Enterprise

The old two-step marketing and sales model for customer creation is dead. Today we have a three part model: Socializing, Marketing, and Sales – with socializing taking on increasing importance and marketing being redefined in the process. That’s a good thing for customers but it makes the market more competitive for sellers. Companies have to seek out and engage with both existing and potential customers in radically new ways outside of explicit business contexts with resources previously not thought of as customer facing.
This activity is going on today at a furious pace, but it is highly fragmented. With the introduction by Salesforce.com of Data.com and the social ready rebuild of Database.com at Dreamforce, as well their Chatter and CRM capabilities, customer interactions will come together in what is emerging as the Customer Cloud – the first killer app for the social enterprise.
The Customer Cloud will evolve into the source of record for all account and contact data because it can provide the Holy Grail of the customer creation process – the unified customer record. As a result, it will be the centering point for all customer interactions. It is definitive because:
  • It is self-regulating – contacts update their own data via social tools such as LinkedIn, Facebook, etc. greatly improving data accuracy and timeliness
  • It is real time – individuals have a vested interest in updating their social profiles asap
  • It has practically infinite scalability and reach.
  • It is equally available to all customer facing functions from marketing to sales, as well as fulfillment, finance, service and support, etc.
  • It provides insight into relationships – account contacts can be sustained and expanded even in the face of departures, and corporate hierarchies can be better understood and tracked.

A unified customer record provides the basis for breaking down the discrepancies, decay, and dysfunction that currently plague (or prevent the implementation of) enterprise customer creation processes, especially in B2B. It offers companies the potential to coordinate all of their customer facing activities around a single source of information – the lack of which has been the Achilles Heel in all previous efforts in CRM, data warehousing, and other valiant attempts to unify customer facing functions.
Thus at Dreamforce, the announcements of Data.com and the social data readiness of Database.com are major strategic milestones for Salesforce.com. With the addition of the Radian 6 social monitoring last year, this neatly rounds out a very strong play for leadership in the battle to deliver the Customer Cloud and provide the customer facing infrastructure of the future that will be build upon it.

Market Intelligence on the Move

Transformation continues to sweep its way through the marketing function and no “department” within the function is exempt from change. For this month’s CMO Advisor newsletter, we are now focused on the market intelligence area.

Compared to its peer departments, Market Intelligence (MI) enjoys relative stability, as measured by the steadiness of the job description, job security and tenure, and budgets. But there is a groundswell of change — or at least an expressed desire for change. In a recent survey of MI professionals, IDC observes that MI executives are seeking to increase the value they deliver to the organizations they support, and to deliver that value with greater efficiency.

Indeed, it is the sentiment of executives that IDC interviewed that “The market intelligence organization will change more in the next 3 years than it has changed in the past 10 years”. That is a bold statement. To peel it back, here are the top areas of change that the MI profession is seeking to transform.

  • MI executives want to transform their client engagement model and become more “proactive”. In IDC’s opinion, this sentiment stems from MI’s traditional challenge of being a demand-driven organization that is constantly working in “response mode” to numerous requests from their internal customers.
  • The MI area seeks to increase its contributions to corporate strategy and sales enablement.
  • From a process and technology standpoint, MI would like to improve the information “value chain”, from data sourcing to information delivery.
  • MI seeks to provide greater support for long-range business planning.
  • MI seeks to demonstrate more visible / tangible business value for its work output.

Our sense is that MI professionals have a good future vision of their role; one where they are highly efficient, driving strategic as well as tactical business value, and are highly valued by their internal clients across the organization for information and “insights” that positively influence business outcomes.

There are two areas that I believe are the best place for MI Transformation steps to begin. These are echoed by my colleagues at IDC and also validated by our surveys with MI executives. I will describe these and also take a bit of “analyst license” and provide some operational suggestions.

1. Improving support for corporate strategy and long term business decisions. I think that MI professionals would love to get out of the heavy load of short-time, fast response calls for bits and bites of data. What they would like to do is be involved in longer term, meatier analysis that is served at higher levels in the organization and that support important business outcomes. But MI is constrained by their people and processes.
The process changes I would suggest would be first; provide more technology and training for self-service for the run-rate of short and tactical requests. Second, consider greater off-shoring or right-shoring of the “back office” analysis roles within MI, and thereby create more roles for higher level “management – consulting” type MI personnel who can interface with executives for the longer-cycle, more complex projects.

By the way, on the right-shoring of MI tasks (moving the non-client facing anayltical tasks to lower cost countries), many of the largest tech vendors are on this march right now.

2. Sales Enablement. In IDC’s many surveys of Selling Productivity, we see that very high salaried sales executives spend a large amount of their time searching for or re-creating information that will support their preparation. OK, so what function in the organization that is NOT the sales function is good at finding and organizing and delivering information? Market Intelligence! I think it would be a natural for the MI area to provide greater and more cost effective support for many sales-preparation activities. As an example, almost every MI function has a portal for serving and managing information assets. Why couldn’t those same portals – or a version thereof – be used for sales assets? The time spent on searching for information assets is one of the most wasted and most common activities of salespeople.

Recently, I have been writing on similar transformations in related business units such as marketing operations, and we are also seeing some related changes taking place within sales operations. For every part of the marketing organization, the pressure is on to be efficient and drive positive business outcomes. IDC believes that there is a bright future ahead for MI leaders (and their teams) that understand the transformation that is under way and can begin that journey with concrete and bold new steps.

Rich Vancil