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.

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.