The Speed of Twenty Years

 

The Speed of Twenty Years

In the blur of travel, multiple projects, and life in general, I recently realized something that was right in front of me but didn’t notice.  It started from a basic question asked of me by a fellow passenger on plane ride back from Baltimore.   “How long have you been in business?”   I thought about it for a minute.  Let’s see, I started in 1997 and….oh wow….it’s been twenty years. Wait, twenty? Twenty years?  Wow. I really had never thought about it and it totally crept up on me.

In 1997, I did something I had never done in my entire career.  I quit an extremely stressful job without another one lined up. Thanks to my husband, I had the luxury of being able to take a badly needed time-out.  I took 6 months off to figure out what came next.  To say I was burned out would be an understatement.  For the first 3 months I just went to the gym and slept a lot. The last 3 months I worked with a career coach and had many job interviews.  But I was not interested in any of the opportunities.  Several people began suggesting to me that consulting would be a good fit for me – but I couldn’t see it.  Who would hire me if I didn’t have a company attached to me?  It really made me think about my identity and how it was so attached to my career.  Was my identity owned by the company I kept?  Or could I claim it and make my own way?

Striking a Bargain

After a lot of thought and many conversations, I struck a bargain with myself.  I would try consulting for one year with a goal of matching my salary.  If I didn’t succeed, I would go find a job.  I never even considered what would happen if I was successful.  Funny to think about that now.  Year one went quickly and I surpassed my goal! So, I gave myself another year.  That year was even better – so I did it for a third year.  Again, a great experience.  At that point, I realized I had a business here if I wanted it.  And so I changed my entire career orientation permanently – and twenty years literally FLEW BY.

Needless to say, I have not even planned how I will celebrate this milestone.  I’m still marveling that I have done this work for so long on my own.  I need to figure out a way to celebrate for sure.  I also want to share some things I’ve learned along the way that have been pivotal for my growth both personally and professionally.  Each quarter of my 20th year, I will share them with you.

First Quarter Theme:  THANKS

Thanks to the people who really helped me see what was possible.  Because I didn’t see it at all.

Thanks to Nancy Haynes, a former co-worker who told me something that has been true for every one of these 20 years.  “You will be the best and worst boss you have ever had.”  She was and is so right! She has just started a new career and vocation herself – and it is going to be amazing.

Thanks to Nancy Hegarty, another former co-worker who told me that consulting would be a good fit given how I had operated at work on the different projects I got involved with in addition to my regular responsibilities.  She helped me understand what skills I had that would make a good consultant. My respect for her allowed me to trust her judgement, even though I was not sure I could do it.

Thanks to my mother, who taught me about ‘re-careering” – a woman who had multiple careers, all of them successful.  At the time I was considering my options for work, she was a career counselor (career #3 I think), working with a couple of people who were building very successful consulting practices after many years working in corporate.  She shared what they were doing and how creative and lucrative it could be.  I could have both?  She tempted me to take a risk because she had done so herself over and over.

Thanks to Jim Ballway, a consultant I had hired a few times to do some work for me when I was employed.  I took him to lunch to pick his brain about consulting and he advised me to keep my costs low, and “whatever you do, don’t rent office space until you have to.  Stay in your house as long as you can.”  Great advice – and he was right. In twenty years, I only had an external office for about a year – and it was a waste of money!

Thanks to Kathy McAllister, one of my first big clients and collaborators.  She taught me the power of socializing ideas in advance of rolling things out, and refining and re-refining (and re-refining) output to get it just right. It used to drive me a little crazy, but the results were always great.  I wanted to get the work  done quickly and then show it – but the power of having people bought in beforehand was really important.  Thanks, Kathy for teaching me that valuable lesson.

Thanks to Joan Groleau who hired me after sitting in one training class, and has since worked with me at 5 different companies.  She has been the most creative client/partner I have ever had the privilege of working with.  With her knack of having vision just before a need presents itself, we’ve been able to create some amazing outcomes over the years. She helped my business be better and more creative than I could have ever  imagined without her.

So that’s my first take on twenty years of Knowledgence.  This year I am finishing up writing a book which will be out in the spring.  Who would have thought this is where I’d be?  Not me!  But the best is yet to come, and I feel that anything is possible.  What a gift all of my clients over the years have given me.  Next quarter I will share some specific things I learned on some key projects that may help you in your own endeavors.  Thank you.  That’s what I want to say most of all.  Thank all of you.

 

Lisa Dennis
President, Knowledgence Associates
Ldennis@knowledgence.com
@knowledgence

 

Value Propositions That Actually Sell

As the B2B sales process becomes ever more complex, marketers are working overtime creating new and (hopefully) more compelling value propositions. But are your sales people really equipped to deliver them?

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Making the Right Choice: Dive in or Engage with a Market-of-One

Major accounts, be they global or national, require special handling for organizations to develop a deep enough understanding that drives business across the organization. Thinking about the account as a market of one and approaching it from that standpoint by both your marketing and sales team is the best way to uncover, tailor, and deliver value that deepens the relationship and drives revenue.

Typically, an account plan is developed by sales, with some small piece provided by marketing. It typically has an inside-out focus: what your organization has to sell first, and who we are going to sell it too second. The weakness in this approach is directional. It should start from the outside-in: focusing on the account’s market imperatives and business drivers, its goals, objectives and initiatives first. Then moving to step two: thinking about how your organization can provide assistance and value in addressing those factors, and how to message your relevant solutions and capabilities to just those individuals within the account that have responsibility for the initiatives.

Given the mandate to drive quarter by quarter results, the plan for major accounts typically focuses on the here and now – without a full, 360-degree view of what the account could develop into over a longer time horizon, with a defined joint sales and marketing strategy. So many organizations who decide to adopt a major account initiative, create a list of their biggest accounts and just dive into the nearest account planning process.

There are multiple processes and templates available that can help you cobble together a really impressive account plan document. Yet, senior management is often disappointed when they discover that this isn’t really enough to create a sustainable path to long-term growth. The crucial component of a major account strategy is co-development by your account team and your marketing team. Do this piece first, and then review it and refine with the customer themselves.

The real key to reaching and engaging a market of one, your account, is to make the investment of time and effort to craft the right solution set that is driven by customer initiatives – a sales “play” that is customized by a deep understanding of the customer’s situation. To drive it home, there is another extremely crucial input that many account teams don’t take into consideration: the secret sauce provided by marketing. For an approach that really delivers customer engagement, an account-based marketing approach should be included to create a value proposition and story to message directly to the key decision makers, recommenders and influencers for the initiative(s) you are planning to target in the account.

An account plan that is all tactics without a clear cohesive strategy and direction, socialized with and contributed to by the customer, is just a basket of hopeful tactics. And hope is not an account plan that drives deep engagement and revenue. When you have an account plan that is all about tactics, it is also highly likely that the tactics are not connected to each other in a meaningful way. They are almost always short-term in nature (read as “this quarter” or “this year”). The account will just rise and fall from year to year – as opposed to moving forward in a way that fosters both your company and your account become increasingly valuable to each other for long-term success.

Key Steps for Successful Large Account Engagement

1. Go Deep

a. Analyze their market including current state, issues, changes (current and future), and any disruptors on the horizon.

b. Learn how they are currently handling these market/business imperatives. What initiatives are in play to address the most important ones?

c. What are the top 3-5 main strategic objectives/initiatives the account has set for itself?

2. Orient Yourself

a. Conduct a review of the account’s buying patterns and installed products/services to determine trends, pattern and gaps you might fill that directly address the account’s key imperatives and initiatives.

b. What kind of opportunities are currently in the pipeline for this account? More of the same, or are there any new or strategically significant factors that you might build on?

3. Get Personal

a. What key account relationships exist and can be leveraged going forward?

b. What relationships need work or are damaged and need repair?

c. Who are the decision makers, recommenders and influencers for the initiatives you are aiming at? Are you connected to all of them?

d. What new relationships do you need to build within the account to help further the account’s objectives?

4. Gather the Village

a. Define and include all your staff (not just sales and marketing) that will directly impact the account’s experience with your organization and include them in the planning process.

b. Give team members a clear path on how they can participate and where/how you want their insights. You need both their experience with the account, their brains for ideas and solutions, and their buy-in.

5. Plan for Success

a. Give each participant in the account team some advance work/research to bring to the table at a planning event. The work done out of the room has a direct impact on the work that will be accomplished in the room.

b. Invest in an objective facilitator who can get your account team through the process efficiently, and stop you from drinking your own Kool-Aid, or worse yet, spilling it all over your plan.

c. Make sure that the strategy has been fully developed and agreed to, before moving to the tactical elements of the account plan.

d. Include the account’s key players in the process. It doesn’t necessarily have to be from the very beginning – but before the strategy gels, get them involved.

5. Plan the Work & Work the Plan

a. Develop a targeted value proposition and story for each key initiative you select for the account. A market-of-one means making sure the story that you tell is addressed directly to those individuals in the account with ownership of the initiative(s).

b. Create a campaign plan that will serve up this new messaging with the right set of tailored content assets at each stage of the buyer’s journey. Tailored content with a story that to the key is directed at the right people makes for campaigns that directly impact account activity.

c. Be sure to build in all the steps of an real account plan launch and roll-out, and regular account reviews with a process that drives action and is not a drag on execution.

d. Make sure that the account plan moves with you through the plan period. If you have to dust it off even once, it’s clear that you are winging it again. Go back to the plan – does it need an update or do you have to get everyone back on track – or both?

e. Include plan reviews as a key part of your regular monthly or quarterly business reviews. Is your strategy in tune with current trends and customer direction? Any changes needed? Make sure you weave them in, or rip and replace where necessary.

So instead of just diving in to your major account planning process, consider an integrated marketing and sales approach to really drive account engagement. Finally, don’t just review revenue results to determine if the account plan is working. Look at progression along several elements – in relationships, opportunities, and direct engagement within the account. A 360-degree view of the account’s progress turns into a road map that drives account satisfaction and repeatable revenue growth.

Find out more about what buyers really want in a targeted value proposition to really set the stage for large account success. Download the infographic here.

KA blogMajor accounts, be they global or national, require special handling for organizations to develop a deep enough understanding that drives business across the organization.  Thinking about the account as a market of one and approaching it from that standpoint by both your marketing and sales team is the best way to uncover, tailor, and deliver value that deepens the relationship and drives revenue.

 

Click here to read more…

The Twelve Days of Prospecting

partridge-in-pear-tree-fi

To keep your business pipeline healthy all year long, prospecting for new gigs is a necessity.  In keeping with the holiday season, KiteDesk.com has posted my article, The 12 Days of Prospecting.  In it, I discuss a variety of processes, tips, and suggestions for successfully building your customer base.  These are twelve strategies that you can begin to incorporate today, which will serve you well in the upcoming year!

Read the entire post here!

Sales Leads: 3 Great Paths to Conversion

KiteDesk1

                                              (image: KiteDesk.com)

 

The path to closing a deal with a big-time prospect is never a sure thing. However, the probability of converting a sales lead increases the more qualified, simplified, and decision proof you can make your buyer’s journey.  For some tactics on how to make this happen, please read my recent post on this topic, on KiteDesk’s blog!

Click here to read more…

The Missing Piece in Content Marketing

Lisa Dennis Content Marketing“While content marketing is one of the most effective and interesting marketing tactics to come down the pike, I have to confess that I have a bone to pick with it.  Content marketing isn’t only about marketing.  While marketers have all the responsibility for strategy, creation and execution, which is no small thing, there is another very important aspect that’s missing…”

I recently wrote this while pondering the strengths and weaknesses of content marketing, and why it has not been fully embraced by sales people.  I came up with a few ideas on the matter that I’d like to share with you.

Click here to read my entire article on TechTarget’s Mktr2Mktr site.  Thanks!

How Social is Your Value Proposition?

We are told not to “sell,” per se, on social media.  What we are supposed to do is use it as a means of influencing, educating, informing and broadening the conversation.

Please read my recent blog post on this topic on Tech Target’s Mktr2Mktr page.

Is Your Pitch Pitchy? Why Reading Aloud Works

ReadingAloud

Please check out my new blog post regarding the importance of reading your writing aloud before putting it front of your customer’s eyes, recently posted on Pipeliner CRM’s blog.

The 5 Step Value Proposition Check-Up

Not sure that your value proposition is really delivering the message that you intend?  So many of us in marketing and sales are expected to create value propositions, but the majority of us have never received any kind of training on how to do it effectively.  Here’s a quick check-up that can help you identify points at which you can refine your value proposition so that it is truly ready for customer engagement.

customer

Step 1 – What is it about?

Does the value proposition focus on your product or services, or is the focus on the potential customers’ need, challenge or pain?  Your targets are short on time and patience, so putting the focus on your own company, rather than their issues leaves them to figure out for themselves if you are relevant.  I’m sure you can guess which of the 2 choices above will be more attractive to them.

Step 2 – Who is it addressing?

Many value propositions try to cover multiple target audiences.  Yet, one-size-fits all usually fits no one. So if I was your prospect, could I easily tell by reading or hearing your value prop if it is addressed to me specifically?  If you are thinking that you have to have a broad one because you have multiple targets, think again.  Consider developing a core one, and then multiple targeted value propositions that speak to key players in the buying decision.

Step 3 – Is it Understandable?

Use of acronyms, technical language, internal jargon, and “marketing speak” can completely derail the clarity of the message you are trying to drive home.  This is a frequent issue that many value propositions fall prey to.  Keep it clear, crisp, and in customer language.  If your prospects have to translate it to understand – they won’t.

Step 4 – Is it Provable?

The very essence of a value proposition is about making a “claim” of value.  Given that the claim is coming from your company, most buyers will automatically be skeptical.  You’re trying to sell them something, after all.  So consider offering objective, third party (i.e. not YOU) proof that the value delivered is real.  Testimonials, case studies, survey results, research results, analyst reviews. No proof?  Get some or your value proposition will be just words on a page.

Step 5 – Is it Quantifiable?

Many value propositions include key attributes such as increased productivity, lowered costs, additional revenue, and the like.  There are a handful of key buyer imperatives that your prospects are typically looking for.  The sticking point is that if you include an imperative, you need to put a stake in the ground and tell me by how much.  The amount or % that your offer delivers is key to putting the oomph into your statement.  Afraid to actually use a number or %?  Then reconsider the inclusion of that imperative.  If you can’t make it specific and real, then it’s just a claim like millions of others.

By now, you should be getting a good idea on the strengths and weaknesses of your current value proposition.  Resist the urge to start over from scratch.  Instead really think through where you can make improvements that will speak directly to the customer.  The value proposition as a marketing and sales tool can be thought of, metaphorically, as a mirror.  When your prospect looks in that mirror – make sure it’s their face they see, and they will step forward.  Differentiate yourself as a vendor by making it all about them.

4 Reasons I Sell #LikeAGirl

This past week I read an amazing blog post from my colleague Jill Konrath:  I Sell #LikeAGirl and I’m Proud of It.  As always, she is both insightful and SPOT ON with the truths about selling in today’s environment.LikeAGirl

It got me thinking about where the discipline of sales is going, and what we as #likeagirl sellers bring to the table. Not only do I think this is a very important statement for women sellers, but it has the potential to be a wake-up call for the rest of sales people out there. Are you ready?

My introduction to selling started when I was a product manager.  I had the bad luck of being in charge of the “dog” product in my company – the product that no one cared about, or understood, or thought was valuable.   Except me.  If I was going to be successful, I needed to shift the sales team’s attitude about the product.   In my head, the “dog” product needed to become “the little product that could.”   (For the uninitiated, this harks back to one of my favorite children’s stories:  The Little Engine That Could).  To get my sales team to sell this product, I needed to do two things:

  1. Figure out and clearly communicate why it was valuable to our top clients who bought it religiously every year (most of our top 100 client list).
  2. I had to sell those concepts to our sales force. Every quarterly sales meeting, the product managers (all women) trooped in and usually got challenged (and sometimes beat up) by the sales team.  This was my opportunity every three months to sell to my hardest audience – my own sales guys.
I sell #LikeAGirl because I’m CURIOUS.  (TWEET THIS!)

I knew that I had to make the sellers believe in the product’s potential. I also knew that it was going to be heavy lifting.  What would it take?  So curiosity became the first step in my strategy.  I picked a couple of sales guys I knew I could talk to, and asked them about their challenges out there.  What was missing? How could we do a better job of helping them sell?   I didn’t even mention my product in those early conversations. I had already pitched my brains out to them previously with little result.   It was time to walk in their shoes and see it from their point of view. I learned a lot from these two guys.  I asked them questions, then I shut up and listened. Then I listened some more.

I sell #LikeAGirl because I’m OPEN.  (TWEET THIS!)

One of my clients called and wanted to meet to talk about how to use the product for a few different initiatives they were considering.  They were based in New York, so I set up the meeting and invited our New York sales executive to join me.  I met him on Fifth Avenue, and up to the client’s office we went. I asked the client to share their ideas with us – so we could get a feel for what they wanted to do.  Ten minutes into it, the sales executive interrupted them and asked, “Why do you use this product anyway, we have much better options that would meet your needs better.”  Everyone in the room was quiet.  This was the moment to be open, not defensive.  So I said, “It might be a good idea to look at other options, but let’s be sure we hear everything that you’re thinking about first.”    The client looked at him, looked at me – and picked up where he left off.  Let me just sum up the situation:  My own sales guy threw my product under the bus…with me sitting there…in front of the client. Then once the client finished talking about their needs, they started explaining to my sales guy why the product was valuable for them.

I sell #LikeAGirl because I’m RESILIENT.   (TWEET THIS!)

After the client was finished speaking, I moved the discussion to how my product, and others we offered might best address their needs.  My sales executive focused on higher ticket, sexier products. Still managing the urge to get defensive or adversarial, I focused on being resilient.   I let him pitch other options and participated in comparing and contrasting them to see which would be the best fit.  We figured out next steps and closed the meeting.   On the way out, the sales executive said to me, “Yeah, they need something much better than what they have been using (my product).  I’ll follow-up with them and take care of it. You can take it off your plate.”  Then he walked away and left me there. I flew home discouraged but not finished. I needed to think through the situation some more.  Two days later, I got a call to come to our president’s office.  I walk in, and there is the sales executive.  The client had called the president and told him that he did not want  that guy in his office ever again.  He said he was arrogant, rude, and clearly didn’t know anything about his business.  I had to participate in a debrief on what actually happened in that meeting – with the sales guy in the room. I laid it out diplomatically, and didn’t flinch when the sales executive trashed my product in the course of the discussion. The president ultimately sent a letter of apology and made the situation right.

I sell #LikeAGirl because I’m TIRELESS.   (TWEET THIS!)

The client kept my product, and also purchased a subscription to one more from another product line.  I fielded several calls from them about how to use both products together.  I went to the support team for the other product and asked for their help.  They spent about an hour with me on what the product did, but told me they couldn’t go any further because they didn’t provide support for my product. So I sat down, and figured it out myself – what was the best way to balance and integrate the use of both so the customer’s specific and unusual needs could be met.  I put together a process and a demo and did a webinar for the client’s team to show them the possibility.  And it worked.  Later that quarter I got a customer service award based on the letter that the client sent our president outlining the entire set of experiences they had in both the sales and service of their account for these two products.  Net results:  we increased their purchase from one annual subscription to a second subscription, more than doubling monthly revenue for 12 months – and we kept the client happy.

So here it is:  customers today want a partner, not a sales person, not an adversary, not a stalker.  Think about selling #LikeAGirl even if it is outside of your traditional comfort zone.  It will not only impact your sales results, but also increase customer satisfaction in a big way.

Lisa Dennis
Email:    LDennis@knowledgence.com
Twitter: @Knowledgence

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