Enabling Selling with Thought Leadership

I attended the ITSMA annual conference last week in Cambridge, MA.  One of the major themes across the event was sales enablement, and how Marketing can play an important role there.   As a senior associate with ITSMA, I had the privilege of participating in a series of 1-on-1 meetings with various ITSMA members.  I was able to participate in some great conversations about challenges and opportunities across a broad range of technology companies!

One of the recurring challenges I heard was about the use of thought leadership content by sales teams.  The key question that came up multiple times was “How do I get the sales team to engage and use the thought leadership content that we create?”

Using thought leadership as a tool for sales is a multi-pronged effort.  Just creating the content and sending it over to them is largely ineffective – as many of these folks shared with me.  There is too much content already out there, and the most limited resource that a sales person has is time.  So, if you think they are going to read it, and figure it out on their own how and when to use it, you’ll be very disappointed.

Here is a great graphic done by Profitable Channels about “How Content Supports a Modern Selling System.”  (click on link for larger view)

http://www.thoughtleadershipselling.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/MSS.jpg

Where I think this question gets answered is on the top half of the diagram.  What we ended up talking about in each of the conversations I had was the topic of Delivery.  My question back to them was: how are you delivering this content to the sales force?  Are you giving them what they need to actually engage and use the content?

Some of the key questions that need to be addressed are as follows:

  1. Can they find the content asset quickly and easily, or is it buried in a network portal somewhere?
  2. Is the content asset enabled across multiple devices (projector, flat screen, tables, smart phones, laptops)? One size fits no one!
  3. Have you provided an ABSTRACT of the content that gives them the following:
    • Short summary of the top 3 major points in the piece
    • 2 – 3 good discussion questions that a rep can use to engage the prospect or customer about the piece
    • Links to a follow-up content asset so a sales rep can serve up what comes next (i.e. webinar, invite to an event, additional piece of content, podcast, video, etc.), and continue to provide value and drive further conversation.

For every piece of piece of thought leadership content you create, I bet you have a program or campaign planned to get it in the hands of your prospects and customers.  Marketers should also include creating a quick and easy campaign aimed directly at Sales to arm them with the three enablers listed above. Make selling with thought leadership easy.  Remember, they are not the consumers of your thought leadership content – but they can deliver it directly to a customer if you make it easy for them to use it.

— Lisa Dennis

“I’d Like to Add You to my Professional Network on LinkedIn”

sales handshake

Does that statement sound familiar?  I bet that you receive a number of these requests every month.   I got a handful of these this week – all using the exact same words and nothing more. The majority of requests were from people I did not know.  It’s great that they wanted to connect with me, but there is one major challenge with it.  I don’t know why.  I can look at their profile and decide if I want to be connected to that person or not – but I still don’t have any context for their request.

Let’s look at it another way.  Would you leave a voice mail message that simply stated “I’d like to add you to my professional network” and then just hang up?   Probably not!   So why do that using LinkedIn?

The highest and best use of LinkedIn is all about building professional relationships, not just playing a numbers game and collecting connections.  If I know you already, then just sending me the standard request is fine because we already have a relationship.  But if we don’t, then the standard request doesn’t deliver enough information to make an informed decision to connect.  The context of the request is actually very important.

So, let’s put our sales, or business development, or job seeker hat on and think about it from the point of view of the person you are trying to connect with.  What’s in it for them to connect to you?  If you let them answer that question by themselves, they could either guess or just dismiss it. Neither of  which is a great outcome.   If it isn’t important enough for you to spend a little time crafting a relevant request, it’s probably not important enough for them to try and figure out why you asked.

Here are some things to think about to craft a more engaging connection request:

  • Why specifically do you want to add me to your network?
  • What mutual interests might we have?
  • Have you read anything or heard anything about me that caused you to reach out?
  • Do you have any information, content, ideas, or referrals that might be of interest to me?
  • How would this connection benefit us both?

So before you send the standard request, step into the other person’s shoes. If they have to ask themselves why you want to connect, you’ve missed an opportunity to start a real conversation.

— Lisa Dennis

Business Models for Start-Ups Should be Grounded in Some Old School Principles

I read an interesting article the other day, about business models for start-ups.  While start-ups are not my typical client, I saw some ideas that I think could use a bit more fleshing out.  For instance, the article reads:

“The central area is the Value Proposition. In this section you must enter a value that you are determined to create and spread in the market, as well as the value you want to generate for your audience…”

I agree that the center of any new business model is a value proposition – but the reality is that there is a very mixed understanding of what that truly is.

valueIn particular, I’d like to suggest that figuring out what value you want to create FIRST, without identifying in advance the value needed/demanded from your audience is putting the cart before the horse.  Many a technology start-up has burned through their cash and shut their doors because they had a value proposition that spoke to the offer they wanted to sell, and not to what the buyer needed and was willing to buy. It’s the old “build it and they will come” theory which simply doesn’t work.

The value that the audience needs and desires comes before anything else in crafting a value proposition.  Then it should be translated into a modular platform that defines the value the audience is looking for, the specific offer(s) your organization delivers on the desired value, and finally, you need to define 1 or 2 rock solid differentiators that are quantifiable (with proof).   Smart start-ups will verticalize the value proposition into their different market segments as soon as possible so that it speaks in industry buyer language to specific industry issues, objectives, challenges.

So I agree that  business model  central area is the Value Proposition.  But it actually hinges on  a clear, well-articulated, customer-focused value proposition that is tailored by market and by audience.  Without it, the rest of the your business model canvas ends up being just busy work.

My best start-up advice is this:  start with customer, start with the customer, start with the customer.  Haven’t got a customer yet?  Vision who they should be – and work to define the value proposition they care enough to spend money on – then define/refine the offering.  Don’t waste your time and theirs on a cool idea that chases customers, rather than engages them up front.

So, what do you think is the rock that start-ups should be built upon?

— Lisa Dennis

How to Make B2B Content More Shareable

See on Scoop.itKnowledgence: Marketing and Sales

When it comes to creating content for a company blog smart social media promotion of your content is key. Here’s how to do it.

Lisa Dennis‘s insight:

Creating the right content has its challenges – and if you manage to deal with that, make sure you don’t shoot yourself in the foot by making it hard for your audiences to share it.  Part of creating good content is including in the design of the piece how it will be consumed and to offer a set of options for sharing to increase its reach. 

See on mashable.com

Relationship Stages and Buying Stages

ImageSome thoughts after reading an interesting discussion of the challenges of relationship marketing in the B2B arena:

Putting the relationship back into B2B marketing for real means balancing the imperatives of both customer relationship stages and buying stages.

Often these two things are regarded as the same when in fact they are connected but quite different. A customer relationship develops over the course of multiple buying cycles. It is not driven by an individual deal, or a stream of nurtured content. It is the sum of a range of relevant and relationship stage-appropriate activities and actions.  It moves across a continuum of states: from attraction to cultivation, then engagement, and finally collaboration.

The strategy for driving real customer relationships requires a relationship marketing framework that delivers a means for assessing/benchmarking the relationship, and a strategic and tactical set of maps to plan the optimal mix of both marketing and sales activities, content, and approaches to drive movement across the lifecycle of the customer.

 Lisa Dennis

Great Saleswomen, Past and Present

From Nimble.com…

http://www.nimble.com/blog/great-saleswomen-infographic/

Marketing and IT – Putting “Relation” Back into Relationship

There is such a gap between “need” and “want” – and the relationship between Marketing and IT sits squarely in the middle, driven in no small part by the onslaught of Big Data.

Take a look at this week’s CIO magazine article, “Building a Productive Relationship with Marketing”.  It offers 4 tips for IT to engage the marketing team that are worth considering, irrespective of which side of the fence you are on.

While I think improving this relationship is crucial to success, I’d suggest considering a 5th tip that applies to both teams. Start with the customer/prospect and work backwards into marketing and IT systems and approaches.  Instead of focusing on the internal gap, align around the needs of your target audience and work together to close that gap.  How does the buyer engage in the purchasing process, and how do the marketing/IT systems provide buyer intelligence that can inform marketing and sales strategies?  Joint pursuit of the answers to those questions will move the relationship between Marketing and IT into high gear.

— Lisa Dennis

Value Propositions Must Evolve With the Buyer

I read an interesting article the other day, called “How to Write Your Value Proposition.”value

This is good foundation information, but the buyer environment has undergone radical changes over the past 5 or 6 years.

The advent of the ‘hidden sales cycle’ (the stages of the buying process that buyers are conducting on their own, without sales people) have made the value of the  age-old value proposition formula become less and less effective.  Buyers are engaging with sales later and later in the process, getting to a short list of vendors before ever speaking to any one of them.  The pithy one sentence value proposition that is product or service focused does not work as well in that environment.

Rather than just delivering a description of the value your company brings to the buyer, we need to communicate the value the buyer seeks in achieving their goals or solving their challenge – in their language.   Buyer-centric, not product- or service-centric.  To engage the buyer in the hidden sales cycle, we must rely more and more on effective content marketing because the sales process is happening there without the sellers.  This results in an evolved value proposition creation process that fully feeds all the content needs.

We have been working with customers on developing their own value proposition playbook to deliver a messaging platform that feeds the content needs of buyers.   The game has changed – and the value proposition development process needs to move with it.

— Lisa Dennis

Listen Up, People!

Think you know who makes the best fit for a sales role?  Think again.

Just read a fascinating article  in Forbes  magazine that shakes up the age old notion that extroverts make better sales people.  As a sales trainer, one of the biggest challenges I see is getting people to learn to listen.  Many extroverts, including myself, probably wouldn’t score high if we were tested for our listening skills.  Why?  We’re too busy being extroverted (think, talking, laughing, telling stories, talking, jumping up and down, bubbling over with enthusiasm and confidence, and more talking).

Just last week I had a VP of Sales ask me to help his team learn to ask better questions.  “How are they at listening?” I asked.   He responded by telling me that if they asked the right questions the rest would take care of itself.

Well, frankly, nothing takes care of itself when it comes to communicating with customers and prospects.  Most sales people are planning their response, WHILE the prospect is speaking. So much for those listening skills.

Here is why the research is interesting:  between an extrovert and an introvert is someone who has both speaking AND listening skills.  They are flexible in being able to switch back and forth, which is much  more in tune with a prospect’s rhythm.  This type of person is an ambivert.  Even more interesting is the fact that in the study, the ambiverts had higher sales than extroverts, and that extroverts and introverts actually are extremes, whereas most of us fall in the middle.  The good news is – we’re all capable of being effective in sales.

Check out the research here, and let us know what you think.  We promise to shut up and let you talk!

Lisa Dennis

Making the Choice: Marketing and Sales Alignment or Buyer Alignment

Two Hour Workshop by Lisa Dennis, President, Knowledgence Associates, and co-author of 360 Degrees of the Customer:  Strategies & Tactics for Marketing, Sales and Service

AMA Marketing Workshop

In the quest for new and repeat customers, the marketing and sales professionals in your organization have been in a push-me, pull-me struggle to align their processes, tools, approach and philosophies to get better revenue traction.   This ongoing challenge is gaining in urgency given the increasing propensity of buyers to take over the early sales process and leave us out of it.  There is an alignment choice to be made here, but it isn’t really about aligning marketing and sales with each other.  The increasing demands of prospects and customers alike all point to the critical necessity of alignment with the buyer.  The real choice for marketing and sales is about whether to align from the inside-out, or from the outside-in.  The highest performing organizations align from the buyer-in and keep the focus on engagement.

This workshop will walk you through how to build a buyer relationship framework to drive alignment within your marketing and sales teams. This modular and customizable approach will provide the road map and steps to integrating marketing and sales across all the key areas that drive new business.

Topics include:

  • Charting the Buyer Journey in your Key Markets
  • Building the Relationship Framework & Stages
  • Redefining the Buying Cycle & Pipeline Process
  • Identifying & Delivering  Tools that Drive Internal Engagement
  • Charting the Buyer Alignment Course Forward
%d bloggers like this: