The Big Myth About Buyer’s Journey in the Digital Age

July 28, 2015

CommunicationLast week I attended a webinar presented by SiriusDecisions and Alinean titled “ SiriusDecisions Interview: Death of the B2B Sales Rep?”. It basically reinforced some concepts I already knew and presented some new interesting stats from the research that SiriusDecisions has done recently.

If you know anything about SiriusDecisions these guys are the top analysts when it comes to B2B sales and marketing. Here’s what you need to know about the content they presented:

  1. Don’t believe the 67% stat quoted everywhere
  2. Sales people matter more than your digital assets
  3. Your sales enablement and content marketing plans need adjustment
  4. Train sales reps on value, not on product features

OK, let’s dive into each one.

Don’t believe the 67% stat quoted everywhere

You’ve seen and heard this multiple times. I sure am guilty of mysquoting it once or twice and I have recently heard a VP say it like it was the new gospel. “67% of the buyer’s journey is now done digitally” is the actual quote from SiriusDecisions from back in 2013 that people misuse thinking you should focus your marketing on creating digital assets, leveraging marketing automation, inbound marketing and that by the time the prospect engages with your sales team they have done most of the research, diminishing the role of the sales rep to a mere order taker.

SiriusDecisions published a must-read blog post dispelling the myth and setting the record straight noting that:

a) The 67% statistic doesn’t say that buyers don’t engage with sales people in the early stages of the buying journey, it simply says buyers are spending more time online (note it also doesn’t say that the 67% is related to the early stages, in fact it is spread throughout the sales cycle);

b) Just because buyers are doing research online it doesn’t mean you have to wait for them before you engage;

c) You need to understand what’s really happening online and tailor your inbound strategy accordingly.

Sales people matter more than your digital assets

According to SiriusDecisions 2015 Buyer Study, buyers classify “sales presentations” more meaningful or impactful than the traditional marketing assets like whitepapers, infographics, eBooks and Webinars during their buying process. In fact, sales presentations were ranked top next to analyst reports and followed closedly by case studies and articles/publications.

How do you get to see ‘sales presentations’? By engaging a sales rep. The top three contents ranked by the companies answering the survey have the same thing in common: they all answer “what value am I going to get from the solution?” question.

Your sales enablement and content marketing plans need adjustment

The key takeaway from the research is that you may have to review your sales enablement and content marketing plans. How much time are you spending creating truly captivating sales presentations? Is your content focused on promoting the product features or in showing value?

Also important is the notion of risk. Every purchase decision involves risk analysis and if you are able to minimize the perceived risk in the eyes of the buyer, you get ahead of the competition. Risk is shown in many forms, like technology risk, financial risk, user acceptance, and more. Depending on what you are selling you need to adjust the messaging to focus on the types of risks more important to the buyer.

Train sales reps on value, not on product features

According to the research presented, most sales reps have trouble selling the value of their solutions. Just listen to a few sales calls and you will listen to a variety of messages from different sales reps. Some will pitch the technology, others will go strong on pricing, some will focus on dissing competitors… it never changes. The problem is not just with the sales team, is with how you are training them.

I know this first hand. Tell someone in sales how to pitch the product and it almost guarantees they will do a different way. But you have to insist and enlist the help of the senior sales reps and execs to make sure they support the key messaging and value proposition you are creating in marketing and why the sales decks were created this way.

When a new product or new product release is being announced to the team, pay special attention to how you can translate the technical features in customer value and announce it that way. Retraining the sales team, making them shift their approach is one of the hardest things, but it gotta be done.

The Shift In Sales

The fact that buyers are doing research on their own doesn’t diminish the value of the sales rep, it actually makes the sales person way more important and doing an extremely difficult job. But by arming the sales team with the right messaging, the right tools and catering the tools to different stages in the sales cycle you will be increasing the value the sales person in your organization delivers to the prospect at each step of the way.


A Content Framework for Sales Enablement

September 11, 2013

With all the hype around content marketing, all the attention is typically on the front-end, customer-facing content materials. That involves emails, eBooks, whitepapers, videos, and the myriad of other content deliverables that are focused on lead nurturing and demand generation.

This is all well and good, but how about the “other” side of content marketing, the internal-facing content that marketers and especially product marketers have to create? Although not as glamorous, internal content like sales enablement materials are an important component of making sure all that nurturing given to your leads actually convert into deals.

Sales Enablement Content

Materials such as industry playbooks, competitive battlecards, demo scripts, technical product FAQ’s and more are some of the elements found in any sales enablement program. But how do you know what content to create and how to prioritize? More importantly, how to make sure the sales team is aligned with marketing’s priorities for content creation?

The best way I found to get the conversation started is to follow a simple framework that looks at the buyer’s journey, the sales person’s needs, and matches that up with different types of content that helps sales take the prospect through the sales cycle up to closing the deal.

Content Framework

First, define which are the stages of your buyer’s journey. You can use the traditional simplified version that goes “consideration”, “evaluation”, and “decision”, or the more detailed approach from SiriusDecisions that talks about “loosening the status quo”, “committing to change”, “exploring possible solutions”, etc…

Then, I like to have right below it the buyer’s questions and goals at each stage. This helps solidify our understanding of the buyer’s needs at each stage. Right after that, I put in the sales rep goals. You see, buyers will have certain issues, goals, etc. as they walk through the buying journey and the sales rep will have his or her own goals to achieve. Understanding these different perspectives will help focus on types of content that not only help the buyer but assist the sales person as well. This also makes for interesting discussion when validating the framework with the sales leadership.

Finally, I then have the sales enablement materials aligned with each of the stages and in different categories, like “playbooks”, “messaging and positioning”, “competitive”, etc. I even separate the content into two separate areas, called “internal facing” and “external facing” content. This way we have a full picture of content needs throughout the buying cycle.

Below is a snapshot of what this framework looks like in Excel.

Sales Enablement Framework

 

I found this is an effective way to brainstorm sales enablement content, get sales teams to give feedback, and help prioritize content creation and build a content calendar.

I hope this helps in your own content creation and sales enablement efforts and welcome feedback and suggestions!

 


The State of Demand Generation

March 22, 2012

If you missed the DemandCon Conference hosted earlier this month in San Francisco, the online recording of the sessions is worth checking out. BrightTalk did an excellent job with the recordings and is making all of them available for free on their website.

There are over 20 presentations available, ranging from Social CRM and Lead Generation, to Case Studies and Sales Enablement. A must-watch presentation, though, is the keynote address “The State of Demand Creation“, by Tony Jaros, SVP Research for SiriusDecisions. Here are some of my notes.

SiriusDecisions State of Demand Gen 2012

The State of Demand Generation 2012

Why is demand generation so important? According to Tony Jaros, marketers will typically spend 60% of their budget on demand generation programs. The problem is, there are 4 key battles playing out in organizations:

  1. Task ownership (who does what in demand gen process)
  2. Buying cycle control (you need to facilitate the buying process and understand what is required of you as a result)
  3. Create sufficient content (how can we possibly keep up with demand for content?)
  4. Create demand while we sleep (build a “perpetual demand engine”)

Tony says that SiriusDecisions is in the process of revising their demand generation waterfall framework (Inquiries > Marketing Qualified Leads > Sales Accepted Leads > Sales Qualified Leads > Deal Closed), but shared some interesting facts about typical conversion rates and contrasted those with what they consider “best-in-class” companies:

Typical Rates for the Average B2B Company:

  • Inquiries to MQL: 4.4%
  • MQL to SAL: 66%
  • SAL to SQL: 49%
  • SQL to Close: 20%

The numbers above mean that out of 1,000 inquiries, the typical organization will close 2.9 deals.

Best Practice B2B Company Rates:

  • Inquiries to MQL: 9.3%
  • MQL to SAL: 85%
  • SAL to SQL: 62%
  • SQL to Close: 29%

Best practice companies, on the other hand, will typically close 14 deals out of 1,000 inquiries.

The 5 Critical Tasks

How do you get to be a “best practice” company and increase your efficiency? SiriusDecisions says that to drive best-in-class performance, sales and marketing must align around five waterfall-based jobs:

  • Seed (use of traditional and social media to set the stage for demand creation)
  • Create (generation of “original” demand, focusing on quality, i.e. generating a better lead for sales)
  • Nurture (care and feeding of prospects that aren’t ready for sales or that have fallen out of the waterfall)
  • Enable (help reps increase productivity, both for sales and marketing-sourced demand)
  • Accelerate (help sales move deals more quickly through the pipeline)

This all leads to a few things. For one, the rise of the “Demand Center” taking away tasks that were typically the domain of Field Marketing. But, more importantly, demand creation has become more complex, requiring increasingly specialized skills. And so, there are new roles coming down the pike based on each of the critical tasks mentioned before:

Seed:

  • Content strategist
  • Inbound marketer

Create:

  • Automation expert
  • Web anthropologist

Nurture:

  • Nurturing specialist

Accelerate:

  • Acceleration specialist

The Customer Buying Cycle Framework

According to SiriusDecisions, buyers go through three stages and six steps during their buying process.

Stage 1: Education
– Loosening the status quo
– Committing to change

Stage 2: Solution
– Exploring possible solutions
– Commiting to a solution

Stage 3: Vendor Selection
– Justifying the decision
– Making the selection

Buyers move in and out of each stage. You have to be prepared to engage them throughout the cycle. The problem, though, is that marketers have to face the realities of the B2B Buying Cycle:

  • You control less
  • You see less
  • Your sales resources will often be in reactive mode

Organizations have to become better at determining what need and what questions buyers have when they decide to engage in the sales process. Understanding the buying cycle and the key needs buyers have at each point can help marketers and sales reps. Create a knowledge base with relevant content that your sales team can leverage during the sales cycle.

Content Creation Challenges

The biggest complaint from marketers is that they can’t keep up with content creation needs (multi-touch programs, social media, nurturing programs, thought leadership, etc.).

Why companies can’t keep up? Usually because marketers suffer from:

  • No accountability (is everybody’s job and nobody’s job, there is a void in planning and strategy related to content creation)
  • Lack of targeting (too broad a vision/strategy which is never revised)
  • Rampart waste (content created has no memory, not related to previous content, not connected to other content, and has no story; and limited ability to find what’s needed)
  • Burned cycles (lack of buyer knowledge, and lack of specificity)

Centralized responsibility for content strategy is becoming a requirement for highly effecitve b2b marketing. AKA the rise of the “Content Strategist“, which is someone that has:

  • Accountability
  • Authority
  • Responsibility
  • Organization
  • Measurement

Another issue when it comes to content creation is that most organizations engagage in “absolute targetting“, they think about everyone that could potentially buy what they are selling, and create content accordingly which means response rates are low, and quality of leads is also low.

Marketers should instead engage in “relative targeting“. You want to take your industry and segment it into sub-verticals and rank them in terms of external factors (trends, category spend, product use and importance, competitive presence). Then, use internal factors (solutions delta, domain knowledge, messaging, sales readiness, and database) to select the best segment for you to go after.

Content Audit

Best in class companies are auditing their assets. There are two steps for that:

  1. Classify by content type (white papers, brochures, testimonials, videos, case studies, etc.)
  2. Evaluate each piece of content (quality, relevance, value, influence on buyer perception)

The Complete B2B Persona

Buyer personas are all the hype again, and for good reason. They are the first step in your content planning process. SiriusDecisions has a B2B Persona template they use which you should consider for your next content creation project. Here are the key things they look at when creating the persona:

  • Job role
  • Demographics
  • Buying Center (the department that makes the buying decision)
  • Common titles
  • Position in the org chart
  • Challenges (what are the challenges this person faces?)
  • Initiatives (what initiatives in this person involved with?)
  • Buyer role type (influencer, decision maker, etc.)
  • Interaction preferences (how do they prefer to communicate)
  • Watering Holes (where do they go to get info they want)

The Perpetual Demand Creation

The presentation ends with the idea of the PDC (Perpetual Demand Creation). Building the perpetual demand creation involves a set of strategies to create efficiencies and improve performance over time:

  • Inbound Marketing
  • Website Conversion Optimization
  • Lead Nurturing
  • Sales Programs

As I said, there is a lot of good information presented and is definitely worth watching the BrighTalk recording in full.


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