Let's change up today's blog post and stand back a bit. Often, in these posts, we talk about the issues and tactics involved in demand generation. Closely involved in that process is the technology. However, today, I'd like to stand back much further and ask the question "When does the sales process really begin?"
I'm going to set it up, initially, and declare it begins two-fold: once involves getting found, and the other involves getting respect.
Let's start with getting found, as this is somewhat of an obvious insight based on the hot topics and trends around inbound marketing and marketing automation. If an individual has a pain, they will inevitably turn to Google to find ways of dealing with that pain. They may also turn to forums, communities, or web sites dedicated to specific issues or industries, but that is always secondary. Google is the go-to place for most people to start their journey. So what does that mean? That means you need to be found by the search engines. How does one get found? One develops and publishes an ongoing collection of marketing content (videos, podcasts, whitepapers, case studies, blogs, etc.) about the subject, or topics, related to the issue the prospect is researching. You pick out your keywords, and your key phrases, and you ensure they are continually and liberally part of each piece of content you develop. The search engines will reward your ongoing new content, they'll recognize your continued reference to these keywords, they'll discern that you're being published and referenced across the various online mediums, and they'll rank you higher in the search results. This means you're more likely to come up higher on the search results when the individual is beginning to research how to fix their issue. Ideally, that will result on them clicking on the referenced link provided by the search engine which should directly, or indirectly, send them to you and your website. That's Part 1 of the process. You'll rarely get to Part 2 if you don't do Part 1. No excuses. You gotta do it.
Okay, so let's discuss Part 2 of the process, because I think this is the most forgotten aspect. I also consider this equal to, and sometimes more important than, Part 1. What is it? It's the first impression you make! That's when the sales cycle truly begins. If you don't make a good first impression then you're never going to hit your sales revenue targets. Let me share an analogy I use with customers.
Have you ever shopped online for something? Of course the answer is almost always yes. Great. Now lets assume you find 3 websites that provide the exact same product at the exact same price at the exact same shipping fees. Which site to you buy from? The answer is simple as you think about it. You buy from the site that appears most aesthetically pleasing, that appears to offer great supporting content such as product reviews, or video demonstrations, or user forums, etc. Do you agree? You should, because studies have proven it over and over again to be true. So why do we do that?
We are conditioned from a very early age to eliminate risk. Therefore, the site that looks the most slick, the most complete, the most travelled by other shoppers, the most insightful, and offers the most service MUST BE the best vendor. Right?! Of course, we both know that's not always the case however that's what we think. It's psychological.
It's about eliminating risk by establishing credibility and trust with the prospect.
So let me ask you this question. What level of risk would I perceive if I went to your website right now? One more thing - if you're suddenly feeling exposed, check out this recent webinar on how to make great content for your website. It's a great way to fix the credibliity problem you may not have even known you have.
Recently I attended a webinar put on by HubSpot for their value-added resellers. The intent of the event was to help resellers retain, or grow, their client engagements by using the HubSpot reporting features. In short, the lesson was to review the continually improving progress reported by HubSpot with your client. If you do this, the client will see the value the reseller provides and will continue to engage them or broaden their scope. It's excellent advice and something that most of us forget to do. Let me explain.
A customer can be someone who pays you for your services, or a customer can be an internal person or team. Whenever I was hired as CMO, or as VP of Marketing, the first thing I would do is go to the VP of Sales, and the VP of Professional Services, and the CEO, and individually say to them "You're my customer. My job is to get you what you need to be successful. What do you need?". I made sure to instruct my teams to treat the internal departments the same way. When we did that, we immediately changed the conversation from being adversarial, or competitive, to one of co-operation. That lead to establishing alignment. If the VP of Sales wanted more leads then I would ask them to define a lead. If I didn't do this, I might think my team was delivering leads but Sales might think we're delivering unqualified suspects. That's a disconnect. Hence, the customer approach lead to a defining of what the customer wants which lead to a discussion of how the deliverable is defined which ultimately leads to how it is measured. Once you have alignment on that, you're effectively left to run your own show and focus on delivering results. After all, that's all a customer wants is results. Often they only care about how you achieve them if you are not delivering them. Since I want my team to focus on executing, and not on playing customer politics, it's in my best interest to ensure alignment and successful execution of our mandate.
Why is this so critical? The 2011 B2B Marketing Benchmark Report from MarketingSherpa asked the question "Which of the following marketing challenges are currently most pertinent to your organization?". The number one response, almost double the second highest ranked result, was "Generating high quality leads". It scored a value of 78%, which was 9% higher than the previous year. Understand, however, that this report neither defines "high quality" or "lead". Talk about a huge opportunity for a disconnect between Marketing and their customers.
So here are some questions as it relates to your lead generation activities activities:
- Do you know who your customer is?
- Do you know what they expect you to deliver?
- Do you have documented agreement and definition on that deliverable?
- Can that deliverable be measured?
- Does your customer agree with the method of measurement?
- Do you routinely report to your customer your progress against achieving that deliverable?
- Do you have regularly scheduled discussions to review, refine, and improve the progress?
- Does your customer understand your challenges and constraints? Do you understand theirs?
- Are you making an effort to over deliver, such that they see you are commited to mutual success?
Lead generation is not about the programs you run. We here at My Lead Agency do not think of ourselves as a telemarketing firm, or a website shop, or an SEO specialist, or an email house, or a strategy and branding agency; rather, we think of ourselves as specialists in delivering B2B sales - AKA lead generation - to our clients regardless of how we do it or what tactics we employ. Why does this matter? Because, in the end, your client doesn't want you to advocate a specific tactic all of the time. The cliche goes that when you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail. That's a recipe for failure. Your customer wants you to help them succeed using every tool in your tool belt. Your customer wants you to be "in the trenches" with them.
Stay focused on what your customer wants and success will follow. Get alignment. Measure the results. Collaborate with your customer on how to adjust and adapt.
I'm a former CMO/VP of Marketing several times over. In fact, I'm also a former VP Sales several times over (we won't discuss how many times - that would be rude and might reveal my age). I've lived with the pressures of managing budgets that are never big enough, managing sales expectations that are never realistic, and managing staff that are never quite capable enough. Often, when it comes down to lead generation, I felt very alone. Can you relate? Are you in an organization that suffers some of these symptoms?
There were many times when I felt like outsourcing the whole marketing department. I never did. But, I did outsource elements of the department. I had to. We simply didn't have the talent in-house, nor the budgets, to do it right. However, even when I did this, it was always a struggle to find a vendor, or an agency, that understood how the whole, big, marketing picture worked together. Many of my vendors were right-brained, creative types and didn't understand accountability, or measuring results. When I hired left-brained, logical vendors, I lost the creative edge I sought. Only occasionally could I find vendors that got the big picture, that had the resources to be both right- and left-brained. I loved those vendors! They understood my pain and my exposure. They were my partners. My lead generation efforts were most successful when I worked with them.
Recently, a colleague called me up to seek my advice. He's a CEO at a very cool SaaS company. He was trying to figure out what type of marketing resource to hire. Instead of answering him, I spent a very long time quizzing him on his current infrastructure, his corporate culture, his corporate goals and financial objectives, his sales team (including roles, mandates, and compensation). Finally, he said "Darryl, I want to know about marketing, not about what you're asking!". I laughed and said that it all related. I had learned that his inside sales folks did all of the sales opportunity qualification, as well as sold the low-priced, commodity products while his account executives sold the enterprise deals handed to them by the inside sales team. I also learned the organization was distributed and already overburdened with deliverables. Because of this, I advised him that he needed a self-motivated, accountable, experienced marketer to generate content and inbound marketing leads so that his inside sales team could take over from there. The individual should have worked somewhere previously where they had been involved with such an initiative, had seen it done right, had made the mistakes, and now wanted to make a name for themselves. Simply put, he couldn't afford to hire a junior marketer because they would only be successful if he held their hand, and he didn't have the time. It would be a waste of his time and his company would miss their objectives.
Then I told him the salary he would expect to pay for such a person.
After a lengthy silence, I said to him "You hoped to pay less, didn't you?". He acknowledged this truth. I understood he had a budget to respect.
At that point I said to him "You know, you could outsource much of this to an agency or an experienced independent. You'd get them for 10-20 hours per week and in that time they'd be just as productive as a full-time, junior resource but they'd be a whole lot more successful due to their experience and infrastructure and processes."
Ironically he said "Hey, don't you folks do that?" whereupon I laughed and said "That's not what I'm trying to do here. This isn't a sales call. It's advice." Of course, as we speak I'm quoting him on his project.
The lesson of this post is that outsourcing does have benefits, if used wisely and holistically. Be smart. Do the budget math. Document the expectations and hold your outsourced partner to these expectations.
If you're still not sure, check out this video. It'll go into much more depth on why Outsourcing might make sense for you.
So what do you think? Do you agree?
We've been busy here at My Lead Agency getting this site launched prior to the typical September back-to-school/work mentality kicks in, which will result in the usual rush of new business. It's nice to be working on our own site, for a change, rather than a customer's site. It certainly makes the faster decision making! However, even though it's our own site, we do suffer somewhat from the Cobbler's Kids syndrome where we are still fitting in the edits and updates in between other deliverables. I'm sure it's not unlike your daily routine; you're so busy doing the daily grind that you rarely get time to do the stuff you know you really need to do such as creating new content, working on ensuring your online presence is found by others, or better analyzing your prospect segments and building out campaigns to better target them. It's tough.
One thing that we've found entertaining is listening to what we have to say when we're shooting our videos for this site. You have to understand, we're always giving advice to our clients. That's why they engage us. However, when you sit down and create video after video after video, in a concentrated fashion, you start to hear some common advice, strategies, and themes. In fact, you question whether your own personal advice isn't perhaps a bit of a broken record. Of course, it's not; it simply is proof that the basics need to be continually followed regardless of where you are, or what you're doing, when attempting to create new leads to grow your business.
So what do we hear ourselves continually saying? Pretty much the following:
- Content is King. You need lots of it. You need to never stop making it.
- Content is multi-channel. In other words, each recipient of your content will have a preferred method of hearing it and it's up to you to ensure you've provided it in that medium. This could include video, podcasts, whitepapers, blogs, etc. People fit you into their schedule based on the medium that is the most convenient to them.
- You have to constantly be speaking to the pains people have, and then providing them solutions to their problem. Everything needs to be benefit-driven. Don't speak to the technology. Speak to the human aspect of everything we do.
- You need to segment your audience; understand where they are in the sales funnel.
- You need to create a series of campaigns, for each segment, relative to the segments pains or objections.
- You're always trying to build a relationship with your prospects and clients. That means you want a two-way conversation. It's not just about them hearing what you have to say.
- You're always trying to build trust with your prospects. You do this through sound advice and unbiased feedback.
- You want to be constantly building your thought leadership. Get others to share your content. Be active in the communities, and using the mediums (i.e. Twitter), that your community frequents.
- You want to work smart - not hard. You do this through the use of Marketing Automation and Inbound Marketing and other enabling technologies.
- You want to invest in guerrilla tactics. Don't fall back on spending lots of money and expecting large returns. You have to use patience and understand that it's going to take more impressions then you ever expected to engage your prospects. You don't get an ROI on a one-time email or direct mail.
Anyways, that's most of what we kept hearing ourselves say over and over again. If you don't watch one of our videos, or listen to a single podcast, then you'll have got the essence of what we say simply by reading this post.
Thanks for stopping by and giving this a read. Feel free to share or tweet about it. We'd be grateful. Drop back soon.