Why COVID-19 Has Changed IT Services Sales Forever

As companies globally seem to become more invested in digital ways, even as different parts of the world open up slowly, I’m seeing a future where IT Services companies will have to sell very differently from now on in.

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed much, and some changes may last for a while longer. Remote working, shifting operations online, digital services, sales, and marketing are some of these changes that may become the defining themes of our future. In the last couple of months, we have seen how companies in even the most traditional sectors can indeed change their ways of functioning and adopt a digital-based way of life. This had been predicted by so many experts for so long, but it took a pandemic to change things at this scale.

But what about the impact on the world of IT services sales as traditionally practiced by Indian software services companies?

The way it used to be

Indian technology companies have traditionally been extremely export-focused. The largest market (by far) has been the USA, followed by other English-speaking regions like the UK, Australia, and S E Asia. The way they have approached these markets has usually been through a mix of means.

Tapping into the extended personal network of the founders and CxOs has always played a key role. Of course, this is a strategy that works well when the company is looking to establish itself, but it has limitations in scalability. And of course, these networks are also vulnerable to being tapped by the competitors.

Many companies have based their outreach strategy tremendously on participating in large events for visibility. They have exhibited, sponsored, and spoken at events like Oracle OpenWorld, ServiceNow Knowledge, AWS Summit, Microsoft re:Invent, and the likes. This has given them access to a massive pool of attendees from their target audience. They have leveraged that for visibility and for building connections and starting conversations that keep them going year-round. This costs lots of money. But the ROI is clear.

Most Indian IT companies have had a travel-heavy strategy for getting in front of the target audience. I say this from personal experience of having, cumulatively, spent many many months traveling to and across the USA to meet prospects and customers. This strategy has traditionally depended on the efforts of an “inside sales” or “cold calling” team. This team, almost always based in India, must spend nights sending email campaigns and making cold calls to try and set up that elusive first meeting with a new prospect. This mechanism was getting stretched even before the current scenario as campaign responses and answers to cold calls had been plummeting for an age already. Sales leaders felt comfortable with this strategy though, as it allowed them to retain a sense of control. At least, they were doing something, and everything was measurable.

But much of that will change now.

So, what will change?

There are some obvious changes already making big impacts.

All events and conferences have shifted online. While being a sponsor will still get some visibility for the brand name and the logo, the big value is, possibly, gone. There can be no networking in an online conference. There is also no possibility of new people “finding” you as they look through the exhibitors. It is this that drove “top of the funnel” awareness and got you exposure to a new audience. Without that there are no new prospects to add to the database and follow up with over the rest of the year. That opportunity seems gone for good.

Travel is, of course, off the table right now. But even once international travel reopens, it will be very hard to justify traveling. Many countries will implement mandatory quarantine periods on arrival. Airlines will be flying at reduced capacity and are, hence, likely to charge much more for seats. Measures like these will dramatically push up the cost of travel. Perhaps to an unsustainable level.

Other changes could be behavioral, and hence, more profound.

Companies like Twitter have announced that they intend to ask their employees to work from home for the foreseeable future. Other technology companies look set to follow suit to some degree or the other. While your target customers are working from home, it’s likely that some extremely significant changes in buyer behavior could become embedded in their way of working.

So, even if you do brave the travel, how likely are you to get someone to agree to a meeting in these strange times? Most people want to continue maintaining a policy of self-isolation even though the official lockdown may be lifted in their area. Under those circumstances, how many new prospects would agree to a face to face business meeting with you, masked or not?

It’s being said that the post-COVID buyer will be more discerning, less inclined to shop around, more direct, and consciously better informed. This could be a function of some changes in values brought about in testing times or just the fact that working from home gives them more time to do their research and educate themselves on the business problems that they’re seeking solutions for. If that happens, it would seem logical to assume that they will only engage with the vendors they see as realistically capable of delivering them value. They are unlikely to give openings to vendors who cannot project themselves in that light. Most first meetings were anyway given in response to the sheer persistence of the caller or email sender. It seems likely that these rates will dwindle even further. 

Is there any option?

The task for IT services companies has always been to become visible to a new audience and stay visible to their current audience. The complication in these times is that being physically present in the eye-line of the target audience looks unlikely. It’s also probable that the outreach-based methods like email and cold calls will become even less impactful. So, what does that leave?

This is a “made for digital” problem, in my opinion. IT services companies will have to turn to content marketing, social media channels, and distinctive personal branding of their CxOs to make themselves visible. This will have to be the medium where they showcase who they are, how they are different, what is the value they can deliver, and to whom? They will have to do this strategically, professionally, consistently, and over a sustained period of time. This will make them visible to the right audience and, more importantly, in the right context.

I believe that the only way forward may be for them to focus on growing the top of the funnel and on improving the efficiency of each stage of the funnel below that.

They will have to create an impact digitally -there’s no other option now.

Why Your Sales Team Needs Social Media to Achieve Its Goals

Photo by Neil Thomas on Unsplash

 

“Lead people with what they want. – Lead with what they’ve already said. – Lead people from where they’re at. – Lead them with the things that concern them.” – Sandi Krakowski

You will notice that Krakowski wants you to create a lead generation strategy around your target customers’ needs on the platform where they prefer to be. Today social media has become an inseparable part of our lives and work. While we meet potential clients and customers through professional networks like LinkedIn, we nurture those relationships through Facebook as they become more personal, get a glimpse into their likes and interests through Instagram, and if possible, chat with them on Whatsapp.

Why should your sales team then shy away from leveraging this powerful medium to enhance their lead generation strategies?

In fact, it’s time for them to start using social media marketing to increase sales and the visibility of your business if they haven’t already.

What is Social Selling?

Well, the term has been doing the rounds for quite some time, but it is not just about the use of social media. In fact, it is a way, used by efficient salespeople to create and nurture long-lasting relationships on social media platforms. In some quarters, this seen as a replacement for cold calling and mass outreach efforts.

Social-selling is a structured but indirect way to generate more leads, not by coaxing your target customers to buy your products or services but making them aware of the benefits of opting for the same. The nudge is subtle, structured, and sustained, once you appear in the eye line of your prospect as someone worth connecting with.

If your sales team haven’t adopted social selling yet, you may well be missing out on a lot of potential customers.

Are you still wondering why to engage your salespeople in social selling?

Building Real-Time and Long-Term Relationships

Lead generation with social media helps your sales team make real-time relationships with clients, who have similar tastes and preferences. Most people these days avoid responding to cold calling and direct advertising, so this may be the safest way to generate new conversations that turn into leads. Your sales team can also use relevant social media tools to identify potential customers (or clients), who are already talking about the problems that you can help them solve, taking an interest in your industry, or your competitors, and use that information to connect with them at the right time.

Managing your Online Perception Easily

With social media, you can manage the perception of your brand more easily. You have the opportunity to add a focus on customer testimonials, reviews, and feedback. According to some estimates, 70-80% of buying decisions are influenced by online reviews. Try conducting a Google search on your sales team. What do you think will come up? Ask your sales folks to optimize their social profiles, so that such a search, when conducted by a potential buyer of your products (or services), showcases a positive outcome.

Generating Prospective Leads

As mentioned earlier, people are becoming more and more turned-off by banner ads and cold calls. They tend to place their faith more on businesses that engage, listen, and specifically cater to their needs. In short, they believe in real-time conversations rather than machinated advertisements. Therefore, if you wish to grow, you have to engage on a personal level with your potential clients or customers. You need to earn their trust before you can expect them to buy from you.

Creating a Loyal Customer Base

What about after someone has bought from you? Your social media presence can go a long way in establishing a relationship of trust with your potential customers, as well as existing ones. Social selling helps your sales team stay in touch with your existing customers, engage them, and take their feedback on board. Responding to queries, taking suggestions, apologizing for mishaps, making amendments for negative reviews, all help create involvement and engagement. If you listen to your customers, you have the opportunity to build a relationship. That could go a long way in helping retain customers in the long run.

So how do you go about adopting social selling?

  • Instruct your sales team to create and optimize their individual social media profiles, as well as your business profile
  • Define a clear social media communication strategy and messaging that everyone can follow in tone, focus, and direction.
  • Hire professional content writers to generate content that your sales team can use in their social selling campaigns
  • Stay active on LinkedIn, which is the biggest professional social media network out there and optimize your profile according to your image
  • Use your Twitter handle to follow the current social media trends in the industry and also make some useful connections
  • Hire a social media marketing agency, if possible, to take the load of keeping your social media strategies current, off your shoulders

Conclusion

Marketing and sales are, of course, incomplete without each other. If you lag in one, the other will fall. Ensure that you invest adequate time and resources to updating your social media marketing strategies and integrate that with your lead generation process. It’s the right, in fact, the only way to get ahead in this social age.

Choosing Between Creating an In-house Team, Hiring an Agency or a Freelancer for B2B Marketing

Photo by Raphael Schaller on Unsplash

“The only way to consistently grow in B2B is to be better than very good.” – Seth Godin

But, how can you be better than good with your existing B2B marketing strategies?

You have to always be on your A-game in your marketing department so that you do not lose ground to the competition. This involves cash -B2B companies invest about 25% of their budget in their marketing. The effort is also high – founders and CEOs worry themselves sick to come up with ideas that will improve the age-old ways of promoting their business on social media platforms.

The question arises,

Do you really need to spend that time and effort to market your business or you should hire someone with the expertise and experience to handle that department?

Given that you are a founder or the CEO of a company, you will have a lot on your plate. You do need help.

So, should you hire an in-house team? Or appoint a reliable social media agency to take care of your marketing endeavours? Nowadays, when telecommuting or remote working has become quite a trend, you could also opt for freelancers to manage specific elements of your B2B marketing.

This post may help you determine the best possible choice by carefully evaluating the pros and cons of each.

Creating an In-House Marketing Department

In many cases, creating an in-house marketing department to handle your B2B marketing needs seems to be the best possible option you have.

Why is it so?

The main reason for hiring an in-house marketing team is sustained accessibility. You can turn to them as and when you please, get updates regularly, issue suggestions and hold discussions without any difficulty. While these are the ready advantages of an in-house team, some of the cons of hiring one are given below:

  • Hiring expert marketers and building a team of skilled people requires a lot of time and investment.
  • You have to take care of their needs and demands, manage them, sustain them, and keep them challenged and engaged. Most importantly, you will have to keep them busy at all times.
  • The amount of financial investment will increase when you expand the team and include senior executives.
  • The cost will keep escalating as from time and again, you have to think about promotions and increments, especially if your team turns out to be the best and are successful in taking the business to the next level.
  • Hiring an in-house marketing team will increase the operating expenses.
  • Lastly, there’s no real guarantee that you will be able to hire the best in each functional area. That means your marketing efforts may end up being only as good as the weakest link.

If you think you can manage the time and financial investment of building your own marketing team, and that you will always have enough work to keep those dedicated people well and good! However, if you have your doubts, you can always hire the best social media marketing agency instead.

Hiring a Social Media Marketing Agency

Now, if you hire a social media agency, you will not have to deal with the issues highlighted above. You can tap into their specific areas of expertise, according to your unique B2B marketing requirements. You can take their help to define a robust strategy that includes the latest and most innovative methods. Once you agree on the way forward, you can leave the rest of the task to them. However, you do need to maintain a regular connect with the agency to keep track of progress.

The Pros

  • When you appoint a social media agency to take care of your B2B marketing needs, you will rest assured that your business is in expert hands.
  • If you think that a marketing agency is not being able to deliver according to your expectations, you can always opt for the next best one in the industry. It is way easier than dissolving your entire in-house marketing department to create a new one.
  • Most of the time, outsourcing your marketing endeavours results in pulling together a group of experienced people, who are experts in their fields and are capable of improving areas you may never have thought of.
  • No training is required to make them understand your needs. Their discovery processes will ensure they capture the most relevant information.
  • The best social media marketing agencies have the latest tools at their own disposal, which they will use while handling your B2B marketing

The Cons

  • You have to hunt down the best possible social media agency from among the various options available. It’s sometimes hard to know which agency has real skills and which is just talking a good game.
  • It may not always be possible to build a partner relationship within your budget.
  • You will need to give the agency some time to understand your specific needs as well as your market niche.
  • Accessibility becomes an issue at times when you need to make an urgent connection but you find that you are unable to reach your partner.

In the case of hiring a reliable social media agency to handle your company’s marketing responsibilities, the inherent benefits, of course, outweigh the cons if your need is to drive a contained but high-quality and sustained marketing strategy.

Hiring a Freelancer for Your B2B Marketing Needs

Most of the time, a company will hire a freelancer to handle specific elements of B2B marketing, if it is new and in no condition to invest realistically in promotion and marketing. Hiring freelancers is often more inexpensive than hiring a social media marketing agency. Generally, start-ups and mid-level organisations will opt for a freelancer, or a group of individuals working as freelancers, to handle their marketing needs -often to get things off the ground.

The Pros

  • The freelancers are always on their toes to impress you and get your feedback, which they may be able to use to expand their network.
  • They are way less expensive than reputable marketing agencies
  • In the case of a single freelancer, communication gets easier, as you have to contact only one person for all your needs.
  • If there is any issue, only one person will be accountable for the same, and amendment will be easier.

The Cons

  • Freelancers are not bound to anyone or any particular company. They have a number of clients to attend to, and you may not be their only focus area.
  • You cannot blame a freelancer entirely, as they have no contractual agreement with you. They are sometimes hard to pin down and it’s not unknown for freelancers to vanish halfway through the effort.
  • Communication can get difficult if the particular individual is unprofessional, ill-equipped or dishonest. They may only concentrate on taking your money without providing results.

Therefore, if you wish to hire a freelancer, you should do considerable background research on the person before letting him/her in on your marketing team. That will help you filter out cheats and frauds to some extent.

Conclusion

In short, the choice that you have to make solely depends on your business needs, and your budget. Of course, if marketing is strategic for your organisation, you should probably hire a social media agency to handle all business to business marketing needs of your company. In case you are an early-stage start-up, get a freelancer to work for your initial needs. However, if you believe that the volume of work will be large enough, you can create an in-house marketing team. It’s what works for you that matters!

Irrefutable Proof Of The Death Of B2B Sales (As We Know It)

“Without data, you’re just another person with an opinion.” W Edwards Deming

Seers have been prophesizing the end of the world of traditional B2B Sales for a while now. Despite that, there are people on both sides of the fence, each with equally strong convictions. In most cases, their belief in their cause is based on their personal experience. But there is a statistical danger in relying solely on personal experience. A personal experience represents just one instance, and as the data scientists will tell you, one example is not data. This post is an attempt to present strong evidence for the unfortunate demise of B2B Sales.

So, let’s start with some questions for the B2B Sales leaders out there reading this.

  1. Are you having far fewer early stage conversations that you used to even a couple of years ago?
  2. Are you not talking to as many “new” prospects as you used to?
  3. Are you frustrated by somehow being less able to ”influence” the pace of the sales process? Do some sales rush along at an extremely accelerated rate, seemingly under their own steam, and others never seem to progress beyond the initial evaluation?
  4. Are responses to your email campaigns tanking?
  5. Are your cold calls unable to get you the initial meetings you need to fill your pipeline? Is the no. of incoming leads from your website spiraling downwards despite your best efforts on Google? Be honest, did you answer “Yes” to most or all of those?

I recently presented a webinar on “The death of B2B Sales and what you can do to save it.” (A recording of the webinar is available here for those inclined to dive deeper into the reasons behind the passing and a possible path to resurrection.)

Here are some stats and what I think they mean. The stats presented here emerged from the research I put in while preparing for the webinar.

Fact 1

Only 19% of buyers want to connect during the awareness stage of the buying process, 60% want to connect after they have done their research and come up with a shortlist, and 20% only after they have already decided what to buy. (Hubspot).

Clearly, there is a sharp reduction in the opportunity for B2B Sales pros to engage early in the sales process and kick off a consultative sales process.

Fact 2

Customers rate the salesperson as the least influential interaction in the buying process. (Gartner).

Well, of course, given the numbers at #1.

Fact 3

84% of buyers now start their buying process with a referral. (HBR).

Really what chance does your cold outreach have of being successful in such a scenario?

Fact 4

90% of C-Level executives “never respond” to cold calls (InsideView).

That cold calling campaign is not looking too good now, is it?

Fact 5

Only 0.3% of cold calls generate even preliminary appointments. So, you would have to make 1500 calls for 4-5 meetings (Baylor University).

Is hiring an army of callers an option?

Fact 6

In the Technology industry, only 12% of emails get opened and only 6% of those generate “clicks” (Constant Contact). That’s about 1 click every 150 emails, give or take.

I know, you thought cold emails were an option -unfortunately not at any scale.

So, what does this mean for those of us who have made a living in B2B Sales? Well, the truth, like the data, is out there.

Impact 1

The average SDR performs 94 activities per day (SalesForLife), but only 21% of their day is spent talking to prospects (HubSpot)

Impact 2

57% of salespeople believe that buyers are less dependent on salespeople during the buying process (HubSpot)

Impact 3

55% of sales reps don’t have the right skills to be successful (the Brevet Group).

Impact 4

1 million sales reps will be out of a job by 2020 (Forrester) -will your name be on that list?

So, there you have it. Proof positive that B2B Sales, at least the way we grizzled veterans have always practiced it, is going the way of the dinosaurs. This is not a drill folks, it’s time to take this seriously. That said, this is not the end of the road. B2B Sales pros are nothing if not resilient in the face of tough odds. It’s time for the tough to get going. The way forward is hard -but it must be taken!

The 5 Essential Traits Of A Specialist B2B Social Media Agency

This post is for you if you are responsible for delivering the big numbers in a B2B-focused company. Yes, you -the sales leaders, the marketing heads, and everyone who feels the pressure of carrying a sales target, either directly or indirectly.

Chances are that if pay heed to the data, you would almost certainly have altered your marketing mix over the last few years to add more content, more social channels, and more of everything digital. It’s also possible that after starting down this B2B Social Media path, you may have wondered if you have the people or the time, or the strategic depth to be able to do all this on your own. At times like this, you may start considering engaging a social media agency –that’s where this post may come in handy. This is my attempt to outline the 5 defining characteristics of a B2B specialist agency. This could help you determine if the agency pitching to you has serious B2B chops or not!

  1. Understanding of the sales process: A true B2B specialist agency must have a deep understanding of just how the B2B Sales process is different. These agencies know that this is more complex, involves more decision makers, takes much longer, and is driven by logic more than by emotion. Such a complex sales process demands a more complex content and social strategy. Can your agency under consideration convey how the strategy will change to address the nuances of the different decision makers and the various sales stages?
  2. Focus on business outcomes: Branding is important, no doubt about that, but the B2B specialist agency will almost certainly focus the conversation on delivering some other, more tangible business outcomes. They will talk about numbers, they will showcase the reports they generate, they will explain at length what they measure and how those measures are relevant to the specific business objectives you are driving for. They may surprise you by their interpretation of some traditional metrics. For eg., they may well claim that reach/impressions are more important than the number of fans or followers. They may focus more on the clicks going back to the website than on the number of “likes” and so on.
  3. Channel focus: Most in the B2B game now agree that LinkedIn is the most important channel, with Twitter to follow, and your agency would know that too. The real expertise lies beneath the surface. What experience do they have of working with LinkedIn groups? What stories do they have to tell of the impact their clients got from Linkedin groups? On Twitter, beyond RTs, what is their plan for engaging with Influencers? B2B Influencers are acknowledged experts in their space and it takes skill to build and nurture a relationship with them that is based on mutual trust and respect. Does your agency give a sense of knowing how to do that?
  4. Expertise in “professional” content: B2B content is just different. This is professional content consumed by professionals. The focus is on being informative, showing thought leadership, and projecting expertise. Different objectives demand different types of content written differently. No doubt the content has to be readable but in many ways the depth of the content is even more important than the language. Can the agency point to their work that is available online? I submit that samples have relevance only if they have made an impact in the real-world.
  5. The right evidence: The proof of the pudding is in the eating and that’s where references or testimonials come in. Most agencies can provide references on request but to my mind, not all references or testimonials are equal. Does your agency have references they can share from companies similar to yours? Again, like content samples, I submit that the best testimonials are those that are in the public domain. Do the clients of your agency under consideration care enough about them to say so to the whole world?

This is a new space with potentially vast opportunity and a number of agencies are making their play there. But being a specialist B2B social media agency is hard. It’s not everyone’s cup of tea and so choosing the right agency could make or break your own B2B Sales effort. I hope this post will help you make that choice. Or you could make it easy on yourself and just call Midas Touch Consultants.

The 3 Changes B2B Sales Veterans MUST Embrace To Stay Relevant

“What about the good leads?…. But these leads are s**t. They’re old…I’ve seen them 100 times…..What about the new leads, huh? The new leads, the Glengarry leads.” – Shelley (The Machine) Levene (the Jack Lemmon character in Glengarry Glenross)

You can almost sense the rank desperation of the aging sales pro in that exchange, and after 25 years in B2B Sales perhaps it’s time for me to start identifying more with him and his challenges. In fact, why just me? My advice to all fellow veterans of the B2B Sales trenches is to start getting desperate. The fact is, the way we have been selling is rapidly going out of fashion and the sooner we recognize that the sooner we will start doing something about it. And make no mistake, if we don’t do something soon it will hurt us.

My agency is in the midst of putting together an event focused on how B2B Sales has changed in the modern age (more details here for those interested: http://www.i-midastouch.com/event/why-b2b-sales-must-harness-the-power-of-digital-marketing-to-go-international/) and this has given me an opportunity to have many conversations with business leaders as well as sales pros. The problems they highlight seem to be remarkably consistent. Most of them report:

  • A dramatic drop in conversations with “new” prospects
  • Sharply lower responses to cold phone calls and email campaigns
  • Unpredictable sales cycles – some are really short, others seem to drag on with endless tyre-kicking

Do you see something similar happening? Are you finding yourself searching for those elusive “Glengarry leads” hoping to break a dry spell? Does that sound familiar? If it does, I’m here to tell you that the malaise runs deeper. Let me elaborate.The

Good Ol’ Days

Us grizzled veterans of the B2B Sales game have traditionally relied on getting into business conversations early. Our hard-working inside sales or cold-calling teams set up a steady stream of new meetings or calls driven by the campaign of the moment. Then we swing into action, directing the progress of the discussion with a reasoned, planned, and consultative approach that takes shape over many discussions. We have always been the primary source of information for our prospect. We have helped them define their problem, map the impact of not addressing it, and then built up to a “hey presto” moment where we unveil a solution that is specifically addresses all these problems with a spend tailored just right. Our ability to shape the landscape in our client accounts was reflected in what we called ourselves. We did “Demand Generation” – as if we miraculously made a need appear where none existed previously. We were “Client Partners” – fighting the good fight on behalf of the client. The truth is that today this way will just not work – some fundamental things have changed.

What Has Changed?

  1. Cold outreach, if not dead, is on the deathbed. There are some truly scary stats out there on how many cold calls it takes to connect with a prospect now – and those numbers will continue their southward slide. The same is true of unsolicited email campaigns. Making more calls and sending more emails is not really going to solve the problem – especially in the B2B Sales game when the target universe is smaller. You’ll just run out of people to connect with sooner.
  2. A significant part of the buyer journey is no longer accessible to us sales folks. Reports are that anywhere from 50% to 80% of the sales process is complete by the time “prospects” deign to connect with us poor vendors. That means that we cannot get in early – something that was central to our “demand generation” way of life.
  3. The buyer is now uber-informed and no longer dependent solely on the information we provide. The WWW is a far richer source of information than a single vendor will ever be. Decision-makers are turning to content available online to define their problems, identify possible solutions, evaluate their relative value, and making a shortlist of vendors they think it fit to engage with – all on their own. If this is denied to us, how do we go about building the relationship (the “Client Partnership”) that is key to our ability to drive the process forward?                                                                                                                    The Change Begins Now

B2B Sales pros who wish to stay relevant must recognize, no embrace these changes. The “What should I do now” list offers enough material for a follow up post to this one but let me offer a couple of suggestions here as first steps.

  1. Get social. Use channels like LinkedIn and Twitter to get in the eye line of key decision-makers at your target companies. The key is to be “social” not to “connect and pitch”. Be visible, engage, comment on the content they share, offer reasoned opinions – you know, all those things you used to do while building a relationship earlier. Building warmer connections on social platforms is more likely to get you into relevant conversations than the efforts of the cold-calling team.
  2. Leverage content. Your company’s content has to play a key role here – show who you are, what problem you solve, who do you do that for, how you are different, what specific unique value you bring to the table, and all this while not being overtly salesy. Turn to your content often to inform and educate, and use that as a means to perhaps drive the thinking of the right audience in the direction you want it to go.

The best B2B Sales pros are driven super-achievers who have built successful careers after facing down challenge after challenge –surely you are the same. If that is so, then it’s time to face down the challenge the digital world has thrown at you – and the first step to take is to embrace the change.

‘Tis The Season To Be Campaigning

Selling into the US and International market from India the festival season starts in early November and carries on in fits and starts through till the middle of January – over a career in sales I was often conflicted by how to approach the holiday season. While this was a time of great personal joy I used to struggle with ideas to keep the sales effort going. The conventional wisdom is that no one takes any decisions then anyway and given the number of days off even when people were at work it would be a challenge to get any meaningful “face time” from any prospect. It is, of course, not possible to “give up” on this period given that many organizations finalize budgets for the upcoming year. The end of the year often coincides with the end of the Financial Year bringing with it all the attendant pressures of sales targets to meet.

Here are some ideas for campaigns that I have personally found to have a fair chance of working over this season:

  1. By far the most effective campaign that I believe could be run is to reach out to your own network. In most cases, the true extent of one’s network is larger than one imagines – what is needed is a systematic approach to reach out to them with a well-designed, targeted message. The fact that most people shy away from campaigns at this time works in favour of this tactic because it reduces the “noise”. The campaign objectives should, of course, be well calibrated to reflect the limitations of the period – don’t expect too many “hot” leads but aim to get in front of people and set yourself up for the busier period coming up.
  2. This may also be a good time to try and revive dormant contacts – people you have been in touch with in the past where the discussions have stalled. Reaching out to such contacts to catch-up, offer some new information or an update on where you and your company may be just the thing. This may not necessarily serve to revive specific sales opportunities but can definitely help revive relationships. In the long run, these could prove more profitable than a single sale.
  3. There’s perhaps some cosmic significance to the holiday season in the US starting with Thanksgiving – I would suggest this is pointing us towards a campaign to give thanks. There’s no time better than this to thank all the stakeholders – current and past customers, partners and associates and also employees. A simple, heartfelt message to give thanks to them for their support and reminding them that this support is extremely valued goes a long way to cement the relationship.
  4. One email campaign that I recommend to everyone is an end of the year campaign focused around “Seasons Greetings”. This is a wonderful platform to recap the significant achievements of your company over the year that has gone in a subtle, non-salesy manner – who could ask for more? Companies, their range of offerings and capabilities grow with time and sometimes this is not visible to everyone – current customers are more fixated on the immediate needs being serviced and old customers may still hold an image of you as you were “back in the day”. An end of the year email outlining the most recent events of importance could provide substantial evidence of this growth and help change this impression.

That’s the list of things that usually make it onto my own “To do” list for the holiday season – sometimes with good results. What do you think? How do you fill the time over the holiday season and what results do you get from these efforts? Oh and before you leave – please accept my best wishes for the holiday season wherever in the world you are!

Your Price is Too High – This Q May Be the Answer

As a sales guy, one of the things that you are almost inevitably going to encounter is the price objection. This is always a tough one – not least because it usually crops up at the fag end of what is often an exhausting sales cycle. After months of effort in getting the prospect on board, understanding their specific business issue, building consensus around the solution you are providing and ensuring all technical and logistical objections are addressed it is sometimes deflating to hear something along the lines of “We like what you are offering but your price is too high.”. In most cases, this prompts a rush back to HQ with a frantic “We need to drop our price if we want to get the business.” I have been guilty of such panic attacks as much as any other sales person but somewhere along the way, I learned to ask a Question that I believe dramatically improves the chances of success of any follow-up action. The next time just when you are expecting to close a sale if a prospect tells you “Your price is too high.” ask them “Compared to what ?” The answer to that Q will give you a crucial guide to what your response should be.
1. The obvious one is you are more expensive compared to a similar solution from a close competitor. To an extent this is a solved problem – there is enough material out there on what to do in such a  situation to prove your solution better or yourself more deserving than your competitor or failing that a calibrated discount.
2. It could be that your price exceeds the available budget – this is a tougher one to solve. Assuming that not much room is available for dropping your price or for stretching the budget you would have to look for creative solutions – maybe break your offering or the billing across multiple budget allocation periods or make a distinction in the offering between Capital & Ongoing Maintenance or services that can be budgeted for under separate heads.
3. Another possibility is the price is higher than what the prospect was assuming he would have to pay – this is usually the result of an expectation mismatch. This situation is better avoided than addressed in that it’s far easier to ensure early on in the sales cycle the prospect gets a reasonable understanding of what this is likely to cost him than to try to convince them otherwise once the objection is raised.
4. In some cases the price offered may be more than what the prospect is willing to pay to solve the problem he is facing – basically just not worth the money. There’s really no solving this. This is a case of improper qualification at a much earlier stage of the sales cycle.
5. A variation of the previous theme is the prospect may not agree that the solution should cost so much. I had heard an old story about a space agency using a pencil instead of developing a pen that wrote in zero gravity. That being said the agency may have been willing to spend hundreds of thousands of $s to develop the pen but it is unlikely they would spend the same kind of cash for the pencil even though it solved the problem. This is the human tendency – we ascribe intrinsic value to things so we feel something simple should cost less. Like a magician keeping the mechanics of his trick under wraps maybe the best way is to retain some of the mystery if you want to avoid falling into this particular trap.
Assuming you have done most of the earlier steps in the sales cycle right the answer your prospect gives you to this particular “loaded” Q and your subsequent reaction may prove the difference between a futile last-ditch discount that may or may not work and a carefully calibrated response that provides a very specific solution to a genuine objection. After all don’t you need to know what is the Question is before you Answer it?

The Proof Of The Pudding – A Content Marketer’s Rant

“The proof of the pudding is in the eating.” Miguel de Cervantes

Maybe, like Cervantes’ most abiding creation, I am tilting at windmills here but indulge me please. I have taken to this forum to try and understand the “Proof of Concept” phenomenon in Content Marketing and yes, to share the pain with other content marketing agencies out there similarly afflicted.

This has happened to my agency on a couple of occasions now and I wanted to vent or alternately get better informed in case this is the vanguard of an inevitable but undesirable trend. The way the story goes in a couple of prospect discussions close to the sharp end of the sales cycle after the usual rounds of “hoop jumping” the prospect suddenly asked us to work on what they called a “proof of concept”, essentially an obligation-free exercise to create some custom content specifically for them. If this hit the mark we could hope to be engaged for more remunerative work. Am I the only one who thinks this is wrong?

First let me say to prospects that I understand, sort-of, where you are coming from. I know that the quality of a service is only apparent after it is consumed so prior to doing anything irreversible you are looking to re-assure yourselves that the people you are considering engaging have got what it takes. To accomplish that the advice you seem to have paid heed to is Cervantes’.

That being said, to my mind, there are so many better ways to get that assurance. In each of these instances we have happily provided several examples of content created by us already out there in the public domain, we have provided written references from clients who have used similar services from us and we have also given contact information for live references for the prospect to engage with more deeply or to address any specific concerns. Despite all that how does one justify the need for more custom content creation? Perhaps the prospect is a disciple of Thales of Miletus who said “A multitude of words is no proof of a prudent mind.”

The logic the prospect usually presents is that what they have to offer is so path-breaking or so unique that they need to first validate our capacity to understand it well enough to be able to create and promote appropriate content. Without even getting into how thin on the ground truly innovative and unique business models or offerings are, this poses a conundrum.

  1. If the offering truly is unique then before churning out any meaningful content an agency would have to put in, presumably, long hours of study and substantial research. This being the case how appropriate is it then to expect the agency to commit that kind of bandwidth before any deals are inked
  2. The alternative seems incomprehensible as superficial study will lead to shallow content – an unacceptable outcome. Presumably the objective would be to put your best foot forward so no compromise would be acceptable right?
  3. On the other hand if the prospect is looking for content that is not so specific to them or, as is entirely likely, their offering is not really so unique after-all then why go through the exercise at all? Would it not be easier and faster to check references and / or review the content already presented.

That’s a Helleresque Catch 22 for Content Marketers – doing something you would rather not do, in a manner that doesn’t satisfy you, for someone who doesn’t know really what to do with it for an unclear purpose. I’m looking for answers – from agencies that have faced and dealt with the issue or have become convinced of the value of this additional stage in the sales cycle or from prospects who have a reason for the “proof of concept” demand that may have escaped my own attentions. Till I get them though I would like to leave with an anonymous quote that pretty much sums up my own feeling on the subject “If you believe in something, no proof is necessary. If you don’t, none is sufficient.”