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.

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.

Our Experience of Hosting the First of its Kind B2B Sales and Marketing Event and Making It Super Successful

As a B2B specialist social media agency, we get many opportunities to interact with several business owners and marketers to discuss about how the dynamics of sales are changing, what is the impact of social media and content marketing on that, how are companies adapting to the new ways of selling, and so on. During our conversations, we realized that while there is lack of understanding in this area and a lot of curiosity about it, there is no common platform where people can come together, discuss, and learn from each other.

At Midas Touch, we had been contemplating creating such platform since a long time and finally we decided to take the first step towards it by organizing the first of its kind event. The event was titledWhy B2B Sales Must Harness the Power of ‘Digital Marketing’ to Go International” and we decided to have it on 24th Nov, 2017.

The Speakers and The Program

We knew that the key highlight of any event is the panel of speakers. We decided that the speakers have to be the industry experts who have “been there done that”. The people who have seen the revolution themselves and have adapted it. The people who truly “understand” B2B sales and marketing from their own experiences. We also wanted the attendees to not only understand the concept but also leave with some practical key takeaways which they can start implementing immediately. The whole program was then defined keeping in mind these objectives.

We are very thankful to Vishwas Mahajan and Ashutosh Parasnis, who came and presented their views at this event, outlined the evolution, the changing face of B2B marketing, and the importance of strong strategy and flawless execution.

Next was a panel discussion moderated by Sanjeev with Shivesh, Avani, and Ashutosh Saitwal as the panellists. The panellists very honestly shared their experiences – not only the success stories but also their failures and the lessons learned from those. Filled with lots of examples and practical tips, the panel discussion gave extremely good insights into the B2B sales and marketing process. Our sincere thanks to all these experts.

#PuneB2BSocial Panel Discussion

The best part of the program was that all the sessions were very interactive – the audience not only asked questions but also shared their experiences. Lot of attendees also learned where they are failing and what could be the reasons.

The Ecosystem Support

#PuneB2BSocial-Ecosystem Partners
We approached various associations and bodies for their support for this event. TiE Pune, Pune Open Coffee Club, HeadStart Pune, Indo American Chamber of Commerce, Software Exporters Association of Pune, Pune Digital Marketers, and GLOW – Global Organization for Women – all of these were our ecosystem partners who helped us in spreading the word about the event. After all, when you are creating such unique platform, you need all the support from the existing associations and bodies.

The Social Buzz

As a social media agency, we have a strong belief in the power of social media. After the event was conceptualized and announced, we had one month till the date of the event. The social platforms started buzzing with the hashtag #PuneB2BSocial – we started talking about the event, the speakers, what to expect, some interesting insights into how B2B marketing is changing, etc. Registrations started coming in through this buzz and before we knew it, we had a full house!

We prepared a list of potential attendees who we thought will benefit from this event and reached out to them through one-on-one messages on LinkedIn.

We created an event on Facebook and specifically invited people to join in.

Our learning – Twitter worked extremely well in driving traffic to the event page. Facebook helped in creating the awareness and LinkedIn helped in reaching out to specific individually on a one-on-one basis.

During the event, we covered the event live on Twitter through live tweets and photos and Facebook through Live videos. The attendees also shared their views by joining in the conversations and within the first two hours of the start of the event, it was trending on top on Twitter.PuneB2BSocial Twitter Trending

The Team with the Midas TouchTeam Midas Touch

The Midas Touch team worked really hard to ensure that the event was successful – right from managing the registration counter, handling the venue arrangements, managing the Q & A rounds, and most importantly, covering the event live on social platforms – the team did it all! Kudos to everyone!

PuneB2BSocial - Midas Touch Team

The Result

A full house. An extremely interactive audience. Loads of learning. Event hashtag trending on Twitter for over 6 hours. And most importantly, a validation of our belief that a common platform for B2B sales and marketing was needed and we have been able to establish that. We aim to host more such events in the future. Hope to see those who missed it this time!

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.

15 Essential Stats that Prove B2B Sales Has Changed

B2B sales has changed

Today’s competitive business landscape is in a state of constant flux. The increasing adoption of technology and the rise of the digital enterprise are fueling the change in how B2B businesses are selling to one another. With customers becoming more demanding and wanting greater customizations and personalization, B2B sales is becoming a veritable minefield where the old monkey has to learn new tricks to survive. Today’s buyers might not have changed the criteria for making their business purchases, they however, have become more relaxed and adept at making business decisions based on a mix of interaction types, taking away the control of the sales process from the hands of the sales person. Clearly the B2B sales landscape has evolved a great deal over the past few years. For those who believe that B2B sales is still the same here are some statistics that can help you change your mind:

1.   57% of buying decisions are made before engaging a supplier sales representative – Source : CEB

Google, social media, and other marketing channels such as email marketing and content on company websites are the first points of contacts for B2B buyers. It is only when a prospective B2B customer is satisfied by the content generated by a prospective seller that they engage with them with trust.

2.   Sales teams have a 56% greater chance to attain quota if they engage buyers before they contact a seller – Source: Openview Partners

Information delivery at the right time helps in moving a prospective buyer smoothly through every step of the buying process – including before they contact a seller. The internet has emerged as the number one channel for finding, vetting and connecting with potential vendors and partners. It only makes sense to use this channel to get into the eye line of the decision makers and make them find you.

3.   B2B companies that blogged 11+ times per month had almost 3X more traffic than those blogging 0-1 times per month – Source: HubSpot 2015

Content marketing is now an established B2B marketing strategy. Delivering the right information at the right time helps in moving the sales prospects through the different stages of the buying process more smoothly and assists the B2B sales people control the sales funnel better.

4.   90% of all marketers indicated that their social media efforts have generated more exposure for their businesses – Source: Social Media Examiner, 2015

Social Media presence has become a non- negotiable part of any marketing strategy today. Being present on social channels and sharing the right content helps in generating greater business exposure by increasing organizational reach.

5.   71% of B2B researchers being their research with generic Google searches – Source: LinkedIn

Given that more than half of B2B researchers today are millennials and believe that their mobile devices are essential for work, having a mobile optimized and responsive website is now non-negotiable.

6.   89% of B2B marketers use content marketing as a strategy – Source: Aberdeen

Content beats the hard sell. Prospective buyers show more affinity to those who make an effort to educate them by providing insightful information and provide solutions to the problem that they might be facing. This builds trust and trust trumps the hard sell, any day.

7.   It takes approximately 18 dials to connect with a potential decision maker with call back rates being less than 1%. Additionally, less than 24% of sales emails are even opened- Source: TOPO

The key in B2B sales is now to take a more direct approach to generate and build conversations. Building a B2B brand online hence has become a business imperative.

8.   Only 2% of cold calls result in an appointment – Source:  LeapJob

This however does not mean that cold calling is dead. However, cold calling as we knew it is over. Research shows that 90% of decision makers don’t respond to a cold call. Before making a cold call, B2B sales representatives have to ensure that the prospect has some information regarding the company as the days of interruptive marketing are officially over.

9.   82% of customers viewed five or more pieces of content from the winning vendor before making a purchase – Source: Forrester

Online research is now an intrinsic part of a buyer’s journey. Consumers are constantly seeking information before making a buying commitment. According to a LinkedIn survey, B2B buyers are more likely to engage with a sales representative who can provide new insights about the industry or business. Pardot’s State of Demand Generation report states that 70% of buyers return to Google 2 to 3 times during the course of their research to dive into company offerings and assess how the solution can address their problems. Creating the right kind of content that engages a prospective customer, provides information on what you are selling and gives reason for them to be interested in your product become strategic in consolidating a buyer’s journey.

10.   90% of top salespeople use social selling tools to generate more sales opportunities – Source: 2016 State of Sales report

Sales is pivoting towards becoming faster, smarter and more customer centric. Generating social conversations become instrumental in achieving this. 82% of B2B buyers start their purchasing process with a referral with peer recommendations influencing more than 90% of B2B buying says HBR. Building relationships until the prospect is ready to buy and creating a strong group of brand advocates thus is an essential ingredient of B2B sales success. After all, three out of four B2B buyers depend on social media to engage with their peers before they make a buying decision.

11.   According to the 2015 B2B buyers survey report, 53% of the respondents depend on social media to assess tools and technologies when making a final selection.

Still think social media is not important for B2B marketing?

12.   73% of sales representatives who integrate social selling with their sales process outperform their competitors and exceed their quota by 23% – Source: Aberdeen Group

Clearly social media is now becoming crucial towards building brand awareness and is becoming more relevant in today’s B2B sales story

13.   84% of C-level and VP-level buyers use social media for purchasing – Source: IDC

Using social media to therefor get into the eye line of the decision maker has never been more important

14.   96% of customers find videos useful when making purchasing decisions – Source: Animoto

The days of boring and droning B2B content are over. It’s time to make B2B content vibrant and interactive as well.

15.   86% of B2B buyers say they see “no real difference between suppliers” –Source:  Webbiquity

Much like B2C messaging, it is time for B2B messaging to get personal to generate a higher brand connection and ultimately translate into building consumer relevance which helps in generating quality leads.

In the in their “Navigating the New Path to Purchase” report, Millward Brown Digital elucidates “The traditional purchase funnel diagram, one which any marketer could sketch from memory, is officially dead. The singular, orderly sequence of purchase stages has been scrambled, and marketers need to conform. In today’s world, where consumers have access to constant information through computers, smart phones, and tablets, each person’s path to purchase is complex and unique.”

Time to take a close look at your B2B sales strategy, isn’t it?

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?

7 Reasons Why B2B Companies Fail at Social Media and Content Marketing

7 Reasons Why B2B Companies Fail at Social Media and Content Marketing

Through Midas Touch, the B2B specialist social media agency which I run, we have worked with several B2B organizations – especially in the technology space. We have strategized and executed several social media initiatives and have seen tremendous success.

We all know the stats as well –

  • 57% of purchase decisions are made before a customer ever talks to a supplier (Source)
  • 80% of business decision makers prefer to get company information in a series of articles versus an advertisement. (Source)
  • 94 percent of B2B buyers conduct some form of online research before purchasing a business product (Source)

And yet, many B2B companies fail in their social media efforts or are not able to derive the desired results. What could be the reasons? Are they not serious about their efforts? Are they putting in efforts at the wrong place? Are they clueless about what to measure and what not to care about? Or there are some other reasons?

Here is my take on why the social media initiatives of B2B companies could fail –

No Strategy

“Strategy is thinking about a choice and choosing to stick with your thinking” —Jeroen De Flander

Strategy – probably the most overused word in the business space today. To me, the above quote summarizes the meaning of strategy. It helps you tie together your goals into plans and helps you achieve those goals. Organizations, when they start their B2B social media efforts, need to think hard and formulate a coherent strategy – what do they want to achieve, how do they plan to do it, what are the available resources, should it be done through in-house team or outside agency, how to engage the subject matter experts, how to monitor, and how to measure the ROI – all such aspects form the components of a solid strategy. Hiring an experienced marketing professional cannot be termed as the strategy 🙂

Lack of Consistency

“If you want to be taken seriously, be consistent.”

Pretty hard-hitting, isn’t it? It, however, is absolutely true in case of B2B social media. If you start with an assumption that you want to “try” social media for three months and then decide whether you would like to continue or not – I would say don’t even start thinking. B2B social media requires influencing multiple decision makers (right from CFO to technology director), the sales cycles are long (something running into months) and the decisions are not taken based on one article (social media is part of the overall sales funnel and not the only channel) – considering all these aspects, it is extremely important that you start your initiatives with a long-term plan. Have a mechanism to monitor the response and results at regular intervals and do ongoing tweaks.

Too Much Focus on Technology

“Our business is about technology, yes. But it’s also about operations and customer relationships.” – Michael Dell

Sure, you are into technology business. Your team has technology ninjas who are extremely passionate about technology and can give an hour long talk on the latest tool. But do you know that not “all” of your target audience may be “always” interested in your technology understanding? Businesses need to understand that technology is just one of the many tools to solve business problems – businesses care about solutions to their business problems. I have seen that many time, technology companies go overboard with their passion for technology and talk only about that instead of focusing on how that technology is going to help in solving a business problem. The B2B content which the company publishes needs to focus on answering the questions of the target audience – it is less about you and your knowledge and more about customer questions and answers to those questions.

Incorrect Choice of Platforms

“Do what is right, not what is easy.”

The world’s most active social platform with the largest user base may not be right for you. B2B social media is more about education more than emotion. It is about building thought leadership than creating just another blog. It is about providing answers to the buyer’s questions than talking about the greatness of your product and service – all such things make B2B social media different than B2C. While you are still interacting with humans, the purpose is different and, hence, the choice of platforms also differs. It is not possible to send a “friend request” to your prospects but you can certainly “follow” or “connect with them” – getting the difference? The choice of social platforms can make or break your social strategy. You will end up doing a lot of “social activity” without any results. Talk to B2B social media experts or read up to understand and know which could be the right platforms for your business.

RoI Misconceptions

“When you say RoI, do you mean Return on Investment or Risk of Inaction.” – Paul Gillin

B2B companies often make the mistake of thinking that the R in RoI is always Revenue – actually the R in RoI is Returns. You will be able to achieve the RoI from your social media initiatives only if you know what to measure, how to measure, and when to measure. Enhanced awareness amongst your target audience, visits to your website, thought leadership, social conversations – all these are valid returns from your social efforts. When you measure the RoI, ensure that you look for qualitative as well as quantitative metrics. Qualitative metrics could include interactions with an influencer, valid product feedback, appreciation by your prospect on your content and so on. Quantitative metrics could include visits to your website, visibility on social platforms, the number of interactions, the number of downloads of your eBook or whitepaper, and so on. It is important to keep monitoring these metrics and tweaking the strategy based on the results.

Lack of Synergy with Sales

Stop trying to sell with marketing, instead use marketing to help customers buy.

B2B organizations need to ensure that there is a very tight integration between sales and marketing – these two teams HAVE TO work in alignment and not in isolation. The sales and marketing strategies need to work together for acquiring customers – essentially because the sales cycles are long, evaluation periods extend in months, building trust takes time, and building thought leadership takes even longer. Marketing needs to understand the sales campaigns and needs to align itself according to those – for example, if your sales team is focusing on a particular industry vertical in a particular quarter, your social media presence has to reinforce your knowledge and expertise in that sector through blog articles, webinars, eBooks, and social promotion. Similarly, the sales teams need to leverage marketing and the social channels to build connections and engage with prospects on social channels.

Completely Ignoring Executive Branding aka Personal Branding

“Your personal brand is a promise to your clients… a promise of quality, consistency, competency, and reliability.” – Jason Hartman

Be it B2B or B2C, finally, people connect with people and people trust other people. Thinking that you don’t need a “face” in the online world is one of the most common mistakes which most of the B2B companies make. Companies need to ensure that all the external facing profile – be it the CEO, your sales director, your marketing head, managers who interact with the client or sales execs who interact with the prospects – need to have a strong online presence. It is absolutely critical that the top management has a strong online brand – they need to demonstrate their values, the expertise of the company, and build trust in the minds of the prospects, customers, suppliers, or future and present employees. Unfortunately, this is often the most ignored aspect – especially by the top management of technology companies. Believe it or not, it has a strong impact on the overall company brand as well.

Hope this helps you in knowing what to avoid so that your B2B social media initiatives are successful. Do share your feedback and comments!