A new and pernicious myth as taken hold in many B2B Sales and Marketing organizations. The myth - that buyers are 60-70% of the way through their buying cycle before they talk with a salesperson - is an intentional fallacy based on a false generalization that “buyers” means “all buyers”. Search the web for phrases around this topic and you’ll find a substantial volume of vendors selling the myth as truth, much to their short term benefit. In my discussions with both vendors and practitioners (leaders in Sales and Marketing), it is disturbing when they throw out the "60-70% ..." statement as if it were "fact" when, in reality, it is not only false but damaging to the revenue engine of companies who sell in the B2B space.
Not All Buyers Know What They Need
Our point of view is that not only are there different types of B2B buyers (we've identified four categories we call archetypes), but that in today's economy there are multiple buyers involved in decisions and they operate in what we call agreement networks. Some of these buyers - especially most executive buyers - want help in understanding complex problems in their business (including “unrealized opportunities”) before they ever think about products. They may not yet be aware of a problem they are faced with, or they may know that they have a problem but don’t yet understand its patterns or implications or impact on their organization. They are (appropriately) weeks or months away from a search for a product or service. It is these buyers who set the direction, before asking others in the agreement network (e.g. their teams) to get deeper into the details, including acquiring solutions.
I spent some time today with Eduardo Conrado, senior vice president marketing and IT at Motorola Solutions. Eduardo is one of our guest speakers at our Sales Enablement Forum in March – in fact he is the keynote for the track which I have put together with a focus on the message within our 21st-century sales system equation. This graphic should give you a hint of what we mean:
If you’d like to know more, and what MMA and VPM mean, come to the Forum and find out. Eduardo and I discussed his presentation and this is our dialogue.
PETER: Eduardo. What will be your three key takeaways from your speech at the Forrester Sales Enablement Forum?
EDUARDO: When considering how to move your company from a product company to a solutions provider, reexamine your brand and what it means to you and your customers in the lens of purpose, voice, promise, and values. Through a collaborative effort with sales, you need to examine the people, process, and tools/systems you are currently utilize to address your customer’s business challenges. A dynamic mix customer messaging to sales enablement tools reinforces how you can help your customers solve their toughest challenges and can position your company as a trusted advisor and not just a product company.
PETER: How important was it to link your content to sales conversations and how did you do that?
We recently wrapped up our first ever evaluation on lead-to-revenue management (L2RM) platforms. In this 75-criteria evaluation, we identified the nine most significant solution providers in the category, and researched, analyzed, and scored them. I want to extend my sincere thanks to each vendor in the report — Act-On, Adobe, CallidusCloud, IBM, Marketo, Oracle, salesforce.com, Salesfusion, and Silverpop — for committing to and participating in the often grueling Forrester Wave™ evaluation process.
In the analysis, the Forrester team looked in detail at how the vendors support traditional business-to-business (B2B) lead management capabilities — lead capture, lead nurturing, lead scoring, and lead promotion — as well as meet the emerging needs of B2B marketers in cross-channel execution, social campaigns, and real-time, contextual triggers, optimization, and analytics.
The Forrester Wave process is extensive. Here are some of my key takeaways after having scored 675 criteria, reviewed the transcripts of 30 interviews, watched 18 hours of vendor demos, topped off with 9-plus hours of vendor strategy presentations:
The L2RM Platform Buyer Needs To Exercise Deep Due Diligence When Making A Platform Selection
Last week I spoke with the VP of Sales for a tech company that used to have the hottest product in his market. In housing terms, they used to be an exclusive and much sought after neighborhood, but now the competition has moved in on all sides and sales are down. His sales force is facing a vastly growing number of competitors. Some are much larger and have broader portfolios that give them better presence in customer accounts. They’re getting squeezed and are finding it harder to compete in deals where they used to be the only solution.
Your only true differentiation comes from how your reps interact with your buyers
What’s interesting is that the vendor mentioned above is still experiencing consistent success when his company’s salespeople gain access to executive buyers early in their decision process and work in a consultative manner with those buyers to shape a vision of a solution. When that happens, salespeople are confident discussing the business issues faced by those buyers. They’ve found certain industries that they know well where they are able to do this consistently. They are not getting squeezed by competitors and they are winning. But often, they're chasing deals that competitors started and reps are drawn into an RFP frenzy that chews up time and resources. After all, they used to win these deals, but now they're pretty demoralized and reps are starting to leave.
Peter O’Neill here, to tell you: we’ve finally made it! Yes, our Forrester Wave™ evaluation on lead-to-revenue management (L2RM) platforms is finally published for Forrester clients. In this 75-criteria evaluation, we identified the nine most significant solution providers in the category — Act-On, Adobe, CallidusCloud, IBM, Marketo, Oracle, salesforce.com, Salesfusion, and Silverpop —and researched, analyzed, and scored them. Lori Wizdo and I, ably supported by reviews from colleagues Laura Ramos and Sheryl Pattek, looked in detail at how the vendors support traditional business-to-business (B2B) lead management capabilities — lead capture, lead nurturing, lead scoring, and lead promotion — as well as meet the emerging needs of B2B marketers in cross-channel execution, social campaigns, and real-time, contextual triggers, optimization, and analytics. Note that we sub-titled the report “Due Diligence Required: These Vendors Are Great At Marketing”. This is not our frivolity: buyers really do need to firstly evaluate their own needs and then select the vendor that best fits that specification.
Sales Managers Err In Biasing Toward Years Of Sales Experience In Making Hiring Decisions
Thousands of sales managers, and the human resources (HR) teams that support them, consider years of relevant sales experience to be a key criterion for recruiting and hiring salespeople. In the new economy, however, sales experience is an unreliable indicator of future success versus another key characteristic. In fact, assumptions about sales experience that have guided sales hiring for more than a hundred years should be discarded in the age of the customer, in which buying dynamics have radically changed.
Successful sales managers, now, will focus on hiring salespeople who are best able to deeply understand their customers and align with their buyer's communication needs and preferences, as opposed to their product or vendor-industry expertise. Buyer empathy may be found in highly experienced salespeople or developed in inexperienced salespeople.
Sales Experience Is Not An Inherent Advantage For Engaging With Executive Buyers
Peter O’Neill here. We had an interesting discussion with a Forrester client this year, a business unit that sells computer storage hardware and software. Focusing on just one of its major accounts, we asked how much storage the vendor had sold to that account. The number reported was impressive, and the vendor also felt it had a significant market share in that account based on its own addressable market analysis. Well, Forrester talks to marketing professionals and to the IT organization. So we researched the true spending on storage in that company. The actual spending on storage was well over three times the amount assumed by the vendor. There were many business initiatives in progress (ran by business executives, of course, not IT), to optimize business processes or improve their outcomes. All of these projects end up deploying technology including storage, but there is no actual storage purchase — that is “lost” in the project budget. The reality was that this vendor had a miniscule market share because most of the spending on storage technologies passed over its head.
In our research, executive buyers tell us that referrals are far more effective than other approaches for gaining access to them. Yet the referral strategy is ignored in most corporate sales organizations. If you want your salespeople to have greater success accessing executive buyers, then it’s time to consider this important yet forgotten strategy.
Do salespeople in different roles (e.g., strategic accounts, geographic, inside sales) and with different levels of experience have different perspectives on selling? Not significantly, according to our Q1 2012 North American Technology Seller Insight Online Survey.
Our recently published report “What Do Reps Believe Makes A Meeting Successful?” illuminates how similar the perspectives of sellers in different roles and with different levels of experience really are. If your company has one kind of sales role and one very consistent type of buyer, and they are well aligned, then this data may not much matter to you. But if you have different roles and types of buyer, then it’s worth examining the data in this report.
We found that three-fourths of salespeople agree that the most important aspect of a successful meeting with prospective buyers is their ability to understand the buyers’ business issues and share a way to solve them. The thing is, Forrester’s Q4 2012 Global Executive Buyer Insight Online Survey data, and interviews with executive buyers, clearly illuminate that the majority of buyers believe that salespeople are not successful in meetings with them.
Who is your company’s Number One competitor? Actually, it’s not who you think it is. In fact, it’s probably not “who” at all, but rather “what” that is taking away the most sales from your sales team(s).
We recently asked 180 IT salespeople with greater than three years of experience this question: “Thinking about the opportunities you’ve lost in the last 12 months, what is the most common reason for the loss?” They replied that in 43% of losses the reason was “Lost funding or lost to no decision: customer stopped the procurement process.”
Your Real #1 Competitor
Your company’s “competition,” more often than not, is actually buyers deciding not to make a decision at all. You lose to a “no decision.” Your perceived competitors didn’t win either. No transaction happened, no value was created; only cost was incurred by all parties involved. OK, so is this really a "new competitor." No. However, due to changes that I'll discuss below, it is a competitor that has gained far more of a foothold on business that you would like to have. So what happened?