Sales Leaders Are Ignoring An Effective Strategy To Gain Access To Executive Buyers

Mark Lindwall

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.

What Is A Referral?

In his recent report, “The Lost Art Of Referrals,” my colleague Norbert Kriebel defines referrals as: 

“A message strategy to transfer the value of your offerings from an existing customer to another; the existing customer is ‘vouching’ for you.”  

This report notes and describes four basic sources of referrals:

  • From a colleague in the company.
  • From a colleague outside of the company.
  • From a subordinate.
  • From a superior.
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What Do Reps Believe Makes A Meeting Successful?

Mark Lindwall

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. 

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Your New #1 Competitor

Mark Lindwall

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?

 

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Where Have All The Good Times Gone? The party is dying out for companies whose salespeople lack empathy for executive buyers

Mark Lindwall

In his recent report, Competitive Strategy In The Age Of The Customer, Forrester’s David Cooperstein notes that in regard to successful business strategy:

It's no longer sufficient to say that you are simply ‘customer-centric" or "customer-focused.’ The only successful strategy in the age of the customer is to become customer-obsessed — to focus your strategic decisions first and foremost on how your customers expect you to engage them.

Through our ongoing conversations with executive buyers, professionals in sales enablement, and through survey responses from hundreds of global executive buyers, Forrester’s Sales Enablement practice has discovered a massive gap between buyers’ expectations of salespeople and what they’re actually experiencing when they meet with reps. In fact, less than 40% of executive buyers say that meetings with salespeople meet their expectations (see figure 1).  Further, only one in three IT executives said that sales meetings "usually" live up to expectations, and just over two of five business executives said that sales meetings hit that mark (see Norbert Kriebel’s report: Executive Buyer Expectations — The Bar Is Low).

 

Do meetings with salespeople meet executive buyer expectations?

Considering that perhaps 25% or less of the typical sales force is even capable of gaining access to executive buyers, consider the cost when these meetings miss buyer expectations and result in no further opportunity.

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Letter From Germany: Congratulations, Intershop And Hybris!

Peter O'Neill

Just as London buses seem to come down the road in a series, I’ve been very busy with several of Forrester’s German clients in the past weeks: running three separate “21st-Century Marketing System” client workshops (well, to be accurate, one was in Austria, but we spoke German). I also met with Germany’s two largest indigenous IT companies (though the meeting with SAP was in Istanbul). So this flurry of Germanic activity got me thinking about penning a new “Letter From Germany” blog.

Last month, I visit Jena, in Thüringen, the headquarters of Intershop. As I had worked very closely with this company back in my HP days in 1998 (Heh! I remember when they were NetConsult), even helping Intershop set up shop in the US as an ISV partner, it was a trip down memory lane. At the time, Intershop, led by its young CEO Stefan Schambach, was the darling of the German business press; the closest that Germany had to the AOL, Amazon, Google, or Yahoo founders. The eBusiness bubble-burst set Intershop back somewhat, but it is still around with a strong, loyal set of eBusiness customers around the world. My colleagues Peter Sheldon and Andy Hoar published their Forrester Wave on B2B Commerce Suites last week and we were all pleased to see Intershop earn a position as a leader in their analysis. And another German vendor, hybris (an SAP company),was also up there with them. Congratulations to them both.

Within the wave report, the colleagues also pointed out that customers who migrate to an online purchase environment actually end up spending more money per transaction and more money overall post-migration (see below). And they are less expensive to support once they migrate online.

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B2C Or B2B? That Is So The Wrong Question.

Peter O'Neill

Peter O’Neill here. Today, I was just polishing off my presentation deck for my upcoming workshop, “Achieve Revenue Acceleration Through Better Content Distribution,” at DMA 2013 this weekend and was debating whether I needed a slide that set the right expectations about B2B marketing versus B2C. This is a common discussion point with clients in my experience. Many of the documented marketing stories and best practices seem unsuitable for B2B marketers, they claim. B2C marketers respond that even business buyers are people and so the lessons they have learned apply equally to B2B. We even discuss this often within Forrester. Now, as is always the case with these interminable arguments, both parties are partly right — and they are partly wrong.

Scott Santucci and I are currently working on a Forrester report that explores this dilemma in much more detail — and suffice to say, I have selected the table below, from that report, to lead my discussion with my audience on Saturday in Chicago. As this is “research in progress,” I have annotated the graph accordingly. In fact, you now have the opportunity to give us some some feedback about this — do we use the right words? Is there something we have missed? In any case, please watch this space for the final version.

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Understanding Value for Buyers in Complex Sales

Mark Lindwall

Who do you sell to? That’s a simple question that we’ve asked thousands of salespeople over the past few years. The answers are always interesting and typically focus on either a description of a business segment (e.g., “I sell to Financial Services companies of over $1 billion in revenue”) or a business function (e.g., “I sell into IT security departments”). 

It is infrequent that salespeople tell us about selling to a network of decision-makers who are involved in making buying decisions for their organizations. Yet what we call “agreement networks” are the reality of a shift in how companies buy today.  Agreement networks have forever changed the rules on salespeople, requiring new levels of understanding of how multiple buyers perceive value during their buying process.

Why is selling getting more complex?

  • Business problems involve an interconnected web of domains and processes
  • Selling into an agreement network involves multiple people
  • Agreement networks require multiple “sales”
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Controlling What Your Vendor Demonstrates Will Better Inform Your Purchase Decision

Peter O'Neill

Peter O’Neill here and I hope you all had a great summer break. Many Forrester clients, and some vendors and consultants, have been asking me about the progress of our lead-to-revenue management (L2RM) Forrester Wave™ project — especially as many B2B marketing organizations are planning their investments in various marketing automation projects, as documented in a previous blog.

Lori Wizdo is leading this project, while I am the overall content editor for the various reports we will publish. Lori is being ably assisted in her analysis by Sheryl Pattek, with further contributions from other analysts and research associate Michael Schrumm. Our analysis involves several hoops, which we have invited our participating vendors to jump through. Hoop No. 1 is an executive presentation of the vendor's product and company strategy. Hoop No. 2 is a detailed questionnaire, with 80 questions about their product and company — the answers to which form the basis for our Forrester Wave scoring criteria. Hoop No. 3 involves each vendor providing us with at least three customer contacts that we can interview to verify their claims and collect experience reports.

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Vendors: Read On To Understand Your Partners' Issues With Cloud

Peter O'Neill

 

Peter O'Neill here with some observations about cloud computing and channel partners. While cloud computing has been a boon for the tech industry in general, for channel partners the story is different. Channel partners have to deal with shrinking product margins, skills shortages, and new competitor types (including tech vendors themselves!). 

And the funny thing is: many vendors still haven’t internalized what predicament their partners are in. How else can you explain Microsoft executives berating their partners that “only 2% of you are in the cloud business” at their recent Worldwide Partner Conference – and then adding insult to injury by suggesting calmly that the partners could host future customer visits in Microsoft Stores, where they can see those MS cloud products (I count the Surface tablet in that list) they cannot even sell!

Forrester Principal Analyst Tim Harmon and myself are discussing these issues almost every day with technology vendors; in fact with B2B vendors in general, because cloud computing is affecting every sector now (including insurance, health care, etc.). Channel partners are changing their business model stripes — in myriad directions, and oftentimes as ungrounded "experiments."

In our new Forrester report, “The Shape-Shifting Tech Industry Channel Ecosystem”, we write about how the successful channel partners of the future will be those that operate under a hybrid business model umbrella, combining on-premises and cloud delivery, and IT and business value.

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Are You Doing Enough Customer Research? Yes, But . . .

Peter O'Neill

Peter O'Neill here: I attended a meeting of our FLB Sales Enablement Council earlier this month in San Francisco. The Council meeting included sales operations and content marketing executives from B2B companies Avaya, Cisco Systems, Haworth, HP, IBM, and Polycom. While the meeting is a facilitated discussion among peers, as per our standard FLB model, it is also more than that. It actively helps us analysts create new IP for our clients — we get their point of view and we test our own hypothesis before publishing reports. This meeting focused on the very important topic of defining the audience for our message (i.e., content and conversations) and messenger (i.e., the content channels, including sales). In an introductory exercise, the attendees listed all the groups and initiatives that they know are doing research with their customers. If you look at this photo, I think you’ll agree with what the Council attendees said after this exercise: “It’s absolutely frightening and quite chaotic!”  This photo shows the list of people or departments - the list next to it is by "initiative" and it is just as long.

I am reporting this because Forrester has just published my latest report for B2B marketers on content marketing, Establish Your Content Marketing Life Cycle; in it, I discuss some critical success factors around content marketing. One of the most important is doing enough of the right research about your buyers in the first place. However, the research I describe in the report isn’t even on these lists!

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