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Audience Engagement – Why Sales and Marketing Have Changed Forever

Sales and marketing. Marketing and sales. So close, and yet, so different. The unique, sometimes contradictory principles of these two business disciplines are well documented.

There are countless treatises on this eternal conflict, many right here within in these pages. People with very big brains spend an inordinate amount of time trying to figure out how to bridge the gap between these two critical, but often conflicting business disciplines.

But are the pundits simply perpetuating a legendary feud, a culture of conflict that really isn’t relevant anymore? I mean, without this topic, what else would they write about? Are they like the dentist who doesn’t really want cavities to go away, at least not all of them?

I for one believe we can start burying the S&M hatchet once and for all. Because today, effective sales and marketing really aren’t so different. “Effective” is the key word, of course. But in the current business environment, the chasm that has always existed between those who create the brand and those who push the product seems to be closing.

In fact, the fundamental qualities of good marketing and good sales were never all that out of alignment. The most immediate goals of those practicing their respective crafts were, and that probably led to all the misunderstanding. But in the end, very similar principles applied. And whatever real differences there may have been are rapidly fading away, simply because both sides of the debate are now reporting to a new boss, one that has never been so powerful, so critical, so fickle and so unforgiving – their target audience.

THE AUDIENCE CALLS ALL THE SHOTS

In the past, we sales and marketing experts held most of the cards. Marketers pushed information to audiences through a relatively small number of communication channels – traditional broadcast, print, outdoor, direct mail, PR. Sales professionals were pitching prospects who had few, if any available options. Of course there was always competition lurking in the shadows; but they were relatively scarce when compared with today’s competitive landscape, where access to messages, promises, deals and promotions is virtually unlimited.

People just aren’t so easily persuaded anymore. The world is totally transparent to anyone who cares to look inside, and as a result, audiences of all kinds demand greater accountability from the companies they do business with.

Today there are endless options, and endless methods of accessing them. The reality is, we can no longer tell our targets anything they don’t want to hear. Because someone else is right there waiting for the chance to provide exactly what they’re looking for.

LET’S GET ENGAGED!

So what’s the answer? How can marketers and sales professionals alike get their respective audiences to say “yes”?

By engaging them.

“Engagement” is undoubtedly the word du jour of the marketing world. And while the term may not be used as frequently in weekly sales meetings, engagement has always been the goal of any good salesperson.

Just what is engagement? While there still seems to be no definitive definition, as a starting point, engagement is about building meaningful relationships with audiences (or prospects), on their terms. Engagement is all about involvement, entertainment, relevance, relationships, customer focus, listening much more than we speak, then speaking in our audience’s language rather than our own.

All of this might seem self-evident. But it’s easier said than done in today’s world of continuously shifting tastes, interests and communication/entertainment options. Both sales and marketing professionals have a lot to think about if they’re going to effectively engage their targets. And each can learn a trick or two from the other.

THREE ENGAGEMENT SKILLS MARKETING CAN LEARN FROM SALES

Nimbleness. Great salespeople have always been able to turn on a dime. They know that the prospect leads the dance, and if they are to succeed, they must be in concert with their partner, sensitive to their subtlest move and quick to turn and spin and dip whenever they’re ready. Many marketers still want to lead. They know about this engagement thing, but at the end of the day, still think they know better than the audience what the audience really wants. Learn from your sales colleagues. Give the audience what they’re asking for, even if it changes day-to-day. They decide, you provide.

Immediacy. There are no more long-term propositions, at least not in the way there once were. Everything is “now,” this moment. In fact, now is already old news. Super sales pros have always been ready to move when the time was right – before a competitor beat them to the punch. Marketers have traditionally been more deliberate in their efforts — research, develop, research again, refine, research. Take that tack today and you’ll soon be a footnote in the business history books. Think Wang Word Processors. “You snooze, you lose” is true more than ever.

Over-Service. The really great salespeople are never too proud. They’re always ready to bend over backwards for a valued customer – and hopefully enjoy a fleeting moment of customer loyalty. The successful sales pro is there whenever needed – nights, weekends, early mornings, holidays. Because that’s what customers demand. Marketers have always had it a little easier. Set the campaign in motion and watch as the audience eats it up. No more. Today, the most successful marketers are engaging audiences whenever and wherever that audience demands – in the street, on three screens, in their neighborhoods, on vacation. Don’t expect them to come to you anymore; they won’t. Go where they are and give them everything you’ve got!

THREE ENGAGEMENT SKILLS SALES CAN LEARN FROM MARKETING

Research. Marketers have always put a lot of stock in getting to know their audience, spending millions to understand just who they are, how they think and most important, what they’ll buy. Today, effective sales requires an equally inquisitive approach. Learn everything you can about your prospects – married or single; golf or tennis; Starbucks or Dunkin’ Donuts; where they were born and where they went to school. And of course, what matters to them in their career and their life. The more you know about your audience, the better you will be able to speak their language, and the more engaging your sales efforts will be.

Thinking Big. Master marketers have always focused on the “big idea,” the overriding brand benefits their audience values. They don’t sell a neat product, they promise a solution. Likewise, “solution selling” is all the rage these days, and for good reason. It works. Look for ways to provide big picture solutions to clients, ideally ones that encourage a long-term relationship. Don’t make their life better today. Give them the hope that it will be better tomorrow, for the next year, the next decade. Not with this sale, but with an understanding of their needs and an ongoing commitment to providing answers. That’s real engagement.

Strategy First. The most effective marketing programs have always been based on a carefully designed strategy, essentially ensuring that the right message is being delivered to the right audience in the right way, in order to achieve a desired objective. Sales has traditionally involved a bit more hip-shooting. And while “nimbleness” is listed above as an important sales skill marketers can benefit from, a strategic approach is equally beneficial for sales professionals in today’s chaotic selling environment. Before ever making the first call or sending the first email, develop specific, measurable goals, work to identify your ideal prospects, determine what’s important to them and craft your proposal appropriately. Determine just how they can be most effectively engaged and only then execute your strategy flawlessly. Plan your sale, sell your plan.

It all used to be easier, I think. People could be led to a desired outcome, even manipulated when necessary. Today it’s the smart salespeople and marketers who know, they’re the ones being led, and are willing to follow along. Ask what the audience wants and how they want it, and then give it to them. Whether it’s a brand or a product, a message or a service contract. Make sure it’s all part of an immersive experience that meets and exceeds all their expectations.

Only by being fast, flexible and completely responsive to the needs and desires of our audiences will engagement happen – and relationships thrive.

Sales and Marketing Gurus I Avoid

Every so often, someone asks me about which sales and marketing courses they should buy.

Usually, the person asking is tired of dropping their money on expensive courses that turn out to be just more of the same old rehashed information. And they want to know some ways to tell the fakes and frauds from the legitimate gurus with quality products.

And the following is a giant “red flag” I look for.

A red flag that, when I have ignored it, I regretted it in (almost) every single case.

And while there are exceptions to what I’m about to say, avoiding buying from people who do this has served me extremely well so far.

Anyway, here’s the red flag:

Publicly counting their money.

In other words, do they spend all their time bragging about their fancy cars, houses and other “toys”? Is their main “proof element” a screenshot of their bank account? Do they constantly drone on and on about all the money they banked last week?

Narrows the list of gurus to buy from doesn’t it?

Now, just to be clear, I’m not saying this is ALWAYS the case. There ARE exceptions. And I’m not judging anyone specifically.

Just telling you my criteria.

And this is why my shelf of courses is actually pretty small. I don’t waste my time on nonsense just because someone knows how to work the affiliate machine.

Plus, here’s something else to think about:

How wise is someone who publicly counts their money? I mean, think about it:

If some sue-happy shark of a lawyer (or, worse, attorney general) is swimming around looking for lunch, what better “chum” is there than the latest guru blabbing about all the scratch he makes in his advertising?

Just don’t make no sense to me. But hey, maybe I’m the odd ball when it comes to this stuff.

Again, I’m NOT saying it’s ALWAYS the case. And there are times when it make sense to do a little showboating.

But for the most part, I avoid the cash-flashers.

SAL Is the Glue That Binds Sales and Marketing in Lead Generation

A lead is a lead, right? Depends – are you in marketing or in sales?

SAL – Sales Accepted Leads is the bridge between Marketing Qualified Leads (MQL) and Sales Qualified Leads (SQL).

No, I am not splitting hairs nor am I indulging in semantics. Clearly defining and understanding the implications of MQL, SAL and SQL are critical to the success of B2B lead generation.

Assigning a numeric score to business sales leads based on a predefined set of rules, takes away the subjectivity out of qualitative ranking like Hot, Warm and Cold leads. Quantitative lead definitions reduce the friction between sales and marketing.

B2B marketers are being held a lot more accountable (as they should be) for their contributions to a company’s revenues. This is more so for industrial marketers because generating a steady stream of high-quality sales leads plays a far more important role than other B2B marketing objectives such as branding, thought leadership and/or community building.

These days, respect for B2B and industrial marketing is spelled as M E T R I C S.

And that goes beyond producing marketing activity reports for upper management. They want to know how much revenue was generated from all that marketing activity. Being able to prove marketing’s value with empirical data is the best defense against the C-Suite’s charge of “show me the money.”

Defining qualified leads

  • Marketing Qualified Leads (MQL): A lead that has achieved a certain score based on a predetermined set of criteria and is ready to be handed off to sales
  • Sales Accepted Leads (SAL):Leads accepted by sales for follow up actions
  • Sales Qualified Leads (SQL): Leads that convert into opportunities – either wins or losses

SAL aligns sales and marketing

At first glance it may appear as though it is just a matter of assigning numerical scores to leads and the hand off to sales should happen automatically by using marketing automation software. Dig a little deeper and it will become obvious that there’s a lot more involved than “set it and forget about it.”

SAL is what brings sales and marketing together in attaining the Holy Grail of B2B lead generation – a unified definition of a qualified lead. Sales and marketing will continue to bicker without this agreement. And a bulk of the leads generated will fall through the cracks. Oh, what a waste! (See my earlier post, B2B Lead Generation without Lead Nurturing is Doomed to Fail)

Best practices of lead scoring and management require at least the following:

  • Sales and marketing must work together in defining what constitutes a qualified lead for their particular business
  • Lead scoring must be based on both profiling of the best prospects (company size, industry classification, job function, etc.) which Sales knows best and visitor engagement (site activities) for which Marketing has access to analytics and reports
  • Sales must agree to undertake all follow up actions before rejecting a MQL (If a salesperson is too busy then the system must route the lead to someone else)
  • Marketing must be willing to adjust scoring rules based on feedback from sales to refine lead scoring for optimal results (closed loop system)

I don’t want to create a false impression that every manufacturer, distributor or industrial company needs a sophisticated marketing automation package to get the best results from their lead generation efforts.

Let’s say you are a manufacturer or distributor that sells to a niche market. Then it is likely that you deal with only a handful of leads and not hundreds of them at any given time. Your needs may very well be satisfied by a simpler manual system made up of a Visitor Identification program (Caller ID for the Internet) and outbound telemarketing to fully qualify your prospects. Results can be tabulated using Excel spreadsheets for tracking and refinements.

Of course, it would be unmanageable to scale up such a manual lead scoring and tracking system as the volume of leads increases.

A good lead scoring and management system should be flexible enough to adjust for exceptions. For example, a site visitor with a very high level of activity (several pages visited including pricing information, downloaded white papers, and viewed online demos) would score high on engagement. However, this may be an integration consultant instead of an end-user. A phone call or progressive landing pages may be needed to unearth this additional information.

Your system needs to be able to adjust for this low profile score. This may not be a lead you want to send to sales right away but instead put him/her on a nurturing track that does not require a lot of your time and resources.

Even though we B2B marketers like to think of marketing as more science and less art, lead generation is not an exact science. Human intervention and interactions are the oils that grease the wheels of B2B lead generation.

The key takeaway here is that you may be making a very costly mistake if you treat all your leads the same, put them in a common bucket and toss it over to sales to qualify and close. You are going to need some form of SAL if you want to maximize your lead generation ROI.