To attract new clients and protect existing ones, companies selling products and services to other companies face daunting challenges in an ongoing transition from print based marketing approaches to expanded digital-centric methodologies.
The challenges are in the expenses that are piling up for companies tackling this digital-centric transition. The costs fall in three specific areas: market engagement, sales productivity, and company investment in digital-centric marketing methodologies.
When a company commits to introducing new technologies necessary for digital-centric conversion of their marketing and sales approaches, sales will not seamlessly adapt to the new messaging, strategy, and/or employed tactics. This is true even with a reasonable amount of personnel orientation and retraining, or enthusiastic executive leadership.
Challenge #1 – Reduced Market Engagement
It may come as a surprise, but your customers are probably already numb by much of the print and electronic media outreach methods you (and your competitors) send their way. These people feel abused by email blast methods and the continual downstream clutter they’ve been receiving for years, virtually none of it applicable to their specific situations. The understandable reaction to these intrusions is for your market targets to simply check out.
As a B2B marketer, it is easy to understand the attractiveness of the Internet and e-mail as promotion vehicles: compared to print vehicles, digital channels are overwhelmingly less costly ways to propagate your sales messages.
However, as your open rates continue their downward spiral, and web-based articles generate fewer clicks as “Unsubscribe” orders increase, what happens to sales? In growing desperation, your sales reps opt for the infamous “guaranteed lead program” that increases the stakes in a numbers game where larger numbers of less defined market targets are shelled with general solicitations until a certain number of people respond.
This “batch and blast” strategy may generate numbers for a month, or maybe a quarter, but it is also reduces the quality of your information content for your true market targets – those companies who truly need what you have to sell! The Law of Diminishing Returns will quickly apply.
You want to avoid this mistake. It is how companies become known as “spammers” who are then blackballed by web and email service providers.
Triumph Solution #1 – Get Personal
To be properly engaged with your company, your market targets rightfully expect and deserve a more personalized and customized quality in the information content they receive from you.
They expect you to do your homework. You need to know what they want to see and consistently hear from you through whatever channel of communication you choose to use to reach them.
Because of this expectation, your best source for the specific information necessary to fashion your sales & marketing message’s personalized and customized content is your existing customer base. You need to actively involve your customer base in your content-building efforts.
Begin by finding out the specifics from your existing customer:
- What is their specific challenge?
- What have they tried previously to solve the situation?
- How does this challenge affect their operation?
- Who gains or loses the most from the problem?
- When do they need to address the problem?
- How does the solution need to be applied?
- What would be the primary benefit to their company in solving the problem?
This simple list of open-ended questions is a starting point to turning around your bland, non-descriptive, impersonal and ineffective marketing and sales communications.
You can approach your existing customer base armed with this list simply enough. Personal visits by your sales staff can have the added benefit of re-invigorating customer relationships that may have grown tired and stale. Direct mail with reply surveys is another way, albeit less personal. Survey services through e-mail service companies are another choice, certainly cheaper with faster results, but perhaps not as beneficial as personal visits by your front line sales people.
Challenge #2 – Unintended Obsolescence
For the B2B sales professional, the Internet has changed everything. With a quick Google search delivering hundreds of potential resources to the desktop of every prospective or existing customer you will ever have, the good old days when your sales person walks in with a brochure and a contract to close the sale are pretty much over.
Your customers are looking for tailored solutions to their particular production related problems. Your company’s B2B products and services may be their answer, but if your customer doesn’t key into your evidence that your way is the best way to specifically answer their problem, you lose.
Your sales operation needs to adjust to the new realities. If not, your revenue per order drops, your close rates suffer and turnover in your sales personnel increases dramatically.
Turnover is a crusher. Your sales people are the most visible representatives for your company. They’re front liners who, when faced with lower sales volume, lower income and more tenuous job security, lose confidence in their ability to compete. Going into sales meetings with less than professional and enthusiastic energy to represent your company is something you want to avoid.
Triumph Solution #2 – Customize Your Evidence
Muscle up on your sales effectiveness: tailor your sales approach to fit the understood needs of your customer. This is a natural consequence of Getting Personal (Triumph Solution #1 above).
New ideas, strategies and tactics can help your sales people avoid becoming obsolete, but only if they contribute to your in-depth understanding of the problems, obstacles and goals that motivate your customers to take action. This is how your sales professional customizes the evidence supporting your product or service as your customer’s preferred solution.
Just as your “Get Personal” approach is dominated by the customer’s situation and every problem/challenge/consequence that springs from it, your sales professional’s presentation should lead with analytical data and intelligence you provide that is customized to address these things.
Doing so not only yields more strategic sales, but also improves the sales professional’s long-term success, relevance and employ-ability.
Challenge #3 – Risks to Revenue and Profit
Selling on price. How often have you heard of a company choosing a big-ticket item from a supplier because they got a heck of a good price?
In B2B sales, it happens all the time. It’s a ready excuse for the customer to make:
“Sorry, we had to go with ‘XYZ Company’ – they were the cheapest.”
And, your sales manager throws up their hands and walks away.
In these situations, more often than not, walking away is the most profitable thing your company can do.
If you discount sales too much, you can’t deliver the solutions you promised. If you leave money on the table, your company’s financials are directly impacted.
Here’s the truth: B2B selling carries the responsibility of understanding client requirements and offering the appropriate solution at the highest price possible.
Here’s another truth: if you lose a sale simply on price, you haven’t done your job. Product-centric sales proposals that lack foresight, thought and metrics embracing a full understanding of the customer’s situation violate essential strategic selling precepts.
Triumph Solution #3 – Understand the Real Value
Product-focused selling works against understanding a customer’s programs, goals and aspirations.
Put your customer’s desired outcomes before everything else. Focus on creating innovative approaches to satisfy those outcomes. Sell the value of your proposal from the get-go. Consider high margin solutions that carry potential for increased revenue, decreased operation costs, and greater profitability for both you and your customer.
Properly positioned, your innovative approaches can add 25-50% or more value to your individual sales order.
It’s the most rewarding way to stay relevant in the often-turbulent B2B marketplace.
Transitioning from a product-centric to a customer-centric marketing and sales approach is fundamental to prospering in today’s digital age. The proper use of enhanced digital tools and tactics empowers the B2B marketer with effective information-gathering methods that contribute to the closer working relationship with customers and prospects necessary for effective customer-centric marketing and sales efforts.
Related article: “The #1 Essential Factor for Successful B2B Sales” a Special Report by Steve Culpepper, Write Right Ink.
This article was inspired by the white paper “Three Fundamental Problems in B2B Publishing Sales” originally published by Knowledge Marketing and available through their website www.knowledgemarketing.com.