Smart B2B Marketing Includes A Sales Ride Along; 6 Key Questions

sales-ride-along

We all recall the expression “there’s no such thing as a dumb question”, though I know I’ve violated that more than a few times. Still it’s pretty much a given that it’s part of the essential mindset for any B2B marketer. Where it can pay big dividends is when you make time to go on a ride-along with sales. Here’s why.

In every industry vertical, B2B marketing’s “secret sauce” starts with understanding how your company’s target audience thinks and behaves. In the process it’s also possible to better align the marketing and sales teams to create better synergy for greater ROI.

When you think about it, as a general rule in nearly every business your resident expert on the customer is your sales team. So as soon and often as possible, pick their brain. The best way based in my experience is to suit up and step into their world for some immersion.

When I’ve done this I put on my journalism hat and use the “5W&H” to get the story; who, what, when, where, why and how. This will not only help paint an accurate picture of the customer’s world but establishes a repoire and foundation with the sales team for an ongoing dialogue. As for any doubt about sales willingness to talk, there are few things people enjoy more than talking about themselves and being called upon for their expertise.

So imagine those first few minutes sitting with the sales rep. After the pleasantries, what should you ask? Here are six key questions to get the ball rolling:

  • So how do you get sales? As basic as that may sound, understanding where leads and prospects are coming from is vital to “seeing into the sales funnel” and learning how the current sales process works even if you think you know. Verify.
  • Who are great prospects (and customers)? This helps us understand success criteria and the qualities and quantities associated with them. Finding out how well or poorly marketing’s profiles and more importantly, personas match the feedback from sales has everything to do with our messaging, content strategy, and marketing plan in general.
  • Where are they? Sounds kind of silly at first but it helps uncover as many opportunities as possible to brand, message, solicit feedback, reinforce distinctive competency and employ the most appropriate media and format for delivery of custom content to best move the prospect along (conversions) until they become customers.
  • What sales methodology do you use? This is different from the sales process. Are they using Challenger, SPIN, NEAT, Conceptual, SNAP? Get the context of when marketing can be applied to increase sales’ effectiveness and you’ll also find better alignment between the sales and marketing teams.
  • When do you decide to contact the prospect directly? In companies where they use a MAS (marketing automation system) like Hubspot or Pardot, there are clearly defined protocols for the timing of content delivery and qualification stages before anyone in business development or sales actually picks up the phone or sends a direct email. But in companies that aren’t using MAS, this can be a big blind spot for marketing where we need to shine a light.
  • Why do you think the sales team is successful? This can be a big reveal into the state of mind of the sales team but more importantly where there are gaps that marketing can help address such as creating better presentation materials and leave-behinds, more effective and attractive promotions, or designing professional-looking tradeshow displays for example.

Doing this will at minimum help true up current marketing efforts but also help both sales and marketing to gain greater clarity into the relationship between their respective teams. Tearing down the silos leads to improved cooperation, understanding and communication. These are key ingredients for greater effectiveness that in turn will grow MROI (marketing return on investment) and ultimately company profitability.

Do you have a sales ride along story to tell? Share it here. We’d love to hear about it.

The B2B Marketing Opportunity Gap: Three Causes and How To Fix Them

bridging the gapI think most B2B marketers would agree that beyond the technical and design excellence of a B2B company’s online presence, there must be a content strategy and plan that’s getting supported by content experts and thought leaders who are creating authentic, genuine, and compelling content. But it’s not happening as much as it should and here are just three contributing causes to what I call the B2B Marketing Opportunity Gap

#1 Marketing Technology Runs On High Octane Content
The myriad of marketing tools from apps, to cloud ware to automated lead nurturing that we are seeing is wonderful because they remove much of the drudgery in the workaday world of B2B marketing. But this is where B2B company execs trying to support the transition to inbound marketing often make the mistake of thinking marketing technology alone is the solution. They will find dollars to fund MAS, CRM and CMS technology with all its potential of money savings with the expectation it will deliver greater marketing ROI. But without fresh, original and compelling content to fuel it, this is the equivalent of a high performance engine with a one gallon gas tank. Going nowhere fast.  The reality is B2B companies should continuously budget for ongoing content analysis and development if they want to compete for a lead in the pack.

#2 Fresh, New Rubber or Retreads?
Truckers either buy new tires for their rigs or have the old ones retreaded which is just what it sounds like; sticking new tread around the old tire casing. This solution is relatively cheap but also somewhat unreliable. We’ve all seen and occasionally dodged those strips of rubber tread on the interstate some call “road gators”. Those came off retreaded tires. Alot of B2B marketers are doing the same thing with their marketing content. You know what I’m talking about. Look at the volume of blogs that are a rehashing and repurposing of the same conversation. On the other hand, well done fresh content is like a new tire; it almost never fails and develops a good reputation for performance and reliability. All B2B marketing content should be like that but of course it costs more to produce quality. Too many marketing decisions though are based solely on cost instead of ROI and the result can be disappointing. Study the category leader’s online content, follow the best practitioners like Content Marketing Institute and Copy Bloggers or hire someone like Jay Baer, Mark Schaeffer or John Jantsch to help you set up your program.

#3 B2B Inbound Isn’t A Chicken Rotisserie
Recently I read a post by agency new business expert Michael Gass about how ad agencies are requiring staff to be more digital. The lateness of this is a little shocking considering Dharmesh Shah and Brian Halligan described the new digital citizen in their book Inbound Marketing,

Cover of "Inbound Marketing: Get Found Us...

Cover via Amazon

back in 2009 but at least ad agencies KNOW they have a content void to fill if they are to have any credibility in the new marketplace. Some of their clients are hearing that too. Both camps face the same challenge; developing a content program, executing on it, monitoring the results and using those results to continuously improve upon the content.  It’s NOT a Ron Popeil Chicken Rotisserie where one can “set it and forget it”. It’s more like a fitness lifestyle that requires discipline; stick with it though and you’ll get long lasting, accumulating benefits.

Where else are you seeing issues that are standing in the way of getting your B2B marketing program ramped up and amp’d up? We’d enjoy hearing about them.

 

 

B2B Marketing Could Learn Something From Sales: Skip The Monkey Business

True story. My good friend Ken, had just walked into one of his first sales calls back in the ‘70s and he was feeling pretty righteous decked out in his plaid polyester Haggar suit, new Cross pen and shiny Samsonite briefcase – not to mention the big, curly hairstyle. It was an independent electronics and TV repair shop and it was early so no customers and the owner yelled from the back that he’d be right out.  So with some time to kill he looked around and that’s when he spotted the monkey cage at the end of the counter.

Inside, innocently sitting there wide-eyed was one of those cute, cuddly little monkeys you could order from the small black-and-white ads in the back of magazines like Popular Mechanics.  Well, he thought, this could be fun. Maybe the monkey would jump around a little given the right motivation, like maybe with a poke of the new pen in his pocket.

So just as the pen tip passed through the cage mesh, in a flash a little hand had snatched it and thrown it to the bottom of the cage. Ken stared in disbelief. His new pen was lying in monkey poop, and worse, how would he explain this to the owner? Thinking fast, he realized that if he pulled on the edge of the newspaper lining the cage bottom, he could reach the pen, retrieve it, problem solved. So leaning forward for a better view, he tugged the paper. The monkey watched too, and also immediately noticed Ken’s curly hairdo sticking into the cage. In a split second our monkey had a fistful of salesman hair and with the incredible strength even small primates possess, was bouncing Ken’s head off the monkey cage like a bolo-paddle ball. Realizing his predicament, Ken pried his hair loose from his furry assailant and simultaneously plucked the pen from the cage.  None too soon either because as he gathered his wits while running a hand over his hair, the owner appeared, glanced at him, then the cage and asked, “You haven’t been messing with the monkey, have you?”

I think my friend Ken recovered well under the circumstances and the lesson there is of course, no monkeying around in B2B sales! Today I work with B2B marketing clients to develop integrated marketing programs and the most successful align with the sales program. Like my friend Ken, I was in B2B sales for many years (no monkey encounters thankfully) and we have both found success by following four best practices that I’d like to share because I think they are also relevant to getting a B2B marketing program on track and out front.

Know your products. The best salespeople I’ve ever known always knew their products cold. It allowed them the freedom to relax (which puts the prospect at ease), to listen, to gather the facts and then to focus on solutions tailored to the customer’s needs.  Likewise, B2B marketers who know their company’s products intimately, who understand what motivates their customers , plus who are plugged in to the Inbound Marketing discussion and know what constitutes great Content, are the ones who are succeeding. The next time the VP of Sales or the CFO have a new initiative and come knocking to discuss it, be relaxed and be that great listener which relates to the next point.

Lead with questions. Perhaps one of the greatest strokes of luck for me was minoring in Journalism in college. The basic premise was getting the answers to the who, what, when, where, how and why. This was a practice I carried over into B2B sales, then B2B marketing where it continues to serve me well to this day. It’s surprising what gets revealed with the right questions and the quality ideas that come from careful qualification.

Follow with suggestions. Test those ideas you’ve synthesized through your fact gathering. Occasionally floating one out there will help either validate you’re on the right track or reveal some more finely pointed questions are needed. The Xerox Professional Selling Skills course I took many moons ago called this “identifying and overcoming objections”. Either way, gaining understanding by gradually narrowing questions from broad to specific will lead to the best solutions.

A-B-C:  Always Be Closing.  But not like the “hard sell” that may come to mind. On the contrary, think of it more like the way a doctor is “closing”. How’s that? A physician closes through selective screening by assessing the patient’s condition until they have a diagnosis that they can prescribe a course of treatment.  Developing an effective B2B marketing program can be like that except thankfully without the drafty medical gowns. With all the chatter about the latest marketing technology, best practices, MAS, CRM, CMS, it’s easy to lose focus.

Perhaps these four guidelines will help to minimize the monkey business and make it easier to lay a sound foundation for an effective B2B marketing program. Have an example of how this process or similar has worked for you that you’d like to share? Please take advantage of the comment section below to post it up. We’d love to hear about it.