The customer is the “product” every business wants to buy. Unfortunately, today’s customer is disenchanted, discouraged and doubtful about every form of advertising, so you’re left with customer service. Customer retention and advocacy is the new marketing game. Let’s find out from our virtual panel how the game is played and what technologies are out there today to support it: Ryan Hollenbeck, Senior Vice President, Marketing at Verint Systems, Ilya Bodner, Chief Revenue Officer at The Shipyard, Hamza Nasir, Director Strategic Relations at LiveAdmins, and Jeh Daruvala, CEO at Yactraq.

SocialAgenda Media: Today companies must think long-term reputation vs. short-term profit. The mantra is to be available, therefore the quality of customer service becomes more important than ever. What challenges will customer-centric companies be facing in the next few years and how should technology evolve to address them?

Ryan Hollenbeck:  Consumers are more informed and knowledgeable about products and services than ever before. In fact, they prefer polling their trusted peers for their views and using self-service for information where they can get it. With this knowledge come higher expectations when interacting with organizations. Social media has also given the consumers’ voice unexpected power, driving them to expect companies not only to listen but proactively seek out their feedback.

These consumers are expecting fast, efficient service.  They want easy engagement through flexible, integrated channels, consistent service across those channels and they expect their information to be protected every step of the way.  They want organizations to understand their complex needs and to engage with them personally.

Quality Monitoring helps organizations capture, evaluate, and learn from customer interactions, including voice conversations, email, Web chat sessions, and more. This software combines monitoring and recording functionality with performance management, analytics, eLearning, and coaching, helping use data captured from the telephone, email, and Web to increase revenue, enhance customer satisfaction, and manage performance, processes, and costs.

Ilya Bodner:  Offshoring has given a bad name to customer service.  Just the other day I was sitting over a cup of coffee with another entrepreneur who was telling me about their Live Chat experience with a major insurance company – he was frustrated with the fact that he wasn’t sure if “Mindy” on the other end was really a “Mindy” in the United States.  Winning over the trust of consumers is proving to be tough, and companies that are doing it right do innovative things like announcing the location of the center you are being transferred to, using the area code of the inbound caller to match with the closest agent to that area, leveraging skill-based routing to match the most “relevant” account executive with the customer and his/her request.

Hamza Nasir: The internet has created an open economy, which gives rise to competition and an equal opportunity to compete. This lets a regular mom and pop shop rise up against conglomerates, as the internet provides an open battlefield regardless of size.

Due to competition and USPs becoming closer and harder to differentiate, products and services are increasingly becoming similar. This inevitably gives rise to the service culture, as that becomes the only differentiating factor.

Considering this landscape, companies need to be closer to the customers than ever. This requires organizations to forecast and understand the customers, their growing needs and have a thorough listening approach to doing business.

The biggest challenge that businesses will face would be of omni-presence, and being available on each and every platform where their consumers are present. Businesses need to know where the target audience is, and create custom target audience profiles that target various segmentations according to their various tastes and preferences.

Apart from presence alone – availability and responsiveness are key to providing an outstanding customer experience. With examples of banks (Halo BCA) and even airlines (American Airlines) responding to their customer with above 90% accuracy and within 3 minutes (Twitter), leaves competitors with little or no room for slack.

These kind of expectations have been possible due to technology as well as awareness, and a growing culture that revolves around the consumer, is empowering the user.

The rules remain the same. The platforms differ.

On the user side, brands need to engage their audience intelligently. Competition allows users to switch easily, with better options and features being offered every single day. With examples like Google and Facebook constantly researching and adapting to engage, maintain, increase and even create new market share, these are only the stepping stones towards a more educated audience who is empowered to make their own decisions.

Technology is based on the principle of saving time. With the exponential growth of social and web, it is inevitable that the modern consumer will continue to be more informed and open to change. Businesses need to be more agile, open to differentiation and keep a close eye on how consumer demands are shifting.

Mobile and social are the future, and no longer just a choice. Businesses need to leverage tech to listen closer and better, and make decisions accordingly. Tech itself on the other hand needs to continue to support presence on various platforms and keeping in line the adaptation ratio. An example of this would be the switch to E-governments in the past 20 years, 50% of which failed completely or partially.

The flip side would be the rise of big data and the ability to process this information and provide meaningful results that would allow organizations to react better and faster, from as basic as identifying the priority of where the consumers are and anticipated demands, to as broad as measuring the potential reactions based on locations and how to cater to a potential shift in real time. Listening remains key, and a higher level of agility is paramount.

Jeh Daruvala: Quality customer service has always been about high touch and high tech.  The confluence of accelerating artificial intelligence capabilities with fast growing audio & video networks makes cognitive computing increasingly accessible, even to mid-sized businesses. This is an opportunity to reimagine customer service for competitive advantage.

SocialAgenda Media: Some businesses are even taking customer service a step further into socialby turning their most satisfied clients into advocates and online sales reps. What technologies power such a transition and how can they evolve to make helpdesk truly social?

Ryan Hollenbeck:  One of the biggest challenges facing organizations is to balance critical and—at times—conflicting business objectives: maximizing customer satisfaction and increasing revenue, while minimizing the cost of delivering an outstanding customer experience. Voice of the Customer Analytics solutions provide the tools needed to transform these seemingly divergent goals into complementary ones.

These solutions analyze information from customer interactions regardless of the channel—calls to the call center, emails, chat, Tweets, surveys, etc. Voice of the Customer Analytics solutions include:

  • Speech Analytics—for mining recorded calls.
  • Text Analytics—for analyzing text-based communications, including email, Web forms, and postings on social media sites, such as Facebook and Twitter.
  • Enterprise Feedback Managementfor capturing customer feedback as part of—or independent from—contact center feedback. Mobile solutions can enable you to capture feedback anywhere, anytime.
  • Post-Call IVR Surveys for capturing transactional feedback over the IVR.

Hamza Nasir: Word of mouth has had a reputation for providing the highest returns as compared to any other traditional or unorthodox marketing activity. This is where the split occurs – if consumers are provided with experience that goes beyond meeting their expectations, they can potentially advocate the brand itself. Research suggest that a happy customer would tell an average of 6 people about their experience as compared to unhappy ones, who would voice their experience to up to 20 people or even more.

Banking on providing a social driven experience, there are numerous technologies that allow businesses to engage with visitors. The touch points would differ between online/offline, but the idea remains the same. Humans like to interact with humans, and according to the Mobius Poll (2002), 80% of customers prefer to speak to someone even on the weekends.

Social media has provided multiple channels through which current customers can be engaged, but this has a pre-requisite – which is that the brand has to be present on all the channels where their customers are present and ensure engagement as well as dissemination of information at the right place at the right time. Social Channels like Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn have provided enormous opportunities to businesses to be able to engage with their current and potential clients. Apart from these social tools which requires the consumer to login to separate platforms, Live Chat has been the connection between online visitors and websites/mobile applications – the primary and most comprehensive resource for businesses as the amount of customization that is allowed by social platforms is limited as compared to websites, portals and applications as that is the property of the business itself and allows room for practically limitless customization. Some examples of Live Chat for consumer engagement would be LivePerson, LiveAdmins, LIve Chat Inc. etc.

Ilya Bodner:  Social media tools like Instagram and Pinterest allow the “ambassadors” to demo off what they are doing – that catches big buzz.  The ability to do it all from your phone speeds up the exposure for brands.  We found that implementing responsive design and mobile versions of customer support material is becoming equally as important as some of the more traditional things.

Jeh Daruvala: Social media is already being gameified and furthermore being made natural for humans via audio-visual interfaces like Siri and Google Glass. This IOT trend will lead to opportunities where customer service can be delivered in a “Wow!” manner by adding a social flavor to virtual reality.

SocialAgenda Media: What are the most common mistakes companies make while introducing new helpdesk technologies and establishing related processes?

Hamza Nasir:

  1. Lack of research prior to introduction of a new technology/channel – Being active on Facebook while the target audience might be on LinkedIn.
  2. Availability – Not being available around the clock especially for companies that have a worldwide customer base.
  3. Responsiveness and accuracy of information being provided – lack of consistency in the information being provided especially for standard operating procedures provided over phone as compared to in-person.
  4. Absence of consistency amongst different platforms e.g. response times on Live Chat better than twitter or excellent phone service as compared to sloppy, template email responses.

Jeh Daruvala: Traditional IT buyers are too conservative and generally overpay for older technology while not being diligent enough to adopt new technologies early and gain a competitive advantage in the process. As they said in days gone by, “nobody gets fired buying from IBM”. Now I have nothing against the IBM corporation, but to continue the conservative metaphor that “IBM” represents in the above saying, my question is: Can you show me a great wealth creation story that was built through a “just buy it from IBM” approach?

Ryan Hollenbeck:  The proliferation of more and different communication channels has made it even more difficult for organizations to manage the people and processes required to respond to consumer expectations in a consistent, personalized manner. They struggle to become a more customer-centric enterprise because information does not always easily flow from one channel to another.  To drive top line revenue at a reasonable cost, they need to manage the customer engagement holistically across multiple touch points and create greater value from their resources.

Unfortunately, today’s enterprises find themselves organized in functional and departmental silos, leading to myopic management practices across customer touch points.  Organizational silos frequently operate at cross-purposes, increasing costs and squandering opportunities to improve customer satisfaction and drive revenue.

Ilya Bodner:  They overload it.  Sometimes companies forget that the consumer has a fraction of a day to dedicate to figuring out how to ask for help, and too much info is simply too much.

They get too creative with the way they present the information.  It distracts from the purpose of the answers.

There is no place to type in a question.  Most people are now used to typing a “google like” search query.

SocialAgenda Media: What are the most critical lessons have you learned in relation to change management associated with new market trends and technology evolution in client service centric organizations?

Hamza Nasir:

  1. Agility – With the empowered consumers, businesses need to be able to adapt to situations and be open to change, from as basic as embracing an upcoming social platform and up to localization to enter a new market
  2. Listen – Ensure that the customer understands that they are at the center of the world for us and provide an open platform where feedback is noted and appreciated in its true form, and most importantly is acted upon
  3. Involve – Develop relationships with the customer that keeps them informed and in the loop to create/innovate based on customers’ needs.

Ilya Bodner:  Pull vs Push.  The different mentality of helping the customer through the experience rather than being reactive.

Technology changes by the second, constantly hiring bright people is a must – consumers want to have every possible way to reach a resolution.

Stick to what works, don’t settle for a low stat.  Some companies see success as “60% of the time we are effective” – that isn’t enough these days, I’m not even sure when it ever was.

Ryan Hollenbeck:  It’s important to capture and manage cross-functional information about customer engagements and workforce performance across delivery channels, then use it to uncover trends and discover why certain employee and customer behavior is occurring.  Manage engagements across channels and use guided business processes and recommended dialogues to deliver fast, precise, personalized service.  Deploy the right solutions to empower employees and achieve continuous performance improvement at every interaction point.

Organizations can analyze customer and employee experience data in real-time to design and implement customer-centric business strategies that unite the organization across people and processes.  As a result, you have better alignment across your organization and can move much more quickly to take precise action to increase profitable outcomes.

This improved alignment leads to more engaged employees who are spurred on by solutions that capture and manage information about customers and performance, then use it to develop predictive insights for driving measurable, sustainable business results.   Solutions that work across the enterprise help organizations gain deeper visibility into organizational performance and customer needs. By leveraging this intelligence, businesses can better engage customers, deliver a more consistent customer experience, and gain valuable insight for continually refining products, services, processes, operations, and staffing.

Jeh Daruvala: Change management in general is all about people and so the 3 essential ingredients are communication, communication & communication.

Next webinar announcement: Rethinking The Sales Funnel and Redefining the Rules Of Selling

Webinar -Rethinking The Sales Funnel and Redefining the Rules Of Selling

In this webinar sponsored by SocialAgenda Media, host Olga Kostrova, COO of SocialAgenda Media along with guest Richard Grehalva, sales trainer, author of 2 books, “Unleashing the Power of Consulting Selling” and “The Boomerpreneur Revolution” and speaker represented by SocialAgenda Media, share some observations on:

– why many B2B demand generation programs underperform?
– how you can increase the quality of your sales leads;
– how you can improve your sales funnel;
– and how to improve lead conversion in 2014, and connect lead acquisition efforts to the actual sale.

Join us, so you can immediately apply tips learned from this presentation to revise your current approaches to demand generation and optimize your programs for higher ROI.

Please click here to register.

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Our series on the Sales Funnel which began with the question “Is Sales Funnel Still the Best Way to Describe the Path to Conversion?continued with the article “Selling Despite Distractions: Customer Retention and Repeat Salesand now we get our experts’ opinions on how marketing is changing. How we reach customers, track them, analyze our interactions with them and how we score our level of engagement. Enjoy.

SocialAgenda Media: What marketing jargon or accepted practices do you think are ready to be updated? For instance, what is replacing advertising?

Steve Keifer: Vice President – Marketing at GXS:

There is a popular saying, which goes “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half.”  Over the years, I have heard many a CEO/CFO substitute the word “marketing” for “advertising” as they lament about all the money they are spending on brand awareness and demand creation with little demonstrable ROI.  But those days are over.  Today web analytics, social media and marketing automation software provide us with quantitative data that can be used to identify what is and is not working.

Gone are the days of companies spending millions on television, print or billboard advertising with no expectation of ever being able to measure the impact.  Within minutes of initiating an online advertising campaign you can begin to measure how many times the ad is being served; who is clicking on it; and whether they converted on your landing page.  If the data shows that your initial approach is not working then you can change it online quickly and try another.

Gone are the days of sending out millions of pieces of direct mail with no hope of ever knowing who actually read it and if they converted.  Within minutes of sending out an email campaign, you can begin to immediately track who opened the message, who clicked through and who visited which pages of your website.  With experimentation like A/B testing you can quickly discover what works and what does not.

Gone are the days of buying the premium real estate at a tradeshow with no hope of understanding what conversations there led to a sales opportunity.  With webinars you can track who has registered, who attended and whether they converted into a deal in the pipeline.

Glen Caruso: Vice President of Sales at BLiNQ Media:

Social media — genuine, authentic, back-and-forth communication between the brand and the consumer — is replacing advertising.

Ongoing, relevant conversation between 2 entities (brand & consumer) replaces a brand SCREAMING at a consumer “Buy ME” on TV, Newspaper or digital ads.

Cezar Kolodziej: President and CEO at Iris Mobile:

Instead of advertising, we need to be focusing on brand conversations. Simply conveying a message via multiple touch points is not enough. Marketers need to be pragmatic about specific needs during multiple interactions with the brand and how those interactions lead to a compelling conversation that drives the customer to purchase and build loyalty towards the brand long term.

Mike Yaffe: Vice President of Marketing at BeyondTrust:

I don’t do advertising. I don’t believe in it. Branding is another one that’s ridiculous. One thing that’s always bothered me about medium to small companies is how frequently they try to change their message to adapt to what’s the cool thing of the moment and they forget about being something unique to their market. It takes a long time unless you’re IBM or Verizon and have millions to spend carving out “brain space” to refresh your message. I think most of us should concentrate on marketing what we already are.

Traditional PR is going away. There are so few publications that write product news now. PR agencies have to rethink public relations. Modern agencies run your social programs, handle industry analysts, trade analysts, financial analysts, awards, speaking. Press is only a small part of what agencies do these days.

Industry awards drive me crazy. There are so few awards, in any industry, that are truly unbiased. I’d love to see the awards industry disappear.

Barbara Pilliod: VP of Marketing & Communications at Transfinder:

One-on-one personalized marketing will eventually replace mass advertising.

Cindy Sterling: Director of Marketing and Sales at On Center Software:

Marketing is a pretty fluid part of the business.  If I could get rid of one focus area it would be the notion that the number of registrations or attendees should not be celebrated unless it is tied to sales opportunities and closed deals.

Kristen Ortwerth-Jewell: Interactive Marketing Manager at Nexant:

Advertising isn’t going anywhere. It’s still a critical element to brand awareness and name recognition campaigns.  Many marketers say that email marketing is dead or dying, but I think this is shortsighted assumption. Email marketing, as we know it has simply evolved and matured with the audience. This is especially true in B2B. The workplace is still heavily email-centric in terms of communication. As companies move from an email service provider to a marketing automation tool, email marketing moves away from massive, impersonal eblasts toward more sophisticated nurture campaigns with better targeting and personalized delivery of content based on behavioral triggers.

Scott Hirsch: VP Product & Content Marketing at Get Satisfaction:

Actually, I think the term “customer engagement” is jargon (even though I use it). What does it really mean to engage with your customers? Some companies who might give themselves permission to intrude in your social networks or to use your content for marketing purposes without letting you know could really misinterpret that.

I prefer the term customer conversations because it implies 2-way dialogue. You can’t really have a conversation unless both parties want it and both parties are getting some value.

Stephen Debruyn: Vice President of Marketing at Clarity Consultants:

Advertising is going through a major transition, moving into programmatic ad buying, ad exchanges, re-targeting, etc.  From another vantage point, advertising is morphing into native advertising, content marketing, etc.

SocialAgenda Media: What’s the next level of customer tracking that you’d add to marketing automation tools?

Cezar Kolodziej: Offline retargeting – today, with mobile at our fingertips, interactive metrics are not enough. We need to continue the tracking in store using proximity-based solutions. Serve personalized content based on what you know about the customer from past purchasing/online browsing habits. This tracking methodology only works if you can get the user to opt-into proximity based programs, by again providing a compelling value based offer, but once initiated, can truly give you a better view of how your online initiatives are affecting your in-store sales.

Scott Hirsch: Rather than just tracking behaviors (like views, downloads, and clicks) the next level of tracking will be around the content that customers create, such as questions they ask or problems they report. We are already working on these advanced Marketing Automation use cases at Get Sat.

Mike Yaffe: When we’re tracking someone I need to be able to score his or her relative activities in a behavior. If someone is doing something that indicates interest, correlate those behaviors and give me an indication of state of readiness in the buy process.

Then there’s simple correlation data for different functions, different campaigns. I want to be able to rate them all and apply the results to the lead more simply.

Glen Caruso: I would add attribution and data visualization with actionable intelligence across various marketing and media platforms.

Steve Keifer: We are at a big risk of losing visibility to customer behavior as browser vendors and search engines change their policies.  For example, tracking the activity of users who clicked on AdWords to arrive at your website has become significantly more challenging since Google started encrypting traffic for all those logged into Google+ (the dark search phenomenon).

Another concern is browsers which are setting “do not track” options by default.  Without cookies enabled, most marketing automation software cannot identify repeat visitors and provide a full view of their activity on your websites.

I would be happy if customer tracking stayed consistent over the next 24 months, because I am most worried about losing visibility!

But in terms of new features, I would like to be able to see marketing software integrated with heat map technology that allows you to track where people click and where their mouse hovers for emails, landing pages and websites.

Beyond the area of customer tracking, I think there are lots of opportunities for improvements in marketing automation tools.

1) Why can’t my marketing automation software analyze the millions of records in its database and automatically recommend content that end-users should be offered next for lead nurturing?  It should work like does with its personalized recommendations. Today, marketing professionals have to pre-configure rules based upon guesses that are often incorrect.  Just because an end-user viewed a webinar on Facebook marketing, doesn’t mean that they will also want a white paper on Facebook marketing.  Analysis of the real data might show that 20% people who are interested in Facebook Marketing would also be interested in a Guide to Bing’s Webmaster tools – an association most people would never make.  Today these associations are almost impossible to find.

2) Why can’t my marketing automation software recommend improvements to emails and landing pages before I deploy them?  Cloud-based vendors have access to billions of records about end-user behavior across their various tenants.  Why can’t they tell me what types of subject lines are most effective with audiences at different types of companies?   Why can’t they tell us the best time to send an email out based upon statistical analysis of open and close rates?  Why can’t they provide real time feedback on the layout, fonts, colors and other design elements of an email or landing page based upon analysis of past user behavior and neuromarketing techniques?

3) Why can’t my marketing automation software help me to improve the quality of contacts in my database?  If an email sent from company A to John Doe bounces, why can’t the marketing automation software tell companies B, C and D who also have John Doe in their database that this contact is out-of-date?

Although these tools claim to be “multi-tenant” cloud services, their features are only designed for individual customers.  And the concepts of algorithms and big data that you read about in every other sector are suspiciously absent from the strategies of these organizations.

Stephen Debruyn: For certain companies and services this could be the communities, evangelists, and their involvement and behavior.

Cindy Sterling: Often automation tools look at people as individuals and not as part of a complete organization.  The correlation and scoring of a collection of people is a better indicator of interest rather than a rogue person taking action in isolation.  It would also be great to watch repetitive behavior where a person may have reached a threshold more than one time.

Kristen Ortwerth Jewell: This isn’t entirely tracking, but it’s one of the biggest obstacles that B2B marketers face in the social media landscape: our prospects use their company email address to conduct business, but their personal email address for social platforms. Unfortunately, this makes it very difficult to track and cross-reference multi-channel engagement and communication efficacy. I would love to see someone in the automation space come up with an automated method for addressing this problem.

SocialAgenda Media: What metrics and analytics work and which don’t contribute to sales and need to be revised?

Scott Hirsch: Social metrics like followers and likes are almost completely meaningless. Reach metrics like shares and retweets are more interesting, but I think the new metrics will be more about mindshare and context. At Get Satisfaction we have done some interesting work to understand the context within which customers share information. For instance, if they are more likely to search for answers than actually post a question while on a mobile device (BTW, they are!), then what is the impact of providing great answers in mobile? It’s more than just providing an answer on a desktop.

Glen Caruso: Brands must trust the data and what’s driving sales.  Advertising based on “gut” is outdated.  No, we shouldn’t buy a Superbowl ad so that the CEO can brag to his neighbors in Greenwich, Connecticut that his brand is on the Superbowl… and he’s going to be there.  There has to be empirical evidence that your media is working to drive customer ENGAGEMENT and, most importantly, SALES!

Brands only advertise to sell product.  Period.  Brand love is meaningless if we do not raise sales from customers who are lucrative.

Mike Yaffe: Nobody gives a darn about leads, names or inquiries. Any company that tracks on leads exclusively, and I know a lot that do, are destined for failure. All marketing people should be paid on pipeline. That’s the validation of whether we’re doing our job or not.

Barbara Pilliod: The metrics that track customers who sign on for an online presentation and then receive a proposal don’t seem to work as simply as they once did.  Once again, it takes many more touch points to make the sale.   Customers expect more face-to-face interactions before they will buy; also, in today’s economy, there are many more decision makers in on a potential purchase.

Cindy Sterling: Too often we measure those things that make us in Marketing feel good about ourselves and our programs and campaigns – like how many registered and how many attended.  The real value comes in correlating Marketing Qualified Leads (MQL) to closed sales won.

Cezar Kolodziej: Conversion rates are important, click through rates are no longer relevant. This is especially true of mobile where device capabilities vary greatly. Ultimately conversion rates determine if we have converted someone to purchase a product. Click through rates are no longer relevant in a world where people choose to read personalized content at their leisure and the message itself may lead to a purchase via a social avenue, or via mobile and not necessarily through the traditional online purchase path. This is another reason why offline retargeting will become even more important over time.

SocialAgenda Media: How has your lead scoring methodology evolved and what factors have yet to be included or are not yet properly measured?

Scott Hirsch: We have a pretty sophisticated lead scoring system based on several factors: lead profile, actions on our marketing sites, downloads, participation in our community, etc.  IN 2014, we’ll be focusing on the triggers and the content that will accelerate lead development. For instance, we know that certain compelling events are what make certain segments of our customers buy. We’ll be working on creating marketing programs that help us identify when our lead is nearing one of those compelling events.

Steve Keifer: The biggest challenge is identifying outliers.  We continue to see scenarios in which a lead scores relatively low based upon firmographic or behavioral intelligence factors, but it turns out to be a big opportunity.  For example, suppose a CIO at a Fortune 500 company asks one of his/her lieutenants to research a new technology.  This individual delegates to a business analyst far lower in the organization.  Although the researcher visits 50 pages on your website, their lead score is a 3 out of 10 due to the user’s title and demographic information.  As a result the sales team does not reach out to the analyst and misses an opportunity to engage early with a prospect.

Companies continue to refine their scoring methodologies, however, there will continue to be outlier scenarios that slip through the cracks.  Most lead scoring methodologies are really just people guessing what makes a good lead then refining the rule set through trial and error.  This is the fundamental flaw in the process.   People should not be guessing at lead scoring methodologies.  The technology exists today to allow machines to develop self-learning algorithms that define the methodology.  Marketing automation and customer relationship management software should be able to analyze the millions of records in their databases to identify the digital body language activities that most frequently correlate with opportunities moving through the sales cycle.  The result would be an algorithm whose scoring continues to grow more and more accurate as it gains access to more data.

Glen Caruso: We have no formal lead scoring methodology, I’m afraid to say.  If a lead comes in from an important client, we take it more seriously and answer it first.  If the lead comes in and is thoughtfully written and sent from someone who obviously knows what he’s talking about, that lead takes priority.

Cindy Sterling: Scoring is absolutely evolutionary.  MQLs that are rejected during the Sales Qualification process must be reviewed.  Perhaps one particular action or activity was anticipated to result in highly qualified leads but upon review it is found that the value of the score for that activity must be lowered.  This is an ongoing process and should be for a marketing organization.

Kristen Ortwerth Jewell: We actually moved to a combined view of a lead: scoring and grading. We use the score to track how interested a prospect is in us, and we use the grade to determine how interested we are in a prospect. Our scoring continues to perform well, and we give higher weights to the kinds of activities that are typically associated with prospects that are further down the line in the buy cycle.

Stephen Debruyn: Right now our lead scoring can be separated into three different levels:

  1. Demographic-type segmentation: company size, contact title, industry, geography, etc.
  2. Behavioral segmentation; how do prospects engage with our company via our web assets and social media channels (click throughs, downloads, registrations, etc.).
  3. BANT (budget, authority, need, time frame (this is determined primarily via a telemarketing team).

Cezar Kolodziej: Mobile metrics are becoming more and more important, but we are all trying to apply digital methodologies to measure mobile initiatives. This does not work. Simple click through rates, and app download rates do not tell us enough of the story. This has led us to create a custom mobile analytics platform that first starts by understanding customer devices broadly, assessing capabilities, then calculating response/conversion rates from there instead generalizing trends for all customers. This approach provides more insights into where marketing dollars should be directed and results in higher conversion rates as initiatives are more targeted and personalized.


If you go to Wikipedia, here’s how we (we wrote it, right?) defined CRM a while back:

Customer relationship management (CRM) is a model for managing a company’s interactions with current and future customers. It involves using technology to organize, automate, and synchronize sales, marketing (all aspects of it?), customer service, and technical support.

But how well does the “model” work? Does it really automate, organize and synchronize the interactions and functions in today’s highly social world? What does it need to do better? We gathered a group of those professionals who have their hands on the levers of CRM systems to discuss issues that automation systems face today.

Kevin Myers, Chief Marketing Officer at Swiftpage. Swiftpage provides digital marketing tools and CRM solutions that help businesses grow.

Christelle Flahaux, Senior Director, Global Demand Generation and Marketing at Jive Software. Jive’s Social Business software combines the power of community software, collaboration software, social networking software, and social media monitoring offerings into an integrated platform.

Todd Craig, Vice President Marketing at Aptean. Aptean empowers people and businesses with end-to-end, industry-specific software solutions to address complex business challenges more effectively.

Amanda Anderson, Marketing Manager at Epicom Corporation. Epicom builds, supports, and hosts high-performance web-based Customer Relationship Management systems.

Mick Hollison, CMO at InsideSales. InsideSales is the global leader in cloud-based sales acceleration technologies and solutions featuring cutting-edge technology that accelerates sales with science.

SocialAgenda Media:  Today’s marketer can hardly survive without either CRM solution for market segmentation or social pages with strong social following. What strategies and solutions do marketers still have to implement to marry the two – CRM and Social – in the most efficient way?

Christelle Flahaux: The key is marrying someone’s basic demographic information from a CRM system with his or her digital/online behavior. Marketing automation solutions such as Marketo and Eloqua have made massive strides in taking a person’s digital behavior on a website and turning it into information — lead scoring, nurturing, etc. — that is useful to a marketer and a sales rep.  But that is only half the equation. What about all the activity that happens off-property?  The activities people are doing on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Instagram become more relevant.  But it’s hard to capture all this information in a CRM system.  CRM systems are static by nature.  There are some out-of-the-box workflows based on how a sales cycle operates or how someone transitions from a lead to a contact, but fundamentally what a CRM system is missing is the human element.  It’s nice to know that Joe Smith is a Sr. Director of IT but how much more meaningful would it be to know that he leads a LinkedIn group on Social Collaboration that has 7500 members and uses his Facebook page to share best practices.

Todd Craig: Content marketing is going to be the driver for both of these channels. More and more we are seeing organizations appealing to their target audience by providing compelling content that not only helps them do their jobs better, but keeps them up-to-date on the latest industry trends and techniques. Thought leadership is critical to set yourself apart from the competition and technology like CRM and social channels are the enablers to get your message out to an audience that wants to hear it.

Mick Hollison: In order to marry the two, marketers need to realize that CRM and Social need have the same level of attention, objectives and importance. This transition might take time, but the sooner you do this, the more likely your competitive advantage is to be solidified.

Amanda Anderson: Marketing automation is the link to combining CRM and social media marketing. Most of the major marketing automation applications have a social media scheduler and tracking mechanism built into the application. By using a marketing automation tool, not only will your marketing team be more efficient, but your sales team will also benefit. The key is to have a solid integration between your marketing application and CRM system.

Kevin Myers:  Swiftpage is committed to be operating a world class CRM solution internally in addition to the enabling software we bring to the market.  While Saleslogix is our system of record I believe success is tied to the following key solutions/strategies:

  • Data Quality.  Segmentation is only possible when your data has been merged, purged, deduced and augmented with attributes that allows for targeting the right message — to the right person — at the right time.
  • Contact Scoring, Nurture Marketing & Social Selling.  Once you identify the right person, whether a customer or prospect, qualify and segment their relationship status with your firm and your product/service.  Integrate a marketing solution that will deliver a variety of content over time that is integrated with sales processes that allow individuals to make social connections is a key to increasing the volume and quality of all your interactions.
  • Mobility, Quotes/Proposals & Alerts/Dashboards.  While the organization needs to support sales efforts via the bullets above, individual productivity is a by-product of knowing who to call, meet or tweet next.  Mobility does not mean delivering all of CRM to your mobile workforce, it means giving them the “top 3 things” they do every day with a single click.  Error-free and real-time quotes and proposals are a key to success along with automated alerts and a dashboard that highlight recommendations and next steps.

SocialAgenda Media:  What improvements do you think social CRM products and enterprise level CRM systems need to make in order to better serve the needs of marketers and their prospects?

Kevin Myers:  Focus on bullets #1 & #2 above and monitor marketing dashboards to see what content, tactics and marketing work best to close sales faster.  Success in modern marketing is acquiring the skill sets of great investigative journalism — listen, take notes, find the story, create the hook then broadcast everywhere with copy, pictures, new creative and videos.

Todd Craig: Social CRM and enterprise systems are ever evolving and when you look at the way they are integrated into the daily work-life of employees, it’s already impressive. Think about how a financial services advisor or call center representative can leverage data from several channels – social, such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Pinterest combined with the historical data housed in the CRM or marketing automation tool – to give customers and prospects an outstanding experience. In the ‘age of the consumer’, it’s the ability to combine data sources that will give you a competitive advantage The technology is here – now it’s a matter of aligning it with your internal processes to find success.

Amanda Anderson: CRM systems could improve by offering a deeper integration into the social networks customers are using. It’s becoming more common to see CRM integrations that pull in a lead’s twitter stream or maybe iframe in some LinkedIn data about the lead or company. This a good start, but CRMs can push this a bit further. For example, CRMs should be able to automatically pull info into the CRM from a company’s LinkedIn page like the number of employees or industry. Or automatically pull in a lead’s title or current city from LinkedIn, FaceBook, or Twitter. By automatically pulling in more data into the CRM system, marketers have more to work with in terms of segmentation.

Christelle Flahaux: Two things come to mind.

First, there needs to be better integration with social listening and reporting in enterprise level CRM systems.  It still seems like two disparate systems.  It would be ideal to get to a point where we can see a 360-degree view of a customer in the CRM.  We are a long way off unless you have massively customized the CRM system.  We are down the right path with web hooks and partner eco-systems, but there are still many hiccups in getting all the data to synch with one person’s profile.

Second, reporting has to get better across the board. CRM is a sales and customer support solution first, a marketing tool second.  It is extremely difficult for a marketer get the right reporting to manage their business out of the box.

Mick Hollison: Social CRM products and enterprise level CRM need to improve their analytics, reporting and contact management platforms. By improving those three areas, marketers will be able to effectively manage and dedicate the attention that each individual prospect needs to close a deal.

SocialAgenda Media:What processes do you suggest marketers implement in order to bridge gaps between siloed marketing functions and between fragmented technologies to fully take advantage of narrowcasting and personalization?

Mick Hollison: Hold a cross-function team meeting every morning and weekly cross-training, so the team can develop a common view of the prospect for any given campaign and an understanding of the various functions and technologies within the marketing department.

Todd Craig: There’s really no excuse for siloed marketing functions these days. There are robust CRM and marketing automation platforms available that can integrate to virtually any system and manage any marketing initiative you can think of. We’re in this pioneering phase of being able to conduct highly targeted campaigns. Marketing is more exciting than ever with the ability to not only identify and nurture a prospective buyer, but to become part of their landscape and all of it can be managed from a single system that is leveraged across the organization by function.

Kevin Myers:  Ensure one person or department owns the commercial launch, not just a product release.  I found that Pragmatic Marketing is a great framework and process to focus on market driven requirements to target a large or growing addressable market.  These requirements feed the product & development team, their product readiness documents feed marketing whose branding and messaging kits feed creative, advertising, PR, social & communications.  One process bridges the gaps that exist in every business. Once the processes are universally adopted technology and data integration become very focused and executable.

Amanda Anderson: In order for marketing to be effective, it has to be focused. It no longer works to just blast information out about your company. Marketers have to develop targeted messages for a niche market and need better CRM data to do this.

In order to bridge the gaps between siloed marketing functions and fragmented technologies, marketers need to rely on one central location for their data. The CRM is the perfect tool to house data used in segmentation.

Also, repurposing content across multiple campaigns or media will help bridge the gap between marketing functions and is more efficient in reaching niche groups of people multiple ways. Marketers may be hesitant to segment their messaging because that means more content. Instead of trying to completely recreate content for each group, build a framework or template to work from. Then fill in the gaps with relevant information to that target. Some of the advanced marketing automation applications have dynamic content to automate this effort, but that’s not completely necessary. Repurposing content is also a big time saver and will enable marketers to do more. If a customer case study is produced, it can also become a webinar, a blog post, a press release, or content for an email to a prospect in the same industry as the customer case study.

SocialAgenda Media:  What 3-5 main marketing processes you think still need to be automated and how do you think CRM solutions should evolve to make it happen?

Todd Craig: There’s a push towards automating content creation by pushing it out to the consumer or creating turnkey processes like templates – video submissions and testimonials are good candidates for this. It can probably already be done to a certain extent, but uploading and cleansing of data by combining all sources can certainly be automated so that the data sources are always ‘fresh’.

Christelle Flahaux:

  • Budgeting:  Marketing is one of the largest cost centers for most companies.  The only automation tool that has budgeting worked into the solution is Marketo, but its the first iteration…and its not 100% where it needs to be.
  • Campaign Feedback:  How great would it be to get all the people that have contributed to, managed, and executed on a campaign to see the real-time feedback on how things are performing.  The problem we face is that your typical product marketer will not have access to the marketing automation tool or the CRM.  They are dependent on the marketing operations person to pull reports, pretty them up in Powerpoint and send them along.  If it was real time, we could make game-time decisions quickly and course correct.
  • Reporting:  CRM systems have sales focused dashboards and it takes an engineer or a marketing operations person to build out the dashboards for marketers. It would be nice if a KPI dashboard for marketing came out of the box with plug-ins to the marketing automation solution.

Mick Hollison:

1. List management: CRM should identify the best-targeted list based on successful progression through the sales pipeline.
2. Lead scoring and sorting: CRM should dynamically modify scoring based on the success of leads with similar attributes.  In addition, lead sorting should be implemented to put the most contactable leads at the top of the queue.
3. 360 degree view: CRM should intelligently recommend other contacts within a target company.
4. Deduplication: CRM should merge all relevant data for any given contact.

Kevin Myers:  CRM must either adopt best practices or automate…

  1. Content Creation that feeds Marketing, Lead Gen, Sales Tools, Nurture Marketing and Social Media
  2. Mobile & Online Landing Page CTA (call to action) Conversions for all marketing & lead generation activities
  3. Data & Social Network Connectors with de-dupe, merge & append

Amanda Anderson: Three main marketing processes that I think still need to be automated are segmentation, reporting, and analytics.

Segmentation. The CRM is becoming the core database of information and has the data marketers need for segmentation. CRMs have the reporting capabilities to filter the data to create segments, but CRMs could certainly be more advanced when handling static vs. dynamic vs. suppression lists.

Reporting. CRMs tend to focus more on sales reports than marketing reports and ignore the activity that occurred before a lead was assigned out. Some marketing applications handle this type of reporting, but aren’t always well integrated with the data in the CRM system. In order for marketers to easily report on the effectiveness of a campaign, the time to convert, best leads sources by revenue won, etc., the data needs to be integrated and CRMs need to have more advanced reports for marketing campaigns.

Analytics. As the data builds over time in the CRM system, trends should start to appear. CRMs should evolve to not just offer reports on data, but also provide an analysis of that data. For example, the CRM could show a trend chart on the number of leads generated in certain industries based on time of year. The marketer could easily see that in certain times of the year they get a better response rate from some industries or demographics than others.

SocialAgenda Media:  How do you think CRM companies have to change their demand generation strategies, tactics and messaging to appeal to and attract enterprise level customers that largely focus on social marketing?

Kevin Myers:  I can only comment on what we believe is the recipe for success, “less is more!”  Our products are built with a “mobile first” focus versus accessing the entire product in a mobile fashion.  We call this “purpose built” in that you identify each users’ primary goals and ensure they get recommendations, alerts and reports on what to do next, then are able to execute the tasks in one click.

Christelle Flahaux:

  • Well, they first need to create the right solution. CRM companies haven’t taken into consideration the marketer.  SFDC has the marketing cloud…but what has it really done?  It’s still a cloud outside of the actual CRM system.
  • The need to educate the market on best practices and where they see the melding of sales and marketing.  It should be so aligned that a marketer has a revenue target and sits at the sales table with their own metrics and are able to forecast to their targets.

Bottom line: CRM systems have to evolve.  Marketing and Sales need to be aligned and the only way to do that is to have all of us working in the same system and speaking the same language. You can’t do that in different, disparate systems.

Mick Hollison: CRM companies need to integrate social into the development of their products.  For example,  my team at leverages both an enterprise CRM and social campaigns via Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn to effectively target prospective buyers.

Todd Craig: CRM vendors definitely have to consider a broader range of marketing strategies in the evolution of their solutions. We hear a lot about social but the truth is, it’s a small percentage that have demonstrated ROI from their social marketing endeavors. It’s a process that often means a phased approach and that’s why it’s so important to find a CRM solution that doesn’t box you in to a particular set of methodologies. A solution that can grow with your organization and help you build on a 5-year plan for social marketing is going to be a smart fit. We couldn’t have imagined the impact of a channel such as Twitter before it came along so there’s a need to be open to the possibilities while still being as effective as possible using the channels that work for your business now. For example, if you’re developing a series of highly-downloaded ‘how to’ videos, it makes sense to house them on YouTube and use all other social channels to support that effort. Consistency is still key and CRM can help by creating a synergy across channels while providing a closed-loop on feedback and other metrics that will help shape your marketing plans in years to come.


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Also read:

Our article “Is Sales Funnel Still the Best Way to Describe the Path to Conversion?” challenged the use of the term sales funnel. This time our experts convey how their varied verticals and company sizes look differently at selling in a world full of distraction and establishing best practices after the sale.

Need to deal with your own distrations? Book your free executive coaching session at


SocialAgenda Media: How do you model erratic customer behaviors and the impact of all the modern noise and distraction in your preferred model for the sales process?

Stephen Debruyn: Vice President of Marketing at Clarity Consultants:

Good question.  This is very difficult to model or display in a visualization.  I have tried, and it just doesn’t make visual sense.

Cindy Sterling: Director of Marketing and Sales at On Center Software:

We are a construction automation technology provider and I think that erratic customer behavior for us comes from clients being overrun with information and technology advancements that are new and uncertain for them.  Many of our clients have not yet automated manual processes so the noise and distractions result in us breaking down the information barriers of why they should automate at all.

Glen Caruso: Vice President of Sales at BLiNQ Media:

Develop brand advocates.  There is no brand equity without conversation.  12% of people believe ads.  96% of people will believe a friend’s recommendation about a product or service.  Social media is where people spend 1/3 of their time and consume media now.  Friends promoting brands they love to other friends is the best way to cut through the clutter.  Example:  When you are looking to hire someone, what do you do?  You post an online job description — and receive thousands of candidate submissions that you can’t possibly sift through.  So, you then ask a friend, “Hey. Do you know anyone good for this job I have at my company?”  It’s the same with advertising noise (many resumes — too many to sort through) vs. simply going to a trusted friend and asking for their opinion. It’s the paradox of choice.

Kristen Ortwerth-Jewell: Interactive Marketing Manager at Nexant:

Customer behavior has always been erratic, and marketing has always evolved and adapted to cut through/drown out the other marketers. Big data from our growing IT infrastructure is helping us do a better job of targeting our prospects when they’re most likely to be paying attention, and where they’ll be most able to engage with us. Mobile is a critical and necessary leap that any modern marketer needs to face. Our targets are answering work emails on smart devices while they’re sitting at their desks with Outlook open right in front of them. Many use their devices to surf social networks to avoid network monitoring/blocking at the workplace. If that’s where they go to BE distracted, then we as marketers have to be there with them. Making emails, landing pages, and websites mobile-friendly is the minimum.

Cezar Kolodziej: President and CEO at Iris Mobile:

The problem with erratic behavior is that you can’t track it. Currently, we are susceptible to last touch attribution syndrome. Until we can solve this major issue, there really is not a great solution to model the current customer touch points as they vary greatly, this is why we recommend using the funnel as a tool to track outcomes instead, and not just the conversation itself.

Scott Hirsch: VP Product & Content Marketing at Get Satisfaction:

Such a good question. My personal approach is to constantly keep my selling communication squarely in the context of the business problem my customer is trying to solve. This selling strategy is as old as the hills, but so many people forget. If you keep framing your solution as either making a pain point go away or making the customer a hero, you will always be more signal than noise.

Mike Yaffe, Vice President of Marketing at BeyondTrust:

For me it’s all about creating “brain space”, and that takes meaning something unique to a person. You have to have something as a company and as a person to hang your hat on. What is your “thing” they are going to remember that enables you to keep going back to that identity, that mental cue that sets you apart for them. You’ve got to choose an identity and hammer that identity home.

Barbara Pilliod: VP of Marketing & Communications at Transfinder:

I must admit, although we do the best we can, we’re not sure we know how to really contain this.

SocialAgenda Media: Today, satisfaction about the purchase is expected and retention and repeat sales are determined by the amount of sustained and personalized engagement customers experience after the sale. How does your company manage sustained, personalized engagement after the sale?

Mike Yaffe: It’s care, love, nurturing and feeding. It’s like any relationship, just like having a friend.Don’t ignore your customer or your friend for 11 months and then in the 12th month when the time for renewal, or a favor, comes around call asking for something. That’s not a relationship, it’s a transaction.

Barbara Pilliod: After-the-sale service is a hallmark of our company, as our buyers need this level of service to be successful.  We have an expanded client services and support team and a specialized Client Relations team responsible for personalized engagement and upselling of our products, which lead to stronger retention.

Scott Hirsch: I work for a company that was founded on the premise that customer engagement and customer satisfaction are the keys to business success. “Customer service is the new marketing” was our founding principle back in 2007. By offering an online customer community platform; we help our customers operationalize ongoing and productive customer engagement.  6 years later, the rest of the world is catching up to this idea.

Glen Caruso: First, we try to understand fully what deems “success” in the client’s eyes and develop a plan to achieve those KPIs.

Next, we deliver what we say we’ll deliver (ideally, over-deliver and delight them with performance, service and measurable results).

Then, we provide excellent customer service during the lifetime of the sale with exceptional account service.

We strive to become a trusted advisor with our clients… and offer them suggestions that will improve their experience (ancillary product offerings that are in line with and might enhance their KPIs).

The biggest thing for marketers is mid-campaign and post-campaign analytics derived from their media schedules with our company.  We tell the client not only the basic performance of their campaign, but give them a deep look into their most lucrative customers that we’ve isolated through the ad campaign… and provide actionable intelligence regarding how the marketer can reach MORE of them not just in our medium (social media), but also on other media and marketing platforms (like traditional media — TV, radio, newspaper, magazine) and digital (search, display) as well as packaging and point of sale.

The more insight we can give a marketer about their most responsive and lucrative customer — and how they can reach more of them — the more they trust us and use our services.

We step over onto their side of the desk and try to see things as they do… so that we can provide objective advice and offerings.  Sometime, we may advise them to use another provider because it may be in their best interest.  We don’t ever want short-term money.  Long-term money and relationships are best because they are the easiest to maintain and grow.  Short-term money where we take deals just because we can — and even when we know it won’t work — makes the client feel as if they’ve been shafted.  That hurts the relationship with our company now.  More importantly, it hurts my PERSONAL credibility.  I’ll be in this business a long time…and I don’t want to screw anyone.  I want to delight them and help them achieve their goals.

Stephen Debruyn: First of all, we survey customers after a consulting assignment has ended (as a recruitment consulting firm, we place consultants with specific expertise on short-term assignments, on average three months) to determine their degree of satisfaction with the service.  Then we remain in regular touch to inquire about upcoming needs for additional resources.  We invite them to engage via our social media channels.

Cindy Sterling: Being a commercial software company whose clients use our technology daily to run the core parts of their business we are continually interacting and educating our customers through on demand information, regular webinars, and good old-fashioned customer care.

Cezar Kolodziej: Customers want to voice their opinion. With today’s multiple touch points that include social media and mobile, to continue the conversation simply requires a platform and a mechanism to deliver sustained value. Our company leverages social behavior via mobile to keep the conversation open and fluid. We keep customers engaged by delivering personalized content to keep the conversation open long term. Most mobile marketers rely on pull mobile marketing. Iris Mobile relies on push mobile marketing like Rich Media Messaging to generate consistent long-term results once loyalty to a brand has been established.

Kristen Ortwerth-Jewell: We are an enterprise B2B organization with a multitude of offices worldwide, so we can afford the luxury of dedicated, customized care that many other B2B organizations cannot. Our account managers and consultants are still our most effective method for building a strong, sustainable relationship with our customers.

At SocialAgenda Media we choose speakers and sales trainers for our bureau who at sales kickoff meetings and ask questions like this: “Why do the top 10 percent of your sales people produce most of the results? Why do they close more sales than the rest of your sales team? They have the same product or service to sell. They have the same presentation material. They have the same brochures. They sell to the same market. What are they doing that’s different? And even more important than the answers to these questions themselves, how do you take the information and get the rest of your sales team to understand and use it to become top performers too?” What are the best practices for the annual effort companies put together to answer these questions? We gathered a few of our speakers and corporate sales pros to share and compare sales kickoff meeting strategies:

Tom Cox, Executive Vice President of Sales, MSC , which is one of the largest distributors of Metalworking and Maintenance, Repair and Operations (“MRO”) supplies to industrial customers throughout the United States.

Mark Johns, Senior Business Development Consultant, Franchise Services. For more than 40 years, Franchise Services, Inc. has successfully supported small business owners at becoming their own boss.

Sharon Drew Morgen, Sales Trainer & Speaker represented by SocialAgenda Media speakers bureau. Sharon is a NY Times bestselling author. She has developed Buying Facilitation® so sellers can help buyers manage the buying decision. Her latest innovative work is on the power of listening.

Richard Grehalva, Sales Trainer & Speaker represented by SocialAgenda Media speakers bureau. Richard, the author of “Unleashing the Power of Consulting Selling” and “The Boomerpreneur Revolution,” combines the heart of a teacher and the head of a successful business executive to guide organizations and individuals to reach their true potential.

Julie Hansen, Sales Trainer and Speaker at Performance Sales & Training and the author of ACT Like a Sales Pro. Julie combines her sales and acting experience to help sales professionals gain a critical edge by leveraging the power of the performing arts.

Renie Cavallari, CEO and Chief Inspiration Officer of Aspire. Aspire is an international training and leadership development company known for building businesses through people, not Power Points.


SocialAgenda Media: Based on your many years of experience in Sales what 5-10 factors would you see as critical to hosting a successful sales kick off meeting?

Tom Cox:

  1. Overarching message or theme into which every presentation ties.
  2. Clear goals and objectives to rally the sales force around.
  3. Team activity to drive engagement, interaction and learning.
  4. Motivational message and speaker to energize the group.
  5. Breakout sessions for small group work where we share best practices and plan how we will meet sales targets.
  6. Professional meeting space with well-planned logistics so the event runs smoothly and the focus remains on the content.
  7. Strong wrap-up so the team is focused and can hit the ground running.

Mark Johns:

  1. Right time – When can we get the appropriate people together in one place?
  2. Right place – Where can we get them together?
  3. Right content – What new, relevant content do we have to offer them?
  4. Right audience – New hires, veterans, channel partners?
  5. New opportunities – Is there a market that just opened to us or one we have chosen to break into?
  6. New capabilities – Do we have a new product or service, maybe a unique one, with a window of opportunity or a new, faster, better delivery system?

Renie Cavallari:

1. Be clear on what your team goal is and what each individual will have to do for the team to be successful.

  • Make this inspiring, fun, interactive and create a sense of responsibility for everyone involved from sales people to the related administrative team.
  • Create a 2014 theme that you can tie into every sales meeting and can use as a tool to keep the momentum alive throughout the year

2. Open the meeting with a fun, “think differently” interactive.

  • This will get the team engaged and energized from minute one.
  • Stop doing it the way you have always done it.  Change everything from the opening to the facilitator.
  • Creating an emotional connection will get your people connecting differently and this creates alignment. Alignment is like putting premium fuel in your tank!

3. Get someone inspiring to speak to your group.

  • Hearing from someone outside of the organization is always exciting.
  • Tie their presentation into your theme.

4. Make the meeting a TPM™ meeting.  Give your people time to create an effective plan that they can work every day.

  • T stands for Think.  Get people in small groups to think together about how they can develop new customers; expand current customer wallet share and grow networks and referral, including social media, systems.
  • P stands for Prepare.  Give your people time to sit and map their plan directly into Outlook so they have targets, due dates, and plan their time out proactively.  Sales can sometimes be important and not urgent which is the Achilles heel for a sales person.  If you don’t take time to work your pipeline you are preparing to fail.  Simple as that!
  • M stands for Move.  Have a competition at your meeting for new business.  Actually dial for dollars to see who can jump start their sales effort. The real move comes after the meetings so make sure each person can report out on their productivity and activity goals.  The reason we always go back to basics is because they work!

5. Discuss with the group what they need to really deliver.  What new tools?  How do we create momentum?  How can we stay in touch and keep each other inspired? You cannot motivate another person but you can inspire one another.  It takes a Village!

6. Create an incentive plan that pays out monthly for results and recognizes things you want to recognize, for example, new deals, new prospects, and the like.  Recognition goes a long way so don’t just do financial rewards.  Give them the spotlight.  Sales people like to shine so shine that light!

Sharon Drew Morgen:

Get them excited. Have the top producer speak and model how to be successful. Teach them all the ways buyers buy that they can help facilitate and offer new ways to approach helping the buyer to buy. Talk about the times during day for the most success. Help them understand dealing with rejection, why it’s not necessary and how to avoid it. Obviously some housekeeping must be dealt with (i.e. projections, commissions, product launches, etc.) but I’d do it all in terms of helping buyers buy. This year, not only will we run rings around our successes from last year, but also we’re going to add a new initiative: we’re going to help our buyers buy!

Richard Grehalva:

I have been fortunate in my career to be on both sides of the annual sales kick off meetings as the SVP of Global Sales and Marketing and as a speaker, trainer and consultant in my own business.

The annual sales kickoff meeting is without a doubt the most important event for a company. Why is it important? We can find the answer by going back to the fundamental question “why do we have them”?

We need to thank John Henry Patterson the founder of NCR. He developed and implemented many of the sales processes we use today. For example the 4 step sales model contained in a manual called the “Sales Primer, “The Book of Objections” established quotas and much more. He even created the annual sales meeting.

He attended the World’s Fair in 1893, this is not a typo it was 1893. He went into the NCR display and quizzed the salespeople. The quiz was from his “Sales Primer” and they could not answer all of his questions. He immediately took the salespeople to a hotel and retrained them. He then decided to bring in his entire national team for an annual sales meeting.

What happened at the national sales meeting? It was not sales 101. It was advanced training and coaching. It was how to listen to the prospect and modify the sales process…it was focused on communication. He even brought an educator to teach the salespeople to talk on stage!

He focused on education, creating teamwork, building confidence and momentum for closing sales. It really has not changed much since then.

These are my “7 Critical Factors” in leading a successful sales kick off meeting.

1) Takeaways – This is the single most important criterion for a successful sales meeting. Begin by thinking the sales kick off meeting has occurred. You are now getting ready for next year’s sales meeting. What did they sales team accomplish? What are the 3 to 5 specific objectives you achieved? This will be the agenda for this year’s meeting. Do not overload them with mountains of documentation and death by PowerPoint. Stay focused!

2) Education – Teaching and coaching advanced sales training skills. It should focus on advanced communication skills, presentation skills, consultative selling skills and so on. Of course this would include product and service training.

3) Knowledge – The next critical factor is understanding the current competitive environment. I’m not just talking about who the company competes with and the market. Let’s remember the focus is getting and keeping a customer. Understand the market means looking at this from the customer’s viewpoint. Understanding this is what separates the best from all the rest.

4) Pride – We all want to feel proud of where we work. We want to part of an organization. We want to feel connected to the leadership. We want to understand the vision of where the company is heading, how the organization will get there and how this will better serve customers, stakeholders and shareholders. This comes from the CEO or President who must inform, educate and inspire the sales team.

5) Commitment – There is a difference between compliance and commitment. You can tell the sales team “What to do” or they can decide “They want to do it.” Instead of telling them the theme and the objective, engage them by leading the team in a workgroup discussion of what it should be. When they become part of the process they own it. This is how you get commitment and build teamwork.

6) Morale – Make sure there is plenty of time for social events. Make room for laughter. Do not overwhelm the team with information, they cannot retain it all. Encourage all of the leadership from all departments to attend evening events. Let them know they are appreciated.

7) Transparency – The VP of Sales must close the meeting with open and complete transparency. Tell them the quarter goals and the metrics. Share your concerns and what you and the company will do specifically to help them succeed.

Julie Hansen:

  • Setting expectations:  Getting salespeople excited about the opportunity to learn tools that will help them be more competitive and more successful in coming year.
  • Keeping the audience engaged by creating a full “experience”: great content they won’t get anywhere else delivered in an entertaining format.
  • Using improvisation to get people involved and create receptivity to new ideas.
  • Deliver something of value with strategic steps that they can put into action.
  • Give attendees the opportunity to practice new techniques through interactive activities or small group breakouts followed by group discussion.

SocialAgenda Media: What are the main challenges still to be solved to have sales kick off meetings translate into the actions and attitudes the company needs from the team?

Tom Cox:

  • Keeping the team focused on the key learnings and priorities that make them better every year.
  • Ensuring engagement at the kick-off translates to learnings that can be applied comfortably after the kick-off.

In addition to our kick-off we use a host of online training programs and we have market-based training that includes senior sales leadership.  The intent of this additional training is to continue the momentum of the sales kick-off meeting and help the teams stay on top of what’s going on in their markets.  During this time we review the customer and competitor landscape and discuss what is working well and what isn’t in order to improve productivity and performance.  We also reward our top performers each year with a trip.

Richard Grehalva:

When I meet with sales leadership, I make this statement, I bet your top sales performers are 10% or less of the total team. They hesitate for a moment and do the math in their head say “you are right.”

I then ask, “Why do they close more sales than the rest of your sales team?” They have the same product or service to sell. They have the same presentation material. They have the same brochures. They sell to the same market. What are they doing different?

I ask them to think about their top performers and do they have any of these traits?

  1. Do they have a positive attitude?
  2. Are they knowledgeable about the customer, market, product and competition?
  3. Are they self-motivated with an internal desire to succeed?
  4. Do they use consultative selling skills by being able to identify customer’s needs?
  5. Do they have good work habits?

They look at me and say, “You just described my top salespeople”.

These are top traits of all top sales performers across all industries. Notice over half of these traits are so called “soft skills”. But these “soft skills” have a hard impact on top line revenue and customer satisfaction.

Find out what the top sales performers are doing and then replicate it.

Anatomy of a Win and a Failure – Here is what to do in the sales kick off meeting. Set up a panel discussion with your top sales performers. Go through an anatomy of a win. Get into the details of the type of questions they ask, how do they respond to objections, what are the keys in their presentations and so on. Walk through each step and make it interactive. Encourage the sales team to ask questions. Have an easel with a pad and write down the key takeaway steps. Next, go through the same thing for a tough sale that did not happen. What can be learned from this?

Sales is a numbers game and not every prospect will become a sale. Celebrate the tough losses as much as the win. Set up a culture that supports the sales team when they lose. Help them to get back up and into the game. Learn from it as team and you will increase your win percentage.

Take one new skill you wrote down from the panel discussion and implement one a month. Talk about how the new skill is working each week within the month. After one year they will have 12 new skills that came from your top performers. Imagine how many more sales will occur and the confidence rise in your sales force. Resist the temptation to ask them to do 12 new things in a day!

Mark Johns:

Our main challenge is follow-up after the meeting, to ensure that what was taught was learned, that what was learned was internalized and that what was internalized is practiced.

We are a franchise company. While we offer assistance to our franchisees as they hire, train and manage salespeople, we do not hire nor manage their sales people. We do provide training and tools but, especially if a franchisee did not attend the meeting with his/her rep, we are challenged to get the rep to implement.

In addition to the annual kick off sales meeting, we do a series of regional sales training meetings in several cities where we can gather smaller groups for updates, reinforcement, new tools and resources, as well as deliver core content to those who did not attend the kick off meeting.

Sharon Drew Morgen:

Too often they just give a rah-rah talk and fall back on the same old instruction to try harder. This time, give people the knowledge they need to actually make a difference in their income.

Julie Hansen:

  • Work with the trainer/speaker to create a follow-up plan that will reinforce learnings.
  • Have each salesperson select two-three techniques to commit to applying in the coming year and create accountability with a sales “buddy” and/or manager.
  • Sales management needs to create a “safe” environment for sales people to practice new techniques and skills.  When sellers are more focused on pleasing their managers than committing to new skills they are less likely to take chances, learn from the experience or achieve lasting change.
  • Sales management needs to reinforce techniques/goals at sales meetings and one-on-ones.

Renie Cavallari:

  1. With your team determine how you will follow up, by when and how will you know it has happened
  2. Have a learning topic each month and have your best sales leaders share their ideas and approaches on specific topics
  3. Create an internal chat room so people can share what they are doing, how they are winning, and find support when they lose a deal
  4. Meet quarterly – it pays to get together as it keeps people synergized, learning, accountable and allows you to keep recognizing the behaviors and results you want

SocialAgenda Media:What are 3 of the latest and greatest sales techniques/strategies your team will learn during your next sales meeting?

Julie Hansen:

  • How to leverage the power of entertainment to gain the attention of busy decision-makers.
  • How to differentiate your solution by applying the performer’s tools to sales presentations and demonstrations.
  • How to use storytelling to make your message “stick” when buying decisions are made.

Mark Johns:

  • Networking where your customers and prospects are, not your competitors
  • Setting up the sale with integrated marketing
  • Prospecting On Purpose

Sharon Drew Morgen:

Teach gatekeepers how to invite you in; teach clients how to invite you to meet with them and several others ON YOUR FIRST CALL! Ways to avoid rejection.

Tom Cox:

  • Effectively gaining access to senior-level decision makers
  • Challenging the customers to think more broadly or differently about various ways to solve problems most effectively.
  • Identifying, presenting and gaining agreement on cost savings documentation

SocialAgenda Media:Please share your company’s mission and goals and how seeking to achieve them will influence the content, activities and technologies that will be used during your kick off meeting?

Tom Cox:

Our mission is to be the best industrial distributor in the world as measured by our associates, customers, owners and suppliers.  This mission influences the content we develop for each sales kick-off meeting as well as the tools and technologies that will enable our sales team to be the best in the industry and earn a greater percentage of market share with our customers.

For example, we’ll be introducing our Metalworking Sales Certificate Program that is an exclusive co-branded certificate program with Tooling U-SME and MSC and a way to acknowledge the experts on our team who have earned an elite designation.

Mark Johns:

Our mission is to help our franchisees and employees succeed. Our number one goal is to help our franchisees grow profitable sales. Teaching, training, equipping and inspiring them to do that is the reason for our kick off meeting, regional meetings, newsletters, phone consultation, everything we do.

Richard Grehalva:

If you want to increase your sales, improve your relationships with your customers and peers and get your sales quota’s met or exceeded…you must change what you are doing today to something different! If you do not, then you will get the same results.

What changed the game for selling and marketing in the 21st century? The Internet and mobile.

The sales funnel we use today was first introduced in 1903. The 7-step sale model was introduced in the early part of the 20th century. The question we must ask is this, “Are they still effective today?”

Information was once “King.” Today it is just a commodity. Using 19th and 20th century techniques just do not work effectively in the 21st century.

Our customers can get answers, information and make buying decisions with the power of “search”. On what device? Their smartphones and tablets. In 2014 we will search more on our mobile device than our laptops. But less than 25% of companies have a mobile site.

I developed a sales methodology at the end of the 20th century because what was available was outdated and did not reflect what salespeople actually were doing. I did it again for the same reason, because it is time to rethink the sales funnel and redesign sales and marketing for the 21st century.

I speak and teach about “Selling Upside Down” because we must change our mindset from 19th century thinking to 21st century thinking. I use my current selling system, A.I.M – The Adaptability Information Method™ the next level in consultative selling. It works in concert with my Value Continuity Circle™ which is the process today’s customers use to search for solutions, find the companies they will contact and how they buy. It defines the steps salespeople and companies must take to compete in the “age of a well-informed consumer” to meet their buying requirements.

Many times the VP of Sales is looking to bring in a motivational speaker. The reality is we cannot motivate anyone, we can only motivate ourselves. I know this sounds strange coming from a motivation speaker. This is why I design and deliver my programs as a “Motivation Teacher.” My mission and goal is to teach my clients: “How to Have a Growth Mindset: To Grow Their Sales, Their Business and Themselves.”

Seeking a coaching advice for your sales team or leaders? Contatc us to schedule an introductory executive coaching session. It’s free so book it now at

By Jan Hutchins, speaker & CEO of SocialAgenda Media.

Everyone calls it a sales funnel but not everyone believes funnel is the right analogy. Many say the funnel has been leaking for years, doesn’t reflect the changes brought about by the Internet economy and is still in use only because we haven’t agreed on a better description. Enough thoughtful marketers have challenged the funnel analogy it’s worth diving into this question to see what we can learn from a varied group of sales and marketing pros experiencing the real shape of selling. We invited the following marketing experts into this conversation:

Glen Caruso, Vice President of Sales at BLiNQ Media. BLiNQ’s proprietary software and algorithms work hand-in-glove with Facebook technology to deliver social engagement advertising and analytics solutions for agencies and big brands on Facebook.

Scott Hirsch, VP Product & Content Marketing at Get Satisfaction. Get Satisfaction is the community platform that helps companies create engaging customer experiences by fostering online conversations about their products and services at every stage of the lifecycle.

Kristen Ortwerth-Jewell, Interactive Marketing Manager at Nexant. Nexant is an independent provider of intelligent grid software and clean energy solutions.

Cezar Kolodziej, President and CEO at Iris Mobile. Iris Mobile is pushing the bounds of traditional text messaging by enabling retailers to send more robust content using image and video messages.

Barbara Pilliod, VP of Marketing & Communications at Transfinder. Transfinder does school bus routing software including GPS fleet tracking, fleet maintenance, and field trip management for pupil transportation.

Cindy Sterling, Director of Marketing and Sales at On Center Software, Inc. On Center Software has been a trusted provider of construction automation management (CAM) solutions for the past 25 years.

Stephen Debruyn: Vice President of Marketing at Clarity Consultants, Clarity provides learning and development expertise to global corporations.

SocialAgenda Media: Do you believe calling it a sales funnel is an effective description of the process? If so why? If not, why not?

Stephen Debruyn: During the past several years, there has been a lot of talk about this issue, and there are those who say the sales funnel is ‘dead’, and have come up with alternative visual imagery, such as this one by Forrester:

social media sales funnel diagram

But I don’t think the sales funnel is ‘dead’.  It has changed in the sense that buyers now tap into many more channels to inform themselves about specific products or services, and tap into sales very late in the buying process.  I believe the principle underlying the funnel is still the same; potential buyers still move through a process from awareness to interest to desire to action related to a service or product; move from a general information need to increasingly more specific information needs; and move from a passive role to an increasingly active role in the buying process.

Kristen Ortwerth-Jewell: I think that the sales funnel is still an apt description for the lead lifecycle, especially for Enterprise B2B, where the size of the transaction precludes any single-buyer sign-off or ecommerce. The sales cycle for us still tends to be very long and fairly linear in progression. What happens at the top of the funnel between the point of lead acquisition and the point of transition to an identified sales opportunity seems to be the only part of the process that has impacted our lead nurturing strategy.

Scott Hirsch: The funnel analogy exists because it’s an easy one to understand. So for instance, you start with raw leads at the top of the funnel, some fall out because they are not qualified, more fall out because you aren’t the right fit, and some you just don’t win. New Revenue comes out of the bottom of the funnel. This is an easy report to generate, understand, and run. However, it’s actually not the best analogy because buying behavior is a complicated process that takes time. And as a marketer, you have many opportunities to influence the way your buyer perceives not only your solution, but also their business situation throughout the funnel. In other words, just because someone isn’t qualified today doesn’t mean they aren’t part of our audience. You can influence them and make them qualified tomorrow.

Glen Caruso: No. With social media and one-to-one, ongoing marketing, I believe it’s more of a sales cycle… because it’s a continuous relationship.  To consumers today, a brand has to essentially become a “trusted advisor/friend”.  Genuine.  Honest.  Anything that smacks of advertising is rejected… especially by Millenials.  Additionally, with so much choice and so much parity of product, you have to stay in touch.  That said, marketing today — like a friendship — has to have a long-term flow to it.  You must continue to be involved — maintain AWARENESS — in your friends/customers lives.  You don’t disappear until they need you again.

I think this diagram is a good visualization:

sales cycle funnel

Barbara Pilliod: It still is a description of the process marketing and sales use to move a prospect forward.  While it may be linear, there are many offshoots of the process that come into play. It’s just hard to integrate them all into a clear process that leads to decision and purchase.

Cindy Sterling: The objectives of marketing fall really into 2 major buckets – Brand Identity (Corporate) and Customer Acquisition/Retention (Field).  The sales funnel analogy by definition would fall into Customer Acquisition & Retention.  The label that gets placed upon the process of identifying, contacting, nurturing, and qualifying business should clearly keep everyone focused around a common goal – I think sales funnel does exactly that.

Cezar Kolodziej: There is no doubt that consumer behavior has changed and fundamentally the number of touch points have drastically increased thus causing a lot of debate around the purchase funnel and its validity. In 2011, the average consumer looked at 10.4 sources of data before making a decision to purchase, compared to 5.3 in 2010. That being said, the customer journey has never been completely linear, so even in today’s complex world the purchase funnel does continue to add value due to its simplicity. This is especially true if we look at the concept not from a path perspective, but use it as a tool to describe the ultimate outcome we want to achieve as marketers which is purchase persuasion.

SocialAgenda Media: Even if you believe funnel is an appropriate term what other analogy or analogies do you feel apply and why?

Scott Hirsch: A better analogy is building audience. I think of this the same way that a television show builds audience. You need to have interesting content and characters (content and influencer marketing), you need to speak to the times (topical content); you need to stay engaging and not just ride on past success (staying on trend and relevant as new memes emerge).

Cezar Kolodziej: Another way to breakdown the decisions that lead to a customer purchase is the Customer Life Cycle across Marketing. Forrester’s latest series of reports focuses on the outcome of the decision as influenced by non-linear touch points.

Stephen Debruyn: In terms of visualization of this process, one could question whether prospects move down the funnel, or whether they climb up the funnel, and can fall out of it at any time in the process.  Market research firm Marketingsherpa sees the process as an inverted funnel, where prospects fall out of the funnel if they don’t respond to a call to action on a landing page, don’t act, don’t follow up, etc.

Cindy Sterling: A sales funnel does give imagery of ‘dump leads in the top and force deals out the bottom’.  I think the visual of a buyer’s journey resonates for me.  We want to identify the right profile for who typically matches our typical client/buyer and then begin interacting with them in a variety of ways.  It never makes sense to force information onto people, it is better to share information when a person is interested and looking. This results in a healthier exchange where there is a need and a solution is identified, evaluated, and selected.

Barbara Pilliod: Touch points is the only analogy I can think of as there are so many and many are needed to bring a prospect to the table – marketing call, email for special event or webinar, online incentive, video feed, news release, article, social media, online search – these are all potential touch points that are circular rather than linear.

Kristen Ortwerth-Jewell: I think lifecycle might be a more appropriate term across the board, given that any lead or account could go dormant and cycle back to life at any point between lead identification/acquisition and close of sale.

SocialAgenda Media: What comes after the funnel? What analogy is appropriate for the personalized, sustained engagement customers now demand for retention and repeat sales? 

Cezar Kolodziej: Even after the initial purchase decision, the conversation with the brand never stops and it can be argued that we end up in a circular conversation with the customer to get them back to purchase. The fundamental factor is continuous engagement and ensuring the message is being delivered consistently across touch points.

Stephen Debruyn: Possibly an ‘engagement ladder’ that visualizes the degree of engagement.  Buyers can simply be repeat buyers or they can turn into evangelists for a company’s products and services, a much more active role.  I have created a ‘social media engagement ladder’ that visualizes the engagement steps and the associated measurement metrics or KPIs.

Kristen Ortwerth-Jewell: I don’t really believe there is such a thing as “after the funnel.” A signed contract means only one thing: as the incumbent, the relationship you have built with your customer gives you a slight edge over the competition when that contract expires. In most cases, this means they just cycle back to the top of the funnel as a better-informed prospect. When the buy cycle starts over again, you’re still providing the thought leadership materials and market awareness materials that won them over the first time.

Cindy Sterling: Once we bring on board a new client we immediately engage in training and ramping of skills.  In certain situations, we have professional services engaging with the clients and of course we have 24hr business day support.

Scott Hirsch: I like to use a concierge analogy, where the company becomes a facilitator (rather than the source) of relevant information and services for their customers. Think about it… a hotel concierge doesn’t really provide services, but they do make your life a lot easier and your stay at the hotel more satisfying by recommending a great restaurant or coordinating that special tour of the city. B2B marketing has already started to adopt this principle with the rise of content marketing … marketing campaigns that are designed to educate and illuminate, rather than to sell. Similarly, a consultative sales approach that keeps the customer business need front and center is also like a concierge service.

Barbara Pilliod: I still think Touch Points is the answer – every customer should have a set number during the year to ensure we meet expectations.

Glen Caruso: After the sale, try to bring to the customer periodic offerings from your company that make sense given their goals… as well as general information that will help them look smart.  Bring them articles and thoughts about things that in NO WAY benefit your company. Have you ever received a card or letter in the mail from a friend with a funny cartoon in it?  Or a clipping from a newspaper with a relevant article that relates to something you talked about a month prior?  It’s the same thing with our business.  Everyone likes to feel as if they are being heard and thought about.  And they like it when it seems like it comes from a selfless perspective.  Someone thought about ME and what’s important to ME and sent me something out of the goodness of their heart that makes ME feel better.

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Also read:

The dirty little secrets in this article aren’t really dirty or little but they are sexy if making money turns you on. If you’ve always thought there’s got to be an easier way to make sales, or as a marketer you wanted to understand more about the mysteries behind the scenes of B2B conversions, or perhaps as an event manager you’re looking for someone to shake up and entertain an audience, Sharon Drew Morgen is uniquely qualified to deliver. An iconoclast and innovator, Morgen pioneered the Buying Facilitation® process which teaches salespeople how to help buyers manage their behind-the-scenes, non-need related issues necessary to get the internal buy-in they need to make a purchase. Author of seven books, Sharon Drew Morgen is one the most provocative and original speakers in the sales field today, and of course, she is represented by SocialAgenda Media’s speaker bureau.  😉

Olga Kostrova: In your books and training you suggest looking at the sales process from the standpoint of buyer’s journey rather than focusing on sales techniques. You suggest a sales person introduce Buying Facilitation™ questions very early in the process. Can it be as early as at the gatekeeper (while making a first call and speaking to a receptionist or an assistant)? Or do you mean when first getting the decision maker on the line? 

Sharon Drew Morgen: I teach not the sales process but the change management process that buyers all go through to get the necessary buy-in to proceed with a purchase. Sales usually just places solutions, but making the solution purchase is actually the buyer’s last action. First they must get all the folks who will touch the final solution to buy-in to the change, and to do that they must perform all the idiosyncratic, internal, and private change management activities necessary for the organization to make a purchase. The sales model is unnecessary and even inappropriate during these change management activities since each buyer’s environment is so unique and the activities are not really solution-related.

Salespeople ask ”why aren’t we closing more? Don’t buyers need our solutions?”.  But one of the issues sellers don’t realize is that everyone in a company is a decision maker, including a receptionist or an assistant. That’s why I use Buying Facilitation® from the first moment and all the way through the buying decision/change management path until they have the full buying decision team in place and all internal change factors are discovered and managed to fit everyone’s needs. It is only then they are ready to focus on a solution. I never use the sales model until the buyer’s organization is set up to make a purchase.

Olga Kostrova: In your opinion, what’s stopping sellers from selling faster, or in other words what stops buyers from making buying decision faster?

Sharon Drew Morgen: A buying decision is a change management problem. The sales model ignores the system, the environment that buyers live in, and merely attempts to place solutions. The time it takes buyers to recognize and manage all of the internal systems issues that will be shifted because of a new solution, and to bring together everything and everyone who will touch the new solution, is the length of the sales cycle. Buyers would be willing do this much faster if they knew how to change without disrupting anything. If sales folks added non-solution-related decision facilitation models to the front end of their sales process, more buyers could buy much faster. Instead the sales model merely pushes solution placement and focuses on ‘need’ rather than the importance of systemic change. As a result, sellers only close 7% of the time, the low hanging fruit.

Olga Kostrova: Why do closing rates seem to be generally the same regardless of the size of the solution, type or price of product, country of sale (well, except when our LeadGen Journalism® solution is used for lead generation  :-) )? You state that Buying Facilitation® consistently closes over 40%. What are you doing differently?

Sharon Drew Morgen: In the 25 years I’ve been training worldwide, on 5 continents, from small travel companies to behemoth global software companies, from $50,000,000 solutions to $15 face creams, from software to consulting services to banking to hospital admissions, the consistent close rate I’ve seen has been 7%. That’s because of the disparity between the job of sales and what buyers must do internally before they can make a purchase. My Buying Facilitation® model is a change management, decision facilitation skill set that organizes buyers around the types of change they must make and the people who must buy in. Since buyers must do this before they can buy, sellers either sit and wait for the low hanging fruit, or they can choose to add a new skill set and become neutral navigators to facilitate the change management that must take place to raise their closing rate to 40%.

Olga Kostrova: If buyers have a need, and sellers have a solution, why aren’t buyers buying, from your point of view?

Sharon Drew Morgen: Because bringing something new into their environment will cause some sort of disruption in their system and a solution is necessary or accepted only once there is buy-in and change management has made the organization ready.

Olga Kostrova: While readers will be able to learn all the “dirty little secrets” of Buying Facilitation® by reading your books and attending your trainings, let’s give readers some visibility into the beginning of the process. How do you suggest sales people open the conversation with a decision maker? 

Sharon Drew Morgen: This is a laddered, sequences process. Starting with one thing is like explaining how to bake a cake by starting with an egg, and then ending the conversation. I refuse to give a whole script but can offer a couple of basic concepts.

  1. Realize that since everyone is a decision maker each conversation is different. Is it an assistant? A receptionist? Each are decision makers. Each one stops or allows the conversation to continue. So treat every person you speak with as the decision maker, because they are.
  2. Stop trying to push solutions or discover need. Start all calls with “My name is X and this is a sales call. Is this a good time to speak? I’ve got a product that does X and wonder how are you currently managing x in your company right now? And how are you set up to manage Y for those times you need additional support?”

Every circumstance is different. But if you go to my blog, there are articles on gatekeepers, since that’s where you begin.

Olga Kostrova: What are 3 possible alternatives for opening the conversation that would allow a sales person to qualify the prospect and become a part of buyer’s buying decision team instead of prospecting for a solution placement?

Sharon Drew Morgen: I know it sounds like heresy and that I’m being difficult but we don’t qualify. No such thing. Qualifying only makes sense in sales solution thinking.

Everyone is a decision maker. Facilitative questions are necessary.

By entering calls as a neutral navigator rather than attempting to discover need or placing solutions, you can get each person you speak with to be a decision maker.

“How are you currently adding new banking resources to your company for those times your current bank can’t offer you what you need?” That’s is a good facilitative question to start a banking conversation. It starts the navigation process and can be asked to anyone who answers the phone.

I have a whole book on this. :) People want the “how’s” before understanding the underlying concepts. They unwittingly miss the main focus of Buying Facilitation® and because there is no reference for it in their brains, 90% of people try to fit it into their old thinking. I resist tactical tips before I’m sure someone understands the concept of Buying Facilitation® because even if I spent an hour giving stories and examples, people would still think of it in relation to traditional sales techniques. We should be helping them understand why they need to stop selling and start learning how to facilitate the buying decision.

Olga Kostrova: What are the 3-5 biggest mistakes sales people make while they are learning to sell based on the concept of facilitating the buying decision rather than using sales techniques designed for solution placement? 

Sharon Drew Morgen:

  1. They focus merely on placing a solution and don’t understand the prospect has a system in place and are identified with their “work around the problem”, and so salespeople end up pushing against what I call a closed system.
  2. They listen only in terms of how to sell solutions rather than to recognize systems issues.
  3. They don’t understand that until every single person who touches a solution buys into change, there won’t be a purchase, regardless of the need.
  4. All sales people throughout history, regardless of solution or country, merely close the low hanging fruit (7%) in situations where buyers have already gone through their internal change process.

Olga Kostrova: What are the main 5 things sales people need to understand about using the process of facilitating buying decisions? 

Sharon Drew Morgen:

  1. It’s not sales. It’s change management.
  2. Buyers have to do change management anyway. It’s what we sit and wait for them to do. So we can either sit and wait and lose 93% of them, or we can facilitate their change journey before we sell, and close 40% +.
  3. Selling doesn’t cause buying. Sales is merely a solution placement model and does not facilitate the internal, systemic change buyers go through; and until every person who will touch the solution agrees, there will be no purchase.
  4. Buyers already have a work around. Until the elements of the workaround are managed congruently, they will not buy regardless of need.
  5. The sales process itself creates the objections, the money issues and the lost business, and it prolongs the sales cycle. The time it takes buyers to manage buy-in from all who will touch the solution is the length of the cycle.
  6. Buyers are willing to buy quickly. They are not willing to create dysfunction and chaos in their system.

Olga Kostrova: What steps in the Buying Facilitation method have sales people not been able to learn on their own? Is there a discrepancy between those sales professionals who you’ve trained and those who rely only on your books?  How might the gap be bridged for those unable to invest in the coaching and training, or bring you as a speaker?

Sharon Drew Morgen: It’s not possible to learn on their own. They must learn how to use their brains in a wholly different way. Here are the skills for Buying Facilitation®:

  • Listen for systems
  • Formulate facilitative questions and offer presumptive summaries
  • Go back and forth between self and observer (i.e. Choice model)
  • Use the decision sequences the company needs to go through to become ready to buy

My book Dirty Little Secrets discusses the what’s and the why’s of a buying decision. Should readers want to immerse themselves and learn the ‘how’ they’d need training. Included in the training is material not conventionally taught in sales training, including how to formulate facilitative questions and presumptive summaries, recognizing and using the decision sequences necessary in all change management and listening for systems. Remember: Buying Facilitation® is not sales, although it works as a precursor to sales.

Olga Kostrova: How can understanding Buying Facilitation® show up in cold calling and leaving voice messages for prospects?

Sharon Drew Morgen: By using Buying Facilitation® the focus is directly on facilitating change rather than placing a solution. The opening of a cold call would sound like this: “Hi. My name is Sharon Drew Morgen and this is a sales call. Is this a good time to speak? I’m selling a new type of sales training that focuses on how buyers buy. I’m wondering how you are currently adding new skills to the ones you teach your sales folks to help them help buyers begin their buying decision and change management process?”

Olga Kostrova: Some readers will want to “save” relationships they started before learning about your work. Do you have any advice for the best way to introduce Buying Facilitation® into the conversation if it wasn’t established at the beginning of the process?

Sharon Drew Morgen: Yes. Say: I just learned a new form of question that will help you and the buying decision team determine how, or if, it’s time to change. I’d like to be able to walk you through some of these questions to help you help your team make the decisions you’ll need to make. Once they are all up to speed, then we can talk about my solution if it’s still applicable.

Olga Kostrova: How do you see communicating Buying Facilitation® showing up in business networking conversations? How could it be incorporated into one’s “elevator pitch”? 

Sharon Drew Morgen: Use the facilitative questions prior to pitching: “How will you know if/when you’re willing to add new X to what you’re already doing?”

Olga Kostrova: I understand you are not fond of lead scoring based on prospect’s interaction with solution related questions and content. What alternative lead scoring system would you propose that would reflect the specifics of Buying Facilitation approach?

Sharon Drew Morgen: I have designed an intelligent contact sheet that breaks down the early, middle, late stage of the buying decision. Lead scoring is absolutely irrelevant because regardless of the need or the efficacy of the solution, buyers will never buy until their internal people, policies, rules, vendors, mergers, partners, or whoever will touch the final solution, are in agreement and know how to make the change comfortably. The intelligent contact sheet I’ve developed actually teaches prospects to understand where they are in the buying decision/change management process, and how to proceed to the next stages. It is only when they are at the end of their process and know how/what/when/where and with whom to buy will they seek a solution.

Intrigued? Want to learn more? Visits Sharon Drew Morgen’s speaker profile and get in touch with us to book her as a speaker for your next sales event. Happy selling… Or shall I say, happy purchase facilitation!

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Grist for the mill is a charming idiom from our agricultural past describing something that can be used to advantage; in this case, grist as grain that’s milled into flour for making bread. Content is the grist for modern marketing, isn’t it? We’ve discovered the powerful advantages in developing the skill of saying the right thing at the right time to hopefully the right customer. Content’s power has not only become increasingly prominent, what to communicate when changes so significantly as the relationship changes and grows, that deciding what to say when and when to say what, is as much of an art as baking croissants. Figuring out the right script and right timing is not only tasty; it’s the key to companies making lots of “dough”. In a previous article, 6 Insights on Building Sales Pipelines: Funneling the Prospect from Content Asset, Social Share, Email or Call to Closed Deal, we focused on techniques and technologies to optimize the customer journey through the funnel. This article offers expert insights about best practices for communicating content to the customer along the way.

SocialAgenda Media: What does your content marketing blueprint for filling your sales pipeline look like now and how do various departments and organizational functions need to be aligned for maximum pipeline optimization? Can you describe it in 3-10 steps?

John Wallin, CEO & President, Accelera Innovation:

1. Specific targets of growth opportunities
2. Rigorous discussion, case preparation and metrics
3. Strategies account plan
4. Accurate reporting
5. Gap analysis
6. Effective communication
7. Account growth and expansion

Susan Enns, B2B Sales Coach and Author, B2B Sales Connections:

A content marketing blueprint needs to be customized for every organization and the products and services they sell. With our sales coaching, training, recruiting and job board products and services, our first contact is normally when someone visits our website.  We therefore focus on various SEO techniques, social media linking strategies and local networking and speaking engagements to drive traffic to our website.  In fact, everyone in our organization encourages all our customers and prospects to visit our website at all times to start the process.

Once there, we want to engage the website visitor with online content that is focused on delivering free educational content, not just sales pitches.  If the website visitor likes what they see, they are encouraged to join our mailing lists and our free Download Centre.  Depending on the activities here, each person who subscribes is segmented into different target lists, allowing us to tailor the content and timing they receive to their specific interests.  Each touch with a prospect has a detailed call to action so that when the prospect is ready to buy, they can do so immediately.

Giles House, Sr. VP & CMO at CallidusCloud:

No matter how qualified leads are generated, the most important action marketing can take is to get leads to the sales people as quickly as possible. The difference between three minutes and one hour of time elapsing from getting that lead and passing it on to sales can make an almost 70% difference in the conversion rate. We’re all very, very busy in our lives these days. We’re all asked to do more with less. If you’re talking to someone within an hour of them expressing interest they’ll remember who you are and what you spoke about and why they were interested, whereas if you leave it for a few days it’s likely to be “Sorry, who are you again?” So speed is number one and a way you can combat that is having a way to automate it. If you have your territories aligned with your marketing automation system you can automatically route those leads to the right salesperson.

It’s also important to know whether those leads are being followed up. With each lead we pass over to sales, there’s a SLA (service level agreement) attached. We ensure it meets their quality criteria in exchange for guarantees that it will be swiftly followed up and systematically pursued. If the lead then doesn’t pan out, as part of the SLA sales must return it to marketing for us to re engage and nurture. But underpinning all of this, the real key is having a close, effective relationship between marketing and sales and top to bottom buy-in from both.

Jennifer Johnson, CMO at Coverity:

You need compelling, relevant, targeted content that addresses the following questions:

1) Why should I listen?  What pain are you solving?  I want to know you understand my world and what keeps me up at night.
2) Who else from my peer group is using it?  What value are they getting?  I don’t want to be the first.
3) How you are going to solve my problem, quickly and without completely disrupting my process?  I can’t be slowed down.

SocialAgenda Media: What are the differences in strategies you apply for ToFu, MoFu and BoFu content design, promotion and distribution?

Samuel Adler, Dir. Global Demand Generation & Analyst Relations at Zuora:

Top of the funnel tends to be emails, quick videos, and demo videos about who we are. Middle of the funnel tends to be data sheets, white papers, and more detail about what the solution is about. The bottom of the funnel is typically case studies, referrals, comparisons with other products, and maybe even deeper dives into product technical specs. We have a whole knowledge center that goes deep into things when prospects are late in the buying cycle.

Chris Sullens, President & Chief Executive Officer at Marathon Data Systems:

For ToFu, we examine the types of search terms are driving traffic to our website(s) and try to design content to answer those questions through website articles and our blog(s). In the MoFu stage we focus on providing group webinars and demos as well as sales tools like comparison sheets. In the BoFu stage we engage in a one on one demonstration and needs assessment and will also provide a software trial.

Giles House: I think the main thing to think about when you’re looking the different stages of the funnel is to focus on the differences in what you’re saying.

If a customer comes to you and they’re at the RFP stage, it’s going to be a really hard sell to ram your white papers down their throat and for them to digest your thought leadership. It’s hard for the person who’s running the project to turn around to their team and say, “Hang on a minute, Callidus says we’ve this messed up, we haven’t considered x, y, z.” You can’t expect these guys to derail their process at this stage so you need a more inviting approach.

At the bottom of the funnel it’s really about the value, price and differentiation between you and your competition. They’ve established the need, they’ve committed to the fact they have to change what they’re doing, and they’re actively evaluating the competition. There it’s about you vs. the other guys and we find that’s when analyst reports, customer success stories and videos are pretty good. Lining them up with a customer that’s replaced your competitor with you and getting them to talk about the pitfalls that they experienced with the competition, that’s the stuff for the bottom of the funnel, the hand to hand combat as the sales folks call it.

The top of the funnel is much more educational. The information you’d expect to see in a white paper whether it’s blog posts, or something dissected onto Twitter, or YouTube videos, or Infographics which are popular, however you do it, that sort of thought leadership content engages people at the top of the funnel. As they get a little bit closer, after you’ve established who you are, peaked their interest, gotten them to evaluate solutions and decide they’re ready to change the way they’re doing the things we find webinars are good at tipping them over the edge and getting them into the sales cycle.

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Whether we call it a pipeline, a funnel or admit it’s just a totem providing us a way to talk about the buyer’s journey, businesses need something to use to map the sales process. We decided to see what the experts say about the cartography of those strategies. How are they tracking the elusive, wild prospect? How is the desirable beast’s behavior changing? What new processes and technologies are being used to land the big ones? And, what mistakes are marketers making as they build their pipeline, funnel, and neural network, whatever you want to call it, that’s designed to move leads through the stages of a sale. See how we do it and then read our interviews to learn from other marketing leaders.

We engaged following marketing and sales executives to answer those questions:

Samuel Adler, Director of Global Demand Generation and Analyst Relations at Zuora (Zuora designs and sells SaaS applications for companies with a subscription business model). John Wallin, CEO & President, Accelera Innovation (Accelera is changing the landscape of what technology means to the healthcare industry). Susan Enns, B2B Sales Coach and Author, B2B Sales Connections. (Sales Connections is a resource for anyone involved in B2B selling). Chris Sullens, President & Chief Executive Officer at Marathon Data Systems (Marathon provides a fully integrated suite of cloud-based software, mobile software and marketing services solutions). Dave Scholten, Commercial Segment Manager at Gordon Food Service (GFS is the largest privately held food service distributor in North America). Giles House is Sr. VP & CMO at CallidusCloud (CallidusCloud provides solutions that help sales and marketing to close more deals for more money in record time). Jennifer Johnson, CMO at Coverity (Coverity, the development testing leader, is the trusted standard for companies that need to protect their brands and bottom lines from software failures).

SocialAgenda Media: What sales pipeline building strategies have you tested and discarded due to lower ROI? What nuggets remained in your bucket?

John Wallin: The key to sales pipelines are at the front end. Specific markets and targets need to be established to insure that the prospects are companies that can grow their business with our value proposition, solutions and collective experiences. We establish specific metrics that the key account manager and sales team must meet to be a candidate for our company. We believe in “Growth at the right price,” for all parties. We are a growth company and we go to great lengths to partner with other companies that are also growth oriented.

Giles House: Probably two answers to this question. The easiest trap to fall into is buying low quality lists. We get inundated with emails every day with people offering us lists. The quality on those lists is generally very, very poor. So that’s one of the easiest things to discard. Instead we look to our own website and we try to capture more intelligence about the visitors there. 90% of visitors choose to remain anonymous, but there’s a lot of rich information you can still get from them. We use one of our internal solutions to monitor those people and take a guess at who they are based on the type of people our sales wants to engage.

As far as nuggets, we scaled back our Adwords strategy for a while, but we’ve turned that up again and it’s yielding good returns. SEM programs can be dismissed all too easily but mapping out the audience and where they are in their buying journey helps you to put the right offers out that will resonate with the buyers and prompt conversions.

Chris Sullens: In the past we’ve tried purchasing lists to cold call or email and have found that, at least in our target verticals, it is never worth the investment. What has worked well for us is seeking out opportunities to get in front of our target audience, face to face. We look for opportunities to speak at industry events, exhibit at trade shows and we host our own half day meetings where prospects and existing customers can come to see a short demo of our products, participate in a Q&A session and join us for a networking lunch. This allows us to make personal connections with our prospects so that when they are ready to buy they think of us.

Jennifer Johnson: I think there still is a place for traditional outbound programs such as tradeshows and direct mail. For certain industries or markets where we are trying to build awareness, tradeshows are still a good investment from both an awareness and pipeline generation standpoint.  I have found the most effective way to maximize pipeline building, regardless of program, is to have tight coordination between the marketing and sales teams on lead follow-up—making sure the follow-up is part of the campaign execution itself, not a bolted-on piece at the end.  For example, if you are going to execute a targeted campaign which includes email or direct mail, make sure the lead qualification or inside sales team is coordinated in terms of getting insight into when a prospect engages and how they engage, and then tailor the follow-up timing and pitch accordingly (that could mean in real-time, as the prospect is engaging).  Bringing the lead in the door is only half the battle—it’s what you do with it once you have it.  And that is sometimes an overlooked part of the process.

Sam Adler: In the past we’ve done list purchasing and big blasts of emails to the healthcare industry or other verticals, but I’ve found that purchasing lists usually does not do well. My favorite strategies are search engine marketing and display advertising because you can watch how much you’re spending, what your conversion rates are, how many form fills you get, how many opportunities you get from that and how many deals close depending on how much spend you’re putting into it, so you can kind of turn the dial until you max out on the strategy. Those are my favorites because they are the most controllable.

Dave Scholten: We have to be careful not to offer, “what’s hot”, when it might not be relevant to the customers. Also, if you don’t earn to right of offer an insight, then you just insult them.

Susan A. Enns: There is no question that our lead generation techniques have changed over the years.  For example, we have found that some bulk direct mail practices we used to use were not as effective as they once were, whereas others that are more customized to the particular prospect are more effective.  Also, because more people are reading their emails on their smart phones, prospecting emails longer than 200 words do not yield the same responses they used to.  We have also seen that heavy use of graphics in newsletter emails reduced response rates for the same reason.

Having said that, some of the old tried and true techniques of yesterday, if properly executed, still work as well today as they ever have.  This includes networking, telemarketing and cold calling.  Believe it or not, fax broadcasting is still a prospecting method that works extremely well for us.

As I said, they key is the lead generation technique must be properly executed, and should be tracked to ensure it yields a proper return for the dollars and time spent.  We track this right to the actual sales dollars produced, not just the number of leads generated as we feel this is a better measure of effectiveness.  If a prospecting method can be inexpensively automated therefore not requiring a lot of human intervention to implement, often the ROI can be very high.

Overall, we have found that a diversified prospecting approach works best; one that includes the best of the old, coupled with the best of the new.

SocialAgenda Media: What shifts in buying behaviors do you notice for your vertical? How do they redefine the buyer’s journey and your demand generation and sales processes?

Giles House: The biggest shift is that prospects tend to remain anonymous for a longer period of time than they used to even only a couple of years ago. People talk a lot about the hidden sales cycle where 60 to 70% of the sales process is taking place without the help of a sales person. Sales is getting into the game a lot later and then playing catch up. I think that’s maybe the biggest trend.

Another trend is that buyers are on social and not just the B2C ones either. Social has started to be “de-fluffed” and is now being seen as a valuable tool. There was all this hype about social but people are now starting to really understand it. It’s a good awareness tool and a way to raise discussions and attract new people into the top of the funnel, but it’s also a good lead-gen tool. We drive people to our website and to our webinars and we trace exactly where they’ve come from. The growth of leads and opportunities from the social channels that we’ve been tracking over the last 18 months is palpable. We’ve seen a really great traction.

John Wallin: Everything is under more scrutiny. Margins are shrinking; customers want compressed timelines to insure a quicker path to ROI. The two key words we focus on in the key account sales process are, “Managing expectations.” Sales calls are now a critical measurement of what we have done at the front-end. The days of horizontal sales calls are over, they have been for some time. Everything is measured on how it contributes to our targets and value proposition to our investors.

Chris Sullens: Prospects today want to be able to gather information and get many of their questions answered online before connecting with a salesperson. Our focus has shifted in recent years to making it easier for them to get the information they need through our website(s) and blog(s). Group demos and webinars also work well since prospects can join if they have time and don’t feel the pressure associated with connecting directly with a salesperson.

Dave Scholten: The recent shifts include where our customers can get their information, many more avenues to get information.

Jennifer Johnson: We sell to development organizations—yet developers are naturally skeptical of marketing and want to try the technology in a frictionless manner.  So we are looking at new ways we can create a more frictionless experience to shift more of the buyer’s journey through digital mediums (e.g. targeted, frequent content delivered via inbound channels) and self-service product trials.  Put the product in the developer’s hands and get them hooked.  Then once they have qualified themselves and are ready to engage, hand it over to sales.

Susan A. Enns: The biggest shift we see is that every prospect is more educated these days.  They have much more information at their fingertips and are not hesitant to use any and all of it in their buying decisions.  What this means is that our sales process must be more diligent in our fact finding to ensure that what prospect thinks he needs based on his initial research actually matches what he really needs based on the sales representatives product knowledge and expertise.  Also, as more and more communication is conducted by smart phones now, the information provided must be much shorter and much more to the point than it could be just a few years ago.  When properly done, the prospect gets what he need to make his buying decision quicker and is much happier with his purchase in the long run.

SocialAgenda Media: What processes and technologies do you use for optimizing the buyers’ journey and pipeline management, and how did you arrive to these choices?

Dave Scholten: Collect data, listen, and think prior to offering ideas.

Jennifer Johnson: Digital channels—social media, web, and trials—are a rising part of our demand generation program mix.  But the key here is providing relevant, compelling content on a frequent basis.  Developers don’t want ‘marketing fluff’.  They want technical content that clearly shows them how the technology will help them be more productive, solve a problem, etc.  Then they want to hear from other developers who they trust—if another developer says ‘Try this out. It’s pretty cool technology that helped me do x/y/z’, they are going to try it out.  Then you need a frictionless way to get them to experience the technology, and a clear path to continue to engage.  When they get to a certain stage, it gets handed over to sales.  However, that’s not to say that good old-fashioned outbound prospecting and appointment setting isn’t still effective.  Especially if you are entering a new market where you have low brand awareness, it takes a long time to bring people to you inbound.  Sometimes you need to go find them and educate them on your offering and value proposition.  We have a lead qualification team that does both inbound lead follow-up and outbound prospecting against target account lists—both sources are equal contributors to pipeline.

Giles House: Stage one is getting them in the funnel. You have to keep your house list of names fresh. We’re always doing what it takes to get more names in there. Some of it is technology. We use our own marketing automation intelligence technology with our website visitor intelligence to help dramatically but it’s also about mixing up tactics. For our industry, selling to sales and marketing professionals, there are lots of organizations and groups we’ll partner up with and do joint webinars and events. They have a similar audience to ours and offer a new place for us to converse with new potential prospects. Automation can then take over and keep the conversation going. The buyers get the information they need without having to engage in tons of phone and email interactions. So the automation is important and then tracking it all the way through to the closed deal is really important as well. This is the tricky part.

We get a view of what is engaging our customers and our prospects from our automation technology. But then when the sales guys are interacting it’s really important from a marketing perspective that we see what they’re sending out and how they’re communicating to that customer. From a content perspective, from a budgeting perspective from a conversation perspective we’ve got to track and see what things are really turning these people on and which things are just a waste of money.

The raw data you capture by using these technologies is very insightful. We can see everything that’s happened in any deal; what campaigns we sent, which ones they interacted with, when did they become a lead, when did the sales person take it over, and then, with the content management piece that a lot of companies are lacking, (and I really don’t understand why) we can see what interactions the sales person had with their buyer- the content and conversations. I believe knowing all that is fundamental to my team, and any marketing team, in creating that content and helping the sales to navigate their buyer’s journey.

Chris Sullens: To better understand our customers’ buying process, we conduct Win/Loss calls after prospects have disengaged from the sales process. We ask them questions like what prompted them to start looking for software, who was involved in the process and what factors influenced their final decisions. We are constantly refining our sales tools, collateral and process based on the information we gather from these calls.

Susan A. Enns: We use a variety of processes and technologies for our pipeline management.  This includes an off the shelf CRM system that we have customized for our own needs, an email marketing service for all our outgoing communications, and several internally designed website tracking systems so we can monitor our visitors’ navigation and content preferences.  We also use Google Analytics to see which of our SEO and Social Media linking initiatives (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and YouTube) drive the most traffic to our website.  Every system we use is tracked for effectiveness so that we can do more of what works and less of what doesn’t.

SocialAgenda Media: What most common mistakes do you observe marketers making while building a sales pipeline and moving leads through sales stages?

Sam Adler: I think the biggest mistake people make is blasting the prospect with unrelated content causing them to unsubscribe. What smart marketers do is try to figure out who the person is and what their interests are by watching where they’re going on your website or what their answers are to the questions you’re asking on forms and then giving them customized content that speaks to them. Those are the conversations that work as opposed to the kind of forced automation that is not customized.

Chris Sullens: One common mistake we see is focusing on quantity over quality. Marketers can get caught up in numbers like website visits and clicks and lose sight of the important things like conversion rate and lead quality. Another mistake is focusing on making sales instead of building relationships. We want our customers to think of us as a partner and a resource to help them solve problems. In B2B sales it’s also important to understand what the customer’s customer wants. Marketers often fail to communicate how their product will help the prospect satisfy their customer’s needs. Another common mistake is talking “at” prospects, focusing on products and using too much jargon instead of having a give-and-take conversation and focusing on the problems you can solve for your prospects.

Susan A. Enns: I think the most common mistakes are:

1.  Not using a properly designed CRM system that files each record by the date of the next sales contact date.   Many sales organizations are very proud that they have a database of 20,000 prospects.  When you ask them which of those are most likely to buy today, they have no idea.  In reality, when you don’t file your contacts by when they are most likely to buy, all you have done is create a glorified phone book.

2.  Not using a systematic and repeatable process to stay in touch and build a relationship with prospects so that you and your company stays “top of mind” so when people are ready to buy, they call you first.

3.  Not following through on prospect requests and promises made throughout the process. Many sales have been lost because email inquiries to the selling organization get lost in spam filters, service inquires to a website that promises 24/7 support are not answered, or marketing leads are not followed up on in a timely fashion by the sales representatives.  It still amazes me today on how many new customers we have acquired because we were the only company who called back.

John Wallin: The most common mistakes are:

1. Over promise, under deliver.

2. In-effective communication.

3. Lack of collaboration and cooperation.

Dave Scholten: The problem is talking about and offering information that’s important to us rather than talking about what is important to our customers.

Jennifer Johnson: Make sure lead qualification and sales follow-up is part of the campaign—not something that happens once the leads are generated and ‘thrown over the wall’.  There needs to be closed-loop feedback and coordination between marketing and sales.

Lead scoring will be a continual work in progress, but it is valuable. Not every lead is ready to go to sales at the same time.  Focus sales on the leads that are ready for them.  Let marketing nurture the ones that aren’t ready.

Data. Data. Data.  It’s not just about collecting metrics, but making it actionable for decision-making. Understand what question you are trying to answer and what decision you are making for every metric you collect. If you don’t know why you need it, it’s just noise.

Giles House: People always love to talk about themselves. It’s human nature. But people aren’t interested in what you do; they’re only interested in what you’re going to do for them. During our conversations we always try to lead with the value behind the process or activity we’re automating for the customer. It’s a classic mistake to talk about oneself rather than talking about the challenges and problems you’re solving and become a lighthouse of reason in a sea of noise.

The other problem is not monitoring what you’re doing. Every few months we’ll do an exercise to review our personas. We will do a win-loss analysis and review deals that closed. If it takes an interview with sales or the customer, we’ll get on the phone or do a deep dive to verify our assumptions about the challenges they were looking solve and how they solved them. Even things like how did they find us, where did they hear about us, what was it that attracted them to us, what was it that we could do that nobody else could do, are all things we’ll ask.

Report it, track it, measure it and make sure what you’re talking about is interesting.

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