High-performance sales personnel: They excel in the same ways they always have …

spUnquestionably, technology has had a major impact on the way salespeople in the B-to-B arena go about doing their daily jobs.

Technology platforms and tech-oriented work practices have leeched into every aspect of sales management — from planning and execution to data mining and reference … sales call and results tracking … and compensation.

fall 2015 survey of U.S. business executives conducted by Brainshark and Forbes Insights confirms the degree to which technology investments are occurring as companies make efforts to improve sales productivity.

Here’s what the survey, which included U.S.-based executives from over 200 companies with annual revenues exceeding $50 million, found in terms of the types of investments that are being made:

  • Sales enablement technologies: ~55% are investing in these tools
  • Analytics: ~54%
  • CRM systems: ~53%
  • Learning technologies: ~45%
  • Mobile sales support technologies: ~44%
  • Social platforms: ~32%

And yet … when those same business executives were asked to identity the #1 most important characteristic of their strongest sales team members, technology-related characteristics don’t show up all that much.

As it turns out, tech adoption is a relatively minor part of being a high-performing salesperson. Instead, this survey found that the most important key characteristic of high-performing salespeople is “the ability to sell value over price.”

Here is the relative importance of five characteristics evaluated in the research – and where tech adoption fits among them:

  • The ability to sell value over price: ~81% identify as a key characteristic of high-performing salespeople
  • Consistency of execution: ~74%
  • Time spent with clients: ~48%
  • Leveraging marketing and sales content assets: ~26%
  • Adoption of technology: ~22%

The takeaway is that even though technology tools are helpful, there’s no substitute for the time-honored selling behaviors that separate the star sales performers from all the others.

For more information on the study findings, follow this link.

Business Bust? Lead Nurturing Efforts Coming Up Short

e-mail lead nurturing not effectiveWhen it comes to e-mail lead nurturing in the business world, it turns out there’s a whole lot of mediocrity — or worse — going on.

In discussions with my company’s clients, it seems that most of them are dissatisfied with what they consider, at best, only “middling” engagement levels that they’re achieving on their e-nurturing campaigns.

On top of that, many of them suspect that they’re underperforming their counterparts in the market.

I don’t think that’s the case.  Since we work with a variety of clients and thus hear about the results from a group of firms, not just one or two, we can see that most everyone is in the same boat.

Even so, it’s anecdotal evidence rather than statistically quantifiable data.

But now we have the results from a new B-to-B survey conducted by Bizo and Oracle Eloqua … and what they’ve found is that many companies are struggling like most everyone else when it comes to developing comprehensive lead nurturing programs that perform well.

This survey of ~500 B-to-B marketing executives revealed that nearly 95% of all companies have some form of lead nurturing program in place.   But having such a program in place doesn’t mean it’s all that effective.

How challenged are these marketers?  Consider these key findings from the research:

  • Nearly 80% of respondents report that their e-mail open rates don’t exceed 20% on average.
  • ~45% report that only 1% to 4% of known contacts develop into marketing-qualified leads.
  • Only ~5% of buyers on business websites are willing to provide detailed information on a “gated” contact offer form.

The implications of these findings are varied:

  • E-mail databases that are built from website visits tend to have significant omissions (and errors) regarding contact information.
  •  Only a smallish fraction of e-mail subscribers are reading the e-mails they receive … and by definition, no anonymous prospects are, either.
  • Because e-mail marketing relies on having access to prospects’ e-mail addresses, the e-marketing approach provides no opportunity to engage with a potentially much larger audience of customers who may be in the market for a company’s products and services at any given point in time.

The chances are likely, too, that those prospects are visiting relevant websites.  We know this because Forrester Research reports that the typical B-to-B buyer’s “journey” is nearly complete by the time he or she contacts a vendor’s sales department.

With so much useful information so available online, websites is where research can occur without have to deal with pesky sales personnel until “the time is right.”

It’s also why, despite the well-known negative aspects and limitations of web display advertising, nearly half of the respondents in the Bizo/Oracle Eloqua survey feel that online display advertising plays a role in attracting anonymous prospects and nurturing those leads through the sales funnel.

But marketers are also showing interest in multi-channel nurturing, and are receptive to adopting techniques that support the ability to nurture known and anonymous prospects without using e-mail.  Those tactics will probably the next new wave in lead nurturing practices going forward … provided people know where they can access the tools to make it happen.

More details on the Bizo/Oracle report can be found via this link.

Does Gartner’s “Hype Cycle” Chart Apply to Social Media?

Hype Cycle Chart (Gartner, Inc.)That’s what author and digital marketing specialist Jeff Molander seems to think. In fact, it’s the topic of an article he wrote recently in Target Marketing magazine titled “What Game Changer? Moving past the Social Media Revolution that Never Was.”

As can be seen in the diagram at right, the Gartner “Hype Cycle” model begins with a technology trigger that generates a groundswell of interest and expectations, which is then followed by a crash when the early expectations fail to pan out.

Things do move forward again – much more slowly – as the sober reflection on early disappointments helps temper expectations to more realistic levels, characterized by Gartner as a “plateau of productivity.”

It is Mr. Molander’s contention that the characterization of social media as a “game-changing” phenomenon has been so overstated and sensationalized, most companies today are probably working against their own best interests in how they’re dealing with it.  Which is to say, not using it properly as a selling tool.

Here’s how Mr. Molander puts it: “The difference between fooling around with social media and selling with it relies on the use of time-tested direct response practices – not new tools and techniques.”

Those basic practices include:

  • Solving customers’ problems
  • Provoke customer responses that connect to the sales funnel
  • Discovering customers’ needs as they evolve … then using this knowledge to improve the response rate

The companies that are successful in selling goods and services via social media are promoting interactions in ways that answer questions and solve problems.

Of course, there is absolutely nothing new or novel about this: “Solving customer challenges” has always been an effective way to cultivate AIDA (awareness, interest, desire and action).

It also continues to be the best way to move customers toward making a purchase.

What social media can do is make the process easier to accomplish, due to social’s interactive nature. Approached in the proper way – and done with regularity – facilitating digital Q&A interactions will help leverage and drive sales.

I think Mr. Molander’s point of view is correct. Using social media as a platform for sales isn’t about some kind of “secret formula” for content creation or figuring out the ideal time to publish a Twitter tweet or blog post. It’s about using the “new” platforms to facilitate “old” sales concepts.

You know – the ones that work.

Where are B-to-B buyers these days? Online, of course.

Everyone knows that online consumer sales have exploded over the past five years. But what about B-to-B customers? Where are they going when it comes to buying the products they need?

Recent market research reveals that they’re going online, too … and they’re migrating there in a hurry.

In a survey sponsored by MarketingSherpa and ZoomInfo and conducted by Enquiro, a search engine marketing and research firm, a cross-section of B-to-B respondents was asked how they prefer purchasing the items they order all the time for their businesses.

The results were a blowout: nearly two-thirds (63%) prefer to order online. The remaining respondents are divided between preferring to order over the phone and ordering in-person from a sales representative.

Faced with such an overwhelming preference for online buying, the logical follow-up question is whether B-to-B firms are focusing their tactics and allocating resources to online sales in the same proportional effort. In many cases, it’s not even close.

As often as not, B-to-B firms have treated online not as the core of their sales engine, but more like an incremental revenue channel. Frequently, e-business is treated as a separate silo. This makes it less likely for online to interfere (or otherwise cause “issues”) with traditional sales channels. But it also makes it a lot harder for online to be treated with the critical importance that it clearly deserves in today’s sales environment.

And even if B-to-B firms don’t sell directly to end-users but rely on reps, distributors or dealers instead, they need to make sure that their marketing partners are making the necessary investments in online sales functions to support those end-users.

Consider how quickly B-to-B customers have moved online — not only to research products but also to purchase them. By moving too cautiously, B-to-B firms risk being outflanked by Internet “pure plays” — some of which seemingly spring out of nowhere to achieve prominence in only a few short months or years.

To quote a phrase from a nursery rhyme, “Jack be nimble, Jack be quick …” Hopefully, you have a Jack (or Jill) in your marketing department already. Now, give them the tools and the resources to succeed.