3 posts categorized "October 2015"

October 21, 2015

The End of Empowerment & The Return of Prescription

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Yesterday I attended the first day of CEB's annual Sales & Marketing Summit.  It's a must-attend for all B2B sales and marketing leaders, offering the most current view into the buyer's world and the best practices that come from following hard data.  The opening keynote by CEB's Brent Adamson blew my mind as he revealed a plot twist in the B2B buyer's journey.  

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The customer's age of empowerment was short lived.  The tipping point has been passed, where today, the customer wants less information and fewer choices.  Like they were in 1990 ... simple prescriptions by suppliers will win the day.  To quote Yogi Berra: "It's like Deja Vu all over again!" 

Making matters worse, the rise in decision-makers (The 5.4 Problem) and the diversity of perspectives and agendas make the buying process "landmindish" -- cause Brent to wonder how companies buy anything or for that matter, get anything done!  Between the landmines and the overwhelming amount of info and options, he declared that the seller's #1 competition is now ... The Status Quo.  

Back to empowerment: Brent asks, "When you visit the grocery store today and there are 50 kinds of mustard on the shelf, do you feel empowered?"  This is a good point as we marvel as shopping sites like Amazon, Expedia for travel, TrueCar for auto purchase, etc.  While they put is in charge at some point, being in charge loses its luster.  The CEB data confirms that the modern B2B buyer is as overwhelmed as today's consumer...but the implications are far worse for suppliers.  

When the buying experience is overwhelmingly complex, the buyer usually regrets their decision later.  Think about the last car you bought: If you were swimming in information, with endless cars to choose from and myriad options to pile on ... do you still feel like you made the right decision today?  According to CEB research, the B2B buyer is more likely to regret their decision when the purchase journey was complex.  

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At this point, Brent raises the stakes for suppliers: "It's no longer about whether you win or lose, but now, it's about how the buyer feels about it later."  To support this (very Lovecat way) of thinking, he offered this stunning chart, which proves that regrettable purchases are BAD for sellers.  

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Pay particular decision to the bars on the right: When the buyer regrets their purchase decision they actively advocate against the supplier!  This isn't a Net Promoter Score dip, Brent points out, they are telling other people inside their company or out in the market not to buy from you! 

The conclusion of Brent's keynote outlines a new selling approach: Prescription to drive ease-in-buying.  "Put all your sales and marketing strategy through the Easeometer," he advises.  In other words, to capture the essence of Bill Jensen's classic book Simplicity: Reduce the stuff, the steps and make the process simple.  Brent defines prescription as "a credible and influential set of do this/don't do that recommendations, provided to customers across the purchase process, deliberately intended to ease the customer's movement toward purchase." This includes how the buyer should prioritize the problem, who they should involve in the purchase process and how they should arrive at supplier decisions.  CEB research indicates that the Prescriptive Process will dramatically outperform the Responsive Process in terms of sales cycle & overall satisfaction.  

He closed the keynote with a salient example of the Rise of Prescription: The comeback of travel agencies.  Over the last few years, travel consultants have picked up a lot of harried consumers or business travelers who were overwhelmed with information and options about their upcoming trip. In a world of always-on smartphone powered buyers ... these travelers just wanted to "call someone and have them figure out the best way to book the trip."  As I've learned in my research for my next book (Dealstorming), B2C trends like this are the Canary In the Coal Mine for B2B sellers.  Which means that you might want to have a meeting today between sales and marketing and figure out how you can make the leap from responsive to prescriptive approaches.  

For more on the psychological impacts of information overload, check out the 2004 research I conducted with Heartmath Institute, predicting the rise of New Economy Depression Syndrome


October 15, 2015

Making the Leap From Disrupted to Adaptive

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Regardless of what business you are in, likely, you will face business model disruption in the coming years. According to authors Robert Tercek, Jay Samit or Bill Jensen, digital technology and the ongoing expansion of the World Wide Web are driving new value propositions and annihilating legacy companies.  

Over the last 20 years, I've witnessed disruption in multiple industries, which ushered in new leaders or defined incumbents as agile and adaptive.  What's interesting is that adaptation didn't rely on physical intelligence or capital stockpiles.  It was pure psychology.  Take Blockbuster and Kodak.  Both of them could have pivoted earlier into new business models such as subscription (Netflix) or digital photography (Kodak).  They had the resources, the customer base and the brand.  But they didn't.  Why?  

These leaders, along with the rest of those who's companies ended up in the scrap heap of the Disrupted, made a bad choice when faced with the first credible signs of pain.  They rejected the innovation, labeling it as a passing fad that would fade soon enough. As time went by, and the bleeding continued, they entered the resistance phase, where they stockpiled negative emotions towards the disruptors, their customers and in some cases the government for standing by and not rushing in to protect them.  Take the current case of Uber.  Taxi cab companies are clearly stuck in the rut of resistance right now, tick-tock-tick-tock. 

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Sure, it's a roller coaster ride...but that's the nature of being in any industry where Moore's Law continues to hold true.  Things will change quickly.  But some companies have figured out how to make the leap from being disrupted to becoming adaptive.  Walmart (responding to eCommerce), Gillette (responding to disposable razors) and CareerBuilder (responding to social hiring by adding SaaS services) are three examples of leadership success in psychology.   

In each case there was a fundamental decision by senior leadership that made the organization respond with agility:  They replaced fear with curiosity.  It's a decision, really.  As Norman Vincent Peale once wrote, "If you can worry, you can dream!"  His point is that our mental models can either lead us OR we can lead them.  When you face hard data suggesting that your customers are responding to a new offer in the market, you either choose to reject-then-resist it to defend the Status Quo OR you double check the data, then move across the dip into the exploration phase.  You do research that helps you understand, "What if we tried..."  Like Proctor & Gamble, you stage hackathons, empowering your youngest talent to try way-outside-the-box ideas and then test them for scalability. 

This is your challenge if you are facing disruption.  So far, I've focused on technology as the change-maker, but in industries such as insurance or telco, it's generational shift that brings the pain.  In health care or financial services, it's regulatory developments.  Whatever.  It's all the same in that you as a leader must make the decision to leap from shock to exploration faster than your competitors and certainly fast enough to retain your core customer base.  The article Surviving Disruption in Harvard Business Review puts a process around the exploration and response phase.  

Recently, I subscribed to Adobe's Creative Cloud services. I pay a monthly fee to have a suite of creative tools available to me, constantly updated to keep up with the pace of change.  I never thought I'd subscribe to software, but in fact, it's the new way of harnessing technology innovations without getting caught in legacy-land.  Many people wrote Adobe off for dead when Steve Jobs famously banished Flash to the software scrap heap.  But Adobe's leadership responded by exploring how their best customers (creatives) would use their tools in the future ... and they made the leap.  And now I'll spend $500.00 a year with them instead of using their technology for free.

(The above image was created by Coverdale, an organization founded by agility-leadership expert Ralph Coverdale.)


October 02, 2015

How Sales Kickoff Can Supercharge Your Ability to Close Complex Deals Next Year (Networking Tips)

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In 2000, I attended my first sales kickoff at Yahoo!.  Our company (broadcast.com) had been purchased by them, and I had just moved to California to lead a sales-enablement/swat team.  Little did I know at the time, but this kickoff event would change my life. 

Usually, you'd think that the kickoff's purpose was to introduce new products, arm us with new tools and motivate us to hit the phones or bricks when we got home. But in this case, a single piece of advice changed everything. "Make some friends in unusual places," our Chief Sales & Marketing Officer Anil Singh told me. "Make our international managing directors feel at home. Huddle with the content development guests we've invited -- get outside of your circle." He explained that these relationships I'd force at sales conference would later be important as I worked with global brands on big deals where they needed all of Yahoo!'s capabilities brought to the table. 

From the moment I stepped on the kickoff hotel's property, I shook hands and made friends.  My new contacts included managing directors from Yahoo Japan, Italy, Korea, Brazil, Canada and United Kingdom.  They were easy to engage with, and told me about promotions and products they'd built for their clients.  Many of them were news to me! I sought out our non-sales guests, especially those we frequently relied on for post-contract delivery. I told them I wanted to understand more about how their groups worked, so I could pursue revenue but not create problems for them.  At first, they filled my ear with concerns about various programs we were selling, but by the end of conference, they were suggesting new ways we could help our advertisers without compromising the user experience. 

Over the next few years, these relationships were rocket fuel for our deals with global brands such as Sony, HSBC and Toyota.  Because I'd developed relationships with international and non-sales leads at kickoff, I knew more about how they could drive a global relationship. Our post-conference conversations built up enough trust so that we could bring them into the sales process early, so they could help us tailor the global deal to each regions unique way of doing business.  When I was promoted to Chief Solutions Officer, I looked back at the 2000 sales conference as my launch point.

If you are in business-to-business sales, you'll likely attend a kickoff early next year or Spring. Don't miss out on the opportunity to network and create a solutions web for future clients.  The more you know about your company's total capabilities and the unique facets of each market it serves, the better you'll do at creating winning recipes for your customers.  Here are some rules of the road for sales kickoff networking: 

1.  Set A Goal - I decided that I would connect with at least 10 new people during the 3 day kickoff.  Having that goal kept me focused on adding at least three people to my network each day.  Create your goal based on the unique strategy of your sales organization. If you are focused on global selling, focus on connecting with international attendees.  If improving delivery is the goal, focus on connecting with non-sales leads. If sales collaboration is the priority, meet account execs and managers in other markets or product categories.

2. Go Outside Of Your Work Group - You see these colleagues every day, so don't be lazy and hang with them for convenience at kickoff.  When you eat, find a new group to join.  During breaks, look for friendly but unfamiliar faces.  Think wide.  

3. Establish Common Ground - During your encounters, seek out connection points. The best ones are common customers, common sales challenges (product/industry) or common sales opportunities.  Don't be afraid to connect at the personal interest level either.  I've connected over my love of World Cup or electronic music to open up the discussion...usually leading to frank work related conversations. 

4. Contract - Strike up some agreement for post-kickoff follow up. It could be information sharing or a conference call based on the business common ground you've established. Don't let new contacts end with the conference. (Now that we all carry smart phones, it's easy to share contacts or simply take a picture of someone's badge or business card for follow up later.) 

5. Follow Up - Send a note after you get home, keep any promises you've made and schedule a future time to reconnect.  Putting a process around internal networking ensures that you keep the first burning and establish credibility.  If you've been told about a concern that needs support or attention, be the messenger and marshal resources ... especially if you work at headquarters and have access to internal influencers and power brokers. 

6. Expand From This Base Of New Contacts Over the Coming Year - Ask your new contacts, "Who else should I meet and spend time with?" You'd be surprised at how many introductions they will make, sometimes over email or conference calls.  Whatever goal you set for kickoff, add a zero to that number for the networking you'll do over the coming year.  The more you grow this circle, the better you'll be able to serve your customers. 

The sales kickoff is important beyond any education or product introductions that happen there.  They can be the social operating system of a sales driven organization, where loose ends are tied and a company truly comes together as a customer-focused team.  Don't waste the opportunity to expand your network ... because it drives your company's net worth!