Cultivating Your B2B Sales Cred

ZoomInfo:What are some of the new mechanisms that can help b2b sales and marketing executives work more effectively on direct-marketing campaigns?

Snider: The three biggest mechanisms that come to mind are databases, CRM systems to manage the data and one-to-one campaigns that can be executed from the usage of the database.  As for the databases, you can integrate an internal customer list with a CRM system to send out timely touch points.  The messages can be targeted based on past purchases, and other market intelligence, thus giving it a one-to-one correspondence.  Several firms provide a platform for automating this process, otherwise known as “trigger-based” communications.  And, the communication can be sent across a multitude of media (mail, fax, e-mail, mobile).  As for external lists, there are a several credible list owners who offer highly segmented lists for unlimited yearly usage.  It’s cost effective and it allows the sales force to integrate it into their desktop CRM platform.

ZoomInfo: What can sales and marketing executives do to improve overall sales performance?

Snider: Marketing messages need to be aligned with the sales pitches that are made in the field.  Since the sales reps are in direct contact with the customer/prospect, they know exactly what the prospect is looking for. Therefore, they should be brought into the fold when crafting the “sales” message.  It would also be beneficial if some marketing folks went out into the trenches occasionally and talked directly to the customers/prospects.  So, with fine-tuned marketing messages aimed right at the prospects’ real needs, sales performance will improve.

ZoomInfo: How can sales execs play a more prominent role in e-marketing and Web-site development?

Snider: They can provide testimonials, customer references, videos, which there are lots of excellent uses for, and applications on how a product works. The topics and subjects [associated with products and services] are important for sales to tell marketing so marketing knows what kind of content to put into the tools. If a car has the wrong gas, it won’t run as well as it should.   The Web site is a great tool to showcase how the company’s products/services have helped their customers, and this information can be easily obtained from the sales force.

ZoomInfo: What do you think are the benefits of using social media as a sales tool?

Snider: You can slice and dice different components of social media. From a pure sales perspective, you’ll find a lot of smart salespeople getting involved in discussion groups and getting new leads from doing that.  I don’t see too many salespeople writing blogs, but if you do start a blog you should be talking in a space that’s pertinent to your profession, building your credibility [as a sales rep] and becoming an authority. The biggest benefit of being active in the social media world is that you can become the “go-to-person” in your field.  However, you must put in the time and your content/interactions must be well received.

Contact ZoomInfo today to learn how we can help your B2B sales and marketing programs.

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It’s just a matter of trust

For the first time, trust and transparency are as important to corporate reputation as the quality of products and services, according to the 2010 Edelman Trust Barometer.  In the U.S. and most of Western Europe, these two attributes rank higher than product quality and far outrank financial returns, which sit at or near the bottom of 10 criteria in all regions.

This is in stark contrast to 2006, when financial performance was in third place in a list of 10 attributes shaping trust in the U.S. “We’re seeing a vastly set of different factors driving reputation than we did 10 years ago,” said Richard Edelman, president-CEO of Edelman, one of the largest independent public relations agencies in the country, in a news release. “Trust is now an essential line of business to be developed and delivered.”

The telephone survey, which was released late last month, took the pulse of 4,875 people in two age groups (25-34 and 35-64). Everyone involved in the interviews met the following criterion: household income in the top quartile for their age in their country and read and watch business/news media at least several times a week.

Overall,  global trust in U.S. business grew from 18 points to 54 points, the survey said. But the rise is tenuous, with nearly 70% of respondents saying that companies will revert to “business as usual” once the economy recovers. “There is a concern that short-term actions have been taken only as a result of the [economic] crisis and that government will need to remain a watchdog,” Edelman said.  “Companies will have to prove the skeptics wrong and show they can achieve both profit and purpose.”

Academics and analysts are the most credible voices for information about a company, the survey said. However, the credibility of CEOs is rising in many markets, jumping to 26% in the U.S. Despite the climb in credibility, CEOs still rank in the bottom two of the most trusted spokespeople in the U.S.

Reports from industry analysts and articles in business magazines remain the most credible sources of information about a company, at 42% and 47%, respectively. However, the credibility of mainstream media, including television, newspapers and radio, is waning. In the U.S., for example, the credibility of television news dropped from 43 points in 2008, to 20 points in 2010.

The deteriorating reputation of mainstream media comes amid the rapid proliferation of social-media channels online. Listening, which is a key component of trust, is turning into a cost of doing business, as the hard sell goes the way of the Edsel. With that in mind, click here to read “11 Social Media Mistakes Your Company Must Avoid” (hat tip to Business Insider).

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Is Your Company Ready for Social Media

Q&A | Jeanne C. Meister

In a follow-up to Wednesday’s blog post plugging the must-see documentary “Digital Nation” on PBS,  we spoke to  Jeanne C. Meister, founding partner at Future Workplace (www.futureworkplace.com) and co-author of the upcoming book, “The 2020 Workplace How Innovative Companies Attract, Develop & Keep Tomorrow’s Employees Today” (Harper Collins, May 2010).

Meister, whose Web site,  New Learning Playbook, examines innovations in building social networks, regularly consults with companies on developing their social-media strategy. “You need to encourage people to see how their passions and interests are being redefined” by social media, said Meister, who has written for such publications as Chronicle of Higher Education, CLO Magazine and the Financial Times. She added that a growing number of chieftains are embracing social media. According to a study from PR firm Burson-Marsteller, 54% of the Fortune 100 companies have a Twitter presence while 32% have a blog and 29% have an active Facebook Page. “As more CEOs see the power of social media to build brands, increase innovation and communication, then we’ll start making progress” for the business case of social media, Meister said. “But it’s not going to fizzle out.”

ZoomInfo: What are some of the initial steps sales managers can take in developing a social-media strategy?
Meister: The first step is a change in mindset. It’s not going away and it’s the way people are communicating and connecting. For example, a person’s resume is no longer just an eight-and-a-half inch piece of paper but that person’s ability to engage on blogs, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. Social media has become part of working life and that entails all sorts of guidelines for employees. The guidelines shouldn’t necessarily be what a person can or can’t say [on social media channels] but what the company considers fair play and what [information] is off limits. The initial strategy requires input from cross-functional teams, including HR, Legal, Internal Communications and IT. The sales departments must reach out to this cross-functional network and participate in brainstorming to create a strategy for using social media both inside and outside the enterprise.
ZoomInfo: What are the benefits of using social media to drive sales and cultivate prospects?
Meister: It’s a way of being more open and having a conversation with the client rather than pushing them to agree to a sale. It’s moving from push to pull in the sales interaction and in marketing from campaigning to conversation. And as more millennials (generally considered people born between the mid 1980s and early 2000s) enter client positions they’re going to want to communicate and partner with vendors the same way they communicate with everyone else – through social media.
ZoomInfo: What about the cost of using social media?
Meister: There’s a lot you can do in Open Source for zero budget. The sales team should collaborate with marketing, IT and communications departments to work out a pilot for experimenting with social media. What many companies are doing is taking one department like Sales, HR or Learning & Development, and testing out how social media can drive greater business impact with one or two business challenges. Remember, this is not a technology fad but needs to be driven by how it can improve the business. You can explore what’s possible that your company has already invested in (regarding social media) and explore how to leverage this for greater collaboration. For example, many companies already have Microsoft Sharepoint and this has a tremendous capability to share content and videos as well as participate on wiki’s. Some  companies that are using Sharepoint as their social media platform include BT (British Telecommunications) and CA (Computer Associates).
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A comment (for sales reps) about Twitter’s benefits

We can understand that sales reps may be skeptical about the value of Twitter, the microblog that allows users to broadcast what they are doing via “tweets,” or messages of up to 140 characters.

Twitter, which launched in March 2006, still hasn’t made a red cent (several revenue models are now being considered, e.g. subscription services) but remains the poster child for social media.  A good deal of the media coverage of Twitter has focused on how it is influencing social dynamics as well as the narcissistic component (nobody needs to know that Joe Blow had a cheeseburger at 1:30 in the morning and it tasted delicious).

However, proponents have also made a case that Twitter is a legitimate business tool and one that companies ignore at their own peril. That argument gets a significant boost in this Wall Street Journal item. A triumvirate of academics and business analysts write that by paying attention to comments on Twitter, companies can predict where future sales are heading and help executives make more accurate decisions about whether to increase inventories. The article includes a video featuring one of the authors on how companies should respond to negative Twitter feedback and links for further reading on the (increasing) social side of business.

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Get the Most Out of Your Remote Sales Training

Guest Blog | John Barrows

Remote sales training definitely has its challenges. But there are also some specific benefits that, when presented effectively, outweigh the challenges.

The biggest challenge of remote sales training is based on the different ways people communicate.  If the remote training is phone-based – using WebEx, for example, to deliver Powerpoint slides with limited interaction – you’re most likely going to lose people because they will consider it a passive exercise.

However, an increasing number of people who have grown up in a digital age are starting to enter the workforce, making remote sales training that is based on engagement (video, audio, social channels) more palatable to both business owners and sales managers.

The overriding goal with any sales training should be to change certain bad habits and provide some new tools that can easily be applied to building sales leads and your customer base.  Remote training also needs to be delivered in a way that fits into a sales rep’s busy life and has an immediate impact on his results (rather than something that’s forgotten after several months, if not weeks).

There are several ways to ensure that remote sales training is cost-effective and provides benefits over the long term: First, similar to on-site training, make sure the trainer is, or at least recently was, a sales rep with real-world experience.   Second, make sure the program has multiple short sessions (ideally, 90 minutes each) instead of a one-time sessions. Third, remote training should have a video component so the reps can see the instructor (addressing ways in which people communicate non-verbally, e.g. body language). However, make sure the video doesn’t stay on-screen the entire time;  use it to highlight a point or show something a Powerpoint can’t demonstrate.

Another component to successful remote sales training: management involvement.  Such training goes a lot further if the sales team can all be in one room along with the manager, who can encourage participation and demand attention.  If not, then management has to let the team know they will be held responsible for the assignments and whatever else is involved in the training.

Perhaps most important, there should be follow-up sessions scheduled after the initial training session to determine what challenges or success stories can be related back to the training and what areas of training need to be fine-tuned.

Contact ZoomInfo today to learn more about increasing sales productivity.

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John Barrows is managing partner of  sales training and consulting firm Kensei Partners.  He can be reached at jbarrows@kenseipartners.com.

 

Increase Sales Productivity and Motivate Your Sales Force

Guest Blog | Dave Kurlan

Do your salespeople have the desire and commitment to do whatever it takes – every day – to reach their goals?  Here are several tips for how sales managers can motivate, inspire, cajole and incent their sales teams to make their numbers and then some.

Goals – Raise expectations in order to celebrate superior performance.  Don’t forget two crucial items: First, you need a forecast and plan derived from goals (not the other way around) and second, goals are derived from the individual’s income requirements.

Incentives – If an individual has the goals but the company’s compensation isn’t designed to reward superior achievement, the incentive to perform can’t be maintained.  If the company has a rock-solid compensation plan but the goals are lame, the personal incentive to perform will be missing.

Managing the pipeline – The key to managing the pipeline effectively is working with your critical ratios.  Use the Monthly goal, closing percentage, average sale and length of the sell-cycle  You need to determine for your sales team how many new opportunities must enter the sales pipeline each month; how much the opportunities need to be worth and strict deadlines to reach the goal(s).

Accountability – You must hold each salesperson accountable to something measurable every day, such as the number of conversations required to schedule the number of sales calls required to identify said opportunities. Perhaps more important, you must have consequences (like no gas reimbursement) for failing to meet those requirements and consistently follow through whenever necessary. Develop the nerve for full accountability and you’re nearly there.

Skills – The more the better, but let’s focus on the most important skill sets for overachieving.  Your salespeople must be able to hunt for new opportunities, identify the most qualified and be able to close them.  Anything else they can do is bonus.

Urgency – Your salespeople must have enough urgency to get their opportunities closed, when they become closable, even when their prospects are using stall tactics. Prospects may have had compelling reasons to buy in the first place, but people have short memories.  The time away from dwelling on the problems desensitizes prospects to the problems they had intended to solve.  Successful salespeople won’t let that happen because they bring a sense of urgency to things while unsuccessful salespeople are afraid that if they make repeated follow-up attempts their prospects will feel pestered.

Weaknesses – Unfortunately, there are weaknesses among individual sales reps that will neutralize all of the previous eight factors.  A few red flags: non-supportive buy cycle; a need for approval; a tendency to become emotionally involved and money issues.

Coaching and sales training – Your coaching must support any training initiative and help salespeople overcome their weaknesses, develop skills and master the selling process.  While most training will be conducted by sales development experts from outside your firm, the coaching absolutely takes place from within.  Pre-call strategizing and post-call debriefing, with every salesperson, are daily requirements.

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Dave Kurlan, CEO of  Objective Management Group, is author of “Baseline Selling: How to Become a Sales Superstar by Using What You Already Know About the Game of Baseball. ” Dave blogs about sales management at Understanding the Sales Force. He can be reached at dkurlan@objectivemanagement.com.

Contact ZoomInfo today for more information about increasing sales productivity and motivating your sales team.

 

Adding ‘fun’ factor to sales networking events

Q&A | Adrian Miller

Adrian Miller has had enough Merlot. “Sometimes standing around [at an event] holding that stupid glass of wine gets very tiresome,” said Miller, founder, president-CEO of Adrian Miller Sales Training, which offers executive-level consulting and sales training.  At your garden variety networking event, “people may be engaged in a conversation and not know how to extricate themselves, or not want to extricate themselves because they’re scared to go onto to the next person,” Miller added.

When it comes to pressing the flesh these days, sales managers must take pains to separate their events from the pack.  For instance, Miller recently hosted an event for her clients at Bath Junkie, in lower Manhattan, where guests were able to concoct their own lotions, creams and bath cleansers. “It’s a chemistry lab for adults,” Miller said. “It’s much better to have a common activity and something that can be shared. By sharing activities, people can wind up having very substantial conversations.”  Miller, whose clients include Cotronics Corp. and Lonely Planet, offered some other tips on effective networking for sales execs.

ZoomInfo: What’s your strategy for online networking?

Miller: Primarily to build visibility, credibility and recognition not only for my company, but personal brand. The strategy is to deploy appropriate articles, links, event notices and other relevant information that would contribute to the reader drawing an impression of – and a feeling for – who I am and what I do. Used strategically, [online networking] should only be able to help, and certainly not hurt, what sales execs are trying to do. People need to make sure that they don’t allow things to appear [online] that would necessarily be contradictory to the image they are trying to grow.

ZoomInfo: When it comes to live networking events, what are some of the ways that sales executives can distinguish their companies?

Miller: The way companies can stand out from the outrageous clutter of networking events that are around 24/7 is to be very careful about who they invite and what’s the ultimate deliverable they want to provide. Is there an informational component, say, bringing in a speaker to address a topic relevant to that audience, coupled with time at the beginning [or end] for focused networking? Should there be facilitators working the room, helping to put peoples’ hands together? Should there be follow-up and follow-through? Make it different (see above) and make it worth somebody’s $50.

ZoomInfo:  What’s your take on social media as a networking tool?

Miller: It levels the playing field to a certain degree. It can start the relationship, but no one does business with someone who they know only through some Facebook conversation. No one selects a vendor because they saw a name on LinkedIn. It requires a lot more work, but [social media] enables sales execs to access untold number of people and companies that they didn’t have access to before. It gives sales execs the ability to expand those contacts and connections that, through nurturing, will lead to something more substantial.

ZoomInfo: What are some of the most chronic mistakes sales executives are making in networking, online or offline?

Miller: They spread themselves too thin and then do not stay on the grid of all the people they’re meeting. They shake a hand, they take a card, maybe they follow-up once, but they totally forget that business development is a process and a long-term engagement. It may be better to do less, but more [with contacts]. The other thing is [sales execs thinking it’s all about them. They’re a lot of people who will take your time and tell you who they are what they do and never will the conversation circle back to, ‘And by the way, what can I do for you?’ The biggest mistake is not having a really good touch-point management system in place so that sales execs can ultimately turn all those contacts they’re making into business, instead of a nice card that’s scanned into your computer.

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Adrian Miller has a lively online network at Adrian’s Network.  She can be reached at adrian@adrianmiller.com.

 

Is Data Quality Killing Your Lead Flow?

Guest Blog | Ben Bradley

 

A prospect recently asked us to review his sales and lead generation programs because lead flow had dropped significantly. This concerned him because he had just finished a significant new product launch with a well-known interactive marketing agency. We agreed to sniff around.

Every reptilian instinct in my body wanted to find a way to bad mouth the agency’s work. But the creative, positioning and execution was brilliant. We couldn’t find fault in the agency’s work.

We dug deeper and asked to look at the company’s new CRM – the foundation of the entire product launch and the basis for all of its prospecting efforts. It fueled the company’s direct mail, e-mail newsletters, catalog mailings and sales outreach.

We quickly spotted the problem. The turd in the proverbial punchbowl was data quality. The client had spared no expense building world class creative, but left the task of data hygiene to marketing interns who would rather mop the floor than scrub data.

In the postmortem, we learned the interns received various Excel files containing old data, questionable lists, incomplete lists and exports from a variety of personal contact management applications. Then, with bubble gum and bailing wire, the master list was normalized, checked for data-format requirements and imported without further quality checks into a  new CRM system.

In hindsight, the client was incredibly candid. No one wanted to “own” the data hygiene; it wasn’t sexy and it cost a lot of money to do right.

To prevent data-quality disasters, here are several tips for sales executives to get the biggest bang for their CRM dollar:

Data quality is not a one-time event – Cleaning is an ongoing set of activities. For example, after an e-mail blast, a single individual should be responsible for removing or updating un-deliverables. Salespeople also should be responsible for keeping data clean. They own the accounts and it is in their best interest to champion the data. Additional quality checks, such as automation of duplicate record checks, can also nip potential problems in the bud.

Duplicates cost you – A single company record should be tied to a set of addresses and contacts. Failure to tie together information about an account to a single company record dilutes the effectiveness of the data – especially in key account selling.

The human component – While automation of data clean-up is useful, humans are essential to the process. Computers miss things that are usually obvious to a human, such as a division’s relationship to a corporate entity.

Protect your data from good intentions – With CRM, it is far too easy for individuals without an understanding of data hygiene practices to import data from external sources. Import rules should be stringent and followed by everyone. After automated checks are complete, a manual review process should always be applied to external data before it is imported.

Strike a balance – It is easy to be compulsive about data quality, but it is not practical. Your data changes every day; making sure it is always accurate is financially prohibitive. That is why it is important to strive for “good enough.”

Good data is the foundation of effective CRM. In B2B sales, it is next to impossible to build strong marketing unless you know the names of the people most likely to buy from you. Maintaining a clean CRM punchbowl requires more than a summer intern.

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Ben Bradley is managing director of Macon Raine, a management consulting, marketing, and lead generation company. He can be reached at ben@maconraine.com

 

Increase Sales Productivity By Personalizing Online Communication

Sales execs, perhaps more so than other business professionals, have a talent for picking up on non-verbal communication when meeting face-to-face with clients or potential clients. The furrowed brow. The fidget. Darting eyes. Nervous laughter. They are various signals to sales executives that they may need to modulate and/or adjust their strategy to make the person sitting (or standing) across from them more comfortable with the situation. After all, non-verbal communication is at least 50% -70% of all communication, depending on whom you ask.

Still, even with non-verbal communication sales executives have the benefit of being in the physical presence of clients and, depending on the signal(s), have the opportunity to make alterations right then and there. Not so online, where sales executives are increasingly selling their products and services.

As Patricia Wallace, Ph. D. and author of “The Psychology of the Internet,” told The Wall Street Journal recently, on the Web “nobody sees you yawn.”  (It reminds us of a famous New Yorker cartoon that conveys a similar thought.) We were quite taken with the quote and decided to contact Wallace to get her take on the psychological challenges of online sales.

The use of language – crafting e-mail messages or leaving verbal messages on the telephone – cannot be underestimated. Sales execs “need to understand that the Web environment is fraught with one potential or another to say something that is going to be grossly misinterpreted,” said Wallace, who is also senior director, CTYOnline and Information Technology at Johns Hopkins University Center for Talented Youth.

Part of the challenge is how to harness the type of skills (verbal and otherwise) that click in face-to-face settings to the online environment, Wallace said. She stressed that because online sales are (generally; read: Skype) not face-to-face, sales executives must be more personal (and respectful) in both tone and delivery.

It starts with the opt-in approach and being sensitive to privacy issues “They need to lean on the side of opt-in, and ask people, ‘If I give you this information will it be a benefit to you?’” Wallace said.

She added that joining appropriate social networks is another way that sales executives can get to know prospects in their space via a more personal vein. Sales execs also might consider establishing their own social networks in which the point is not products and services, per se. Wallace pointed to Johnson & Johnson as an example of how companies can use social media to their advantage. Johnson & Johnson’s health channel, on YouTube, features a wide array of videos designed to promote a better understanding of health and healthcare delivery throughout the world.

“The idea is to say ‘Let’s provide a service,’ a place where people can obtain value,” Wallace said. “[Sales execs] need to touch buyers in ways that go beyond a click-through or a cold-blooded checkout. It’s a face-to-face meeting, followed up by an e-mail, with an invitation to a Webinar or a special event.”

Contact ZoomInfo today to see how we can help personalize your online outreach and increase your sales productivity.

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