Every day we’re being confronted with increasing sales costs and margins under greater and greater pressure. In this blog, we explain why this is happening and look at the solution in detail.

Increasing sales costs and greater pressure on margins are usually the result of inadequate or non-existent internal sales training and supervision. There are also a few die-hard habits that many companies and sales reps cling on to which can cause even bigger problems for sales performance.

Directors will already be familiar with the changed buying behaviour and understand the impact it has on their sales and marketing organisation. The fact that up to 75% of decision-making criteria are influenced online means it’s important for us to allow sales to start a dialogue with customers at different times and with different messages.

If sales is forced to wait until customers are ‘ready-to-buy’ or in the quotation stage before they spring into action, it’s impossible to sell customer value, so:

  • Margins continue to fall
  • Products and services are experienced as commodities

This habit comes from:

  • Managers being mainly interested in the time frame that deals are agreed in
  • Sales who think it’s a waste of time to enter into a buying process early, and prefer to wait for ready-to-buy leads from marketing
  • Sales who are willing to start the buying process early and influence the customer, but don’t have the necessary skills and messages to appeal to customers in this early stage

The solution: do the right thing at the right time with the right person
Management behaviour and how to direct sales teams is crucial here, although that’s a separate topic just in itself. But how can we arm sales to face these new challenges?

  • Train sales to detect and facilitate the entire buying process
  • Implement a sales process that allows your team to document opportunities based on the customer’s willingness to buy (buying process) – and embed this in the CRM
  • Document messages for each product-market combination, and teach sales to use these messages at the right time in their comfort zone using ‘how to sell’ training with role plays

The buying process in figure 1 shows the complete customer journey. Whether it’s for existing or new customers determines how sales deals with it.

For existing customers, sales mainly need to convey ‘why customers need to stay’ – combined with behaviour that we label as ‘account development’ rather than ‘account management’. With existing relationships, detailed knowledge of the customer and their environment provides a great opportunity for increasing the value perception, and so embedding the relationship more deeply.

For non-customers, the first question is: ‘Has the customer already decided to change?’ Has the customer not decided to change yet? Then it’s best to base your messages and interactions on breaking the status quo, and so increasing the willingness to change. Customers aren’t usually aware of what improvements are possible. Or the customer thinks the risks that come with the change look too big. Or they’re not familiar enough with exactly what’s required.

These ‘why change’ messages assume the customer’s point of view and are the best way of developing prospects. And this is where the biggest challenge is identified in terms of sales performance. Various studies and analyses of our customers show that up to 60% of opportunities simply disappear from the forecast without any decision being made by the customer. The biggest competitor isn’t another supplier, but the customers themselves simply not deciding to buy anything. So messages about how good your company and its solutions are, or the extra benefits that you can offer, won’t help stimulate the buying process.

Has the customer already decided to buy? Then the next question is of course: who should I buy what from, and how much for? Sales responds to this with messages that underline why the customer should choose them. These ‘why us’ messages are most effective at this point in time. Most companies and a large proportion of sales reps score quite to very highly in this area.

Figure 2 shows when these three types of messages are most effective from a sales perspective

In summary, we therefore need to enable sales to convey three different types of messages convincingly according to the situation and depending on the product-market combination:

  • Why change
  • Why choose us
  • Why stay with us

How much do your sales convey these three sets of messages? And to what extent can they discuss them with the customer at the right time? You can compare your sales performance and customer orientation with best in class companies in the Sales Performance Benchmark


Today we start with a motivational quote: “The customer is not an interruption in our work. He is the purpose of it. We are not doing him a favour by serving him. He is doing us a favour by giving us an opportunity to do so.” This quote is attributed to Gandhi, but the point is that customer focus is of all times.

However, a clear break can be noticed, which took place some five years ago. Josh Bernoff from market research company Forrester calls this the beginning of “the age of the customer”, which heralds the end of the previous age of information. Due to rapid technological evolutions including social media and mobile computing, customers seek information in different ways and their purchase behaviour is gradually changing as a result. Consequently, the role of sales and marketing is also changing profoundly.

All customer experiences

A study by SiriusDecisions from earlier this year indicated that 71% of purchase decisions are based on the sum of the experiences customers have with their supplier. All experiences, both digital and personal as well as with staff from any department, play a role in this. It proves Bernoff’s earlier proposition that “the only sustainable competitive advantage is the knowledge of and engagement with the customer”.

Meeting customers’ expectations in every interaction is therefore the real challenge in the age of the customer and the best way to stay one step ahead of the competition. The seller’s role in this is no longer to provide information and thus try to convince customers. The seller now has to ensure interactions which enrich the customer’s vision, help to demonstrate the positive impact of a purchase decision and facilitate the entire purchasing process in an optimum manner.


Are sales still the exclusive domain of the sales department? If so, you may have a problem, as customer interaction has changed dramatically. Customer contacts increasingly take place via other channels, such as the Internet, social media or relations. The preparation of purchases is also strongly influenced online.

Everybody has a commercial role

Your salespersons are not the only ones who bear responsibility for your company’s lasting commercial success. Within their role, each employee needs to be aware of the ultimate aim of their activities, namely the customer. This requires a serious mentality change with plenty of companies, and perhaps also with you.

More than ever, customers expect to play a central role in your processes. This demands a targeted approach: any interaction between you and the customer matters and has to meet the customer’s expectations. You need to be able to quickly and adequately answer any question from them. In most industries this is the fastest way to strengthen your competitive position.

Your processes from the perspective of your customer’s purchase cycle

Are you ready to take your organisation to a higher level and to increase your growth potential? Then you need to organise your processes from the perspective of your customer’s purchase cycle. You have to meet their expectations with every contact. This also impacts the competencies of your employees and the manner in which technology supports your customer processes.

Create a Buyer’s Journey roadmap in five steps

For the sake of brevity we will not discuss this in depth, but in general terms you build your roadmap in five steps:

  1. describe the purchase cycle for each type of customer
  2. inventory the contact moments (including those with third parties)
  3. describe all those moments, every touch point
  4. identify the most important decision criteria and decision points
  5. convert the schedule into ready-to-use guidelines

 


No Lead Left BehindAs is the case in many companies, the cooperation between our marketing and sales departments used to be less than optimal where leads were concerned. Thanks to the internal project “No Lead Left Behind”, we have been able to find a solution for a rather unproductive situation.

Using marketing automation software, we are currently preparing the next steps such as lead scoring and automated nurturing. We should be able to the see the results in about one year.

Number of sales accepted leads doubled

We have developed a process where not a single lead is lost and where efforts are made to follow up on all leads. The cooperation between the sales and marketing departments has considerably improved as well. Generally speaking, the number of sales accepted leads has doubled, with a record 136% increase in the beginning of the year. We have achieved this thanks to the following four steps of our action plan.

1. We have created an unambiguous process to manage the pipeline from lead to deal, with clear agreements on all intermediate stages, definitions and nomenclature. The process also includes the possibility to refuse or requalify leads on the basis of fixed parameters.

2. We have defined all stages of the process in a very detailed manner in our software, so that they are monitored quickly and correctly.

3. Targets relating to data quality, timing and conversion have been calculated for each stage. These targets are documented in an internal Service Level Agreement, which has been accepted by all sales and marketing people.

4. Through coaching and training we have made sure that everyone is motivated and is working towards the same goal.

This blog post is a contribution by Inge Landerwyn, marketing manager at Basware


Visual and word artists are indispensable for marketing. However, a modern marketing communication department has to be able to do more than sending attractive newsletters, creating eye-catching designs or organising memorable events. An equally important part of the job is driven by data analysis. Clients and prospects leave a digital trace that, when interpreted correctly, may stimulate sales.

Know your customer

Marketing communication is a powerless tool if it doesn’t include digital analysis. It also makes the job a lot more pleasant than it may seem. Like the owner of a local shop knows the personal preferences of many of his customers, each marketeer can acquire similar insights, mainly by using marketing automation tools.

However, we do not expect the marketeer to lock himself up in his digital laboratory and to gather all his information from visitors’ statistics, click behaviour and Excel pivot tables. He must also be active in the field, establish contacts with prospects and go to all major trade fairs. The ideal marketeer is a combination of both. We are calling him the “extraverted nerd”.

One-to-one is standard

We have prepared our marketing staff for their future through intensive internal communication: one-to-one is our standard, creativity and analysis go hand in hand. In addition, we obtain a relatively high turnover from each deal, which proves that one-to-one marketing is certainly not a useless investment. It has taken us more than one year to set up marketing divisions capable of linking creative concepts and dry data analysis all over Europe. In the past, we were mainly lacking knowledge of digital marketing, but we have in the mean time been able to make up for that lack.

Our teams consist of digital marketeers responsible for content and its highly varied distribution (the “Digital” team members), analysts who gain insights from our marketing software (the “Insight” people) and campaign experts whose task it is to stimulate demand (the “Demand” people). Together they are managing a detailed marketing funnel, the results of which are increasingly easy to predict and which accounts for an ever growing part of our turnover.

This blog post is a contribution by Philippe Gosseye, marketing director Western Europe at EMC.


Since last month, the Dutch Nyenrode Business Universiteit organises a modular master class of seven days spread over two months. The ‘Customer Experience Strategy & Execution’ master class focuses on the processes and technologies each company needs to master in order to change along with the continually evolving customers in this digital age. As I take care of part of the master class, I gladly give you a teaser of what is to come.

Until recently, things were very simple: your marketing department was responsible for product support and your salespeople took care of the sales. In the meantime, the interaction between both departments has intensified in order to increase your brand awareness and the demand for your services, for example by generating more leads, in particular through inbound marketing. How do you approach this?

Attach sufficient importance to the buyer’s journey and demand creation

Brand awareness is no longer sufficient as the buyer has more control over his purchasing process than ever before. So you can abandon your outdated sales strategies. Focus on customer-based segmentation so that you know which segments offer the most sales opportunities, provide supporting content in all stages of the buyer’s journey and develop lead scoring. This way you can quickly adapt your follow-up to the willingness to buy.

Align your sales and marketing processes and go digital

Your marketing and sales processes need to be perfectly aligned. To implement and support this, you have to go more digital. Complement CRM with marketing automation, online content marketing and sales enablement. Technology does not suffice in itself; give sufficient time and attention to the user friendliness and quality of the data in your CRM system so that your employees are more productive and especially like using the tools because of personal advantages.

Develop a tailored sales performance strategy

Selling involves an optimal cooperation between the marketing and sales divisions. It is important that each department is capable of approaching the right person at the right moment in his purchasing process (buyer’s journey) and performs the right activities with the right persons at the right time. Keep the common goal in mind: maximising revenue with the largest possible margin and at the lowest possible sales costs.

Join the digitisation trend

The digitisation trend continues. The focus of the marketing department shifts from creative processes to analytical processes. It comes down to filtering the right elements and presenting an inspiring story to the customer.

Make the difference with your content

Ensure that your customers find the information they are looking for. Information that inspires them, convinces them or teaches them something. This enables you to make the difference at the crucial contact moment. Content marketing guarantees a better defined brand awareness, generates more qualified leads and results in a stronger relationship with the customer. Through the development of a content portfolio, content marketing becomes a tactic that works across teams and allows to support the customer in his entire buying journey.

No sales process but a purchasing process

An increasing number of people are involved in a B2B purchasing decision. In addition, an increasingly larger part of the decision-making process is already over when sales comes into contact with the customer. As a result, the sales department needs to be able to easily map each contact’s willingness to buy. This makes it much easier to determine a win strategy and to ensure that the most effective action is carried out at the right moment.

This method is called Buyer-Aligned Selling and demonstrates how, when and with which messages and tools you can reach your contacts in the best manner, facilitate their purchasing process and convert leads into customers with significantly greater predictability.


Customer satisfaction and customer experience are crucial elements to maintain or increase your competitiveness. This is a crucial issue today, but how does one go about it? How can it be measured and improved? Is it really that important? That’s what I thought about when I recently booked a hotel room via Booking and received an unpleasant surprise. But first a few words about the customer’s expectations.

The best way to find out how you are doing in this respect is by mapping all moments on which a customer has virtual or physical contact with your company. You can link the customer’s expectations to these moments and check whether you meet these expectations. Your competitiveness entirely depends on the extent to which your processes, your staff’s attitude, your software and your competencies are adjusted to the customer’s experience during the entire cycle.

This means that your marketing department must conduct research with customers from all your market segments. The right and relevant questions and an adequate processing method should result in the most efficient way to implement measures for improvement.

Let’s see what happens

My own customer experience was far from good this week, due to the “lowest price guarantee” offered by Booking.com. Probably out of professional habit, I decided to go through the entire process, just to see what would happen, and whether something would happen at all.

I was looking for a hotel situated as closely as possible to my client’s premises in order to optimise my use of time. Booking.com was the fastest way for me to find a room in a part of Paris I wasn’t familiar with.

In the morning, when checking out, I found I had to pay more than the standard price for a room, posted at the reception desk. When I asked the hotel staff to adjust the price on my invoice to that maximum price, my request was denied: “I’m sorry, but I’m just charging the price of your booking with booking.com. I can’t help you. You will have to claim the difference from them.”

The perfect procedure

So I sent an e-mail message to booking.com. The procedure they followed to deal with my complaint was perfect, very swift and specific. First I received a standard automatic reply, immediately followed, after a reaction, by a personal follow-up by e-mail. In spite of the fact that the procedure was very efficient, the contents of the reply was disappointing: “We can’t help you, as we work with the prices provided by us by the hotel managers. We also refer to our ‘lowest price guarantee’ description”.

Imagine what my customer experience would have been if Booking.com had suggested a discount, equalling the difference, with my next booking before a specific date. For them, it would have been an investment of only 15 euro to keep a customer satisfied.

The final blow

Finally, I don’t want to keep the hotel manager’s last statement from you: “I advise you to contact us directly next time, it’s cheaper.”

I am curious to learn about your experiences, which may help companies to improve their strategies to attract and retain customers.


Buying behaviour has fundamentally changed over the past ten years. But there are still lots of companies approaching buyers of today with outdated best practices and mindsets, or continuing to advocate the old way of selling.

Until recently, it was still possible to achieve reasonable B2B sales results by simply highlighting a solution’s benefits. Clients had no alternative but to take the sales person’s advice when making their buying decisions. People who still have this mindset should beware: buyers have taken over the sales process, and now they have power. And they want to run as few risks as possible.

How can we adapt to today’s buyer?

A lot has already been said about the switch from product sales to solution sales, or from transactional into consultative selling. But we still see that neither has delivered on its full potential, and results remain far below expectations. This is why:

  • Both aim to implement a repeatable, linear and mechanical step-by-step process (not a ‘real’ sales environment!)
  • The sales support environment is not upgraded simultaneously; bonuses, product training and literature, events, CRM and even reporting remain largely unchanged
  • Management tries to resolve this with sales skills training and there is no change programme

You can fix this by focusing on the buyer, and learning about your clients and their markets.It’s also important to factor in risk mitigation. The ‘customer trust equation’ by David Maister, one of the world’s leading authorities on the management of professional service companies, is an excellent formula for clarifying the idea of risk mitigation:

T = (C+R+I) / S

T: trustworthiness (or perceived risk of working with you)

C: credibility = words (I can trust what he says)

R: reliability = actions (I can trust him to …)

I: intimacy = emotions (I feel comfortable discussing the subject)

S: self-orientation (I can trust that he cares)

The denominator of this fraction is (of course) what has the biggest impact here. You have to convince your clients that you really understand their requirements and objectives. The conversion rate will be lower if the client thinks the seller is focussing on themselves, regardless of the quality of your products or your sales person’s knowledge. In this case the seller is not being driven by the client but by a bonus that depends on the deal being struck, the internal pressure of a forecast, the special offer they want to sell, management’s desire to sell more of these solutions, or the belief that they’re an expert and want to prove it to you.

So consider risk management and look at all the conditions that can have an impact on sales when deciding how to improve your sales performance.


How a wearisome week can be extremely inspiring: ten days ago I made a last-minute decision to go to the SiriusDecisions Summit in Orlando. I don’t regret it for a second, and I bet none of the 2000 other attendees do either. There wasn’t just the positive message that companies are fully focused on growth again, because confidence for the future is greater than it’s been for a number years; market research by SiriusDecisions also showed very clearly where the sticking points are – issues which are very easy to recognise.

The ways in which large B2B companies want to grow are also familiar:

  • growth in existing markets or expansion into new ones
  • focus on new buyers
  • expand or improve range of services
  • take over companies and set up new business units
  • and finally, increase productivity

These are well-known recipes for growth. SiriusDecisions surveyed 300 companies from 25 different industries all over the world. Most of these companies predict growth in new markets and new products, as shown in the graph.

bron: SiriusDecisions, mei 2014

source: SiriusDecisions, May 2014

There isn’t room for everyone

The market research also showed that over a third of these companies are forecasting at least 10% growth for 2014, and more than a quarter predicted at least 20% growth. Only 3% expect no growth at all or even a small step backwards in 2014. Host John Neeson from SiriusDecisions provided a reality check: all these positive prognoses will certainly lead to conflicts and failures, because the global economy can’t cater for all this ambition.

But because we can predict why companies will fail in their plans, we can still take measures now to remove obstacles and guarantee success in the future. Top priorities for companies that want to grow in existing markets and new sectors: faster innovation, and training the sales team to focus entirely on client needs.

This also applies for companies that want to grow by improving their range of products and services. Their innovations must be a perfect match what clients really need. Nobody but the client determines the product roadmap. It sounds obvious, but internal politics can often be the driving force behind this roadmap.

Embedded growth

Before the holidays we will again look in detail at all the sticking points and the measures that companies can take to safeguard their plans for growth. SiriusDecisions has developed a model for sustainable growth, year on year. Come back to this blog soon for its European interpretation.


The advent of social media has given consumers a more powerful voice. Even though we’ve already known this for some time, it’s difficult to lose old habits, as Telenet discovered with its iPad campaign. The Facebook group criticizing this campaign now has 150,000 likes, which is much greater than the number of new customers Telenet will attract with a free iPad mini.

It proves that marketing communication has, despite everything, not been adapted sufficiently to suit the better informed and more involved customer of today. Telenet must now lie in the bed it has made for itself, but it could have happened to many others too. What three mistakes were made here?

Firstly, working with temporary campaigns is becoming less and less effective. In a saturated market with subscribers for an indefinite period, it comes down to the fact that your customer will also look at what’s on offer from your competitors, who are also trying to win regular customers with even stronger promotions. This results in smaller margins and there are no winners, except for the occasional individual who is happy with a new iPad.

Secondly, it appears that Telenet has too many latent unsatisfied customers who don’t fully realize their service provider’s added value. This is remarkable, particularly because the launch of King and Kong was otherwise a masterful success. The technical specs of what Telenet is offering are certainly not inferior, but customers apparently prefer an iPad mini to the ‘Internet 120’ from Telenet (because it’s easy to imagine what you can do with an iPad mini, but not why you’d need 120 mbps).

Finally, the customer is not central to the external communication. Otherwise you wouldn’t run campaigns that give new customers a very nice gift and existing customers simply nothing. Perhaps Telenet has to consider building up a community of customers and communicating in a language that a standard customer can understand (translate ‘Internet 120’ into the number of users that can surf simultaneously without experiencing any delay). Members of the community could also be tempted with gifts, of course: find a new quad-play customer and you receive credits for buying music online, or get two new customers for a smartphone, or three new customers for a tablet, for example.