Even before most customers go to a supplier, they have gathered information and seek an answer to specific questions. A traditional salesman who displays his excellent product knowledge in his sales pitch and who has mastered the conventional negotiating techniques does not meet his quotas anymore. An exceptional salesman, on the other hand, knows in which buying phase the customer contact has arrived, understands the situation and is able to give advice. It takes three things to turn any salesman into an exceptional salesman: content, technology and a continuous learning process.

Content

To illustrate his words and continuously learn about the product range and its possibilities, the salesperson needs the right content, sufficiently flexible to be combined and supplemented at his own discretion. The content is created in a dynamic process so that other salespeople always have the most recent knowledge and documents at their disposal as well. Content creation becomes one of your principal sales support processes so that your salespeople constantly improve their knowledge and adapt to any customer situation.

Technology

Your seller needs software not just to be able to show the content in the right manner, but also to be able to consult the most recent information on the customer in advance. CRM should be more than an automated filing cabinet or tedious administrative work. It should support the seller in doing the right thing at the right moment with the right contact. Sellers should use the tools willingly and constantly so as to store and share knowledge as well as to review their own actions. This brings us to the third aspect of our topic.

Continuous learning

The learning process of each seller should also become part of the corporate culture. Your sales team needs permanent training and coaching. Everyone considers it normal that the best athletes have to train and are coached on a daily basis. This is also necessary for sellers whose environment changes continuously. Their own products develop, the market changes, the customers evolve and the competitors are not sitting back and doing nothing. A seller who acts as a talking catalogue is not much use in this context. To be a good adviser, they need to be able to count on your support. Training and particularly coaching are more important than ever. Empathy and commitment to the customer are capacities which require lifelong learning.

These three elements ensure better and deeper relations with customers and will make sales talks more relevant than ever for the customer.

 


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

 


Like many marketeers, we worked extremely hard on our campaigns: webinars, events, trade fairs, workshops, and so forth. This resulted in sufficient new names which we neatly passed on to our sales colleagues. As they are quite result-oriented, they asked for more and more leads.

We did not want to employ another staff member in a marketing position to provide even more push campaigns, so we decided to concentrate in particular on the quality of the leads going in the sales funnel. Lead scoring had to increase the turnover per lead by having the sales department focus especially on promising leads. Within this scope, we were one of the first in Belgium to start working with marketing automation software.

As part of the preparation, we conducted an analysis of the entire process with our sales colleagues to ensure that everybody agreed on the method and the definitions. A rather bothersome and complex exercise, but indispensable to get rid of weaknesses in your funnel. We noticed that some leads were neglected. What is the use of more and more leads if they are not monitored properly?

In the meantime, all leads have been registered and qualified in the marketing automation software. Each contact is monitored and gets a score with every new action, even in case of existing contacts. After all, we often focus too strongly on new names and lose track of upselling and cross-selling opportunities.

Still overly dependent on push marketing

After lead scoring the time was right for a next step. An analysis of our lead funnel showed us 1) that push marketing accounted for the majority of our leads; and 2) that our inbound leads completed the sales process twice as fast. We therefore decided to focus more strongly on inbound activities so as to increase the influx as well as the quality of the leads.

Potential buyers consult their network and other references to make or prepare purchasing decisions. So you also need to lead them to the purchase online. Customers increasingly inform themselves without contacting a supplier. If you only count on push marketing, you often arrive too late in the decision-making process.

Within the scope of our inbound approach, we mainly invest in four kinds of actions: several media channels, SEO, content creation and general branding. We thus want to increase the share of inbound leads to 50% in the long term.

This blogpost is a contribution by Tom Dubois, Worldwide Marketing Manager at VASCO Data Security

 


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.


Your sales and marketing activities need to help you increase the impact on your customers and on the market. But how to organise this? Seven major tips are given below:

1. Use buyer personas

In B2B, salespeople need to use buyer personas to develop a perfect understanding of the daily life of their contacts: what are their responsibilities and challenges, what are they looking for, is something happening in the branch of industry in which they are active? This information enables any seller to assess perfectly his ability to increase the impact on his customers.

2. No transparent sales techniques

You can train your salespeople all you want, but in the end, people buy from people. You should therefore refrain from any imposed techniques during a sales meeting, as this will cause you to lose your impact on the customer. He notices when you try to pull tricks and is no longer fooled by them.

You need to have a positive intention to really help the customer. Do not think of targets or products you would like to sell, but step into your customer’s shoes, assist him and facilitate the purchasing process. Your mindset and corporate culture play an important role in this.

3. Support your sales in customer facing

We frequently talk about creating marketing materials, but this does not suffice anymore. Customer-facing support – sales enablement – is at least equally important nowadays. Marketing needs to ensure that salespeople have sufficient information and means at their disposal to assist the customers, to approach them in the right manner and to start an interesting conversation.

Detailed buyer personas, briefings on the segment in which the customer is active, battle cards, demo scripts, ROI calculators and so forth. All aids which enable salespeople to perform better. If the sales staff see that the marketing department makes efforts to optimise the sales process together with them, they will actually use the supplied documents and tools.

4. Compete by demonstrating the impact on the customer

Building confidence and engaging in conversations that are useful to the client are the key to success in the age of the customer. Focus your message on the impact the customer will experience by working with you. Avoid the pitfall of making comparisons with competitors and/or discussing the advantages of your products versus competitive products.

5. Provide content in a smart manner

Some companies are overwhelmed by the quantity of marketing materials they need to create for different market segments and the different stages in the purchasing process (buyer’s journey). The entire company indeed has to make an effort to create an atmosphere in which all staff make a contribution to the development of content tools. Fortunately there are ways to reduce the required amount of content.

Within this scope, it is important to take into account the maturity of your product on the market. In case of very mature and well-known products or services, it is sufficient to develop attention grabbers and tools for the end of the purchasing cycle as the customer will not have any contact with salespeople at the start of his journey anyway. In addition, you can engage a third party to provide relevant content. Relevant to your target audience with a link to your business, but not directly from your business.

6. Establish a lead qualification process

If we look what happens with the different leads supplied to companies, it is possible to say that the sales department does not follow up on those leads from a general marketing perspective. However, from a sales department perspective, you can say that those leads were of insufficiently high quality. So you have to establish a lead qualification process that is used and understood by all. Marketing needs to apply efficient lead nurturing techniques to ensure that all leads receive enough relevant information so that they are ready when they are approached by the sales department.

This is the only way to feed sales and to keep sales costs under control. A good example of reinforcing the bond with the salesperson without their involvement is the development of nurturing tracks which automatically send relevant information to the customer from the e-mail address of the seller in question.

7. High-quality and clear data

Do yourself a favour and take care that your CRM system does not contain too many fields and data, but ensure that your salespeople can actually get something out of it. Make sure that all information about all stages of the entire buyer’s journey is available. Develop your CRM system in such a manner that it really helps your salespeople.


I often hear that customers have changed drastically in recent years. What has actually changed is their way of interaction. Your sales, marketing and products have to adapt to this evolution, and a number of pitfalls may show up in the process.

1. You do not send the right message

Most websites I visit are continuously referring to ‘we’ and the benefits of working with ‘us’. This is of no concern to the consumer as he is looking for answers to his questions. Customers are obviously influenced by the information they find online, so you should take care that they actually get answers. Such content will make customers feel more connected and committed to your company. Step into your customer’s shoes and check whether you get answers to the questions that may occupy customers during their entire purchasing cycle.

Research has furthermore shown that prospecting costs (cold calling) have quadrupled over the last five years. You can counter this by fostering customer confidence online in accordance with their purchasing activities (buyer’s journey). How? By focusing on how the customer will be impacted if he decides to work with you. So do not talk about yourself too much, and preferably not all.

2. You focus on selling solutions

Solution selling used to take centre stage in the sales process. This is no longer the case in the current age of the customer, as the customer has already formed an idea of his solution before the seller is involved in his buyer’s journey. Customers get irritated when they are told things they have known for quite some time during a sales meeting.

The customer is therefore not waiting for a diagnosis or solution from your salesperson. Your sales department needs to have a thorough understanding of the customer and his situation. Based on this information, the salesperson can modify or enrich the customer’s view during the sales meeting. This furthermore needs to be done in line with the strengths of your company and product offer. In other words, the sales department needs other skills than in the past. Sales activation and support are indispensable in this regard.

3. The product never takes centre stage

The customer needs to see a clear reason to opt for you. However, if you focus too strongly on the product or service, the customer is not involved in the process and you do not support him in his buyer’s journey. It is important that you know your customer’s profile and develop an optimal solution on that basis.

Most salespeople have a better understanding of their product than of the customer’s situation and environment. Especially companies based in Europe have this problem. The fact that your product is better than the products of your competitors is not the message you want to send out.

4. You train your salespeople on the basis of product trainings

When asked how they train their salespeople, most companies answer: ‘with product trainings’. This is in fact not the right way. We already know that customers have formed an opinion before they come in contact with the seller. The risk is that your salesperson may try to convince the customer, or even worse, enter into a discussion with the customer.

This is the result of sales trainings which focus on what you are selling and why you are better than the rest. The more you lash out against the competition, the more you encourage customers to opt for the cheapest solution. So in the worst case you decrease your margins yourself. This is why you need to teach your staff how to explain the impact to the customer.

5. Your data are not of high quality and you do not segment sufficiently

Companies obtain the best results when they segment their market potential on the basis of common needs and challenges. Companies with a wide range of products and/or services can combine this strategy with a vertical market approach so as to make their message more clearly recognisable.

For example: you sell products that are ideal for companies with a large number of branch offices. Companies in the banking sector and the retail industry have a lot of branch offices and buy on the basis of common needs. There is only a difference in the terminology used (shop manager versus branch manager); the underlying message remains the same. A layered approach enables you to increase the reusability of marketing and sales support (cost reduction) and makes it easier for your salespeople to adapt during the meetings. This will also have a positive effect on your margin and win ratio.

Please note that a good segmentation does not suffice; you obviously need to have an excellent database as well. A reliable process to complement the segmented database on a continuous basis is indispensable in this respect.


To remain competitive and successful, companies need to tailor their sales and marketing processes to the behaviour and expectations of customers and prospects. This can also be done by introducing new processes which create demand and support sales enablement. What should you pay attention to during this transformation?

The following seven recommendations help you on your way. They originate from SiriusDecisions and are the result of their market research and the shared experience of hundreds of companies. They were recently presented by John Neeson at a seminar that we organized with our marketing business partner LeadFabric. I was the next speaker and I took notes of his explanation. Here are the recommendations:

Examine where your company is today

Take enough time to find out where marketing communication can make a better contribution at your company. Determine the buyer’s journey. Your marketing campaigns need to act on this buyer’s journey, and your staff need to understand it. Pure lead generation actions will be of insufficient help; ensure a varied and integrated marketing mix.

Provide sufficient operational capacity

Do you have the appropriate means and software to measure your sales and marketing processes? Are you able to collect information on your customer’s needs and how you can help him?

Create focus

Take a look at the sales organisation and align it to the journey that buyers take through their buying cycle. This is the best way to achieve your business strategies and objectives.

Gain appropriate expertise

Changes in the field of marketing and sales imply that your staff need to acquire additional skills and expertise. Posting vacancies is not the solution. Determine what people you have, train them and give them the means to work efficiently.

Measure and report

Measuring is crucial. If you know where your leads come from, you can align your marketing processes and your content to this. Automate your marketing campaigns and build a KPI dashboard that enables external reporting. Only by measuring can you find out more about your customer and improve your processes on a continuous basis.

Share the same targets

The marketing and sales departments must have the same objective in mind. What matters most is not the amount of leads but their quality and the way you deal with them. Determine how marketing can contribute to the pipeline and link individual performance indicators to the business and sales objectives. Do not wonder how marketing can generate more profit, but ask yourself to what extent marketing contributes to the creation of opportunities. The marketing division serves to support this process and to generate demand.

Know your customer

Acquaint yourself with the buyer through personas and buyer’s journey maps. This enables you to perfectly cater to the customer’s needs at any stage of his purchasing process.