On a recent lead generation training course, I was very surprised to find a large majority of salespeople among the participants. It turned out that these sales reps were attending because their marketing wasn’t delivering leads that made sense from a sales perspective. Some of them had KPIs for cold calling, and results were reportedly getting worse and worse.

This situation again illustrates that the majority of businesses in Europe haven’t yet realised we’ve arrived in the ‘age of the customer’. Not that the customer has changed, but thanks to the internet, social media and new mobile possibilities, buyers have changed the way they interact with us. Organisations that want to secure or grow their business shouldn’t wait any longer to start looking at ways of meeting the empowered customer’s needs.

A well-oiled sales and marketing machine is essential

Buyers today can find loads of information about your products, and your competitors’, in just a few clicks. If you want to do business with leads who are looking for a solution like yours, it’s the marketing department’s job to provide the right information in the right form, at the right time in your lead’s buying cycle.

Cost efficiency and volume are key: marketing generates leads in a one-to-many digital approach. Only leads that meet specific marketing criteria (MQL) are being handed over to sales, who then take over from there. Sales qualifies both the contact and the buyer readiness (SQL), and leads rejected by sales are recycled by marketing into campaigns that can be made very specific thanks to the new insights gained by sales.

One marketing activity that is often forgotten is demand generation: besides capturing ready-to-buy leads, marketing can also create demand through inbound marketing. Leads from these campaigns can be nurtured to hopefully become sales-ready one day. Without demand generation, sales will keep on complaining about the quantity and quality of leads provided by marketing.

So has your machine been oiled to meet new customer demands?

How to get the machine running

If your machine’s a bit sluggish, it’s probably time to stop the ongoing battle between sales and marketing. Take a new look at activities and responsibilities, and create a value chain that helps your customers buy from you.

Here are a few tips to get sales and marketing collaboration on track.

  • Share common goals
    Across departments, increase awareness that we’re all trying hard to achieve the same company targets. Collaboration is key!
  • Share a common vocabulary
    In the age of the customer, replace your sales process with a buying process, and make sure both sales and marketing are speaking the same language. Introduce a clear demand-generation process with milestones based on commonly agreed definitions to make it work
  • Co-development and best practice
    Work together as one team. Both sales and marketing can add lots of value, insights and messaging to improve traction, conversion and ROI on marketing activities. Sales meetings are an ideal platform to keep marketing up-to-date with what’s happening in the market; marketing can take the stage to inform sales about ongoing results and planned activities in line with the sales organisation’s needs, again reinforcing the importance of common goals
  • Marketing: messaging should allows the building of customised content
    Research has shown that that up to 90% of content created by marketing goes unused by sales. Implement a content strategy that enables the building, sharing, measurement and improvement of messaging quality. Messaging should allow the building of content that is customised for different roles, their individual buyer readiness, and context
  • Marketing: ‘why change’ content
    The majority of content aims to convince us why we should choose company X or product Y. But research shows that 60% of opportunities are neither won nor lost; they simply disappear without a sale. The content that explains why customers should change is therefore crucial for creating demand and increasing conversion

Want to find out more and see the whole picture? Watch the webinar ‘How to Align Sales and Marketing’ with guest speaker Pascal Persyn, CEO at Perpetos, and moderator Deva Rangarajan, Associate Professor at Vlerick.


Over 75% of top salespeople use social media to beat their competitors, Forbes figures reveal. So we invited Peter Staveloz to our most recent Connoisseur event to tell us how to use LinkedIn efficiently to boost sales.

Social selling is becoming increasingly important in business, and LinkedIn is part of that. Staveloz does not only call it a ‘digital form of word-of-mouth advertising’, but also a unique way to access new customers.

LinkedIn as a lead generator and nurturing tool

“The most successful salespeople spend one to two hours a day on LinkedIn looking for the right way to access a company. Rather than hunting the decision maker, they try to create a warm connection indirectly. They do this for example by engaging the CEO’s assistant in conversation and guiding them towards a sales talk”, Staveloz explains. “Anyone with a broad network can get in touch with every decision maker through indirect ways.”

Once the connection has been made, a salesperson cannot just come straight to the point and ask the decision maker for an interview. According to a study in the Harvard Business Review, about 90% of all decision makers simply do not respond to a cold call. Staveloz therefore advises salespeople to maintain and expand contacts by actively blogging on LinkedIn Pulse and by mapping their social network and filling the gaps. They can also check who visits their profile and what they read or share, and actively participate in conversations.

Measuring and knowing, but first learning

LinkedIn offers its own Social Selling Index (SSI) so that salespeople can quickly adjust their strategy if required. However, LinkedIn’s SSI is not really easy to use, and this is the major challenge of social selling: only 26% of users feel like they really know and understand social media. So a lot of work remains to be done in terms of training and coaching.

Practical tips for social selling via LinkedIn

  1. Begin: you need to prepare your profile before expanding your network. A polished LinkedIn profile is your best marketing tool
  2. Measure: have a look at LinkedIn’s SSI and set clear targets: do you want a certain number of new connections? What actions can you take to get closer to a desired customer? Arrange coaching if required
  3. Blog: write down your expertise on Pulse and post on other blogs. Look for content you can share. Generate interest and show you are an expert in your area. Don’t hesitate to ask questions
  4. Connect: make a connection as soon as possible after meeting someone. Business cards are not only exchanged physically. You can also invite someone to join your network after an interaction on social media
  5. Monitor: check regularly who has viewed your profile and try to make a connection quickly by sending personalised invitations. First determine whether the name is already in your database and then identify where your prospect is in the buyer journey. This will tell you whether direct interaction is appropriate
  6. Gather information: use social selling to complement the information you already have. Not only in CRM, but also to further define your buyer personas. Social media provide a lot of information on a person’s everyday activities and interests.

We are living in a time where buyers can find information about your solution with a single click, and where peer recommendations are more valuable than any supplier’s advice. So it’s time for organisations to rethink their lead generation. You can start by sharing the responsibility of finding new customers across various departments. A sound, integrated approach will help your company keep costs under control, and the sales department stay focused on what it does best: closing deals.

Revenue performance development requires an update in tactics, especially as the profile of B2B sellers has changed dramatically over recent years. Sales people often used to be a sole source of information, but buyers have clearly taken huge leaps forward now because of the internet. They have taken control of the buying cycle for themselves.

Lead generation to fill the gap

This causes sales departments to panic and think they have to fill the gap with more leads, so lead generation often focuses solely on the numbers being found, and marketing departments often don’t have the resources required to take all the qualifying criteria into account. The consequence: sales people’s diaries are too full of unqualified leads, resulting in poor quality appointments. Sellers become demotivated and miss out on leads. Having more leads doesn’t necessarily mean generating more income.

Less is more

Research shows that less is more. Sales can achieve better results with fewer leads, as long as the quality of these leads is high and insights into the client’s readiness to buy are developed sufficiently. So what a sales team needs is qualified leads that have been developed in a consistent and intelligent way.

It’s the marketing department’s job to systematically influence its market sectors with relevant (i.e. non-commercial!) content tailored to their specific business challenges. Sales will only take over and do more business in shorter cycles when an individual’s readiness to buy has reached the required level. In short, marketing campaigns have to be moulded into a continuous process to promote dialogue with clients rather than push messages into the market one-way. Also important: many companies don’t give their marketing people short-term quotas.

 

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“Marketing communication requires more than just a single action,” says Robert Gavin for Marketo, who we filmed recently when he came to visit. So of course you need a mix, but what’s the best mix? Marketing automation can help you find out where your leads come from, and check that your inbound program is working properly. This doesn’t just help you forecast your income; you can also adapt your communication mix based on real results.

Most marketing automation software packages have built-in analytics to help you trace where your leads come from, find out how often your information is searched for, and see how people progress through your company’s marketing pipeline. This last aspect is at least as important as the sales pipeline, even though it is sometimes overlooked by marketing people. It boils down to measuring both of them, and trying to improve the inflow and conversion rate.

In principle, companies are getting more leads than before because clients have become more independent and prefer to make their own decisions. The better you know where your leads come from, the more of them you can try to get. Clients are increasingly going online to find information about your activities, and marketing automation is way of doing the same thing to find out about your clients.

Robert Gavin: “The US market focuses on lead generation; the more new names emerging at the top of the marketing funnel, the happier the US marketing people are. In Europe the emphasis is more on lead nurturing and maintaining a good relationship with clients and known prospects.”

 


Are you good at selling your company, products and services? The majority of sales and marketing managers answer ‘yes’ to this question, but the facts don’t back them up. A recent study by CSO Insights shows that almost 70% of companies aren’t able to generate useful leads. This shouldn’t come as any surprise. Things often go wrong the very first time contact is made. Compare the following conversations:

1. Hello Mrs Brown. It’s Tony Johnson here, account manager for New Technologies. We supply payment systems all over the world. I’m calling because I’d like to discuss how you could speed up payments in your sales outlets and reduce costs. I’d like to arrange an appointment to demonstrate how we can help you with our innovative, integrated systems.

2. Hello Mr Jones. It’s Pete Baker here from New Technologies. I’ve just read that you’d prefer a lower proportion of cash transactions in your shops. We recently completed a project for another retailer who wanted exactly the same thing. And after just four months he saw his cash payments reduced by 19.6%, and in busy periods his sales increased by 5.4% because of the shorter waiting times for customers. Are you free to meet me on Thursday next week to discuss how we can do this for you too?

Which of the above pitches do you think is the most appealing? In order to grab a potential customer’s attention and persuade them to take action, you need more than just a general chat about what your company makes and delivers. You have to put yourself in your prospective client’s environment and market position, and empathize with their challenges, etc.

Potential clients will only make time free for you if they believe you can possibly improve their business. To succeed at this, consider the following principles:

  • Understand you prospective client’s challenges and check to see if your products and services can offer a solution
  • Speak mainly about the impact on their business, and not about your product or company
  • Make sure your employees can adapt their sales pitch to the situation and role of the person they are talking to

Also make sure you adapt your actions to the prospective client’s willingness to buy: they might only want an introductory conversation; maybe they’ll soon be writing a call for tender; or perhaps they signed a contract with a competitor just two months ago?

Focusing on what the client really wants will put you in a better position to make a sale based on value rather than price. This won’t only reduce your sales cost; you’ll also get a better view of your forecast and increase your margin on every deal.


European start-ups would benefit from looking at their English-speaking counterparts’ approach. Brits and Americans tend to focus on promotion from day one. They make sure their target audience becomes aware of their product while continuing to develop it. Belgian start-ups, on the other hand, for example, will invest every last cent on product development in the hope that the product will then sell itself. This is a typical European mentality, and it doesn’t only apply to start-ups; we also see this in product launches from established companies.

The problem isn’t just down to budget allocation. In Europe we often wait too long to recruit employees for our marketing communication department. And when they do come, they have to be real all-rounders: people who can organize lots of different events, create PowerPoint presentations, write press releases and direct marketing and whitepapers, get the right photos – all while not losing sight of Google ratings or neglecting social media. It’s surprising that we don’t specialize in marketing communication more, especially considering we have done in sales for so long already.

Raise awareness before your product is ready

Almost nobody is waiting for products from a start-up. A hard truth. If you launch a product without first raising awareness, nobody will be there, eager and waiting to buy it. Everyone has to go through the same buying cycle process before they are really ready to buy, so it makes sense to raise their awareness first.

Be patient, because this process can take some time, depending on how complex your product is and how urgently your prospective customers want to find a solution for their associated problem. This means you have more time to continue developing your product while preparing the market for launch.

To create awareness at a very early stage of the sales cycle, you can for example invest in whitepapers and distribute news through the press or social media. As long as you’re only spending your marketing budget on media you can use for content that makes customers think about their challenges, and what solutions they need to resolve those problems, then you can already tell them how you can make the difference (without any explicit explanation of the product itself).

Sales will thank you

When you prepare your potential customers properly at an early stage, you make life much easier for your sales department:

  • they have leads ready as soon as they go to market
  • they achieve higher success rates from the very start
  • the cost of sales is considerably reduced, compensating for the marketing budget you’ve already spent