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.


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.


Solution Selling is very common jargon used in many sales organisations. Companies that have introduced this method have gained a competitive advantage as a result of the way in which their sales people are successful in formulating the value for their customers.

This is how you sell solutions:

  • Discuss client needs using open questions, creating a vision and a solution together with the client. This gives the seller the greatest possible impact on what the client will ultimately buy.
  • The packaging of products and services in such a way that a total solution is created to satisfy client needs. A classic example was Apple with iPod and iTunes in contrast to a normal MP3 player.

Trend reversal: more power for the customer

The internet and social media have brought about an important shift in the way people are informed and how they make their purchase decisions. Since a a couple of years we have seen a trend reversal which has undermined the impact of Solution Selling. The customer now has the power. It’s no longer the sales process that counts; the purchasing process (customer journey) now has the upper hand. Welcome to the Digital Era. Customer interaction and sales discussions have to be different now to achieve good results.

Not just information, but conversation

You can still achieve a sustainable and competitive advantage in this new digital era. But now your customer knowledge forms the basis for the development of new products and services to satisfy the increased needs of better informed customers. Your marketing and sales don’t provide information so much anymore; instead they go into a conversation to improve the customer relationship with more engagement. A better experience and the proven impact of your solution will result in a higher margin and lower sales cost.

Difference between Solution Selling and Buyer-Aligned Selling

SOLUTION SELLINGBUYER-ALIGNED SELLING

What is the starting point?

As a ‘consultant’, make it possible to discuss requirements and guide the customer in their thought process until the specific solution is bought.Ability to question the customer’s beliefs and provide new insights to complete the picture.

Which process is required?

Your entire sales organisation using a proven sales process. All your activities and measurement systems must chart and improve its effectiveness and application.A dynamic buying process based on customer experience. Enable sales & marketing to adapt to the buyer’s mental phase of purchasing at any moment. Internal processes and measurement systems are designed to take the right action, at the right time and involving the right people.

What’s important?

Ask the right questions to discuss the challenges that can be resolved by the solution you are offering. The strengths must be explicit and demonstrable from the structure of the approach.Empathy with the customer situation and for everyone involved the use of language specific and adapted to the role and industry. This demonstrates an attitude which shows that helping the customer is the highest priority.

What knowledge is crucial?

Knowing the relationship between the customer’s challenge and the strengths of your products and services.Broad understanding of the customer situation: environment, challenges, aspirations and requirements.

What skills are crucial?

Prospecting, questioning techniques, listening skills, diagnosis, and persuasiveness.Customer focus, relationship-building, ability for concrete visualisation of your offer’s value and impact as well as the capacity to influence the willingness to change. Social Selling and the right mix of digital and human touch points are crucial elements in this.

What is the relationship between sales and marketing?

Marketing supports sales, and the two are aligned. Marketing ensures that both the customer and the seller are informed. Marketing generates leads for sales.Both are integrated and fully designed to match the customer’s buying process. As well as generating leads for sales, marketing is also responsible for the conversation with the customer and increasing engagement with the customer target audience.

“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.”

 


Surely it goes without saying that sales and marketing departments work to serve clients? But think about it: is this really the case, and do they work well together? The alignment of sales and marketing is now more urgent than ever. Globalisation and the internet have radically changed the way people buy. Sellers used to be the most important sources of information, but now potential customers look up all their various options for themselves online. They also value their contacts’ and peers’ opinions more, which they can find online too.

So sales and marketing can no longer be allowed to operate as two separate departments working alongside each other. Even though lots of companies have tried to bring them in line over the last fifteen years, there has been little improvement:
“Marketing doesn’t result in any leads that are ready to buy,” says sales.
“Sales isn’t following leads up,” claims marketing.
“Marketing spends a lot of money but can’t measure ROI.”
“Sales has no impact on marketing expenses, and vice versa.”
“Sales always gets the spoils.”

Lower sales cost

Things can be improved by harmonising all marketing and sales activities with the market and potential customers’ readiness to buy. We call this Buyer-Aligned Collaboration, and it ensures the highest possible impact at the lowest possible sales cost.

The client controls your sales process

So promote your client to the centre of your business universe. Then synchronise sales and marketing so they quickly start to work in harmony. In summary:

  • The client’s buying cycle and the buyer readiness is the benchmark for all sales processes
  • Use software to register every decision-maker’s readiness to buy
  • Use CRM as a pragmatic tool for all departments; correct information is more important than the quantity of prospect data
  • Marketing produces sales material to match the various buyer readiness phases
  • Product information targets your client’s challenges and the impact of your solution, not the product features
  • Involve sales when verifying the buyer readiness and pick up leads at the right moment
  • Measure and benchmark all activities throughout the buying cycle and work continuously on improvement

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.

Sell value over price

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?

Reduce sales cost and increase margins

Focusing on what the client really wants will put you in a better position to sell 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.

 


Here’s what Irwin Hipsman, Brainshark’s Customer Community Director, said in Antwerp recently: “Research has shown that American companies spend 25 percent of their sales and marketing budget on content production and distribution. We’re not quite at this stage in Western Europe yet, but perhaps we should be preparing ourselves for an enormous tidal wave of content marketing linked to CRM and marketing automation software. The challenge is two-fold; not just to create more relevant multimedia content, but also to ensure we continue to manage all produced content properly.”

Hipsman wasn’t exaggerating when he referred to the CRM situation ten years ago: either you didn’t have CRM software at the time, or it was a mess. It’s easy to compare this with today’s situation: either you don’t have a content strategy yet, or it’s a mess.

Ten years ago there was no talk of centralised management of prospects, leads, opportunities, customers and former customers, and this had lots of consequences. Now we are seeing the same thing in another area of sales and marketing: product documentation and recent or old PowerPoint presentations are used haphazardly; all social media activity stops if individual employees stop using it; new customers and contacts have to wait an age before starting to receive the newsletter; local marketing departments avoid using the international website because it takes too long to change anything; each department keeps its own separate record of visitors to client events. And so the list goes on.

Just like all sales information has to be recorded in CRM software, so does all information about marketing communication activities. There’s no operational reason for not doing it; with a vast range of add-ons available for all major CRM packages. We also think the planning is relatively easy to resolve: select the client’s purchasing situation and willingness to buy as a reference point, and let sales and marketing communication work together in harmony.

The more CRM and marketing automation is integrated in organisations, the more important content management becomes. Various employees creating content here and there will eventually lead to problems. So what’s the challenge? To standardise content and its associated workflow. Hipsman concluded that in order to achieve this, you have to start by setting up a ‘content department’.

PS: Brainshark’s Irwin Hipsman came to speak with us and Marketo at a LeadFabric event. We then met him again at his hotel and got him in front of the camera.




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