The pipe dream that we can manufacture insights en masse to be pushed out by marketing to align with 'the buyer's journey' is akin to thinking a Henry Ford assembly line approach lends itself well to marriage counseling. Marketing automation will only take you so far. Using insights to attract buyers is a valid strategy but it's a mistake to think that it can be executed well with spray-and-pray e-mail marketing or telesales environments for a hand-off to field sales or channel partners. Marketing automation has reached terminal velocity yet when you survey what's actually happening in the field, you'll often discover a resounding thud. Think about it yourself, when's the last time you personally responded to a generic templated drip campaign?
I realize it may sound contrarian but let's get to the deeper point. The click-through rates for e-mail have sunk to under 10% and phone calling contact rates are dismally less than 3%; with both trending worse every year. It definitely damages your brand and deafens your audience the more they feel they are being targeted with spam. The result is that when you've got something really important to tell them, chances are it will be ignored. Cultivating your inner Artful Dodger or Slick Willy to get past gatekeepers on the phone, requires some ninjitsu and can be done. Customers have heard everything and see it coming a mile away. But reps still boast about it! The latest script that insidiously promises a key insight report. Crafting a template that looks like an "authentic personal email" is also ubiquitous but customers receiving it tend to hit "delete." There is a better way! Executives are rolling their eyes in meetings these days within 90 seconds thinking, "Please teach me something I don't already know." Truth be it told, senior executives often seldom even see the bulk of their email. They do get LinkedIn notifications that vibrate in their pocket so making that count, prevents deleting your connection.
Predictable models for scaling revenue have been somewhat of a 'Fountain of Youth' concept since time immemorial. Just like any other growth industry, it's susceptible to the quick fix mentality. While seductive in concept, the predictable revenue assembly line model breaks down in practice. To achieve strong determinant growth you must have leadership, innovation, intrinsic value, strategy and great execution. It all comes down to people and it's detrimental to business if you treat your team as expendable commodities.
Leading with insight means leading with insightful people. Teach your team to think strategically and to efficiently segment key targets, build domain expertise, understand industry drivers and trends, and to understand what a compelling business case looks like. Train them on how to leverage innovative methods to engage professionally with senior stakeholders within social communities to then be on the radar early in the awareness phase of the buying cycle. Any communications medium will always be limited by the power of the message transmitted by it. Teach your team to do their homework, to diagnose and prescribe leveraging the treasure trove of data that is increasingly freely available in the latest incarnation of the interwebs. Do they understand the true implication of trigger events in accelerating buying cycles?
Breaking up your team to make them more tactical in specialized or compartmentalized segments is the antithesis of teaching strategic thinking to even the sales people just starting out. It's a sexy idea that if they do less, they'll be more powerful. But teaching someone to fly a prop plane in flight school by darkening out the controls could spell disaster. Take a holistic approach so the sales force can think independently, collaboratively and be a trusted advisor to each customer.
I am not saying that inside sales call-centers and specialized sales roles won't work for transactional opportunities. It just seems to miss the mark for complex solution selling. When I ask sales executives to define 'strategic selling' I often get a very long awkward pause or an off-base answer. Here's the reality in complex B2B selling - senior sales people are themselves best equipped to create their own early engagement pipeline. They need to personally build their brands, establish contact and engage with insightful conversations at senior levels.
The foundational key input for creating high margin revenue is, and has always been, early strategic engagement at the right levels. There are strategies and there are tactics - know the difference and use them wisely. A one-size-fits-all approach to B2B messaging is a clever mirage. Pundits will swear by the latest and greatest predictable system for driving revenue into a company but fads come and go. Any communications medium that allows blasting, eventually gets regulated. It's short-term thinking! At the end of the day, leading with insight in good old-fashioned targeted prospecting, backed with diagnostic consultative selling will continue to prevail. It's the type of approach that requires slowing down to speed up. Lincoln may have captured this ethos the best, "Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe." The potential revenues and margins need to support the high level of investment. Beware the relentless commoditization of solutions and the trap of applying expensive business models to low margin transactional commerce.
The meta-skill of strategic selling will always sit above an engagement medium whether executed old school talking on a phone or new school in social. Strategic selling is not going away anytime soon. I've developed a road-tested framework for this that can be performed in real-time on the back of a napkin sitting at a café in Paris. How can we challenge ourselves to relentlessly think strategically in the context of any toolset? I've crafted it to withstand and be adaptable to the frenetic pace of technology evolution and change. All factors being equal, how we think will transcend the crutch of tools of the trade every time. It's the golfer, nary the club after all!
The medium changes, good messaging will always prevail.
Tony Hughes is ranked as the #1 influencer on professional selling in Asia-Pacific and is a keynote speaker and best selling author. This article was originally published in LinkedIn where you can also follow Tony's award winning blog. Also visit Tony's keynote speaker website at www.TonyHughes.com.au or his sales methodology website at http://www.rsvpselling.com/.
Main image photo by Flickr: Paul VanDerWerf
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