Tuesday, June 26, 2007

B2B Leaders Pulling The Trigger
On Automated Sales Alert Tools

Looking to improve sales acceleration and overall sales effectiveness metrics, many leading edge B2B organizations are adopting trigger-based selling solutions. These automated tools provide sales execs with leads and insights into news and events within their territory or existing account base, which may indicate a readiness to buy.

Depending on the solution a company offers, these triggering events can include management changes, new product announcements, mergers and acquisitions, new financing, new locations, etc. The leading trigger-based tools monitor and mine large bases of business information sources and filter the information based on pre-set profiles so that only information relevant to their account base is provided. The alerts are typically delivered via email or through a web portal right to the sales person’s desktop or mobile device, utilizing a pre-set profile.

Many companies are finding that trigger-based tools are accelerating the closing cycle and making their sales staff more efficient. Condensing the amount of time sales people spend researching their accounts (estimated to be as high as 15% to 30% of the average work week) these trigger-based sales tools have proven to be effective for sales execs managing a small base of large accounts, as well as someone with a large geographic territory.

“Knowledge is the price of admission for sales people today,” says Jill Konrath, a leading sales strategist and author of Selling To Big Companies (www.sellingtobigcompanies.com). “It is a huge competitive advantage to have timely information about your existing clients and prospects. It has really become a baseline item. You either have it or you don’t and if you don’t you can’t compete.”

Joe Chappell, CEO of TrueAdvantage, one of the leading suppliers of trigger-based subscription services, points out that another key benefit of these solutions is providing the ability to be in front of clients early in the buying cycle. “One of the biggest issues we keep hearing from our prospects is that they want to know more about the buying cycle,” Chappell says.

With more buyers making their early-stage decisions without the involvement of vendors, companies want to make sure they aren’t left out based on an analyst recommendation or another factor. “By knowing all of the key triggering events that are going on with an account, you are greatly reducing the risk of being left out of a deal,” he says.

Integrating With Sales Systems
Unlike some of the other complex sales automation tools, trigger-based solutions are relatively inexpensive and can be easily integrated into most of the major CRM systems. Frank Filippo, director of product management for Dow Jones' Factiva SalesWorks product line, points out that the company’s solution has been easily integrated with Salesforce.com, Microsoft Dynamics, Siebel and many other sales management systems.

Factiva SalesWorks has north of 200 companies utilizing its solution, including major tech players such as Cisco Systems and Microsoft. Factiva SalesWorks sits on top of one of the largest news and content sources via Dow Jones brands such as The Wall Street Journal and Barron’s. Beyond the vast content, Fillipo says another key feature of the tool is the mapping and chart functions that allow sales professionals to monitor their territory in a single view or build a breakdown of a single company.

Thanks to the easy integration low cost of entry, proving the ROI of trigger-based solutions has been a relatively easy exercise for the early adopters. TrueAdvantage’s Chappell says most of the company’s clients have started out with 20-40 sales executives who test the solution over a two to three month period and then roll it out to the larger sales force based on the initial success. TrueAdvantage also has more than 200 accounts, ranging from large tech players (IBM and Tech Data) security services (ADT) and office furnishings (Herman Miller).

“We go as far as guaranteeing the results for our clients,” Chappell says. With TrueAdvantage’s solution selling for approximately $1,200 per sales person per year, he points out that most companies will see ROI from the margin on 1 incremental deal. “We’ve seen the solution work equally well for sales people that have a concentrated territory of 1 to 10 very large accounts, as well as account executives that have 300 to 400 accounts across a large geographic territory.”

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Sales Effectiveness Study Uncovers
Missed Opps With Existing Accounts
Marketbridge Survey Shows New Isn’t Always Better

When companies gather around the conference room table to formulate their growth strategy for the coming year, the conversation typically begins and ends with a focus on new customers and new products.

What is typically overlooked, however, is the fact that the biggest opportunities for most firms actually exist with their current clients. In its 2007 Sales Effectiveness survey, MarketBridge found a significant disconnect between the growth plan and the feedback these companies are actually receiving from the market.

For example, the survey of just under 200 marketing and sales executives showed that “new product/extensions” and “change focus on customer/segments” were the top two selections for growth strategies, at 76% and 62% respectively. However, when asked about their customers’ biggest demands, the same respondents ranked “better products” and “better service & support” as the top 2 priorities, ahead of “new products” or “better price/value.”

Scott Gillum, Senior Vice President of MarketBridge, points out that the disparity between what the market is asking for and the strategies most companies are adopting is driven by the fact that competitors are also knocking at the door of their clients and prospects. According to the survey, “greater competition” was cited as the top factor impacting performance, significantly ahead of organization or management changes or major product changes.

While expanding the product portfolio is a reasonable strategy for reacting to competitive pressures, the majority of survey respondents admitted their organizations were not well prepared to deal with the execution of new solutions.

For example, when asked about the biggest challenges to their sales strategy, 58% said “implementing strategy” was the largest obstacle. Compounding this issue, more than a third (34%) of respondents said they were only “somewhat prepared” to deliver on their customers biggest demands.

Gillum says an underlying problem with the rush to introduce “new” is that most sales forces are still not prepared for the solution selling approach required to penetrate deeper into an organization. The survey supported this theory, as more than half (51%) of the respondents cited “selling a solution” as one the greatest growth obstacles.

“Competitive pressures have forced a lot of companies to rush ahead with new solutions and new marketing messages,” Gillum says. “Unfortunately, they are not taking the first steps to educate their sales force and create alignment throughout the organization around their message. Based on what we have seen, the more successful companies are making sure they are doing the old really well before focusing on the new.”

Going Deep
Considering that most industries have seen their largest customers account for a larger slice of their business in recent years, Gillum argues that the 80/20 rule should be the top driver for growth. “If you are an established company that has been in business for 10 years or more, you can achieve your revenue and profit objectives solely based on doing a better job of capturing the opportunity in existing accounts.”

MarketBridge has worked with clients such as IBM, MasterCard, Merck, SAP and Siemens, on all stages of sales and marketing from strategy to execution. Consistently, across different size firms and various vertical markets, Gillum says the company’s work has shown that “new does not necessarily mean better.”

Since it is typically 7-times more expensive to acquire a new customer versus retaining one, Gillum points out that many companies are better served by focusing more time and resources on greater account penetration. “Building, selling and thinking new typically takes too long, costs too much and will have the lowest ROI. Most companies should focus first on getting more out of existing clients, and then investing in new.”

For the organizations that have shifted gears and are focusing more on building their business with top clients, Gillum says it has also required a change in their approach to marketing as well. “The first step is building a true single view of your customers so that you can look at penetration rates for different products and have better intelligence about other solutions they may need,” he says. “Once you have that, then marketing organizations are able to send targeted offers to specific segments of the client base.”

Many leading edge companies have established integrated marketing teams focused on creating sales enablement tools designed to help move prospects through to the next stage of the pipeline.

“We are now seeing a lot of people come into marketing with experience in either the product or sales side, so they have more familiarity with the sales process,” Gillum says. “These teams help them build tools that will provide more intelligence on a prospect. For example, a CRM system may tell you where a customer is in the pipeline, but it will not be able to tell you the reasons whey they aren’t moving from one stage to the next.”

Sure, it’s crucial to formulate and implement strategies to reel in new customers. But that’s not as critical, nor as cost effective, as mining your most valuable assets—your current customers. “Learn as much as you can about your customers and how they are using your current products,” says Gillum. “Find out where their sweet spots are in terms of other offers and solutions, and then target them specifically.”