By Larry Fleischman, Practice Director, Branding and Go-to-Market Strategies & Solutions, Televerde

As a B2B outsourced demand creation agency that works with high-tech companies to identify new customers, accelerate sales opportunities, and discover fresh, actionable market insight, we’re continually tasked with improving sales pipeline performance and growing top-line revenue in measurable ways. It’s complex stuff, which is why many organizations struggle with it.

Not to sound cliché, but there isn’t a silver bullet. Demand creation programs and tactics are relatively easy to implement, but truly optimizing demand creation is challenging. With budgets tighter than ever, every dollar spent must achieve maximum ROI. So optimization is essential, and it cannot be achieved until several critical issues are addressed. Let’s focus on the top three – Alignment, Enablement and Integration.

Alignment – Connecting Sales and Marketing

At the heart of the sales pipeline issue many organizations face is the inability of their sales and marketing teams to agree. Topping the list of disagreements is defining the elements of a qualified sales lead. Before marketing can implement demand creation programs, it’s essential to have a clear understanding with the sales reps who are going to receive the output of these programs.

Both teams should agree on the criteria that must be met for a sales lead to be qualified sufficiently so it’s worthy of sales rep acceptance and pursuit. The basic criteria include what is commonly known as BANT – budget, authority, need and timeframe. Many organizations are familiar with this construct. Most important among these criteria is the “need” for your products because without a core problem, there’s not going to be a budget set aside to solve it, an established timeframe in which to address it, and no person of authority accountable for solving it. Focus on identification of need.

Also on the sales and marketing alignment list is the lead hand-off process. Assuming a prospect meets the qualification requirements that sales and marketing have pre-determined, there then needs to be a clear process for passing the lead from marketing to sales. Too often, leads are lost in the transfer for avoidable reasons. Two of the key ones include insufficient or inaccurate intelligence attached to the lead so the sale rep doesn’t have the right information about who they should speak with or what they should be talking about. Or the sales rep just may not be ready to accept the lead due to a number of reasons beyond marketing’s control. So the key lesson here is to have a clear, clean sales handoff process that ensures when a lead is passed by marketing to sales that it’ll have the care, attention and accountability it needs.

Enablement – The Right Tools & Support

A common cause of sales and marketing misalignment is lack of sales enablement. Enablement requires that sales reps have the tools, training, lead intelligence and support required to keep a sales opportunity engaged. Proper enablement of sales reps includes ensuring they have a set of relevant information (i.e., case studies, white papers, product data sheets, testimonials, etc.) to provide to their prospects.

They also need to have an understanding about what information is appropriate to provide to a prospect at the right time. Providing the wrong information at the wrong time can derail a prospect’s momentum. The sales rep must be sensitive to the journey that buyers take to make purchasing decisions, and must respect the buying cycle stages. Lead intelligence is a no-brainer these days; the sales rep simply must be armed with critical information about the prospect – what they’re interested in and why, when they want to solve their problem, how much they’re willing to spend on the solution, how much research they’ve done via your web site or social media, the composition of the purchasing committee, etc. It’s essential to enable sales reps with this information.

In terms of sales support, in many cases (and especially for large accounts), sales reps need help staying focused on the sales opportunity. At a basic level this could include help scheduling appointments. And on the complex side of support, they may need help acquiring critical intelligence about their prospects and applying this intelligence in a prescribed manner. So for certain types of sales opportunities factor in the appropriate level of support that is needed. The subject of prescribed approaches brings us to the third issue – “Integrated Marketing.”

Integrated Marketing – Where Human & Digital Touch Intersect

Marketing automation is gaining widespread adoption. If your organization isn’t yet familiar with marketing automation, the leading providers, and the features of their systems, start doing the research because this is an important component of Marketing 2.0. The concept is fairly simple: Using technology to help you monitor the behavior of your prospects and manage what information they receive from you and when.

While the idea is straightforward and the concept has its place in an increasingly complex marketing environment, the common misconception is that a digital marketing solution is the panacea. It is most definitely not, and organizations that develop their demand creation strategies and programs based on a premise that marketing automation is the end-all, be-all are going to be disappointed. Unless, however, they deploy marketing automation in tandem with sound data practices and critical elements of human touch. Data is a long story we don’t have space for here, so let’s focus on human touch.

Just like most almost anything in life, moderation and balance are also in order for those responsible for their organization’s demand creation initiatives. And by this I mean – integration. Applying only dialogue-based marketing techniques or only digital-based programs are not approaches that will yield optimized results. In today’s complex business-to-business demand creation environment, a robust mix of tools and approaches must be in play and deployed in ways that support each other.

The best relationships between sellers and buyers are built on trust and credibility. These are inherently human qualities. Sure, you can trust technology, but then again think about how many times your software or hardware has disappointed you. Sticking with the technology analogy, when it fails you, you call tech support right? Maybe you will use other aspects of the technology to trouble-shoot on your own first. Maybe you will try to download a patch or an upgrade. Maybe you are one of those people who will exhaust all technological options before resorting to the phone call. But more than likely you want to talk with a person because the technology has already ticked you off enough. You want a live person who will listen to you, understand you, empathize, and who can synthesize what you’re saying and talk you through the solution.

The point of this example is that the human touch is essential in this process. It’s no different when it comes to demand creation. Marketing automation is very useful at helping you to identify who is coming to your web site and monitor their digital behavior. It’s also helpful for assigning “scores” to these people so that when they hit a certain threshold after a set of activities, it comes to your attention immediately. And it’s useful for determining what email messages or other digital content should be automatically delivered based on certain buyer behaviors or scores. That’s good stuff!  My company is a user of marketing automation for ourselves and our clients, and we like it for these purposes. But we mostly like it because it helps to enrich our intelligence about our buyers so that we can give them relevant things at relevant times in their buying cycle. Buyers respect that! (If you take nothing else away from this article, remember that.)

But we also recognize that in B2B marketing where sales are typically complex and where opportunities must be carefully nurtured along every buying cycle stage, human touch is essential. Just as important is knowing when human touch should occur.

There’s no math or science that tells us with certainty (not yet anyway) that a seller should speak with a buyer at pre-determined intervals. Or exactly how many digital touches should occur before a human touch should take place. So while the science may not be fully fleshed out yet, it’s certainly reasonable to assume that there is a time for digital touch and there is a time for human touch throughout the buyer and seller journey. It’s no different from knowing that sometimes it’s okay to text someone, or post a comment on their Facebook page, but that at some point we need to pick up the phone and talk voice to voice. It can be the breakthrough in a relationship. Listening to the other person can help us discern the difference between what we think they want and what they really want. It’s the integration of both these forms of contact that yields the greatest results.

If you’d like more information, email me at larry.fleischman@www.televerde.com. Visit www.www.televerde.com. Or here’s a concept – call me at 480-517-6137.

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