Is It A Sales Problem, A Messaging Problem or Something Else?

Posted by Doug Davidoff

Jul 15, 2015 1:00:00 PM

B2B-Sales-Frustration-495936.jpgRecently, I was talking with a Senior Vice President for a growing $40-million-dollar company. He was hired to help lead the company through their next phase of growth (targeting more than $100 million in the next 3 – 5 years) and to help get new offerings off the ground.

He shared with me that their core service is very strong right now, but that it’s getting increasingly commoditized. They compete in a highly fragmented business, and a core part of their advantage was that they’ve completely professionalized the service from both a customer experience perspective and a corporate perspective (in terms of reporting, reconciliation, etc.).

With new players coming in, and even some acquisitions taking place, that advantage is losing some of its power. Plus, they realize that while their core offering clearly has room for growth (he’s confident he could double the size of the business), it doesn’t have the same long-term growth potential (and hence the wealth opportunity) that a fuller set of offerings would provide the company.

This executive has succeeded in the industry he’s in before so he knows the dynamics very well; but he’s been very frustrated that he hasn’t gotten the traction on their new offerings that he expected. His company has a solid reputation in the market, his salespeople have good relationships with their customers (who are primary prospects for the new offerings).

He told me that his team has been successful in getting meetings to discuss the new services, and that the meetings appear to go well with the prospect/customer showing interest in the idea. But then the opportunities get nowhere.

He was referred to me from a partner who is involved in some of the sales program design work that we do, after sharing his frustrations with her. In talking with me, he expressed his concern that he couldn’t tell if his problem was that his salespeople simply needed to be trained to sell better, they needed better messaging or both.

As I talked more with him I learned a lot about the economics behind the decision to add complementary services. I gained an understanding of the features and benefits of the services and why it made sense for them to offer these services, and a bit about the advantages of using the services.

What I didn’t learn was:

  • Who the customer is and the various roles that they play within the organization and in the decision.
  • What problems the customer is currently dealing with.
  • How those problems are impacted by the services.
  • The journey a customer goes through in deciding to procure such services.
  • Why should they change their current approach and why should they change now?

I told this VP, “You know I hear a lot about why you want to do this, but I don’t hear much about who the customer is and why they need you to do this. It seems to me that you’re making a common mistake by taking a product-centered approach rather than a customer-centered approach in bringing these new services to market.”

I concluded that the problem was neither a sales problem or even a messaging problem…yet. It was a positioning and process problem. Further, until they addressed the positioning and process issues, they would not be able to confidently or effectively address the messaging or sales problems he and I are both certain they do have.

Here’s what I recommended to him, and I would recommend to any B2B sales organization looking to spur accelerated growth or launch new offerings:

Define Your Buyer Personas

I’m not going to rewrite everything I’ve written about personas here (though here are two great tools if you’d like more on the subject:  Buyer Persona Quicktip and Buyer Persona Workbook).

Suffice it to say if you are not clear on who your primary, secondary and negative personas are, you cannot create effective messaging or build a repetitive, scalable sales process.

Without such clarity, you simply don’t have the focus to narrow your efforts and build predictability into your sales process. I don’t care how big your company is, or how much success you feel that you’ve had. Without this focus, your sales process will bog down at some point, and while you may be able to plow through to continue to create top line growth, your sales and retention costs will grow, reducing your profitability.

Map Out The Decision Journey

It’s not enough to acknowledge the stages of the journey, you must identify what is happening from your customer’s perspective in each phase. Mapping the process allows you to see how your customer should be making decisions and allows you to align your marketing, sales development and sales process to their decision process.

It will also highlight where things may be going wrong – on your part or the part of your customer. Here’s an example:

We follow the inbound marketing journey methodology of:

  • Epiphany (Problem Identification)
  • Awareness
  • Consideration
  • Decision
  • Post Decision (Success, Satisfaction & Loyalty)

In working with a client recently on mapping the decision journey, we identified a critical point where sales opportunities were getting lost. Our map of the proper decision process identified assessing the current situation and understanding impacts of change as two important actions in the consideration phase.

We realized that many of the prospects they were working with were skipping those steps. They were, in essence, jumping from awareness (yes, we have this problem) to decision. This lead to poor decision making on the part of the prospect.

Realizing this, we’ve adjusted our lead management and sales strategy to increase the focus and build the need for proper consideration. Our client realized that they need to teach their customers how to make a good decision. If we hadn’t mapped the journey, we would have continued to try to adjust things that don’t address the real problem.

Adapt to the Realities of The Zero Moment of Truth

One problem I noticed in talking with this VP (and I’ve noticed in many other conversations) was that the previous success he was trying to replicate was done in a world that doesn’t exist. If you were to visit his company’s website, you’d see lots of powerful language, nice design, beautiful pictures and a bunch of claims.

What you won’t see are:

  • A teaching point of view.
  • Valuable content that educates the customer.
  • Conversion paths.
  • Any opportunity for real engagement.
  • Frankly, any reason to come back to the site.

He is making the classic mistake of trying to control his message and his sales process. After all why expend all the resources and efforts to enable your customer to control their path when you’re already spending a shitboatload of money on salespeople and the tools and people to support them?

The answer is actually quite simple: because that’s how your customers make decisions today. Look, I get there’s a lot of debate about how much of the journey is done before a salesperson gets involved. What’s not up for debate is that whether your sales rep is there or not, your customer is researching options online.

Given the complexity of most decisions today, your salespeople will never be able to connect with every decision influencer. Making it easy for customers to guide themselves on their own decision – on your website – leverages your sales team investments, and is absolutely crucial to grow consistently today.

Move to Messaging & Execution

With these items in place, you’re now ready to address messaging and sales execution. Make sure your messaging and sales processes align with what you have learned about your buyers and their journey.

If you find yourself in a place where you’re wondering if you have a sales problem or a messaging problem, start at the beginning. Redirecting your focus to your customers and prospects can go a long way in helping you solve the growth equation.