The world is forever conspiring against the revenue optimist.
Buyers get indecisive. Sales cycles lengthen. Big money gets wasted pursuing deals that never close. Or maybe someone else wins. Why does this happen?
Because you’re boxed into a narrow frame.
Maybe someone else decided what the conversation would be about before you arrived and now you’re at a clear disadvantage. Or maybe someone important will soon decide that the issue under discussion isn’t that important. Your precious investment of time and resources will simply vanish as your prospect decides (slowly and fitfully) not to decide at all.
Typically, bad things happen when the scope of a sales conversation is narrow — when it doesn’t address the arc of the buyer’s decision journey.
Consider this: You never want a conversation to begin with an explanation of what’s great about you or, even worse, why you’re better, faster, cheaper than your competitors.
And, if it does, you want to widen the frame.
You want to go meta — and have a bigger conversation. In fact, you want a conversation about the conversation — one that addresses a full set of concerns (not just the ones the buyer has self-diagnosed) and options (not just the ones related to your product).
That’s how TripAdvisor (market value: $11B) eclipsed Priceline, Travelocity, and even its former parent, Expedia (market value: $6.9B). It went upstream in the value chain, diminishing the perceived value of all the other players downstream. It expanded the conversation.
By offering reliable guidance to travelers, not just inexpensive tickets and hotel rooms, it has experienced extraordinary growth. Indeed, TripAdvisor wins by offering “metasearch,” not just search. It aggregates everyone else’s offers, placing itself at a higher level of value.
It’s a principle that applies to corporate strategy, but it applies to marketing and sales strategies as well. Be a reliable guide. Provide an aerial view. Reframe the conversation.
Get beyond the factors that are immediately visible.
You want to speak to hidden issues and larger concerns. You want to clarify why the status quo is unacceptable — if, in fact, it is. You want to surface the risks that remain buried and unacknowledged, particularly if they threaten the personal status or ambitions of your prospect.
You want to honestly address the strengths and limitations of available options — the ones you present and the ones you don’t. That’s how you make it matter and make it real. That’s what it means to be a thought leader and trusted authority as opposed to a mere product purveyor.
Rather than get trapped giving a confined set of answers, you want to raise new questions: Have the implications, costs and consequences of your prospect’s current situation been fully considered? Has the prospect considered what companies in a similar situation have experienced (in the absence of a solution) and the actions they took to achieve breakthrough performance?
By stepping back and widening the frame, you can provoke new discussion and build confidence.
You can expose risks and vulnerabilities that your prospect (or competitive rival) may not have explored. You can also present options that may not have been considered in the context of why a buyer might need to change and take action in the first place.
In this frame, you want to present a vivid picture. But it’s not a static picture. It’s a moving picture — a dynamic, visually rich, and action-oriented presentation that captures and expresses your point of view.
Your wide angle view (showing organizational risks) can shift to close ups (expressing personal risks) — and vice versa. You can zoom in and out. Provide perspective. Then get personal.
But get out of the narrow frame. And, more importantly, help your prospect get out of this narrow frame. After all, you win by being a decision advisor to your prospects. You win by providing a differentiated perspective, not merely a differentiated product.
Your marketing and sales messages must answer a series of key questions to get attention and drive a decision forward. In fact, you should focus on answering the “why questions” that emerge as a decision comes to the fore.
Just remember: The question on which most decisions stall is, “Why should I change?”Consider this simple equation: D x V x F > Resistance. In this equation, D represents discomfort or dissatisfaction with the status quo, V is the vision of what a new approach can deliver, and F stands for the first practical steps that must be taken to move in the new direction.
Since all of the factors are multiplicative, they all must be clearly and powerfully addressed — and all must be fully acknowledged by targeted stakeholders.
“Unless people are uncomfortable with the status quo, they’re not really motivated to change,” says change management expert Gary Cokins. “If they believe that the vision is overly theoretical, impractical or too expensive, they’re not going to pursue it. And with F, they have to have a place to start and show early results with successful pilots or rapid prototyping techniques. So you really need all three.”
You can overcome the resistance, but you’ll have to master this equation to do it.
DevOps, a term combining development and operations, is a now a hot topic in the softwaresphere. If you spend your days focused on sales and/or marketing, you may never have heard of it. But you really should pay attention now. The concept offers valuable lessons for you.
It’s an approach that stresses communication, collaboration and integration between software developers and information technology professionals. Given the escalating demands of today’s customers, companies of all kinds must produce, test and deploy high quality software at an accelerating pace. To do so, the Dev team and the Ops team must act in an increasingly unified manner.
Otherwise, it takes forever to get a new software release to market – and if you put the pedal to the metal, you are likely to crash.
DevOps streamlines and strengthens code production. It’s the difference between Microsoft releasing a buggy new version of Windows every few years … and Amazon.com deploying new code to its site every 11.6 seconds.
In the past, it was common for the development and operations groups to simply point fingers at each other when deadlines were missed or something went wrong post-deployment. You would get slow work, or you would get sloppy work. Sometimes, you would get both. Not anymore. With companies like Amazon, Google, and SalesForce.com setting the pace, the game of software development has changed forever. Dev and Ops must align to succeed. Sound familiar?
It should. Get ready for the RevOps revolution.
There’s an interesting parallel to DevOps playing out in the realm of revenue development. Sales and marketing teams are under many of the same pressures experienced by their brethren in the world of code. They are under pressure to move at an accelerated rate (“faster sales cycles”). They’re under pressure to increase quality (“qualified leads,” “quality conversations”). And they’re under pressure to meet higher expectations (“ROMI,” “rising quotas”).
To succeed in this increasingly intense and demanding environment, sales and marketing will have to collaborate at entirely new levels. They must align and unify.
Hence, RevOps, a portmanteau for the front office. It combines revenue (your growth imperative) with operations (in this case, sales and marketing operations).
It’s the challenge of every sales and marketing leader to strategically drive growth. And it’s the challenge of operational managers to create a clear and stable system that supports buyers through each stage of a decision. They must bring visibility, process, automation, and accountability to the development of successful customers.
But sales and marketing must communicate, collaborate, and integrate – at all levels – to make these things happen.
As James Obermayer, CEO of the Sales Lead Management Association, puts it, alignment might well begin with a clear definition of a qualified lead. “How do you measure that? How and when should there be follow up, and on whose watch? At the end of the day there needs to be judicial accountability so that lead generation and follow-up can be tightened up,” he says. “There’s just such a leakage between marketing and sales on leads; companies are spending immense amounts generating leads that aren’t going anywhere.”
By creating a predictable system that runs from awareness to advocacy, operational managers enable their front office colleagues (such as creatives in marketing or conversationalists in sales) to marry their art to the emerging science of revenue production. They increase and accelerate sales, while driving out operational cost and risk.
Just consider author Gene Kim’s advice to development and operations professionals seeking best practices in the DevOps era. It’s advice that should be heeded by executive leaders and operational managers responsible for meeting revenue objectives. Indeed, it’s RevOps era advice, too. His guidance: 1) Think in terms of systems. You have to span boundaries as opposed to operating in rigidly defined departments. Kim, co-author of The Visible Ops Handbook, wants people to understand the flow of work in order to increase the throughput and reduce defects. In fact, he wants you think from “left to right” (Dev to Ops) – which, in the RevOps case, might mean demand gen on the left and sales enablement on the right. Meanwhile, automation software can help you “define the work and make it visible.”
Whereas such efforts can increase cycle times and accelerate the cadence of software releases in the DevOps world, systems thinking can, in the RevOps world, help your company obtain unified messaging, a single definition of a lead, and defined processes that stretch all the way across a customer decision cycle. You act as one, predictable, revenue production operation – putting an end to finger-pointing and blame-shifting. 2) Amplify feedback loops. Here, you want to understand and respond to the needs of all your stakeholders, internal and external. You want to maximize feedback loops, learning and improving at every opportunity.
While Kim encourages the embedding of Dev into Ops, the same could be argued for RevOps. You just want to ensure your marketing people spend time in the field with sales. (Your marketing team might even help your sales people personally brand themselves – enabling them to perform as thought leaders and trusted advisors.)
And now, you move “right to left” – ensuring stranded leads are retrieved from sales and put on a nurturing track. You also ensure the voice of the buyer is actively captured, codified, and applied to new marketing endeavors.
Communication and coordination are deeply enhanced by all this attention to feedback. While DevOps leverages feedback loops to reduce defects, accelerate fixes and incorporate new use cases into software development processes, RevOps leaders can enhance the quality of leads, reduce lead leakage, and obtain customer success stories to drive new marketing initiatives. 3) Build a culture of continual experimentation and learning. As Kim notes, you want to foster a culture that that rewards experimentation, risk taking, and rapid learning.
Kim approvingly cites Scott Cook, founder of the tax software giant Intuit: “By installing a rampant innovation culture, we now do 165 experiments in the three months of tax season. Our business result? Conversion rate of the website is up 50 percent. Employee result? Everyone loves it, because now their ideas can make it to market.”
What if your people were just as committed to innovation as it applies to sales and marketing? What if your front office operated like one, unified and unstoppable force for growth? What if… or… why not?
The RevOps revolution is coming. Why not join the vanguard?
Want to separate your signal from all the noise and get the full attention of senior decision makers?
You have to present a Signature Story that addresses the breakdown your buyer may be experiencing -– and the breakthrough solution that can address it.
So what is a Signature Story? It’s a far-reaching narrative that cuts across the stages of a buyer’s decision cycle.
Your Signature Story should offer a proven path forward. It should reflect your vision of what lies ahead.
But the success of your story, more than anything, revolves around its ability to motivate a buyer to change. You have to vividly clarify the potential consequences of sticking to the present state.
With this in mind, here are three key criteria to keep in mind when developing your Signature Story.
- Provoke, Engage and Clarify. The only way you’ll get attention is by offering a new perspective that speaks to the key concerns and interests of your targeted decision maker. You have to offer valuable insights – revealing risks and opportunities that were previously unknown (or insufficiently understood).
- Create a Sense of Urgency. It’s tempting to leap ahead to the great promise associated with your solution. But that won’t get you where you want to go. You have to create urgency by clarifying why the current state is somehow risky and unacceptable. You have to get to the hidden costs and consequences of the problem.
- Craft through Consensus. It doesn’t matter how compelling your message is if your product, marketing and selling teams aren’t unified and bought in. And they aren’t going to buy in unless they participate in the actual creation of your story. You want to get your key stakeholders and influencers in a room and drive consensus.
Ultimately, your Signature Story lays a foundation for creating an array of messaging assets -– assets that support both demand generation and sales outreach campaigns.Indeed, you’ll create actionable assets that your people will actually use.
This is a far more cost effective and better performing approach than creating content in a vacuum, especially considering that 80% of today’s assets go unused by sales in the field, according to the American Marketing Association.
Instead, you’ll create an expansive story that’s fully modular, making it easy to make it relevant. You can unbundle and repackage your story — creating content for many different interactions and conversations.
But it’s important to keep in mind that it’s not your story alone. When you craft a story that captures the imagination of your buyers, it becomes theirs as well.
In this dizzying and distracting world of big data, what your prospects truly value is the big picture.
With time demands and economic pressures greater than ever, there’s a tendency for perspectives to narrow and attention spans to shrink. It’s easy to get mired in the details and contained in a box. Your prospective buyers often know they’re not performing at their optimum but they’re not sure
what to do about it.
If you’re going to have a compelling conversation with them, you’ll have to start by setting context. You’ll need to widen their frame of perception to identify issues, concerns and consequences of which they may not have been aware. As Dan Pink suggests in his new book To Sell is Human, you must be a problem finder and not merely a problem solver. But you do have to show how problems are solved and what a better future might look like.
Just remember: you may not have much time to do these things because your prospects don’t have much time to give you anymore.
In the past, your sales people might have engaged in what I’ll call the long interrogation. They would’ve asked dozens of questions with the defensible claim that one must diagnose before prescribing.
As a sales professional, you would ask your prospects what they wanted so you could
give it to them. That was the heart of solution selling.
This no longer works –- or at least, not nearly as well as it once did. Your prospect is looking at his or her watch the minute a conversation begins. The clock is ticking. What will you do?
If you want to engage your prospect and win the deal, you need to think different.
You must offer a concise, compelling and provocative perspective. You’ll need to share insights that clarify why the current state may no longer be acceptable -– and show the potential costs and consequences of standing still. Before diving ahead and explaining the glorious future associated with your proposed solution, you’ll have to dwell on the unpleasant present.
Still, you don’t have that much time.
You’ll want to vividly and visually show contrast between this present state and a future state that lies ahead. Just make sure you spend a sufficient amount of time exploring the pain and problems you think your prospect might be experiencing in the absence of your solution.
You need to share insights with respect to what you have experienced as an expert who works with others that resemble your prospect. And your prospects will most likely be interested in hearing what others like themselves are experiencing or have experienced.
But, again, the clock is ticking.
This is where we come to the rapid reveal. If you’ve visually and vividly presented your story in an effective way, then you gave your personal briefing in less than 10 minutes – perhaps closer to 5.
You have provided a backdrop for a conversation. You’ve shown the contrast between the present unpleasant and an impressive future. But you’ve done it in a concise, memorable and repeatable way.
You’ve set context for a deeper conversation. You’ve built trust and confidence. And you’ve established your authority as an expert in your field.
Now, you have an opportunity to engage your prospect further. By presenting relevant and provocative insights in a rapid fashion, you win permission to probe further and clarify what your prospect values most. You’ve reset the clock and earned the right to move to the next stage.