In our last issue
, we discussed how the principles of Solution Selling and Permission Marketing can be leveraged to create an effective approach to enterprise-level sales and marketing. In this article, we’ll try to add some detail and offer practical action items for sales and marketing when approaching prospects at various stages of readiness.
To do that, we’ll look at prospects at three stages along the buying cycle: latent pain, recognized pain, and action oriented.
In most cases, this would be the state of the majority of the people in your market. People at this phase are not looking for your solution. They tend to rationalize the current way of
doing business and define their goals around perceivably viable solutions.
The role of marketing at this stage is to raise awareness to the problem and get these people to recognize the pain. While people at this stage are not looking for a solution, they are generally interested in how other companies in their industries are doing, what problems they have, and how they solve them. Any information you can offer them about industry practices, benchmarks, and competitive case studies has a good chance of getting their attention.
Since the majority of the prospects are at this stage, your sales people cannot give all of them enough attention. That’s OK, since prospects at this stage have no interest in talking to a person who tries to sell them a solution to a problem they don’t recognize. Here are two things your salespeople can do at this stage:
- Each salesperson should have a list of 30-60 target accounts
at this stage. Since these people are not looking to buy, any attempt to sell them is likely to shut the door for your salespeople. The goal of the salesperson should be to build relationships within these accounts and to gain permission to learn more about their issues. Instead of telling prospects about your solution, ask them for advice on your next product release, who you should partner with, and where the industry
- Your salespeople should look for key events that could signal
recognition of the pain and trigger a sales opportunity (see the following article – Prospecting for the 21st Century). Other buying signals could be captured by tracking patterns of response to your direct marketing efforts.
These tasks are suited for both your external and your internal salespeople, but the key is listening first, which is something you’ll have to train them to do.
Once the pain is elevated to a level of awareness, people start looking to frame the problem and scope out available solutions. They seek to find out how others have solved similar problems, what solutions have been successful, who are the trusted vendors, and what investment would be required to get the problem solved.
For example, a company that is looking to improve customer service might look at a host of related issues and solutions, ranging from self-service over the web to call-center and field
service optimization solutions. It also has to decide whether to go with a best-of-breed solution to solve one of the problem or a suite solution to address multiple issues.
This stage is where most opportunities are lost, although in most cases you wouldn’t even know about it.
Case studies from companies in similar situations, presented in writing or through interactive events (e.g., Webinars), are most effective in helping prospects frame the problem around your solution. Since the problem scope is not well defined at this stage, any feature discussion runs the risk of comparing apples to oranges. The emphasis should be on cost/benefits that make your solution more appropriate and attractive.
The role of sales at this stage is to help prospects navigate through the loads of information thrown at them by competing vendors from multiple solution categories. Hopefully, your organization has established relationships with the prospect at the earlier stages, and your sales people have a level of
credibility and knowledge that helps them address the prospect with more relevant information.
This is also the stage where additional decision makers at the company get involved. While the pain might be initially recognized by the VP of Service, this is when the CFO, the CIO, and others need to buy into the problem. An important goal of
sales at this point is to identify these decision makers, understand their issues, and help them understand the problem within their framework of reference. Marketing material should
help sales by addressing the different constituencies.
Now that the problem has been framed and the scope of the solution better defined, the prospect is focused on sorting out the best solution. This is an active opportunity and sales is actively engaged with the prospect. Most of the interaction is around
requirements, questions, and issues identified by the buying organization. In many cases, these would be in the form of RFP. In most situations, the RFP is a formality that you have to go through, but the final decision is based on relationships, credibility, and trust.
What sales should focus on at this point is permission for solution demonstration. I am not referring to your usual dog and pony product demo, but an actual proof of concept or pilot(see Accelerated Proof
As we mentioned in the previous article, most sales opportunities end up in no buying decision. As the sales cycle stretches out and the cost and complexity of the proposed solution extends beyond initial expectations, prospects lose sight of the problem and give up on a solution. Marketing activities should be used to continue selling the problem, quantify it in tangible terms, and use success stories to show prospects the light at the end of the tunnel.
Both marketing and sales have important roles in capturing enterprise level customers:
- Marketing activities should help move prospects along the stages of awareness to the point of action through reference stories.
- Marketing should position the vendor as a credible partner and provide opportunities for sales to engage with the prospect.
- Marketing material should address the issues of different constituencies within the buyer organization.
- Sales should use marketing responses and key trigger
events to identify opportunities to engage with a prospect.
- Sales should look to increase permission level with the
prospect, first to learn about their issues and then to demonstrate a solution.
- Sales should identify the multiple buying influences
within the prospect organization, understand, and address their concerns.
These roles and definitions may vary from one company to another. No matter what they are, clear understanding of the roles and well-defined mutual expectations are required to
ensure healthy relationships within the organization and to successfully address enterprise buyers.