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Lessons From CEB's Sales and Marketing Summit

I recently spent two days in Las Vegas at the CEB Sales and Marketing Summit, which brings together both marketing and sales professionals to discuss the trends in the sales process. It was so nice to attend an event where I was actually the intended audience and where the tracks addressed my day-to-day challenges and the pain points of my customers. I got a ton out of the conference, and I tried to approach each track with the mindset of “What’s one thing that I didn’t know?” and “What’s one thing I can implement when I get back to my desk?” I’ve tried to encapsulate the takeaways and the “one thing” we can all leverage in our day-to-day professional lives:

#1 More is not always better. This was a consistent theme across the entire conference. Basically, with more information and more choices, selling and buying has become more complicated. As a sales professional (or marketer) how do we help make the process EASIER for our customers? Are we just reacting and giving our customers even MORE information, or are we simplifying the buying process and decision for them by being prescriptive and telling them what they should buy based on our experience. How do we sell prescriptively vs reactively?

I can think of tons of examples where my best relationships and customers have come out of conversations where I’m “prescribing” a marketing program based on what I’ve seen work for other similar customers, or asked the tough questions to steer the buyer in a different direction, versus giving them only exactly what they’ve asked for. As reps, we need to ask how can we take a proactive approach to anticipate the needs of our customers and prospects, and guide them through the sales process with the right information? And furthermore, how does we relate to the overwhelmed IT buyer that they are trying to sell to?

Sidebar: Did you know that the travel agency business has had a comeback? This was a consumer example of how a more empowered customer is not always better. Think of all of our access to travel comparison sites and how overwhelming it’s become. As a consumer, we want to be guided through our decisions to the “dream vacation” and assume the travel agent knows best and may even challenge our thinking. Knowing how to appeal to multiple influencers (e.g. family members), the travel agent provides the right level of information to guide us or prescribe the perfect vacation.

Other really interesting consumer examples were given in one of the lunch presentations by Barry Schwartz, who wrote “The Paradox of Choice.” Check out his TED Talk. Fascinating research, that demonstrates when we’re faced with more information or more choices, we are likely to struggle to make a choice and are likely to be less satisfied with the choices we make. Bringing it back to “how do I apply this to my job?” I think we should look across UBM and our own interactions with customers.  What does our customer’s sales journey look like? How easy is it to buy from us? Do we offer an influential set of “do this/don’t do that” recommendations?

Following the same advice of simplifying and prescriptive selling, I sat in on a presentation regarding how to build a compelling presentation. There were some great reminders on how to build a more consultative proposal. At a very basic level, they recommended using what they called NOSE (Needs, Outcomes, Solutions, Evidence) to structure your proposal:

  • Needs – Evidence you understand their needs, issues or business challenges
  • Outcomes – The business results, improvement or outcomes they seek
  • Solutions – A recommendation for a specific solution
  • Evidence – Evidence of your ability to deliver and the reasons they should select you

They also recommended this book to learn more on this topic: “Persuasive Business Proposals.”

#2 Downloading content isn’t necessarily an indicator of sales readiness. This too was a theme I heard multiple times through various tracks and case studies of effective content marketing.  This takeaway doesn’t necessarily relate to our day-to-day in media sales, but it does help us when having lead guarantee or SRL conversations with clients.  While you might think that as a lead comes closer to selecting a vendor, they would consume more content, it’s just the opposite. CEB research found that content consumption peaked when leads are trying to understand their problem (23.7%) and while evaluating a solution. Consumption is at the lowest when they’re selecting a supplier and finally completing the purchase (13.4%). If marketers continue to assume that leads are sales-ready based on content consumption, they are risking passing leads to sales way too early. I heard from one marketer, that they no longer even look at leads as sales ready but simply as indicators of interest. Every indicator of interest guides them as marketers on how to continue the conversation, and they work with sales to move the prospect closer to a sale rather than just handing it off.

Sidebar: I experienced this lesson first-hand while at CEB and I think we could all use this story with our clients on what not to do. I attended a track regarding the value of personalized content. This was a vendor-sponsored track, from a company you would assume was there to position themselves as marketing leaders.  First mistake, it was 100% a sales pitch of their product. I learned NOTHING of value, and sat through an incredibly boring, worthless pitch. Looking around the room, everyone appeared to be disengaged and multiple people walked out. This was so obviously not the right venue or time for a product pitch, and yet so many of our clients and even this company in the business of marketing, STILL DON'T GET THAT!  To add insult to injury, later that afternoon, I immediately starting receiving calls from their sales reps - two separate reps. I hadn’t even left the conference yet, and for a company that sells technology that automates a personalized marketing experience, how did my name get passed on to two reps who proceeded to call me four times over two days?

Although I wouldn’t recommend the show as a way to meet with customers (the show spans all verticals and isn’t just tech), I would highly recommend it if you are looking to understand the buyer’s journey and expand your understanding of the challenges marketers face in today’s complex, noisy, information overload environment.

I’ll leave you with this final thought from the conference - social selling has reached a tipping point and if you aren’t using it to sell, you’ll soon be considered a laggard. Who wants to be a laggard? Not me!

Lead Generation, content marketing, marketing best practices, marketing insights, brand awareness, demand generation, event marketing, Tech Marketing Smarts Blog