(A number of people have asked us to re-print this article by Espresso B2B Marketing. It was originally published by PSVillage. Here it is!)
Hey! What happened to my market?
A VP of Sales at an IT services organization recently told me, “Sometime in 2008 cold calling just stopped working for us. At first, we thought it was the economy. Now we see a fundamental shift in the way people buy.” Some of my best friends are sales guys. It’s true. Normally a cocky bunch of souls, most have been in the business for years and have scars on their knuckles to prove it. So it’s somewhat disturbing to see one or two of them crying into their beers, muttering under their breath, and indulging in uncharacteristic self doubt. It’s not yet at the point of cancelled golf memberships and BMWs returned to the showrooms. Although I suspect that’s not far away. As one graying fifty-something sales exec bemoaned, “They just don’t seem to be interested in my pitch anymore; it used to knock ‘em dead.”
Today, buyers are inundated with calls from sales people. A friend of mine receives over 40 prospecting voicemails a day. He’s in a finance function in a technology company. He usually deletes them all at the end of each day; but occasionally he listens to one or two. “It’s agonizing,” he said. “Some callers are so desperate; I know the poor guy who left the message hasn’t received a call back in days.”
Why is this?
Pre-internet, you had to meet with vendors to keep abreast of the latest trends and technologies. Usually it was a sales person. You read trade magazines, went to trade shows, but most importantly you met with sales execs. It was not unusual for a CIO to reserve time on his or her calendar each week to meet with a vendor in order to keep up with the latest technologies and services. Meeting with vendor organizations played a valuable role in helping companies plan and prepare for the future.
Not anymore. Caller-id has virtually eliminated the practice of calling an executive ‘early in the morning before the crowd turns up for work or in the evening when the receptionist has taken off for the day’. Buyers spend more time on the internet and less time taking calls or meeting with vendors. It now can take more than 20 attempts to reach a decision maker by phone and even more to convert the call into a meeting.
With all the information that a prospect needs just a click away the buyer is now the expert. Get this, most buyers are so well educated on their vendors’ products and services that a whopping 87% report that they learned nothing new from their first meeting with a sales person. It’s possible that your prospect may know more about your solutions than your sales team! That is pretty scary, especially if you continue to trot out old selling habits.
Your prospect has deep knowledge of your products and services, of your competition and may have already met your customers online. During the early stages of the buying cycle prospects no longer look for a face-to-face meeting, instead they want to educate themselves. When they are ready, they’ll talk. But, the conversation will be on their terms.
Consider this –
- Over half of CIO’s regularly use social media groups to keep themselves informed and educated.
- Four-fifths of buyers researched the product and vendor before agreeing to talk to a sales person.
- More than three-quarters of companies report that they ‘found’ their vendors after an online search. They learned about the solution, researched the company and made the first call. Think of that – buyers cold calling sellers! Five years ago you would have laughed at the suggestion. Today it’s commonplace.
The bad news is your target customer isn’t taking your calls. The good news your prospects may be looking for your online! You need to be found.
Unfortunately, old habits take a while to die. Eager to show sales ‘progress’, many companies continue to push for face-to-face meetings. Not only does this fail to move the opportunity forward, it often drives away opportunities. Remember the old sales adage, “ABC: Always Be Closing?” Well, that’s been replaced with “AAV: Always Add Value”. If you’re not adding value to the buyer, then it’s unlikely they want to talk with you. Calling a prospect once a month just to ‘check’ in is not adding value.
Can we be content with producing more content?
Some companies eager to meet their prospects on line respond to the new buying preferences by creating mountains of content and hurling it at their prospects in the hope of creating a meaningful Web 2.0 buying experience. That doesn’t work either. Buyers will ignore any messages that do not resonate with them personally and show them how they can solve a business issue. Content for content sake is a waste of time. A recent study by IDG Market Fusion found that in only 42% of cases did prospects find relevant content. So resist the temptation of sending out a white paper whenever a prospect shows interest. Marketing Sherpa discovered that broadcasting irrelevant or off-target information lowered the chance of winning a deal by as much as 45%.
Over the past year or so, there’s been a flurry of blog articles and marketing papers all coming to the same rather obvious conclusion that ‘content is key’. If content is key, you must understand the lock that the key fits. Content for content sake is not only a waste of time, it’s agonizing to receive. Effective content must reflect a thorough understanding of the issues facing the prospect, and show how an individual can solve business problems with your technology or services. It must feel personal and resonate well. It must capture and reflect the way your value proposition impacts and improves the lives of your prospects and clients. The second that content loses relevance, or becomes too salesy, your potential buyer reaches for the mouse and clicks to your competitor’s site.
As an exercise, take a look at your marketing literature or your website. How much emphasis is placed on your services and your solutions in comparison to the issues and needs facing prospects and clients? Is the message you give product, services and solution centric – or does it address the problems that keep your clients awake at night?
If you build it will they come.
With over 150 million websites out there, you need a strategy to get found, capture interest and engage your prospects in an electronic dialogue until they are ready to meet with you. This may sound daunting, but there are proven strategies available. With a few simple, relatively low cost steps, you can get ‘found’ by your prospects and start building a meaningful e-dialogue.
Tools such as Google Adwords grader and a free SEO tool by Bruce Clay Inc. will give you an idea of the popularity of certain search words or phrases. Pick keywords that reflect your value proposition and look for the less popular key word phrases (or long tail keywords as they are called). This will improve your chances of appearing at the top of searches. Once found, your goal is to inform and establish yourself as a thought leader and a trusted source. To do that the content that you share must be:
- Informational not salesy
- Relevant not general
- In the form of a dialogue not a one sided sales pitch
Build the information you have into a story – not just stats and facts. Speeds and feeds about your products make it hard for prospects to tell themselves a story about how you can help them solve their problems. In the words of Ardath Albee (eMarketing Strategies for the Complex Sales), “Stories are stealth marketing”.
Your information needs to be relevant – and relevant to the buyer. So information aimed at the IT Director must be different from that aimed at the CFO. You’ll need a different story line with different types of content for each individual buyer. That will get their attention. As Albee says, “If buyers can see themselves in the story, they are more inclined to want to participate.”
The information you share needs to be personal and relevant. You’ll need to match the pace of your content delivery to the speed at which the buyer wants to move. Develop a lead-specific calendar of events and a scoring process to keep content delivery in step with the buyer.
So, is cold calling dead?
One would have predicted the demise of junk mail some years ago. Yet the tsunami of carpet cleaning services, credit card offers and official looking envelopes (that leave you feeling cheated when you open them) still arrive in our mailboxes six days a week. Someone is making money from all this. The same will be true of telemarketing. It will continue as one of many channels to market.
Successful telemarketers will have learned to be respectful, not call from a script and develop an engagement model that is personalized and focused to the needs of the person at the other end of the line. The scripted, one-size-fits all calling approach will be consigned to the margins of B2B selling.
Traditional cold calling will be replaced with permission-based calling. If you use telesales in conjunction with a robust content marketing strategy, you will find it easier to get through to your prospects. Imagine, calling into a potential buyer who has already researched your company, is familiar with your solutions and has been educated by your websites and blogs. Now that’s a warm call.
So the next time your sales exec picks up the phone and says, “Hi, this is Chris Smith from Detroit Consulting Services…” the prospect knows about your company and your services and is ready to talk!