How to Integrate AI Tech Into Each Step of the Customer Journey

The Customer Lifecycle. The Sales Funnel. The Buyer’s Journey. All of these phrases are similar expressions of the same thing. They’re used to describe the process that it takes for a visitor to become a customer.

The Customer Lifecycle. The Sales Funnel. The Buyer’s Journey. All of these phrases are similar expressions of the same thing. They’re used to describe the process that it takes for a visitor to become a customer.

While the models and names of stages may have changed through the years, many agree that it can be boiled down to four simple components:

Awareness > Consideration > Decision > Loyalty

The No. 1 goal for most businesses is to generate more conversions (which primarily consists of sales). This can be through their marketing efforts, sales tactics, brand communication, conversion rate optimization, and other methods. Of late, many companies have developed critical competencies in using AI to nudge customers towards sales, and have improved their numbers drastically as a result.

AI, machine learning, and big data technology can all work hand-in-hand to improve the customer experience and support an optimized customer journey, which leads to more conversions in several key ways.

Let’s talk about how you can start using AI tech in each stage of the funnel.

Awareness

Marketing strategies these days are often heavily focused on the top of the funnel to build brand awareness and attract new customers. For many businesses, recognition is nearly equivalent to the value of their brand. Elena Veselinova and Marija Gogova Samonikov explain in their book Building Brand Equity and Consumer Trust Through Radical Transparency Practices that brand impact is a continuous process that insures purchases, cash flow, revenue and share value. Brand communication and experience creates and builds a loyal base of customers that do not consider any other brand.

Creating a strong level of brand awareness takes time and strategy. Companies spend millions of dollars on marketing campaigns and advertising to increase their reach and recognition, but AI tech is able to take the guesswork out of these strategies by analyzing huge volumes of consumer data for more targeted campaigns. For example, predictive analytics software can collect, track, and analyze datasets from past customers to determine which strategies or tactics performed well. These datasets are turned into reports with insights to guide marketing efforts and place relevant content in front of the most interested eyes at the right times.

With AI-assisted marketing, advertising strategies can be backed with data to optimize ad placement. Machine learning systems can even identify the best influencers for brands to partner with in order to reach relevant audiences and grow brand familiarity.

Credit: Venturebeat.com

Consideration

The next step of the buyer’s journey is often overlooked by marketers because it can drag on for a long time, depending on the product and the customer’s needs. During the consideration phase, a customer is already familiar with a brand or product but are unsure of whether or not to actually purchase. Customers will typically research the product’s reviews, compare prices to competitors, and look for alternatives during this stage. Due to this, the number of potential customers tends to narrow down considerably as they move from this step to the decision phase.

Brands must work to combat each customer’s concerns and questions standing in the way of a purchase decision. One of the best ways to do this is by offering personalized content that is relevant to each person, making it easy for them to find the information they are seeking.

AI systems can be used to predict a customer’s needs based on consumer data and previous online behavior, and then encourage conversions with a tailored UX or even a completely customized landing page that displays content relevant to that customer.

For example, if a site visitor has viewed a certain product page and played a video demonstrating its features, these actions can trigger an AI system to target them with personalized content that prompts a conversion if they don’t proceed to buy immediately. This content could be something as simple as an email message with more information or a display ad with a special offer for the specific product.

Credit: Personyze.com

Then there are platforms that use conversational AI tech (such as chatbots and voice assistants) to power automated, text- or audio-based interactions between a business and its customers. These platforms can understand speech, decipher intent, differentiate between languages, and mimic human conversations with great accuracy. Increasingly, they are advanced enough to even understand individual context and personalize the conversation accordingly.

Based on data insights, AI tech can curate content that matches up with the issues that are most important to that person, whether it be product features, immediate delivery, long term savings, etc. Customers respond quite well to personalized offers — an Accenture study reported that 91% of consumers are more likely to purchase from a company that sent them targeted deals or recommendations.

Decision

Once a customer moves from consideration to action, AI tools can be used to support a positive sales experience and eliminate any bumps along the way. If a customer encounters an issue while browsing the site, or during checkout or payment, it could be an instant sales killer, if it isn’t handled immediately by something like live chat.

According to multiple studies, one of the most frustrating parts about online customer service is long wait times. By using AI-enabled chatbots, companies can instantly answer common questions and resolve issues or roadblocks affecting the progression of the buyer’s journey. And customers certainly appreciate these quick response times. AI systems can significantly increase conversions with effective personalization and swift customer service.

Credit: AIMultiple.com

Loyalty

The last step of the customer journey is possibly the most valuable. Over half of customers reportedly stay loyal to brands that “get them.” Returning customers also tend to spend more money than new ones, and an oft-reported stat says that on average 65% of businesses’ revenue comes from existing customers.

Businesses (and customers) can benefit greatly from loyalty programs that are backed with machine learning technology. Starbucks famously uses AI tech to analyze customer behavior, improve convenience, and identify which promotions would perform best based on that person’s drink or food preferences, location, and purchase frequency. Their loyalty program uses this data to send out thousands of offers each day for the products their customers are most likely to buy. Their customer loyalty program grew 16% YoY last year as a direct result of their Deep Brew AI engine.

Credit: Starbucks app

While a positive shopping experience and great products are certainly important factors in a customer’s decision to buy again, data-driven marketing campaigns that encourage loyalty can also help a company to grow their numbers of repeat sales. Again, AI-assisted personalization techniques can boost the chances of a customer coming back for more, especially if they receive targeted offers or shopping suggestions based on previous interactions.

Credit: Accenture.com

The Wrap

AI is proving to be the tool of the future for marketers. It allows marketing teams to use predictive insights and analytical data to encourage and assist every micro-decision taken by consumers. AI systems not only help customers move along the buyer’s journey, they can also provide a more meaningful experience along the way, leading to more conversions and brand loyalty down the road.

Are Your Marketing Messages Worth Your Prospects’ Time?

With no commuting, trips to the gym, or fun being had with friends and family, who doesn’t have more time today than they did a few short weeks ago? But on the other hand, given the seriousness of our circumstances, we all have less patience for marketing messages that seem frivolous or unnecessary.

On the one hand, with no commuting, trips to the gym, or fun being had with friends and family, who doesn’t have more time today than they did a few short weeks ago? On the other hand, given the seriousness of our circumstances, we all have less patience for marketing messages that seem frivolous or unnecessary.

In other words, attention is even more valuable, so you’d better be sure that your messaging is worth the time you’re asking your prospects to invest. Here are a few ways you can help your prospects see why it’s worth it to engage with you.

Advise and Connect

Forget the hard sell. Gain trust and attention by offering help in your marketing messages. What advice can you offer your prospects that they will find value in? What questions do you know prospects are asking as they begin their buying journey? What questions are they asking later in the process?

Those are the questions you need to answer. The trick is in answering them not only in a way that helps prospects solve their business problems, but also in a way that positions you as an expert and helps engender trust.

All without giving away your secret sauce.

Probably not something you can whip up off the top of your head, but most definitely something that will pay great dividends. Create content that matters and resonates, and you will connect with your desired decision makers.

Another Kind of Connection

Beyond the connection you want to make with your prospects, you can also make connections for your prospects. Are there colleagues you work with you can stand behind that will make your prospects’ business lives better? Make the connection and you’ll a happy prospect and a happy colleague.

Obviously, this doesn’t scale and isn’t appropriate for early funnel prospects, but it can be a great way to remain in contact with prospects as you nurture them over time.

Demonstrate Through Your Marketing Messages

Finally, create opportunities to demonstrate that you have the experience and expertise to make a difference in their business. Case studies and testimonials are great, as are interviews and presentaiotnsr with clients who you have helped succeed.

So forget the “just checking in” phone calls and “we’re new and improved” emails. Provide value in your marketing messages and they will be greeted warmly more often, and your prospects’ doors will more frequently be open.

12 Marketing Tips for Successful B2B Lead Qualification

B2B marketers understand the importance of qualifying a lead before it goes to a salesperson, but sometimes the lead qualification process can get tricky. Today, most established companies assign the qualification role to an SDR.

B2B marketers understand the importance of qualifying a lead before it goes to a salesperson, but sometimes the lead qualification process can get tricky. Today, most established companies assign the qualification role to an SDR, or sales development rep — a dedicated function that has one foot in sales and one in marketing.

But it’s all part of a fairly complicated process. To establish process effectively, follow these tips.

First, set your qualification criteria in concert with your sales counterparts. Think well beyond the simple score generated by your marketing automation system. Then, set up your process. As you plan, here are 12 key points to guide B2B marketers in improving their results:

Prepare Your Web Form

Direct your campaign inquiries to a web-based response form for their preliminary qualification, especially in a high-volume environment. Self-reporting on the web saves money for you and time for your prospect. Adding qualification questions to your form is going to reduce campaign response rates, but pays off in efficient lead-handling.

Start With Email

For outbound inquiry qualification, email is today’s preferred medium. Design your emails to link to a web-based qualification form. Make sure it’s mobile-friendly. Your emails and web forms should also offer several other response media options, including email, phone, and social media. Try adding a “call me now” feature.

Be Realistic About Tele-qualifying

Today’s businesspeople are rarely at their desks. Even if they are, they’re likely to let their calls go to voice mail as screener. Expect tele-qualification to require between eight and 12 attempts. Be sure to have a script ready when the phone call goes to voice mail.

Mix Your Marketing Channels

Set up an alternating qualification message series, by medium. If email doesn’t work, try the phone; or, if the phone doesn’t work, try postal mail. Include LinkedIn as part of the mix.

Prepare Your Talking Points

If you’re using the phone to qualify, make sure your script is more about prospects and their needs and less about your company and your products.

Set Your Maximum Number of Touches

Set them in advance, and base them on a reasonable number of contacts. For instance, if the prospect is unreachable after five phone calls and five emails, you may want to call it quits. But keep testing the cadence and frequency, for continuous improvement. The ROI on a customer relationship can be sizable enough to justify a long series of attempts.

Have a Nurturing Program in Place

Have the program in place as your Plan B. Some inquirers are in the earliest stages of research, and nowhere near ready to talk to a salesperson. But they may be eventually. If qualification outreach fails, move them to nurturing, which is a series of communications designed to keep the relationship going until the prospect is ready for the next step.

Determine When to Quit

If nurturing goes nowhere, put the name back in the marketing database for re-promotion and flag the record accordingly. If the prospect shows interest again, follow the process.

Adjust the Process to the Customer’s Situation

You can’t force customers to be ready, but you can — and must — be there when they become ready.

Manage Inquiries on a First-In-First-Out Basis

Do this so that no lead gets cold while waiting to go to sales.

Make Sure Your Qualifiers Concentrate on Qualifying

This might seem obvious, but especially on the phone, it can be tempting to move into a sales conversation. Their only job — a hugely important one — should be to qualify, and set appointments on behalf of a salesperson.

Customize Your Outbound Channel to the Incoming Medium

Respondents through digital channels expect fast — instant — response. So, use the tools needed to deliver; whether it’s autoresponders, chatbots, or 24-hour call centers.

 

A version of this article appeared in Biznology, the digital marketing blog.

8 Ways to Increase Digital Ad Revenue by 50% or More

Companies need to take a serious look at their digital ad programs, make needed adjustments, and prepare sales teams for success. From fixing inventory and pricing to launching programmatic audience extension, here are eight tactics worth considering.

I recently received a fantastic email from a single title B2B publication that I work with: “As of today, we are on track for $452,380 in digital revenue alone. This is a 66% increase over last year’s digital revenues of $271,798!”

How did they do it?

We took a serious look at how the team was approaching digital ad sales, removed programs that weren’t working, reworked their products, delivered more value to their advertisers, and simplified the program. The publisher, editorial, and sales staff got behind the changes and their advertisers obviously responded positively.

Now they’re getting ready to launch some new digital products for next year.

With the fall sales season coming up quickly, now is also the time for you to take a serious look at your digital ad programs, make needed adjustments, and get your staff ready. Here are eight tactics that you should consider.

1. Simplify Your Digital Advertising Program

When I look at most publishers’ digital ad programs, they’re too complicated and have too many products. Ask your ad reps to give you a quick recap of your digital program. If they can’t quickly and easily do this, then you’ve got a problem.

A good rule of thumb is that if you’re not selling out any specific product 70% of the time, you should consider eliminating it. Use that inventory to bolster the value of other digital products. Or get rid of it altogether to reduce site clutter and the number of emails you send – and to improve the performance and value of your other products.

Simplification of your digital products is the best way to help your ad reps sell more and to deliver more value to advertisers, making them want to buy from you again and again.

2. Fix Your Inventory and Pricing

When your advertising program is simple, you can ensure that each product has enough inventory to provide excellent value to your advertiser. This is absolutely critical. If you don’t provide true value, you may sell an advertiser once, but you won’t sell them again.

And when you put enough value into each digital product, you can then adjust your rates accordingly. If you do it right, your base digital ad product should roughly sell for the same price as a full-page ad in your print magazine and deliver comparable value.

Adjusting inventory and pricing also allows you to control supply and demand. If you have too many products that aren’t selling out, there is no urgency on the part of the advertiser. But if you consolidate and simplify your products, you can charge more, deliver more value, and create urgency among advertisers to get access to your limited opportunities.

3. Get Rid of the Frequency Rate Card

Frequency rate cards are a legacy of the print-only era. They were designed to give advertisers a discount if they spent more money with you. But today, we sell print and digital (and more). All the frequency rate card does is silo print and disincentivize advertisers from buying digital.

Consider ditching the rate card and replace it with an overall spend discount. Have a base, 1x rate for everything print and digital. Then, give tiered discounts based upon total advertiser spend instead of just on the number of print ads they buy.

This incents advertisers to spend more money with you regardless of the medium.

4. Consider the Digital Sponsorship Model

I’ve covered the digital sponsorship model before, but it’s worth reiterating here. In the sponsorship model, you take all (or most) of your web and email inventory, package it together in a single price, and limit the number of sponsorships you sell.

You bring a ton of value to your advertisers, can charge a premium, and completely change the nature of discussions with advertisers and agencies. Instead of you competing for limited ad budgets, your advertisers compete for the limited sponsorship opportunities on your site.

It isn’t for everyone, but I’ve seen many publishers (especially in niche B2B markets) increase digital revenue by 50-200% after implementing this model.

5. Develop an Inbound Marketing / Lead Nurturing Business

Lead generation is something that most publishers already have in their arsenal. But very few publishers take it to the next level and develop a true inbound marketing/lead nurturing business. Yet this is where advertisers are moving their budgets.

In a lead nurturing business, the publisher leverages its content expertise to help the advertiser develop a very compelling lead magnet. They use their own website, email, and social channels to market the lead magnet, but also remarket to their audience on programmatic networks (LinkedIn, Facebook, Google, etc) to drive even more people to the lead magnet.

And you don’t stop after the initial registration. You then upsell people into requesting direct contact with the advertiser through an email drip sequence and other methods. This help turns “prospects” who access the lead magnet into qualified, sales-ready leads … a huge difference!

As a publisher, you either become the best inbound agency in your market or be prepared to watch other ad agencies or competitive publications take market share away from you.

6. Launch Programmatic Audience Extension

Your advertisers are already running programmatic advertising on Google/YouTube, Facebook/Instagram, LinkedIn, and other networks. They’re just not doing it with you. But with programmatic audience extension advertising, you can position yourself to recapture a good portion of this business.

The concept is relatively simple. Use your website visitors, social media followers, and email subscribers to create remarketing audiences on various programmatic networks. You then sell programmatic campaigns to your audience targeting your specific audience on those networks.

For advertisers, this is a much more targeted demographic than they could otherwise get. They also get the added benefit of leveraging your brand equity.

For publishers, this taps into new budgets and opens up new inventory that you don’t have on your own website. I have seen programmatic audience extension add hundreds of thousands of dollars of new revenue for publishers, often at 70% margins or higher.

7. Educate and Communicate with Your Advertisers

As I’ve written about previously, it’s critical that you align the advertiser’s objective, creative, and success metrics before, during, and after their campaign. Doing this on a regular basis helps set proper expectations and improve repeat business.

I often see advertisers who want clicks or leads but give the publisher a branding creative. They’re then upset when they don’t get enough clicks. Or the advertiser will say they want a branding objective but are still upset about not getting enough clicks.

As a publisher, you must align the client’s campaign objective, the tactics used in their creative, and the metrics they’ll use to evaluate the campaign. This happens at three critical points: when making the sale, when they deliver ad creative to you, and after the campaign.

Some publishers even do a webinar for their advertisers to help reinforce the importance of direct response versus branding campaigns and aligning campaign objective, creative, and success criteria.

8. Keep Digital in Front of Your Sellers Regularly

Finally, keep your digital products in front of your sellers on a regular basis. Every month dedicate a portion of one of your sales team meetings to review how well products are selling and inventory that is still open.

Talk openly about financial performance and key metrics. Discuss what’s working, what’s not, and what you’re hearing from your advertisers. This helps answer several questions:

  • Do my sellers need more training on certain aspects of our digital business?
  • Do I need to better educate my advertisers and their agencies?
  • Do I need to eliminate or modify our digital deliverables or pricing?
  • Do I need to restructure my sales team to better sell under-performing products?
  • How can I help my sellers better overcome advertiser objections?

Talking about digital sales openly and bluntly also keeps digital at the forefront of your sales team’s mind. It’s a level of accountability and keeps your digital products from accidentally “falling off the radar.”

I hope these ideas were useful. If you have any questions about them or how to implement them in your market, please feel free to contact me and let’s chat about your specific situation.

The Insider’s Guide to Strategic B2B Webinar Campaigns

Webinars have been increasingly used as an interactive, visual form of content marketing, both educational and promotional. In fact, about 60% of B2B marketing teams make webinars a key part of their content strategy, as it’s easy to control the message that is communicated to your customers. That’s where strategic B2B webinar campaigns come in.

Webinars have been increasingly used as an interactive, visual form of content marketing, both educational and promotional. In fact, about 60% of B2B marketing teams make webinars a key part of their content strategy, as it’s easy to control the message that is communicated to your customers.

However, just because something is popular doesn’t mean that it is working; engagement rates for most webinar watchers are pitifully low, dipping to 15% in some cases. Getting your audience interested and invested in your message has always been a challenge, but capturing their attention is essential for growing conversion rates.

An unengaged audience is not likely to convert into customers. So you need to ensure that your watchers are actually listening and interacting with your webinar, especially while it’s in progress. Here are a few strategic B2B webinar pointers on how to do that.

Understand Who You Are Talking to in an Audience

Knowing your audience through and through is always the first step to a successful marketing strategy, and it’s no different when it comes to webinars. Using a webinar as a B2B marketing tactic is going to be different than a traditional approach, simply because of the kind of people who will be watching.

B2B customers are not your typical day-to-day consumer. B2B audiences are more motivated by relationships with a business and the measurable value that a product or service provides than saving money or buying the newest thing in the market.

In many cases, the people you are marketing to are upper-level executives who are highly knowledgeable in their industry (and, therefore, less easily swayed by standard pitches). Additionally, you will likely have to appeal to multiple people within an organization, rather than just one, as you would in B2C marketing. It follows that your webinar content should be highly focused on providing top-notch information and clearly demonstrate how your product or service will have a significant impact on the customer’s business.

Invite Your Audience’s Active Participation

Webinars must be interactive if they are going to drive engagement. If your customers wanted to tune in only to learn more about your company, then they could choose to do so from umpteen other channels, the simplest of them being your website. They choose to participate in a webinar because it is one way to interact with your business on a personal level while contemplating whether your product would work for them.

According to Bizibl’s “2017 Webinar Benchmark Report,” the most effective engagement tool during a webinar is a Q&A session between the speaker and the audience. You can collect these questions before the webinar begins through email or social media, or in real time on the webinar platform, which probably lets the audience post questions via a live chat. Answering these questions spontaneously is akin to creating personalized content or providing individual customer service.

Credit: Bizibl Marketing

A webinar should not be the same as a seminar, per se. Just listening to a speaker drone on for an hour (even when they are an interesting orator) can get fairly boring. Webinars provide you and the audience with the opportunity to have meaningful discourse, so make sure that your program is set up to promote two-way conversation.

Show, Don’t Tell

In general, most people tend to be visual learners, especially when it comes to marketing. Eight out of 10 customers would prefer to watch a video demonstration of a product, rather than read about it on a website. Plus, studies have found that when people learn online using visual aids such as video, they are far more likely to remember the information shared therein.

Again, show your customers exactly what you are talking about with live demos, rather than just explaining what your product can do. A webinar solution like ClickMeeting lets you use real-time screen sharing, file sharing, polls, private chats with simultaneous translation, and various collaboration tools to help guide your customers through a step-by-step process that helps them achieve their goals.

Credit: ClickMeeting

By sharing insightful tips and techniques live on webinars, your business can establish itself as a credible resource and an authority in your industry. Top B2B decision-makers are highly influenced by this type of hands-on thought leadership; an Edelman survey found that 48% of C-Suite executives cited educational content as the reason they did business with a brand.

Have a Plan Before, During and After

The entire process of creating a webinar as a part of your marketing campaign must be carefully planned from start to finish. First, you must determine why you’re putting together a webinar in the first place:

  • Is it to establish authority by discussing a technical topic?
  • Does it aim to educate your customers by explaining a complicated process?
  • Is it focused on brand awareness and top-of-the-funnel growth?
  • Is it a push for higher conversion rates from already engaged consumers?

Once your goals have been established, there must be a plan in place to ensure that your webinar brings in positive results. The number of attendees can vary greatly depending on a few small details. For example, people are far more likely (Opens as a PDF) to watch a webinar in the middle of the week (Wednesdays and Thursdays are best). Also, more people will attend a live webinar if they are informed of it a week or so before, rather than further in advance.

Credit: ON24

You also want to monitor audience sentiment before, during and after a webinar. Tracking ROI from marketing campaigns in general is always a challenge, but measuring results from webinars is the most difficult of all. Be sure that your team knows how to properly translate analytical data from the event and that they have the right tools to do so. Look into audience development tools, such as AmpLive, in conjunction with Google Analytics and on-site event tracking software for a better chance at determining ROI from webinars.

Once your webinar is complete, you can make the videos available as part of a resource section of your website, as well as on your YouTube (or Instagram) channel. Digital marketing and competitive intelligence solutions can do this effectively. (Disclosure: the author works for SEMrush, which is one of these tools.)

Video marketing has seen tremendous growth in the past few years, and the engagement numbers are staggering. Branded content video viewership has grown by 258% on Facebook, and 64% of consumers have bought an item after they viewed a video on social media. What’s more, webpages and social media posts with video will keep a user’s attention 2.6 times longer than those with just text or images, thus increasing engagement levels significantly.

Over to You

Webinars provide B2B companies with the unique opportunity to engage with audiences through an interactive and informative process. No other marketing platform can provide something quite this in-depth. However, this does not guarantee success: webinars require a lot of strategic planning.

Make sure that you understand who your audience is and the type of content they are looking for. Fully integrate webinars into your marketing mix. Set goals and put in place tools and systems that will help you achieve your target ROI. Remember, webinars should be informative and educational, but they should also be engaging and fun. Keep things interesting by soliciting and answering questions. And do throw in a liberal helping of humor while you’re at it.

A Popular Sales Email Best Practice to Avoid

Misrepresentation in cold email outreach and social selling is rampant. In fact, it’s becoming a mainstream idea. The result is a popular, yet ineffective, sales email best practice among inside sales teams.

Misrepresentation in cold email outreach and social selling is rampant. In fact, it’s becoming a mainstream idea. The result is a popular, yet ineffective, sales email best practice among inside sales teams.

I’m talking about blatant lying. Faking sincere interest in a prospect as a means to tricking them into a self-centered pitch and/or meeting request.

“What’s the biggest challenge you have as a vendor or service provider?” asks sales trainer, Scott Channell, in a recent blog post.

His answer: Your prospects don’t trust you.

“They have been on the receiving end of too many exaggerations and lies,” says Channell, who then asks, “How much sincerity do you have to fake to earn trust?”

Think this isn’t happening in your organization or daily practice? It may be.

What It Looks Like

“Hey, Jeff. Love what you’re doing at Communications Edge …”

Reality: The seller knows nothing about what my business is doing lately.

“Hi Jeff, I am very interested in what you are doing and wanted to invite you to combine forces to help your business have more exposure …”

Reality: In most cases, the sales rep is not interested in what I’m doing. Because they have no idea what I’m doing. The rep is interested in creating the illusion of interest … all aimed at earning my gullible response.

“Hi Jeff, I came across your website this weekend and was really impressed by your expertise. I was wondering if you had ever thought about teaching online? I think you could teach a great marketing class …”

Reality: The rep is not impressed. Because they’ve not examined my expertise. I’ve been teaching online for years. That fact is obvious if you invest 10 to 15 seconds in noticing. This seller could not be impressed by my expertise without noticing that fact.

Why do I mark such messages as spam, so quickly? Why are your potential customers doing the same?

Because I’ve made myself vulnerable once too many times. So have your customers.

We’re being trained by sellers to distrust sellers.

Saying whatever is needed to trick prospects into speaking is, currently, fair game. It’s a sales email “best practice.” Insincerity is, right now, a mainstream component of sales prospecting culture. So what’s the big deal?

Do Your Emails Reek of Insincerity?

Making ourselves vulnerable cuts both ways. It’s the open, kind thing to do when receiving an email appearing to be genuine. Offering consideration to anyone who asks for it, especially the sincere, is smart. Humans are programmed to naturally think positively — maintain an “abundance mentality.”

But trick me three or more times and shame on me! Hence, we all learn to distrust sellers who exploit our willingness to be vulnerable. Because it takes too much effort to sort the truly sincere from the (fake) “sincere.”

In the end, sales (and your brand) earns a bad reputation.

“Buyers have seen it all,” says Channell.

“As soon as they sense a whiff of insincerity, or that their time is being wasted, you are done. And for those that do agree to speak, the no-show rates (to meetings) are high and the closing rates are low.”

“Your closing rate is going to be lower when you start the relationship faking genuine concern and interest or rely on gimmicks. That sales relationship is built on sand.”

Lies? Misrepresentation? Surely this could not be true in your situation.

But if your inside sales team practices activity based selling (ABS) you may have reason to pause.

Most inside sales teams are becoming defacto marketers — ramping up activity “touch points” to scale outreach. More meetings or demos demand more emails, voicemails … more outreach.

This is leading to a dangerous need: Looking sincere, authentic and relevant to large numbers of people using mass email.

But is your sincerity being seen for what it actually is? (insincere)

The Problem With Activity Based Selling

The ABS culture, mentality and practice is all about the numbers. ABS helps managers know how many proposals it takes to get one deal… and how many meetings are required for a proposal… and, thus, how many calls and emails must be sent for one meeting.

With ABS, success is reduced to squeezing more activities out of inside sales reps. But there’s a hidden problem emerging: Communications techniques reps are resorting to when communicating “at scale.”

Lying. Insincerity.

Indeed, how much sincerity do you have to fake to earn trust?

To be fair cold emailing prospects isn’t about earning trust. It’s about earning a response. I get that. But how effective is it to earn replies using an insincere advance?

What kind of conversations can you expect? In my experience you may earn conversations with unsuspecting prospects. But once you engage in honest discussion (revealing your trickery) they quickly back out of the “conversation.”

Have you ever traded emails (or LinkedIn messages) with someone and suddenly realized, “hey… wait a minute, this isn’t about me after all… this ‘conversation’ is purely about them! They tricked me into listening to a sales pitch!”

Let’s set aside the issue of sabotaging one’s ability to close deals. How many times does it take for prospects to learn the pattern—becoming skeptical about all all inbound emails they receive?

A Sales Email Best Practice That Isn’t

“I talked to a team last week who was sending automated emails on their first touch and getting a 1.5% reply rate,” says Ryan O’Hara, VP or Marketing at LeadIQ.

“I asked the sales manager, ‘Hey … why are you guys doing something that only works 1.5% of the time?’ … they told me… ‘We need to hit our activity goal.’”

“We ran our numbers across the entire sales team and the results showed that we have to do 150 activities a day to hit our stretch goal for the year. We need each sales rep to get one or two good responses a day … to hit their quota of 10 opps per month.”

Not surprisingly, O’Hara reports the sales team had a 4.8% unsubscribe rate. The client was pushing more people out of their funnel than putting in.

Examine your sales communications technique today for any faux sincerity and misrepresentation. Seek and destroy!

Sales and Marketing Automation: Explaining the Difference

Is the difference between sales and marketing automation confusing you? There’s a reason why. Sales teams are being pushed to hit prospecting “activities” numbers — to the exclusion of making those activities count.

Is the difference between sales and marketing automation confusing you? There’s a reason why. Sales teams are being pushed to hit prospecting “activities” numbers — to the exclusion of making those activities count.

As one of my students selling enterprise software put it, “I’m glad to send out X number of emails per week and leave Y number of voicemails … so long as most of those touches bring me closer to a meeting. I’m not willing to hit my numbers for the sake of hitting my numbers — and that’s what management is demanding.”

Here’s the rub. “Mass marketing” mentality is creeping into most sales departments — especially SDRs and BDRs (sales and business development reps).

The result is a blurring between sales and marketing, broadly. But also a blurring between sales and marketing automation tools and how they’re being applied. Inside sales teams are behaving like mass marketing agents. Worse, field reps selling into enterprise accounts are being forced to pump out templated emails to C-suite and officer level prospects.

And it ain’t workin’.

Is Sales a Numbers Game?

Remember the old adage, “Sales is a numbers game?” Given LinkedIn, social media, email, postal mail, cold calling, etc., we need a new name; a more scientific name. They call it “Activity Based Selling.”

Followers of Activity Based Selling (ABS) believe, “sales is a numbers game — won primarily by those who knock on more doors.”

But here’s where it gets ugly. Sales is (and always will be) a numbers game. Is business growth purely quantitative? Certainly not. But proponents of ABS are excluding quality of conversation from sellers’ strategies. Many organizations are over-focusing on reps hitting activity quotas — neglecting the qualitative communication skills needed to approach C-level decision-makers.

In theory ABS makes good sense. In practice it turns out to be spammy, dangerous and ineffective.

Marketing Automation Isn’t Sales Automation

It may sound stupid to say marketing automation isn’t sales automation. Truth is, you may agree in theory: Marketing is distinct from sales. But in practice are your sellers behaving like mass marketers when using email, voicemail and social?

This is where things get cloudy.

According to sales automation software provider Outreach.io, marketing automation is not a substitute for a sales engagement platform. Well, duh. But interestingly, this software vendor prefers the word “engagement” over “automation,” with good reason. Folks in charge of purchasing these tools often don’t see the difference — based on how they intend to use marketing and sales automation tools.

When you intend on using both to send “campaigns,” look out!

Both sales and marketing automation tools have the capability to send en mass. I’m convinced this is because sales automation companies would go broke otherwise.

Everyone demands sellers to send mass emailed campaigns. Big mistake.

Outreach.io rightly advises marketing automation:

  • is ideal for generating leads, but not working them;
  • is too technical and feature-heavy to onboard new reps quickly;
  • lacks flexibility needed for personal conversations;
  • doesn’t enable reps to make calls and interact on social media;
  • send emails via third party servers, not a rep’s inbox, which increases chances of getting caught in spam filters

So What’s the Difference?

The difference is simple in theory and what should be practiced: One-to-many (marketing) message management and one-to-one (sales) message management. It’s the difference between trying to earn whitepaper downloads and webinar registrants, and earning the right to converse with a client and qualify their need.

Marketing automation should be generating leads via mass marketing. Sales engagement (automation) tools should be helping sellers to do what they do best — help those leads qualify or dis-qualify themselves as customers.

Can you do this using cut-and-paste templates you found on Google?

Heck no.

Today’s most effective sales reps — on inside or in field — use qualitative, one-on-one conversations. Email plays a vital role in starting and moving conversations toward closure. Problem is, many who invest in sales automation software use it to push static, impersonal templates that scream, “delete me!” to prospects.

Prospecting templates don’t work.

The Problem With Activity Based Selling

Proponents of ABS tend to believe “If we focus on what sellers can control (activities) … and not the outcome we desire (customers buying) … sellers will perform better.” Thus, management focus sellers on “activities” that encourage a conversation via:

  • reach
  • persistence
  • education

Trouble is, those ideas easily morph into pushing information at prospects (low skill). Instead, C-level buyers demand sellers find ways to earn discussions by attracting (pulling) them into a qualitative, early-need-stage dialogue.

Worse, demand generation and sales enablement teams supporting reps instruct them to not focus on the sale. While pushing for the sale is not appropriate, telling a sales rep “don’t focus on selling” forces reps to ask, “what should I do then?”

Too often the answer is found in marketing-speak. Reps resort to pushing email messages at clients about features, benefits, solutions and webinars. Instead, effective reps provoke replies using non-marketing-speak messages based on problem-solving and other sensitive issues they’ve managed to research.

Thus, ABS demands reps to perform many touches (activities). The nature of what ends up being pushed out is purely quantitative marketing noise aimed at educating clients who have not yet asked to be educated!

Stop Sending Templates

At best, even when sellers are not pushing out education-oriented mass messages, they are sending out drivel like this…

Hi Sam,
I wanted to reach out because my company [insert vendor name] helps organizations like [target company name] [top 10 list of pain/value propositions every vendor claims — e.g., increase productivity, reduce sales cycle time, boost engagement, manage leads etc.]

Our solutions have helped customers like [list of generic famous companies designed to impress reader] see an improvement of [insert ROI stat].

Do you have 15 minutes to speak this week? Looking forward to hearing from you!

Templates don’t work nor do premature meeting requests. Effective sellers use templates to customize messages faster, not send faster. They use sales automation and engagement tools to start and qualify one-to-one conversations using qualitative (yes, time consuming) tactics designed to earn them.

Research is a key element of effective cold email messages — proving you’ve done homework on prospects multiplies response rates.

Add in a Qualitative Element

Provoking conversations with C-level executives is possible. It isn’t “cut-and-paste-easy.” Nor is pushing educational or value-added messages at them (before they’ve requested it) going to work. What does work is relatively simple: It mostly involves trimming back all messages to two to four sentences. Literally.

The other key element is sparking curiosity in cold messages.

True: It’s best to focus on what you can control (activities) … and not the outcome you desire (customers buying). But the answer is not a purely quantitative strategy—especially when calling into the C-suite.

Standardized templates do not work. They feel too “mass mailed.” Easy to spot, instant delete.

But a mental-triggers-based approach to message design—that can be very repeatable — does.

Customization is key. Psychology is front-and-center to triggering response.

What is your experience lately?

Analyze Your Target’s Buying Process for Greater Marketing Efficiency

B2B selling is a complicated affair, but you can simplify your marketing strategies dramatically with buying process analysis. This means that you lay out your prospect’s buying process, stage by stage, and then develop a selling process that maps to it. Voila. Your marketing investments will become much more efficient,

B2B selling is a complicated affair, but you can simplify your marketing strategies dramatically with buying process analysis. This means that you lay out your prospect’s buying process, stage by stage, and then develop a selling process that maps to it. Voila. Your marketing investments will become much more efficient, being applied to their best use. And you’ll also be more effective, since each element is targeted to a specific goal. Let’s look at how this works.

Here’s a typical B-to-B large enterprise buying process, broken down into its logical stages.

Buying Process StagesThe stages are pretty obvious —any marketer can create such a list on the back of a cocktail napkin. But you may find that the buying process will vary by segment, so you may need more than one.

The next step is to clarify your marketing objective at each stage. Simply put, your objective is to help move the prospect along his buying journey, stage by stage, in your favor. But you can get more granular. At the stage when the prospect begins researching solutions, your objective is to be among the consideration set. At the next stage, you want to be selected for the short list. When they are soliciting proposals, you want to submit a winning bid. And so on.

Now, your marketing activities can be directed toward supporting this process. Consider which media make the most sense at each stage. When you are trying to become known to researchers, media relations and trade shows can be the most effective tools. When the prospect is reviewing proposals, you may decide that a webinar is a good method for educating them on your capabilities. Once you’ve won the business and they are beginning to use your product or service, you might invite them to a user group.

The same thinking can be applied to other areas of the marketing communications mix. What content do you need to move the prospect from one stage to the next? What data elements are required at each stage? What motivational offers will be most effective?

I am fond of this approach to B-to-B marketing, especially in the account-based marketing context, because it helps us get very focused, and reduces what you might call random acts of marketing communication.

A version of this article appeared in Biznology, the digital marketing blog.

Using Content to Nurture Leads

The difference between just publishing a blog and content marketing is less about what you create than it is about how you use what you create. In other words, it’s what happens after you click the Publish button that determines whether you’re really a content marketer. An example of this can be found in using your content marketing as part of your lead nurturing efforts.

The difference between just publishing a blog and content marketing is less about what you create than it is about how you use what you create. In other words, it’s what happens after you click the Publish button that determines whether you’re really a content marketer. An example of this can be found in using your content to nurture leads.

Helping smooth the path from discovery to purchase for prospects typically starts with great content, so I don’t want to underplay the importance of generating truly useful information for your audience. But making the leap from “free publisher” to effective content marketer depends on the rest of your plan.

Using Content to Nurture Leads

The first step of that plan must be promoting your content to get it in front of your audience. This is a topic worthy of lengthier discussion; for the moment, I’ll just say that email, social media, and just about any regular point of contact you have with clients and prospects should be part of your promotion efforts.

As you’re promoting your content, you must also be aware of when your content will be most useful to prospects. That is, at what point in their buying process will they find what you’ve written most valuable?

This means not only having a knowledge of what a typical prospect’s buying process looks like when he or she is buying your product or service, but also having content that addresses the questions and concerns that are raised at each step.

Once you have that matrix of content built, it’s time to integrate other tools into your content marketing program. Key among these will be email. Following up regularly over time is a key part of successful marketing of any kind. We all know that our first contact with a prospect isn’t necessarily going to be at a time when that prospect is ready to move forward toward a decision. A drip marketing campaign, as it’s sometimes called, is key to maintaining a presence without being intrusive. The goal is to stay recognized and useful until your solution is most relevant to the prospect.

Prospective Profiling

Prospective profiling is the next step you should consider. In a nutshell, prospective profiling is the use of tech tools to customize the calls to action and content on your website based on the past behavior of site visitors.

The goal is to make use of what you already know about a prospect to a) avoid annoying him or her with redundant questions, and b) to ensure that you continue to offer useful information. Few things are more annoying than returning to a website to be greeted by a pop-up window offering the same white paper you downloaded yesterday — and requiring you to fill in the same form fields to get it!

Prospective profiling allows you to offer the next logical piece of content (from the prospect’s perspective) while asking for more information about them and their needs. For example, if you already have their name, email and company, perhaps you now ask for their title, their budget, or their expected timeframe for making a decision.

You wouldn’t ask for all of these things at once — the drop-off in conversion would be too steep, particularly if you don’t have an established relationship with the prospect — but asked over time, the questions are less intrusive. And you still are able to build a much more complete picture.

Closing the CRM Loop

This all gives you the ability to feed data into a lead scoring system tied into your CRM tools. Unless you’re still working from spreadsheets, you’ll want to work closely with both your website developer and your CRM consultant to implement a strong progressive profiling program. With you driving the process from a marketing perspective, you’ll be able to build a system that uses your content to nurture leads consistently from first content through conversion.