Use Just a Pinch of Commodity Sell to Rev Up Direct Marketing for Products Still Under the Radar

The “commodity sell” is, generally, anathema for the complex sale. Nevertheless, for clients of mine with products that operate “under the radar,” just a bit of “commodity sell” does the trick to drive the performance of direct marketing (essentially a combination of telemarketing, teleprospecting, and webinars) as a driver for the complex sale.

If contacts at enterprise size business prospects know nothing about your product, and little about your niche (regardless of its strategic importance) there is no other option than to include a presentation of what you offer within your early conversations with the prospect. This presentation provides just the “pinch” of commodity sell to spark contact interest in furthering conversations and, thereby, the gathering of information that you must do to qualify just who this contact is and what he/she does relative to important related projects and plans (or the lack thereof) at your enterprise business prospect.

It is absolutely essential that the information that you convey via the presentation be completely consistent with any subsequent information your sales team may communicate to the specific contact as well as any other contacts at the prospect. Understand that your product is still under the radar of the marketplace; therefore, the information constitutes the only branding that you possess. Whenever the information changes, then your brand changes and, therefore, the power of repetition along with the development of subliminal associations is substantially diminished. Keep the presentation consistent, better yet, require that any and all references to features, benefits, value proposition, etc make refernce to the same uniform information.

The importance of this point is doubly critical if your product is an integrated solution. Permitting communication of ambiguous information abvout an integrated solution provides the prospect with an opportunity to break up your solution into components. This opportunity spells doom for the complex sale and lots of revenue will be left on the table. I have worked with clients with this problem who saw projected revenue growth delayed by six months, and longer, as planned complex sales trended into commodity sales of components with dangerously lower pricing to customers.

If you opt for a direct marketing approach to product promotion and lead generation then do consider a hybrid method that includes a highly controlled and consistent presentation to contacts. Review any/all printed and electronic collateral to ensure that information is completely consistent. Revise as required or risk diluting your potential for complex sales, not to mention precious revenue.

© IMB Enterprises, Inc. & Ira Michael Blonder, 2011 All Rights Reserved


Share Topics and Use Discussion Groups to Further Qualify Prospects as You Work on the Complex Sale

As I noted in an earlier post, the “Share” feature of typical Social Media (like Google+) delivers useful benefits to marketers working on the complex sale. Present appropriate and engaging topics germane to your product or solution to attract the attention of “friends,” colleagues, contacts. The information you receive will deepen your qualification and understanding of the prospect. The fact is that the comments submitted by these individuals will provide rich information about roles, levels of authority and ongoing programs undertaken by specific prospects.

It is often difficult to engage important contacts at prospect businesses through teleprospecting alone, especially when the teleprospecting effort takes place through a direct, “cold call” effort. On the other hand, teleprospecting is an entirely suitable technique to use as a follow up to a posted comment from a contact on a “shared” topic relevant to the complex sale. In this case the person on the other end of the line will often be more receptive to the telephone call and willing to share information. The reasons for his/her receptivity are that the teleprospecting call is not obviously a sales call, and the offline nature of the interaction respects Discussion group etiquette (a carry over from the News Groups that preceeded today’s Social Media discussions) for sub discussions of topics.

These discussions can also serve as a rich “honey pot” for contacts and, therefore, an excellent means of growing address lists. Better use the resources that otherwise would pay for mass email campaigns to fund the cost of creative management of a Google+ or FaceBook (or even LinkedIn) membership. As your address book grows, the summary understanding about individual prospects (critically important to the success of your complex sale) can be expanded and enhanced through a uniform application of teleprospecting for all targeted contacts. The scripts for these telephone calls should be “survey-centric.” Your teleprospectors must keep in mind that they are on a fact finding mission and, by no means chasing a sale.

Be sure to add the collected information to your knowledge base for the prospect. As you review the information look out for indication of the maturity of the prospect business with regard to the objective of your complex sales campaign. Be wary of indicators of an immature understanding. Recognize that an indicator of an immature understanding is a reason to either stop the complex sales campaign, or, at a minimum, realign the campaign along more realistic lines. I have seen too many clients “wander in the desert” through meeting after meeting with promising contacts locked into immature organizations that lack the capacity to proceed as the result of an immature understanding of the rationale for a complex sale.

© IMB Enterprises, Inc. & Ira Michael Blonder, 2011 All Rights Reserved


Google+ Brings Social Media To a New Level of Usefulness for Marketing Complex Products & Solutions

With Google+ complex product marketing finally has an online vehicle that works. This step forward in the refinement of the “one to one” marketing capabilities of web 1.0 and the “one to my select many” marketing capabilities of early-stage web 2.0/social media includes a number of features that will deliver significant returns to complex product marketing for the enterprise:

  1. Group your contacts in “Circles” to selectively inform and promote
  2. Share news, notions, etc to stimulate dialogue with prospects, stakeholders, etc
  3. Embed videos, Product slide shows, etc to readily present groups of prospects with the message you need them to get without the danger of excessive mass market exposure via YouTube
  4. Visually meet, remotely, with multiple prospects with “Hangout”

In my opinion, with Google+ there is no longer any reason for complex product marketers to avoid online venues for promotion and branding. Conferencing, news, networking and intelligence-gathering (via shared discussions) can all be effected from within the confines of a Google+ page.

While many of the features of Google+ have been available elsewhere (for example, on FaceBook) the branding and extreme type-casting of many social media venues as spots for “friends,” game play grounds, etc. diminished the appeal of social media for complex product marketers who need to be entirely focused on enterprise business prospects and their unique needs. The sole exception to this rule has been LinkedIn. Admittedly, Google is not making a big push right now for Google+ as a strong online medium for business, but the features built into this website will deliver wonderfully for business applications.

A quick comparison with LinkedIn reveals a much richer interactive experience for the Google+ Share feature. For some reason participants feel more comfortable posting comments. Therefore, the discussion is richer, wider ranging, and includes more participants who, in turn can opt to dialogue among themselves and build new connections. In my opinion, LinkedIn is too formal and too recruitment-centric to deliver the type of results that I need for my marketing plans for complex products & solutions.

With interested participants, low return web 1.0 efforts like email blasts can be relegated to the circular file while “shared” news, etc can be posted with significant positive effect. As well, and with regard to online video calls as offered by Skype, Google Chat, etc. there is a new option with Google+. All told I must say that I find Google+ to be a very promising online medium, one which I intend to explore and exploit, as appropriate, for my clients.

© IMB Enterprises, Inc. & Ira Michael Blonder, 2011 All Rights Reserved


Use Teleprospecting to Validate Decision Making Processes for Complex Sales

I use prospecting over the telephone, or teleprospecting, to perform a key function within the sales planning process for complex sales to enterprise prospects — test and verify all important assumptions about the prospect. Important assumptions include:

  • Who needs the complex product or solution
  • Why the need makes sense for the prospect
  • When will they need to satisfy this need
  • Who will approve the purchase
  • Who will use the complex product or solution
  • What the final integrated solution should look like, and
  • How they plan to get to the final integrated solution

In my experience, acting on untested assumptions, more often than not, results in wasted time and effort for the sales team. Close ratios can be doubled by simply increasing the number of conversations with contacts at the prospect business and verifying that answers to my Who/Why/When/What/How questions, as listed above, are accurate and, therefore, useful.

Examples of untested assumptions include job titles, published prospect initiatives, and planned capital expenditures. The facts are that job titles are often poor indicators of decision-making authority; published initiatives can, and often do change and, finally, budgeted capital expenditures can be preempted. Better to learn what the real drivers are for the prospect and who is leading the charge.

A team of telemarketers who are dedicated entirely to prospecting and gathering specific pieces of information about prospects can be used successfully to test any and all sales campaign assumptions. Candidates for membership in such a team must be able to demonstrate an ability to engage high level individuals in meaningful dialogue crafted to produce required answers. Further, these candidates must demonstrate a thorough understanding of the complex product or solution and a commensurate understanding of how the complex product or solution interconnects with other complex products or solutions already ensconced within the organization or on the schedule to be added within the same time frame envisioned by the sales campaign.

Once the teleprospecting team has been selected, depending upon the size of prospect businesses, this information gathering activity can be ongoing. Be sure not to start validation efforts until the sales team approves public discussion of contacts, prospect plans, etc. This timing requirement is critically important. Keep in mind that the actual names of contacts, and apparent prospect plans, must be topics of discussion within the teleprospecting calls if they are going to produce any useful information. In reciprocal fashion, steps in the sales campaign should be timed correctly so that important meetings transpire after the information collected by the prospecting work has been discussed and plans modified as required to better align with emerging facts about the prospect.

© IMB Enterprises, Inc. & Ira Michael Blonder, 2011 All Rights Reserved


What a Pair! Elusive Decision Makers and Ambiguous Needs–Welcome to the World of Complex Sales

Sure, it’s very hard to motivate a sales operation without buyers, and even harder when the reasons buyers cannot be found can be attributed to ambiguous needs and ambivalent interest in complex solutions. Nevertheless, sales must be made. Buyers, like birds hidden by shrubs, must be flushed out. Sales people have to shine a light on buyer needs and pique buyer interest. Ultimately, sales must build buyer commitment to purchase complex solutions. Happens every day. But how?

As I’ve written earlier in this blog, telephone prospecting, teleprospecting, provides a very useful foundation for complex sales. For example, prospecting over the telephone provides an excellent method of revealing buyers within enterprise businesses for complex sales. Prospecting over the telephone amounts to engaging with many contacts within a prospect enterprise business in telephone conversations to determine three critical pieces of information:

  1. The level of maturity of the prospect relative to other prospects with regard to the complex product or solution offered for sale
  2. The groups within the prospect business who will use the complex product or solution, who will propose the purchase and, finally, who will approve the purchase
  3. The perceived value of the complex product or solution for the enterprise prospect, and the probable timing of a decision to purchase

A teleprospecting campaign to determine the answers to these three points can take several months or even years to complete, depending upon the product and the size of typical prospects. Nevertheless, if vetted correctly, the quality of information collected from telephone discussions will be high and, therefore, the information will be indispensable to formulating a sales plan for the prospect.

The best approach for soliciting teleprospecting discussions with contacts can be found in an expressed interest in gathering information, much in the manner of a survey. Contacts are much more willing to share an opinion than to entertain a sales presentation. This greater willingness to talk can be used to engage contacts and collect the information required to qualify the enterprise business prospect’s likely interest in purchasing and successfully implementing the product.

Understanding the likelihood that a prospect can successfully implement a complex product or solution should be critically important to correctly determining whether or not a sales campaign makes sense for a prospect. After all, a favorable image of a brand within an enterprise market can only be built on satisfied customers who have successfully implemented a solution and derived the greatest possible value. Embarking on a sales campaign for a prospect that lacks the maturity to successfully implement a complex product or solution is only asking for trouble.

© IMB Enterprises, Inc. & Ira Michael Blonder, 2011 All Rights Reserved


Important: Keep Marketing Communications and Direct Marketing Consistent and Uniform for Complex Product Sales

Excessive focus on tactics in a sales campaign for complex products targeted to enterprise business can blur important details and threaten delicate points of coordination that must be completely clear and thoroughly synchronized between marketing and sales to ensure success.

Symptoms of excessive attention to tactics include:

  • A schedule for the sales campaign with too many meetings scheduled for management review
  • Too frequent changes in tactics
  • Unilateral changes in sales tactics that disregard marketing strategy and related marketing tactics

Generally, management gravitates towards managing tactics when sales are down. At times when positive results are elusive and sales are thin, there is a very natural, but nonetheless naive, tendency to react and renovate selling tactics. I am thoroughly convinced that, in fact, there is only so much that can be done within sales, itself, to increase business save for obvious situations where it is clear that the sales function is not working right. Examples of obvious situations include instances where poor sales results can be clearly attributed to an ineffective sales person, a territory without sales representation, etc.

Rather, I direct clients to respect the fact that marketing strategy is critically important. I show them that marketing strategy provides the sole means of lighting up the market so that sales personnel can identify promising prospects and close the business. I make sure that my clients understand that all sales and marketing tactics emanate from marketing strategy which, in turn, must be built upon a foundation of product marketing and brand.

Therefore, in my experience, selling tactics cannot be successfully changed unilaterally, and certainly not before all marketing communications media–print, electronic and direct–have been completely renovated (meaning rewritten, republished and checked for quality) to reflect the new approach. A lack of attention to the necessity of coordinating changes between sales and marketing can transform marketing communications into an inadvertent obstacle to sales. To put it bluntly, commodities cannot be transformed into unique products by “word of mouth” alone.

It is very difficult for sales to recapture positions lost to competitors or, worse, to a misunderstanding of products. Better to prepare promising prospects for effective sales tactics with communications media that correctly portray products per the marketing plan. Observing the necessity of implementing this type of coordinated approach will absolutely minimize the frequency of hearing from prospects that they “didn’t know that your products could do that” as well as the amount of time required to close deals after “a short engagement” has been completed by a competitor who would otherwise not have gotten the business in the first place.

© IMB Enterprises, Inc. & Ira Michael Blonder, 2011 All Rights Reserved


Always Take the Time to Complete Product Development for Intangibles Before Going to Market

I have worked with some clients who, for one reason or another, need to start selling intangible products that are still in development. A couple of these reasons for entering a market without a finished product are obvious:

  1. To raise cash and/or
  2. To enter markets where an opportunity is time-sensitive and delaying entry will wipe out the opportunity

Each of these reasons may appear to be valid, but I never recommend proceeding on either one of them, especially if the planned product is complex and targeted to enterprise business.

Consider that an unsuccessful engagement, repeated several times with poorly chosen “pioneer” customers (such as top players in targeted markets) can precipitate an early demise for an entire business. Never forget that the old adage about bad news traveling fast always holds true. In the thin air of the small world of top targets the same faces pop up. From time to time employers may change, but individual experiences will not.

The only exception to this rule is to be found where the task of product development is actually a product renovation or some type of repackaging for a different market. If you are renovating or otherwise repackaging an existing intangible product, and you need to raise cash from sales, then there is no problem, whatsoever, as long as you merely continue sales of the existing product. Be prepared to put up with any revenue shortfalls through other methods as you will not have an opportunity to reprice the product until you complete the task of renovating and repackaging what you’ve got into “new clothes.”

If you need to sample market reaction as you experiment within the process of renovating, repackaging and repositioning, then be absolutely sure to target appropriate prospects where risks to your reputation and brand can be carefully controlled. Prospects are appropriate targets if they are far from the top of an industry vertical, but offer the culture and business realities that will be consistent once you finally enter markets with your finished product.

Selling a product that is ill suited for a new market will not work if you need to enter the new market before opportunity evaporates. In this case the only viable strategy is to acquire a competitor. Of course this route will be costly, so it will always be better to make the effort to precisely time entry than to start work in the first place.

© IMB Enterprises, Inc. & Ira Michael Blonder, 2011 All Rights Reserved