Prospects for selling enterprise software for 2012 brighten up, but present day peculiarities stay the same

From a quarterly report recently released from a core provider of enterprise software for the enterprise business market, Oracle Corporation, it appears that 2012 will be a better year for enterprise software sales than we had expected. When Oracle’s results are combined with recent press about Microsoft Office 365 and the readiness of SMBs to jump on the subscription band wagon of this cloud offering, it appears that business confidence has brightened, across the board. We have good first hand experience that supports this view.

Nevertheless, the characteristics of business customers placing orders in 2012 are still very much the same: perhaps as a direct result of an ability that is ever growing easier, to access, online, substantial amounts of information on just about any topic one can think of, business buyers are unilaterally researching purchases without the involvement of sales staff. We think this phenomenon is more the result of an information heavy Internet than it is the result of a new class of parsimonious buyers (remember that in earlier posts to this blog we talked up Alinean’s Frugal Buyer, but understand that now we no longer see things that way). We do not see this trend going away any time soon.

Therefore, we think it makes total sense to focus marketing communications efforts specifically on optimizing whatever methods are at hand for valuable online promotion of products and/or services. Social media venues certainly fall into the category of potentially useful methods of optimizing prospect engagement along with the visibility of products and services. Finally, we take the position that online product and/or service promotion is valuable when it produces bonafide sales leads. As we have written elsewhere on this blog, bonafide sales leads are inquiries or opportunities to engage with prospects about specific needs that can be satisfied, at some point, by your product or service.

What we like about social media, and blogs in particular, is the ability to concentrate online methods purely around content creation. With genuinely useful blog posts crafted around topics of interest and popular, relevant keywords a method is at hand to prompt prospect to pursue engagement directly within their above mentioned unilateral effort to collect research.

If your marketing communications plan could use a dose of reality, then please call Ira Michael Blonder at +1 631-673-2929 to further a discussion. You may also email Mike at imblonder@imbenterprises.com. We will be happy to show you why you should be thinking about the Internet and Social Media to engage with your marketplace.

© IMB Enterprises, Inc. & Ira Michael Blonder, 2012 All Rights Reserved


Sometimes Ready Fire Aim makes sense

Sometimes it makes sense to implement a ready, fire, aim product development strategy. For example, to test out market interest in various product types, or to gauge the readiness of a market to purchase products and solutions for otherwise unqualified needs.

Maintaining product direction in an entirely pliable state, capable of moving any which way to meet market needs, while engaging with prospects on ostensibly clear sales discussions is a great posture to gather lots of useful information about product perception, first hand. This stage should be incorporated within any product marketing plan as it makes little if any sense to finalize product performance without some reliance on the perception and interest of representatives in the marketplace. Usually this type of information is gathered through prospect and customer interviews, but with ready, fire, aim it is possible to go even deeper with prospects and, thereby, gather the most credible response from the market. The fire stage, after all, is actually mustering selling efforts around products. A go to market strategy on the fly.

Notice that I stressed maintain products in an entirely pliable condition. If, on the other hand, products are rigid, then engaging with prospects in this fire stage prior to aiming sales efforts can provide little more than an excuse to either race into product development, or to abandon the business plan altogether. Therefore, but have your funding in place before entering into this type of marketing strategy to ensure that you realize the most benefit from this exercise.

With regard to using the fire stage to determine present buying interest in products and services, this technique can jump start revenue building–no doubt about it. Even more compelling, this stage does not require the support of a full complement of marketing communications tools, etc; therefore saving cash strapped technology innovators precious cash. Further, marketing communications materials can be assembled and published entirely on an as needed basis, which may make the most sense from a funding perspective.

Despite these advantages, I counsel caution with regard to implementing this approach. By no means should your firm look half baked as the result of proceeding in this direction. Be sure, as ever, to stay under the radar while you navigate these turbulent waters.

Call us for further information on the above points. IMB Enterprises, Inc. has considerable recent experience implementing lead generation programs for complex sales of IT products and services to global business. Please telephone us at +1 631-673-2929 to discuss your products and needs. We are particularly interested in technology products–software or hardware–as most of our experience has been garnered from working with software and computer hardware manufacturers.

© IMB Enterprises, Inc. & Ira Michael Blonder, 2012 All Rights Reserved


Crossing the Great Divide: Build Markets for Products Through Geniune Collaboration with Prospects

Where’s the dividing line between sales activity and other activities with customers and prospects that may appear to benefit sales, but, ultimately prove to be detrimental?

In my opinion, successful enterprise sales strategies for today’s markets require a willingness on the part of marketers to participate, wholeheartedly, within a potentially lengthy interaction with customers and prospects. This lengthy interaction may include broken decisions, changing perspectives, internal turf battles, etc as customers and prospects wander in the desert on their way to an oasis of a decision to do something about your product of service. You must be willing to shed 95% of your typical sales behavior, replacing aggressive sales efforts with a collaboration that communicates a complete willingness to participate along with customers and prospects in all of the steps that will be taken as bonafide decisions are formulated over time.

Collaboration may include sponsoring independent studies to provide your customers and prospects with a comfortable authority which will facilitate a decision in favor of your product or service. Keep in mind that these studies, independently authored, may also produce undesired results that refute a decision to implement in your favor. No matter. The point is to genuinely participate in the process which, ultimately, will result in a long term position for your firm for the customer that will be impregnable to competition. After all, no one else would be willing to go there with the client, now would they?

Of course this type of collaboration, to be successful, requires that you maintain an ability to architect products and solutions on the fly, to flexibly change direction as your customers modify their requirements and their needs. Further, you should be comfortable vetting products with customers while the products are still in developments. The closer you can get to an accurate solution for the customer’s needs, the less likely that the customer will find anything remotely close to her needs from any other vendor.

The facts are that 2012 does not look to be an easy year for enterprise product sales. The businesses that will survive the close scrutiny and tight pockets that look to be the customer norm will be those tenacious organizations that will be willing to proceed lamb like for as long as may be required to bring home the order. As well, a great sense of timing will come in handy. Sound like fun, doesn’t it?

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


Selling Commodities to Enterprise Customers

Commodities exist in the world of enterprise business. These commodities have either tangible or intangible value. For the purposes of this post I am going to concentrate on commodities purchased for business processes, specifically software.

Unless a blanket site license is in place, or other form of exclusive provisioning agreement, successfully selling software and supporting accessories for any prevalent platform within an enterprise business, for example, MicroSoft® Office, requires much of the same effort that I have described throughout this blog with regard to complex product sales to the same type of customer. In both cases the successful sales person will legitimately partner with the customer based upon a shared commitment to attain a specific value metric within the context of an enhancement to specific processes that are core to the business, or business unit within the enterprise.

Of course, the danger in selling commodities is that the sales plan will call for a streamlined approach; specifically, an approach that will skip the task of collecting information, determining reporting lines, unearthing activities with a high cost for the customer, etc. The rationale for this type of plan is that the software platform is already built into the business; therefore, the customer has little chance of capturing significant additional value; “let’s not waste time, let’s go for the order”. Implementing this type of sales plan relegates the sale to no more than a question of price and availability. The sales person who will win the business will either have the lowest price or the quickest delivery. Yuck.

But there are still many successful sales people selling commodities who do not utilize this type of plan. As I’ve mentioned, they continue to pursue the tasks required to unearth rich and promising areas of need within the business. They understand the opportunities represented by these needs and utilize the specific characteristics of accepted computing platforms within the enterprise to deliver substantial value to their customers.

These characteristics include the fact that platforms are, by definition, ubiquitous throughout the enterprise. Since everyone operates within the platform, implementing planned enhancements with components from the manufacturer of the platform will be significantly less expensive than bringing in an alternative from another vendor that may be incompatible with the platform itself. Consider the following features:

  • Support for the planned enhancements can be obtained from the support structure that is already in place within the enterprise. Any additional required skills may be obtained from existing staff who simply master a new feature, rather than bringing in new personnel who may be in short supply and less likely to take a job with the business.
  • Re-engineering Business Processes will attract quicker user acceptance where the new processes are built in the form of modifications or enhancements to existing processes and procedures.
  • Finally, related programs that are already in place can be used with the new software, as required; for example, databases, communications programs, etc.

The combination of these features, together with the achievement of the required changes in business processes will result in clear cost savings for the customer and substantial enhancements to productivity–just the type of tangible evidence required by the customer to determine value. Once the value is apparent the position of the sales person within the enterprise will be established in a useful capacity as a collaborator who will likely add increased value in the future.

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


The Importance of Track Record to Successful Repeat Business with Enterprise Class Businesses

It’s absolutely essential that your first successful sales into enterprise class business prospects are completely successful for your customers. Whether you’re placing a piece of computer hardware into Clorox, or you’ve just closed a complex sale of hardware, software and advisory, your level of satisfaction with the sale is rather irrelevant. Rather, as I have just noted, it’s the level of customer satisfaction with the purchase that truly matters. You will need to use that satisfied customer, either as a reference or much like a patron to make your next sale into your valuable and long sought prospective customer. It all boils down to this simple hint along the enterprise sales trail: “Your best customer is a customer”; in other words, there is no one easier to sell than someone to whom you have already sold something. Never lose sight of the truth of this time worn adage and you will have come along way along the path to successful enterprise selling.

With regard to the level of your satisfaction with the sale, make sure that you negotiate the right terms and pricing up front. If you handle the negotiation correctly, then your satisfaction is “baked into the cake.” But take every step that you can to ensure that the customer is completely satisfied or risk losing a very valuable prospect who is capable of subsidizing your business for several years to come, or, perhaps for your entire career.

An important preliminary to making initial sales into a top prospect is choosing the right opportunity. There are times when obscure and rather unimportant contacts at top prospects will constitute the right opportunity to pursue. For example, if you are operating under the radar and are tentative about your market position, then proceeding with a sale into a top enterprise class business prospect (albeit through contacts on the periphery of the business) makes sense. This type of opportunity will provide you with an excellent basis to test important characteristics of your brand within a typical target customer environment as, worst case, you will fail with a contact who lacks the authority and/or visibility to destroy your follow on potential.

Only choose a patron level contact when your brand is secure, your product positioning has been completed and your at least 70% certain of a successful implementation on the part of the prospect. More about what a patron level contact is all about later.

© 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


Control Lead Generation Quality to Control Sales Results

The quality of leads generated through a business’ promotional efforts (including sales leads delivered from staff efforts) is very important to the actual results of sales efforts. Save a lot of time and a lot of money: make certain that the leads you receive are the leads that you can close and want to close for your business. This point may seem obvious, but it is surprising how often CEOs of emerging businesses (and especially for emerging businesses with complex products targeted at enterprise business customers) miss this point, or try to broadly hit the point with imprecise promotional marketing techniques. Finally, craft your marketing and sales compensation programs to fairly reward each piece of the respective functions to ensure that personnel are sufficiently motivated to deliver. Eschew the typical approach that rewards sales with great commissions, but lead generation marketing staff are left to approach their role as something transitional, a stepping stone to sales, rather than a career that can, itself, be quite rewarding. The planning time spent building promotional activities within marketing that will precisely attract the interest of the right prospects for sales will pay off handsomely.

Of course, in order to craft an effective lead generation program with a technique like teleprospecting, your marketing function must have completely understood and even digested the product the business is selling, like food, to the point that your product is running, like blood, through everyone’s veins. Nothing short of this completely correct understanding of the product will do. As I have written earlier in this blog, a big part of gaining this understanding is knowing how your customers are using your product; therefore, if your business is just starting, without customers, marketing’s job is that much harder, but nonetheless still absolutely essential.

If the promotional efforts include telemarketing (or teleprospecting), then marketing must subsequently publish a complete list of the qualifications of the targeted prospect business, all the way from revenue size, to geographical location, to type of business, and inclusive of all financial realities, external factors and more. Further, the staff role within the prospect business must be defined and contact lists must be developed. Underlining all of this qualification, like the foundation of a house, is marketing’s identification of the stage within the chronology of product implementation (otherwise known as product maturity) that is required for the right prospects to fit into your sales plan. As the CEO, you must have the option of selecting where, in the implementation process for the solution (or piece of the solution) that your product delivers, you establish contact with the right prospects for sales. This point of contact may be where the prospect “needs” something like your product, or earlier in the maturity cycle, where the prospect is contemplating the solution, or perhaps later, where the prospect has tried the solution and is now rethinking his or her decision and looking to renovate. There are advantages to choosing any one of these three points of entry.

With a thorough product plan and prospect qualification lead generation staff can then play their very valuable role delivering rich and promising prospects to sales who are then left to their best activities, selling to customers.

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


Best Practices: Outbound Teleprospecting for Complex Products Post #2 — Where Time Matters

When time matters (for a company with a complex product for enterprise customers), and capital is limited, the lead generation strategy should be built, at least in part, around outbound teleprospecting, but without an effort to survey prospects. I am not going to treat interactive tactics to augment outbound teleprospecting in this post, but will shortly write a series of posts describing the use of one set of interactive tactics–social media–within a powerful and comprehensive lead generation strategy. Rather, in this post I want to talk about variations on the survey approach to teleprospecting to hasten along the sales cycle.

The most obvious means of hastening a sales cycle is to focus sales efforts only on prospects with clear needs. Selling efforts should only be made on those leads where indisputable, confirmed decision-makers have been identified within companies. Further, these decision-makers must be managing funded projects that are scheduled for completion over the next near term (the actual length of the “near term” will vary depending upon the “typical” sales cycle for the product). For the record, the drawback implicit to this approach is that it eliminates the group of prospects who do not know what they need as well as those who think they need the wrong thing. But a company pressed for time and running on limited means must make some sacrifice in order to achieve sales goals. An additional drawback is that some of the projects identified through this process will be mature and at a level where the prospect is “shopping” a specific solution, meaning a commodity in the market.

Nevertheless, the hook for generating most of these leads will be discussions about well known solutions (effectively the highest quality commodities in a particular market) with interested parties. These discussions are not an optimum basis for a conversation, but at least a workable technique. Determining a reliable ratio between telephone calls and discussions will vary; however, as a rule, each set of 100 calls should result in at least 15 discussions. Further, 2 or more sales calls should result from 15 teleprospecting discussions at some point in the sales cycle. If actual efforts do not deliver results in keeping with these assumptions, then the lead contact list must be evaluated to ensure that the right contacts have been included.

Typically, utilizing this approach, a teleprospecting team will have to plan on at least one additional discussion with a prospect prior to passing along a useful lead to sales than would be the case for a focus on securing surveys with the same prospects. The script for this additional discussion will include questions to determine important information about a prospect and his/her company prior to scheduling a meeting with a subject matter expert. The result will be a considerably enhanced, and substantially narrower selling effort. This combination may provide a CEO with a viable solution to limited time and budget. Of course, the dialogue with the prospect may, over time, reveal opportunities to widen the lens and chase more lucrative opportunities based on what a prospect doesn’t know.

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


Best Practices: Outbound Teleprospecting for Complex Products for Enterprise Business

As I have written earlier in this blog, a teleprospecting campaign can yield substantial results for sales of complex products targeted at enterprise business prospects. These substantial results can amount to high quality sales leads, depending on how successfully the campaign is managed. The key to quality, of course, is the level to which leads are correctly qualified for the specific product offering and the targeted market. But how to run such a campaign?

The best method of running a teleprospecting campaign as an outbound lead generator for complex products targeted to the enterprise business market is in some variation of a survey. Taking a survey is rarely perceived by participants as a sales effort. But if the survey questionnaire is crafted correctly, the information gathered can be very useful as the sales force “fills in the blanks” about the enterprise prospect. Don’t lose sight of the fact that the enterprise prospect is actually a complicated organization with a system for purchasing products and services that includes many individual participants and a set of required procedural milestones that must be properly completed or else there will be no sale.

For the subset of complex products targeted to enterprise business that will require a reorganization of processes across a customer’s business (should a decision to purchase be forthcoming), the need to compile information about important individuals, recent business history, etc is especially important in advance of a sale or even the overture of a sales effort. The fact is that the core purchase process may be broken and dysfunctional. Further, the participants may not play the perceived role and the agenda of priorities may be deceiving.

This latter characteristic of some complex products for enterprise business, that a reorganization of business processes will be required as the product is implemented by the customer, plays a powerful role within the sales effort. Janus-like this aspect of the product, as implemented, can be either a smile or a forlorn frown as the sales effort wends its way to success or failure. The way is especially volatile where the perceived value of the product within the marketplace is ambiguous. Truly intangibles, sometimes these products deliver substantial benefits and sometimes not. Examples of this type of product include solutions for Operational Risk Management, and Enterprise Risk Management. What is most vexing for the market is that such a product, within heavily regulated businesses like Financial Services (including Banks, Asset Managers, Brokers & Dealers, Insurers, etc), is required and mandated by regulators, but the “how to succeed” directions are no where to be found.

In the best of all worlds for the firm offering such a complex product (with unclear perceived value in the enterprise business market), formulating an outbound teleprospecting campaign within the shape of a survey is mandatory. The firms that can follow this script typically have lots of time and, generally, lots of capital to slowly and carefully sell into the market.

But what about other firms with less time and, typically, less capital to build a market? Is there a way to use teleprospecting to advantage in a less than perfect world? I will provide an answer in my next post.

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