As far as heated debates go, 2016 was a hotbed. There was something for everyone: Brexit, the American election, civil war in Syria, terrorist attacks, immigration, refugees, the economy, global warming. The list of topics we all disagreed on was as endless as it was depressing.
Although these topics would have put the old adage of no politics, religion and money (or is it sex?) discussions at the dinner table to the test, nowhere did the arguments fester more gangrenous-ly than on social media. The deluge of posts regarding each topic on platforms like Facebook pitted friends against each other, often leading to the kind of personal, cynical, sarcastic attacks far beyond anything we would dare to say in person.
After several intense exchanges about refugees and migration on Facebook, I decided enough was enough. My blood pressure was hitting dizzying heights dealing with what I saw as small-minded, xenophobic, racist slurs from the people in my network. My friends. I concluded the easiest solution to avoid permanent fall outs was to remove myself from the conversations by unfriending (or muting from my feed) anyone with significantly opposing points of view.
The Creation of the Social Bubble
The result was delightful and immediate. No more polemic posts to get worked up about. Blood pressure back to normal. I had rediscovered my inner peace. However, the consequence of my actions was I had now surrounded myself with beliefs and attitudes that aligned to mine, increasingly unaware of the strength and subsequent impact of the opinions of the others, particularly on the outcome of Brexit and the American election. I had created a Social Bubble.
The danger of living in a social bubble is that you become unaware of how others think. The result is not just ignorance but also the arrested development and lack of diversity of your thoughts.
This is just as true in work-life. The opinions of those who disagree with you or advocate different processes are important to question your own approach. Limiting yourself to influencers who think similarly to you stifles your ability to innovate. Basing your strategy on a single school of thought, however well respected, limits your options. In the end, we all end up believing and doing the same, whether it is right or wrong.
For what it’s worth, I have decided to un-mute those who with opposing points of view. I want to know how the other side thinks, not to agree (or argue) with them but to question my own thoughts and ideals.
Aristotle once said “it is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.”
Demand generation and marketing automation is nothing new. Yet, many B2B marketers can safely argue that established practice doesn’t imply proficiency, let alone a higher degree of marketing performance. In fact, according to Forrester half of B2B marketers surveyed don’t have well-defined processes in place to govern their marketing automation efforts. The result? A demand generation approach that behaves more like an automated drip system delivering generic emails and a high volume of barely qualified leads. To turn this around, I believe the path to performance and proficiency starts with a refresh around buyer fundamentals.
Top Five Buyer Fundamentals
#1: Buyers move around a lot Most demand generation strategies major on adding leads to the top of the funnel, with less attention given to nurturing buyers midstream, or dare I say, mid-funnel. This assumes that your buyer travels a highly linear path from one buyer journey phase to the next. In reality buyers move around and oscillate a lot. Often they plateau along their journey as their priorities or budgets change. Marketers need to be mindful of this fluidity and develop strategies that acknowledge and support their movement and moments of pause along their journey.
#2: Buyers are different According to Marketo, 31% of B2B marketers don’t have personas in place and out of those who do only 27% said their personas were aligned to their messaging (2015 Demand Gen Report Benchmark Study). A deep understanding of your buyer is essential for an effective demand generation strategy. It determines who needs to be engaged (identifying the real decision-makers and influencers), when they need to be engaged (at what stage of the purchase journey), how they can be reached (the most effective channel to reach them,) and what type of content they need (the right message and format).
#3: Buyers prefer messages that matter to them Most companies in the UK think of marketing automation as the distribution of 3rd party content by email. This might deliver the quantity, but the whole purpose of demand generation and marketing automation is to take the effort out of early-stage selling, with high quality leads. This can most effectively be achieved through bespoke content, tailored to and addressing the specific concerns of each key stakeholder at the relevant point in their buyer journey. Depending on the buyer personas, this more often than not will include a combination of formats and channels, with online advertising, email newsletters, blog posts and articles influencing the early stages of the sales funnel, and testimonials, analysts’ reports and demos reserved for the latter stages.
#4: Buyers leave bread crumbs. Our job is to track and record them According to Trip Kucera it takes up to 8 to 10 marketing touches to close a deal (2014 B2B Content2Conversion Conference), which means that last touch attribution may tell a misleading story. Using platforms like Marketo, will provide transparency on the value of each piece of content and the efficacy of the channel in which it is distributed.
#5: Not all buyers will buy. Score and segment your most valuable leads Underpinning marketing automation is lead qualification or scoring. This tells us how close someone is to becoming a sales qualified lead. All the above investment in developing buyer profiles and content strategies will be to no avail if the scoring isn’t effective. Two fundamental pieces of this part of the puzzle are the initial data, which should be clean, and the scoring, which needs to be constantly monitored and refined. More specific details about this here.
Even if you are not an avid football (soccer) fan you might have heard of the term ‘total football‘. If not, it is a revolutionary tactical theory of football in which any outfield player (i.e. not including the goalkeeper!) can take over the role of any other player in the team. So if a player moves out of position he is immediately replaced by another from his team. This strategy (and mindset) made Ajax one of the most successful teams of the 1970’s and still drives Barcelona’s (and many other clubs’) success today.
Before Total Football, teams typically hoofed the ball up the pitch into the opposition’s box in the hope their star striker could get a foot to it and slot it into the back of the net. The other 10 players on the pitch are there for defence and to feed the ball.
This traditional football strategy reflects how many companies manage their sales efforts today. As described in the HBR article ‘Dismantling the Sales Machine‘, most companies rely on process driven sales strategies, typified by activity metrics and tried and tested set sales pitches, designed to help their sales team members replicate the approach of their star performers.
The reality is that in today’s competitive and fast moving environment, with longer sales cycles, smarter competition and almost total transparency provided by the internet, this brute force sales tactic is no longer efficient or even relevant. To compete it is necessary to adopt a flexible strategy that allows us to be agile and adjust quickly to market forces. I have taken some key strategies and tactics that make Total Football so effective and compared them to what I believe should be best practice in sales. Whether you enjoy football or not, I hope you find the lessons learned useful!
Each player is vital to overall success
The first and most important lesson we need to learn from Total Football is that the whole team needs to work as one unit. If there is one player who doesn’t understand the concept it will leave gaping holes that can easily be taken advantage of.
Likewise, companies need to get their teams to understand that everyone in the organisation is a salesperson. From the receptionist, who is the first voice people hear to the accounts department following up late payments, everyone is influencing the next sale. A great sales team can be let down by poor implementation and overselling can lead to poor delivery. Therefore everyone needs to understand why you sell what you sell, who the key accounts are and what the overall sales strategy is. Everyone should also share in the success (and rewards) of sales. This is the only way you will get everyone involved and excited about the next big deal.
Fluid and interchangeable team structure Essential to the successful implementation of Total Football is the flexibility of the individual members to play different roles and fluidity of the team to adapt to their opponents.
As a company it is all too tempting to stick to a winning formula, wheeling out the same team for the important pitches under the premise that ‘if it isn’t broke, don’t fix it’. This is how organisations become victims of their own success as it prevents the team from developing. The star players become over-confident and too comfortable, loosing touch with their changing audience and market; new members of the team pick up old vices and are unable to breathe the necessary fresh air into the existing processes to avoid them going stale. To avoid this, companies need to create sales teams made up of sales as well as operational/delivery staff, where individuals are interchangeable and the team structure is fluid, constantly adapting itself to the requirements of each client meeting, pitch and presentation.
Share the ball (collaboration) Although Total Football teams have their star players (Ajax, biggest exponents of Total Football, had Cruijff!) but no player can be bigger than the team itself. The attackers have to work just as hard to defend as the defence is required to support the attackers. Most importantly they have to work together as a team, rather than play as individuals.
In sales organisations it is very tempting to focus most of the attention on the star performer. As the star performer, it is equally tempting to get carried away with your own success (and frustrated by the lack of success of others). To gain long-lasting success, organisations need to encourage their team to work together and pool their resources. Common goals and performance rewards help unite the team but often it requires a change in mindset. Companies need to create an ‘inclusive’ environment, where star players train, accompany and are responsible for the new salespeople. No one goes it alone. It is good to maintain a healthy level of competitiveness (as it is the fuel that drives good salespeople) but by having a team and mentoring mentality the momentum will be positive and long-lasting.
Understand your opponent A team that plays a flexible positioning system needs to understand their opponents, how they play as a team and who they need to cover at all costs. The team adapts their tactics (and players) to each opponent.
In the past, customers looked to the salesperson for guidance and advise. However, thanks to the proliferation of information on the internet, today’s buyer is often very well, if not too well, informed. This means that salespeople need to be much more prepared, become adaptive and creative in their sales. They need to gain an understanding of their customer’s needs and challenge them intelligently on their preconceived ideas. Very often it requires the resourcefulness to identify and approach different stakeholders in the same organisation to get to the real decision maker. Today’s successful salespeople need to do the research; understand the requirements (and interests) of the person they are meeting and adapt their pitch accordingly; provide insights and bring knowledge to the meeting; and offer unexpected solutions. This is essential part of what is called Insight Selling (here is a great article on Insight Selling).
Practice makes perfect One of the more recent exponents of Total Football is former Arsenal superstar Dennis Bergkamp. He was once told by Johan Cruijf that if you have to run to catch up with the ball you have started running too late. Subsequently Dennis trained incessantly to developed a sixth sense of where the ball would would end up and ensure he was there.
We don’t train enough in sales. Most salespeople, if they were lucky, were given a little bit of training and mentoring but most have largely been left to their own devices. It is generally seen as a waste of time because most salespeople think they are already perfect. How many times have you practised your cold calls on your colleagues? How many times have your role-played sales presentations? How often do you brainstorm with colleagues in how you could improve? Even more concerning, how much time did you allow for running through that vital sales pitch? I am pretty confident that most people would answer: not enough. Practice makes perfect!…And it allows you to build that invaluable sixth sense.
In Total Football it is essential that the manager has a holistic view and in-depth understanding of every player’s ability and performance at all times.
Sadly in sales it is typical that salespeople are managed at a distance and from behind a desk through scorecards, activity metrics and monthly reviews or, if you are lucky, weekly sales meetings. When it is noticed that targets will be missed it is generally too late to do anything about it. Individuals are managed by extremes, through praise (when they win a deal) and criticism (when they have missed a target).
In my opinion, Total Sales requires total involvement. A sales manager (or director) needs to be aware of exactly what is going on within his or her team at all times. This requires constant dialogue, providing encouragement, advise and support based on their hands-on experience. It is a great way (if not the only way) to command respect, anticipate and reverse setbacks and missed targets, as well as get direct feedback on the effectiveness of the sales approach. In my last football analogy of this post, it doesn’t mean a successful sales manager needs to actually play in every game but they always need to be on the sidelines rather than in the directors box.
The reality is that you will never convert 100% of the visitors to your site. Not even close. The majority of your website visitors are either just browsing with no intention to buy, not attracted by what you have to offer, or researching their purchase options. Or even more likely, arrived at your site by mistake.
But this hasn’t stopped the search for the Holy Grail of ecommerce: how to increase conversion.
There are those who argue it is about the look and feel, whilst just as many disagree vehemently and argue that if people want to buy a bad design wont stop them. There are those who claim successful ecommerce is about personalisation and surfacing products that fit the buyer’s profile, whilst others argue that personalisation (based on past purchases) is flawed as it assumes buyers never want to buy something totally ‘different’. Some say it is about the purchase journey and user experience, and so on…
Clearly they are all right to some extent and a balance of all these aspects is ideal. A nice design makes your (e-)shop a more attractive place to visit; personalisation helps people make easier choices but it is also essential to show them something new and different; simplifying and streamlining the purchase process is essential for shoppers to complete the purchase journey; and making your shop seamlessly available across all devices big and small is a necessity if you want to compete.
BUT…the frustrating reality is that, having done all that, you will still struggle to increase conversion beyond the 2-3%.
To capture the other 98% you will have to focus on the customer!
“Isn’t that what we have just been doing?“, I hear you ask. No, you have been focusing on the ecommerce platform look, feel and functionality.
Here are a few suggestions on how to focus on the customer and really increase conversion:
Omni-channel approach with customer at the centre
To increase conversion, first you have to stop forcing customers online, expecting and in some cases even obligating them to self-serve into a purchase. Many of us are happy to buy online without help, but many more of us need help (according to recent research over 70% of website visitors need some sort of help during their purchase process) and some of us will never convert online at all. So if you want to increase conversion and differentiate yourself, you will need to align and synchronise all your sales channels to create one shopping experience (across ecommerce platform, shops, call centre, etc.), allowing the customer to decide which channel suits them best and service them seamlessly from one channel to the other.
Understand the customer Or as Malcolm Duckett put it in his article about conversion optimisation: relationship first, purchase second. He suggests “we need to react to the visitor each time they arrive while bearing in mind the history we have with them, rather than doggedly sticking to some pre-defined purchase process”. I couldn’t agree more. Real conversion increase will come once we understand the customer, and react to them, their behaviour and preference in real-time. Every day is different. Today I am happy to self-serve online, tomorrow I might need to speak to someone about my purchase options. Using real time intelligence to gain a deeper understanding of your customer ‘state of mind’, and tailor the purchase journey accordingly (both in terms of channel and product) will make a world of difference in conversion, customer experience and loyalty.
I am of the firm opinion that people will always prefer human interaction over robotic support. I also believe that this is why the high street will remain (even though it will look rather different), as physical shops provide human interaction as part of the shopping experience. Therefore, providing human interaction and support online is a great way to increase conversion and up-/cross-sell. Research shows that people are 25% more likely to convert after live chat, and 40% more likely to convert over the phone. Average order values on the phone are around 20% higher than online purchases. This is only natural. If you are in a store and the sales assistant provides you with the right assistance, suggesting complementary products (without being pushy!) you are more likely to buy.
…But get your timing right
In a previous post on this blog (Hi, can I help you?) I explain how important it is to provide support for your customers, but also how easy it is to get your timing wrong. No one enjoys being badgered by a sales assistant, and this is true online as well as offline. There is nothing more annoying to get a chat offer when you want to self-help, or to be asked to fill in a survey before you have even started considering to shop. However, when you do need help it is equally annoying if you have to search for it. Knowing who, when and how to offer help is the difference between increasing conversion and customer satisfaction and loosing the customer altogether.
If you would like more information on increasing conversion, how to include real time intelligence on your site and how to decide when you should (or should not) interact with your potential customers, feel free to get in touch and I can provide you with more information and try to steer you in the right direction.
Now…go and capture the other 98%!
To read Malcolm Duckett’s article on Conversion optimisation: is it really about the colour of the buy button? click here.
Last weekend I made the uncharacteristic decision to visit a shopping centre. In need of shirts, I quickly found a well-know chain of shirt-makers. Before I had put both feet inside the shop, I got the dreaded ‘Hi, can I help you?‘.
Now, I can accept that I probably looked lost and that the shop assistant was only trying to be friendly, but give me a chance. In fact, here is a question: is there anything more irritating than a completely irrelevant and wrongly timed ‘Hi, can I help you?‘ when you go shopping?
In fact there is. And it occurred to me about ten minutes later, when I had selected the shirt I wanted to try but couldn’t find the right size. Now ready for some help, I turned around half expecting the shop assistant to be hovering around only to find the shop completely void of shop assistants altogether. I waited for five minutes but saw no movement and decided it was time to leave…without my shirts.
It was at this stage I kicked myself for not having gone online to buy, but the reality is that most ecommerce shops are following their offline big brother’s bad example of non-existent customer service or irrelevant ‘Hi, how can I help you?‘s.
Most ecommerce shops have pretty dire customer service practices in fact. The majority don’t ask if they can help at all, forcing you to fend for yourself with only a ‘Help & FAQ‘ section to rely on. Only marginally better are those that offer a telephone number for you to to ring (in itself not very customer-friendly), which often means manically pressing numbers to get to the right help desk and then waiting, and waiting and…waiting.
And then there those that have made the jump to online chat and call back tools, but these are really the online equivalent of the badly timed and irrelevant ‘Hi, can I help you?‘. Popping-up whenever they please, they are never available when you need them.
Is it too much to ask to be treated as a customer rather just a transaction? Surely It doesn’t have to be this way.
The answer is intelligent interaction. By using real-time behavioural profiling and establishing the consumer’s ‘state of mind’, as well as their communication/channel preference, it is possible to engage with them when (and only when) they need you, and in a way that is most convenient for them. How radical!
The benefits of this approach include:
Increased conversion – by engaging with them when they need you, you are more likely to complete a sale (as well as up-sell, cross-sell)
Reduced abandonment – by helping them find what they need (or should be looking for) they are less likely to leave the shop
Improved customer service – the right type of engagement makes the whole buying process quicker and easier
Improved customer satisfaction – by being there for your customer only when they need you, reduces the uncomfortable feeling of being sold to and heightens their perception of you as a brand
Reduced cost – and if the above wasn’t enough, intelligent interaction offers substantial ‘cost-to-serve’ savings, as it focuses your resources on those who need help, leaving the others to complete their purchases by themselves
The reality is that intelligent interaction is not new. In fact it was widely practised (and in some places still is!) by experienced shop keepers and assistants who knew perfectly when to engage with the customer and when to leave them alone. I suppose the high level of staff rotation, part-time staff and sheer size of the super-chains doesn’t allow for this kind of training. But there is no reason why we need to make the same mistake online!
This month saw Investis host the first of many Intranet thought-leadership seminars. Over 45 people from 38 FTSE and multinational organisations filled the room made for 40, for what was to be an insightful if not somewhat snug gathering at the Hospital Club in Covent Garden.
In this post I summarise some of the key points discussed:
The workplace is out of date – Mike Boogaard (Investis)
I started off the event by revisiting the point I made in my last blog post about the workplace being based on a 20th century model even though we find ourselves in the 2nd decade of the 21st century. Coupled to this is the reality that consumerisation of IT is raising the user’s expectations: organisations that fail to improve both their digital workplace and access to up-to-date technology risk losing their best people to the competition.
I concluded, however, that there is a huge gap between what we as organisations are ready for and what the consultants and vendors are trying to sell. In most cases organisations are simply not ready for the utopian ‘totally mobile, social and collaborative network’ and simply need to focus on connecting people with people and people to information, achieving what I refer to as ‘networked productivity’ and ‘coordinated working practices’.
The Four Simple Truths of Intranet – Mark Smith (Investis) Rather than focus on the big business transformation piece, Mark focused on four practical ways of ensuring your Intranet is fit for purpose.
1. Your Intranet doesn’t have to be ugly!
An ugly Intranet reflects a lack of investment and says to the user that the organisation doesn’t care (…and so why should the user?). Also, as people are working more from home and remotely, it is important that entering the Intranet gives the same sense of ‘brand feeling’ as walking into the physical office itself.
2. Make things simpler
A key win for an Intranet is if it is simple to use, easy to navigate and fast at finding information. The focus should therefore be on what you can take out rather than adding things in. Intranet managers should focus on eliminating complexity.
Mark gave the example of the mobile Intranet site of the UK parliament. Developed by Sharon O’Dea (then at the UK parliament), it is focused solely on what MPs really needed when on the move. Namely, alerts telling them when they needed to go into the house to vote , maps of the parliamentary estate and of course a list of bars and restaurants. A great example of making things really simple.
3. Use technology intelligently
Technology should never be the driver of a project, but the enabler. My approach is always to take a step back from technology as this allows me to focus on the needs of the business rather than be restricted from the outset on functionality. Technology needs to be used smartly to deliver content and tools that are relevant to users. Define your objectives and needs first, then select the technology to do it.
4. Put people at the centre of the Intranet
Lastly, Mark focused on the most important part of any Intranet: the users. He made it clear that content is not king, people are. This means focusing on the activities and requirements of the user rather than publishing pages. He concluded that by focusing on the users you will allow them to become more efficient, and efficient employees lead to efficient organisations.
Integrating social collaboration within your business – Bruce McKay (Jive)
Bruce focused on the benefits of integrating social collaboration for the organisation and gave 3 practical examples: Toshiba which achieved faster sales cycle, SAP which reduced product release cycles and News Corporation which reduced multiple Intranets to one.
They achieved this by improved access to information, easy scalibility, ideation and innovation, and improved general awareness.
But the best way to get a feel for what Jive can do is to watch this great video (put your headphones on!).
Simplifying the Intranet – Paul Hewitt (Deutsche Bank)
We are incredibly grateful to Paul who gave us some of his precious time to talk about DB’s initiative to simplify their Intranet and give a practical example of how they went about integrating their social collaboration platform into the workplace.
Below I have outlined the key points that I noted down:
1. Deutsche Bank has the same challenges as many of our clients: multiple intranets, several disparate and diverse systems, out-of-date content and a desire to make use of social collaboration.
2. Clearly defined roadmap – DB had a clearly defined roadmap, divided into four phases with well-defined activities and benefits per phase.
3. Solid social collaboration business case – DB launched their social collaboration platform to a select number within the organisation and let it go viral, but prior to launch they developed a clear strategy and solid business case for the implementation of the relevant platform, and were able to measure performance against these objectives. Their key objectives (each stream split into several activities) included reduction of service costs, consolidation of the Intranet, a focus on eliminating waste/duplication of work and decommissions the total number of tools used.
Paul concluded by highlighting some of the key opportunities that he believes DB’s social collaboration platform has to offer, which included: improved findability, visibility beyond your own division, a great way of driving traffic to the Intranet, and helping people connect to management.
I would like to thank Mark, Bruce and Paul for their time and all the attendees for making it very interactive and insightful morning.
If you are interested in receiving a more detailed presentation of the event, please get in touch.
As I will soon be hosting an event with the same title, I thought it might be interesting to give everyone a little taster of what I hope to cover with (a lot of) help from my colleague Mark Smith and some very interesting guest speakers.
By now, everyone has pretty much accepted that Intranets are important and a great way to help bring people closer to people and closer to information. Most businesses have some sort of Intranet and some of us are discussing the importance of ‘socialising’ Intranets and making them more collaborative.
But to understand where Intranets are headed, we have to understand the underlying trends and directions that are influencing our working lives.
Our lives have changed Consider how the way we live our personal lives has changed over the past two decades: we socialise and make friends online (Facebook), everyone knows where we are (Foursquare), we are available any time (mobile), we buy anything anywhere (ecommerce), we only watch what we want to see (TV on-demand), we share our interest and knowledge (Twitter), we have total mobility (iPads, Smartphones) and we expect all of this at breakneck speed (4G and broadband).
I could go on and on about how our personal lives have been unrecognisably changed by technology…but that is only because I am old enough to remember what our lives were like 20 years ago. Most of the 20-something youngster joining the workforce today don’t know any different.
Our workplace needs to catch up And yet, if we look at the way we work, very little has changed over the last two decades. In fact, if anything, the speed of organisations’ advancement has slowed down.
What does our office look like today? Pretty much the same as it did in the 1990’s. Back then we had open offices, coffee corners, networks and document drives. Some of us had PCs and others had laptops (ok, a bit bulkier and more expensive). We had email and mobile phones. Sure there have been some changes, but the sad truth is that back then our workplace offered us better infrastructures, connectivity and equipment , whilst today we now have better equipment and connectivity at home.
It is not just about technology but about the way we structure our organisations. As people are becoming smarter, there is less need for traditional business hierarchies. As people start to collaborate, we need to adjust the way we approach targets and job remits. As people begin to share, authority will shift from those with fancy job titles to those with knowledge.
Essentially, the workspace should no longer be a place you go to but a thing you do. The office environment should become an extension of our digital workplace. People will not work 9-to-5 but whenever they are connected. We need to recognise achievements instead of just offering attractive compensation. Mobility (not mobile), collaboration and sharing need to become the focus, and we need to put in place solutions that will allow us to do all this effectively (hint: that is not by email!).
All of this will not be achieved immediately, and we will certainly not have all the answers at the event, but I do hope we will demonstrate ways in which you can start working towards this organisational revolution, and how to ensure your approach is flexible and future-proof enough to meet the challenges of the second decade of the 21st century.