Ethical Competitive Strategy

When training sales reps, I emphasize staying “above the fray.”  Besmirching a competitor’s product also sullies your reputation.  It shows a lack of class and a sense of desperation.  Oftentimes it can backfire.

“It is a mistake to believe that you can win hearts and minds by attacking your competitor. When you have no idea how strong the relationship is, you can make a complete fool of yourself, doing more harm than good, and doing nothing to create a real opportunity.

Speaking ill of your competitor is an indication of who you are, not who they are. There are better strategies available to you.”

It is much better to position the value of your offering and focus on areas of differentiation than it is to throw mud.  You should lay landmines for competitors, not besmirch their reputation.

A landmine is simply an emphasis upon those features and benefits where your product or service offering excels.  The goal is to frame the discussion around the dimensions in which your product provides superior value to the end user.  Keep in mind that value is dependent upon the customer in question, so you need to factor in job function, industry, company size, etc.  Also, be careful to select areas in which your firm excels overall, not dimensions in which you are superior to competitor X that is vying for the deal but inferior to competitor Y.  Otherwise, you may later find out you lost the deal to Y.

Likewise, you should expect your competitors to be laying landmines for your sales reps.  They need to understand where these mines are laid and how to diffuse them.

One tool I recommend is the quick parry.  This is a quick response to the question, “how are you better / different than company X?”  A quick parry is only three or four sentences and usually begins by saying something positive about the competitor before transitioning with a BUT or HOWEVER.  The positive item can be a recognition of some dimension in which they are the acknowledged leader or a dimension which is of limited importance to the customer in question.  Thus, if you are selling to an SMB, you might emphasize the breadth of their solution for enterprise customers vs. the ease of use, quick implementation, and pricing models you offer for smaller firms.  Such a tool differentiates your service from the competitor without throwing mud.

Of course, sales reps will only be able to deploy landmines and respond with quick parries if they understand both the value proposition of their offerings, the needs of their clients, and the strengths and weaknesses of their offerings vis-à-vis competitors.  This is where tools and training come into play.

 

Form Follows Function

InsideView users can quickly target additional executives by function and level.
InsideView users can quickly target additional executives by function and level.

One of the key aphorisms in architecture is that form follows function.  The quote, attributed to Louis Sullivan, holds that a building’s design should be based upon the underlying purpose of the building, not driven by ornamentation.  Twentieth century design took this maxim to heart with similar thinking spreading through industrial and software design.

In the case of information services, a focus on flashy design or “bells and whistles” can be a distraction if the underlying service fails to meet the basic informational and workflow needs of its users.  One of the great things about Google is that it returns high precision results from a few words entered into a search box.  It was this simplicity that allowed them to grab and hold two-thirds of the search engine market share, leaving Bing and Yahoo! to pick up the scraps.

A well-designed sales intelligence solution supports multiple sales and support workflows.  These users span multiple functions and departments (e.g. sales, sales directors, sales operations, sales support, service departments, business development, and marketing).  Furthermore, there are multiple types of sales reps within larger organizations so your sales intelligence platform needs to be flexible enough to meet differing information requirements and workflows.

Thus, tactical sales reps need to quickly locate contact information and a few prospect qualification variables.  They want to make sure that the contact they are about to call is in their territory and doesn’t work at a subsidiary of a named account.

Conversely, a strategic rep has broad information requirements around companies, company structures, executives, and key events.  Strategic reps are focused on who to call, when to call, and what to say.  Sales triggers are not only a flashing green light that a prospect is more likely to buy, but conversational material for catching the prospect’s attention and signaling that the rep has prepared for the call.  Likewise, SWOT reports, biographies, industry market research reports provide insights into client interests and needs.

Named account reps sell only to a few firms so need a deep understanding of their target accounts.  They need to be apprised of key events at an organization that could positively or negatively impact their pipeline.  Furthermore, named account reps are looking for additional contacts and locations for extending their corporate footprint.   Thus, searching across a company for specific job functions and then reviewing subsidiary profiles and bios is an important task in growing the account.  Named account reps also benefit from PDF exportability so they can review the latest information about their client or prospect while traveling.  These reports can also be shared with other members of the sales and support team.

Territory reps and financial services relationship managers need to be apprised of sales triggers within their territory, quickly research and qualify companies, and dig deeper on larger opportunities.  Furthermore, as they generally sell cross-industry, they  also benefit from industry overviews from vendors such as First Research.  These primers are written in plain English and provide a set of Q&A sections by topic and job function.

First Research reports, found in Dun & Bradstreet products, provide a series of Q&A topics by C-level functions, opportunities, and challenges.
First Research reports, found in Dun & Bradstreet products, provide a series of Q&A topics by C-level functions, opportunities, and challenges.

Most reps work within a CRM, so review the capabilities of sales intelligence CRM connectors.  The tighter the integration the better.  If your CRM is your system of record, you want the sales reps working within the CRM on desktops and mobile devices.  Services that bounce the user between a web browser and the CRM are less effective than those that provide most or all of their content and functionality within Salesforce.com, MS Dynamics, or other CRMs.  Also, look for “stare and compare” updating of records, batch and real-time synchronization of data, custom fields, and duplicate checking.

Many sales intelligence services also support the marketing department.  Standardizing the two functions on a common vendor helps reduce cost and channel conflict.  It also provides a basis for successful ABM programs which cross the two departments.  Several years ago, sales intelligence vendors only offered prospecting to marketing, but now they also support web forms, real-time and batch enrichment of leads, lead-to-account mapping, marketing automation connectors, lead scoring, segmentation analysis, Ideal Customer Profiling, TAM analysis, and net-new leads and contacts.  A few also offer standalone services for the marketing department such as programmatic advertising, visitor id, multi-channel marketing, and SEO.

When evaluating sales intelligence solutions, you should understand the workflows and information requirements of each of your sales groups along with other potential beneficiaries of the service.  Don’t evaluate simply on counts and features, but on the information needs and workflows of your various sales and marketing teams.

Are you ready for EU GDPR Compliance?

On May 25, 2018 the EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) goes into effect, creating data privacy and security concerns for firms both inside and outside of the EU.  The GDPR covers both companies that provide goods and services to EU residents and those that are part of the value chain.  The regulation covers all individuals domiciled within the EU, regardless of where the company is headquartered.

According to Forrester, the regulation has five key requirements:

  • If a firm has “regular, systemic collection or storage of sensitive data,” they need to hire or designate a Data Protection Officer (DPO).  The function may be filled by individuals with legal, privacy, security, marketing, or customer experience.  The International Association of Privacy Professionals (IAPP) estimates that the regulation will require 30,000 privacy officers.  The DPO will need to work with security leaders with respect to identity and access management (IAM) and encryption.  They will also be involved in purchasing decisions around CRM, analytics, and other platforms.
  • Should a data breach occur, firms have a-72 hour window for reporting breach details to the authorities and customers.  The window begins as soon as the breach is detected.
  • Privacy must be built into any new projects with a “Privacy-by-design” philosophy.  Forrester stated that “sustained collaboration between teams will be critical, so firms will have to establish new processes to encourage, enforce, and oversee it.” For example, privacy officers will need to review business requirements and development plans related to new apps.
  • Extraterritoriality places requirements on firms outside of the EU, making it a global requirement.  Forrester notes that “a US-based data aggregator that collects and resells EU customers’ data to other business partners will need to comply fully with GDPR requirements, rather than simply meeting international data transfer rules.”
  • Firms will be responsible not only for securing data but providing evidence that they have implemented appropriate risk mitigation.  Thus, a firm can be held in violation even if they have not had customer complaints or data breaches.

US companies are still obligated to comply with the 2016 Privacy Shield agreement between the US and EU.  Forrester also warned UK firms to comply with the GDPR as lowering British privacy standards would only serve to complicate UK-EU data transfer rules post Brexit.

Forrester suggested that firms take a cost-benefit analysis to data instead of simply storing everything:

“Firms will learn to better assess the costs and benefits of records they process, store, and protect. They will progressively focus on collecting, buying, processing, storing, and protecting only the data that offers them the most value and will kill the rest.”

Forrester also suggested that privacy should be part of a firm’s DNA and some firms will integrate privacy into brand perception and the customer experience, providing a basis for competitive advantage.

Osterman Research conducted a survey of mid to large companies subject to the law to identify technology expenditure increases for GDPR compliance.

GDPR compliance expenditure increases (January 2017)
GDPR compliance expenditure increases (January 2017)

GDPR non-compliance costs are potentially very high with penalties up to the greater of €20 million or 4% of total worldwide annual turnover of the preceding financial year.

DueDil KYC for Business

UK business information vendor DueDil partnered with CallCredit Information Group for an enhanced KYC (Know Your Customer) service.  The new API service provides real-time access to company, director, and beneficial ownership data to expedite onboarding and financial compliance.

“This service provides a one-stop-shop for a business’s identification and verification needs,” said Alan Golob, CallCredit Data Solutions Director.  “By combining Callcredit’s data, industry knowledge and first line support capabilities with DueDil’s data and development expertise, we’ve created a service that will fully integrate into a client’s system or work as a standalone tool.  Advancements in regulatory requirements have caused many businesses to reassess their processes and checks, and this solution answers this need.”

DueDil covers forty million European companies across nine countries with plans to expand across all of Europe.

“Compliance is not only a regulatory requirement, it is the heart of every resilient business,” said DueDil CEO Damian Kimmelman.  “This can only be achieved by having a true and comprehensive profile of the customers that you are dealing with. Customers of our new service will have the comfort of knowing that they can make KYC checks in a simple, automated way through a platform which is underpinned by one of Europe’s largest company information sources.  Enhanced due diligence checks should form part of a balanced risk-based approach and can help organisations assess customers and meet regulatory requirements.”

Quora: How do I do marketing using LinkedIn?

Here is how I answered the following question on Quora: “How do I do marketing using LinkedIn?”

I would use LinkedIn in the following ways to promote my company:

  • LinkedIn has a set of marketing services which allow you to build targeted campaigns by both firmographic (size, industry, location) and biographic variables. This is probably the most granular B2B advertising tool out there. The Campaign Manager also provides a set of analytics around viewing and impressions. Pricing is either CPC or CPM (impressions or clicks). Here is a quick description of their advertising formats: 
LinkedIn Marketing Formats
LinkedIn Marketing Formats
  • LinkedIn can be used to promote your own content as posts, whether it be white papers, product descriptions, case studies, blogs, or articles. If you mention a partner or customer, make sure to link to them and have their marketing departments like the content. Where possible, include some copy from the content or description of the content along with a visual (LinkedIn will grab a visual from the source if there is one available).

    Do not overly self-promote. Your content should lean towards thought leadership not corporate promotion. Of course, if you launch a new product, write about it. But LinkedIn is not the place for deep feature dives or long discussions of your value proposition. And please, not another What does [this character from Game of Thrones] teach us about [some aspect of business]. This type of coattail riding is generally full of clichés and stretched analogies. Originality, Professionalism, and Readability are key on LinkedIn (a good graphic and headline don’t hurt).

  • LinkedIn supports its own set of articles, but I’ve had more luck blogging on my site and then writing posts that link to my blog. You should test both approaches to determine whether LinkedIn articles work for your company.

  • Have your employees like content so that it is seen by your prospects and customers in their feed. 
  • Fill out your company profile. Many vendors rehash their website and Facebook profiles, but I would try to differentiate the copy between these three sites. For B2B companies, the website should be corporate, Facebook a bit cheeky, and LinkedIn professional, but lighter than your website. Keep in mind that LinkedIn is used by both prospective employees and customers so you want to be speaking to multiple readers. 
  • Evaluate Sales Navigator for your sales reps. This service does not allow you to download lists of companies and contacts, but it allows you to build and maintain lists of accounts and leads which are stored in Navigator (these lists can be built individually, via prospecting, or via CRM downloads). Sales Navigator also supports CRM viewing of company and contact profiles, InMails (direct messages with prospects outside of your current connections) and PointDrive, a custom website link that allows sales reps to forward attachments (collateral, price documents, videos, PowerPoints) as embedded content with descriptions. PointDrive provides analytics on what content has been consumed and tracks whether the document has been forwarded to others. 

Keep in mind that LinkedIn’s audience skews older and more professional than Twitter and Facebook.

 

The TLAs (3-Letter Acronyms) of ABM

"ABM: Taming the Alphabet" slide courtesy of InsideView
“ABM: Taming the Alphabet” slide courtesy of InsideView

As with many other technologies and business processes, sales is subject to its set of TLAs (three letter acronyms) such as ICP, TAM, and ABM.  As I regularly reference these terms in my blog, I obtained permission from InsideView to republish their slide on these acronyms.

The Ideal Customer Profile (ICP) is your best customer definition.  It is a hybrid of both company and contact variables.  While it can be as simple as “the Fortune 500,” a true ICP looks at firmographic, biographic, technical, and signal variables.  By technical, I mean industry specific variables such as which platforms are used, how many beds are in the hospital, or whether the company is a direct seller or employs channel sales.  By behavioral, I’m talking about business signals such as funding events, partnerships, and M&A activity (what InsideView calls agents and other vendors call triggers).

Defining your ICP is key to strategic targeting.  Without an agreed upon ICP, sales and marketing will take an ad hoc approach to customer targeting and prioritization.  At best, the lack of an ICP is sub-optimal.  At worst, it results in sales ignoring marketing leads and taking a “we’ll do it ourselves” approach.

The Total Addressable Market (TAM) is the full set of customers, prospects, and net-new accounts that match your ICP.  Of course, some of your customers and prospects will fall outside of your ICP, but it is the net-new accounts that are the most interesting.  Some call these the white-space accounts, but they are basically the companies you should begin nurturing as they represent your best hope of growing revenue.  Likewise, prospects within your TAM should be a high priority while those outside should be triaged.  Finally, the accounts that fall within your TAM should have high retention rates.  They also represent an easy path for cross-selling, upselling, and expanding to other departments, functions, and locations.  You want to go from beachheads (land and expand) to strategic partnerships with these firms so deep company intelligence is required (family trees, org charts, additional contacts, sales triggers, SWOTs, industry research, etc.)

InsideView just announced the launch of their Expert Services group and its TAM service.  I’ll be covering the announcement in a future blog.

Of course, Account Based Marketing (ABM) is the broader strategy that is supported by a focus on your TAM and ICP.  ABM is the set of programs, campaigns, and activities by which B2B companies target their best prospects.  ABM encompasses sales, marketing, customer support, operations, etc.  Once the firm agrees on which accounts are strategic, it can direct its energy towards landing these accounts and ensuring they receive the white glove treatment.  While traditional demand generation and content marketing have focused on lead volume, ABM directs sales and marketing resources towards targeting and expanding business within your TAM.

Implementing ABM encompasses a set of tools and services for identifying the ideal customer profile, sizing the total addressable market, identifying white space target accounts and contacts (i.e. net-new leads), supporting web forms, automating batch and ongoing enrichment of MAPs and CRMs, prioritizing leads, embedding sales intelligence within workflows, event alerting, prioritizing leads, and assisting with lead-to-account mapping, segmentation analysis, and campaign targeting.  Other ABM technologies include programmatic marketing, dynamic website display based upon real-time firmographics (visitor id), predictive analytics, and proactive sales recommendations.  No vendor provides all of these tools today, much less has them integrated into an ABM suite.

 

Intent Data — Why and When?

One of the important recent B2B MarTech innovations is the development of intent data from vendors like Bombora.  As prospects are now using the Internet to self-educate, they are reaching out to a smaller set of pre-screened vendors later in the sales cycle.  But if firms are being stealthy to avoid detection during this initial phase, B2B firms have been looking to uncloak this veil of secrecy and reach out to firms during the initial phase.

One response to anonymity was content marketing which looks to deliver information (and perhaps uncover prospects) during this early phase.  But it is difficult to customize messaging to anonymous individuals.  Thus sprung up visitor id services such as Demandbase that map IP addresses to company firmographics in real-time.  For example, a visitor from a P&C insurance IP address would be shown a website and content that speaks to their industry specific needs.

Firms also engaged in SEO and SEM to drive traffic to vertical content.  While these activities were an improvement, they provided no indication concerning whether the prospect was in the market for a firm’s solutions.

Intent Data Publisher Network and Tracked Activities (Source: Bombora)
Intent Data Publisher Network and Tracked Activities (Source: Bombora)

Firms like Bombora and The Big Willow work with B2B media sites to map site traffic and actions (e.g. downloading white papers, webinar attendance, site searches), to specific companies.  Thus, each IP address has a baseline activity trail which indicates topics of interest.  Intent firms then match B2B media site visitor actions to an intent taxonomy covering thousands of topics.  Of course, larger firms will leave more distinct trails and firms will display heavy footprints around their own industry and target segments.  These patterns are company-specific background noise.  To find the intent signals, intent vendor analytics determine which topics are surging at each company.  For example, If GE has X searches per week on cloud computing, then this activity rate is general background noise.  But if activity spikes to 2X, then there is likely to be some initiative underway at the firm concerning cloud computing.  It is these surges that identify firms to be targeted.  Intent data provides a mechanism for placing calculated bets on which accounts and prospects deserve additional resources.

Keep in mind, this activity remains anonymous.  A cloud computing vendor does not know who at GE is involved in cloud computing initiatives, but they know it is the appropriate time to target GE with stepped up marketing (SEM, email, sales calls, etc.).

Thus, intent data is integrated into predictive marketing platforms such as Lattice Engines, LeadSpace, Mintigo, Everstring, and Radius.

Just this month, Everstring added Bombora’s intent data to their Audience platform.  Surge data is also available for programmatic targeting on platforms such as BlueKai (Oracle), Krux, and Lotame.  Thus, it is possible to target advertising for firms that have shown a surge of interest in a topic.

Like any technology, intent data has its limits.  While it helps identify when to call into an account and topics of interest, it doesn’t identify whom to call and whether there is an actual initiative related to the topic.  Furthermore, intent data does not indicate whether a firm is a good fit (e.g. size, industry, technographics) or how far along they are in the discovery process.

In a blog earlier this month titled “Intent Data is Great. Except When it Isn’t,” Gartner Research Vice President Todd Berkowitz listed the following limitations concerning intent data:

There are a large number of scenarios where intent data and models don’t add nearly as much value (if any).  It’s not because the intent data is inaccurate. It’s because there is simply not enough data available to use directly or to put in models. They include:

  • New and emerging technology categories

  • Certain geographies, industries or other niches

  • Non-technology products

  • Solutions (especially services) that can’t be easily categorized

Thus, intent data works best for well-established technology segments (versus emerging ones).  Just make sure to also look at fitness indicators when building surge-based campaigns.

Addendum

Within 15 minutes of posting this blog, I saw that Bombora was named a 2017 Cool Vendor by Gartner.

“We believe it’s a true milestone to be recognized by Gartner as a Cool Vendor in SaaS for 2017,” said Erik Matlick, founder and CEO of Bombora. “Our customers choose Bombora so that they may access the largest source of B2B intent data for use in their account-based marketing strategies. For us, being a ‘Cool Vendor’ serves as a validation of our ‘everybody wins’ approach to the ecosystem and the impact that our dynamic, quality intent data is having across B2B sales and marketing.”