One of the most important SalesTech trends, besides the emergence of ChatGPT, is the rapid incorporation of engagement datasets alongside intent datasets for prioritization and messaging.
A few years ago, we saw the emergence of intent data sets such as first-party web visitor tracking, second-party product review site research, and third-party B2B media research. Initially, this content was integrated into MAPs, ABX platforms, and CDPs, but it was not well integrated into SalesTech. We are now seeing intent data being integrated into SalesTech platforms in a simplified fashion (e.g., High Intent Topics in CRM profiles and Slack alerts) that is digestible for sales reps.
However, intent data only indicates whether a company is in-market, not whether the buying committee is considering your offering or seriously engaged with your sales team. This intelligence comes from a new category of engagement data captured from digital interactions between the revenue team (sales, marketing, and customer success) and the buying committee. Engagement intelligence consists of both traditional digital interactions (e.g., clickthroughs, downloads) and Natural Language Processing (NLP) analytics derived from sales and buying team activities.
NLP helps RevTech platforms determine who is interacting with your firm. It also analyzes buyer sentiment, buyer concerns, deal health, and risk flags. The primary sources of engagement data are emails, recorded phone calls, and recorded meetings. However, any digital interaction between buyers and sellers can be captured such as activity in digital sales rooms, webinar attendance, chat messaging, and scheduled meetings. I anticipate that customer support platforms will also be tapped for engagement data to help gauge churn risk and friction during product trials.
Engagement data indicates whether a deal is on track and what issues could result in lost deals or pushed out pipeline. For example, engagement data assesses whether:
Discussions are single or multi-threaded
Key decisionmakers are involved (e.g., has a security review been performed or has legal been included?)
Competitors have been mentioned
Pricing concerns were raised
Follow on meetings have been scheduled
Meetings had a positive flow or were dominated by the sales rep
In short, engagement data provides sales reps and managers deal health and risk analytics that improve forecasting and ensure that deal risks are quickly mitigated. And as interactions are digital, managers can discuss these issues during one-on-ones or offer quick tips on next steps. They can even review the discussion associated with the risk and identify skills and knowledge gaps for coaching.
The interesting thing about intent and engagement data is they are highly complementary with each other. Operations teams should be looking at integrating intent data alongside engagement data. Intent data is valuable for identifying who and when to reach out to ideal customers. However, once a relationship is established, the focus shifts to engagement data for monitoring deal health. After a deal is signed, both engagement and intent data are in play. Intent data identifies cross-sell opportunities and churn risk through second and third-party intent topic monitoring while Engagement and Product Usage data evaluate adoption rates and potential implementation issues.
LinkedIn posted its AI principles today. These are all high-level which is a good starting point, but implementing rules and policies requires more details.
AI is not new to LinkedIn. LinkedIn has long used AI to enhance our members’ professional experiences. While AI has enormous potential to expand access to opportunity and transform the world of work in positive ways, the use of AI comes with risks and potential for harm. Inspired by, and aligned with our parent company Microsoft’s leadership in this area, we wanted to share the Responsible AI Principles we use at LinkedIn to guide our work:
Advance Economic Opportunity: People are at the center of what we do. AI is a tool to further our vision, empowering our members and augmenting their success and productivity.
Uphold Trust: Our commitments to privacy, security and safety guide our use of AI. We take meaningful steps to reduce the potential risks of AI.
Promote Fairness and Inclusion: We work to ensure that our use of AI benefits all members fairly, without causing or amplifying unfair bias.
Provide Transparency: Understanding of AI starts with transparency. We seek to explain in clear and simple ways how our use of AI impacts people.
Embrace Accountability: We deploy robust AI governance, including assessing and addressing potential harms and fitness for purpose, and ensuring human oversight and accountability.
“Using AI Responsibly,” LinkedIn In the Loop Newsletter (March 2023)
As with every new technology, it can be used for either the betterment of society or malign purposes. Setting out principles helps frame product management and engineering in building their models, promoting trust, and setting guidelines to reduce negative effects (e.g., recapitulating bias, spreading misinformation and disinformation).
Transparency helps reduce negative effects as well. If it isn’t known why a recommendation was made, how can it be trusted? Furthermore, how does one know that the AI isn’t recapitulating somebody’s IP; gathering information from incorrect, malign, or outdated sources; or making incorrect assumptions? Thus, black box AI should be avoided.
Microsoft is the early leader in implementing Generative AI, a category of AI “algorithms that generates new output based on data they have been trained on” (Gartner). The best known of these is ChatGPT which generates text and carries on chat conversations. Microsoft recently invested $10 billion in OpenAI, the developer of ChatGPT and other generative AI tools. It is quickly moving to integrate it into Bing and other products.
On Monday, I will post about ChatGPT being integrated into Microsoft’s Viva Sales product.
Kyle Porter, who founded and led Salesloft for the past dozen years, stepped down from the CEO role and was named Salesloft’s Chairman last week. In his place, the firm named SaaS veteran David Obrand its new CEO. Obrand is also joining Salesloft’s board.
I’ve known Kyle Porter for around a decade. I was impressed when he mothballed his first email guessing product because it wasn’t aligned with his belief in sales authenticity. It was a gutsy move. While he didn’t burn his boats (i.e., immediately remove the product from the market), he stopped selling the service and phased out the product while fulfilling current contracts.
Porter is also a gifted storyteller, which he emphasizes as a skill that sales reps should hone. His personal story is embedded into his management style.
I had the opportunity to interview Kyle on Friday. The conversation below was edited for length.
Why have you chosen to move upstairs?
There are two major reasons. The first is for the greater good of the business. I’ve seen this market unfold and the opportunity that we have in front of us just open up. It’s unlimited what we can do in sales and revenue generation. And our mission has always been to fundamentally change the profession of sales forever and really build a world where sellers are loved by the buyers they serve. I want every Lofter to have our mission as their primary focus within this business. And that means I need to have it as well. My goal is to always do that. And when I looked out to the future of everything that we could achieve, the biggest fear I had was that I wouldn’t be the right person to help us get there – that I would leave something on the table.
My skills are always growing, always developing. I consider myself a lifelong learner. And I’ve worked really hard to be just as good as I can at this stage as I was when there were zero people at the company. That evolution, however, is hard work. And that self-development is a deep investment.
The second piece of this is more of a personal perspective. On my very first date with my now wife…she asked me what my dream was, and I told her it was to run a technology company that makes a dent in the universe. I asked her hers, and she said it was to restore the glory that was the Florida citrus industry…
Now with someone like David, he’s already gained that wisdom, experience, know-how, and recall. It’s so natural for him. And I felt like we could accelerate the development of the CEO’s capability to take us to the next level by bringing in someone like David. So really, it’s based on my limitations as CEO. The opportunity ahead of us is just so big. And we have an amazing future in this business. We do the right things, and we serve our customers with excellence. There’s no limit to what we can achieve, so I wanted to accelerate the office of the CEO’s capabilities and really improve the handicapped chances to achieve our mission.
Some opportunities came up to really achieve that mission that she’s been on. And I realized that my talents and resources could greatly assist her just as she sat on the sidelines and helped me achieve my mission for over twelve years. I realized that it’s not right for this organization with so much growth ahead to have a CEO that’s not singularly focused on the mission of the business…I’m going to do tangerines with my wife, and that meant that it was the best decision to have someone that would be singularly focused on the mission of this business…
Of course, there are also my three children. While my daughter Brooklyn (8) is still going through the change curve of me no longer being CEO, I’m incredibly excited to pour more time and attention into her, my son Clark (5), and daughter Abby (1) as well!
How active will you be as the chairman?
Pretty active. We have a founder lunch that I’m going to continue. I’ve been corresponding with many customers this week, and I will retain those relationships and meet with them continuously. I’ll be a board member. David has asked for a once-a-week meeting indefinitely with him.
I just have really deep relationships with so many people inside the organization and with so many of our customers and partners. My enjoyment and my passion are to continue to work with those people. So customer meetings, board meetings, and one-on-ones with the CEO.
We got some really fun content projects that we’re working on. We’re going to be doing some work together to really show the market what’s happening and what’s changed and how to be more effective in this new world of modern sales.
What were the top criteria for selecting your successor?
Number one is that they are aligned with the mission of the business. When we talk about fundamentally transforming sales and revenue forever, this person that we brought on board had to have that in their heart already. Number two is they have to realize and understand that organizational health is the biggest sustainable differentiating advantage that any company can have. So when we love on our Lofters, they turn around and love on our customers, and the CEO needed to understand those dynamics and be willing to continue running this business with that framework and mindset. Three, I wanted someone that was well-rounded functionally. Not just a sales leader, but someone that understood product engineering, finance, marketing, [and] customer success.
I saw it firsthand when David Obrand got up and spoke with the product and engineering team. I sat, and I listened to someone say things that I wish I had thought of saying to them in the past. Things that I didn’t know and didn’t experience. And the way he connected with them was on a very deep level. And it was really refreshing for them to see someone that understands them even better than I did. So that was really cool.
When you think about succession as a founder, there’s a point at which your skillset, knowledge, or experience isn’t the right fit for taking the company to the next level. And many executives, out of hubris, choose to continue in that role, even though they may not be the best person for that role.
I believe exactly what you said. But I also believe that we really don’t have any limits except for those imposed upon us by ourselves. I’ve always believed that we can grow and develop into that next stage, and I’ve always believed that for myself, but that investment sometimes takes time. And if you have other things that you’re focused on, it’s more difficult to get down that development path.
You had a quiet layoff last week. Usually, you’re more transparent about these things. Why the shift away from the prior transparency, and why was it necessary to do so?
Necessary is an interesting word. I teach our leadership team that they don’t need to do anything; they always choose to do certain things.
On the transparency front, we did have a layoff after COVID. And we didn’t make a public announcement on that, as well. We believe that’s a private thing for the people that are part of the organization. We want to be super transparent internally about everything that happened. And if someone goes out and posts something, we don’t stop them or send them a note saying, don’t write that by any means. But that is a private kind of situation for the people who are impacted and affected.
Now, I am certainly helping people to find jobs. And we’ve assembled a list. And I’ve made many introductions. I’ve brought a lot of investors in, And we are helping those folks to find their next path.
SalesLoft, like many companies, saw lots of growth in the market and then saw some headwinds in front of us. And the way we think about it is that you’re in an airplane, and when the headwinds come, you can do two things: you can accelerate through and burn all your fuel, or you can lay back a little bit, let the headwinds pass, and pick back up. The decision we made was to lay back a little bit, let the headwinds pass, and then pick back up with the business.
What advice would you give founders of technology startups?
Really obsessing over the problem you solve is the first and foremost most critical thing that founders need to do. And when I say obsessed, I mean you need to get everybody in the organization on board with caring so much that they love their customer; they love solving the pains for them. And the company that cares the most is the one that’s going to win. Number one is that customer obsession and a really deep focus on the problem that you solve to the point where it becomes just a daily rhythm of your life.
The second one is aligning your organization to go after your mission. The mission statement is something where you’re one stop short of changing the world. We want to fundamentally transform sales forever. And that’s what we’re here to do. And so we need to hire people who believe in that mission, even down to the engineer.
We’ve created this whole community of people from every walk of life who love sellers and who understand the beauty of what sales is and how it transforms economies and markets. How it helps companies hire, invent, bring new products to life, and really change the fabric of our society. Making sure that your team is focused on that mission is critical. Then you got to have the rhythms in place where they’re being held accountable [and] where you’re achieving your goals.
You’ve emphasized the importance of culture. How did Salesloft benefit from your five core values?
What we’re looking for when we hire people is not that they’re five out of five A+, but that they have many of the core values [and] also believe that the other ones that maybe they’re not as strong in are important enough to work towards.
The other thing is that core values are a way to stop yourself before you make a mistake. Once a mentor told me [that] a good leader makes a mistake and quickly fixes it, [but] a great leader is about to make a mistake and fixes it before they do. And for me, that’s what the core values are. If we say that we want to be glass half-full, and I find myself about to say something negative. In the old days, I would say it, learn it, and fix it. But now, before it even comes out of my mouth, my head says, “glass half-full,” and I change the way I deliver that message.
Or if I’ve got a decision where I can go left, and it’s maybe better for money and then go right, and it’s better for customer experience. Then, customer obsession comes into my mind before I make that decision so that I can go right for the customer. We look at core values as triggering mnemonic messages in your head that help you to be the person you want to be.
As a CEO, you’ve got to repeat those [values] over and over again. Reward people who exhibit it. You’ve got to praise those who showcase it. Repetition is persuasion in that regard.
What is one mistake you wish you could have avoided?
We never anticipated the market would come back so fast post-COVID. Nobody did. Had I understood that, we wouldn’t have slowed down like we did. But then, we also never anticipated that the SaaS market would crash the way that it did. Had we understood that, we would have slowed down a little bit more before we did. Hindsight is 20/20. If you can predict those things, you can be a multi-billion-dollar hedge fund manager.
We’re always trying to align market demand with the resource supply of the organization. So that’s a continual trade-off that we’re working to make.
Are you looking forward to more time on the citrus farm?
I’m really excited. One of the things we do is send tangerines out to our customers. Every single year we do it, and I’m not going to miss that. We’ve got to keep producing great tangerines, so we can keep getting them into the hands of our customers. It is a joy and a passion of mine and my wife’s. She’s been so helpful to me on this journey, and I’m excited to help her follow her dreams.
Any last thoughts?
Yeah, we’re in a great spot. As a company, even with what we’ve seen in the downturn in the marketplace, we saw a really strong end to our Q4, and Q1 is off to a great start. Our CEO is highly capable. He’s wise. He’s been welcomed with a huge Salesloft hug inside the organization, and I’ve seen our customers and market participants really appreciate who he is and what he’s going to do. We’ve got a big opportunity to fundamentally transform the sales profession ahead of us. And we’re going to do it.
“As the US population diversifies, so must your sales teams,” concluded Vanessa Fabrizio, Market Impact Consultant at Forrester. “You need a diverse sales team to be customer-obsessed in 2021 and beyond. Respondents understand the importance of diversity, as 60% stated that diversity within their sales team has contributed to their teams’ success.”
While DEI received much attention in 2020, sales leaders view it as an ongoing initiative, with 82% stating racial or ethnic diversity will be equally or more important in two years. Additionally, 72% believe that DEI will be equally or more important across the business organization in two years.
Last September, Forrester Consulting surveyed 500 B2B sales leaders about their firms’ performance metrics and DEI practices (e.g., diversity in personnel, commitment to DEI training, and career advancement programs for underrepresented groups). Those with strong DEI programs outperformed lagging programs across a series of metrics:
Sales Forecasts: Firms with strong programs expected 2021 revenue growth of 9% vs. 6% at lagging firms.
Conversion Rates: Organizations with strong DEI practices had a 54% lead-to-opportunity conversion rate vs. 26% at laggards.
Customer Satisfaction: Firms with strong programs saw a 24% increase in customer satisfaction scores vs. 17% at firms with weak programs.
“As buyers continue to demand a more personalized experience, successful companies will understand the increasing benefit of diversifying their teams to reflect the changing demographics of their target consumer,” said author and sales expert Jeff Davis.
“In 2022, sales leaders will monitor and track the diversity of their organization like any other metric or KPI,” separately predicted Outreach Global Innovation Evangelist Mary Shea. “With more weight and visibility on this business priority, sales leaders will embrace new and more creative channels to source talent, and they will create internal programs to nurture and foster their existing talent.”
Coincidentally, I am publishing this article on Martin Luther King Day at a time when voting rights are being restricted in many states. MLK stood for DEI, voting rights, freedom, economic opportunity, and economic justice. He was instrumental in pushing LBJ and Congress to pass the original Voting Rights Act which is now opposed by the Republican Party. It is time for Congress to renew the Voting Rights Act and at least pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Act.
Senator Raphael Warnock, who preached from MLK’s pulpit at the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, stated
“I have to tell you that the most important thing that we can do this Congress is to get voting rights done. Voting rights are a preservative of all other rights. They lay the ground for all of the other debates. And so to my Democratic colleagues, I say: while it is deeply unfortunate, it is more than apparent that it has been left to us to handle alone the task of safeguarding our democracy.
Sadly, many of our Republican friends have already cast their vote with voter suppression. And so the judgment of history is upon us. Future generations will ask, when the democracy was in a 911 state of emergency, what did you do to put the fire out? Did we rise to the moment or did we hide behind procedural rules?
“I believe that we Democrats can figure out how to get this done, even if that requires a change in the rules, which we established just last week that we can do when the issue is important enough.”
Senator Rappael Warnock (December 14, 2021)
Democracy is not a given. Freedom expands or contracts based upon our willingness to accept others and afford them the same rights (and responsibilities) as others. It must be renewed each generation through teaching, activism, and voting.
Leveraging its Economic Graph, LinkedIn noted that sales rep turnover is up 39% over the past three months (overall global turnover is up 28%). Sales is the second most in-demand position globally.
“Companies need to recognize that the power dynamic has changed — workers are going to demand more from them on multiple fronts,” said LinkedIn Chief Economist Karin Kimbrough. “Candidates are being much more selective about where they work, and workers are more vocal about what they want.”
Replacing sales reps is an expensive proposition, according to a 2015-2016 DePaul University study. When factoring in the opportunity cost of an open sales seat and the hiring and training expenses, replacing a sales rep costs $115,000.
Further complicating matters, buying team turnover spiked over the past year, up 31% in Q3. Thus, demand units are more difficult to navigate, and deals are more likely to be delayed due to key decision-maker departures. According to LinkedIn State of Sales 2021, 80% of sales reps said a deal was delayed or derailed due to buyer role changes over the past year.
Unfortunately, employee burnout rose 9% between April and July, just as employees were readying to return to the office, but Delta delayed such plans. Over the same period, employee happiness dropped three points.
“This simultaneous dip in employee happiness and spike in burnout is a warning signal: very few people want to return to pre-pandemic work life, said LinkedIn Head of People Science Strategic Development Amy Lavoie. “Part of the issue here is that the communications around organizations’ return-to-office plans can carry a dangerous subtext. It may look to employees that, while their leaders had prioritized their well-being and safety in the pandemic’s first stretch, they’re now focusing on business and advancing their own agenda at all costs, leaving employees’ concerns in the wake.”
“Employee well-being is not a fad; it is a fundamental human need,” continued Lavoie. “It’s not going to take care of itself as businesses start asking employees to return to the office. Employees are looking to their organizations to value their needs as full human beings and trust them to make decisions about how, when, and where they work. Until that happens, we will continue to see this deadlock between employees and organizations on happiness and burnout.” Employee priorities are shifting, with a greater emphasis on flexible work arrangements, inclusive workplaces, and work-life balance than just a few months ago. As a result, work-life balance is ranked as the top priority among job seekers.
Flexibility is key. Three out of five employees feel they are equally productive working from home and that their overall well-being is equal to or better than working in an office.
A Fortune Analytics survey of over 10,000 knowledge workers found that 76% of knowledge workers want flexibility in where they work, and 93% want flexibility in when they work. Additionally, 57% of knowledge workers are “open to looking for a new job in 2022.” However, among knowledge workers who are dissatisfied with the level of flexibility, the open to looking rate rises to 71%.
“Just last year, joblessness in the US was at its highest level since the Great Depression,” wrote Fortune Editorial Director Lance Lambert. “Scrambling to hold onto their jobs, workers started taking on extra responsibilities—something many of them hold onto today even though the economy has shifted into one of its strongest periods in recent memory. That explains why 19% of workers say their work-related stress is ‘poor,’ and another 33% say it’s ‘fair.’”
Fortune Analytics also found that workers with inflexible work schedules are 6.6 times more likely to report work-related stress.
LinkedIn Senior Content Manager Paul Petrone suggested three areas of investment to retain sales talent:
“Career conversations and career development for your employees.
Providing work-life balance, which should ideally include flex work.
Diversity, inclusion, and belonging.”
Workers find it difficult to maintain a work/life balance, with 35% of workers telling GlassDoor that balance isn’t possible in their current role.
“Very few people both see a path forward and feel support for an internal career move,” observed LinkedIn People Science Senior Researcher Eric Knudsen. “Luckily, there’s a clear solution. While it’s natural for managers to worry about losing a team member, employees want learning and growth opportunities. So, whenever someone starts looking for their next opportunity, a lack of manager support could inspire an external move.”
Knudsen recommends that managers frame internal mobility as an opportunity and not a loss as they place an advocate and partner in another part of the organization. Furthermore, the organization retains talent, and cross-team collaboration is likely to rise.
“Work-life policies which are rigid or offer little flexibility are proving problematic for UK employees,” said Glassdoor Economist Lauren Thomas. “Our research has indicated that workers want autonomy over how they juggle their home and work lives and need employers to offer a range of options to support this. There also needs to be trust between the two parties — avoid micromanaging teams who are working from home.”
What’s more, Glint (a LinkedIn subsidiary) found that only one in five employees feel they can meet their career goals in their current organization, increasing the likelihood of departures.
There is no lack of companies and their CEOs that go through the motions of woke capitalism, turning it into performative theater to satisfy customers, partners, and investors. Only over time do you see which firms are sincere in their efforts at stakeholder capitalism and which ones view such positions as a way to goose profits and burnish their image.
BP was a perfect example of greenwashing until they befouled the Gulf of Mexico.
I’ve known Kyle Porter, CEO of Sales Engagement Platform SalesLoft, for about nine years. I was impressed when he mothballed his first product because it wasn’t aligned with his belief in sales authenticity. It was a gutsy move. While he didn’t burn his boats (i.e., immediately remove the product from the market), he stopped selling the service and phased out the product while fulfilling current contracts.
Early on he set out five principals for his company. He has discussed them at user conferences and posts them on SalesLoft’s company page:
So when Kyle announced that SalesLoft was internalizing the cost of its carbon footprint by paying for carbon offsets, I asked him about it. He framed the discussion as part of a broader social mission:
“From the beginning, this has been a mission-led business. I didn’t found a company because I wanted to make money in sales, I founded a company because I knew that a business would be the greatest vehicle that I could create to make an impact on the world. And that starts with our customers and changing their lives. It extends to our employees and providing them with a place where they can learn more, grow more, do more, find fulfillment, and serve others. And that extends to our ecosystem and the places that we serve.
If I’ve got influence and capabilities, why not yield those to make the world a better place at the same time…
Einstein said the purpose of life is to serve. I believe that a leader’s role is to serve, and I believe that I’ve been entrusted with a unique story, with capabilities, with resources, with a great business. And it’s my job to be a steward of that and use it to make the world a better place.
So when you look out, you see that we emit 35 billion metric tons of carbon, and SalesLoft is emitting carbon, as well, through our server ecosystem, through our travel, through our office space HVAC. We have an opportunity to take it seriously, and we have an opportunity to have a net-zero impact on the world, then we’re going to take that.
Fortunately, we were able to find a great partner [Green Places] who helps us offset our carbon footprint, and commits us to operating in an energy efficient way.
We stand for something. We act on it. It’s one of the many things that we want to do as a business.”
SalesLoft CEO Kyle Porter (Interview: Michael Levy 8/20/21)
Now, I’m hoping that Green Places keeps Kyle’s feet to the fire on his promise to be carbon neutral. Simply paying for offsets should only be the first step in meeting environmental objectives. The real progress happens when a company works with its employees, vendors, and partners to reduce their carbon emissions. I have no doubt that Kyle is sincere, but even those with the best of intentions need to be advised on next steps and best practices. Just as SalesLoft provides Guided Selling and Next Best Actions to sales professionals, advisory services such as Green Places need to provide Guided Leadership and Next Best Actions to C-level execs.
The SalesTech space is fortunate to have some mensches at the helm (Kyle Porter, Henry Shuck at ZoomInfo, Manny Medina at Outreach, Jeff Weiner at LinkedIn [retired]). Sales has often been a highly competitive, self-serving profession (“coffee is for closers”). Having executives with a stakeholder perspective that preach and implement authenticity, privacy, diversity, collaboration, career development, and environmentalism positions their companies against the stereotypes of the sales profession and helps advance the profession.
Happy Mother’s Day. I wrote this blog about six years ago, but it is no longer available online, so I thought I’d republish it here with a few minor updates.
My mother was a highly successful sales rep in two different capital goods industries for several decades. She regularly noted how important her reputation was in building her pipeline across her territory. From her perspective, acting unethically was severe short-term thinking. You were better off telling a customer that they should go to a competitor for a specific product if you can’t meet their needs than to shoehorn in a solution that only damages your reputation and that of your firm. While fibbing (using my mom’s polite term when she caught us in a lie) might close a few more deals early on, once you have been found to be slippery with the truth you are unlikely to close more sales at that account.
My mother worked her territory for over a decade and didn’t win any significant business at some prospects for the first few years. At the outset, her company had little market presence in the region. But she hung in there and sold a few beachhead deals that solved niche problems. It was with this long-term approach that she slowly built trust with her new customers. They then brought her in when new RFPs were being written – she had earned their trust.
Because she sold capital goods to only three segments (Hospitals, Nursing Homes, and Universities), she approached the market with an Account Based Marketing (ABM) perspective. Each account represented a series of opportunities over the next five to ten years. She treated each account with respect and built her relationships well ahead of RFPs. She intuitively understood Lifetime Value (LTV).
It is only with a reputation for integrity that you can expect to be called when an exec moves to another company.
It is only with integrity that you will be asked to advise on an RFP.
And it is only with integrity that customers will be willing to take referral calls for you or recommend you to their colleagues.
Being shady eventually backfires. Who is going to call you back when you have failed to deliver on your promises? It can be a scorched earth approach that is contrary to today’s ABM focus. With ABM, there are a limited number of top accounts within your territory which are to be nurtured and grown. Playing fast and loose with the truth, delivering shoddy products and services, or failing to live up to your promises will undermine your reputation at key accounts and erode your brand value.
It can even backfire quickly. One time, my mother responded to a state RFP with aggressive pricing she knew her competitor was unlikely to match. She attended the bid award meeting and was shocked to find she was underbid. As state bidding is open, she reviewed the competitor’s bid and found they had substituted refurbished equipment for new even though the RFP barred used equipment. She contested the bid on the grounds that the firm had failed to comply with RFP requirements and was later awarded the multi-year contract. Not only did her competitor lose the contract in question, but it undermined its reputation at the state purchasing department.
Ethical Competitive Strategy
When training sales reps, I also 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. 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 that 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.
While modern sales tools don’t make sales reps more or less ethical, digital tools allows them to focus on relationship building instead of cold calling and administrative tasks. When I’ve shown my mother the current generation of sales tools, she becomes jealous of today’s sales reps. Think about
How much closer she would have been to her customers had she been able to review profiles for each company; seen detailed lists of contacts with titles, emails, and phone numbers; and received daily email alerts with account and prospect sales triggers.
How much less time she would have spent filling out monthly pipeline reports (three-part carbon forms) had account intelligence been integrated into a CRM.
How easily she could have reached out to clients via email or social media by quickly leveraging a trigger.
How much faster she would have learned that a key contact moved to another company and planned her strategy accordingly.
How she would have benefited by viewing her accounts and prospects displayed on a map to assist with road trip planning.
How she could have mapped out the demand unit, identified gaps, and tracked engagement with revenue and sales intelligence tools.
What about the FUD (Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt) strategy? I tend to dislike it unless it addresses a true pain or fear of the buyer. When I worked at MCI back in the ‘90s, one of AT&T’s strategies was to emphasize their reputation and solidity. We used to refer to it as the “Nobody ever gets fired for recommending AT&T strategy”. It addressed the inherent risk aversion of recommending an upstart over the industry behemoth. Such a strategy often works best for incumbents as it allows them to focus on their strengths (e.g. experience, stability, breadth of solution, zero transition costs). Upstarts using FUD need to make sure that they don’t come across as mocking the larger firm instead of emphasizing their strengths as an upstart (e.g. innovation, flexibility, focus).
When training your sales reps, make sure they fully understand your value proposition and those of your competitors. Reps should only be discussing competitors when directly asked about them. Landmines and quick parries emphasize your value proposition and differential value while avoiding the pitfalls of mudslinging. My mother understood these truths four decades ago.
There does not appear to be a big rush back to business travel after the pandemic, with demand remaining below the $1.4 trillion commercial spend through 2025, according to the Global Business Travelers Association (GBTA). Only 27% of US companies expect to be spending money on travel over the next six months.
A Fortune Analytics survey found that only 67% of business professionals that traveled for work pre-pandemic plan to resume previous levels.
These results line up with the stated trend towards Work from Anywhere (WFH), with companies no longer looking to maintain traditional five-day-a-week office settings. A January Deloitte survey found that 75% of CEOs are considering reducing their commercial space requirements.
Companies have learned how to coordinate activities internally and with customers and partners digitally. The need to press the flesh doesn’t seem as vital as it did pre-pandemic.
“The outcomes of meetings held on Zoom vs. those held in person are not that much different, but the costs are night-and-day different,” said Richard Curtin, director of the University of Michigan Survey of Consumers. “It will be hard to justify the costs that were once supported.”
Management Consultancy Oliver Wyman contends that business professionals have found video conferencing and other digital communications tools to be sufficient in maintaining commercial relationships.
The GBTA noted that the pandemic’s impact was ten-times that of 9-11 and the 2008 financial crisis. After those events, there were also concerns that commercial travel wouldn’t bounce back, but digital channels are much more mature now, and the extended WFH time has normalized video conferencing.
It’s “our expectation that business travel will lag consumer travel,” said Jeff Campbell, CFO of American Express Co., on an earnings call.
Amazon, which spent $1 billion on travel annually, commented that its “sales teams found new ways to reach customers.”
Forrester Principal Analyst Peter Ostrow suggests that initially, there will be pent-up demand for business travel as individuals yearn to get out of the house. Still, he cautions that this should be a temporary burst, not a return to pre-pandemic travel volume. Companies should ask three questions for determining the appropriate volume and rationales for travel:
What do Buyers and Customers Prefer? Not every meeting, particularly those involving disparate buying team members, should be face-to-face. B2B Sales should recognize that B2B purchasing has adapted over the past year as well.
How Have We Made Things Work Remotely? “Sales leaders must determine what adaptations have supported more productive sales motions, rep productivity, adoption of top-down initiatives, and desired changes in seller behavior.” Being remote has allowed reps to develop new remote selling skills (e.g., prospecting, presentation) that should be retained. Likewise, CROs should consider whether SDRs should be centralized, or are they better off not commuting each day? Be careful not to let the voices of those underperformed during WFH drown out those reps who have excelled in the new environment.
What Does the Data Say? Review the data and determine which personas were more or less accessible during WFH, which pipeline stages were faster or slower during WFH, and which product lines suffered due to the loss of in-person pitches.
Failing to address these questions could result in the loss of many of the digital efficiency gains that have sustained B2B sales over the past year.
In short, Ostrow suggests that research and data guide travel decision-making. Just as companies are re-evaluating the need for centralized offices vs. hybrid models or fully remote staffing, travel decisions should be re-evaluated as well. Field Sales and weekly exhibitions in different cities have always been expensive propositions. The focus should be on adopting the most effective interactions, whether remote or face-to-face, for driving long-term revenue growth.
Remote work also has a demographic impact, with professionals decamping from New York, Seattle, San Jose, and San Francisco for Miami, Austin, Charlotte, Nashville, and Denver. There are even a set of “Zoom Towns” such as Boulder, CO, Tulsa, OK, and the Hudson Valley (NY) benefiting from in-migration.
“The rise of remote work changes that equation [between work and home locations]—not in all sectors of the economy but in more than ever before. Skilled techies and knowledge workers, in particular, can enjoy the kind of freedom and flexibility that used to be available only to successful novelists, artists and inventors—the ability to work when and where they want to. They can increasingly “vote with their feet,” selecting the kinds of places that best meet their needs without worrying about what they can earn in the local labor market. Families may gravitate to smaller cities, updated suburbs or rural areas with outdoor amenities, while ambitious young professionals fresh out of college or graduate school are likely to continue flocking to urban centers for entry-level jobs and social life.”
And WFH has not been a productivity loss, but a net positive as workers are no longer saddled with long commutes and water cooler chitchat. Stanford University economist Nick Bloom found as much as a 2.5% productivity lift from remote work.
According to Outreach CEO Manny Medina, 70 to 80% of buyers want a digital experience.
From a sales and marketing perspective, many of the digital practices that boosted SalesTech and MarTech industry revenues over the past year are likely to continue. There will still be field sales reps calling on top prospects, but there will be more video conferencing and fewer face-to-face meetings than before. Likewise, tradeshows and user conferences are likely to be smaller or operate more as roadshows rather than large events. Tent pole events, such as Dreamforce, will return, but less popular events may downsize or remain virtual. And even the tent-poles are likely to be hybrid events. For example, Dreamforce has always recorded and posted its sessions for virtual viewing, so will likely combine live and digital best practices at future events.
As a member of SCIP (Strategic & Competitive Intelligence Professionals) and a former CI practitioner (I am more of an industry analyst and market researcher these days, but the skills and tools often overlap), I pay attention to research on the efficacy and ROI of CI. Unfortunately, CI’s role is often diffuse across the organization, providing both strategic and tactical assistance across a broad set of functions. Thus, the impact is often difficult to properly attribute.
Thus, I wasn’t surprised when a Crayon survey on the State of Competitive Intelligence found that only 61% of CI Professionals and Stakeholders believed that CI boosts revenue (26% felt that it did not). And it may be that some of those professionals that hold a dim view of CI worked at companies that lacked somebody in that role or simply assigned a product marketing manager to perform CI along with several other duties.
But the confidence level should be higher. After all, a good CI person or team:
Monitors the market for general trends, new product launches, product enhancements, emerging technologies, key events (partnerships, funding, acquisitions, executive changes, filings), and competitors.
Briefs senior level management on the market, highlighting opportunities and threats.
Briefs product management on product gaps and weaknesses that place the company at a market disadvantage.
Performs competitive benchmarking, collects pricing data and market collateral, and monitors competitive positioning.
Assesses competitor’s product launches and major upgrades and briefs internal stakeholders.
Assists with product launches by briefing marketing and sales on competitive positioning, addressing the question of how new products and features stack up in the marketplace.
Supports new hire onboarding, particularly for product management, product marketing, executives, and sales professionals.
Trains sales reps in how to position vs. competitors, lay landmines for competitors, parry competitive charges, and stay above the fray (i.e. remain professional and avoid slinging mud).
Joins sales calls (usually virtually) when the client wishes to discuss the competitive landscape.
Provide on-demand support to sales reps.
Review RFPs and RFIs to determine whether they are neutral or one of the competitors has influenced the process.
Collects internal competitive data from CRMs and competitive mentions during sales calls. Conversational Intelligence from vendors such as Chorus and Gong is an emerging data collection opportunity and is integrated into Crayon’s and Primary Intelligence’s platforms.
If a CI team is performing these duties in a timely and accurate manner, then there is no doubt that they influence revenue generation both in the short and long term.
Crayon also found that the impact to CI was strongly related to the creation of KPIs for the program. Without KPIs, 57% of professionals were unsure about the impact of CI on revenue. When KPIs were in place, 78% of survey respondents were confident that CI helped drive revenue.
The frequency of CI distribution is also strongly related to its impact. 70% of respondents with daily or weekly intelligence distribution said that CI helped increase revenue, falling to 55% monthly and 46% quarterly. The frequency of messaging probably has several effects: it reinforces the role of CI in the organization, it delivers a timelier and more comprehensive work product, and it embeds CI into the knowledge flow and company discussions.
Competitive Intelligence professionals help drive revenue growth through their interactions with sales, marketing, product management, and c-level executives, fostering better planning, messaging, and product development.
In March 2011, the Harvard Business Review published “The Short Life of Online Sales Leads,” which discovered that companies were slow to respond to sales leads, and there were considerable benefits from rapid responses. The study is often cited, but there was little subsequent data to determine whether these issues and opportunities still held. Fortunately, XANT recently replicated the study, looking at three years of inbound lead response and contact rates.
The new study analyzed 55 million sales activities at over 400 companies. XANT looked at 5.7 million inbound leads and found that 57.1% of first call attempts took place after a week or more, and only 0.1% of inbound leads were responded to within five minutes. However, firms that responded within those first five minutes had an 8X conversion rate versus later return calls.
“Maybe we simply didn’t realize what we were leaving on the table,” wrote XANT. “Maybe we over-rotated on targeted ABM strategies at the expense of speed-to-lead. Marketing automation shouldn’t replace meaningful and quick sales engagement.”
XANT proposes a second problem that slows lead response times, the manual assignment of leads to individuals, resulting in two sets of delays – the lead routing process and the sales reps’ ability to respond quickly when a batch of leads is handed to them.
“Leads sit, go cold, and revenue slips,” warns XANT.
To address the slow response problem, XANT added a shared record option to their Sales Engagement Platform. The goal is to work every lead with named accounts properly routed and other leads delivered to a shared pool with priority leads immediately offered to reps. XANT provides AI tools and a rules-engine to auto-assign leads from target accounts and load others into a shared pool with prioritized leads labeled urgent. The top-rated leads are then offered to the sales team on a round-robin basis, ensuring that all reps have access to top leads and that priority leads have rapid response rates.
“With records in a shared pool, reps won’t get bogged down or locked out,” said XANT. “High-performing reps can blow through their leads quickly and continuously draw from the shared pool.”
XANT describes Shared Leads as another robot that improves the efficacy of sales reps.
“Whereas many treat automation as a way to email spam, we treat it as an enhancement to improve engagement and sales,” explained XANT Head of Product Mark Littlefield. “The basics of Robots include auto-enrolling records, opportunity funnel progression, prioritizing tasks, triggering reps to customer events, performing reliable data entry, and a lot more. With Shared Records, we’re bringing teams the flexibility to compile records into shared folders or automatically assign them to the right reps so they can accelerate their speed-to-lead and their time-to-value.”