No Tradeshows, No Site Visits — Ideas to Maintain & Grow Pipeline

I had four tradeshows canceled this month and next. They were opportunities for me to meet with customers and prospects (and conduct research for my industry newsletters). At this point, I’m assuming that at least two more will fall by the wayside in H1. I’m sure many of you are in a similar boat. Your marketing calendar is in a shambles, your field and inside sales reps are cloistered at home, and you are uncertain about how to manage remote workers.

Here are some ideas about how to retain momentum and deploy technology to mitigate pipeline and operational risks:

Video Meetings

If you haven’t deployed video widely across your workforce, due so ASAP. Vendors such as Zoom, WebEx, BlueJeans, Join.Me, and GoToMeeting provide reliable video conferencing solutions for multi-party meetings, demos, and document sharing. Video Meetings are a do not pass Go, do not collect $200 requirement. Every customer-facing, development, management, and planning employee should be able to join meetings from home or the office.

Setup scheduled video meetings for the next three months so they are blocked out on team calendars. This could be a 15-minute corporate call every few weeks, weekly team calls, and one-on-ones. Standing meetings should all be web-based. Office-based employees are going to feel disconnected socially, so build in some social fun at the team level (e.g. recognizing birthdays and work anniversaries, celebrating wins and releases, etc.)

I would also build training time into video meetings. It shouldn’t be all top-down. Give your staff the opportunity to cross-train peers. A sales rep could discuss her latest victory with lessons learned or provide insights into a target vertical. Marketing can review the latest product positioning and new collateral. Product Management can train on new products, review the product roadmap, and discuss the competitive landscape. The goal is to provide training, communications, coordination, and social interaction.

Record meetings and make them available to those who miss meetings with Slack or Team links. Expect that meetings will be missed due to illness, parenting requirements, and meeting conflicts.

Marketing Work-Arounds

As event marketing is off the table, marketers will need to be flexible in how they deploy their budgets. For those that planned on hosting events, they should at least proceed with their Keynote as a webinar. For H2, a roadshow in September or October can be planned, but mitigate risk in your contracting and through joint shows (shared cost and risk).

Marketers will need to deploy or expand their use of other channels including webinars, press releases, analyst outreach, blogging, social, and video. Direct mail is problematic as prospects are likely to be working from home, but e-gifting is a viable option. Look at e-gifting vendors that are supported by your Sales Engagement platform (e.g. Sendoso, PFL, Alyce)

Here is an opportunity to test additional channels and provide your event marketing team with some cross-channel development.

Canceled shows are also a reason for re-engagement campaigns. You can restart the marketing nurture process with a message around “not being able to talk to you this season.” Keep the message short and serious. You don’t know if your prospect is worried about his or her job, family members, or personal health. Also, don’t appear to be taking advantage of the situation. Be empathetic, not opportunistic.

Also, make sure to reschedule meetings from those cancelled conferences. These are likely to be phone or video calls, but reps and executives should reconfirm calls now.

Conversation Intelligence

Once you have standardized meetings, make sure they are recorded and transcribed. This is particularly true for sales meetings. Conversation Intelligence vendors such as Gong, ExecVision, and Chorus record calls, transcribe them, and perform NLP/AI processing on the conversations. Conversation Intelligence allows sales reps to be more present during calls as they no longer need to focus on note-taking.

Transcriptions and analytics have multiple benefits:

  • Sales Reps can quickly review calls and return to key topics and issues (e.g. pricing, next steps).
  • Sales Managers can review calls related to accounts and opportunities at risk to provide coaching tips to reps.
  • Analytics identify both the strengths and weaknesses of reps versus their peers. They also flag missed actions (e.g. discussing next steps), customer concerns, and competitors. To assist with training and opportunity scoring, Conversation Intelligence vendors identify filler word frequency, monologue length, and conversational engagement.
  • Reps can forward snippets to peers for questions and help. If there is a question about a bug or support issue, the snippet can be forwarded to support personnel for an update. If a sales rep feels that they handled a question or issue poorly, a snippet can be forwarded to sales management or training for advice on how to better handle the issue next time. Snippets allow peers to hear the voice of the customer.
  • Snippets can be stored in a library for training purposes. These would include exemplars for objection handling, competitor parrying, value discussions, etc.
  • Product Managers can perform bulk analysis of sales calls to identify requested features, competitor discussions, and product issues. Vendors allow for keyword customization and analytics.

Sales Engagement Platforms

Sales Engagement Platforms (SEPs) have come a long way over the past five years. Originally, they focused on the SDR role, but now include tools for all sales roles. Vendors include SalesLoft, Outreach, Xant (FKA InsideSales), VanillaSoft, ConnectLeader, SFDC High Velocity Sales, Groove, and Yesware.

Sales Cadences, also called sequences, are at the core of Sales Engagement. Cadences set up a structured set of multi-channel outbound communications supported by email templates, dialers, social, and SMS text. Cadences improve sales efficiency by eliminating follow up tasks, recording activities to CRMs, and deploying A/B tested content (emails, attachments, cadences, call scripts). While most commonly used for SDR outreach, cadences can also be used for meeting reminders, setting up quarterly account reviews, and training follow up.

SEP vendors understand that authenticity is the key to sales success. Simply blasting mindless emails at prospects is futile. Cadences can be customized by target role, industry, company size, technographics, and stage in the buyer journey. Furthermore, reps are expected to personalize emails before sending them out (SalesLoft says 20% is the optimal level). Most of the vendors now support 1-1 embedded videos from Vidyard, Hippo Video, or Videolicious.

SEP Vendors also provide a deep set of analytics. Initially, these focused on communication efficacy (e.g. open and click-through rates, best time of day to call), but now analytics assess conversations, call out deal risks, prioritize accounts, and suggest next best actions.

SEPs are now commonly deployed amongst SDRs and Inside Sales, but may still be foreign to field sales reps; however, field sales reps will be operating more like inside sales reps for the next quarter, so deploying SEPs to field sales makes sense.

Beyond outbound communications, SEP vendors are beginning to support meeting management (setting up calls), conversational intelligence, and opportunity management. SalesLoft and Outreach are the farthest along in supporting these emerging feature sets. SalesLoft acquired and integrated NoteNinja (meeting management) and Costello (opportunity management) into its platform.

SEP Vendors have taken two approaches to partnering. SalesLoft, Outreach, and Xant have partner App Directories while the other vendors integrate key vendors (e.g. Vidyard, LinkedIn Sales Navigator, Zoominfo) into their offerings without a formal partner ecosystem directory.

LinkedIn

For B2B sales, there is no social platform more trusted than LinkedIn. Sales reps can leverage their networks by sharing marketing content (they should include some comments of their own) as well as writing their own content.

LinkedIn also offers an excellent Sales Intelligence product called Sales Navigator. It is available as both a desktop and mobile solution and provides additional communications channels:

  • InMail: An outbound email alternative, InMail allows you to message prospects for whom you lack emails and direct dial numbers.
  • Chat: A quick short-message way to keep in contact with members of the buying committee. It is also useful for quick reach out after establishing a LinkedIn connection with a prospect or to send a quick, congratulatory note. Chat messages are retained archivally, providing a conversational log. I have had success providing my Calendly link with initial chats, providing a mechanism for new connections to easily schedule a call (my Calendly includes my video meeting details so there is little friction).
  • Smart Links: Forward one or multiple attachments to a prospect via social, InMail, or email. Viewing and forwarding are tracked by LinkedIn, helping reps know which content was viewed and when. Forward tracking helps expand their understanding of the buying committee. Smart Links maintain corporate branding.

Sales Navigator provides several other high-value features:

  • SNAP connectors display LinkedIn content and Navigator functionality (e.g. icebreakers, mini-profiles, InMail) within Sales Engagement Platforms, CRMs, and other enterprise software.
  • TeamLinks allow you to leverage co-worker relationships for reaching out to prospects.
  • Build a List lets reps assemble Lead (contact) and Account lists within Sales Navigator. Lead and Account lists may also be synced from the CRM, allowing reps to track news and updates about key companies and contacts. While LinkedIn does not permit upload of account and contact data, they make exceptions for notes, tags, and messages entered by the rep in Sales Navigator. They also just added a thin record upload of contacts to CRM and the ability to flag execs that have left a company.
  • List Sharing — After building a list, users may share them with co-workers who have Sales Navigator licenses.

Sales Navigator can be a bit pricey, so running a test amongst your inside sales and field sales reps makes sense, particularly if you are concerned about H1 pipeline delays. Given the difficulty of reaching anybody by phone (made worse by prospects working at home) or email, adding additional sales communications channels is well worth testing out.

There are other LinkedIn services worth investigating or trialing. LinkedIn Marketing supports highly targeted B2B campaigns. Unlike other platforms, LinkedIn can target by company, job function, level, industry, geography, and education. LinkedIn provides campaign metrics and allows marketers to set daily budgets. Both CPM and CPC pricing are available. Pricing is based upon second-best auctions (you pay 1 cent above the second best bid price).

For larger companies, LinkedIn Elevate should also be considered, particularly with remote workers. Elevate provides a curated feed of content to company employees for social media distribution (e.g. LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook). Elevate amplifies corporate messaging and reduces the level of effort for sales reps and other employees to share content through social networks.

LinkedIn Learning is offering sixteen courses at no charge covering topics related to working from home, remote management, tools, and mindset.

“In the coming days, we will make 16 LinkedIn Learning courses available for free including tips on how to: stay productive, build relationships when you’re not face-to-face, use virtual meeting tools (Microsoft Teams, Skype, BlueJeans, Cisco Webex and Zoom), and balance family and work dynamics in a healthy way.”

Ryan Roslansky, LinkedIn SVP of Product

Sales Intelligence

Sales Intelligence services help sales reps build prospecting lists, quality leads, refine account messaging, expand into new departments and locations, track accounts, and target additional buying committee members.

Many sales intelligence services also offer B2B DaaS services for updating CRMs and MAPs. Salesforce data hygiene is maintained through Lightning Data connectors, a sub-category on the AppExchange. Because data is synced with CRMs and MAPs, it is continuously updated, ensuring that firmographic data is accurate and that departed contacts are removed from sales and marketing activity (BTW — contacts decay at 30% per annum, so maintaining your enterprise software contact data is a valuable investment)

Sales Intelligence vendors also provide full workflow integrations into CRMs which allow reps to build lists; view and update accounts, contacts, and leads; and perform account qualification and account planning within CRM I-frames.

Sales Intelligence vendors include

  • Zoominfo: Deep contacts, emails, org charts, and technographic content. They are the leader in technology sales intelligence and recently added visitor intelligence, trigger-based workflows, and webforms. Zoominfo (FKA DiscoverOrg) also supports Ideal Customer Profiling (ICP), email verification, and B2B DaaS.
  • D&B Hoovers: The deepest set of global company intelligence for strategic sales reps. Includes full family trees, public company financials and filings, analyst reports, industry market research, SWOTs, European private company financials, and sales triggers. Dun & Bradstreet also supports ICP, B2B DaaS, Visitor Intelligence, Programmatic Marketing, and Customer Data Platforms.
  • InsideView: A global database with greater depth in North America and Europe, InsideView offers strong sales triggers and integrated social media viewing. InsideView also supports B2B DaaS and ICP.
  • Sales Genie: The best solution for reps that sell to both companies and individuals (e.g. insurance agencies, mobile, office supplies, landscaping). Features include light sales force automation for firms that have yet to implement a CRM, new businesses, new homeowners, email templates, integrated dialer, and marketing services (SEO, site design, direct mail).
  • RelPro: A specialist vendor targeting financial services companies.
  • Artesian Solutions: A UK-based social selling vendor with deep sales triggers and mobile-based meeting prep. They also offer a US solution.
  • Cognism: A UK-based sales intelligence vendor with sales engagement functionality, B2B DaaS services, and ICP tools.
  • Vainu: A Nordic-based sales intelligence vendor that also covers the Netherlands (France, US, and the UK are in beta). They also support B2B DaaS and trigger-based workflows.

Ongoing Investment

Research has shown that firms that continue to invest during recessions come out of the downturns much better prepared to grow market share and revenue than those that stop investing. Marketing is an investment in your pipeline and brand. B2B Data-as-a-Service is an investment in your data quality and ability to target prospects effectively. It also reduces sales and marketing waste in efforts directed at weak prospects and departed contacts. SalesTech and MarTech purchases are investments in your revenue generation capabilities.

This is also an opportunity for your sales and marketing teams to cross-train, develop new skills, and test out new tools and processes.

When we come out of the backside of what, hopefully, is a short-term recession, you want to be better prepared to meet latent demand for your products and services. While cutting back on investment and cash burn may be necessary for survival at some companies, don’t cut back on your ability to serve the market in 2021 unless you have to do so. Let others sacrifice the future of their revenue generation operations out of short-term concerns. Bank your savings in travel expenses and event marketing, but don’t cut back in other areas unless necessary.

Terra Incognita

We are entering a terra incognita for the next three to six months, so steady, empathetic leadership should be your objective. On 9/11, our CEO pulled us into the room and talked to us. I don’t remember his words, but I remember that he was calm and understood that we were all upset and anxious. Business was the least of his concerns that day. He wanted to show a steady hand at the tiller and sent us home to be with family.

Our raison d’être is not to work, and sometimes we are jolted back into that reality. Family, friends, and health are a higher priority. COVID 19 is not the new normal, but simply a bad storm that will pass.

Drift: Chat Qualified Leads

Josh Allen, CRO of conversational marketing vendor Drift, doesn’t believe in Marketing Qualified Leads (MQLs).  Chat Qualified Leads (CQLs) are more valuable, argues Allen.  CQLs are “the best leads that we have in the business.” CQLs show immediate intent as they capture prospects as they come to the website and interact with either a chatbot or sales rep. This moment is when they are “at their point of highest intent” and ready to engage with the company.

Allen said that CQLs are the highest converting lead source at Drift.  They are often driven by outbound marketing campaigns and events.  Chat conversations can also be driven by B2B social sites such as executive articles on LinkedIn.

“Because we’re able to engage when they are really trying to learn and are most interested in what Drift has to offer, there is a high conversion rate.”

Drift is a leader in conversational intelligence, a quickly developing market for chatbots, which support sales, marketing, and customer support. Drift also offers chat enabled video.

RambleChat – SalesLoft Partnership

Real-time chats with account owners may be initiated from emails or any other outbound or marketing content which supports URLs.
Real-time Ramble chats with account owners may be initiated from SalesLoft emails or any other outbound or marketing content which supports URLs.

Conversational marketing vendor RambleChat is the latest partner available through the SalesLoft app directory.  Along with real-time website chat, joint customers can embed chat into SalesLoft email cadences. RambleChat then routes sales conversations to account owners “providing a more personalized interaction via chat.”  Joint customers can also employ dynamic fields in SalesLoft to customize greetings with personal and company names.

“The SalesLoft/RambleChat integration gives a whole new capability for marketing and sales teams.  RambleChat is the only chat platform that can instantly open chat from any online source.  Ramble then routes sales conversations to the right account owner — enhancing both demand generation and ABM campaigns.  And now, for the first time, chat can be an integral part of sales plays and interactions in the SalesLoft platform.”

Sean Kester, VP of Platform Strategy at SalesLoft.

Single Click Chat (SCC), RambleChat’s patent-pending technology, extends chat capabilities from the website to outbound communications.  So long as a URL can be embedded, chat conversations can be initiated via a click.  Along with corporate websites, SCC enables chat initiation from LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, digital ads, landing pages, blogs, QR codes, and product collateral.  SCC allows sales reps to “meet buyers at the moment of interest.”

Ramble automatically logs chat conversation histories and details at the SalesLoft Account level.  When a user navigates to an account, chat history is displayed under the “Notes” section.  If a SalesLoft user desires more in-depth information about the chat conversation, a URL is automatically provided for the user to click.

RambleChat has been in partnership discussions with SalesLoft since at least March when Ramble CEO Justin McDonald attended SalesLoft’s Rainmaker conference.  Instead of simply building a website chat solution, the firms chose to “build better pipelines by extending chat beyond corporate websites and into SalesLoft Cadences and social channels via RambleChat’s Single Click Chat.”

“As we met with joint customers in mid 2018, a constant theme surfaced; the market was struggling to find practical and tangible means of Account-Based Selling and Marketing.  There’s no shortage of ABM technology, but many lacked quick deployment and immediate results for sales organizations. This became the MO for the RambleChat + SalesLoft partnership, and we landed with a more powerful integration that fills the ABM gap for both sales and marketing.”

Ramble CEO Justin McDonald

“I’m immensely excited about our joint efforts.  This integration delivers new opportunities for sales engagement and improves functionality for sales reps to execute account-based selling.  Account-based marketing (ABM) requires an equal effort from Sales, and RambleChat delivers immediate functionality to bridge the gap for SalesLoft customers,” said RambleChat CEO Justin McDonald.

Drift Video Launched

Drift Video allows customers and prospects to immediately engage in a chat.

Drift, which has quickly established itself as a leader in the chatbot space, is upping the ante by integrating video and chat.  Users will be able to share and record videos via a Chrome extension or mobile app.  Recorded videos can then be dropped into emails and sent to customers or prospects.

Videos are “private and secure” with single sign-on functionality from Okta, OneLogin, and Microsoft Azure.  Users can restrict viewing to a specific email or email list and “everyone else will have to request permission, just like you would with a Google Doc.”

Drift suggests three sales use cases for video: as a conversation starter, as a second chance to refine a message after a call, and as a group selling tool (team share).

Drift Video provides real-time desktop and mobile notifications when viewed.  Users can immediately start a conversation while somebody is viewing their video “so you can reach out and say hello or follow-up at the perfect time.”

It is the immediate notification element which Drift claims to be its product differentiation.

“There are a few good software products out there that make it easy to capture and share videos.  But we took a look around the market and noticed one big thing missing: none of those products create a better buying experience because they don’t actually help you start conversations with potential customers.  You still have to make a video, send an email, and hope to get a response.  But with Drift Video, you can get a notification in real-time while someone is watching your video and then hop right in and say hello.”

Drift Website

“Since starting Drift, we’ve said there are two mega-trends that would shape the future of B2B sales and marketing: messaging and video,” said CEO David Cancel.  “Over the last few years we’ve built an industry-leading messaging platform used by over 150,000 businesses, and now we’re expanding our Conversational Marketing platform by adding video.”

Video is driving global IP demand.  According to Cisco, one million minutes of video will be crossing the Internet every second by 2020 and 82% of all Internet traffic will be video by 2021.

Drift video is available today as part of the Drift offering.  There is no surcharge for video functionality for up to ten videos per month with a chat option embedded into the video.  For $12 per seat per month or $120 per annum, reps are provided with a Pro license which includes unlimited HD quality video sharing and storage.  Only the Pro version restricts video sharing.

Future features include Team Analytics, Book Meetings from Video, and integrations with Salesforce, Pardot, and Marketo.

“We’ve spent the last year working on Drift Video and it was one of the main reasons for raising our Series C in April 2018,” stated Cancel.  “In looking at the market over that time, we saw that while there are many products that make it easy to create and share videos, none of them were built to help to start conversations and create a better buying experience.  After a private beta with some great early customers, that’s what we’re bringing to market today with Drift Video.”

Drift has integrated video in its own sales process with 50% of Drift revenue “influenced by video in the selling process.”

“Video is the greatest conversation starter in B2B buying,” said Alexa Nguyen in a Drift video.  “In a world of faceless phone calls and emails, video has helped us build trust, and video has helped us close more deals.”

Video is another way for salespeople to engage with their prospects outside of the norm.  Prospects are constantly bombarded with emails and phone calls asking for their attention.  But it’s hard to cut through that noise because they don’t trust easily.  In order to build that trust, you need to build a personal connection.  And all personal connections start with a conversation.  Video allows people to be personal, show that they’re human, and help build that connection that might be lost through text in an email. 

Lacey Berrien, Drift’s PR Senior Manager

According to research from Forrester and Boston Consulting Group, 75% of B2B transactions have little or no sales interaction.  Thus, video offers a valuable channel through which sales reps can avoid being disintermediated.  However, sales reps could push this functionality too far.  While chat functionality sounds like the next step for video, reps should be careful not to step over the line from personable to creepy. 

When prospects view an email, most understand that the act of opening an email triggers a notification to the sender, but they don’t expect that the viewing of a video will be treated as a real-time permission for a call or chat.  Immediately reaching out to customers and prospects may be viewed as a non-permissioned extension of an asynchronous communication into synchronous.  Drift does not discuss GDPR in the announcement, but this seems to cross the boundary into non-permissioned communications and the release of personally identifiable information (“John@B2BProspect.com is viewing your video.  Call immediately”).  The video privacy permissions are focused on the seller (ensuring they aren’t shared with others), but there does not seem to be any functionality to limit the “call me back” immediacy of the service.  If anything, the immediate messaging will drive down the open rate of all embedded video and kill its efficacy.

When I raised this concern to Drift, they offered a best practice to address this issue.  Lacey Berrien, Drift’s PR Senior Manager, suggested that sales reps could either wait for the contact to initiate the chat or use a message such as “Thanks for watching my video!  I’m here if you have any questions.”  This approach makes sense.  By utilizing a generic message that sounds automated, it feels less invasive.  This may be a situation where a generic message may be welcome as it serves as an invitation to chat while a personalized message may be off-putting.

The user can take one of two roads — proactively engage with the video viewer while they’re watching via the chat functionality OR not engage at all and allow the video viewer to chat with them at their own discretion…Other customers have gone the route of not messaging and just offering the viewer another channel to engage with them outside of email or a phone call.  Buyers have all of the power.  And the ultimate goal is to meet them where they are…and to always be available to help.

Lacey Berrien, Drift’s PR Senior Manager

There appears to be a Gresham’s Law of MarTech (“Bad money drives out good”); an effective channel or marketing tool quickly becomes overused or misused, resulting in lowered efficacy.  Embedded video could quickly convert a golden channel into chaff through overuse and perceived creepiness.  What makes embedded video so compelling today is its ability to personalize and deliver a relevant message on a 1:1 basis.  If embedded video overwhelms prospects or is seen as inviting immediate, unwanted contact, it will kill the golden goose.  A softer touch is likely the best practice.  If viewers maintain the control and opt into contact, then it will enhance the value of a video by providing a Call to Action that the prospect controls.

Drift Unlimited Contacts

Conversational Marketing vendor Drift is moving away from volume-based pricing and offering unlimited contacts for its chat platform.  Volume pricing places pressure on marketing departments to trim the number of contacts in their databases to stay below volume thresholds.  By moving to unlimited leads, marketers can better forecast their budgets and avoid panic as they approach volume limits.

“Why should companies punish you for growing?” blogged Senior Director of Demand Generation Kate Adams.  “After all, that’s the promise most software products these days make.  Use our service and you’ll grow your business faster.  Install our product and your conversion rates will skyrocket.”

“Because you’ve spent YEARS building up your database.  And now you need to decide if contacts that are 1 year old or 6 months old or 3 months old make the cut.  You’re literally washing money down the drain.  What if the leads you’re throwing in the trash to keep your marketing budget below your benchmark are actually just higher up in your funnel?  And require more nurturing and education about how you can help them solve their problems?”

Drift Senior Director of Demand Generation Kate Adams

Drift also announced a Drift Meetings feature which allows prospects to schedule meetings directly from the company website via a “book a meeting” call to action.  Meetings can also be booked by chatbots, and sales development reps can qualify a lead during a live chat and book meetings on behalf of account executives.

“With Drift Meetings, you can target your best visitors and ABM accounts, welcome them with a personalized message from the right rep, and let them instantly schedule a meeting right from your website,” says the firm.

Calendar seats are priced at $20 / seat / month.

Drift has 220 employees and 150,000 customers.