Demo Experience Platform vendor Saleo launched its Saleo Live platform which transforms “existing demo environments into data-complete, relevant demos that help pre-sales and sales teams turn more deals into ‘closed won.’”
Saleo noted a series of demo platform issues that it addresses, including “bad demo data, unstable demo environments, generic use cases, costly demo prep time, and expensive engineering investment in supporting the demo environment.” Furthermore, sales engineers and solutions consultants find it challenging to customize demos by persona and industry.
“The north star with Saleo and Saleo Live has always been resolute – we believe that software companies should be able to demo their live native SaaS product with full control and complete reliability. Anything else is unauthentic. Fake screenshots, HTML screen capture, and click-through demos lead to a disingenuous buying experience from pre-sales. Saleo is the only platform in the market that empowers full control of every element in a live SaaS product; the end result is a transformed demo experience that leads to reduced pre-sales costs and higher win rates.”
Saleo CEO Justin McDonald
Saleo Live lets sales organizations define and share no-code custom demos “within minutes.” Sales engineers can quickly customize text, tables, images, graphs, and metrics. New features include Single Sign On, a “more sophisticated modeling engine to support advanced graph permutations,” an updated UX (UX), advanced user permissioning, and a new token system that scales personalization.
“The reaction to our latest release has been incredibly positive from Sales & Product Marketing teams,” said Saleo CPO Daniel Hellerman. “The reaction to Saleo from the pre-sales market has been overwhelming. We are solving an age-old problem with a unique architecture that puts sales engineers at the forefront of the solution. Screenshots and click-throughs from existing solutions have been prohibitive, and limit sales teams to on-rails demos, where they can’t showcase their genuine application; Saleo Live has unleashed their potential.”
Salesforce continues to outpace its competitors in the CRM space, growing to 23.8% market share (2021) in IDC’s “Worldwide Semiannual Software Tracker, April 2022.”
Salesforce is now five times the size of its closest competitors: SAP at 5.4% and Microsoft at 5.3%. Among the top five, only Microsoft and Salesforce have consistently been growing their market share over the past four years.
Salesforce is the leading CRM for sales applications, customer service applications, marketing applications, model-driven application platforms, and enterprise community applications.
Salesforce also leads across most of the major geographic markets: Asia-Pacific (including Japan), Latin America, North America, and Western Europe.
“In this digital work-from-anywhere era, companies need to adapt their business models to address customers’ evolving needs,” said David Schmaier, President and Chief Product Officer, Salesforce. “We are grateful to be recognized as the #1 CRM by IDC, underpinning how companies across every industry continue to engage Salesforce as a trusted digital advisor who can help accelerate their efforts to build direct relationships with their customers, employees, partners, and more.”
Salesforce positions itself as a digital transformation solution, with multi-year contracts commonplace. The firm takes a “land-and-expand” strategy where one cloud solution leads to multiple cloud licenses. “This quickly makes Salesforce a ‘sticky’ product, solidifying them as a key partner for their customers,” observed Ben McCarthy of Salesforce Ben.
ZoomInfo announced the immediate availability of its new MarketingOS ABM Platform. The service is part of a broader RevOS offering that supports marketing, sales, operations, and recruitment. MarketingOS consolidates ZoomInfo’s legacy marketing capabilities, bringing together two recent acquisitions, Insent and RingLead, with new programmatic and audience management functionality.
ZoomInfo also refined its positioning statement from Revenue Acceleration to Revenue Operating System. It stated that RevOS is “the World’s only revenue operating system of its kind.”
“Our comprehensive B2B database is the key differentiator that sets MarketingOS apart from other ABM solutions,” said ZoomInfo CEO Henry Schuck. “ZoomInfo’s unique data science algorithms allow marketers to connect with the right prospects at precisely the right time. No other solution on the market combines the power of data-driven insights and marketing-optimized workflows like ZoomInfo’s MarketingOS.”
“Marketers typically fail because the data in most ABM platforms is both inaccurate and incomplete. Current ABM solutions are designed to leverage companies’ own first-party data, which exists in their customer relationship management or marketing automation systems. Without quality data, marketers pour advertising dollars at the wrong prospects and companies, and, as a result, deliver fruitless leads to sales and waste time and resources. With ZoomInfo’s best-in-class data and intelligence at its foundation, MarketingOS enables marketers to effectively reach target accounts and drive qualified leads for sales.”
New functionality includes social and display advertising, abandoned from tracking, and audience targeting. Marketing can build audiences and track campaigns on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Marketing can also build campaigns and manage them programmatically through Clickagy DSP (ZoomInfo) or TradeDesk.
Marketing OS looks to address the “Funnel Famine” suffered by traditional marketing teams. Several issues cause Funnel Famine: crowded B2B advertising channels, dirty data, leaky black-box marketing campaigns, siloed data, and sales’ longtime distrust of Marketing Qualified Leads (MQLs).
“Most marketing programs begin with data, whether it’s for tailoring your communications, whether it’s for sending an email, whether it’s for sending a direct mail. It’s all about those accounts that you’re targeting and the professionals at those accounts,” explained ZoomInfo SVP of Product Strategy and Product Marketing Justin Withers to GZ Consulting. “And the reality is that a lot of data, especially if it’s pulled from the CRM or other systems, is outdated. It’s inaccurate. It’s incomplete, and that can actually pollute or even inhibit the lead flow at the top of the funnel, and [it] ultimately leads to poor conversion. It leads to leaks in the funnel, and all this hard work that marketers put in at every stage of the funnel ultimately spills out before it can even reach sales.”
The reality is that the sales and marketing funnels operate in parallel, not sequentially, as represented in traditional funnel diagrams. MarketingOS lets marketers run account-based programs in parallel with sales running account-based sales programs “so that everyone’s aligned at every step of the funnel.”
Under current processes, sales and marketing operate in parallel to each other with little coordination and a single point of handoff for MQLs, a situation that “really doesn’t set marketing up for success…and it leaves sales in a bind,” continued Withers. Thus, marketing complains that sales teams ignore its leads, and sales reps complain about the quality and quantity of marketing-sourced leads. As a result, there is an “acute misalignment between sales and marketing.”
With MarketingOS, handoffs can occur at different points along the marketing funnel, based on the channel and prospect response.
Sales and Marketing are aligned around a set of target accounts both within and beyond the ICP. Thus, an ICP account with spiking intent will be passed to sales, even if marketing has had limited conversations. Furthermore, the rep will know that multiple individuals from the firm have visited the website or that individuals have clicked through on ads or email campaigns.
Likewise, chatbot conversations with target companies can immediately route a chat to the sales rep or schedule a call.
New functionality for managing abandoned forms can revive a prospect. ZoomInfo claims a 60% increase in lead flow with its abandoned form tracking.
MarketingOS functionality includes
Expanded targeting that leverages the full set of ZoomInfo’s first and third-party intelligence for building and activating audiences. ZoomInfo selects include firmographics, technographics, biographics (e.g., Title, 192 Job Functions, Job Levels), web forms, and uploaded lists (e.g., tradeshow lists). Other selects include business events (e.g., funding data, executive changes, projects) and over 300 company attributes (advanced data-mined firmographics such as fleet size and company benefits). Targeting also ingests account, contact, and lead attributes from Salesforce, HubSpot, and Marketo.
First and third-party intent data time outreach while buyers are in-market, helping to improve marketing and sales efficacy. Marketers can track up to 500 intent topics, with up to 50 available at a time. In addition, chat-based targeting is coming soon.
An “in-market predictive score” that identifies each prospect’s buying stage, “informing how and when marketers should engage with prospects based on their ranking and helping them to prioritize their outbound efforts on prospects who are most likely to convert.”
Campaign Management and Analytics. Marketers upload their creative, build an audience, set the budget, and select their channels.
Webforms, infused with automated enrichment, support shorter forms with reduced abandonment rates
Abandoned form tracking, with Workflows passing the lead to sales or additional nurture steps
ZoomInfo Chat (FKA Insent), a conversational marketing chatbot that leverages ZoomInfo data to score and route leads. Chat immediately passes high-scoring, live leads to sales reps. The chatbot also automates meeting scheduling.
Visitor Intelligence, with pages scored differently (e.g., Product Pages are scored higher than Career or Investor Pages)
Automated workflows triggered by intent, custom intent, WebSights visitor intelligence, Scoops (e.g., business events, projects), Funding, Technologies, and FormComplete. Workflows can also be built to expand reach across the potential buying committee by persona.
RingLead data orchestration to dedupe, cleanse, enrich, and route leads
ZoomInfo Enrich, a set of DaaS enterprise platform integrations for data enrichment and hygiene.
MarketingOS is powered by ZoomInfo’s database spanning 100 million companies, 150 million executives, technographics, intent and engagement data, and event data.
“Marketing and sales funnels work in parallel, so everyone is aligned at every step of the funnel,” explained Justin Withers, SVP of Product Strategy and Product Marketing. With MarketingOS, “sales and marketing are working in lockstep at every stage of the journey.”
Tying together intent and engagement data and processing them through ZoomInfo Workflows is the future of ABM. Intent data is employed at the top of the funnel when buyers are in the initial research phase. Once prospects have begun interacting with a vendor, most buyer behavior research falls under the engagement category (e.g., web forms, email responses, chatbots, conversational intelligence, etc.). Finally, intent data helps identify upsell and cross-sell opportunities at the tail end of the customer lifecycle.
Engagement and intent data are also valuable churn risk indicators, helping customer success and account managers detect potential cancelations or defections well before decisions have been made. In addition, intent data can show a spike in research related to product-associated topics and competitors. Engagement monitoring widens to include customer success interactions, training participation, platform usage, and general account health indicators.
“We can support your new customer acquisition with these signals,” stated Withers. “We can support your opportunity acceleration with these signals. We can also support your renewal, upsell, cross-sell motions based on different types of signals that are happening at those accounts. So, it really is a full customer lifecycle marketing solution.”
MarketingOS will be available as a pair of SKUs:
ABM Elite+: The full ABM Platform package, including RingLead Cleanse, Enrich, and Route
ABM Advanced+: Package includes everything except RingLead
“The purpose behind the two distinct offerings is to simplify our primary offering for those focused on ABM engagement and marketing programs, as opposed to the more operationally focused data orchestration capabilities,” explained ZoomInfo Analyst Relations Director Michael Basilio to GZ Consulting.
MarketingOS includes ten marketing seats and three administrative seats for RingLead routing and ZoomInfo Chat.
The broader RevOS branding consists of MarketingOS, SalesOS, OperationsOS, and RecruitingOS. ZoomInfo calls RevOS the “world’s first integrated go-to-market platform.” All four RevOS services are generally available.
ZoomInfo’s data cloud, orchestration tools (e.g., RingLead, B2B DaaS, Workflows), and engagement tools (advertising, sales engagement, web forms, chat, and conversational intelligence) are at the heart of RevOS.
“There’s nothing more important in business than successfully executing your go-to-market strategy,” states ZoomInfo in its product collateral. “Get it right, and your business flourishes. Get it wrong, and you’re toast. That’s why having one integrated go-to-market platform is so crucial. You can think of it as your revenue operating system.”
SalesOS bundles together a set of new and legacy sales tools:
Chorus, the conversational sales platform the firm acquired in July
Sales and Marketing Alignment has been a stated goal of the two functions for at least a decade, but they have operated with different datasets, metrics, objectives, and platforms. Thus, alignment was more vision than reality. By aligning ABM on a common platform and reference database, alignment is no longer impaired by an organization’s tech stack and data foundation.
“Crucially, MarketingOS lets marketing teams work from a common data foundation. Only 39% of sales and marketing teams share buyer signals, and half say it’s because their sales and marketing systems don’t integrate. The shared data foundation of SalesOS and MarketingOS tightens key handoffs and unlocks true marketing and sales alignment, eliminating conflicting records, wasted effort, and missed opportunities.”
ZoomInfo CEO Henry Schuck, “Introducing RevOS: The future of modern go-to-market software,” (Feb 8, 2022)
OperationsOS contains RingLead data orchestration (i.e., match, unify, dedupe, normalize, cleanse, enrich, score, and route data) and B2B DaaS services (e.g., APIs, webhooks, cloud data warehouse integrations).
Finally, RecruitingOS contains ZoomInfo Recruit, its recently launched prospecting and engagement service for HR departments and recruiters. RecruitingOS also includes a set of Applicant Tracking Service connectors.
“Recruiters can filter and reach more good-fit candidates, use pipeline management tools to collaborate and organize the hiring process, and automate the candidate outreach process,” explains Zoominfo. “This helps you source and connect with candidates faster, reducing the time to find and hire talent.”
Along with new product positioning, RevOS sports new logos, color palettes, styles, and a “unified in-app experience to create a singular, cohesive go-to-market solution that spans the entire suite of ZoomInfo products.” There are also redesigned data dashboards and reports that “offer a faster, more responsive experience that allows your sales, marketing, and recruitment teams to visually demonstrate ROI and how their work aligns with broader organizational objectives.”
In short, RevOS unifies sales, marketing, revenue operations, and recruitment on the same set of data, providing “the same source of truth” and “one integrated platform for every stage of the marketing and sales funnel.” “If data is the lifeblood of the modern sales organization, then go-to-market teams must have the technology to act upon that data. RevOS’ unified data tech stack gives sales, marketing, operations, and recruiting teams a single source of truth from which to launch their campaigns and go-to-market motions, simplifying internal workflows, reducing costs, and maximizing interoperability between teams,” blogged Schuck. “RevOS is the next chapter in ZoomInfo’s journey as the world’s leading go-to-market platform.”
“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.
ZoomInfo has been talking about its LTV/CAC (Lifetime Value to Customer Acquisition Cost) ratio for a few years and is now boasting about its sales efficiency ratio. For every dollar the firm invests in Sales and Marketing, it is growing $1.50 to $2.00 in revenue with even better results on the retention business side. These values are well above the SaaS industry average and indicate that the firm should increase its revenue operations investment.
“On the new business side, we aim for somewhere between one and a half to two X return for every dollar that we spend on a customer. And then on the retention and growth or account management side, we look for a six to eight X return for every dollar that we spend there. It’s a super-efficient go-to-market motion. Most software businesses, you put a dollar in, you get like 70 cents out in the first year. We’re putting a dollar in and getting one and a half to two X out.”
ZoomInfo CEO Henry Schuck
Schuck described their go-to-market efficiency as one of their “big strategic levers” when acquiring firms with less mature go-to-market motions. ”So when we find companies that don’t have a very sophisticated go-to-market motion, that aren’t truly optimized in the way that they get clients, they’re not doing one and a half to two X efficiency or a 15 X LTV to CAC. Those are great fits for us.”
ZoomInfo has a track record of improving sales efficiency, helping unlock value in acquired assets where the go-to-market motions are aligned. “In our big acquisitions – RainKing, ZoomInfo, and, most recently, Chorus.AI — we really felt like we could leverage the go-to-market motion to accelerate growth within those companies. That’s a key piece.”
When DiscoverOrg acquired RainKing, which had a $40 million ARR, he was convinced that DiscoverOrg could treble their EBITDA to $30 million and accelerate their top-line growth within six months. Within one year of acquiring RainKing, DiscoverOrg’s market valuation grew from roughly $600 million to $2 billion.
One of the inherent advantages of SalesTech is you don’t have to teach sales reps the value and use cases of your product. This shortens ZoomInfo’s ramp time for new reps from several quarters to four months. “it makes it way easier for you to be able to sell to your counterpart on the other end of the line. It’s a big difference for us,” said Schuck.
ZoomInfo heavily hires sales reps directly out of college or soon after and trains them as SDRs, responding to inbound leads and performing outbound prospecting. “In nine months, we start promoting them into the account executive role. So we got value out of them in that ramp time. Then four months after they’ve gone into the account executive role, they’re fully ramped. Thirteen months from when you’ve never sold something until you’re an account executive at one of the fastest-growing technology companies in the country, that’s a really fun promotion to see.”
And because ZoomInfo is hiring sales reps to sell sales and marketing solutions, Schuck does not consider complicated or technical product categories for acquisition. Instead, he looks for solutions that broadly meet the needs of his 20,000 customers and which are easy to understand. Chorus.AI, the Conversation Intelligence vendor that ZoomInfo acquired last month, fits the bill: “We use it, all of our sellers use it. It’s really simple to understand, ‘Hey, we’re going to record and transcribe all your calls, and then you can go do instant coaching on the key moments in those calls’,” remarked Schuck.
RBC calculated sales efficiency for 72 public SaaS companies and found the average sales efficiency at .8X, meaning that public SaaS companies returned 80 cents for every dollar spent on sales and marketing in the previous year.
Sales Efficiency is defined as the revenue growth rate over a period divided by sales and marketing expense margin in the previous period:
According to OpenView Partners SaaS benchmarking report, “Sales and marketing spend peaks at 50% of ARR at the expansion stage. Too many companies underinvest in sales productivity, saddling them with huge costs without the ROI…You should be carefully monitoring your sales efficiency and looking for ways to improve or maintain it year-over-year. Look out for the ‘leaky bucket’ problem, where you spend significant sums to acquire new customers, but then they churn shortly thereafter (churn bait).“
As a general rule, firms with a sales efficiency less than 0.5 do not have a “sustainable investable growth model,” wrote startup advisor Anna Talerico in SaaSX. A ratio between 0.5 and 1.0 is “much better;” however, “while this isn’t necessarily capital efficient (which would make it a hard ratio for a bootstrapped company to maintain for any length of time), it does indicate sales & marketing efficiency and many investors view this as acceptable.” Better yet, firms with a ratio above one have a “strong sales efficiency and a capital-efficient growth model.” However, when the ratio is significantly above one, the firm may be underinvesting in sales and marketing and “leaving growth on the table.”
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.
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.”