Help your people help your customers
Contributor John Steinert argues that before you throw AI at your problems, you should use better insights for real sales enablement.
It seems like everywhere I turn today, everyone wants to talk about AI. It’s making me a little crazy.
But reading articles like “Why You Really Need AI To Sell,” some key truths become abundantly clear. Right now, AI is all about increasing the volume of processing you can do in the hope that more throughput will deliver the outcomes you seek.
So, what if volume isn’t the cause of the problem? Just as with any story about working harder, even with AI, there’s a flip side you should consider. In that same piece, the author points out that AI can “improve contact rates and ultimately sales revenue … if it is implemented in parallel with sales transformation.”
Just as with any automation tool, real AI success depends a great deal on what other changes you’re able to make.
So, while many B2B companies continue to ramp up high-volume approaches (including the seemingly relentless hiring of energetic young tele-reps), top performers are taking a much closer look at the critical variables that impact outcome improvement.
But how can you tell if you’re overweighting your volume plays? I’ll give you three warning signs to consider. Then I’ll share three areas where we’ve shown that a focus on quality can make all the difference.
The very ‘human’ habit of overweighting on volume
Right now we’re seeing an unprecedented growth in tele-rep hiring. While there’s no doubt there are some positive reasons for this, I don’t believe that a “need for more volume” is one of them.
Instead, what I think is really going on here results from the very human habit of looking for easy fixes to even slightly complicated problems — in both marketing and sales.
How do you address a decline in email effectiveness?
If you’re like many, when your email performance starts going down, you start sending more email. Because you can. And maybe you also try to buy more leads. But since you don’t get a lot more budget, you try like mad to find cheaper sources.
If you’re doing this (and you’d certainly be in good company), it’s time to take a step back and think about where this path is heading. In any given market, there is only so much demand. It’s governed by replacement rates. Thus the potential volume of available leads is finite. So trying to buy more and more leads, at lower and lower prices, is actually like punching your VIP ticket to conversion rate hell.
How do you grow sales prospect volumes?
On the sales side, what do you do when your quarter-over-quarter pipeline starts looking anemic? Do you simply add heads to your contact center and ratchet up the call blitzes? Do you start buying more contacts and ramp up your cadences with more dials and outbound emails?
To me, this looks a whole lot like what marketing’s doing wrong. To expect significantly different results from essentially the identical approach defies the obvious logic. I’m not saying that outbound tele doesn’t work better than email in certain situations. I’m not saying that your business- or sales-development folks shouldn’t use email. And I’m definitely not saying that activity volume is not an important metric.
What I’m getting at is that you must be careful to keep an eye on whether you’re facing a temporary shift in market conditions or a more chronic problem intrinsic to how you operate the levers within marketing and sales.
What are your top KPIs?
This one seems simple, and yet it may do more damage than all the others. If the KPIs you focus on target the outputs of the group they measure (for example, number of leads) rather than the outcomes derived from those outputs (proposals presented), you’re highly likely to stay stuck in the volume rut.
Until you can make the success of your downstream colleagues a guiding principle for how to shape your own actions, you remain at the mercy of inappropriate measures.
The intelligent way out of the volume trap
At a recent conference, futurist Brian Solis shared a pretty shocking statistic. His research at Altimeter shows that while last year, 54 percent of companies said they were hard at work mapping the buyer’s journey, this year, the number dropped to just 35 percent who state this as a major focus.
Could it be that with the rise of AI, companies are starting to fall into the volume trap? Reprising a bit of wisdom he published some two years ago, Brian then highlighted a critical difference between companies that are winning and all the rest.
His research shows that the winners “begin with the insights that matter to customers and the outcomes that matter to the business.” He reminded us that if we insist on playing a volume game, addressing customers as if we don’t know them at all, we’re doomed to be given the cold shoulder — or worse.
Brian’s and my contention here is that this is not a problem that you need artificial intelligence to solve. Rather, it requires a shift in your thinking — away from volume-based metrics, and toward the kinds of things that human beings can be really good at. It begs for you to make better use of the minds you have available on your team.
Here are three things you can do to help make this happen in your organization.
Narrow your focus to where you can see actual demand
If you’re playing the volume game, it’s very easy to use the low cost of incremental touches to simply try to blanket your market with programmatic advertising and email. Likewise, it’s easy to lull yourself into thinking that you’re using an account-based approach if you focus your advertising on only those companies that you most want to do business with.
The better way is to use purchase intent indicators to understand which companies are actually in market and then begin concentrating on exactly how you can help them. Look for data sources that can narrow your target even further, those that can show you the actual individuals doing the research and the related roles empowered to make a final decision.
Study the additional information available inside the data
From the right sources, you’re now able to understand a prospect’s needs better than ever before. Starting from what they already have installed, you can decide how to put your best foot forward. From there, move on to what decision-support content they’re consuming and what vendors they are considering.
With a clear picture of both how the customer sees their problem and how they are thinking of solving it, you have multiple inroads to how you can shape your email copy, your supporting collateral, your call and voicemail scripting, and certainly, your social sales and marketing efforts. We’ve tested this approach and have seen success rates up to 19 times better than we ever could with uninformed volume calling cadences.
Make people-to-people approaches more possible
A large percentage of the people powering outbound email and calling efforts at our companies are less than five years out of school. It’s frankly unrealistic to expect that they will have enough experience in whatever it is we do -– let alone what our prospect companies do -– to come up with beautifully tuned conversations on their own every time.
But once you’re out of a volume mindset, you can begin to realize that these folks are both smart and full of energy -– that’s all the raw material necessary for creating a positive initial interaction. What you need to do is provide the proper enabling support. It starts with simply making better insights available across the board. It gets better fast when you can provide frameworks that empower an energized team to experiment and learn on their own.
Before jumping on AI, start by enabling people with better content
Proper marketing and sales enablement is about making it possible for your mailers and callers to become more useful to your prospects. You can make a great deal of progress if you source better insights and then use them to improve the value available from your content.
Offer up specific market insights that can help prospects validate their own observations. Provide clear reference examples of what others have done in similar situations. And then extend the approach further by asking better questions.
While these are exactly the things that seasoned sellers know how to do, to get out of the volume game and into a people-to-people mode, you need to find ways to extend this capability out to your lighter touch-oriented roles.
While there’s little doubt now that artificial intelligence technology can certainly enable marketers and sellers to spend less time on low-value tasks, AI on its own is not yet going to help you dramatically outclass your competition.
By using better insights to create truly intelligent marketing and sales enablement programs, companies are right now locking in the process improvements that will accelerate them further as they use AI to address the real needs of their prospects and employees alike.
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily MarTech. Staff authors are listed here.
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