So you’re back in the office after the holiday break and you have cleaned out your email and voicemail. Not too surprisingly you’ve found after a few days of the new decade that your sales forecast really has not changed. You wonder how you are going to make the revenue number in 2010 and what you can do to get off to a better start than you did last year. Over the next few days we are going to explore a few techniques you can use to ‘manufacture’ revenue in 2010.
If you are an enterprise or mid-market technology company and you have been in business for more than 5 years your revenue growth rates have probably declined into the single digits. Markets in the early stages of the Technology Adoption Life Cycle tend to have very high revenue growth rates – markets in the latter stages of the life cycle tend to have significantly lower growth rates. If your company’s products/services are in the middle to latter parts of the life cycle it is harder to sell new customers. In 2010 a lot more companies will be looking to acquire social media analysis/monitoring platforms, hardware/software virtualization, and cloud computing services than those looking for ERP solutions, mainframe job scheduling, or electronic data interchange. This does not mean that there are not significant revenue opportunities for older technologies – it just means that you have to work a lot harder since most buyers do not wake up in the morning and say “I really need to buy some middle-aged technology today!”
Manufacturing revenue is a reality for mid to late stage technology companies. The first revenue generating technique we are going to talk about is euphemistically entitled ‘bowling league sales.’ Generally, in the early majority/late majority stages of the technology adoption life cycle, people prefer to buy technology solutions that have been endorsed by their peers and competitors. The most credible buying influence is an honest recommendation from a friend or someone in the local area that is well known and respected by their peers. Kind of like the people who might participate in your bowling league, local United Way campaign, or even your Church. The goal of the bowling league sales program is to develop dozens of influencers in specific geographies and verticals that can assist you in your sales efforts.
How the Technology Buying Process has Changed in 2010
The bowling league sales strategy is predicated on the fact that the technology buying cycle has fundamentally changed in two key ways in 2010. In the 1990’s prospective customers read trade magazines like ComputerWorld, Dr. Dobbs Database Journal, or PC World to keep abreast of industry developments. Or they talked to industry analysts like Gartner or Forrester. They also called the sales teams of leading vendors and had them fly in and give ‘informational briefings’ on new technology trends. In 2010 the first stop for prospective technology buyers is the Internet and Google. Online research is now the predominant way that prospective customers learn about potential solutions for the problems they are looking to solve. The second key trend is the concept of lead nurturing. How many times have you visited a vendor’s website only to be interrupted from a pop-up window inviting you to a live chat with one of their representatives? 9.9 times out of 10 you decline the chat opportunity because you are not ready to engage that directly with a sales person. Lead nurturing recognizes that prospects go through several levels of education and interest before they are willing to expose themselves to the onslaught of your sales machine. Lead nurturing is a recognition that only a few of the visitors on any web property are interested in buying right now. As noted in the great book, Digital Body Language by Eloqua’s CTO Steve Woods, the three major goals of lead nurturing include:
- Maintain permission to stay in contact with the prospect: This is by far the most important goal of lead nurturing, and one that is most often overlooked. If a prospect emotionally unsubscribes you have lost your connection with them, and you may in fact be marked as spam.
- Watch for signs of progress through the buying cycle: As you nurture prospects, you can watch their digital body language to give you an understanding of when they are moving to a new stage of their buying process
- Establish key ideas, thoughts, or comparison points through education: A prospect you are nurturing may not enter a buying process for many months, if not quarters. However, if you can educate prospects, and by doing so, guide their thinking slightly to incorporate key requirements and ways of analyzing the market, when they do become buyers, you will be much better positioned
One of Steve’s core concepts is digital body language. Since Internet research has replaced face to face meetings as the primary mechanism for prospects to learn about solutions, traditional sales teams are at a disadvantage since they can no longer read the body language of prospects. Instead, vendors have to rely upon their ability to understand a prospect’s digital body language:
What we are referring to when we talk about Digital Body Language is the aggregate of all the digital activity you see from an individual. Each email that is opened or clicked, each web visit, each form, each search on Google, each referral from a social media property, and each webinar attended are part of the prospect’s digital body language.
In the same way that body language, as read by a sales person managing a deal, is an amalgamation of facial expressions, body posture, eye motions, and many other small details, digital body language is the amalgamation of all digital touchpoints.
The Bowling League Sales Program
The Bowling League Sales Program is composed of four major activities. We explore each of these items in more detail later in this post.
Geo-location Profiling. The process begins by analyzing the geographic locations and verticals of your existing customer base. By knowing where your existing customers are based you can identify high potential geographic locations where you can find other customers and help focus your resources accordingly.
Success Stories Blog. Stories, written from the customer perspective, about how they achieved significant business benefits or solved hard problems. The focus of these stories is not your technology per-se, but the results individuals were able to achieve leveraging your solutions. These stories will become the key content that will entice prospects to learn more about your firm. You will publish these stories in a purpose-built blog that is loosely affiliated with your brand. You will attempt to turn these existing customer successes into influencers in your market space.
Geo-Specific Social Media Broadcasting. As you post each story you will broadcast it via a number of social media platforms and build a social network of individuals that are interested in your stories. This includes not only prospects but other social network participants with market credibility who are looking for content to publish on their own web properties.
Digital Body Language Monitoring. Finally, you will put in place the basic tools and technologies to monitor the digital body language the of the participants in your business social network so you will know when and how to engage with them once they are finally ready to start a formal buying process.
Now I know this sounds like a ton of work, but guess what, that’s what it takes to manufacture revenue. It’s like panning for gold – you have to move through a ton of stuff to find a few golden nuggets. Take a look at the 2009 performance of your firm’s marketing programs. If you are lucky you were able to convert 0.10% of your prospects to a paying customer. In other words 1 out of every 1,000 people your firm connected with ended up buying a technology product or service from you. You need to find ways to better leverage the Internet and the power of social networks to grow revenue. You can always stick with strategies and tactics you used in 2009 and you can expect about the same results. Or you can stake out a position at the start of a new year to at least try something innovative.
The process begins by profiling the geographic locations and verticals of your customer base. This information will allow you to focus your energies on a few geographic locations. Consider the following map of one company’s 8,900 customers in the U.S.
As you can see, a significant portion of the customer base is concentrated in five states – New York, Georgia, Illinois, Texas, and California. It would not be too surprising to find that there were sales offices in all of these geographies at one time or another. This company specializes in software solutions for manufacturing and construction companies. Take a look at the following table to get an idea of their relative market share in each of these states:
The table shows that there is still plenty of untapped opportunity in each of these geographies. The goal of the bowling league sales program is to raise the visibility and awareness of the company in the thousands of prospects in each of these geographies.
Putting together analyses like these is a pretty straight forward process. First you need a dump of your customer information: name and address. You can supplement that information with vertical info, such as the customer’s NAICS code. Third party services can append this data to your customer list for a nominal fee or your team could spend a few days data mining the information off of the Internet. The Google Maps API provides a simple way to generate maps and the Census Bureau’s Economic Census can give you tons of stats about the number, size, and employment of companies in a host of verticals on a national, state, or metropolitan statistical area basis. If this seems like too much work you can always hire a local geography professor who should be able to crank out the analysis for less than $500.
Success Stories Blog
Next, build a basic blog that you will use to publish success stories written from the customer’s perspective. The blog should be independent of your corporate website and existing blogs, but branded in a similar manner. The goal here is not to hide the fact that your firm is sponsoring the blog, but to put the focus on your customer’s stories and experiences. You can use something as simple as a hosted WordPress instance and either a free or low cost WordPress theme. You should also establish social media identities for the blog on a variety of business centric social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, FriendFeed, Slideshare, Technorati, Digg, StumbleUpon, etc. You should also implement decent web analytics such as Google Analytics.
The primary content of the website will be relatively short, one page posts about the business success a customer had with your technology. The posts can either be attributed to the customers or genericized. Many customers are reluctant to publicly endorse a vendor’s solution. In situations like that the post can be written in a generic manner that does not specifically identify the customer’s organization or the individuals who were involved. People love to see their names and accomplishments in print. It helps to validate their successes and build their reputations both inside and outside of their companies. The most successful ad I ever ran was a one page piece in ComputerWorld that had the pictures of ten customers who enjoyed tremendous success from our product. The ad was simple – their picture, name, title, and location. We got more leads from that one ad than almost anything else we did. I have visited several of those customers ten years after the ad ran and they still have a framed copy of it posted in their offices.
To get started you can use a simple, interview-like format of five questions to structure the content for the posts (tell me about your company, what problem were you trying to solve, how did you go about solving the problem, what hard and soft benefits did you achieve, what did you learn that you will apply next time, etc.)
To jumpstart your content you can repurpose your existing customer references, testimonials, and success stories. At the same time you can start building up your editorial calendar by approaching your customers and soliciting their participation in the blog. You should target posting two customer stories a week, interspersed with other content you choose to create or co-opt from other sources. If you have hundreds or thousands of customers you can find a hundred or so that would like to have their successes chronicled on your site. There are several tactics you can use to solicit participation. Some ideas include:
- Ask the sales team to nominate up to ten of their best customers as candidates. Ask the rep to set up an introductory call and ‘listening’ session with the customer and see if you can entice the customer to participate in the process.
- Take a look at your customer support statistics and identify the top 200 customers with the most inquiries and tickets. These types of people are very actively engaged with your company – the customers with the most ‘problems’ are actually some of your best customers. It’s the customers who don’t complain that you should be worried about. Find the primary customer support reps who deal with these customers and ask them to solicit participation the next time they call or email.
- Add a message to the next invoice asking for volunteers to participate
- Add a message to the home page of your corporate website asking for participation
There’s no doubt that it is a lot of work to solicit participation, draft the posts, and go through whatever review and approval processes your customers will require. As noted earlier manufacturing revenue is not a simple or overnight program. The benefits of building good content, however, last for a long time. You will also find that the process of engaging with customers on a positive basis will not only improve customer satisfaction, but drive incremental revenue as well. Most mid to late stage technology companies only engage with their customer bases when they have something new to sell them or to offer them a discount in an attempt to drive short term revenue. Take a look at the last ten direct marketing pieces you sent your customers and you can get a pretty good feel for how you have been communicating with them.
Geo-Specific Social Media Broadcasting.
As you post each customer success story, broadcast it to you ever growing business social network. The goal of this process is to continually build a geographically targeted list of followers and blog readers in the geographies you have targeted. Broadcasting your posts using technologies like Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, SlideShare, and StumbleUpon will help to build the reach of your blog and message.
Building a Twitter follower network is one of the better investments you can make. You want to focus primarily on active Twitter users that have some association with your industry in the specific geographies you want to focus on. I am not going to get into the details of building a Twitter following here — there are hundreds of thousands of Twitter strategy guides available on the web (Google only reports 34.5 million). The key to building a successful business social network is relevant content and that’s what your customer success stories can bring to the table.
Digital Body Language Monitoring
Once your blog is up and going and you have some decent content there you can begin to monitor your visitors’ digital body language. You can use free tools like Google Alerts, Google Analytics or HowSocial to get a basic feel for how your content is being consumed. Two key Google Analytics metrics to monitor are traffic sources and key words. Understanding how people are accessing your content and the search terms they are using is critical to formulating content and key words. For example, referrals from people or sites you consider to being influencers in your space is an important trend to understand so you can reinforce it to build even more traffic. Keyword trends are also critical. Keywords are the primary way people search the Web today. While this may change with the advent of the ‘semantic web’ for now understanding how people search and where they go is critical to building awareness amongst your target audience. You also need to monitor your corporate website to see how much traffic you are driving to it and where the traffic is going.
Every two weeks you should put together a summary of key metrics, trends, and learnings. What posts generated the most interest?, how many folks became actual prospects?, what posts were the least successful? The goal here is to use some basic, quick to pull together stats to assess your progress. The primary metric you are trying to grow is the number of visitors/readers/subscribers who are NOT your customers. These are the folks you are trying to condition and influence at the end of the day. A secondary metric is the number of existing customers. This metric will demonstrate the relative level of web engagement with your customers
Free tools, however, have limitations. If you really want to understand the digital body language of your visitors you need to invest in a modern marketing management system like those offered by Eloqua, Manticore, SilverPop, or LoopFuse. These solutions provide the functionality and work flow management that is required to track and action prospects based upon their digital body language.