“Multiple Decision Makers”
Familiar and oftentimes frightening words for any company in the B2B space. Why? Because when pitching clients on your enterprise solutions, you have to modify and fine-tune your value-proposition for multiple internal stakeholders. Typically, that lengthens your sales cycle and adds a measure of unpredictability to it; you might convince the CTO the CMO and the CFO of the benefits of working with you, but the CEO may have a completely different opinion that you did not anticipate.
And suddenly, you’re in reactive mode. You’re retooling your proposal while trying your best not to trip over anything you’ve already said.
This post is about helping internal champions for your services do some of the selling for you. It’s about equipping them with the right materials and benefits-focused-messaging, so that when it’s time to present to the CEO or the board, you’re not starting from scratch. It’s about providing them the tools they need to effectively advocate for you.
Get Your Foot-In-Door
Let’s take a hypothetical example. You’re a software startup, your product is a cloud-based productivity tool, like Slack.
You’ve done your homework. You’ve conducted market research and segmentation. You know the project managers are the target audience for your service. You’ve fine-tuned your web copy to appeal to this audience, maybe you’ve even implemented a content marketing strategy tuned to their particular buyer personas.
You’ve repeated this process for several different sectors, you’ve built lead-capture mechanisms on your landing pages which you follow-up with targeted direct sales activities. You’re even building a community on social media where people freely discuss their project management needs.
All this is amazing. It’s what you should be doing. It makes sense to market your solution to the people who are most likely to be faced with the problems you’re solving. And in this case that means middle-management, team-leads and people working collaboratively.
Perfect. And you know your product inside out, so articulating a problem-solution schema to someone who experiences the very problems your product solves is easy.
The Door is Open, But Your Foot Hasn’t Moved
And then, things stall. You’ve had initial discussions with a project manager, you’ve presented your solution and articulated its benefits and differentiators from the competition, they are excited to work with you as you’re going to make their lives easier… But, nothing seems to be happening. What’s going on?
You’ve made a compelling case to the subject-matter-experts; the people who will benefit from your service, but there are multiple decision makers, and you haven’t tuned your case to compel the committees with purchasing authority. Why?
Because, frankly, making their employees lives easier (via your amazing productivity tool) is not a business objective that’s on the radar for most senior decision makers. They’re typically interested in two things: bottom-line (net profit after costs) and top-line (revenue).
So now it’s your job to help your internal champions influence those key decision makers.
Why Not Just Market to the C-Suite Directly Then?
So you may be wondering, why not just market to C-Levels and other decision makers directly then?
Well you can, as we’ll see below, but unfortunately, higher level decision makers who aren’t in the trenches aren’t usually on the lookout for domain specific solutions (unless they’ve been alerted to issues by their subordinates on the ground, or are unusually engaged with the day to day operations of their company).
Needless to say, the larger the organization the less likely this is. So it’s far less likely for a CEO to be Googling “Logistics and Supply Chain Management Software” than it is for a Logistics and Supply Chain Manager to be searching for this.
Do You Have Brand Power?
So how do you address these individuals, the ones with actual buying power? The hard way is through brand recognition, and this is where you ultimately want to end up. While C-Levels may not often be searching for solutions in response to known problems, they will respond (like we all do) to a brand that has a lot of name recognition or is expanding rapidly and getting PR (and peer) traction. Again, Slack is a good recent example of this.
While Slack addresses long-standing issues in workplace collaboration and this is behind its rapid adoption across multiple industries, we can be fairly certain that at this point, given all the mainstream business press they’re getting, that the impetus for many enterprise Slack subscriptions have come from the top down as opposed to the other way as it becomes a hit with name recognition.
But brand-driven awareness simply isn’t available for brands that are too new or too small, or haven’t won the overnight-mass-adoption lottery. For the rest of us, we need to articulate value proposition first and brand second, building to that point where our name precedes us and then reputation can take over and drive sales.
So we’re back to the same question. How do we reach decision makers who aren’t searching for your name or solutions? Turn their domain experts into brand evangelists.
Handoff to Brand Evangelists
Your hypothetical managers or team leaders are looking for a better way to do business, one that eliminates the headaches they deal with every day. Your offering can help them with that. But in appealing to these domain experts, your messaging may be primarily geared around problems-solution sets and not a more business case oriented message. Remember, a use-case isn’t a business case and it’s business cases that will drive sales in a multiple decision maker environment.
You need to help your prospects argue not only the use-value of your offering (which is undeniably important), but the business case for it as well. How does your software help the company expand its business and increase profitability? How does its workflow increase productivity? How do these same gains affect marketing reach? Ultimately, what are its impacts to the top and bottom-line?
It’s About Being Empathetic
Empathy isn’t a concept that comes up a lot in business, but when you’re trying to get a contact to advocate for you inside their organization, the exchange of empathy becomes essential. What you’re trying to do in equipping your advocates is to create content for them to pass along to their decision-makers. You’re trying to make their lives easier, first by offering a solution that resolves a day-to-day problem for them, and then by providing material that easily allows them to recommend you up the line.
Chances are, this isn’t the first time they’ve tried to present a solution to senior decision makers. But maybe you’re the first vendor to come along that has been able to help them articulate the importance of your solution.
Just like your original marketing materials anticipated their needs, you’ve got to be able to anticipate the needs of the C-Suite. Simultaneously, you don’t want to drift too far into exclusively C-Level messaging, because you want the person presenting your solution to be able to speak to it, confidently and comfortably.
So, it’s about the translation between the problem your solution solves and how that benefits top and bottom line.
It’s All About the Benefits
Depending on what it is you do and who you are selling it too, you need to provide marketing materials for your prospects that deal with your offering’s effect on one or more of the following:
- Profitability, to convert CFOs and CEOs
- Bottom-Line Savings, to convert CFOs and CEOs
- Top Line Revenue, to convert CEOs
- Productivity, to convert COOs
- Productivity, Scalability, Security to convert CTOs
- Reach to convert sales and CMOs
Downloadables, like white papers and case studies are great for giving your prospects something to show to their decision makers.
In general, they should be:
- Short and Sweet
- Visually Appealing
- Focused on benefits, benefits, benefits
- With a clear call to action and an invitation to direct contact, like a sales call
Talk to your existing clients and talk to your sales team to start to convert your use-cases into business cases: “by facilitating real-time document sharing across remote offices, our clients noted an average of 3.5 hours per employee in time recovered per week”. If you can pull hard numbers for savings, revenue, web visits or qualitative metrics, even better. But the essential point here is that you give the the people who are going to bat for you the evidence they need to make your solution matter to their superiors.
If you can swing it, building vertical-specific Buyer Personas for internal champions is a lightweight and efficient way to help you fine tune your messaging. If you can’t invest in that or any kind of segmentation research right now, your best bet is to workshop your messaging with your sales team, and any existing clients who are willing to share insight with you. Another source for intelligence would be to carefully dissect your site and social analytics. By looking at individual user-behaviour on your analytics, you can develop a sense of who’s knocking on your door initially and what they’re coming back around and looking at later in the sales cycle.
All told, this isn’t a new idea. In any institutional environment there will be a need to build consensus around large purchases, and marketers have long sought ways to nudge the institutional buying process along. Fractal uses a framework we call Who? What? Where? specifically focused on nudging prospects down the funnel. You can use it to help you structure structure your marketing strategy to turn your contacts into your advocates. All you’ve got to do then is to equip them with the materials and messaging they need to carry you forward into the C-Suite.
Where to Begin if You Don’t Have Clients to Tap for Insight or a Research Budget?
If you’re a new company, and don’t have a lot of existing clients to tap for insight, or the budget to conduct interviews to develop buyer personas, you may have to develop this practice over time, building on each interaction with a potential internal champion. The key thing that you need to do (which they’ll appreciate) is ask them “What do you need from me? How can I help you? What can I do to make your life easier?”
Ask them what their internal challenges are and how you can help. And as you develop materials for one prospect, do so with an eye to generalizing the benefits to be applicable to other clients.
That way, even if you don’t especially focus on building tools for your advocates, you can still get there ad-hoc, over time. Ultimately, try to find out how you can help them help you (help them).
Umm… Just maybe not quite like that^.