B2B companies bringing new offers to market risk long delays in product or solution uptake. Too often this leads to direct failure. Failure rates range from 40% to 80%. Clearly a risky and expensive bet.
This risk isn’t limited to startups. Often we see large companies struggle to gain traction with new offers or new markets. One senior executive told me, “we are buried in our core brand.”
New Paradigm Offers Require a Different Go-to-market Strategy
New paradigm solutions provide a different way to solve business problems than existing solution methods. Customers may not understand key underlying causes of their problems that are resolved by new solutions. Sellers could be addressing problems customers aren’t even aware of. Or, they may not even see their problems as a priority to solve.
With new paradigm offers, this means customers are not familiar with the product or solution category. They certainly aren’t actively looking for those new offers.
To address this reality, many B2B selling organizations are shifting from the traditional product sales model that focuses on features, benefits, pricing and discounting. They are adopting a value sales model. This sales approach focuses on creating value as much in how they sell, as what they sell. It defines offers in the context of the customer’s value model. It establishes and protects vendor value, and minimizes discounting.
Early stage engagement for new paradigm offers and a value selling model is characterized by what we call “create opportunity” selling.
The traditional product sale works when customers are aware of and understand their problems. They are generally familiar with the products or services required to solve those problems. Demand managers refer to this as active demand.
Marketing and sales tactics and techniques that work in the active demand, product sales environments, usually don’t work in the new paradigm value sales game. Companies that don’t realize this pay a dear price.
New companies, or companies with new ways of solving business problems, have unique challenges:
- Little to no market category awareness, or the company is buried in a traditional market category that makes it difficult to distinguish a new offer
- Little to no brand awareness
- A presumption by prospective customers they’ve “seen it all”
- Latent demand that requires create opportunity, consultative, value selling competencies (These competencies are in short supply, expensive and hard to recruit for, especially to new companies)
- Internal pressure to “make something happen” — anything — which can spawn bad habits.
This makes weaknesses that are common to many sales organizations especially debilitating:
- Poor or no sales strategy — “fire, ready, aim”
- Limited understanding of how buyers view their problems and make buying decisions
- Immature customer-centric messages and business insights
- Incomplete databases — missing companies, key stakeholders, email addresses, (direct cell) phone numbers, and limited segmentation
- Weak sales conversations — especially to secure critical first and second conversations, and to convert into qualified sales opportunities
- Little to none of the right sales content — product slicks, demos and even traditional customer stories don’t count.
Market or Sell Your Way To Success?
Often it’s the sales organization that wants to “get marketing cranked up to create awareness and leads.” If you hear this from your sales team, it’s time to get a better team!
Go-to-market strategy is critical. There is no single, right, or even best way for every company. Too much business advice dogmatically declares what you should do. Without good strategy work you risk too much trial and error. Improvement comes too slowly.
Companies selling new paradigm or new concept solutions, especially early stage companies, need to take a veridical approach to their selling strategy. This means dealing with reality as it is, not as it’s desired.
A veridical assessment of a strategy for a B2B new paradigm offer will indicate you have to sell your way to initial success. You can’t market your way to success like you would with known offer categories, or in the B2C world.
This is anathema to marketers. For too many executives it’s counter-intuitive. For large companies, it’s counter-cultural. Risk is especially high when employees on a new offer team have a long tenure with large organizations that sell mature products into mature markets.
Marketing is about communicating to segments. It’s about scaling engagement. Marketers are eager to develop “their brand”. Early on for new companies, and even large companies with new paradigm offers, this kind of marketing is pre-mature.
Until you know exactly what to say and how to say it to successfully engage individual buyers, you’re simply not ready to convert one-to-one conversations into content, and scaled communication tactics. Today, your brand is who your customers say you are. No customers for your new paradigm offer, no brand.
The best way to gain initial traction for new paradigm/concept offers is through professional, hunter class sales people who LOVE to prospect and open new accounts.
New companies, and companies with new offers, must find, sell and create opportunities the old fashion way — they must earn them!
Unless and until a few good sales people can figure out what to say and how to say it, so prospects stop in their tracks, engage and move into qualified opportunities, you’re not ready to scale the marketing engine.
Support Program for Create Opportunity New Paradigm Offers
Marketing has an important role to prepare and support this go-to-market strategy.
Foundational strategy work is the starting point that marketing must own. Research to better understand target prospects and how they buy is critical. Sales people need a clear, actionable, “ideal customer profile.” (See Understand Audiences and Customers Competency Framework)
Message and conversation support gives sales people a common starting point. Why ask each rep to figure this out for themselves? It provides a basis for feedback and improvement that is critical to new offer success. (See Recommended Actions section below. See also Conversation Support Competency)
A database of target accounts and contact information for key stakeholders is another marketing service. It’s hard for efficient sales activity to begin until they have names, email addresses and phone numbers, ideally direct cell phone numbers.
Situation-specific sales content is required to engage prospects. This relates to the recommendation below to deploy inventories of emails linked to appropriate content assets and calls-to-action. (See Situation-specific content, on-purpose, by design)
A disciplined selling system is the responsibility of sales leadership. Given the high risk endeavor on which they have embarked, a common sales methodology and process must be tailored to the customer buying process identified in the strategy work.
Proficiency securing first and second sales conversations is the initial objective when the strategy is to sell your way to new offer success. The desired outcome is prospects agree to engage in the deeper discovery conversations. This makes it possible for both parties to qualify a potential opportunity.
A formal sales prospecting program is the best and fastest way to realize that outcome at scale. We’ve discovered this works best as a collaborative sales team program. It is characterized by daily team reviews, and weekly huddles for strategic adjustments. Data driven feedback on daily and weekly activity results is essential. The goal is to be able to tune conversations and content to make small but continuous improvements.
Recommended Actions for Sales Prospecting Program
Sales Prospecting Methodology: All sales personnel must work a common and consistent process. This allows rapid validation of successful or weak tactics, content, messages, or messenger execution.
Design Key Conversations: Sales people should be provided inventories of compelling, “why meet” emails, voicemail messages, and conversation frameworks that provide guidelines for effective first and second conversations. The email must be very short (less than 200 words).
Messages must focus completely on customer problems and their impact on the business (no vendor references whatsoever). Emails must link to customer relevant content that captures attention with compelling insights about the customer’s business. Insights must be sufficient to justify change consideration. Messages and content should NOT tell the whole story!
Continuous Improvement Process: When sales prospecting calls are recorded, sales reps get “game tape.” This provides accurate data needed for feedback and review. It’s input to brainstorming improvements with colleagues.
Engagement Notification: Traditionally, sales people have sold blind. There was little feedback to indicate prospect interest or action, until opportunities were well underway. Even then, the degree of engagement typically required direct customer feedback.
Email and content engagement that is tracked digitally with instant notification to sales reps provides actionable feedback on prospect activity. Examples include viewing of emails and associated content, sharing of emails, website visits and page views, consumption of content specifically prepared for an account, that is delivered through a customer microsite.
Re-align messages and content based on observed behavior. Feedback improves timing and targeting of subsequent messages and content. This content gives prospects a “second bite” opportunity. By tracking content consumption sales people can distinguish true interest from prospects who are merely curious.
B2B new paradigm or new concept offers require an appreciation that this is a different selling game from mature product category selling.
Go-to-market strategy must be carefully developed for each company, market and new offer. When viewed through the lens of reality, this will typically require a sales prospecting led engagement, not marketing led.
A create opportunity mindset should direct all marketing and sales activities.
Marketing has a critical role to support this strategy. They are the right resource to provide insights about customers, sales messages and conversation support, data on target account contacts, and situation-specific sales content that is created on purpose, by design.
Initial customer success will depend on a formal, collaborative sales prospecting program. A team approach fosters rapid learning and improvement. This lowers risk and raises probability of rapid success for a new paradigm offer.