Archive for February, 2015

Don’t Lose Deals By Belaboring Business Value

Friday, February 27th, 2015

“Most B2B buyers only care about the value you bring to their business. They really do not care about your products.”

When I read this line on LinkedIn, my first reaction was to reply back with the classical Little Feat line

“Don’t Bogart That Joint. Pass It On.”

I’ve no argument with the first sentence. It’s true that most buyers will resonate with a B2B technology vendor’s offering only when it’s packaged as Marketable Items that convey business value.

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My beef is with the second sentence.

There comes a time in every purchasing process when the buyer cares a lot about a vendor’s products / services. This happens between the middle and bottom of the sales / purchase funnel.

To understand why, let’s see what happens before prospects reach this stage.

At the top of the funnel, a buyer is interested in knowing about solutions that add business value, not so much about the features of a specific product. Prospects at this stage will bother to grant a meeting to a vendor only if its offerings create gain or solve pain in the overall context of their industry.

Once they enter a meeting – i.e. after becoming middle funnel prospects – buyers want to know very quickly how the vendor demonstrates business value for their specific company (not just industry).

Based on the interactions at top and middle funnel stages, prospects then draw up a shortlist of 2-3 vendors and contact them. At this stage, they become bottom funnel prospects. In my 25+ years in B2B technology sales and marketing, if there’s one thing that hasn’t changed, it’s that prospects now DESPERATELY WANT to know a lot of things about their shortlisted vendors. These include features, differentiators, implementation / delivery methodology, governance model, people, reference customers, price, and so on.

Therefore, I find the buyers-don’t-care-about-your-products claim to be nonsense. They do care, just that the caring happens at a later stage of the purchase process.

Vendors will risk losing the deal if they fail to realize this and keep harping about business value all the time. And with the so-called Buyer 2.0 doing more research on their own, more and more of them are ascertaining business value on their own. Vendors should gear themselves up to understanding the stage at which prospects are when they contact them and moving forward the opportunity from that stage onwards – instead of going back to the top of the funnel and talking about business value.

In a follow-on post, I’ll describe my experience with a vendor that lost a deal because it failed to do this. Watch this space!

6 x 3 Rule For Surviving Content Deluge

Friday, February 20th, 2015

With so much buzz around Content Marketing, content deluge is the new “information overload”. From “helpful” guides to outright sales pitches to several things in between, I get hit by around 100 pieces of content every day. I’m sure your day is no different.

Each of us has our own way to manage the deluge.

If you’re still looking for a “structured and repeatable way” of tackling your content deluge, welcome to my

6 x 3 Rule for Surviving Content Deluge.

I’ve devised this rule for LinkedIn Pulse, which is my go to reader app for consuming content. Pulse users would be aware that the app organizes organizes content in the form of a grid on its splash screen: Publishers (e.g. Harvard Business Review) are stacked vertically from top to bottom in the order I’ve added them when I set up the app. Articles (e.g. “The Myth of the Tech Whiz Who Quits College To Start a Company”) are laid out as square buttons horizontally from left (latest) to right (older) .

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LinkedIn Pulse Splash Screen

As soon as I open Pulse, the app automatically refreshes its splash screen with the latest articles from the publishers in my list.

The 6 x 3 Rule kicks in at this point.

I start from the first publisher on the top and scan the title of each article. On my smartphone screen, I get to see three articles horizontally. If I don’t like any of them, I swipe the screen to the left to see the titles of the next three articles. If I still don’t like any of them, I skip to the next publication below. In short, without leaving the splash screen, I’ve scanned the titles of six articles of a given publisher. Hence the 6 part of the 6 x 3 rule.

If I’m interested in reading an article after seeing its title, I tap its button. This takes me to another screen. After reading the article, I swipe the screen to the left to see the next article (It’s not necessary to go back to the splash screen to view the next article.)

If I like it, I read it. If not, I swipe to the next article. I repeat this process until I swipe past three consecutive articles without reading them, at which stage I return to the splash screen and check out the next publisher’s feed below. Hence the 3 part of the 6 x 3 rule.

By this time, I’ve executed the 6 x 3 rule for one publisher.

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6 x 3 Rule

I then repeat the aforementioned steps for the next publisher until I reach the last publisher on my list.

With that, I’ve executed the 6 x 3 rule completely. It takes me typically 40-50 minutes per day.

There are days when articles I select happen to be particularly long. On those days, I simply switch to a 4 x 2 variant. Barring those rare occasions, the 6 x 3 rule does a good job of controlling the time spent on content.

PS: While the 6 x 3 rule works on Pulse, it shouldn’t be difficult to devise similar rules for FlipBoard, Zite, News in Shorts and other popular reader apps since they all follow a two-dimensional grid layout of some kind.

Secret Of Survival Of Bank Branches

Friday, February 13th, 2015

SBI-DC-branch-delhi-1From personal experience and anecdotal evidence, there’s no question that retail banking customers are increasingly moving to digital channels to conduct everyday banking transactions like balance inquiry, statement download, and so on.

Notwithstanding the pronounced shift in customer preference to digital channels, bank branches are far from dead. In fact, according to some reports, they’re making a comeback.

Is it really because, as Nessa Feddis, SVP, ABA, says in this article, “When people are conducting a complex transaction like opening an account or applying for a home or business loan, they often prefer to do it in person.”?

I don’t know.

Is a home or business loan even a complex product?

I don’t know.

But I do believe there’s another angle to understanding the longevity of bank branches that has little to do with what customers want. Namely, what banks want. Specifically vis-à-vis demand generation and sales.

To take demand generation first, let me narrate a personal incident.

I’d visited the branch of my public sector branch to foreclose a few fixed deposits and collect the proceeds by way of a demand draft. My banker asked me why I was losing interest by prematurely closing my FDs. I told him that I needed the money to buy a house. He asked me why I didn’t take a mortgage instead. I told him that I’d forfeit the great deal I’d got if I had to jump the hoops required to qualify for a mortgage from his (public sector) bank. To my utter surprise, he approved the loan on the spot and promised to disburse the money within one hour!

bbss01Voilà, the banker had created a new sales opportunity where none existed before. Not just that, the bank was able to make the “Next Best Offer” virtually in realtime. All this happened during a face-to-face interaction.

There’s no way this bank – or any bank – could’ve spotted this opportunity or made the offer via telephone, online banking, mobile banking or any other remote channel. HBR refinforces my belief: In its article titled Know What Your Customers Want Before They Do, the authors note, “… financial services firms find that a human being is often the best channel for delivering offers.”

Moving to the actual sales process, some of the activities involved in the sale / purchase of a mortgage include:

  1. Share builder reputation
  2. Whet the project w.r.t title, litigation, permits, etc.
  3. Provide references of friends and neighbors who have taken mortgages from said bank
  4. Ease documentation
  5. Exchange local gossip

It’s a no-brainer that a branch is the most conducive environment to do these things.

(There’s a school of thought that says that sales people should only provide help and refrain from getting into the aforementioned activities. I find that advice to be unadulterated BS: As a career sales and marketing professional, these things help in building relationships and, when it comes to commoditized, big ticket products like mortgages, it’s often the relationship that swings the deal in favor of one bank versus another).

Therefore, whether it’s creating sales opportunities or selling products, a branch is the best place to do it. No doubt it’s also the costliest place for doing so but progressive businesses are more obsessed about increasing revenues than cutting costs.

For all their talk of customer preferences, banks will eventually decide their channel mix on the basis of which channel(s) deliver the greatest growth and profit potential. And, for the moment, branches are still high on their list.

Therein lies the secret of survival – maybe even comebank – of bank branches.

Why Customers May Flee Abroad Before Tech Startups!

Friday, February 6th, 2015

ipsi02I was introduced to SINE (Society for Innovation and Entrepreneurship), the technology incubator at my alma mater IIT Bombay, when I attended the Silver Jubilee Reunion of my Class of 85 in 2010.

Since then, my exposure to Indian technology startups has increased. As a mentor and budding angel investor, I’ve lately begun to closely follow the startup ecosystem and attend various startup events.

On most occasions, I hear startups complain about “uneducated Indian buyers”, tightfisted investors, pigeonholing tendencies, aversion to innovation, and so on. Many of them have even threatened to leave India and move to the Silicon Valley or Singapore or places they consider greener pastures.

As a marketer and buyer of technology, I find these concerns and threats to be a bit juvenile.

In my decades of experience as a technology marketer, I’ve learned that enterprises all over the world buy software to solve a business problem and not to slake their thirst for innovation or to get educated about every shiny new technology. Furthermore, most companies have well-documented purchase processes and pigeonholing a new product into pre-existing categories is the starting point of complying with them.

Therefore, the practices that startup founders whine about are not unique to the Indian B2B technology market. They’re just a part of the real world!

Now, in my capacity as a buyer of software for my customers and my own company, I’ve found various problems dealing with Indian software startups. Let me illustrate them by walking you through my last three software purchases where I began the process with an Indian startup:

Product 1: Cloud A/B Testing Cloud Software

This software lacked even the most basic functionality required to run an A/B test e.g. track button click. No one from the company who connected with me – including one of its co-founders – had the domain knowledge or customer-facing skills required to understand my problem and provide a solution. I gave up after two days.

Product 2: Event Management Mobile App

I signed up for an event organized by a leading software association and was required to install this event management app to keep myself updated of the event. I was shocked to find that the app had to be updated every time there was a change in the event schedule (which happened often). This was like having to reinstall WhatsApp after every message or LinkedIn Pulse whenever a new article was published! Since I was already committed to attending this event, I was left with no choice but to use this app. But, I decided then and there that I’d stay away from any event in the future that used this app.

Product 3: Social Business SaaS

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I signed up for a free trial of this “powering the always on social business” software and gave up a few minutes later. I posted my detailed feedback on the software’s shortcomings below the company’s blog post (http://pn.ispirt.in/demystifying-saas-conversions-a-pragmatic-approach-to-improving-your-website/). While my comment is no longer visible, suffice to say that the software didn’t work as advertised – it displayed all the social media updates about a brand, 95% of which were posts by the brand itself!

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Since I didn’t want to name or shame anyone in public, I’ve anonymized the product / company names above. However, should you wish to know more, please feel free to contact me.

Like I mentioned above, I began my search on all three instances with an Indian tech startup. But, because of the aforementioned problems – and many others that I haven’t bothered to recount – I had to look abroad. Eventually, all the foreign products I bought worked as advertised, were priced in the same range as their Indian counterparts, and, above all, spared me the duh-like moments while interacting with their people. For example, for A/B testing, I finally signed up with the US company Optimizely. (More on that at http://gtm360.com/blog/2011/08/11/art-meets-science-with-ab-testing-part-1/.)

Indian tech startups would do well to stop blaming the Indian market and investor ecosystem. Instead, they should introspect deeply about their own weaknesses and focus on how to overcome their shortcomings. Otherwise, their customers might flee abroad before them!