Archive for April, 2015

Can Something Be Too Frictionless?

Friday, April 24th, 2015

Personally I love a frictionless CX and I was glad I could make a business out of my passion when I launched Conversion Rate Optimization as one of the services of my company’s Digital Marketing+ offering.

All along I’ve been debating with myself and my customers whether there’s an optimum level of being frictionless or frictionless was one of those things to which the aphorism “more the merrier” applied.

I recently went through a couple of experiences that rekindled this debate.

The first one was in the B2C space with the housing portal Housing.com and the second one was with the B2B SaaS product SalesLoft.

Housing

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Housing assures data quality without causing friction

Founded by a fellow alum from IIT Bombay, Housing.com provides a very frictionless experience for buying, selling and renting property. Let alone short forms or prefilled forms, Housing didn’t ask me to fill any form at all. This contrasts sharply with every other housing portal that has had me complete long forms to list my property. Housing places a great emphasis on data quality and freshness. To execute this, the company sends out its own Data Collectors to the propery to click photographs and enter its particulars directly into a mobile app from onsite. I found the CX very frictionless.

All was well until the leads started coming in and chaos followed.

One potential tenant told me that he wished to start an office in the apartment. Another guy wanted to convert the flat into a corporate guest house. The third guy wanted a pad for himself and a couple of his colleagues at work.

When I told them that none of these was permitted according to the housing society, all three of them pushed back saying Housing.com listed my property when they searched the portal using their specific needs as filter criteria. I apologized to them profusely for the confusion caused by Housing – looks like its Data Collector tapped too many buttons on his app without asking my explicit confirmation for each of them when he created the listing on my behalf!

SalesLoft

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Confusing List on SalesLoft

After reading a blog post about this “Sales Development Prospecting & Automation” software, I immediately visited its website and signed up for its free trial by filling a short form. As soon as the software installed itself as a Chrome Extension on my browser, it showed me a button that said “Generate Leads”. Like any other marketer, I found this to be a powerful CTA and hit the button. Lo and behold, my screen just filled up with a long list of names of people in various companies. I hadn’t specified any criteria for selection. I had no clue what was the basis on which SalesLoft had compiled this list. I gave up with the trial. It was only during a subsequent conference call that the company’s sales rep explained the rationale behind the list.

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On the face of it, it appears that there’s something like being too frictionless. After all, if Housing had asked me to fill a form, I’d have ensured that my property was not listed for commercial zoning or any of the other exclusions. If SalesLoft had asked me to fill a form asking me for what kind of leads I wanted, I’d have been in a better position to understand what leads it served up.

However, jumping to that conclusion would be falling into the “the more effort our customers make to get our quote, the more interested they are in doing business with us” trap that I urge my customers not to fall into. Friction shouldn’t be used as an instrument to qualify leads.

In the same way, there’s nothing like being too frictionless.

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Data.com / Jigsaw Lead List

That said, I do think there are ways of making sure that a frictionless approach doesn’t result in confusion, and hence, abandonment, at later stages of the purchase funnel. For instance,

  • Housing could have emailed me the draft listing with all the options highlighted and given me the opportunity to correct the errors before going live. (The portal didn’t even ask me to register or create a password, so I didn’t even have a way to access my listing online and edit it).
  • SalesLoft could’ve clearly listed the search options it used for compiling the list. The options could be placed on the top / left of the page à la LinkedIn / JigSaw-Data.com respectively. Had it done that, I’d have automatically been able to do some “sales development and prospecting” with this list, which is exactly what the software advertises as its mission.

So, to answer the question that is the title of this blog post:

No, there’s nothing like being too frictionless. Less friction is always better. But it takes extra efforts – from explanatory language to tweaks in the onboarding process to other things in between – to ensure that smooth sailing at an earlier funnel stage doesn’t spoil the overall conversion with unintended friction at later stages.

Ensuring That Buyer 2.0 Contacts *Your* Sales

Friday, April 17th, 2015

In What Happens Before A Prospect Contacts Sales?, we’d shared CEB’s finding that B2B prospects complete 57% of their purchasing decision before contacting sales. As we saw there, the new Internet-enabled purchasing process introduces a blindzone as a result of which a Buyer 2.0 may call a salesperson at 57% but not your salesperson.

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To ensure that your company does not suffer this fate, you need to navigate this blindzone successfully.

In this follow on post, we’ll explain exactly how to do that so that it will be your salesperson who will get the prospect’s call at the 57% stage.

Key to sidestepping the blindzone is to engage with the prospect between steps 2 and 3 in the above diagram, when the prospect has “emerging needs” i.e. their requirements are not fully crystallized.

Let’s take the case of a retail buyer at the following stage:

  1. Have pain: Pilferage from warehouse
  2. Acknowledge need to solve pain: Audit report shows 8% loss owing to pilferage. With razor-thin margins, this pain must be solved.
  3. Explore alternative solutions to fulfill need: (A) Double down on security staff in the warehouse (B) Install CCTV surveillance in the warehouse (C) Tag all items with RFID
  4. Decide on one solution: CCTV

By the time the prospect is ready to call a supplier at the next stage, it will be suppliers of CCTV solutions. Not RFID suppliers. Therefore, an RFID salesperson will stand a chance of selling her solution to this account only by engaging at Step 2 or latest Step 3. Waiting for the prospect to call them at Step 5 would be like waiting for the proverbial Godot.

wpd02I can hear detractors questioning whether the prospect would be ready to engage with sales earlier. Our experience says yes. So does research from analysts. According to this Gartner report, a majority of surveyed B2B technology buyers showed a “willingness to connect earlier in the process”.

But this is subject to a caveat: Overtures at earlier stages will work only if the supplier uses the right approach.

For starters, the conventional “solutions selling” or “benefits selling” or “case study selling” approaches won’t work. When their needs are nebulous, it’s too early to expect prospects to vibe with features and benefits of a specific product, no matter how powerful they are or how many customers swear by them.

What should suppliers do, then?

They

  • need to have a strong perspective about the prospect’s industry
  • share share insights into pains / needs of other companies in the same industry
  • explain how their product alleviated / fulfilled them, and
  • how they can do the same for the prospect’s company.

Can they begin by asking prospects about their pains? No.

As markets get crowded, prospects don’t have the time and energy to discuss their needs with every vendor who knocks on their doors. (To understand how severe this problem is, see Small Conversion Can Still Mean Big Business for the example of the large European bank that told me that they were contacted by around 50 IT vendors in a typical week, of which they could spare the time to meet only one.)

wpd-fiThen, how can a company actually achieve the objective of engaging earlier?

We recommend using Marketable Items for doing this. Marketable Items package product features and service capabilities into compelling reasons to buy that resonate strongly with industry hot topics and business pain areas of the target market. Using our Marketable Items, many of our technology products and services customers have engaged earlier with prospects and succeeded in dislodging incumbent vendors. If you need help in doing the same, please contact us.

What Happens Before A Prospect Contacts Sales?

Friday, April 10th, 2015

“B2B customers complete 57% of their purchasing decision before contacting a supplier.”

This is easily the most frequently quoted line in B2B sales and marketing during recent times.

Ever since  CEB Marketing Leadership Council released this finding in their HBR article in mid 2012,

  • Some startup CEOs have questioned the need for sales
  • A few have even publicly avowed to never hire another salesperson
  • Some sales reps have started waiting for the prospect to call them. In other words, they’ve stopped prospecting.

I’m sure CEB never intended any of this to happen, so its famous statement must also be one of the most highly misunderstood ones in B2B sales and marketing.

The danger with following any of these approaches is that your prospect will call your competitor’s salesperson whenever they do contact a supplier. In other words, they won’t contact you at the right time.

To understand why, let’s look at the steps in a typical B2B technology purchase process:

  1. Have pain
  2. Acknowledge need to solve pain
  3. Explore alternative solutions to fulfill need
  4. Decide on one solution
  5. Create a longlist of 10 suppliers for selected solution
  6. Carry out preliminary analysis of 10 offerings to arrive at shortlist of 3 vendors
  7. Conduct deep dive evaluation of shortlisted vendors
  8. Select one vendor and conduct negotiations
  9. Contract with selected vendor.

Before the Internet, the prospect would contact multiple suppliers at Step 3 and talk to their salespersons to learn about the various options available in the market and how different solutions addressed their needs. (For the moment, I’m ignoring the small percentage of prospects who, even in the good old days, would engage purchase consultants – think Capacity Planning Group of TCS for IT hardware purchases – and complete Steps 3 through 5 before contacting a supplier.)

Now, in the world of Internet, prospects can access a treasure trove of information and complete steps 3 through 6 by themselves. The empowered Buyer 2.0 needs to contact vendors only at Step 7 – and, then, only the 3-4 shortlisted ones.

As a result, steps 3 through 6 have become a blindzone for sales in the world of Buyer 2.0.

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Suppliers who get blindsided by it will get excluded from the prospect’s shortlist without even being given the opportunity to make their pitch. Or, to quote McKinsey from its article Do you really understand how your business customers buy?, “Customers may be “liking” or “not liking” a prospective offer long before the sales rep has even presented it.”

To escape this fate, salespersons need to navigate the blindzone successfully.

From our experience of working with several B2B technology companies, one way to do this is to engage with prospects earlier than before. This resonates well with research:

  • According to McKinsey, “two-thirds of B2B deals are lost before a formal RFP process even begins.”
  • CEB itself says, “To win a deal, you’ve got to get ahead of the RFP.”

Great sales reps used to engage with prospects very early even in the good old days. I know one veteran B2B sales manager who used to tell his team over two decades ago, “if you get an RFQ without knowing about it in advance, you’ve already lost the order”. The implication of the modern buying behavior is that every salesperson needs to get ahead of the RFP. CEB defines “earlier than before” as the stage when prospects have “emerging needs” i.e. when their requirements are not fully crystallized.

In a follow-up post, I’ll walk through a case study of successfully navigating the sales blindzone. Spoiler Alert: The conventional “solution selling” approach doesn’t cut it.

Goodbye #NetNeutrality, Hello #ProNetChoice

Friday, April 3rd, 2015

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Facebook and Reliance Communications (Top 3 MNO in India) partnered this past February to provide free access to Facebook and a bunch of other websites to Reliance customers via the Internet.org initiative.

Yesterday, Uninor, the Indian subsidiary of the Norwegian telecom giant Telenor Group, announced free Wikipedia access to its mobile subscribers.

Personally, I thought these were excellent steps towards accelerating “Digital India”. What’s not to like about free Internet, right? However, the blogosphere is abuzz with accusations that the moves by Reliance and Uninor violate Net Neutrality (click here and here).

Without judging that view, my first reaction was, so what? Firstly, Net Neutrality is not a law. Secondly, it seems like a First World Problem when many ISPs and MNOs in India are brazenly breaking their contractual obligations on uptime and speed of Internet connectivity.

So joining the debate on the principle of Net Neutrality seemed to be a waste of time. However, when I found some of the practical issues raised by the proponents of Net Neutrality totally lacking merit, I decided to jump in.

According to the Net Neutrality camp:

  1. By providing free access to some websites, MNOs are steering consumers to selective content and indirectly blocking content for which they’d have to pay
  2. To make up for providing free Internet, MNOs and / or the select content providers will target ads at consumers.

Here’s my take on each of them.

We’re already paying for content. I pay top dollar for not one or two but three different Internet plans because no one of them is reliable enough. I struggle with slow speeds and high downtime on all three of them. Forget about the theory of equal and unencumbered access to all content. In actual practice, I can’t access a lot of content even after paying for access. Therefore, the new move from Reliance, Uninor et al is a big improvement over my current situation. With their plans, I’ll get some content for free and I can still choose to access non-free content by paying for it. That sounds like empowering the consumer with a greater choice of their Internet provider. Ergo #ProNetChoice. Only time will tell whether #ProNetChoice will deliver faster speeds and lower downtime but I’m reasonably sure that I’ll get at least the same content as from my three paid plans put together and for a lower cost. In other words, #ProNetChoice delivers more value for money.

gnn05Today, I pay for all my Internet connections and still see my ISP’s ads on all of them – starting from their dialer software through to their landing pages. So ads from a free ISP hardly matters. And, who knows, if the ISP really uses technology to analyze my browsing history – they already collect it, mind you – they might actually show me more relevant ads, which is a good thing.

Therefore, the issues raised by the “Net Neutralista” are frivolous, at least under the current state of Internet connectivity in India.

Surprisingly, there’s another issue that’s totally missing from all the buzz: Choice for website owners. Net Neutrality deprives ecommerce companies and other businesses the right to enter into commercial agreements with ISPs and MNOs to attract traffic to their websites. Whereas #ProNetChoice allows them to do that as an extension to their overall traffic generation efforts via advertising, PR, and so on. If nothing else, that should establish the raison d’être of #ProNetChoice.