I had the privilege of attending a host of trade shows and conferences over the last six months and one thing is obvious: the number of vendors in the MarTech and enterprise content management (ECM) space is exploding. Scott Brinker lists over 3,500 vendors in his Marketing Technology Landscape graphic. With an 87% increase from 2015, the MarTech space is a large and growing collection of vendors that are innovating and delivering solutions into every nook and cranny of the marketing world. In the MarTech arena, ECMs, especially those that specialize in document management and content automation, are playing a prominent role. Fueled by digital transformation, MarTech will continue to expand its reach into other industries.
However, amid all of this growth, there are challenges. The two I want to talk about here are 1) the inability to differentiate between vendors and 2) the inability to properly measure value delivered (ROI). Historically, number 1 has been a sales/marketing issue and number 2 is the acquiring company’s responsibility. However, I think, to a large degree, both are the responsibility of sales.
I’m sure you have heard or said these before, “I’ve talked to you and four of your competitors and you all sound the same” or “It’s come down to price and I need you to lower your bid” or “$500,000 for an enterprise content management system! You’re kidding right? That’s my entire budget spend for the year”. I understand the reluctance to invest in a (seemingly) costly data hub, but the initial exasperation is often a result of an inefficient sales engagement.
Vendors spend hours and dollars coming up with a value prop, web site, sales deck, elevator pitch, to name a few, believing that these are the keys to success. ‘Just let me get my 40 page PowerPoint in front of a prospect and they will genuflect once I am done’ is a common thought.
As one of the great minds in Sales, Jeff Thull says, “Rightly or wrongly, customers dismiss value propositions as empty words. When they hear them, they shrug their shoulders and think, so what? You and who else? Every one of your competitors say they have a high quality solution…but what’s that got to do with me’.
In some cases, these presentations work, but they take time, and enough of them need to be pursued so that a certain percentage turn into sales. Yet there’s an unspoken message here: Sales knows better than the client does, the client must be doing something wrong, and everyone has the same issues so my product is the right fit.
I liken it to Present, Demo, Proposal, Hound process. The seller talks about themselves in the presentation, during a demo they show how great their product is, then they deliver a proposal that recaps said greatness. When they don’t hear from you, they knock on your door to remind you of their greatness and why you should be working with them. How do I know this? Because I have followed this process in the past.
Of course, I exaggerate to a degree, but any vendor that focuses primarily on its capabilities and not understanding the prospect in-depth and what makes their situation unique is bound to have a hard time differentiating itself. Likewise, any buyer that relies on this process as a means to evaluate vendors is going to struggle to identify key differences between solutions and possibly make a flawed decision.
Process, Questions & Trust
So how can the sales help deliver differentiation and ROI? First, it begins with the sales approach—an approach that 1) makes no upfront assumptions that the seller and the buyer are a match made in heaven when starting out 2) is focused on understanding a buyer’s current business and what works and what doesn’t and 3) and this is a big one, identifies the cost of their existing problem as well as their future state.
Too often, we neglect to put a cost on the different parts of a process that make up the overall problem we are looking to solve. Yet, without the cost of the problem, the incentive to change becomes muted at best. Moreover, with so many projects vying for limited capital, the lack of a detailed and believable cost of the problem will lead to slow or no adoption.
Questions drive the conversation
I am a firm believer that you will earn greater credibility through the questions you ask than from the stories you tell.
I recently recall a vendor talking at a conference about how their client came to them and informed them they were saving $2MM in print per year. Definitely good news, but what if the seller had uncovered that during the sales process by asking better questions. Imagine how much easier and faster it would have been to get the green light and deliver results to the client.
That is the beauty of staying curious and asking great questions. It uncovers hidden or “forgotten” issues, illuminates how they ripple into other areas, and if you are disciplined enough to stay on the path, shines a light on the consequences both from a productivity and cost perspective.
Our most productive and inspirational meetings with clients and prospects are when we are delving into their world and helping them understand their current and desired state. The only way that happens is through high quality, thought provoking questions that focus on the client.
Trust creates a collaborative environment
To put it another way, both sellers and buyers should be asking, “is this the best relationship to deliver or receive value”?
The seller must convey through word and deed that they have the best interest of the buyer at heart. For example, if it’s determined that they can’t deliver enough cost savings, they make it known to the buyer so together they can make a decision if they should proceed further. Sounds easy but in reality it is hard to do.
However, when trust is established from the beginning everyone is more relaxed and willing to share information around processes and cost because they know it will not be used against them. To the contrary, it is in their best interest since when more information is shared better decisions are made and more value is created for both sides.
But only if it is created every step of the way.
Bringing it together
The sales team that put these principles into action will not have a problem with differentiation because the process serves as a differentiator in and of itself. It’s literally palpable to the buyer. Moreover, all the great features of a platform will be discussed within the right context due to in-depth understanding of the buyer’s business. Allowing them to shine much brighter than when presented in a standard demo.
Coupled with an unwavering focus on working together to apply costs to the problem (which are typically financial but don’t have to be) and you have the basis for a realistic ROI calculation that will be grounded in reality and will serve as a basis for sound decision making and provide KPIs to measure and ensure value delivery.
Let’s talk about how MarTech will impact your business.
 Excerpted from Exceptional Selling by Jeff Thull.