Gartner: Successful Sales and Marketing in the Empowered Customer Era

Vala Afshar

Chief Digital Evangelist


Selling to people who actually want to hear from you is more effective than interrupting strangers who don't.

--Seth Godin

Tiffani Bova is a vice president and distinguished analyst at Gartner and one of the top enterprise technology sales analysts in the world and an authority on the topic of sales transformation. Bova spends 100% of her time looking at how technology providers bring their products to market - how they sell, position, leverage third parties and re-sellers, grow and scale their businesses globally. Bova is helping companies improve their effectiveness and efficiency of their sales models and motions.

Tiffani Bova - Vice President Distinguished Analyst, Gartner

Below is an interview summary with Bova covering numerous sales and marketing topics focused on sales innovation, sales technologies - CRM, social media and mobile - importance of buyer personas and segmentation principles and the critical need for businesses to better align their sales and marketing organizations.

How can technology companies drive sales?

Bova believes that some technology companies have forgotten who they are selling to - the customer identity and persona. To drive more sales, companies need to understand who the buyer is, their pain points, and the things that will resonate with them from a value proposition and product perspective.

"If we get back to remembering who the customers are, and then re-segmenting the marketplace more intelligently around the new buyer personas and new expectations, it would go a long way to at least improve some of the performance declines in sales performance," said Bova.

What is a buyer persona?

Bova acknowledges that there are numerous definitions of 'buyer persona' but speaking as a sales person, the buyer persona answers the following questions:

  • Who is my target customer?
  • What is my customer looking for?
  • A region and segment persona or a buyers journey persona?
  • Aggressive, mainstream or laggard buyer of technology?

Bova said:

There's so many ways to build out personas. The first step is determining as any organization, what does your customer look like? Who is it that you are targeting? If you answer, anybody, everyone, we know that starts to lose its effectiveness in the field. Especially at what I like to call the moment of truth, which is the sales rep in front of a customer.

As a minimum, regardless of how you define persona, let's make sure you have 2-5 kinds of customers you are going to go after.

As you get bigger, the number of personas may get longer, but if you're smaller have one. Your buyers can be an IT manager, someone who manages servers and storage, a networking manager, procurement, marketing, HR, or finance. You just have to understand who you're targeting before you could ever imagine selling them something.

What do salespeople need to be effective?

Having generalist salespeople, who have been very successful over decades selling all kinds of technology, doesn't mean that it will resonate with this new customer that's far more informed and looking for and interested in things that resonate with them.

To succeed in sales means having industry expertise, the right skill-set, and then making sure that you give the sellers the right tools to be successful. There is an overwhelming flood of tools being put in the hands of salespeople, and it's starting to confuse them on what's the best way to approach an account.

What challenges do enterprise vendors face when they're trying to increase sales?

The biggest issue for tech vendors today is many of them are in their own transition. Some of them are going from being strictly an on premise kind of technology company, to now embracing the cloud more and more, which means they're moving towards becoming hybrid.

With that comes all kinds of challenges from a product and R&D, an organization, a cost of goods sold, SG&A, all those things are impacted. And the last mile, I like to say is the sales rep and some have even said the first mile because it's in the first conversation with the customer. That doesn't necessarily mean that they have the individual sales rep has been privy to all the things happening above them.

As organizations are transitioning themselves, don't forget about your sales force. Don't forget about the people who are in the front-line and in front of your customers and make sure they are empowered and enabled to be successful with the new kinds of products and services you're bringing to market.

Bova believes that the gap between strategy and execution is widening. Bova argues that this is the most disruptive time we've seen in technology in many decades. Sales organizations must be able to succinctly and accurately share stories during the moment of truth - when they are standing in front of customers.

What are the challenges that face channel partners and resellers?

In some organizations, you can look at the Microsoft's and Cisco's of the world, where they have an overwhelmingly percentage of their revenues generated by third parties. Most people don't really realize all the things those partners do, from driving demand, to selling, to supporting, to implementing and providing ongoing touch throughout the lifespan of that particular technology deployment happens in the hands of these third parties.

When you look back at what enterprise technology companies are trying to accomplish, and even very small guys, when they look to scale or to enter new markets, they want to leverage people who have customer relationships already established. They have industry vertical and geography expertise.

The fastest way to find that is in partners who already entail those kinds of capabilities already, versus trying to scale it up on your own. The unsung heroes of the technology industry and enabling many many providers to have successful growth.

What can technology vendors do to create better relationships with their customers?

Customer experience is going to be the new battleground. Experience at the time of the customer engages with your brand, experiences your product or your service, and what they think of that engagement has long-term implications to your company.

Buyers are now reaching out to their trusted network before they ever end up coming to a provider or to a brand. And so within that trusted network, you want a whole lot of really great advocates about your brand. And the way that happens is when those customers actually have fantastic experience with your company, and they become your brand advocates out in the marketplace unknown to you. Not something you plan or schedule, it just happens organically.

Everybody is trying to position themselves as having a better experience. Digital marketers and sales team have to come together to really holistically think about the overall experience a customer will have at every touch with your brand.

What is the empowered consumer?

The empowered consumer is all of us! As buyers in our personal life we behave a certain way. We look online for things we want to buy. We ask our friends about what they think. We may go to show rooming and look at a physical store at something that we want to buy, and we might come home and we shop. And that behavior we have in our empowered consumer life is starting to transition and translate itself from B2C over to B2B.

When you think about that behavior in B2B, what's different for us is the fact that we aren't used to customers having this much power during the selling journey. They're much more informed. They're much further down the buying process before they ever reach out.

The empowered consumer is all of us, that now transfer those kinds of buying experiences and buying triggers, and things that we value in our personal life, transitioning over to what we do in our professional life when we're consuming from a B2B perspective.

How should technology vendors sell in this age of the empowered consumer?

Bova believes that the sales force of the future must be: customer sales driven, engaged across multiple channels and able to use segmentation analysis and processes to execute with precision and speed.

  1. Customer-drive sales: The sales force of the future is going to be a customer driven sales organization - customers begin their journey the way they want to buy, number one.
  2. Multi-channel engagement: We receive customers in the means or the channel in which they want to engage - online, face-to-face, inside salesperson, chat, video - what is it in the way that they want to engage.
  3. Buyer journey segmentation -
  • Scenario 1: 'I know what I want, I'm ready to buy'. And that's kind of obvious, salespeople get out of the way.
  • Scenario 2: 'I'm ready to buy, but I want to shop, and while I may be familiar with your brand, I may be an existing customer'. In the first scenario the risk was fairly low. You knew that they were going to buy. In the second one, the risk gets a little higher because they are going to shop for you on price, service, features, and consumption models.
  • Scenario 3: 'I know I have a problem, but I don't know how to solve it'. That's very different than the first two. How are you actually going to engage the customer when they know they have a problem, but they don't know how to solve it, is not something you can do in a low touch model, which those other two may be easier to do in a digital low touch model.
  • Scenario 4: 'I'm a customer who doesn't know I have a problem and so I'm not looking to solve it'. This is a very different proposition from a salesperson's perspective - longer sales cycle, higher risk, they may never buy. It might be a nice to have, not a need to have. And so we try to define it in four easy categories, to really help sales leaders and marketing leaders understand that regardless of the persona, the market, this segment, the industry, the kind of technologies, the complexity, and the average selling price. Try to get to the commonality across all of those different metrics and land on something that is actually digestible for a sales leader with this rapid change that's happening.

Once you have a more empowered buyer, and experience is important in making brand decisions, you have got to land on something that you can action.

How can new technology and innovation increase sales?

Bova believes that sales and marketing leaders cannot look at truly new innovation in products and services with the same lens, metrics and go-to-market methods and models of the past.

You really have to be willing to look at it with a fresh eye. If you're going to launch something that is truly innovative, don't just re-purpose what has always worked and expect it to continue to work. You really need to say, is this moment in time where we can try to innovate on the way we position our brand.

The way that we market a message to our customers, the way we up sell and cross sell to existing customers, the way that we organize and sell and reward, and provide incentive to our sales force.

If you're truly innovating at the product level, you have to truly think about innovating across the remainder of your organization. If you just do it in isolation, it may in fact fall flat. The customer may never understand it's truly innovative and that would be a shame on all accounts, especially from a product perspective.

What is the optimal relationship between sales, product development, and marketing?

Outside of tech you see a lot more synergy between the Chief Marketing Officer and Chief Revenue or Chief Sales Officer. It may even be that they have a similar reporting relationship, one may report to the other, they may be peers, they may be on the same team etc. and inside tech that isn't really the case.

Inside the tech industry, marketing is really working hard to transition themselves to being much more valuable beyond 'delivering leads'. It's about delivering quality leads and being better at segmentation, and smarter with the customer journey.

In the tech industry, Bova believes there's a lot of room for improvement in the hand-off between marketing and sales, and the hand-off between sales and marketing.

That intersection point now can be improved with technology and the usage of technology, and data. But the trick there is, you have to use the data and you have to use the tools. And then you have to be willing to trust what the data tells you.

The problem has always been that sales felt marketing wasn't giving what they needed, and marketing felt sales wasn't following through on what they were doing. And so the biggest thing for me is trusting the process, and making sure that hand-off is seamless and valuable on both sides.

What is the difference between customer engagement and CRM?

Bova believes that customer engagement and customer experience is the new competitive differentiator and really the new battleground for businesses. She also notes that CRM is a tool that can enable both sales and marketing to be smarter about the engagement with their customers.

Bova recommends that companies must make sure that they are capturing the digital breadcrumbs along the buyer's journey. This means businesses must utilize the information they have about the buyer behavior and being smarter about how they sell. They need to leverage business intelligence to optimize the moment of truth - when the seller is front of the buyer.

CRM is highly critical to making the customer experience more impactful. The goal is to have brand advocates.

It isn't always about obtaining customers and attracting customers, it's about getting advocates. It's about getting people to love their experience with your products, service, and your brand.

CRM and PRM - Customer Relationship Management and Partner Relationship Management - are critical, but if your sales reps aren't using it and it isn't populated with relevant information about the buyer before the sales rep ever picks up the phone, then having CRM for the sake of saying you have it and checking of the box doesn't do anybody any good.

What are the components of a successful customer engagement strategy?

Bova simplifies the goals of a successful customer engagement strategy into two parts:

  1. A happy customer that buys something from you.
  2. A happy customer who wants to tell other people that they really enjoyed working with you and your brand, your products, your service and that they achieve business success as a result of the partnership.
  3. Success is when the customer gets what they need in using your technology, your service, your product in order to extend their capabilities with their customers.

Technology providers forget sometimes that it's our job as tech providers to make sure that our customers are successful with their customers. And so the advocacy, the enablement, the great customer experience etc. has to work itself all the way down to your customer's customer.

The metric of success is a combination of customer satisfaction, lifetime value metrics, your revenue and growth numbers, and really your ability to just continue to add value to your customer's businesses.

What is the role of social media in customer engagement?

As I'm sure you can imagine, I get approached a lot and social selling you know whether it be a cold email, or a tweet or something on LinkedIn, and if I have time sometimes I will reply back to those emails and say you know, before you try to help me with my sales strategy you may want to actually look that I'm probably not the right person to solicit helping me with my sales strategy, right? Which means you didn't spend 15 seconds on my LinkedIn profile, or you didn't do any searches on me at all. Once again, going back to you don't know your customer.

This failure is really starting to show itself that if you are lazy off-line as a sales rep, you cannot be lazy online because now you have the ability to reach so many more people so much quicker with such greater scale.

Social selling is another tool in the bag of a sales rep to be used appropriately, at the right time, with the right set of content that you're going to be delivering. But just sort of mass emailing to a list that puts my first name in a canned email, I mean really, with the amount of data going back to CRM that we all now have about customers that's really just shameful. To me it's just laziness on the part of the sales rep.

What should vendors know about the unique requirements of mobile salespeople?

Mobile is another usage of social. The availability of information and quoting in real time in front of a customer is really fantastic. You could in some cases in real-time give them information and you can find out enormous amounts of information about a customer when you are sitting in front of them.

You could get really creative with the kinds of ways in which you use the mobile device during the selling process - a demo, a presentation, a video.

Tools are effective when used appropriately, and that the sales rep is smart about when and how they use them. Checking it off a box, a tick box for the linear process of selling, because that's what your CRM system tells you to do next, leaves out the most critical part of the equation which is the customer.
It's about the customer and you have to help them make the right decisions, and I think mobile and the tools around mobile are really critical to doing that especially in the face-to-face selling.

You can watch the full interview with Tiffani Bova here. Please join me and Michael Krigsman every Friday at 3PM EST as we host CXOTalk - connecting with thought leaders and innovative executives who are pushing the boundaries within their companies and their fields.

Aug 16, 2015