How To Improve Pipeline Performance Using Knowledge Marketing


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BrainRider’s new e-book on how to look at your business through the eyes of your prospects to see your pipeline in a fresh new way. This free e-book also contains a content matrix you can use to plan your own knowledge sharing program, and begin to build stronger and more profitable B2B customer relationships.

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How To Improve Pipeline Performance Using Knowledge Marketing

  1. 1. BrainRider Knowledge Marketing Group How to improve pipeline performance using knowledge marketing © BrainRider Inc. 2010
  2. 2. S omewhere, pipelines are mighty conduits of commerce. They not only work, they work beautifully. Everyone who enters always buys. No one who enters ever leaves. Savvy marketers happily entice multitudes of prospects through the pipeline and into the open arms of talented salespeople adept at converting them into customers. If that’s the way things are at your place of business, dear reader, you’re safe to move on. Go celebrate your good fortune with your co-workers. This little book of musings is not for you. You’ve got it made. As for the rest of us, who work to woo and win customers in the real world of business, where things sometimes go wrong not because they can, but because they simply must… well, devoting a few minutes to pondering the contents herein might just be the most profitable thing you do today. 1
  3. 3. W e’re going to tell you how to know when it’s time to call a plumber. A swashbuckling, honest to goodness pipeline fixer. That would be us. And that’s the only selling you’ll get from us here. This is hereby a non-selling zone. If you’re having trouble with your marketing and sales, it could be the result of a broken pipeline. Your prospects aren’t flowing through it the way you’d like. Most importantly, they aren’t becoming customers. Not enough of them are buying what you’re selling. We’re here to help you get your pipeline flowing and create more customers. You’ll do it by figuring out what your prospects want to know at each stage of the pre-purchase cycle. And then you’ll simply share it with them. We’ll even give you the content matrix you’ll need to make it happen. If that sounds useful, read on. 2
  4. 4. I t’s unrealistic to assume that someone who needs what you sell is going to pick up the phone and call you the instant he realizes his need. Whether you’re selling pizzas or mainframes, people are going to take a while to make the decision to purchase from you. While they’re deciding, you might not even know they’re out there. If they’re operating off your radar, you’re much more likely to lose them. That’s because you aren’t building any sort of relationship with them while they’re comparing you with your competitors. They might have only a sketchy idea of who you are, or what your products or services can do for them. If someone is in your pipeline, you need to know it. Even better, you need to know who they are, and what they want to know. To learn that, you need marketing automation and lead generation tools. 3
  5. 5. I t often happens that a prospect enters your pipeline, then gets bogged down or sidetracked. We all live in the real world, and stuff happens. Attention wanders. Other priorities suddenly arise. Your competitors make inroads. Your would-be buyer wanders off the purchasing path to take the scenic route. [There aren’t a lot of straight lines in nature.] Perfectly understandable. But certainly unacceptable, if your goal is to sell more products or services. 4
  6. 6. T his devious fellow is all too common. He enters your pipeline, tells you who he is, then turns out to be someone else entirely. You ask him for an email address too early, or too often. You make him jump through annoying hoops to find what he wants. He refuses to play along and gives you a false identity. Harmless, really. Maybe he fills out a form on your website so he can download your latest deck of brilliance. But he doesn’t trust you much, or he’s in a hurry, or he wants his anonymity so your sales team can’t pounce. So he types in his business email address as Tough sell. 5
  7. 7. O nce a prospect is in your pipeline, he needs regular nourishment. Sort of like watering a rare and delicate plant. Do give him the knowledge he seeks. Don’t waste his time. Never give him useless information: he might bail out. Grow the relationship like a peony. [‘Peony’ is a name for plants in the genus Paeonia, the only genus in the flowering plant family Paeoniaceae. That, friend, is the kind of useless information we’re talking about. Try to avoid it.] 6
  8. 8. T his one hurts, because you’ve given a lot of time and attention to this guy. Your prospect has been merrily advancing through your pipeline. Everything is proceeding smoothly. You know who he is, you know what he wants, and you know when he wants it. You know how much money he has, and what he wants to spend it on. But just when he’s about to sign on the dotted line, it’s a no go. Maybe he’s a tire-kicker or window shopper who never really had a serious intent to purchase. Maybe he was mis-profiled somewhere along the line. Maybe he was trying to negotiate a discount from you so he could leverage it for a better discount from someone else. Maybe the pre-sales relationship you thought you were forging was built on a foundation of shifting sand. Ouch. 7
  9. 9. P eople buy things because they have problems they want to solve. Classic marketing says we don’t buy a drill bit so we can make holes in our walls. We buy it because we want to hang a picture on a fancy hook that requires a nice little hole. If your potential target doesn’t see your product or service as a solution to a problem, maybe it’s because he doesn’t even know he has a problem that needs a solution of any kind. Perhaps he’s framing his situation in a way you haven’t worked hard enough to understand. Or maybe he is a Do It Yourself type who has no intention of buying a third-party solution like yours. Whatever the reason, he’s not coming into your pipeline, at least not without some special encouragement. This guy needs fancy wooing. 8
  10. 10. Happy benefits of a healthy pipeline L et’s pause and consider the positive side of things for a moment. What benefits will you enjoy from having a well- managed pipeline that delivers nicely qualified leads? • Less wasted money on inefficient pipeline remedies, quick fixes and one-off untested solutions. • Stronger referrals from clients who respect your sales process. • More trusted company and brand makes selling easier. • Higher close rate because your sales team can spend less time on dead ends and direct their efforts toward qualified, receptive and educated leads. • A steady flow of sales lets you prepare better forecasts. • Less energy spent chasing new clients means more time available for servicing and up-selling existing clients. • This last one is a good one: Happier customers, a happier sales team, more sales, higher revenues. Oh yes. 9
  11. 11. T hey need information about ways to solve their problem. There are things they want to know about your company. About your products and services. And a whole lot more. So, exactly where are they looking for information before they buy? Well, they’re only human, just like you. So ask yourself, where do you look? [By the way, this is an undervalued trick. Every day, spend some time putting yourself in your prospect’s shoes. Look at your business and your marketspace through his or her eyes. From that perspective, what do you want to know? Not just right now, but at every stage of the pre-purchase process?] So let’s role play a bit. Imagine you’re in control of a purchasing budget. Your CEO wants you to spend it to increase productivity. 10
  12. 12. Stage 1: Defining requirements • Prospects are casting a wide net, and may or may not have an idea of what the solution will be. • The information-seeking has a broad focus using more generic, high level search engine terms and keywords: “How to increase productivity?” • They may be seeking assistance with definition, scope, and internal buy-in. Chances are, when you’re researching a purchase, you begin by asking people you know. You might do that over lunch. “Hey, Bob, we’re going to be spending some money to try to increase our productivity in the next six months. I know you guys did that last year. What sort of things did you do? Was it worth it? How did you justify it in your budget?” Notice how general your goals and questions are. There’s plenty 11
  13. 13. of time to get specific later. You’ll also ask questions like that in online communities. Facebook and Twitter are perfect for asking friends and followers for recommendations and information. Of course, there’s another place people go for information. Thank goodness for search engines like Google, Yahoo and Bing. They are a ready conduit for pre-purchase information. And they let companies like ours, and yours, track and measure search behavior to learn what people want to know. At this first stage of the purchase cycle, word of mouth recommendations are important, because we trust the source of the opinion or information. To be blunt, your potential buyers trust their friends and colleagues more than they trust your company. But don’t worry: there are things you can do to build trust. Sharing what you know is one of them. Be open and transparent. 12
  14. 14. Find out what your prospects want to know at every stage of the purchase cycle. Then give it to them. Stage 2: Gathering information • Prospects are searching for available options that will meet their requirements. • Keywords and search terms will be more specific and may start to reflect solution alternatives or categories: “increase productivity new office chairs vs computer upgrades”. • Their goal is developing a short list of viable alternatives. You’re having lunch with Bob again. Some time has passed since the last one, and you’ve been busy in the meantime reading blogs and e-newsletters about how to increase productivity. You’ve listened to a few podcasts and watched some videos online. And Bob has tapped into his network to give you access to some of his 13
  15. 15. friends and associates to gather more data and opinions. You’ve heard that there are a couple of interesting ways to achieve your goals, and you need to drill down and get some specifics. What will it be? New office furniture? You read a whitepaper by some productivity guru who says comfortable chairs let people work longer and smarter. Or should you use your budget on faster computers to save time and aggravation? Or maybe all-staff teamwork training seminars, to ‘leverage synergies’? (Whatever the heck that means.) After you’ve gathered your information, you have a huddle with some of the department heads. You tell them you’ve been doing research and you found out new computers are not affordable this year. After a lot of internal debate, someone mentions that he heard the CEO complaining about his bad back last month. So the group cleverly decides it would be smart to go with the comfortable office chairs instead of the teamwork seminars. Sure, 14
  16. 16. that’s messy justification, but that’s the way business works. So you go away and dive deep into the world of office furniture. Stage 3: Evaluating alternatives • Prospects are looking for information specific to how a solution alternative will work in their context. • They are seeking comparisons between short-listed alternatives, peer reviews, referrals and experiences. You discover that there are six big and well-respected manufacturers in the field. You go online and tap into your networks to make some comparisons. Which supplier has the best reputation for quality? Service? Durability? Comfort? Price? You visit their websites and immediately eliminate one of the manufacturers. Their site looks like it was done in 1997 and has never been updated. The guy in the stock photo on the home 15
  17. 17. page looks like Benjamin Franklin. (Wait a minute. It is Benjamin Franklin.) The second manufacturer’s website offers a brochure for free download. You grab it and leave. They didn’t ask for your email address, so they’ll never even know you were there. The third manufacturer looks good at first, but later you read some strange posts about them on Twitter. They don’t manage their reputation online, so rumors are spreading like wildfire. Someone claims that he heard a guy in Nebraska has been stuck in one of their chairs for three weeks and can’t get out. You cross them off your list. The remaining three manufacturers seem okay. You fill out a form and download some more material from each of them. You get busy at work and three months go by. Your CEO takes some of the managers out to play golf. He shoot 74 and never complains about his bad back at all. Hmmm. You start 16
  18. 18. wondering again about buying teamwork training seminars to increase productivity, instead of spending your budget on comfortable chairs. Funny thing though. You remember that one of the manufacturers sent you a link after you downloaded their brochures from their website a while back. The link took you to an e-book they wrote. It looked interesting, so you happily gave them a bit more information about yourself—job title, size of company, purchase time frame, that sort of thing—and read all about how their chairs helped a company just like yours be more productive. A month later, they sent you a nice thank you note and another link. You gave them some more information about your company in exchange for viewing a video about the durability of their chairs. In the video, a monkey was trying to break an office chair and he couldn’t do it. After awhile he got tired and sat in the chair and spun it around. It reminded you of your boss. It was pretty funny, so you emailed the video link to a dozen of 17
  19. 19. your friends. Then you noticed that 457,000 people had already viewed the video on YouTube. So now you go back to their website and give them permission to contact you directly to talk about their chairs. A week later, you have a pleasant chat with a salesperson and she gives you some more good information. Meanwhile, you get an email from one of the other manufacturers, offering you a 15% discount if you order 500 chairs by this Friday. This is the first you’ve heard from them, and you’re not quite sure you can trust them. Who are these guys, anyway? The photo model in the chair looks a lot like Benjamin Franklin. The fiscal year is ending soon, and you’re under pressure to talk to the buying committee about what you’ve learned, and take a recommendation to the CEO for sign-off. What’s it going to be? The last-ditch discount? Or the manufacturer who has been helping you do your research for months by sending links to useful information? 18
  20. 20. Stage 4: Final decision • Prospects have a solid understanding of how each alternative measures up and the decision maker is trying to get comfortable with committing to one of the alternatives. • They are managing questions from various stakeholders. After a few weeks of back and forth, during which the helpful manufacturer sends some custom information requested by your IT department, which has a special need for smooth rolling chair casters, your CEO says cost is important, but cost alone can’t drive the decision. He tells you to go with the helpful supplier. “Business is about relationships,” he says. “It’s about trust. Those guys get it. They know what they’re doing.” 19
  21. 21. OK, your role playing is over. You’re not thinking like the chair buyer now. You’re back to being ‘you’. W hat kind of knowledge should your company share to develop a relationship with prospects in your pipeline? • Research (choose and compile data e.g. price, product lines, surveys) • Market Intelligence (e.g. benchmarking survey, size of market) • 101 basic education, glossaries, and classes • Product tours and overviews • ‘News you can use’ 20
  22. 22. • Backstage pass: gain halo from a big event • Success stories and case studies • Personality-driven: use someone who is knowledgeable about your market and brand • Thought leadership • Q&A • Company & product info • How to • Top 10 lists • Gap assessment • Needs assessment • ROI & Biz case Deciding what to share is the first step to successfully nourishing your pipeline. You also have to segment your target so that people receive exactly the information they’re looking for. And if that isn’t enough, you have to share it with them at the right time. Which depends upon where they are in the pipeline. 21
  23. 23. Remember, we outlined four stages of the purchase cycle in our chair-buying exercise earlier. On the next page, there’s a Pipeline Knowledge-Sharing Content Matrix you can use (black boxes require no content). Thanks for taking the time to read our little eBook. If there’s something you want to know, just ask. We’re all about sharing knowledge. 22
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  25. 25. BrainRider Knowledge Marketing Group is an agile company whose partners bring deep experience working with B2B and B2C marketers at Fortune 500 clients, mid-sized firms and entrepreneurial start-ups in technology, telecommunications, ecommerce, financial services, professional services, automotive, food and beverages, pharmaceuticals and packaged goods. 24