In a recent Harvard Business Review article, one of the most respected names in technology marketing and strategies, Geoffrey Moore (Crossing the Chasm) discussed how diagnostic and benchmarking sales techniques can be used, particularly during a downturn, to help engage executives, open up new opportunities and unfreeze previously stuck sales processes.
Moore describes the bad news facing B2B solution providers:
Geoffrey Moore confirms simply that what we have termed Frugalnomics is in full effect.
The good news, is that savvy marketers and sales enablement groups have found a way to succeed in this tough environment, using a best practice approach coined Provocation-Based Selling - using diagnostic assessments and benchmarks to reach their customers' resource owners and motivate them to allocate the necessary funds, persuading customers that the solutions they bring to the table are not just nice, but essential.
Frugalnomics Changes Everything
As many of us have already realized, two economic firestorms in the past decade have fundamentally changed B2B buyers - making them more empowered, skeptical and frugal than ever before. And this is not just a temporary change. As we saw in technology bubble-burst, even when the economy recovered, technology sales and marketing was never the same.
There is a cold hard fact: the old selling approaches don't work well in today's environment:
According to Mr. Moore "Whereas solution-selling listen for "pain points" that the customer can clearly articulate, provocation works best when it outlines a problem that the customer is experiencing but has not yet put a name to."
Fight Frugalnomics with Provocation-Based Selling
Provocation-Based Selling works best in the earliest stages of the buying cycle, where it is currently easier for the buyer to avoid spending precious budget dollars and new project risk. Provocation-Based Selling helps to loosen the "status-quo", by making the buyer aware that there is a cost-of-doing-nothing, helping to proactively and holistically:
1. Illuminate issues of which they might not have been aware,
2. Confirm the symptoms they were aware of, but could not easily put a name on,
3. Lodge you Provocation - The delivery of the program and presentation of results is an important aspect of the provocative selling method.
For marketers, the diagnostics can be used as the centerpiece of engagement campaigns, offering a free assessment to respondents, and a part of the offer may go like this: "We've worked with companies in your peer group and have seen how the leading players are experiencing this painful problem. We think it's possible that your company is at risk in this area as well."
For sales professionals, the provocation engagement and presentation are vitally important. The engagement needs to be a facilitative discovery process and not a confrontation or a sales pitch, helping the customer to uncover the issues that might be preventing them from reaching their goals and helping them realize that change would "do them good". According to Mr. Moore, "The goal is to disturb the executive's equilibrium—and make the status quo untenable—without putting him or her on the defensive. Presenting specific, well-supported concerns and remedies in a forthright manner keeps the focus on business performance for an executive who is accountable for it."
Provocation-Based Selling Examples
So what do provocation-based assessment programs look like? Having pioneered the development of tools and methodologies with several major B2B vendors over the past ten years, we present a couple of representative provocation-based selling campaign examples:
Microsoft Infrastructure Optimization Assessment
Microsoft wanted to find a better way to engage with decision makers for core IT infrastructure, business productivity, and application development, but was having trouble moving its enterprise sales group and channel partners from the traditional product / solution presentations.
To address this opportunity, Alinean developed a suite of Microsoft Infrastructure Optimization Assessment tools, which are used to diagnose customer's most pressing issues, and help them advance along a four step capability & maturity model. The suite consists of three assessment tools to engage at a strategic level with core IT infrastructure, business productivity and application lifecycle development decision makers. The tool is available on-line, so customers can assess themselves directly, but is most often used in consultative sales-led workshops, promoted by marketing via direct e-mail campaigns, offering a free insightful IT, business or application development assessment.
With a comprehensive survey of 60 practices questions, the tool analyzes responses against a dynamic and growing database of other participants, and a capability & maturity best practices model, helping the customer benchmark their performance to confirm where they are performing well, or identify where they are falling behind best practice leaders and peers and need improvement.
The assessment tool automates the benchmark comparisons, scoring and intelligent recommendations, delivering a compelling 20+ page assessment report. In a tough selling environment, the tool has helped Microsoft and its channel partners proactively engage customers, collaboratively set customer goals and strategies, help deliver tangible savings and incremental value to customers, while allocating discretionary budget to Microsoft proposed projects.
The assessment tool has been available since 2008 and has been fueling direct marketing programs by Microsoft and channel partners. The tool consistently generates more than 600 analyses per month, driving more high level customer engagements, significant evolution of Microsoft's relationship with clients from tactical to strategic, and generating substantial multi-million dollar incremental sales opportunities.
Trend Micro Risk and Compliance Assessment
Trend Micro wanted to help busy security officers and IT managers quickly and easily understand and assess their security and compliance management policy shortfalls and risks. To address this need, Alinean created the Trend Micro Risk and Compliance Assessment tool, designed to benchmark a company's current security risk and compliance practices versus peers and best practice leaders.
From a 20 question survey, the risk and compliance assessment tool collects current management practices information. These responses are compared to prior responses from peers and a best practice framework, to confirm which practices are already in place, help illuminate which practices are missing or less than adequate, and develop a roadmap to help reduce risks and improve security and compliance management capability and maturity. A comprehensive 20+ page assessment report is delivered to the customer to help frame the issues they are facing, create urgency that doing nothing is too risky / costly, and provide a consultative and justified guide to improvements.
Available directly to customers for self-assessment, the on-line tool is the focus of e-mail and on-line / social media campaigns, offering a diagnostic assessment to entice security and compliance officers and stakeholders. The tool has been used to capture hundreds of incremental / high quality leads per month, driving incremental higher level customer engagements and hundreds of additional sales opportunities in a tough selling environment.
Sage Pacer Survey
With cost control and justification being a focus for most executives, most organizations are often wary to make a change unless they know that doing-nothing actually has a cost and justifies the necessary investment for change.
Leading business management software provider Sage understood that prospects needed some real diagnostic advice to help them assess and identify current business issues they may not have been aware of, and justify important changes.
Alinean worked with Sage to develop the Pacer Survey, an on-line tool that uses a 20 question survey to collect important information about the current state of the prospects' business, and benchmarks the responses against peers and leaders. From this comparison, the tool helps identify potential improvements and consultatively recommends / promotes improvements and remedies utilizing Sage's solutions and other best practices.
Using the tool to self-diagnose their issues, or in a sales-led workshop, the tool delivers a 20+ page personalized diagnostic assessment reports. Sage successfully uses the tool to connect and engage higher in prospect organizations, drive more, higher quality leads, realize additional sales opportunities that it would not have otherwise.
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