What are your Barriers to Sales?: Webinar Transcript


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Susan: I’m Susan Milne I am holding down the creative end for Epiphany. My career began in New York and I worked for a lot of big brands and I noticed that when you work for Coca-Cola you can try a $250,000 spot and if it works it works, if it doesn’t it doesn’t, and that made me really gravitate towards getting very focused on a specific niche and creating marketing that is measurable. 

Kenya: I am Kenya I work with our clients on the strategy and business piece. I was trained as an architect and did some retail design and transitioned into marketing and advertising and really enjoy having the perspective of a former specifier and someone who is very passionate about the power of marketing. 

Often when we think about the issues that impact sales we focus on those external things; whether that’s a competitor in the market, or for some of our clients weather is a big factor, economic downturns of course, and ultimately those are issues that we can’t actually control. There is value to putting our focus and time on the things inside our business that we can control. For the next half hour we’re going to get a little introspective and talk about the big obstacles that we see most frequently. 

Susan: And those obstacles usually start within as Kenya mentioned. 

Kenya: The first diagnosis that we sometimes give is that there are just some internal issues going on and the symptoms that lead us to identify that as a potential opportunity is we see lots of bottleneck where there might be one person or a team that is creating that bottleneck in the process. These are companies where there are always last minute decisions and things that are happening under a time crunch and unfortunately marketing is always the one who is left to make the beautiful product launch with very little time to plan and spare. When marketing is not at the table we see that often in these organizations the customer list is somewhat stagnant; a lot of the customer growth is coming from existing customers and frankly often there’s lots of turn over at these companies. 

Susan: One of the big insights that we takeaway always is to ask companies to audit their structure to determine if they’re set up to succeed. 

Kenya: When we work with a new client one of the things we ask for is their org chart. Our clients sometimes think that’s a weird thing to ask for because why would we care about how the operational product teams are organized when we’re here to work on social media or whatever but in truth it really matters a lot and the folks in marketing need knowledge experts throughout the organization and often the org chart tells us a lot. It tells us where the company is putting their attention and focus and from a functional standpoint that often tells why we’re faced with the challenges we are faced with. 

Susan: We’re going to look at a couple of scenarios that illustrate this. This is a company that it would appear from the outside to make a lot of sense if you make wood panels,  decorative surfaces, specialty products, and displays in furniture, you could add in flooring. If R&D was able to engineer some of the decorative surfaces or wood panels and now they become flooring it seems like a no brainer. Let’s add it to our product line. When in truth if we look at who is specifying this for them this is a complete disconnect. The way I look at it is you have a line that resonates in the specifiers mind as one way - it’s really surfaces - and these are things that get changed in and out all the time. Flooring is completely different. Flooring is something in the eyes of specifiers that you commit to once, it’s permanent. If we look at what a specifier says about flooring they really believe it’s a category unto itself, it’s a specialty, and perception is everything. If you’re selling decorative veneers which can easily be replaced all of a sudden you’re adding in a very heavy weight decision that requires a different type of consideration and in the specifiers mind that’s not a good fit. We always say it’s easier for a luxury brand to create a more down market product than it is for a down market product to create something that’s luxury. So Walmart is not going to start a line of luxury high end grocery stores. So that’s kind of the equivalent of what’s going on here. R&D developed this line of flooring, they say just add it to the brand and the designers will get it but there’s a disconnect, they don’t get it. 

Kenya: Another common example of marketing decisions being made without an expert and no real strategy is with social media and this is a tactic that folks often think is easy and free and they jump in without a plan and it’s shocking that they can go for years and years literally continuing to post for very few followers, little engagement, and it reinforces a belief that marketing is a waste of time when in reality they just didn’t have a plan to begin with. 

Susan: When we look at internal issues they are people related, so what are the solutions? The first one is to kill the silos. Products can’t just be developed by engineers or the R&D team without the input of sales and marketing. There are three data points that have to work together, marketing is only as good as the data it receives so we want to make sure we have these three teams working together to bring a product to market. That can be a situation where we decide this is an outstanding product, does it fall under the brand umbrella, should it be co-branded, or should it be set apart? Even though we’re selling to the same audience does it make sense for it to all live under one brand name? The other thing is are we developing products and carefully considering how we are going to launch them? And of course silos often result in scheduling issues for teams left out of the loop and that really is a recipe for failure. 

Kenya: When we think about content development specifically often the person who works in marketing who might be tasked with writing the blog post may not be the person who really has the subject matter expertise in order to really be able to give the technical insight that specifiers are looking for so it really has to be a collaboration between those folks that might have the technical expertise but may not recognize what matters and what doesn’t which the marketing team does so it really has to be hand in hand. 

Susan: Some obvious ones (solutions) are fix the bottleneck. One of the things is that often times people are given the role of marketing but they’re not given the time to do it. They’re already at capacity and marketing is just this other thing. The next thing is this person may or may not have the decision making power needed and external partners like your web developer, your CRM partner, your SEO person, your agency - do they really have the expertise and does the person working with them have the decision power? That’s something we run into all the time. 

Kenya: We want to make sure that the marketing team has a seat at the table. A dynamic we see pretty frequently sometimes the person in marketing may have formerly been in HR, sometimes the person in marketing may be someone that has a director level role but is not really given a seat at the table, their expertise might be in another field that is more PR related, they may not have expertise in B2B so really having the right background and the authority to be a decision maker is important. 

And then we also want to emphasize the importance of insuring that sales is acting as sales. What we see is in companies where growth is really coming through existing channels and we’re continuing to leverage the same customers typically because of one of two things; either the sales team doesn’t have the capacity to turn their attention to growth which means there could be an opportunity to bring in someone more junior to support those existing clients, the other thing we see is that the sales team is just comfortable and what can we do to inspire those folks to go after something new. Do they actually have a list of dream clients that they’re going after? What are their goals in terms of finding new territories? 

Susan: The second big error we see companies make when they’re trying to grow sales is when it comes to marketing, they’re just guessing. Decisions are made without data, the marketing budget is arbitrary and seems like a waste and often gets put in to other areas on a whim and there are not real specifiers informing the decision process. We saw that in the flooring example. It’s really important to understand that if we go on data that just comes from R&D, just comes from sales, just comes from your CRM, if you’re only focused on one point of data your strategies are going to be off, you really need to use multiple sources. 

In this scenario we have a company that makes temporary barrier systems. These would be ideal for redoing an airport, hospital settings, they’re always redoing something. How can this company position it in a way that makes sense? 

Kenya: Often times there are lots of products that have come out more recently where there isn’t really a compelling point of benefit or differentiation. So as we think, how can we create something that’s leveraging the fact that there are labor shortages? It’s really compelling to put that message front and center in terms of saving on labor time, but the question really is, is this point of differentiation authentic, how real is it? That’s what the specifier is asking. This is not a sale that is a single decision maker, this is really a consensus sale so when the specifier decides to commit and specify a product in their drawings they are committing themselves to have to win that consensus. Architects are really frequently burned because they’re promised that “If you make the tiles bigger it’ll take less time to install them”, or “new building measures like ICF may save on construction costs.” But when those projects go out to bid the contractor’s not necessarily sold on absorbing that risk of something new so we have to ensure that if we’re making those promises we have the proof points to back it up. 

Susan: Another thing that we find is that often companies have a huge investment in getting it right for the sample library. It takes up so much time and they really need to take a really good look at how they can best optimize this process to make sure that it works in the library and is on point. Here is a binder that is actually falling apart in the library - it was not engineered to properly hold the samples. That binder was created in a very myopic way. If you go in to architectural firms’ libraries you will see that the wood flooring is pulled out the boxes, pulled out of the binders, and put in to these clear plastic bins. There’s not a library left that is really focusing on using these types of binders anymore. This binder that was so costly, it represents a huge part of the marketing budget, it’s crucial to the sales team, and yet this is the reality. So how was this decision made?

Here’s another example of attending a trade show - this is a photo from BDNY which is Boutique Design New York, it is a fantastic show, it is actually a show I would call glittering, it has more of a club atmosphere, everybody is dressed to look really sharp, most of the booths offer champagne, they have music, it’s really exciting. Here someone (we’ve blocked out their name - it was written with a pen on a piece of paper taped up) but they decided to spend the money to attend the show in New York, they get a booth they travel there, the product line that they’re carrying really falls under OS&E not FF&E so it’s completely wrong it’s very difficult to tell from the image what the line actually represents and it’s a complete waste. It really shows when you make a decision like this without having attended and just looking at a trade show list this is where you can end up. 

Kenya: Our solutions when you’ve been diagnosed with just guessing: First and foremost it’s important to get more data, more goals, one of the things that is often surprising is what little information folks have to go with because it’s hard with the systems they have in place. The question is what is the data we have to be able to identify trends? Are we able to look at the numbers and see where are certain products doing better than other products? Where are certain channels that are performing better than others, what are the trends we’re able to pull from those numbers? And some of the data is qualitative rather than quantitative so what are the end users, how do they actually feel about the product once they’ve been living with it? How do those specifiers feel about the sales reps? That’s the information that we need to be able to go with. 

Susan: We always talk to actual specifiers. We have a personas webinar that you can download, we also have cards, but we develop these personas because we’re out in the field talking to them and if you can look at these quotes here everybody has a different agenda. Everybody has a different need. Are we taking into account that we’re going to market something to a designer in a very different way than we’re going to market to a contractor. 

Kenya: If we have the opportunity we want to be marketing to people that are really potential sales. The problem with this as a tradeshow is that lots of folks that walk by the booth or come in to the booth may not be empowered to make a purchase. If we’re able to get that list from sales and they say yes these are our actual dream customers what can marketing do to help convert those customers into actual clients. 

The third diagnosis is when the company is just kind of old school. The symptoms that lead us there are they have a marketing plan which is stale, they’ve been doing the same thing exhibiting at the same shows year after year, their website is not designed in a web 3.0 layout but it’s also kind of dusty, they’re not making a lot of updates to it, and it’s not something that they frequently change. This is a company that is often forced to compete on price and typically this is an opposite scenario than what we see in the first diagnosis where the staff turnover might be very infrequent. 

Susan: The bottom line is you can’t succeed in today’s market using yesterday’s strategies. 

Kenya: A couple of scenarios; this is a website of a furniture company and the message they’re putting first and foremost on the page is how long they’ve been in business and ultimately how relevant is that for your customers? For your sales guys what we ask he’s like help me help you. How is that message helping him to distinguish the products when he’s in front of a potential client. 

This is a tactic that is a dated one - somebody told everybody that if you’re at a tradeshow all you need to do is write a generic thank you note and send it to every one that came by your booth and you’ve done your job. This is an email I received after going to HD Expo this year. There’s nothing targeted about it, there’s nothing that spoke to a conversation I had at the booth and there’s no talk about product but there is talk about the fact that they’re going to be at another trade show which specifiers don’t make a habit of going to trade shows for the sake of going to trade shows. 

What are things we can do when we’re stuck in the old school? When we’re thinking about the website we’re generally not a fan of killing a website and starting over but we are a fan of continuing to evolve a website and learning, testing, and shifting as we go. That begins with identifying, what are the goals? That’s something a lot of companies don’t think about. What is the thing that you want someone to do when they come to the website? In Google Analytics we can set those up as goals and measure that and test to see if the folks that are coming are doing what we’d like them to do. Another tactic or solution is to look and see how can we integrate our systems a bit more? Is the website integrated with our CRM? Is our product system where we update product information, does that update with the data that updates the website as well? THe more that the data is integrated the easier it is to access and that takes a load off in terms of our internal systems. 

Susan: We always want to make sure that we are developing an authentic marketing strategy. And what does that mean? That means that we are solving each of the personas problems. When we think about an email campaign that is going to specifiers how is that going to be different than an email campaign going to developers or facility managers? We really need to take our messaging and true it back to how does our messaging solve our prospects problems. 

Kenya: It’s also important for these companies to take a hard look at their marketing plan. What are the tactics they’ve really been leaning on perhaps exclusively over the years and is there an opportunity to ensure that they’re getting in front of folks in all of the different places and this isn’t even a holistic list. Is it time to think about e-commerce, how are we ensuring that the specifiers and the decision makers throughout the process are learning about our products in a way that they’ll be able to find them.

Susan: All of these issues come through our experience of working with clients and they can come from a client that is a hundred million dollar company, a thirty million dollar company or a three million dollar company. We find that these patterns appear over and over again. The root of these issues is essentially fear. It’s hard to change the way you work it’s hard for people to let go of decision making. Oftentimes we see teams of VPs and their marketing are working great and then one of the owners or CEO just completely shuts everything down or has everyone swerve right without a lot of information or data. 

Kenya: Ultimately what we suggest is that you get outside input when you’re able because it’s difficult to self diagnose, Susan had mentioned that we’re considerate of the pace of change because too slow is a problem, too fast is a problem, that’s the main lever that company leaders have in terms of the health of the organization and then what are those things that are the most scary when we’re stopped by fear how can we acknowledge that fear and make sure that we are not hindering ourselves as a result but that we’re aware of it so we can put some workarounds in place to ensure that we’re working in an effective way as well. 

Susan: Ultimately marketing is really about timing. To quote Anna Wintour, “It’s all about timing, if it’s too soon no one understands if it’s too late everyone’s forgotten.” 

We have a bit of time for questions if anyone wants to type any in otherwise feel free to reach out and we can continue this conversation off-line. 

Kenya: You can get in touch with us at epiphany-studio.com/contact, and as we mentioned at the beginning of the call we will shoot out the deck so that folks have access to it and we’d love to hear your thoughts on the presentation and those obstacles that are getting in the way of your business. 

Thank you so much!

Epiphany Studio