Building a B2B Sales Operation

Sales Funnel

Quora is one of those cool new services you can get easily caught up in if you’re not careful! Since dipping my big toe in about a week ago, I’m pleased to say that people seemed to like the first question I answered on kick-starting a B2B sales operation for a new web service. So much so, I decided to repost my answer here. Enjoy!

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Getting sales going for a new web service is similar to the process of getting the company going in general. Keep in mind, a) there will be overlap in the timing of these steps and b) you actually have to have a good product that people want to use!

Step 1: figure out what your target audience is really willing to pay for.

Is it features? Storage space? Ability to add users? You may start with a hypothesis of what this is (totally fine), but the key thing is to deploy, test, and iterate quickly in order to refine. Tip #1: don’t monetize the feature(s) that help your product spread. Tip #2: make it easy for people who love it, to share it.

Step 2: engage your user base consistently in order to understand the value they get from your service.

Regardless of what YOU thought you were building your product for, it’s only once you get it into the hands of real users, will you understand how they articulate the value. Use these insights to refine your monetization strategy. At this point if you don’t have enough resources to personally reach out to the majority of your users, consider hiring some “product coaches” to assist. If you’re having trouble getting users, proactively reach out to some in-target early adopters and offer to have them use the product for free.

Step 3: create awareness of your market and value proposition.

Awareness helps you sell by expanding your audience and reducing the level of effort required to explain. If your topic is sexy and relevant, get people talking about it and about you. Press mentions in industry, tech, business publications help create buzz and awareness. If you’re in a new space, demonstrating thought leadership is important. A great place to showcase this content is on your blog (blog early and often!). Loop your early clients into this process and help them tell their story to the world. I often liken our early experience at Rypple to LinkedIn 7 years ago (i.e. explaining to people “Why should you put your private resume online for everyone to see?!?”. A challenge early on, but obviously not so now). Once you’ve overcome the awareness hump, articulating your product’s value in your sales process becomes much easier.

Step 4: understand your customer’s buying cycle and help nurture them along.

Most people who visit your site for the first time won’t buy your product. They’ll likely need more information about what you’ll do with their email address when they provide it? how and why they should use your product? who else uses it? the benefits they can expect, etc. That’s why it’s important to understand the steps your prospects take as they attempt to buy your product and have your site/sales process reflect those steps. Providing the right information at just the right time is key to developing as frictionless a sales cycle as possible. A great way to catalyze this effort is to assemble a team of product/community coaches. i.e. actual people who can personally reach out and engage your users, answer their questions, and funnel their insights back to your product/marketing team. Tip: your sales and marketing efforts should be BFF’s.

Step 5: continuously refine with the help of data.

As you’re looking to build a repeatable sales process, understanding what your target customers look like and how they behave on your site and in your product is imperative. If your users are mainly small to medium size technology companies, don’t start marketing to hospitals. Understand what your sales cycle/funnel looks like, where the pinch points are, and relentlessly focus on improving one part at a time. Measure enough things to make educated business decisions about how to refine your sales approach, but don’t go nuts and start defining metrics you have no intention of acting on. Remember, only your mother cares about how smart you are!

Bonus Tip: make it as easy as possible for your customers to give you money.

Sounds silly but making the payment process as simple and frictionless as possible is key. Provide opportunities to easily upgrade and pay at key points. Eliminate errors and inconsistencies in your checkout process. Employ a simple billing approach. And the best advice, provide amazing and personal “Four Seasons” customer service!

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Priemer’s top 5 car-buying (dealer-crushing) negotiation tips

Friends who have witnessed me purchase a new car will tell you it’s a spectacle not to be missed! Priemerization at its finest.

Well, after being repeatedly asked for my secrets, I decided to share with you Priemer’s top 5 tips for negotiating excellence when purchasing your next vehicle.

Tip #1: Be like Spock

Sales 101: sales people try to hook you by creating an emotional connection to their product. Even if you’re buying your dream car (aka: your “car built for Homer“), the more logical and impartial you seem (without seeming totally uninterested), the harder the salesperson will have to work to win you over. The more work they have to do, the more negotiating capital you have.

How?: when interacting with the sales person showcase your knowledge of competitive vehicles and ask them how they stack up. Forcing them to articulate the value of their own product will help set the foundation for a fact-based interaction.

Tip #2: Embrace the math

Car salespeople are notorious for camouflaging the total cost of the vehicle behind strategically calculated monthly fees, down payments, taxes, promotions, and interest rates. My advice: let them throw as many numbers as they want at you but ask them a) to take you through the calculation step by step and b) to give you all the information you need to “do the calculation yourself when you get home” (including all the due on delivery costs and taxes).

How?: one word. Spreadsheet. Make one! Or if you want a head start, download my starter version HERE (Note: I’m usually a “leaser”).

Tip #3: Beware of hidden profit

Like a kid strategically hiding brussel sprouts around the dinner table, dealers have become increasingly clever at sneaking high profit “extras” into your vehicle purchase. $300 admin fees, $150 wheel locks, and $499 security fees are all extraneous cash cows that generate revenue for the dealer. Of course the dealer has a right to make a profit, but make sure you take into account ALL the hidden sources during your negotiation.

For example, In my last negotiation the dealer asked that I pay at $400 “security fee” (note: such fees are usually pre-printed on the deal forms to invoke the power of legitimacy). When I asked about the charge, the dealer said, “Well, we register your car with our security service so that in the event of….blah blah blah“. Needless to say, I didn’t pay for it and they ended up giving it to me anyways.

Priemerization: Many seemingly “standard” fees have copious amount of dealer profit built in to them. In a negotiation, EVERYTHING is fair game. Dissect each stat so you know how it can impact the final result.

Tip #4: Find out where you need to be

The economics of buying a car aren’t that hard. The key is figuring out how much profit the dealer typically needs to see in order to save face and part with the car. The more expensive a car is, the more profit margin is likely built into the price. The newer or more in demand a car is, the more likely it will sell close to the list price. So what’s the easiest way of figuring out where you need to be? Ask!

Priemerization: Negotiation 101 says that useful information is much easier to come by at the beginning of a negotiation process when the other party isn’t focused on “closing you”. I’ve found that having a casual conversation with multiple salespeople early on, simply asking for this information, and triangulating with other dealers works best.

The other part of this equation is figuring out what the dealer paid for the car. This info is quite easy to come by with services like Car Cost Canada which will tell you for a small fee (high recommend).

Tip #5: Think of the dealer AS a deadbeat dad

Don’t let the salesperson act like they can “step into your life after all this time and just expect a relationship“. Make them work for it! The key is being friendly but tantalizingly distant enough to make THEM try as hard as they can to win your business. For example, say things like “I really appreciate all the time you’ve spent with me, I really want you to get this sale, and your offer seems fair, but before I commit I need to see if there’s another dealer that can do better.

Priemerization: one of the best negotiation tactics ever; being prepared to walk away. My last negotiation was concluded in the parking lot of the dealership after I had put away my glasses, closed my laptop, and the salesperson followed me out. When he told me that I was only the second person to walk out on a offer from him in the last 6 months, I knew I had him 🙂

Simply follow these five tips when purchasing your next vehicle and I guarantee you’ll come out ahead!

Priemer’s top 3 tips for corporate blogging

I recently advised a new company on their online marketing strategy. My advice:

Facebook/Twitter seem fun and sexy, but if the name of the game is prolonged and sustained traffic and exposure, start generating as much organic content as possible through your corporate blog.

Inbound marketing experts like those at Hubspot have long evangelized the value of blogging in terms of driving site visitors, Twitter followers and even sales.

Because the blogging challenge can be deceptively difficult for many, here are my top 3 tips for corporate blogging.

1. AVOID SHAMELESS SELF-PROMOTION

Ever wonder why so many infomercials are staged as educational programs where the advertizer is positioned as the guest? That’s because nothing turns people off quicker than shameless self-promotion. The same applies for your blog. People don’t like being sold to or told how cool your product is. Your best bet; be real. Be authentic. Write about related topics and areas of interest that let your readers make the natural association to your product (which they will!). The guys at social marketing service, Flowtown, are great at this. They drive thousands of visitors to their site every day simply by blogging about cool topics in the social sphere, from How to Create a Viral Video to How Hip-Hop Artists Use Social Media.

In a traditional market? No problem! For example, if your company sells a dietary supplement that reduces stress, write about the hidden science behind stress hormones or provide an insiders view of how clinical trials are run. Both will build legitimacy in your product and brand without tooting your own horn.

2. Be helpful & Engaging

The purpose of your corporate blog is to build prolonged and sustained traffic to your site. As your product/service portfolio grows, this traffic footprint will become super-important for driving repeat business. The key: make your visitors want to come back by providing content that’s legitimately helpful and interesting. You can do this by sharing interesting personal stories or explaining how you or your company addressed a problem others might have.

My friend Jenny Blake does an awesome job both helping and engaging on her blog: Life After College. She’s a speaker, author, and coach who certainly wouldn’t shy away from a paid gig, but her primary mission is to use her blog as a medium to share knowledge and perspective that helps others. For that, readers reward her with their loyalty.

Taking the previous example of stress relief supplements, why not provide your readers with a few simple strategies for dealing with stress at work? Or perhaps an analysis of the cost of employee absenteeism due to stress-related illness. Simply ask yourself; if I was in the position of my reader, would I find this content helpful?

3.  Stay focused

Remember, blogs aren’t novels and certainly don’t afford you the same latitude to pontificate and meander. They should be short, easily scannable pieces that revolve around a single point of view.  Go ahead! Tell stories, share insights, create simple bullet lists…but by the end, your reader should be very clear about the message you’ve tried to convey.

April Dunford does a great job at this with her Rocket Watcher marketing blog. In fact, April often demonstrates a great technique of blog focus; a clear and descriptive title. For example, handles like 3 Startup Branding Mistakes and Influencers Suck make it very clear what messages the reader will come away with.

So when you’re ready to unleash the fury of blog posts on your corporate community, run your drafts through this filter first.

Hopefully you feel I have 🙂

Rethinking employee engagement

Employee engagement is not simply the goal, but the means by which people and organizations are able to innovate, differentiate, and ultimately serve their clients.

This was the take-away from my conversation with a manager at one of the world’s largest consulting firms after a recent organizational health survey revealed that employee engagement was low. This revelation should have come as no surprise since a recent study on employee engagement by Mollie Lombardi of the Aberdeen Group revealed that organizations with best-in-class employee engagement have double the customer satisfaction/loyalty rates of average performers.

Shortly after that conversation, I moderated a panel on designing a social businesses at ConnectIT Conference, where we explored how organizations can use social media to drive employee engagement.

After all these discussions, one thing has become abundantly clear to me: the notion of “driving” engagement is absolutely backwards.

You can’t make an employee be engaged any more than you can make the girl who sits across from you in geography class fall in love with you.

Who’s responsibility is it?

HR blogger Laurie Ruettimann states that employee engagement is a misnomer. She suggests renaming it “operational excellence”, which doesn’t blow my skirt up, but I do agree that engagement starts with organizations thinking about what THEY can do to unlock their people’s desire to be engaged. To help their people find meaning in their work and and to use meaning as a way to motivate (as my friend Tiho said in recent book review of The Art of the Start, “meaning is a motivator like no other”).

Paul Hebert knows a lot about this topic. As a Fistful of Talent blogger and principle author of Incentive Intelligence, Paul’s spoken on engagement many times. He recently pointed out that employees shouldn’t be passive participants in the engagement equation. They need to contribute by speaking up, being positive, and bringing new ideas to the table. Still, these are downstream artifacts of an organization whose environment serves as fertile ground.

Successful game developers have been nailing this concept for years. People buy games because they want to satisfy their desire for role-playing, problem solving, and competitive engagement…but it’s the responsibility of the developer to deliver.

The best companies make it happen!

I think Gary Hamel’s Wall Street Journal Management 2.0 post: Management’s Dirty Little Secret sums it up perfectly:

in a world where customers wake up every morning asking, “what’s new, what’s different and what’s amazing?” success depends on a company’s ability to unleash the initiative, imagination and passion of employees at all levels.

Here are 3 suggestions for unlocking your people’s desire to be engaged:

  1. Give them cool stuff to work on: a recent survey on employee motivation by McKinsey & Company revealed that opportunities to lead projects or task forces was seen as a more effective motivator than any financial incentive. Interesting projects not only engage people, but also force them to step up and bring their best game.
  2. Recognize their accomplishments: recognition is a huge motivator because it correlates our actions to a positive outcome. It also keeps us striving to replicate the rush we feel when someone tells us we did a good job. If you want your people to be engaged, help them and others see the impact their work is having.
  3. Ask them for input: your team has TONS of ideas for driving your business forward that don’t get surfaced because we simply don’t ask. Solution: get in the habit of asking for feedback! Promote creativity and the free flow of ideas, and engagement will follow.

Top 3 resume deal killers

I’ve hired a bunch of people in my day, from new grads to seasoned managers. Even developed a few helpful techniques for interviewing candidates along the way.

Then last week two things happened:

  1. I found myself back in “resume review mode” as part of my search for a Jr. Inside Sales rep, and
  2. I had the pleasure of moderating a panel at the ConnectIT conference and got a chance to speak with dozens of business and technology-focused undergrads eager for job hunting advice.

This got me thinking. Many kids today are super-bright and (market aside) should have no problem getting jobs. BUT, to get that job they first need their resumes to earn them a call-back.

With LOTS of sites and guides out there offering you resume writing tips, I decided to dedicate this blog post to those eager job hunters and offer 3 resume deal killers that will prevent you from getting that critical call back.

Deal Killer #1: Making me read your resume

I know you spent hours crafting it, but just so you know, I’m not going to read the whole thing. I’m busy, and the fact is, your resume is a “sniff test”. I’m looking for a few key elements to warrant calling you back, not your whole life story. When I give your resume a look, I want to see that:

  • it’s well-formatted with bulleted lists (not paragraphs)
  • key accomplishments are clearly highlighted
  • the job dates are easily scanable
  • it’s free from any gross spelling, grammatical, or style errors.

Essentially, make it easy for me to understand your value proposition and you’ll easily earn a call-back.

Note: that last bullet is a supreme deal-killer for me! (especially if I’m hiring for a customer-facing role)

Remember:

Your resume represents the very first sample of work I get to see from you. If it’s flawed, my concern is that your work will be as well.

Deal Killer #2: Listing basic skills

You’re applying for a job at a technology company. You have a post-secondary education. Awesome! Why the heck are you highlighting the fact that you’re proficient in Microsoft Word and Windows 98-Vista? (think: “Really?” from SNL). Really? If you’re going to list those as strengths, you might as well add that you can work a light switch and a photocopier.

Seeing basic skills listed on a resume is a deal killer for me. If that’s the best you’ve got, I’m not interested.

Deal Killer #3: Not caring

Nothing accelerates your journey to the bottom of the recycling bin faster than demonstrating that I was simply one of thousands of hiring managers that got the same generic version of your resume. If you’ve made no effort to think about how your resume helps address my needs, it will be hard for me to see you fitting the role.

Last week I reviewed a resume that wasn’t head and shoulders above others I’d seen BUT, it was easy to scan and it DID include a specific note about how their experience directly related to the job I was hiring for. It said something to the affect of “I did blah blah blah at ABC company – essentially what your company does, only blah blah blah“.

Eureka! The person understood what my company does and helped me make the connection to their previ0us experience…and guess what? That person got a call-back!

So candidates, new and experienced alike, the next time you’re about to send out a resume, please try your best to avoid these deal-killers!

The interview? Well, let’s just say I’ll be putting “gun to my head” once we get there 🙂

“I sleep on a frozen pond”

As a good Canadian boy I’ve:

  • played ice hockey at various levels of competitiveness every year of my life since the age of 5 (check out my last post for a vintage pic)
  • played every position, including goalie
  • now started to teach my oldest child to skate at the age of 4.

Needless to say that with the Olympics being held in Canada this year, I’m super-pumped for the sweet hockey action set to begin this weekend.

During the Stanley Cup Championship series of 2007 I found myself in Atlanta the night of Game 5, where the Anaheim Ducks (chock full of other good Canadian boys) were poised to take the cup with a win over the Ottawa Senators.

Now, I understand that hockey may not be as popular with Americans as football or baseball but that didn’t stop me from asking the bartender at the hotel if he wouldn’t mind tuning the TV to the game.

It may as well been one of those classic movie moments where the record skips and scratches on the juke box and everyone in the joint turns around to look at the loser who has clearly identified himself as an “outsider”.

Fortunately, the bartender begrudgingly accommodated my request, disappointing the other patrons engrossed in an epic battle of womens college softball (I kid you not!).

Fast forward a few years later I’m sitting watching TV when the Nike ad below appears on Canadian airwaves. I couldn’t help but think that as we head into the Olympic season, this video so perfectly sums up the hockey spirit in Canada and why it’s truly in our DNA.

If you haven’t seen it (especially my non-Canadian friends), take note, enjoy and GO CANADA!

Are you going “all out” at work?

Here’s a secret about guys who play sports.

Yes, we love the exercise and thrill of competition. BUT, one of the biggest reasons we play is because it is the closest we will ever get to living out our childhood fantasies of being super heroes (there, I said it!). We get to:

  • suit up in futuristic-looking protective gear
  • wear colorful uniforms, and
  • head into battle with our “super-friends”.

My first hockey team, circa 1981

That aside, one of the reasons I love playing hockey is because so seldom in life do I get to go “all out” like I do when I’m on the ice. Chasing down an opposing player, fighting for the puck in a corner, or winding up for a slap-shot are all things I try to do as hard as I can. I’m challenged. I’m learning. I’m engaged.

Unfortunately, many of us don’t experience that type of engagement and intensity often enough, especially in our work life. This begs the question:

At work, how often do you go “all out”?

Going all out at work doesn’t mean working insanely long hours or crafting an overly complex solution to a simple problem. It’s more like a series a small actions performed consistently and continuously over time.

For example, it can include things like:

  1. introducing a new web tool to your colleagues to help boost productivity
  2. creating a new set of standards or best-practices without being asked
  3. asking the people around you how you can best support them
  4. pitching an original cost saving idea to your management team

Just over a year ago I contemplated my next career move: secure a rewarding roll at an established company or join another start-up.

Given my growing family, mortgage, and oh, the global recession, the thought of taking a huge pay cut to join another new venture was the hardest professional decision I’ve ever had to make. After all, wasn’t the point of helping to build start-ups to use the experience as a springboard to secure an awesome, high paying job somewhere else?

In the end, I chose the start-up.

While I’ve spoken about this decision before, one of the main reasons I made it was because I knew the start-up environment would allow me to go “all out”. To “play as hard as I can”, test the boundaries of my knowledge and skill and in doing so, learn and grow faster.

Even one short year later, the risk has more than paid off. How do I know? Because I feel more than one year smarter, experienced, and wiser. I’ve cheated time! What’s even better, I get to share the awesome experience with a crew of people who feel the same way I do. Is it the worth the long hours, pay cut, and long term uncertainly? You bet it is!

But going all out doesn’t mean you have to join a start-up! I see tons of awesome people like Jenny Blake, Ryan Graves, and Steve Boese using their talent and passion to push themselves forward every day. Learning, sharing, and growing in their respective fields.

Since Priemerization is all about making tough decisions and introspection, ask yourself this:

when the final buzzer goes, do you want to be the one saying I should have fought harder for the puck, been stronger in the corners, or taken the shot when I had the chance?

Me neither.

Think of one small thing you can do each day to take YOUR game to the next level.

Be a super hero.