Given the requests we receive from the market at large for social marketing data, we’d like to share some of our recent findings. In a world where buyers look to take control, push decisions “down the value chain” and make it all about product, how do you climb higher in their organizations and sell solutions to senior-level executives?

During a recent client forum, I asked our audience of marketing and sales executives two questions:

  • How many of you are experiencing buying processes where customers have taken greater control of that process, inviting them later to the decision process, and increasingly making the decision around selling product to the “technical” buyer?  
  • How many of you have internal initiatives underway to move your marketing and sales approach away from being product-centric and making it more solutions-centric, with a focus on engaging senior executives to sell the business value of their solutions? 

In each instance, a good number of hands were raised. In those two sets of questions/responses lies the essence of one of the greatest challenges facing marketing and sales organizations today; in a world where buyers look to take control, push decisions “down the value chain” and make it all about product, how do you climb higher in their organizations and sell solutions to senior-level executives? Facing this challenge starts with understanding how customers are making these decisions, and what will be required by marketing and sales to “swim upstream” around that decision process.

Let’s take an example. The CEO of a large technology company has charged the CMO with improving client retention. As part of this strategy, the CMO and his/her colleagues agree that as part of this initiative, it will be vital to monitor what customers are saying about their brand on the Web. They agree on the need for an analytics tool that will collect/analyze this type of Web data; IT, informed of the request, then conducts extensive research and builds out the requirements/specs of what they’re looking for — producing an RFP that’s sent out to vendors who are finally invited into the buying process.  

Now, let’s say you are VP of marketing/sales for a Web analytics tool provider and one of your salespeople received that RFP. Let’s also say that competitive differentiation with your analytics tool is its ability to link with CRM applications, thus allowing a company not just to monitor what’s said about their brand, but to take action in response to it. The “technical” buyer (in this case IT) does not care about this feature and benefit — their main focus is core functionality (which you have) and cost (where you are traditionally higher). The need has been “preordained.” However, that CMO tasked to improve customer retention would definitely be interested in both feature and benefit, as well as the value it could deliver. Unfortunately, they’re out of the buying process.

Your rep is left with two choices: do I play by the rules as constituted and hope for the best; or do I look to re-engineer the buying process, engage the CMO, and reframe his/her idea of the solution? While there are certainly times you may choose the first choice (e.g., the risk of alienating the IT buyer could cost you significant future business), let’s assume your rep picked the second; how does he/she make this challenging trip “upstream” work? 

Here’s what marketing and sales readiness will need to do: 

  • Launch campaigns specifically targeted to senior-level decision-makers addressing key pain points and needs
  • Create a “knowledge repository” for sales to access information about the industries and roles they sell into
  • Help craft solution-oriented messaging
  • Create content and tools to be used during the sales process
  • Focus skills training for reps around how to access and engage at a senior level

What sales will need to do: 

  • Understand how to gain access to senior-level decision-makers (e.g., by developing a champion)
  • Gather enough background and insights on the account to be knowledgeable
  • Conduct a call with the senior-level executive that will demonstrate an understanding of their business, objectives, issues and specific needs
  • Link proposed solutions with the business value it will provide to the executive

Good selling!