Aneel Lakhani

@aneel

Marketing 203 for Engineers: Sales Enablement

April 10th 2019

What it takes to win customers

Photo by Roman Mager on Unsplash

From Marketing 201 for Engineers: Messaging and Positioning

Product Marketing is a wide set of disciplines. Roughly speaking, it’s a mid-funnel activity — though depending on the company, it reaches all the way to the top (running campaigns and leading demand gen activities) and all the way to the bottom (acting as sales engineering) of the funnel. Sometimes it takes over many activities that are typically considered brand, communications, and even product management.

But you can put all of those things into three broad categories:

  • Storytelling — Messaging and Positioning
  • Launching — Go To Market
  • Closing — Sales Enablement

In this post, we’ll focus on the third.

Programming notes: this post is n in a series of indeterminate length on GTM topics mainly for startup people, mainly leadership, mainly coming from non-GTM backgrounds. There’s a list at the end.

Sales What?

Let’s say you have a product, you have story to pitch it, you know who you want to sell it to, and you’ve figured out how to get yourself in front of them. You have a funnel.

There is a somewhat standard set of stages anyone goes through when becoming a buyer of some B2B software thing (you can generalize this to anything really):

  1. I know I have a problem
  2. I know I need a way to solve that problem
  3. I’m looking for a way to solve that problem and/or a way to solve that problem is looking for me!
  4. I discover some potential products or services that might solve my problem
  5. I learn about what they do and decide whether they can help me
  6. I compare them to each other and maybe to building something to solve the problem myself across some dimensions that I care about — things like price, implementation effort, longevity, ease of use, ease of doing business with, customization, compliance with industry standards, etc
  7. I try out the ones that seem most promising to see if there’s a fit between them and my specific problem at my specific company in my specific market serving my specific set of concerns and priorities
  8. I find a package/price combination of the most fit thing that matches how I like to buy things
  9. I negotiate pricing and terms
  10. I become a customer (or not)

There might be more people involved at each step. There will be those who influence my decision making, who can say no to any particular solution, who specialize in parts of the process like price negotiation, who can short circuit parts of the process, etc.

Note: Figuring out who all the people are that have influence and control over a purchase decision is called “account mapping” and core to Sales Execution in a big deal or “enterprise” context.

Sales Enablement, broadly speaking, is how Product Marketing helps convince leads in each step of this process to move to the next step.

At most companies, Sales Enablement is specifically only about helping sales people who in turn do the convincing using (or not!) the materials, language, and guidance provided by Product Marketing.

We’re going to take the broader view for the rest of this post because, for example, for a self-service SaaS product — the product itself, emails, website, bots, etc, do most of the marketing and selling.

Help people turn themselves into customers

As prospects go through the process of learning what you do, deciding whether it’s useful to them and their situation, considering alternatives, figuring out what your product will cost them now and in the future… your Product Marketing is everything they use to answer those questions.

This includes:

  • Your website content: all the copy, graphics, videos, blog posts, case studies, customer quotes, data sheets, FAQs, Terms & Conditions, CTAs (calls to action), etc
  • Automated communications via chatbots and messenger services on the website or in your app
  • Automated communications via email in response to some action, event, or trigger
  • Email newsletters, promotions, and other campaigns
  • Event content: all the copy and content used in presentations, physical hand outs, put on banners, put on booth backgrounds and stands etc
  • Documentation
  • Product (in the actual product) content: product and feature names, copy in messages and notifications and any kind of reports or summaries sent out

Advice

Many things that serve a Product Marketing function are not typically produced by marketing staff. The implication is not that Product Marketing should be writing documentation. Instead, that every bit of content and interaction a prospect has that contributes to a buying decision has to consistently deliver the same message, proclaim the same value, and reinforce the same experience.

Help champions turn their teams into customers

Let’s assume you’ve convinced me, a prospect, that your product is amazing and that it solves some specific problem that I have and creates real value.

But I’m not dictator of what my team, department, or company uses and buys. I’m just one person who may or may not have budget and authority to spend that budget. I have to convince my team members, my management, and maybe my staff. If I’m at a bigger company, also my procurement people. If you want my logo, reference, or quote — maybe my marketing, legal, and PR teams.

I am now your “champion”. And like any athlete-coaching-training-team relationship, it’s your job to provide me with the tools to be successful.

You need to train your champions and provide them with the things they need to convince everyone in their organization who influences the decision whether to buy your product.

Product Marketing, together with Sales, has to figure out what the right mix of language and assets are that are needed for champions occupying any specific persona, vertical, or account.

This includes things like:

  • Slides
  • Data sheets
  • Case studies
  • Video explainers
  • Recorded demos
  • Competitive comparisons
  • Email copy to use
  • Analyst reports
  • ROI calculations / calculators
  • Report- or presentation-formatted results of trials and POCs
  • Objection handling guidance for the champion
  • Custom assets tailored to the specific professional goals and KPIs by which specific influencers are measured
  • Connecting them with peers at existing customers to discuss the value you deliver and how to convince people

Help salespeople become YOUR salespeople

In the early days, you hope to hire sellers with experience with your kind of product or selling to your kinds of buyers. As you go, this quickly stops being possible.

The skill of selling has basically nothing to do with knowing the product. Knowing the buyer is very helpful. But you’ll notice that experience will vary widely by seller type.

  • SDRs: don’t generally know anything
  • Junior Inside Sales Reps [ISRs] and Account Execs [AEs]: generally know how to qualify and ask for money
  • Staff level reps: generally know how to “work” an account, effectively execute a sales process, optimize deal flow and pipeline to hit their targets, have some buyer/vertical knowledge, and might have some product category knowledge
  • Sr ISRs/AEs: generally can work complex accounts, map accounts, deal with all the different personas at an account effectively, maintain account control, marshal internal resources from marketing to engineering to founder for their deals, strategically manage their accounts vs pipeline vs quotas, be deep experts at selling to particular verticals, be expert at selling particular kinds of products, be expert at specific sales motions
  • Sales management: generally only have to be expert at incentivizing, motivating, keeping tabs on, and optimizing how sellers behave and the sales process.. they may know nothing at all about either the buyer or your product area

The onbaording process for Sales, once you scale beyond doing everything ad hoc or by mentorship/pairing, usually involves some baseline education about the market, product, buyers, etc. Classically, this will come from Product Marketing.

The typical things you’ll be expected to cover in order to make a seller effective out of the gate include:

  • Founding myth of the company
  • The ecosystem in which your company and product exist
  • What the product does, who it does it for, and the value prop(s)
  • Target segments and company types
  • Personas
  • Sales motion
  • Playbook
  • Qualification and disqualification
  • Top line messaging
  • Product messaging
  • First call pitch
  • Giving product demos
  • Competitive positioning
  • Competitive messaging
  • Objection handling

Advice

Like any effort in education, you need some way to gauge whether the lesson has sunk in. End sales training with pitch sessions. New folks pitch experienced ones who have customer-facing experience.

Make sure salespeople have some baseline ability to deliver your message and speak the language of your audience before you turn them loose on prospects.

Every time your messaging, product, target vertical/personas, or playbook materially change — expect to go through this process again.

Help salespeople sell

Beyond training Sales, Product Marketing provides them with all the content and assets or “collateral” they need for every step of the sales process.

These include things like:

  • Call scripts
  • First call pitch decks
  • Data sheets
  • Case studies
  • Video explainers
  • Recorded demos
  • Analyst reports
  • Customer logos, quotes, and references
  • ROI calculations / calculators
  • Competitive comparisons and battle cards and take out guidance
  • Templates for reports, presentations, emails, etc
  • Objection handling guidelines
  • Custom asset creation for specific vertical or accounts

Advice

Don’t ever assume just because you’ve made what you think is a great piece of content that anyone is using it. Or is using the right version. Or even knows how to find it. You have to make sure all of that is true on a regular basis.

If Sales is not using your assets, it’s your job to go find out why.

  • Maybe the assets aren’t actually helpful?
  • Maybe they work in some situations but not others?
  • Maybe sellers have come up with their own variations/versions that work better?

You can survey Sales or do periodic meetings to get feedback on what is and isn’t working. But that’s neither sufficient nor reliable. When possible, do all of the following:

  • Survey sellers on assets usefulness on a regular cadence
  • Attend (“ride along”) sales calls, presentations, and live meetings regularly
  • Attend pipeline review meetings
  • Do win/loss analyses: basically post-mortem both successful and failed deals
  • Interview new customers regularly
  • Interview lost customers when possible

Most of this work does not scale, although there are starting to be some tools (Gong, Remeeting, Seva) that help.

Competitive advantage is built on perfecting things that don’t scale—on caring deeply about execution.

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