Defects in information provided to sales are a major cause of misalignment between marketing and sales, resulting in lower close rates, higher sales costs, reduced sales capacity and slower market growth. This lack of alignment often occurs because there is no process to find and eliminate discrepancies and defects in the information and programs provided to sales teams. In fact, so much of the information received by sales is too defective to even be used. Most studies show that between 70 percent and 80 percent of the material produced by marketing is not used by sales, but the problem extends to the buyer as well. IDG Connect reports that when it comes to content, 86 percent of buyers say that content is not useful, relevant or aligned with the needs of people in the buying journey.
There can be no revenue supply chain management if the material produced for sales is too broken to be used by either sales or the customer. To address this issue, we have identified the top 10 most common bugs in the information being provided to sales. This insight was gathered by examining the information being provided to sales by more than 100 firms—including IBM, Chase Manhattan, Microsoft, Xerox, Accenture and many others—and has been reviewed by major universities like Stanford, Harvard and CMU.
Below is a simple overview of the top 10 bugs found in the material we provide to sales and to customers. If you want to improve the quality of the information that you provide to sales and your market, consider having an audit conducted on your current material. You can start by avoiding these 10 points and using them as a checklist to gauge the quality of all new materials.
1. Using directional words instead of specific words that can be used for competitive comparison
Vague words mask the advantage or value to the customer. Frequently, a firm’s advantages are described with words like “best of breed,” “seamless,” ”leadership,” “easy to use,” “most complete,” etc. The problem is that these descriptions are meaningless, so it requires more sales skill to make these advantages compelling to a customer versus the competitors.
- Help/enable/allow—These words act as fillers by sounding good but providing no clue regarding what the product does better than the competitive alternatives. For example, “I helped/enabled/allowed the San Francisco 49ers to win every football game that Joe Montana ever won.” Was I on the field playing, on the sidelines coaching or in the stands cheering?
- Leading—Using what measure?
- Visionary—For whom? At what risk?
- Seamless—A seam indicates a cost of change for that element. What seams do your competitors have that you do not?
2. No specific description of what the product/service does better (i.e., advantage) and showing only features instead
What is an advantage?
- Your advantage is what your product or service does substantially better than competitors and tells your customers what they can accomplish better because of your product.
- Advantages include what you do rather than what you have.
- Advantages are only valid if compared to something else.
If your product is faster, prospects want to know how much faster it is. Simply using words like “a lot” or “very” may not be compelling enough to lead to a purchase. The prospect needs to be able to compare your product’s claims to the claims of competitors, so measures that are comparable to the customer are required.
The advantage for most products/services is not absolute and unconditional. Most advantages only exist under specific conditions and situations. For example, I love my Porsche 911, but it does not have the advantage of being the fastest car…absolutely and unconditionally. But it may be the fastest car on a road with lots of curves in it, and it may be the fastest car from the start through the first 100 feet due to its four-wheel drive.
The key to identifying your advantage is to find the condition or situation where the advantage is significant enough to be compelling. This means that advantages really cannot be communicated with product information alone; it must include customer use information as well.
3. No specific description of the value to the customer regarding what the product/service does better.
The statement of value to the customer is where the customer and product elements of the message are brought together in a clear statement of what aspect of the customer’s business will improve as a result of having the product versus the next best alternative.
- The value to the customer should answer the customer’s question, “What is the value to me of what you do better?” The question is not about the value of your product, but the value of your differential.
- The believability of the customer value statement depends in large part on its correlation to the advantage statement.
- The prospect needs to be able to compare your value claims to the claims of the competitors, so measures are required. When the calibration is directional—using words such as leading, significant or great—then the customer can only guess at the size of the value. For the selling message to be compelling, the claims need to have measures that allow the customer to compare the size of your claims versus the claims of the competitors.
The believability of the customer value statement depends in large part on its correlation to the advantage statement. The customer value statement needs to be a clear implication of the advantage—one that doesn’t require a leap of faith on the customer’s part. Statements that show a weak or distant connection between the advantage and the customer value run the risk of eroding credibility.
4. No clear linkage between the value to the customer and what the product does better.
There can, and should be, linkages horizontally and vertically, but don’t attempt to shortcut this by trying to link diagonally from the vendor to the customer issues. This can work in consumer impulse markets—for example, “my toothpaste will make you sexy”—but it doesn’t work in business markets where considered purchase is used.
5. Insufficient evidence for either the advantage or the resultant value to the customer to be believable without the salesperson being a trusted advisor.
Evidence combines with the salesperson’s skill to provide the credibility for the advantage and resultant customer value to make the claims believable. Without quality evidence, much more sales time and skill are required to close the sale.
Without this type of support for the critical message elements, a message—however compelling—may not be believable enough to motivate buyers. This can have a number of effects on selling, including:
- Lower win percentage. Different customers will balance risk and reward differently. Many customers will opt for a lower level of value if they are more certain that they will actually get it. Thus, having a more compelling message won’t always win.
- Greater involvement of management required in selling. If messages don’t have credibility built in, then it may be necessary to communicate it in other ways. An unsupported assertion by a sales rep may not be believed, but the same statement made by the CEO of the selling organization might be.
- Longer sales cycle. The effort to transfer credibility can make the sales cycle longer, either because it is necessary to bring in senior people or because customers need more demonstrations before they become convinced.
6. The level of sales capability generally available in one or more channels is insufficient to successfully sell with the level of product information provided.
This issue is similar to the choice of cookbooks. Should I choose Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking or Rombauer’s Joy of Cooking? Each requires different levels of cooking skills. French cooking is too complex for my skill level, but I can manage with Joy of Cooking. Correspondingly, the complexity of the selling messages we provide to our sales channels must be aligned with the time and skill available in that channel.
Steve Jobs is known to have described a computer as a “bicycle for the mind.” The image is powerful. If you give an average person a bicycle, they could be competitive in a marathon race. From this perspective, it is the firm’s responsibility to create the “bicycles” that enable the average salesperson to be as effective in selling as the top salespeople. What kind of bicycles are you producing and for what type of user?
7. The messages used for generating awareness and interest are mistakenly used by sales to try to close a deal.
The work done by marketing and sales is very different, and many of the words have very different meanings. For marketing, the intent is usually to establish directional agreement. For sales, the intent is to get the customer to enter a contract.
Much of this difference stems from the distinctions between consumer marketing and business marketing. For consumer marketing, the needed impulse purchase can be triggered by an emotional appeal whereas for business marketing, purchase consideration is required. Sometimes, out of habit, the practices of consumer marketing are misused in business marketing.
8. The messages that work for the sales channels with greater selling capability (i.e., direct sales) are inappropriately used by the sales channels with less selling capability (i.e., distributors).
Effective selling requires the combination of sales skill and information. For a sale to be made cost effectively, these two resources must combine to meet the minimum.
This chart shows that not providing the information needed for selling the differentiated product hurts the most when the product is new and still has differentiation. As the product matures and becomes a commodity, the market learns the missing information—or the advantage has disappeared. Our approach is to fundamentally make it easier to sell the product, thereby reducing the sales skill required for revenue generation.
9. The value to the customer of taking action (e.g., use the cloud) should be used when the product differential establishes a new type of solution.
Sometimes, the product advantage creates an opportunity for the client to address an opportunity or problem that was previously not feasible to address. The product/service advantages create a new possibility that was not possible before. The difficulty with this sales opportunity is that the client probably hasn’t developed processes for how to evaluate and buy the solution to this new opportunity, and it may require upper management to pave the path.
New Solution Selling messages have to be relevant for the range of management potentially involved, starting with the CEO.
10. The measures used to calibrate the size of the advantage or resultant value to the customer are not replicable by the customer.
The first question that people have when they hear news—an earthquake, a storm, winning the lottery—is “how big is it?” While vague answers like “big enough” or “huge” may be sufficient for generating awareness and interest, an answer that is sufficient for closing the sale has to be much more specific.
The prospect needs to be able to compare your product claims to the claims of the competitors, so measures are required. Are there more directional measures that show the magnitude of the advantage? Are the measures able to be duplicated by the customer? If the measure is too esoteric for the customer to relate to, then the value of the measure is much less.
Bud Hyler began his career in 1972, when he joined IBM as a sales representative. In 1976, he accepted the position of Marketing Director at Digital Equipment Corporation’s Commercial Group, where he later became responsible for marketing. In 1984, he moved on to ATT’s PBX–Large Business Group, where he served as Marketing Manager. Two years later, he joined Trimble Navigation as the Vice President of Marketing.
In 1990, after many years of developing his marketing methodology, Hyler founded Logical Marketing, Inc. His objective was to provide clients with innovative marketing concepts and processes that move beyond conventional product advocacy to a customer-centeredmarketing approach that can influence the customer’s entire purchasing journey. To date, clients have included Lucent, Microsoft, Netscape, Hewlett Packard, Sun Microsystems, Accenture, Compaq and IBM, as well as major firms outside of the high-tech arena, such as Chase Manhattan Bank. Connect with him via email at Budh@logmkt.com.
Hyler has operated his own consulting company for over 17 years and earned the respect of many leaders of Marketing in corporations.
Mr. Hyler received his B.S. in Physics from North Carolina State University. He received his MBA from Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business in 1972. He has been a guest lecturer at Harvard, CMU, and Stanford business schools.
An article by Mr. Hyler and Alfred M. Bertocchi was published in Financial Executive and Mr. Hyler has been cited as a reference in several volumes on marketing including “Getting Partnering Right” by Neil Rackham, Lawrence Friedman and Richard Ruff; “Marketing from Emerging Companies” by Robert T. Davis and F. Gordon Smith; and “Concurrent Marketing” by F. V. Cepedes.