Selling Services on the Cloud: Elements of Success

Although sales of  intangibles — services, Cloud-based software — carry healthy margins, sales close rates are typically well-below the ideal.  Examining the reasons why this occurs is key to solving this issue. A panel of veteran salesmen shed light on the challenge at TechAmerica San Diego Marketing & Sales’ July Roundtable.

The event was especially productive due to the variety of attendee profiles, all of whom brought unique perspectives to the discussion. I spoke with a software technologist who’s starting up a new venture, an account manager for a Cloud-based data management solutions provider, and a project manager at an IP-based telephony systems provider.

As soon as moderator Craig Arnoff, co-chair of the roundtable asked panelists how selling intangibles differs from selling products, it was clear that successful sales people share universal traits, regardless of what’s in their bag of tricks. Trust, training, drive, optimism, better customer service. Some are born, some are made.

Ken Reilich made an interesting point: some salespeople come to rely upon products as crutches, vs. their selling skills. Products become the sole reason for success, or the whipping boy for failure (“pricey, lousy, old…” ) Take the product away, and replace it with intangibles, and success is slightly more determined by superior selling skills.

David Alemian reminded us that a successful salesperson can sell anything: he began his career selling swimming pools in New England, in the winter (quick, what’s the pain point there?!); and now promotes a novel, Cloud-based management tool sold to healthcare IT leaders. He also touched on Neuro-Linguistic Programming as a key element in human interaction.

Bruce Cole sells Internet marketing and SEO tools and services at a local and community level. He emphasized testimonials and proven success stories, which I also advocate is the most valuable sales tool, whether selling in one zip code or in several continents. I think that’s why Yelp and Angie’s List have earned such a following.

At this point, I wondered how each panelist would extend these formulas for success into a channel-driven, multi-tier sales organization… wherein face-to-face visits with end decision makers are rare or impossible.  A successful global channel leader possesses all of the above traits and skills, then marries them with excellent organizational skills, time management, and a healthy respect for the value of channel partners. Topic for another panel!

Craig brought up the core element of success: a fruitful, face-to-face experience with customers begins with a  make-or-break, 15-second pitch. For successful salespeople, it’s like breathing. But for less outgoing, more self-conscious people it’s a mystery.  Craig also shared a couple of items from his Sales Alliance toolkit: how pre-screening and benchmarking can increase a good match between sales candidate and employer.

Reminds me of a lesson I learned long ago on career development: teamwork lets others benefit from your talents, as you do what you do best; while you draw the same from them. Don’t waste time trying to perfect your less-than-ideal skills.

More about the moderator and panelists here.

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NAFTA-born Trucking Dispute Resolved

We welcome the news of resolution that will eliminate tariffs on US goods that are in high demand by shoppers throughout Mexico, while opening up a new market for US transport providers. I first covered the US-Mexico NAFTA Trucking and Tariffs issue for Hanson Marketing’s blog two years ago, and as recently as this March.

It’s a tangled issue. The US teamsters’ union’s dissenting view brings up valid points about concerns over safety, security and loss of jobs. The accord allows Mexican transport companies to serve only from Mexican origin to single US destination (no point-to-point within the US). The producers of agricultural and manufactured goods hail the decision because onerous tariffs will be lifted within the next quarter, which resulting international sales revenue will strengthen employment numbers and add to the US’ goal to double exports between 2010-2015.

The most pragmatic, level-headed info I’ve read on the topic comes from The Christian Science Monitor, whose report raises a moot-point scenario that lowers the tension in the room.

“No Mexican company will invest money to join the cross-border program if their truck drivers can be denied permits after an 18-month trial period, as the accord indicates”, says Refugio Munoz Lopez, director general of Mexico’s shipping chamber. “I see no future with this program,” Mr. Munoz says of Mexico’s decision Wednesday to remove punitive tariffs on $2.4 billion of US exports in exchange for allowing Mexican trucks to cross the border. “The only thing this accord does is give Mexico an excuse to remove tariffs.”

Munoz informs the Monitor that “the tough new security requirements for truckers wishing to cross into the United States make it prohibitive for all but 115 out of 400,000 Mexican trucks“. Meanwhile, I see no reciprocal requirements will be imposed on US transport companies, who wish to offer transnational service.

I view this as export growth prospect for one of the US’ powerful and efficient transport sector, which enjoys many competitive advantages over their Mexican counterparts; and will study the views of trade associations within the next 18 months.

Nitty Gritty Marketing entries on this issue:

https://tomhanson.wordpress.com/2009/08/26/nafta-wink-and-nudge-stalls-mexican-trucking-rights/

https://tomhanson.wordpress.com/2010/09/06/tariffs-among-nafta-nations-not-dead-yet/

https://tomhanson.wordpress.com/2011/03/10/us-mexico-trucking-deal-agreement-nearing/

Read more: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-latin-america-14059115

Selling Services and Software: Margin Reality Check

Although these and other intangible solutions carry healthy margins, close rates are well-below the ideal in the real world.  Be the hero who helps your company reverse this trend, improve your bottom line, and boost commissions and bonuses.

TechAmerica San Diego Marketing & Sales Roundtable is presenting a panel of experts who will help you build a sales management toolkit for such key issues as:

• Understand why product-oriented salespeople often fail when selling intangibles and services
• Discover innovative strategies and programs for selling services and software
• Explore ways to make conceptual sales approaches more tangible and concrete
• Differentiate your offerings to motivate buyer action and to thwart competition
• Develop methods for cross-selling and up-selling services during product-oriented sales cycles
• Learn several sales skills required to be effective in selling software and services

It’s live in San Diego, on Thursday morning, July 21. Registration: REGISTER NOW

Campus Marketing: Apple, Barnes & Noble Lead the Charge

In the rarified air of US college campuses, you will find two American companies leading the charge to capture top brand loyalty and affinity. Apple and Barnes & Noble’s direct-to-consumer channels, student ambassadors, and outsourced sales and service leave their daily imprint on millions of students and staff on campus. The result is an annual crop of well educated customers with discriminating tastes and generally higher earnings potential (says the dad of a recent grad, optimistically…)

Barnes & Noble College is the outsourced campus bookstore at over 600 US campuses, touching over 4 million students and 250,000 staff daily. Through the subtlest of branding, shoppers might notice that B&N is running the place. While such outsourcing helps institutions control operating costs — I’m all for that — it’s generally difficult to unseat an incumbent retailer/outsource provider once entrenched. And, along with that comes the risk of complacency in pricing and quality of services, borne by shoppers who pay premium pricing in exchange for a convenient location. In a store where $65 hoodies prevail and the majority of customers live within a half-mile and are shopping on their parents’ dime, there will be no bargain basements.

Aside from their outsourcing services, B&N is masterfully marketing their Nook-based technology resources straight into the college market, wherein its NookStudy is positioned as the online reading and study platform.

Apple grabs incoming students and their folks with promotions, displays and kiosks. Educators and students are the only set of consumers on the globe who can enjoy discounted Apple products, it seems. So, again, the college campus marketplace is an ideal channel for such a globally cool and technically powerful brand as Apple.

Besides the books and bits market, popular food and beverage makers such as Naked Juice deploy college ambassadors, stocking dorm room fridges and social gatherings. Ambassadors are generally vivacious, friendly students who are fun to be around… hence their products are fun to drink/eat. We see early evidence of campus ambassador marketing in grades 7-12, wherein clothing and shoes are test-marketed on the backs and feet of good-looking, popular people who are nice to look at and fun to be around.

Apple, Barnes & Noble, Naked, and other friendly brands know that campus marketing channels are insular, price-inelastic, and ideal breeding grounds for successive generations of brand-conscious shoppers.

“Social Media Means Business”

As an authority on automating successful selling, salesforce.com can’t be beat. They’re also at the center of the brainstorm on how well social media really contributes to successful sales and customer service. salesforce.com vp Peter Coffee spoke at last week’s Ingram Micro Summit. A couple of thought-provoking ideas from Coffee that bode well for every business, from sole proprietor to Fortune 100:

Selling Tools Unite to Form One Social Body

  1. “Social Media Means Business”, cited Dell’s 22,000+ social media interactions daily
  2. “Moving Toward Zero, One and Infinity”, customers marching toward:

    • Zero on-premise infrastructure with zero acquisition cost, zero adoption cost and zero support cost
    • One coherent environment rather than software stack
    • Infinite scalability.

salesforce.com’s position is especially valuable, given their commitment to partnerships with ISVs, who develop social media-centric tools; and to MSPs, whose toolkits help realize the 2 ideas above.

btw, I’m working in an office where Facebook access is blocked (really not a bad idea).  As a consumer products manufacturer, we actively use social media, so we have to step out back and fire up our smartphones to see how they’re performing … joining the fraternity of smokers. WiFi and ashtray, one convenient location!

(Thanks to Joe Panettieri at TalkinCloud, whose blog post covered Peter’s talk. Image courtesy salesforce.com)

SaaS Market Expansion Strategies: Part4

Hanson Marketing is leading a market expansion project for a SaaS solutions developer. (View Part1 here and Part2 here and Part3 here) We’re seeking international markets across many verticals wherein SaaS is in rapid growth mode, and are focusing our efforts on the Managed Services Provider partner model. But first, it’s roll up the sleeves and create marketing messages that will resonate well with new target customers, and populate a SEO-savvy, re-designed website.   Success stories and industry-specific solution descriptions will form the meat of the new website.

We’re also gauging the viability and influence of our target industry trade associations and analyst groups: namely, those which are in orbit around the world of Managed Services Providers (MSPs)

Finally, the client is bringing aboard an account manager, to cultivate new business from existing revenue from trusted, current partners.  That’s the low-hanging fruit I discussed in

Hispanic Population Influences Channel Strategies

Mexicans are the largest Hispanic group nationwide and in 40 states, according to data released from the US Census Bureau. Between 2000 and 2010, the Hispanic population grew by 43 percent, or four times the nation’s 9.7 percent growth rate.

This brings up three points to consider when evaluating and forming your sales and marketing channel strategies:

Use local talent. Bring on specialist brokers, PR agencies, and retailers with proven success in reaching and selling to Hispanic consumers. Pay special note to your current strategies in the nation’s five largest metro areas… espcially in Midwest US cities. How well do your retailers and advertising providers reach Hispanic households?
Value family ties. Multi-generational and extended family ties are strong in Hispanic communities nationwide. Your value propositions and outbound marketing themes should encourage word-of-mouth referrals, family plans (think Verizon Wireless) and “trusted source” status to gain business from three generations, from abuelos to niños.
Think North American. If you’re realizing sales gains in the US Hispanic sector, know that here’s a fast-growing market in Mexico, too. Work up a channel strategy that will cover key areas there, to complement what’s working in the US. Head to www.trade.gov and get in touch with your local Export Assistance Center for a quick and easy evaluation; they’ll even help introduce you to best partners in Mexico and other countries.

Read all about it here.

Solar Powered LEDs Light Up Ghana

Another great example of public-private partnerships to build a better world: an innovative research center at University of California Santa Barbara is teamed with Engineers without Borders and Ghana Telecom University to create and distribute solar-powered LED lights to households in emerging nations such as Ghana, Haiti and Kenya.

Reading Lights Advance Education, WorldwideThe spring issue of UC Santa Barbara Today reports that the partnership’s intent is to replace kerosene as a power source for lighting in homes, with LEDs that operate at 8 times more efficiency than incandescent bulbs. The device developed at UCSB yields one hour of lighting from two hours of daylight.

A Santa Barbara-based nonprofit called Unite to Light is taking on the ambitious goal to ship 100,000 lamps to hard-working households in a total of seven countries.

Read more here: Engineers Without Borders. Unite to Light. And UC Santa Barbara’s Institute for Energy Efficiency.

Dual Channels: DRTV, In-store Retail

Retail channel marketeers often present expansion strategies to manufacturers of consumer goods that might combine both Direct Response TV and in-store retail. But the two silos usually co-exist, with unique ROI yardsticks, compensation plans, retail pricing, and even product lines.

When DRTV enables in-store sell-through, it becomes a self-liquidating promotion, one  in which the cost of the DRTV campaign is covered by the incremental revenue generated by the promotion.

Sales thus result via DRTV fulfillment, meeting MER and CPO target rates; and also result from shoppers who see it on TV and walk in to stores to kick the tires and squeeze the Charmin before buying.

The beauty of a dual DRTV/In-store Retail channel strategy is that manufacturers can route their advertising $$ to metro areas that have a high concentration of retailers who sell their products.  Or, retailers themselves can flip it around and launch a DRTV campaign about their products, with calls to action to both CALL call centers and VISIT stores.

What an efficient way to bootstrap retail channel expansion for manufacturers who are new to retail, and a great use of advertising money!  Response Magazine April issue covers this cross-pollinating topic nicely. Read more here.

SaaS Market Expansion Strategies: Part4

Hanson Marketing is leading a market expansion project for a SaaS solutions developer. (View Part1 here and Part2 here and Part3 here) We’re seeking international markets across many verticals wherein SaaS is in rapid growth mode, and are focusing our efforts on the Managed Services Provider partner model. But first, it’s roll up the sleeves and create marketing messages that will resonate well with new target customers, and populate a SEO-savvy, re-designed website.   Success stories and industry-specific solution descriptions will form the meat of the new website.

We’re also gauging the viability and influence of our target industry trade associations and analyst groups: namely, those which are in orbit around the world of Managed Services Providers (MSPs)

Finally, the client is bringing aboard an account manager, to cultivate new business from existing revenue from trusted, current partners.  That’s the low-hanging fruit I discussed in

 

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