Our client Carl, the COO of a medical technology company, brought home a new puppy named Darby two months ago. Darby absolutely loves to chew the stuffing out of his toys. We know this because Darby is now a regular member of the marketing planning team’s weekly Zoom virtual meetings. While the rest of us try to discuss business, Darby is in the background writhing on the living room floor, wrestling with his toy duck like a vicious hyena that’s just captured its dinner on the African savannah.
Carl’s daughter, Stella, steps over the ferocious battle and asks her dad for the car keys. Carl apologizes and explains that his daughter is picking up an allergy medicine prescription at the pharmacy. As he gets up to fetch his keys, we see Carl is wearing bright orange biking shorts with the logo for Berlotti’s Bread Market, his mother-in-law’s bakery she started out of a small shed in 1978.
In just one meeting, we learn more about Carl than we probably would have in a normal year. But 2020 was not a normal year.
THE ACCELERATION OF CHANGE
The pace of change in the business world started its acceleration years before the COVID-19 pandemic. The rapid introduction of technology innovations such as e-commerce, cloud computing and virtualization, social media, interactive video, virtual meetings, marketing automation, and mobile solutions (among many others) has continually altered how our customers research, evaluate, compare and purchase our products and services.
This is all part of a transformational change in business that has been accelerating for years. A 2016 KPMG study found that 96% of organizations were undergoing business transformations. And in 2018, Gartner found that 37% of top senior executives believed their organizations would need a deep cultural change by 2020.
How right they were.
The transformation reported in the past several years was catapulted by the 2020 pandemic and the almost immediate shift to remote working.
ADAPTING SALES TOOLS TO EVOLVING CUSTOMER RELATIONSHIPS
In response to the COVID pandemic, we scurried to adapt to the new remote-work situation. With customer visits no longer possible, virtual meetings became the norm. Salespeople have had to learn to keep their customer relationships moving without the benefit of in-person meetings. Industry conferences and trade shows were quickly replaced with virtual conferences, webinars, and virtual exhibit halls.
By now you’ve likely managed to shift marketing tactics from live to virtual events, from in-person to virtual sales presentations, and your sales materials are digital and readily downloadable. Oh, and you’re likely posting more videos online, too. You’ve made many of the necessary adjustments to move your sales communications and tools to an online environment, but you must also consider whether those sales tools themselves need adjustments.
The rate at which we are becoming more personally acquainted with our customers has accelerated dramatically. Beyond the adjustments we have made for the remote sales and communications environments, we also must re-evaluate our messaging and content to ensure they fit the way customers expect to learn and communicate today.
Here are six useful suggestions to help you make these adjustments.
1. Understand the New, Acceptable Informality
An interesting side effect of this rapid shift to virtual meetings is what we deem “acceptable informality.” The sudden shift to remote work environments has required us to allow customers, employees, vendors, and partners to peer into our home lives through the window of daily virtual meetings. Many people did not have private offices at home, so we regularly found ourselves staring into people’s home lives—their kitchens, basements, bedrooms and family rooms.
As we learned with Carl and Darby, these virtual meetings inevitably resulted in conversations about the details of our lives on a more intimate social level than we would have previously been comfortable with. We must understand and acknowledge this acceptable informality to strengthen the appeal and impact of our sales tools.
2. Evaluate the Mix and Effectiveness of Your Current Sales Tools
Are you still using sales collateral meant to be a leave-behind piece for sales calls? Are you using PowerPoint presentations written and designed to be projected in a small conference room during in-person sales calls? Were your product briefs produced to be given out at trade shows and conferences?
With our accelerated pace of change and the evolving ways in which we now interact with prospects and customers, it is more important than ever to regularly audit your current portfolio of sales tools. In doing so, you may find that many of your current tools simply no longer align well with the way customers are educating themselves and evaluating your solutions. Perhaps some sales tools need to be rewritten and redesigned, while others may no longer be needed or should be replaced with something more effective.
To perform this audit of your sales tools, start by examining each stage of the complete customer journey and determine where you need the most help in accelerating your customers through to the next stage. (See Figure 1.)
Do you have the right sales tools to help you generate awareness? How effective are they in helping prospective customers become educated and informed about the challenges and problems your products address? Are your sales tools accelerating the customer’s ability to better assess and evaluate your products against alternative solutions?
These are just some of the many questions you’ll want to ask about your current portfolio of sales tools. For a more detailed guide, read “Mapping Your Sales Tools to the Customer Journey” in the Summer 2018 issue of this magazine (then called The Pragmatic Marketer).
3. Warm Up Your Content Tone
Most B2B marketers (especially those in technology companies) write sales content that is formal in tone. To be professional, accurate and comprehensive, they create content that lacks warmth and fails to shed light on the company’s personality.
In a new era of turmoil and constant change, a little empathy can go a long way. Just as our customer relationships are becoming more personal, so should our content and the tone of our writing. Help prospective customers understand that you recognize their stress and apprehension and are here to help. Use a warm, friendly tone to emphasize that you aren’t just a product or solution—you are a trustworthy partner with the expertise to help them navigate through their issues with greater confidence and certainty.
4. Humanize Your Value
As we boost the warmth of our content to reflect the acceptable informality of our changing customer relationships, so too should we humanize and personalize the value that our company and solutions offer.
B2B marketers typically focus on the business value of their company and products, often overlooking the importance of the personal value they offer. This is partly because of a common belief that personal emotion has little involvement in B2B purchase decisions, especially when compared to consumer purchases. After all, B2B decisions are based on careful research, consideration, analysis and clear metrics.
But this is simply not true. In fact, a 2013 CEB/Motista study found the opposite: Emotion typically plays a stronger role in B2B purchase decisions than in most B2C purchases. You can better drive customers to action by communicating the personal value of your company and products, not just the business value.
And this is especially true at a time when prolonged remote working and isolation have combined with the acceleration of change to leave many people feeling uncertain, disconnected and unsure. Showing how your products not only help achieve business goals but also improve their personal situations (e.g., improved job stability, confidence, social connection) can help tip the purchase decision your way.
Infusing your product messaging with personal value can boost your differentiation because, often, business value is not a strong differentiator. After all, in most cases your competitors are communicating similar business value propositions. Adding personal value to your messaging can be a competitive advantage.
The CEB/Motista study supports this, as it found that buyers who see the personal value of products are three times likelier to purchase those products than those who only see the business value of products. And besides being three times likelier to purchase your products, those same B2B buyers who see the products’ personal value were also eight times more willing to pay more for those products!
Here are a few examples of personal value that your product(s) may offer:
* Alleviates job stress, making the job easier and more enjoyable
* Builds important skills or experiences that increase your value to the company
* Provides personal success that is visible across the organization, thus boosting career advancement opportunities
* Allows you to spend less time working late, providing more time with your family
* Frees up time and attention so you can focus on higher priorities or more rewarding tasks
* Boosts your confidence while helping you build new valuable relationships
To learn more about the importance of interjecting personal value into your B2B marketing messaging, listen to the Pragmatic Live podcast, “It’s Not Just Business—It’s Personal.”
5. Revamp, Reformat, Reduce
Along with changes in content and tone, you also must look at the tactical designs and format of your sales tools to ensure they are best matched for your customers’ changing communications channels. Your traditional product presentations—designed to be given in person by your direct or channel salespeople—may not work as well in today’s virtual meeting environment. You may need to revamp length, design and layout (even font sizes).
Everyone is bombarded with vast amounts of information daily, without enough time to absorb more than a fraction of it. (We’ve been warned about Information Fatigue Syndrome since 1996.)
To get customers to focus on your messaging, your sales tools need to tell a compelling story while also getting to your critical points quickly. Evaluate each sales tool and ask whether the intended audience has the time to view and absorb it effectively. Is there a way to communicate your critical points more concisely? Consider adding an executive summary to the beginning of longer sales tools to give customers the most salient points quickly.
6. Get Animated and Interactive
In today’s remote selling environment, digital animation has proven to be a highly compelling and effective way to tell product stories. With technology improvements and lower costs, the use of digital animation video has rapidly increased in the past decade. And live customer testimonial videos can be effectively captured via virtual video conference technology at far less cost than on-site shoots.
To further adapt to remote selling, many companies are creating interactive, web-based product demonstrations and tutorials, allowing customers to tour products online—whether on-demand, in self-guided mode (with the customer choosing how deeply they want to dive into the product technology) or through virtual meetings with a remote salesperson.
LACK OF NORMALCY IS THE NEW NORMAL
The average life span of a company was 61 years in 1958, according to a McKinsey study of that year’s S&P 500 companies. By 2016, that average had dropped to less than 18 years, and McKinsey predicted that 75% of the companies on the S&P 500 would disappear by 2027. That was four years before the pandemic.
The acceleration of change does not allow us to simply assume that we will return to a “new normal” that will once again be predictable. It is highly possible that the only assured element of any new normal is the sheer lack of normalcy.
Change will be further assisted by the burst in new technologies and innovations that will continually reshape the way marketers attract, inform and engage with new customers. As such, savvy marketers must be prepared to regularly monitor and review their strategies, messaging and tactics—including their sales tools—to adjust to ever-changing innovations, market conditions, and environments.
BONUS CONTENT: Making the Most of Today’s Acceptable Informality
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the process for creating effective customer testimonial videos would have required a videography crew to travel to customer sites (or to trade events) to conduct interviews with customers.
But, with such in-person visits restricted during the pandemic, we have been using virtual meetings to record customer testimonial videos, to which we add supporting animation.
While these videos don’t have the professional quality of an on-site video shoot, customers have been completely accepting of this level of video quality. They clearly understand these videos had to be captured remotely.
The result is no reduction in the impact or effectiveness of the videos. Once again, today’s acceptable informality allows us to adjust for the way we communicate today.