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Four Sales and Marketing Priorities in the Year Ahead

Rethink marketing goals, reduce the effort customers must expend to resolve a problem, and help employees cope with almost constant change

Businessman Attracts Customers Loyalty Money Income UpAcross the past decade, big companies have grown bigger than they’ve ever been, shed layers of their organizational hierarchy and simultaneously created a raft of new specialist positions.

And so now employees, regardless of role or seniority, have to make more independent decisions and collaborate with more people – many of whom they don’t know, share a common culture with, or have a reporting relationship to – than they did five years ago to accomplish the same task.

And all this has meant it now takes longer to make decisions than it used to, just at a time when internal and external customers want things to happen more quickly.

A lot of managers think that if they want to speed-up decision-making processes to satisfy customers, they must be prepared to make some bad – or at least less good – decisions. CEB’s work in 2015 has consistently shown this isn’t always the case. For sales and marketing teams, there are four areas in particular where being “fast” doesn’t have to stop them being “right.”

Four Trends

  1. B2B firms should work on forging customer consensus: B2B sales teams no longer have the luxury to pitch their ideas to a single executive. Today’s sales teams have to deal with larger buying teams that have an average of 5.4 decision makers all of whom have different perspectives and goals (say a business-unit risk manager and a line manager). For sales teams, this leads to lower margins, longer purchase cycles, and at worst, customer deadlock that brings the whole deal to a grinding halt. The hardest part of sales today isn’t the ability to sell but rather addressing customers’ inability to reach consensus.

    The most successful sales teams look for “mobilizers” – a specific customer profile who is naturally skeptical but willing to be challenged, and has clout to spur on the buying process.

  2. Employ a different kind of service rep: Customers today prefer to use online self-service channels for the majority of tasks and only call the contact center as a last resort. This has dramatically changed the concept of what customers want out of service interactions.

    So, with simple issues typically handled through self-service, reps face a mix of more complicated and less routine questions. What these customers want is an answer, a solution to their issue – and quickly so they can get back to their lives.

    CEB data from a survey of 2,000 customer service reps from more than 20 companies show that reps fall into various personality types. Of these, the “controller” far outperforms all others when it comes to providing low-effort customer service, which – CEB data show – is the best way to encourage customer loyalty. Controllers are firm, opinionated, confident and remain calm under pressure. They cut through the complexity and guide their customers efficiently through any problem.

  3. B2C brands should rethink their marketing campaigns: While the rise of online and social media may have revolutionized marketing, it hasn’t fundamentally changed people’s view of marketing communications (marcomm) campaigns: people are only willing to listen if they find the message relevant or interesting. What’s more, people can now avoid far more advertising than they ever could before and, if they think something is particularly bad, tell their friends and followers about it.

    The trade-off between the need to create appealing content and actually sell products led CEB to launch an extensive marcomm benchmarking survey. The results show that the most well received marcomm campaigns did not necessarily meet consumers’ expectations, such as being highly personalized or emotionally engaging. The characteristics that most stand out are those that are “culturally disruptive” or that reframe consumers’ beliefs and break conventions (e.g., challenging a truth held as universal or taking a side in a high-profile social debate – such as vodka brands, Smirnoff and Absolut, supporting gay marriage).

  4. Use corporate communications to help employees cope with change:Change is the most prevalent and pernicious cause of employee under-performance and no company is immune to its effects. CEB data show that employees suffering from change-related stress perform 5% worse than the average employee. While 5% may not seem like a lot, for the average company it translates to $32.5 million lost for every $1 billion in revenue created.

    Most communications professionals try to minimize that drop in employee performance by involving employees, where possible, to give them some feeling of ownership over the change. CEB analysis shows that, while commitment does improve performance during times of change (employees who are more committed to a change perform better than those who aren’t), maintaining employees’ capability to do their jobs during times of change has about three times as much impact on their performance.

    More change management strategies and ideas can be found here.

    Communication teams must help employees rebuild their capability to do their job in the new changed world. There are a number of options: in some cases, corp comms teams can actually create mechanisms to help – e.g., online corporate directories / employee profiles, or internal social media platforms. In other cases, the answer might be to publicize existing resources like training e-modules, or to help their managers create and share tools.

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