TechTarget Interview wiith John Steinert

Q: SHOULD SELLING BE VIEWED AS A BUYING EXPERIENCE AND WHY

JOHN: Even if we’re super enabled – we’ve done everything conceivable to assist our buyers with the decision support resources, tools, case studies, etc. they need to do the “jobs to be done” on the buying team side, that can leave a pretty big blind spot. 

Coming from the tech industry, I think we sometimes forget that all buyers are human beings.  In B2B, even though its all about business, decision making will never only be rational – it always has emotional components.  Emotions have a huge effect on the first buy when perceived risk is at its highest, even more so if adoption is going to require significant change. And they crop up a lot down the line during ownership – so they impact cross-sell/up-sell a lot as well.  Even if the initial purchase goes swimmingly, over time, it’s the experience of ownership that will be at the forefront of buyers’ minds. 

For many of us, there’s never been a more important time to recognize this than now. We need to coach and enable our complete selling team – pre-sales and post-sales – to help clients with the emotions of buying, owning and succeeding with our solutions.

Q: WHAT ARE THE TOP WAYS COMPANIES CAN TRANSFORM SALES TO IMPROVE THEIR PROSPECTS' BUYING EXPERIENCE IN THE NEXT 12-24 MONTHS

JOHN: We’ve increased our collaboration between account execs right now to foster the surfacing and sharing of small tips that they’re finding helpful to their customers. Of course, few teams will be able to do all they want to do for their prospects (and I’d include customers as well) in the near term. 

There are going to be some tough calls to make, and sellers are going to need to be coached through exactly where to focus – what they can do and what they need to avoid. We also need to be cognizant of the fact that while improving the customer experience right now is especially desirable, it’s never easy; it does require work and focus. Here are five themes we think folks should be focused on.  Over the next 12 months, the weighting will shift between them as the economic environment shifts.

  • Respond Buying teams are under stress for both business and personal reasons right now. Communication has never been more important. While it may be difficult to accelerate turnaround times on buyer requests, even simply staying in touch with mini-progress updates can help ease tension on the buyers’ side.
  • Provide There’s so much noise in the market right now, it seems harder than ever to find trustworthy sources of information. We’re ramping our efforts to be careful curators of objective information about client markets to help their businesses better navigate the way forward. Keeping close, regular tabs on business insights will be a competitive benefit to them throughout this period and beyond.
  • Protect Buyers are weighing investments against each other. They will have unmovable priorities, but they will also welcome objective opinions on the pluses and minuses of different moves. We need to help make sure they have access to all the best decision-making inputs, not just with respect to our solution – but including commercial insights to their business as a whole where possible.  In the near term, we need to protect buyers from over-reacting.  Longer term, we have to help them accelerate forward.
  • Project and Promote Now is the time for the leadership skills of great sellers to shine. Over the next 12 months, we need to be a source of calm and confidence. Over the full 24 months, we need to promote teamwork, incremental progress and the efforts of all involved.

Q: HOW SHOULD COMPANIES DECIDE WHICH BUYING EXPERIENCE IMPROVEMENT INITIATIVES TO START WITH - ASSUMING THEY CAN'T DO ALL AT ONCE? 

JOHN: The temptation will be to try to add experiences. Certainly, there will be new gaps appearing that should be carefully evaluated as to whether they can or must be filled. Likewise, if a large initiative was launched before the current issues broke, its priority level may now have changed. But there are some service levels that could be relaxed, perhaps even terms and conditions. 

The key questions include thinking about how you can help customers in meaningful ways for them now that will strengthen their ability to thrive as we come out of this and therefore, their inclusion of you on their team going forward.

The first rule is to understand your customers’ situation relative to that of your own company.

Next, assess all that you can do relatively easily and decide which you will do based on how it impacts your customers and your own business. Choose the ones that will matter more to them than they do to you in the near term. 

For example, we’re moving up value-added analyses that ordinarily come much later in the process or in post-sales. These are relatively easy for us to do compared to the work it would take on the clients’ side without our help.

We’re also working closely with our SDRs on two areas in particular. In a time where prospects are juggling a lot of back-to-back calls just to get their jobs done (not to mention the in-parallel day-time needs of their families), unfocused outreach is particularly wasteful. 

Our opening words need to be both respectful and efficient, so we are spending more time practicing and preparing. Further, as our AEs also face challenges getting through, we are redeploying some top SDRs to help with thoughtful coverage of accounts where we need to maintain broad coverage outbound and higher accessibility/higher touch inbound.  

Q: WHAT ARE YOUR TIPS FOR ENSURING THAT TECHNOLOGIES CONTRIBUTE TO THE BUYING EXPERIENCE IN MEANINGFUL WAYS? ​

JOHN: As a leading provider of an extraordinarily rich dataset, for several years now we’ve been increasingly focused on helping our clients transform how their teams prepare for and react to known prospect interests. 

Our research and direct experience at scale has shown that the channels of interaction have remained relatively stable over time. Whatever tech is in your stack, in the end, we’ve proven that it’s first your targeting and then your messaging and content that impacts engagement. 

Think about it – what you say and how you say it is hugely important to how you’re received and perceived by the customer. The more you can do to anticipate the customer’s needs, the more useful to them you can be. With better insights into a customer’s needs and concerns, you can prepare much better in the content you build and how you communicate it. Of course, this takes work beyond simply training people on a tool set. 

That’s why our customer success teams are supporting a much broader set of teams at our clients than ever before – to help them become more agile at ingesting information and in enabling both their marketing and in particular their selling touchpoints. Better information is only as useful as your clients’ abilities to incorporate it into their processes. This requires change – and change is rarely easy. 

We’ve discovered that there’s really a direct line from improved customer success service all the way to the better CX required for better outcomes. The simplest measure of this conversion rates. Longer term, it’s more revenue per target account, including on the renewal side.

Q: HOW DOES YOUR SOLUTION HELP SELLERS IMPROVE THE BUYING EXPERIENCE? 

JOHN: Recently, a large customer rolled out our Priority Engine real purchase intent data platform to a test group of 200 sellers. In 10 minutes, he said, they had discovered more than $10M in previously unknown opportunities. Of course, there’s nothing obviously related to CX about that on the face of it. 

But think of it this way:  Each of those salespeople was looking into accounts they were assigned to. There was active demand – opt-in contacts showing demand signals – in their accounts that they had no previous knowledge of.  Right off the bat, they’re going to be more on their toes about those accounts.  But there’s a lot more to this.  Over millions of emails and thousands of calls, we know that using buyer activity insights properly can improve email response by 12X and increase both meeting acceptance and opportunity yield.  So you can run your ROI scenarios on that from both directions. 

TechTarget's Increase in Email Response

Either you can keep your resourcing stable and you’ll deliver more deals. Or you can resource more conservatively and do better with less. The key here is not simply that you have better insight into exactly who’s in market when – it’s what you do with that information. 

There’s absolute proof that the more responsive you can be to newly visible buyer activity, in combination with how relevant you make your outreach, the better you will do. 

As I mentioned before, responsiveness and relevance (embedded within the “Provide” concept) are core CX improvement areas. Just think about what a pain it is when, in a single service call, a credit card company asks for your account information over and over again.  While this seems like basic “show me you know me” stuff, it’s extremely powerful. It puts you in a position to add both rational and emotional value almost. 

It dramatically reduces general discovery questions.  Implemented in sales enablement, it can put the correct high value resources in the hands of sellers for more timely direct sharing with prospects.

Q: How do you see buying team behaviors being affected by current conditions? 

Over the past several years, we seen more progressive tech vendors starting to get a much better handle on buying group dynamics.  The ground-breaking work that Gartner/CEB did in this area opened a lot of eyes to the need to manage opportunities much more holistically and transparently.

Go-to-market teams that are both more inquisitive about their prospects and more agile in responding to actual market evidence (versus backward-looking models or planning-based hypotheses) have demonstrated the ability to pivot past what they think they should do and onto what account behaviors are actually telling them about what happens on the ground.

A perfect example of this can be seen in the use of personas.  While we all know that personas represent an over-simplification of any specific deal-in-process, many teams remain stuck in their believe that they should disregard signals coming from prospects that don’t exactly match their persona frameworks.

More simply put, too many teams won’t follow up on demand that looks different from what they know or they’ve been told.  In the current situation, we think that this could become even more problematic. 

In response to a very fluid business environment, priorities are constantly shifting within companies. Thus, the dynamics are also shifting inside their decision-making apparatus – their buying teams. Sellers will need to adjust their approaches in light of these changes. But if your sellers remain locked into their old thinking, if you don’t help them adjust their approaches with reference to actual demand behaviors at the opt-in contact level, they are going to be less successful.

Delivering better CX to the buying group must take into account changes in buying group dynamics that are happening faster than historical modeling and experiential intuition can prepare you for. Real behavioral insight at the individual level – the actual people, their functions and roles – creates a roadmap that helps your teams adjust.

Q: What are some good resources if someone wanted to learn what questions to ask, what others are doing, or other factors related to sales transformation?

At the practitioner level, one of the most useful resources we’re seeing are both formal and informal user groups. Formats that are particularly helpful include those where participant questions submitted before hand can be answered very prescriptively by those who can show examples that they are actively experimenting with.

John Steinert

CMO, TechTarget

As TechTarget CMO, John is responsible for positioning TechTarget’s company and messaging to it’s constituencies in ways that maximize understanding and energize action. He’s convinced that if done well, everyone benefits.  TechTarget is committed to customer centricity and a win:win view of the world.