Transforming Sales: How Engaged Accounts Can be Known and Then Treated More Effectively

In this series, we ask Sales Tech Executives to describe how their solution can transform sales in a significant way.

This week I interview John Steinert, Chief Marketing Officer of TechTarget.

NANCY:

WHAT ARE THE TOP AREAS OF FOCUS IN THE NEXT 12-24 MONTHS FOR ORGANIZATIONS THAT WANT TO TRANSFORM THEIR SALES ORGANIZATIONS?

JOHN:
  1. All our experience is showing that the biggest thing people will be doing right out of the gate is making sure they have the best possible visibility into the total active demand in their marketplace. You get this by augmenting your 1st party information with great sources of 3rd party market insight.
  2. Additionally, we see people using technology to better surface and understand their actual engagement with target accounts – using AI and other analytics.
  3. When actual engagement is better understood, they’re making changes to how they engage.
  4. And then they’re solidifying a real optimization mindset by creating organizational changes such as a RevOps structure that works at identifying opportunities for improvement (rather than just surfacing the desire for it) and then helps to properly diagnose, solution and implement the operational fixes.

If you’ve made the leap to a transformation mindset, you’re ready to move beyond only looking for “quick wins”. That’s not to say that significant improvements can’t be found quickly; rather, it’s that they impact in other areas than you may be used to – you are likely to want to dive deeper in your stack to get at root causes of performance issues.

3rd party behavioral data – especially real purchase intent — is one of those areas. From the best sources, it can open your eyes to a whole new level of demand visibility that you haven’t yet engaged. I recommend starting with what real intent data can tell you about your list of target accounts. If there’s plenty of demand activity that you’ve been missing, work through your process barriers to make sure you can go after it!

Next, I think you should be looking at what AI and other approaches can do to help you better understand the true account engagement you already have. A lot of where I see sales transforming is around how engaged accounts can be known and then treated more effectively. Both of these approaches can be piloted on a small scale. To roll these things out, on the one hand, I see sales organizations tapping into the structure that a RevOps concept helps supply. On the other, I see them partnering with suppliers who have the resources and experience to support them through their changes.

NANCY:

HOW SHOULD COMPANIES DECIDE WHICH APPROACHES TO SALES TRANSFORMATION ARE RIGHT FOR THEM?

JOHN:

While transformative change must necessarily deliver benefits at scale, it shouldn’t begin there. That’s because looking to operate at scale out of the gate makes it highly likely that you could fall into the trap of simply scaling up bad processes. For example, you add a cadence tool or team without looking at your sales enablement capabilities – your ability to support them. All too often, “quick wins” means taking a data-poor approach to change. Conversely, transformation tends to come out of a data-rich diagnosis of root-causes.

Whether you’re big or small, you’ll want to start with manageable pilots and give yourself enough runway to do things right. You’ll want to make sure you proceed with a very open mindset, giving yourself permission to assess and change your processes and the guardrails you have built to control them. By this, I mean things like if your KPIs or incentives are driving the wrong behavior, you need to adjust them. Beware of tools that only deliver speed. Look for tools that offload work from the individual seller and ideally eliminate it altogether. Look for better insights into prospects and clients together with ways to leverage them that are exceptionally easy to adopt. This certainly can include both new ways of capturing and processing information but it’s just as likely to be as simple as making sure your vendor can provide adequate customer success support to help you manage adoption across your organization.

NANCY:

WHAT ARE YOUR TIPS FOR ENSURING THAT TECHNOLOGIES CONTRIBUTE TO SALES TRANSFORMATION IN A MEASURABLE AND IMPACTFUL WAY?

JOHN:

When they hear the words “measurable and impactful way” together, I think a lot of people make the mistake of jumping to the conclusion that the key to success must necessarily be something that’s volume-based right out the gate. Maybe it’s got something to do with the fact that we’ve been in such a hot economy, but it just seems to me that people are putting a ton of resources into high-velocity tactics and relatively low cost human resources before they figure out root causes of their performance issues. Instead of something that simply speeds up an under-performing process, I like to take a close look at the root causes of under-performance in the first place. And that really takes creating a bit of mental space to think through possible diagnoses before buying something new. Simply speeding up the organization is not the same as transforming it.

Our clients are getting more meaningful results from approaches that first examine how well something works for a small number of people before opening the flood gates. If your process needs additional changes, better to find that out with a pilot team. Definitely be careful of automating processes that could lead to bad customer experiences. And make sure potential vendors have both the experience and the personnel to walk and jog alongside of you before you try take off running.

NANCY:

HOW IS YOUR SOLUTION TRANSFORMING YOUR CUSTOMERS’ SALES ORGANIZATIONS?

JOHN:

The first aha that our customers all experience is that there’s far more real demand in their markets than they ever realized. The second is that there are several impediments that prevent them from making the most of what’s truly out there, all of which can be relatively easy to climb over, if they’re willing to consider at least some transformation. At our core, we’re always working to deliver the world’s best data for tech sales and marketing. But all of this means nothing if the data isn’t used. So we’ve made our Priority Engine interface much more intuitive for the individual sales user. We customize our displays with reference to the specific client’s ICP, the salesperson’s territory, the solution angles, the messaging inroads and more. It’s all to help sellers: prioritize accounts they need to focus on based on their activity within a customer’s specific market segment as well as specific engagements they have had with that customers website, content or advertising; engage real buying team prospects with insight to better personalize their outreach; transform better demand visibility into better revenue yields from their list of accounts.

Interestingly, we’ve learned a lot about transformative practices by spending time with other service providers whose offerings are complementary to our own. Companies like Operatix, a global lead qualification provider, became familiar with TechTarget real purchase intent data because a number of our shared accounts provided them access to the Priority Engine platform. Because their business model depends on productivity gains, Operatix has wholeheartedly adopted our data and the rich insights it contains. In the past, using contact data alone and out-of-the-box high velocity methods, they were skating over the surface of many accounts – essentially blind to the real demand within them. Using real purchase intent insights and changes to their processes, they’ve transformed their ability to find and then engage active buying centers within accounts.

By making these changes, they deliver more opportunities to their clients with significantly less total effort. With Priority Engine, they’re having higher quality conversations with more qualified accounts and prospects that are increasing conversions across the entire pipeline: 42% increase in conversion from conversation to SAE (meeting) set, 50% decrease in dropoff between meeting set to meeting held and a 15% increase in meetings held to SQL.

NANCY:

HOW CAN SALES LEVERAGE 3RD PARTY INTENT DATA AND WHAT ARE THE KEY DIFFERENCES BETWEEN PROVIDERS IN THE MARKET?

JOHN:

It’s great to see the market starting to understand the potential that behavioral data holds for their businesses. And we love what companies are doing to surface the intelligence that’s been locked inside silo’d systems in their stacks – they’re starting to make much better use of the intelligence they had no easy way to get at. For us, it’s especially exciting when companies apply the same rigor to the outside world. Because even the largest players in a given tech category are only scratching the surface of the demand that’s actually out there for what they sell. Since its relatively early days, many companies don’t yet fully understand the key elements to rapid productivity improvement. As usual, the market has gotten excited by the term “Intent”. There are many providers scraping together behavioral signals from the internet and calling them “intent”.  But what these signals are actually telling you about the intentions of an account can be hard to discern. So while they might be somewhat useful as background for sellers in this stuff, it can’t really catalyze a change in sales actions. To deliver real purchase intent insights, we have to spend millions of dollars creating original content that supports buying teams in their decision making. In exchange, they provide permission for our clients to contact them. And that’s the virtuous cycle for us. We’re able to tell a tech vendor exactly who the prospect buying team is, what they care about, where they are in their process and so on. These are real people with known needs that a seller can action immediately. For example, from the accounts visiting your website, we can tell you who actual people are doing the buying research. For a lot of clients, we confirm the projects for them, documenting all the current install information, the prospect’s outcome priorities and their component requirements.

NANCY:

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?

JOHN:

After you Nancy and our own Josh Garland, for getting your head around both strategic and tactical mindset changes — things that get in the way of transforming — we think a lot of the work that Trish Bertuzzi at The Bridge Group and the JBarrows team do. David Dulany at Tenbound is helping on the sales development side and the data out of InsideSales.com is great.

For overarching strategy and complete frameworks, Forrester/SiriusDecisions provide great roadmaps, from the visionary work of Mary Shea to the applied guidance from people like Steve Silver and Dana Therrien. Additionally, Scott Albro and team at TOPO are doing great work in the area of real, practical sales direction and smarter account-based selling.