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Five opportunities for B2B Marketers from the rise of The Challenger Sale

November 26, 2013 Categories: Best Practice

What’s all this fuss about the challenger sale?

This work by the Corporate Executive Board is one of those concepts that just intuitively feels right: in complex sales, the most effective salespeople are those who can get the buyer thinking about their problem/opportunity in a new way and who can keep this ‘re-education’ going right the way through the sales process.

We’ve heard in interviews/presentations over recent years a number of buyers saying specifically that this is what they want from suppliers. These notes from our conversation with former government CIO John Suffolk are a great example:

The headline shift is that suppliers have the opportunity to be bolder in creating propositions to solve specific challenges. Consultants need to stop asking “what keeps you up at night?” and software vendors need to stop saying “we have the best tool on the market – how many licenses do you want to buy?” Instead, suppliers should come with specific propositions that solve well-documented business challenges – the kind of thing that we’ve described before as a ‘provocation proposition’.

This video gives a good intro to the challenger sale concept, but is no replacement for reading the book and seeing some of the examples brought to life!


So what does it mean for B2B marketers?

    1. I’m really excited by the role it creates for marketers to drive better propositions. In the solution selling world a lot of this is down to the skill of the individual salesperson and ‘differentiation’ isn’t really as important as having a comprehensive set of case studies and capabilities materials. The success of challenger selling comes down to one thing: have you got a compelling fresh perspective to educate your audience about? The vast majority of B2B marketers would have to answer ‘no’ to that question. (Unfortunately, ‘the quality of our people’ or ‘it’s about people, process and technology’ aren’t compelling challenger propositions.) 

      It may be wishful thinking, but the more the sales team are asking for support with challenger selling, the more opportunity there is for marketers to invest time in getting closer to the audience and creating compelling propositions. You may think ‘there’s nothing new to say about what we offer’ but some of the examples in the book show how to overcome that issue. By way of a shameless plug, this is exactly the approach that made our award-winning campaign with Canon such a success.

    2. It’s marketing’s job to start the re-education process early in the buying cycle. The general consensus is that around two thirds of the buying process now happens before a buyer wants to make contact with sales (although I don’t agree with this across the board). So having created a compelling challenger proposition, it’s marketing’s role to get the story out and capture/convert interest (hence a greater role for inbound marketing and influencer marketing alongside content marketing in 2014).

    3. Sell the value of engaging with sales to convert interest to action. With a lot of propositions, we know that the earlier a prospect engages with sales the more chance you have of shaping – and winning – the deal. But people still insist on marketing the ‘end product’ rather than the ‘next step’. If the next step you want someone to take is to have a meeting with your sales/business development team then sell the value of that meeting in your marketing. Work with sales on exactly how to articulate the potential value that the customer/prospect will get from a meeting. You don’t have to convince them to sign a contract with the second marketing email they receive.

    4. Equip sales to continue and convert the conversation. Sales enablement continues to emerge as a growing focus for B2B marketers. I hear more people agreeing with the sentiment that if they only had budget for either sales enablement or lead generation, they would pick sales enablement every time. Alongside a general push to look at more innovative tools and the right way to roll them out, the challenger sale offers a useful perspective on the type of sales enablement we should be considering.

      Partly, this ties back to the question of whether you have a convincing challenger proposition in the first place (if not, the content of your sales enablement may be a struggle). But the book also talks about the importance of the sales experience as a factor that’s massively important to the buying decision: how you sell being actually marginally more important than what you are selling. This challenges marketers to think about creating sales enablement assets that will help sales to engage in different ways and will give sales opportunities to keep that engagement and education happening over a sustained period of time. Think about materials to support different meeting formats, assets to re-engage with cold leads, and tools that can help different job functions reach a consensus.

    5. Work jointly with sales to progress key opportunities. Sales enablement shouldn’t be a question of throwing assets over the fence from marketing to sales. There’s lots of potential to work jointly on specific opportunities, for example with services to monitor accounts and contacts or create custom insights, and getting involved far earlier in bid support (even before the bid is live) when there’s a chance to create a challenger position with the target account. In fact, I think there’s a gap here between traditional Account Based Marketing (focused on a few key accounts) and bid support (focused on the later stages of specific major deals). But that’s a topic for another day…
3 comments | Posted by Paul Everett

B2B Data: Sexy again?

November 22, 2013 Categories: Best Practice, Experiments

Well OK, maybe not – but give Matt Hanks, chief data smoother at The Marketing Practice, two minutes to explain what his dental floss has to do with your data…

No comments | Posted by Paul Everett

Payment by results: are we ready?

November 20, 2013 Categories: Best Practice

The idea of ‘payment by results’ is an attractive one. Get it right, and it’s a great way for agencies and departments to concentrate minds on what really matters. And the drive for accountability in marketing will only make it more common. So how does it work and are we ready for it?

What is ‘payment by results’?

It’s a way of tying agency compensation to results that the business will care about. That could be basing some fees on leads, pipeline, or even closed revenue. To quote that horrible phrase, it’s about ‘having skin in the game’ (a prize to the first person who sends me a credible source for this saying).

Done well, it can be the basis for building an effective partnership between an agency and marketing department. It’s also an opportunity for agencies to influence or take responsibility for the factors that directly impact end results.

But there are some important foundations you will need in place for it to succeed.

Setting the right targets

Incentives work, particularly financial ones. But that’s also a challenge. If you are going to do payment by results, you can be sure that lots of energy will go on the results being paid for. And if they’re not absolutely right, you might end up with some unwelcome outcomes. (Some have argued that the whole credit crisis can be tied to poorly thought-out incentives – see Michael Lewis’s The Big Short for one).

The most obvious example of this is when payment based on marketing-generated leads or early pipeline leads to sales teams wasting their time on poorly qualified opportunities.

There is also a common problem where marketing and sales have different objectives. Let’s say marketing wants to generate opportunities for ‘high-value’ business consultancy, but the sales team’s bonuses are based on a specific technical product. Sound familiar? We’ve certainly seen lots of examples of this or similar misalignments. In these cases, both parties have skin in the game; the problem is they’re different games.

Which leads me nicely to the real rub…

Trust and collaboration with sales

One way to get the incentives right is to pay by end results: sales qualified leads or closed revenue. But to do this requires real trust between marketing and sales (wince).

At the very least, we need to find ways to work effectively with sales beyond the usual handover points. Our responsibilities cannot end when a lead is generated, for example. We need to support sales through the qualification stage to close. It’s not traditional agency territory so it can feel uncomfortable at first, but with goodwill and concerted effort it can work extremely well.

Taking a measured approach

One requirement for this approach is the ability to track leads to revenue accurately. But more than just good systems, payment by results requires a well-planned and long-term approach. Partly because of the need to have marketing plans that focus on an entire audience journey, rather than a single touch point. But also because, if you are going to tie payment by results to the business objectives that really matter, there can be no papering over of cracks.

Payment by results should discourage short-term thinking and encourage departments and agencies to look at the fundamentals of their approach. It is this potential that makes it so attractive but it’s also perhaps why we don’t see more of it. But, if we are serious about raising the profile of marketing in the business, it might be something we need to get to grips with.

Based on an article written for B2B Marketing

No comments | Posted by David van Schaick

How to develop a big idea

November 19, 2013 Categories: Best Practice

This little one-pager is one of the training tools we have to help people think laterally and develop innovative solutions.

I’m wary of the phrase ‘big idea’. It’s bandied about a lot. It’s easy to think of the ‘big’ being about pomp and largesse. It can lead people to think up solutions then look for a problem.

But lateral thinking is a critical skill in any marketing role. The challenge when training people on it is that there is no one way to do it. What you can teach, however, are techniques that help people to look at problems in a different way.
This one-pager summarises a few of those I’ve found most useful. Still the best for me is an old classic, Kipling’s six serving men: who, what, where, how, why and when.


No comments | Posted by David van Schaick

Secrets of the C-suite: The Storify of November’s S&M Forum

November 18, 2013 Categories: Best Practice
No comments | Posted by Monika Lazarowicz

The forgotten IT audience? There’s a lot of them… (let’s start with the CTO…)

October 21, 2013 Categories: Best Practice

‘We need to speak to the CIO.’

So begins many a briefing.

What can often follow is a campaign that attempts to do just that. And scores some notable successes. Meetings may follow, or perhaps a well-attended event. Some good leads bubble to the surface and it’s a job well done.

But very few of these leads are actually with CIOs.

That’s not really surprising. As we heard from two well-seasoned CIOs at a recent S&M Forum, the IT function is a complex organisation in its own right (here’s a handy table in the write up). There are plenty of trusted lieutenants who take responsibility for key areas – and these are often the ones who make up those excellent leads.

At The Marketing Practice we often turn to our tame enterprise IT sales attack dog, Carl Rigby, to sniff out the sweet spot. A couple of decades’ experience, and more than a few friendships forged with the IT crowd itself, gives us a great view of how decisions are made. Now we’ve brought this together in a regular series of sessions in the TMP barn:

We get to know the rest of the senior IT players.

We look at what their typical day is.

We get a feel for their language, their ambitions and their grievances.

We dig deeper into what they actually do – and take time to properly understand the technology they work with.

We even explore what they think of their colleagues – and what their colleagues probably think of them.

In short it’s full of useful nuggets for marketers who need to reach the people who matter most. It may still be the CIO – let’s not leave them in peace completely – but it may just be the Apps Director, the Ops Director or the CTO that gets you through the door first…

We’ve put the first presentation in this series ‘marketing to the CTO’ on slideshare here – but friends of TMP can always get first hand access to Carl himself, if you ask him nicely.



In pursuit of a picture to reinforce my attack-dog metaphor, I discovered an excellent children’s illustrated series by Alexandra Day, featuring Carl, ‘everyone’s favourite babysitting Rottweiler’.

Titles (published by MacMillan) include ‘Carl’s Sleepy Afternoon’, ‘Carl’s Masquerade’ and ‘Carl goes to Daycare’. If the last one sounds a little final, don’t worry; he assures us there’s life in the old dog yet…

No comments | Posted by Tom Upfold

Cisco’s 2014 marketing metrics

October 17, 2013 Categories: Best Practice

I came across this chart the other day here – http://t.co/uwNZuwRvgf. Should say – as a disclaimer – that I don’t know if any of the stats in it are accurate. But I think the things they are tracking (marketing’s contribution to sales; cost per lead; conversion rates) are interesting to look at.



Good to see that marketing’s top targets are based on a percentage contribution to sales opportunities and revenue. I’m not sure how likely it is that the two percentages will be the same in real life. You’d normally expect sales to convert a higher proportion of opportunities that they source themselves than ones that marketing have provided. But I’m happy to have an open mind on it and if anyone in Cisco is reading perhaps they can say whether this is accurate or not!

Tracking the percentage of leads being accepted by sales is also a great top-line sign of the health of demand gen.  I saw recently that Forrester say ‘best in class’ organisations see around 30% of marketing leads becoming sales qualified leads. That strikes me as low (our average is running at around 75%) but then I guess the US market probably skews things.

Then there’s a set of stats around cost per inquiry/lead and more detailed conversion rates.

It’d be easy to keep expanding the list of results to track, but I do think there are a couple of other metrics that would be useful. For example, something purer around ROI or even looking at average deal sizes (do these differ between marketing and sales-sourced leads?). And the duration of the sales cycle would also be good to track – we reduced this by 30% on a recent campaign which had a big impact on the business.

1 comment | Posted by Paul Everett

The rubbish we come up with in marketing…

October 14, 2013 Categories: Best Practice


I’ve just had one of those increasingly irritating faux-personal emails. I assume it comes from a marketing automation system, mainly because I hate to think there might be someone somewhere sitting around doing this manually.

As any failed copywriter (myself included) will tell you, it’s important to have some kind of context/excuse when you’re bombarding someone with an unsolicited message. But this one takes the biscuit: “I was hoping we may be able to assist you with any data requirements that you may have as we approach this important time of year.” I can only assume they mean Halloween?

time of year

At least they vary the font/size of the message to provide a little visual interest in the email…


1 comment | Posted by Paul Everett

What’s working in B2B marketing?

October 2, 2013 Categories: At the Barn

You may have noticed that things look a bit different. Earlier in the year we launched the new brand for The Marketing Practice, and now it’s time for our blog & newsletter to follow suit.

What’s in a brand?


For me the logo sums it all up – I think of it as a kind of ‘quality mark’ that reflects our commitment to a more professional, more data-driven, more results-focused approach to marketing.

The brainchild of our Creative Director, Paul Baker, the logo development takes the ‘M’ for marketing and evolves that into a graphic reflecting sales success. There’s also a tick shape created from the negative space that represents our commitment to quality. Of course, it doesn’t stop with a logo…

Preach what we practice

We’ve always been pretty good at practicing what we preach. But you could accuse us of not preaching hard enough about what we practice. So that’s our resolution with this new-look blog (and the newsletter you can sign up to here).

As the title suggests, we’ll share our views and experiences of “what’s working in B2B marketing.” And we’re determined it won’t be just opinions and gut feel – although the occasional rants will no doubt still appear. There will be more sharing of detailed results/stats/findings and even “experiments” where we showcase some of the more lively approaches to B2B marketing. Hope you enjoy the journey as much as we will…


No comments | Posted by Paul Everett

Not our campaign of the month: EMC speed2lead

September 1, 2013 Categories: Best Practice

The first in an occasional series highlighting marketing that is ‘not our campaign’ but which somehow – even without the help of The Marketing Practice – looks to be pretty impressive.

Under the hashtag #speed2lead EMC have been promoting a grand launch/unveiling on 4 September. I haven’t got a clue what it’s all about, other than something competitor NetApp presumably are #notappy about based on the video below. Great that they’re being so playful with the competition.

EMC signed a sponsorship deal with Lotus F1 earlier this year, and are clearly making the most of it. How refreshing to see sponsorship that will actually tie back to something a company wants to be famous for!

The campaign so far seems to have done a good job of getting EMC employees and some of the wider storage/backup industry buzzing. The landing page is nice and clear (countdown, video, twitter feed and ability to download a calendar invite for the launch). Looks to me like the twitter feed is moderated to prevent any opportunistic competitors from hijacking the page, but of course I may be wrong (anyone from NetApp reading this?)!


My only immediate suggested improvement would be to change the text in the calendar invite to contain some kind of instruction/promise of what will happen next. At the minute it says “Fasten your seatbelt – Join EMC on September 4, 2013 for a major storage product announcement – coming to a raceway near you. http://www.emc.com/speed2lead” I’m assuming that something will be streamed live on the microsite at the time of the invite, but it would be good to have that confirmed.

But that’s a minor niggle in what looks like a very slick campaign. It’s easy to underestimate how important it is to get employees excited by a programme like this (after all, they’re one of your best channels to market), but this campaign seems to be doing that admirably well for EMC staff. NetApp, your move next I think!

No comments | Posted by Paul Everett