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07 Aug 16:24

Next Gen Sales Technology Powered By Collective Intelligence w/Dave Boyce @InsideSales.com

by Gabe Larsen

InsideSales.com Chief Strategy Officer Dave Boyce shares with us the benefits of collective intelligence and how it fuels the next generation sales platform. Read on to find out more. RELATED: How Artificial Intelligence Helps Sales Reps Close More Deals In this article: Redefining Enterprise Information Architecture The Sales Technology of the Last Generation Sales Reps […]

The post Next Gen Sales Technology Powered By Collective Intelligence w/Dave Boyce @InsideSales.com appeared first on The Sales Insider.

07 Aug 16:24

8 Tips to Re-engage Old Leads

by James Meincke

Every sales professional has hundreds of prospects who either didn’t answer their calls or emails, told them to get lost, or actually started going through the process — but ultimately, didn’t convert but we need to re-engage those old leads to turn it around. 

Most salespeople want to forget these folks, but that would be a mistake. Getting traffic and leads is the biggest pain of 63% of businesses, so anyone source you can take advantage of needs to be used. Yet despite this, 44% of salespeople give up after hearing 1 rejection from a prospect. 

The problem with that is that most businesses need ~5 follow-up contacts to successfully convert. 

We’re not here to shame anyone. Plus, even if you’re doing things 100% by the book, leads in your database can still plateau. Without proper nurturing, leads can lose interest, feel their needs are not being met, or simply forget about you. 

That’s why we’re going to show you how to re-engage these old leads with some action-worthy tips of what to do, and what to avoid.

What not to do

One of the worst things you can do is not take old leads as seriously as the first time around. Just because you’ve already been in contact with them doesn’t mean that you can afford to get complacent. If you’re going to reach out to old leads at all, put the same amount of care into it as you would if it was the first time. 

To help you with that, here are some common mistakes to avoid: 

  • Being too casual
    Don’t try to reconnect by posting on their LinkedIn pages or comments. Proofread any content for language and grammar. 
  • Taking past contact for granted
    Your re-outreach needs to be just as professional as the last. Answer any questions they have as if it’s the first — no “I told you that 3 months ago.” By re-hitting the main points, the lead may begin to remember why they liked your product the first time. 
  • Ignoring past conversations
    But that said, don’t ignore the fact that you’ve conversed in the past. Remind them of your old conversations before you try to sell them anything; and if there was an issue that ruined your last conversion attempt, discuss how you’ve fixed it. 
  • Beating around the bush
    There’s definitely an intro phase to re-engaging old leads, but it isn’t long-term. Don’t take a month to get to the point. 1) Get their attention; 2) tell them why you reached out; 3) ask them for the sale. 
  • Forgetting your research
    Again, just because you’ve talked to them before — don’t forget how you do outreach. Research and understand the lead’s problems. Dig through your previous conversations for any patterns of insight; then, use those insights to draft your initial re-outreach.

With what not do out of the way, here are some tips to re-engage right.

8 tips to Re-engage leads

1. Research first

Before you start sending emails, do your prep-work. Dig through your old conversations for insight so you can inject a personal touch. If you took good notes in your CRM, take advantage of them. 

Finally, skim your lead’s social media accounts. Have they been posting articles on topics in your product’s industry? If they have, that can indicate interest (a trigger), suggesting that now is a great time to reach out. 

2. Skip the hard sell, feel them out first

84% of buyers accuse salespeople of being pushy. So rather than going straight for the pitch in your first email, use a “feeler” to catch their interest and open up the channel of communication. That’s just another way of saying to send them something of free, but real, value. A few examples: 

  • An ebook, checklist, or guide
  • A free webinar or tutorial session
    Schedule helpful webinars or tutorial sessions and invite old leads to participate. 
  • A sweepstake or light contest
    You can send out fun quizzes or questionnaires with the promise of a free reward for completion, or big price cuts and discounts on an essential product for a certain period if the lead completes a simple game. 

3. Surveys/opinion poll emails

Another way to reach out to old leads is to send simple survey emails or online polls. Focus on asking where you went right or wrong. Include a priority list of reasons as to why they may have abandoned your funnel. 

Keep the options simple and few, and finish with a call to action to keep the conversation going.

4. Leverage trigger events/experiment with timing

As mentioned earlier, scan through your leads’ social media profiles. If you notice any recent achievements or successes, use it as an opportunity to reach out. Skip the sales pitch in this email — congratulate them, keeping it brief and honest. 

5. Test your subject line

If you aren’t getting a response from any of your re-outreach emails, they might not be opening them. Testing out different types of subject lines could help generate interest, so they open your email and see your message. 

Try using a subject line starting with “How to…”, a list of 3 things or that is time-sensitive. Of course, the content of your email should reflect the subject line. You wouldn’t send an email entitled “How to do XYZ with [product]” when your email congratulates the lead on their company’s acquisition of a competitor. 

6. Talk about what’s changed with them

Once you have the line open, catch up with the lead. It’s been 6 months or more — change is guaranteed. Ask soft, business-related questions in a quick email; or, if you think the phone will elicit a better response, pick it up and call them. 

In either case, listen for things like expressed needs, frustrations with a current solution, and their general demeanor — i.e. are they annoyed that you’ve contacted them? 

7. Now, talk about what’s changed with you

If your lead seems to be open to conversation, move into the next part: talking about what’s changed with your product. For example, you can say something like, “Well, [product] has gone through some renovation since you last looked at it.” 

Then, start talking about what’s different. Focus on new features, discounts, and new processes, and make sure to highlight what benefits those bring to your client.

8. Set up a drip campaign

A drip campaign can be set up using marketing automation software. You create, schedule, and send a series of emails that are designed to speak to the interests of your leads. This is more on the marketing side of things, but it could work to attract old leads’ attention.

Conclusion

Reigniting the interest of old leads in your company is something every salesperson should be doing. It’s an already-established list of people who have had at least some contact from you in the past, making it a step up from emailing cold leads

Try these tips out and let us know how they go. You won’t convert every old lead, but you’ll recover at least some. 

Discover the best sales career opportunities. 100% free and confidential.

The post 8 Tips to Re-engage Old Leads appeared first on CloserIQ Blog.

07 Aug 16:24

How Capturing One Unique Aspect Can Help Maintain Better Client Relations

by Alex Orton

Client relations begin when the sales rep gives a prospect the impression that they matter—the most important form is remembering their names. This list of tips will give you the edge in forging trust at the very first handshake and turning succeeding follow-ups into a long-term relationship. Read on to find out more. RELATED: Salesperson […]

The post How Capturing One Unique Aspect Can Help Maintain Better Client Relations appeared first on The Sales Insider.

31 Jul 21:51

Examples of High-Performing Modern Selling Strategies

by Amanda Bulat
Examples of High-Performing Modern Selling Strategies

We often hear about how modern selling is different from the traditional form. In fact, the lede of almost every new article on sales alludes to this shift. I realize I’m guilty of that myself here, but today we aren’t going to talk to you about the merits of adopting digitally-focused, relationship-based methodologies. We’re going to show you.

Below, you’ll find a few of our favorite modern sales strategy examples from brands that are leading the way in this new era. 

Modern Sales Strategy Examples Worth Following

From prospecting to outreach to negotiation to closing and beyond, every step of the B2B sales process is being transformed. The sales strategy examples below highlight various elements that forward-thinking companies are mastering through smart, insight-driven, modernized approaches. 

Crane Worldwide Accelerates the Sales Cycle

This is a key objective for many sales teams (particularly at the enterprise level). We’ve seen so many examples of companies increasing deal velocity through savvy digital tactics. This is mainly because:

  • Less time is wasted pursuing the wrong accounts and contacts
  • Relationships develop more quickly through customized engagements

Crane Worldwide Logistics is living proof of this impact. The global provider of supply chain services was able to reduce its sales cycle by three to six months with help from a more sophisticated sales strategy powered by Sales Navigator. This helped them overcome a common challenge in today’s selling landscape: dealing with large buying committees

“There’s normally five to seven people in our client accounts who are responsible for making a decision,” said Tim Zubrandt, Crane’s Chief Sales Officer. By utilizing better sales intelligence and capitalizing on social media connections, the company’s reps were able to surface decision makers more quickly and bypass gatekeepers. This has given them a major edge in a competitive field.

Fuze Places Focus on ABM 

The focused nature of account-based marketing has given it considerable traction with B2B organizations. ABM generally involves the creation of ideal customer profiles, which are used to identify similar companies as strong fits for your solution, followed by the concentrated pursuit of said accounts.

Fuze, which offers a cloud communications and collaboration software platform, has adopted the ABM framework with excellent results. Their Chief Marketing Officer, Brian Kardon, spoke at length with Ziff Davis B2B about the company’s strategy and process. He says Fuze’s business development teams have a defined list of named accounts, which they divvy up among sales reps based on region.

“We cluster our sales reps by geography, so for example the reps in Paris only call on accounts in Paris, and similarly in all the other major metropolitan centers,” he told ZDB2B. “We do have a sales team that works on smaller deals over the phone for accounts with 500 or fewer employees.”

Because building brand awareness within these accounts is so vital, Kardon says alignment with marketing is key.

“What we have found is that if we haven’t reached the CEO by the time the contract gets to his or her desk, and they don’t know who or what Fuze is, we are in trouble. So we try to get to the CEO, the CFO, the CIO and the CTO as early as possible … Since the sales rep may only be in contact with say 3-5 people at an account, marketing [helps connect with others] through digital means, or by inviting them to an event.”

Euromonitor International Keeps Tabs on Prospects

Modern selling is all about bringing clarity to the sales process, and removing (sometimes embarrassing) guesswork from the equation. Companies that continue to rely on outdated contact lists or unsolicited cold calling usually find themselves running in circles.

Euromonitor International, a market research firm based in London, sought to overcome this prevalent challenge. “Our solutions are designed to support and accelerate our clients’ business strategy,” explains Rehan Panditaratne, team manager for Corporate Business Development in Australasia. “From a sales perspective, it is challenging to find opportunities to fit into that strategy because business plans are not always public information. When we lack that visibility, it becomes difficult to find an inroad to start having meaningful conversations.”

The solution was to improve visibility with data and insights available through Sales Navigator. This enables Panditaratne and his team to identify prospects based on job title, save them in the system as leads, and then keep a close eye activities and prompts for outreach. 

BannerBuzz Finds Efficiency Through Ecommerce

Some companies are completely transforming their sales models in the digital age. Self-serve ecommerce setups are gaining popularity for brands whose customers want to handle the purchase process themselves. This is the case for BannerBuzz, a printer of custom personalized banners for businesses founded in 2010.

Through an ecommerce interface and accessible tools, users are empowered to create designs on the website and complete their own orders. With this approach, BannerBuzz eschews the need for traditional sales reps. But that doesn’t mean customers are going it alone. 

“About 25% of our customers don’t know what they want in terms of design, so we offer design expertise and other options to develop the signage and logos they want for their store, event or booth,” Nishant Shah, CEO and founder of BannerBuzz, told Digital Commerce 360 in a story about the company’s sales strategy. “While we see ecommerce as a way to make ordering more efficient, we also want to be able to meet our customers’ design needs.”

BannerBuzz drives 95% of orders from its website, and grew sales by 50% year-over-year from 2017 to 2018. DC360 adds that “the company has a staff of service agents manning its call center who specialize in specific areas of B2B sales support around the clock, seven days a week. For example, some agents handle only issues related to orders, others only design issues, and others just product questions. The company also has agents dedicated to servicing large clients, which Shah says tend to have a different set of needs than its smaller customers.” 

It’s a refined, agile framework that serves the BannerBuzz business model well. Not every company can get by without sales reps, who still play an essential role in most B2B sales strategy examples, but the concept of creating areas of specialization — aligning expertise with specific situations and buyer needs — is one that can be broadly applied. And even if your company isn’t suited for a full-on ecommerce system, it’s worth thinking about how you might enable customers to take control as preferences shift in that direction.

HCL Expands Its Strategic Network

One classic sales adage that will never go out of style: “It’s all about who you know.” Networks are so critically important for today’s sales teams. Mutual connections and acquaintances are powerful conduits for warm introductions and productive engagements. Growing your organization’s collective professional network, and being able to fully tap into it, provides tremendous advantage. 

HCL Technologies, an India-based IT services provider with an international workforce more than 100,000 strong, recognizes this value, using TeamLink and other features in Sales Navigator to support its sellers. This facilitates discovery, outreach, and engagement opportunities at a tremendous scale; HCL’s team was able to foster more than 7,000 new connections with decision makers over a period of six months, gaining visibility with more than 2,500 new accounts and attributing more than $500 million in contract value to the influence of its sharpened strategy.

“Our inside sales teams leverage TeamLink very often and it’s extremely effective,” said Karmaresh Patel, Marketing Head for Healthcare in North America. “Finding mutual connections and an introduction from a mutual connection gives you immense credibility with a new customer.”

Power Up Your Modern Selling Machine

The five successful companies above all exemplify cornerstones of effective modern selling: 

  • Accelerating the sales cycle through insight-driven prospecting and outreach
  • Using sales enablement software to track prospect movement and timing triggers
  • Identifying and pursuing target accounts and contacts with laser-like focus
  • Empowering customers to guide the purchase process, and assisting through expertise
  • Leveraging the full extent of your organization’s professional network

Sales Navigator is a platform built to maximize your team’s effectiveness and efficiency with each of the above staples, and more. If your organization is seeking to modernize and enhance its approach in line with some of these sales strategy examples, we’d love to have you take it for a spin. 
 

And if you’d like a steady stream of guidance and advice on mastering the principles of modern selling, we invite you to subscribe to the LinkedIn Sales Solutions blog, where we cover these topics almost everyday. 

 


30 Jul 16:47

Brittany Kaiser dumps more evidence of Brexit’s democratic trainwreck

by Natasha Lomas

A UK parliamentary committee has published new evidence fleshing out how membership data was passed from UKIP, a pro-Brexit political party, to Leave.EU, a Brexit supporting campaign active in the 2016 EU referendum — via the disgraced and now defunct data company, Cambridge Analytica.

In evidence sessions last year, during the DCMS committee’s enquiry into online disinformation, it was told by both the former CEO of Cambridge Analytica, and the main financial backer of the Leave.EU campaign, the businessman Arron Banks, that Cambridge Analytica did no work for the Leave.EU campaign.

Documents published today by the committee clearly contradict that narrative — revealing internal correspondence about the use of a UKIP dataset to create voter profiles to carry out “national microtargeting” for Leave.EU.

They also show CA staff raising concerns about the legality of the plan to model UKIP data to enable Leave.EU to identify and target receptive voters with pro-Brexit messaging.

The UK’s 2016 in-out EU referendum saw the voting public narrowing voting to leave — by 52:48.

New evidence from Brittany Kaiser

The evidence, which includes emails between key Cambridge Analytica, employees of Leave.EU and UKIP, has been submitted to the DCMS committee by Brittany Kaiser — a former director of CA (who you may just have seen occupying a central role in Netflix’s The Great Hack documentary, which digs into links between the Trump campaign and the Brexit campaign).

“As you can see with the evidence… chargeable work was completed for UKIP and Leave.EU, and I have strong reasons to believe that those datasets and analysed data processed by Cambridge Analytica as part of a Phase 1 payable work engagement… were later used by the Leave.EU campaign without Cambridge Analytica’s further assistance,” writes Kaiser in a covering letter to committee chair, Damian Collins, summarizing the submissions.

Kaiser gave oral evidence to the committee at a public hearing in April last year.

At the time she said CA had been undertaking parallel pitches for Leave.EU and UKIP — as well as for two insurance brands owned by Banks — and had used membership survey data provided by UKIP to built a model for pro-brexit voter personality types, with the intention of it being used “to benefit Leave.EU”.

“We never had a contract with Leave.EU. The contract was with the UK Independence party for the analysis of this data, but it was meant to benefit Leave.EU,” she said then.

The new emails submitted by Kaiser back up her earlier evidence. They also show there was discussion of drawing up a contract between CA, UKIP and Leave.EU in the fall before the referendum vote.

In one email — dated November 10, 2015 — CA’s COO & CFO, Julian Wheatland, writes that: “I had a call with [Leave.EU’s] Andy Wigmore today (Arron’s right hand man) and he confirmed that, even though we haven’t got the contract with the Leave written up, it’s all under control and it will happen just as soon as [UKIP-linked lawyer] Matthew Richardson has finished working out the correct contract structure between UKIP, CA and Leave.”

Another item Kaiser has submitted to the committee is a separate November email from Wigmore, inviting press to a briefing by Leave.EU — entitled “how to win the EU referendum” — an event at which Kaiser gave a pitch on CA’s work. In this email Wigmore describes the firm as “the worlds leading target voter messaging campaigners”.

In another document, CA’s Wheatland is shown in an email thread ahead of that presentation telling Wigmore and Richardson “we need to agree the line in the presentations next week with regards the origin of the data we have analysed”.

“We have generated some interesting findings that we can share in the presentation, but we are certain to be asked where the data came from. Can we declare that we have analysed UKIP membership and survey data?” he then asks.

UKIP’s Richardson replies with a negative, saying: “I would rather we didn’t, to be honest” — adding that he has a meeting with Wigmore to discuss “all of this”, and ending with: “We will have a plan by the end of that lunch, I think”.

In another email, dated November 10, sent to multiple recipients ahead of the presentation, Wheatland writes: “We need to start preparing Brittany’s presentation, which will involve working with some of the insights David [Wilkinson, CA’s chief data scientist] has been able to glean from the UKIP membership data.”

He also asks Wilkinson if he can start to “share insights from the UKIP data” — as well as asking “when are we getting the rest of the data?”. (In a later email, dated November 16, Wilkinson shares plots of modelled data with Kaiser — apparently showing the UKIP data now segmented into four blocks of brexit supporters, which have been named: ‘Eager activist’; ‘Young reformer’; ‘Disaffected Tories’; and ‘Left behinds’.)

In the same email Wheatland instructs Jordanna Zetter, an employee of CA’s parent company SCL, to brief Kaiser on “how to field a variety of questions about CA and our methodology, but also SCL. Rest of the world, SCL Defence etc” — asking her to liaise with other key SCL/CA staff to “produce some ‘line to take’ notes”.

Another document in the bundle appears to show Kaiser’s talking points for the briefing. These make no mention of CA’s intention to carry out “national microtargeting” for Leave.EU — merely saying it will conduct “message testing and audience segmentation”.

“We will be working with the campaign’s pollsters and other vendors to compile all the data we have available to us,” is another of the bland talking points Kaiser was instructed to feed to the press.

“Our team of data scientists will conduct deep-dive analysis that will enable us to understand the electorate better than the rival campaigns,” is one more unenlightening line intended for public consumption.

But while CA was preparing to present the UK media with a sanitized false narrative to gloss over the individual voter targeting work it actually intended to carry out for Leave.EU, behind the scenes concerns were being raised about how “national microtargeting” would conflict with UK data protection law.

Another email thread, started November 19, highlights internal discussion about the legality of the plan — with Wheatland sharing “written advice from Queen’s Counsel on the question of how we can legally process data in the UK, specifically UKIP’s data for Leave.eu and also more generally”. (Although Kaiser has not shared the legal advice itself.)

Wilkinson replies to this email with what he couches as “some concerns” regarding shortfalls in the advice, before going into detail on how CA is intending to further process the modelled UKIP data in order to individually microtarget brexit voters — which he suggests would not be legal under UK data protection law “as the identification of these people would constitute personal data”.

He writes:

I have some concerns about what this document says is our “output” – points 22 to 24. Whilst it includes what we have already done on their data (clustering and initial profiling of their members, and providing this to them as summary information), it does not say anything about using the models of the clusters that we create to extrapolate to new individuals and infer their profile. In fact it says that our output does not identify individuals. Thus it says nothing about our microtargeting approach typical in the US, which I believe was something that we wanted to do with leave eu data to identify how each their supporters should be contacted according to their inferred profile.

For example, we wouldn’t be able to show which members are likely to belong to group A and thus should be messaged in this particular way – as the identification of these people would constitute personal data. We could only say “group A typically looks like this summary profile”.

Wilkinson ends by asking for clarification ahead of a looming meeting with Leave.EU, saying: “It would be really useful to have this clarified early on tomorrow, because I was under the impression it would be a large part of our product offering to our UK clients.” [emphasis ours]

Wheatland follows up with a one line email, asking Richardson to “comment on David’s concern” — who then chips into the discussion, saying there’s “some confusion at our end about where this data is coming from and going to”.

He goes on to summarize the “premises” of the advice he says UKIP was given regarding sharing the data with CA (and afterwards the modelled data with Leave.EU, as he implies is the plan) — writing that his understanding is that CA will return: “Analysed Data to UKIP”, and then: “As the Analysed Dataset contains no personal data UKIP are free to give that Analysed Dataset to anyone else to do with what they wish. UKIP will give the Analysed Dataset to Leave.EU”.

“Could you please confirm that the above is correct?” Richardson goes on. “Do I also understand correctly that CA then intend to use the Analysed Dataset and overlay it on Leave.EU’s legitimately acquired data to infer (interpolate) profiles for each of their supporters so as to better control the messaging that leave.eu sends out to those supporters?

“Is it also correct that CA then intend to use the Analysed Dataset and overlay it on publicly available data to infer (interpolate) which members of the public are most likely to become Leave.EU supporters and what messages would encourage them to do so?

“If these understandings are not correct please let me know and I will give you a call to discuss this.”

About half an hour later another SCL Group employee, Peregrine Willoughby-Brown, joins the discussion to back up Wilkinson’s legal concerns.

“The [Queen’s Counsel] opinion only seems to be an analysis of the legality of the work we have already done for UKIP, rather than any judgement on whether or not we can do microtargeting. As such, whilst it is helpful to know that we haven’t already broken the law, it doesn’t offer clear guidance on how we can proceed with reference to a larger scope of work,” she writes without apparent alarm at the possibility that the entire campaign plan might be illegal under UK privacy law.

“I haven’t read it in sufficient depth to know whether or not it offers indirect insight into how we could proceed with national microtargeting, which it may do,” she adds — ending by saying she and a colleague will discuss it further “later today”.

It’s not clear whether concerns about the legality of the microtargeting plan derailed the signing of any formal contract between Leave.EU and CA — even though the documents imply data was shared, even if only during the scoping stage of the work.

“The fact remains that chargeable work was done by Cambridge Analytica, at the direction of Leave.EU and UKIP executives, despite a contract never being signed,” writes Kaiser in her cover letter to the committee on this. “Despite having no signed contract, the invoice was still paid, not to Cambridge Analytica but instead paid by Arron Banks to UKIP directly. This payment was then not passed onto Cambridge Analytica for the work completed, as an internal decision in UKIP, as their party was not the beneficiary of the work, but Leave.EU was.”

Kaiser has also shared a presentation of the UKIP survey data, which bears the names of three academics: Harold Clarke, University of Texas at Dallas & University of Essex; Matthew Goodwin, University of Kent; and Paul Whiteley, University of Essex, which details results from the online portion of the membership survey — aka the core dataset CA modelled for targeting Brexit voters with the intention of helping the Leave.EU campaign.

(At a glance, this survey suggests there’s an interesting analysis waiting to be done of the choice of target demographics for the current blitz of campaign message testing ads being run on Facebook by the new (pro-brexit) UK prime minister Boris Johnson and the core UKIP demographic, as revealed by the survey data… )

[gallery ids="1862050,1862051,1862052"]

Call for Leave.EU probe to be reopened

Ian Lucas, MP, a member of the DCMS committee has called for the UK’s Electoral Commission to re-open its investigation into Leave.EU in view of “additional evidence” from Kaiser.

We reached out to the Electoral Commission to ask if it will be revisiting the matter.

An Electoral Commission spokesperson told us: “We are considering this new information in relation to our role regulating campaigner activity at the EU referendum. This relates to the 10 week period leading up to the referendum and to campaigning activity specifically aimed at persuading people to vote for a particular outcome.

“Last July we did impose significant penalties on Leave.EU for committing multiple offences under electoral law at the EU Referendum, including for submitting an incomplete spending return.”

Last year the Electoral Commission also found that the official Vote Leave Brexit campaign broke the law by breaching election campaign spending limits. It channelled money to a Canadian data firm linked to Cambridge Analytica to target political ads on Facebook’s platform, via undeclared joint working with a youth-focused Brexit campaign, BeLeave.

Six months ago the UK’s data watchdog also issued fines against Leave.EU and Banks’ insurance company, Eldon Insurance — having found what it dubbed as “serious” breaches of electronic marketing laws, including the campaign using insurance customers’ details to unlawfully to send almost 300,000 political marketing messages.

A spokeswoman for the ICO told us it does not have a statement on Kaiser’s latest evidence but added that its enforcement team “will be reviewing the documents released by DCMS”.

The regulator has been running a wider enquiry into use of personal data for social media political campaigning. And last year the information commissioner called for an ethical pause on its use — warning that trust in democracy risked being undermined.

And while Facebook has since applied a thin film of ‘political ads’ transparency to its platform (which researches continue to warn is not nearly transparent enough to quantify political use of its ads platform), UK election campaign laws have yet to be updated to take account of the digital firehoses now (il)liberally shaping political debate and public opinion at scale.

It’s now more than three years since the UK’s shock vote to leave the European Union — a vote that has so far delivered three years of divisive political chaos, despatching two prime ministers and derailing politics and policymaking as usual.

Leave.EU

Many questions remain over a referendum that continues to be dogged by scandals — from breaches of campaign spending; to breaches of data protection and privacy law; and indeed the use of unregulated social media — principally Facebook’s ad platform — as the willing conduit for distributing racist dogwhistle attack ads and political misinformation to whip up anti-EU sentiment among UK voters.

Dark money, dark ads — and the importing of US style campaign tactics into UK, circumventing election and data protection laws by the digital platform backdoor.

This is why the DCMS committee’s preliminary report last year called on the government to take “urgent action” to “build resilience against misinformation and disinformation into our democratic system”.

The very same minority government, struggling to hold itself together in the face of Brexit chaos, failed to respond to the committee’s concerns — and has now been replaced by a cadre of the most militant Brexit backers, who are applying their hands to the cheap and plentiful digital campaign levers.

The UK’s new prime minister, Boris Johnson, is demonstrably doubling down on political microtargeting: Appointing no less than Dominic Cummings, the campaign director of the official Vote Leave campaign, as a special advisor.

At the same time Johnson’s team is firing out a flotilla of Facebook ads — including ads that appear intended to gather voter sentiment for the purpose of crafting individually targeted political messages for any future election campaign.

So it’s full steam ahead with the Facebook ads…

Boris Facebook ads

Yet this ‘democratic reset’ is laid right atop the Brexit trainwreck. It’s coupled to it, in fact.

Cummings worked for the self same Vote Leave campaign that the Electoral Commission found illegally funnelled money — via Cambridge Analytica-linked Canadian data firm AggregateIQ — into a blitz of microtargeted Facebook ads intended to sway voter opinion.

Vote Leave also faced questions over its use of Facebook-run football competition promising a £50M prize-pot to fans in exchange for handing over a bunch of personal data ahead of the referendum, including how they planned to vote. Another data grab wrapped in fancy dress — much like GSR’s thisisyourlife quiz app that provided the foundational dataset for CA’s psychological voter profiling work on the Trump campaign.

The elevating of Cummings to be special adviser to the UK PM represents the polar opposite of an ‘ethical pause’ in political microtargeting.

Make no mistake, this is the Brexit campaign playbook — back in operation, now with full-bore pedal to the metal. (With his hands now on the public purse, Johnson has pledged to spend £100M on marketing to sell a ‘no deal Brexit’ to the UK public.)

Kaiser’s latest evidence may not contain a smoking bomb big enough to blast the issue of data-driven and tech giant-enabled voter manipulation into a mainstream consciousness, where it might have the chance to reset the political conscience of a nation — but it puts more flesh on the bones of how the self-styled ‘bad boys of Brexit’ pulled off their shock win.

In The Great Hack the Brexit campaign is couched as the ‘petri dish’ for the data-fuelled targeting deployed by the firm in the 2016 US presidential election — which delivered a similarly shock victory for Trump.

If that’s so, these latest pieces of evidence imply a suggestively close link between CA’s experimental modelling of UKIP supporter data, as it shifted gears to apply its dark arts closer to home than usual, and the models it subsequently built off of US citizens’ data sucked out of Facebook. And that in turn goes some way to explaining the cosiness between Trump and UKIP founder Nigel Farage…

 

Kaiser ends her letter to DCMS writing: “Given the enormity of the implications of earlier inaccurate conclusions by different investigations, I would hope that Parliament reconsiders the evidence submitted here in good faith. I hope that these ten documents are helpful to your research and furthering the transparency and truth that your investigations are seeking, and that the people of the UK and EU deserve”.

Banks and Wigmore have responded to the publication in their usual style, with a pair of dismissive tweets — questioning Kaiser’s motives for wanting the data to be published and throwing shade on how the evidence was obtained in the first place.

30 Jul 16:46

The Nanosheet Transistor Is the Next (and Maybe Last) Step in Moore’s Law


by Peide Ye, Thomas Ernst and Mukesh V. Khare
Nanosheet devices are scheduled for the 3-nanometer node as soon as 2021

Nanosheet field-effect transistors flow current through multiple stacks of silicon that are completely surrounded by the transistor gate.
Image: IBM
The Shape of Things to Come: Nanosheet field-effect transistors flow current through multiple stacks of silicon that are completely surrounded by the transistor gate. The design reduces avenues for current to leak through and boosts the amount of current the device can drive.

The modern microprocessor is among the world’s most complex systems, but at its heart is a very simple, and we think beautiful, device: the transistor. There are billions of them in a microprocessor today, and they are nearly all identical. So improving the performance and boosting the density of these transistors is the most straightforward way to make microprocessors—and the computers they power—work better.

That’s the premise behind Moore’s Law, even now that it’s (almost) at an end. You see, making smaller, better transistors for microprocessors is getting more and more difficult, not to mention fantastically expensive. Only Intel, Samsung, and Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. (TSMC) are equipped to operate at this frontier of miniaturization. They are all manufacturing integrated circuits at the equivalent of what is called the 7-nanometer node. That name, a vestige of the early days of Moore’s Law, doesn’t have a clear physical meaning anymore, but it nevertheless reflects the degree to which features and devices on an integrated circuit are miniaturized.

Right now, 7 nm is the cutting edge, but Samsung and TSMC announced in April that they were beginning the move to the next node, 5 nm. Samsung had some additional news: It has decided that the kind of transistor the industry had been using for nearly a decade has run its course. For the following node, 3 nm, which should begin limited manufacture around 2020, it is working on a completely new design.

That transistor design goes by a variety of names—gate-all-around, multibridge channel, nanobeam—but in research circles we’ve been calling it the nanosheet. The name isn’t very important. What is important is that this design isn’t just the next transistor for logic chips; it might be the last. There will surely be variations on the theme, but from here on, it’s probably all about nanosheets.

Although the shape and the materials have changed, the metal oxide semiconductor field-effect transistor, or MOSFET—the kind of transistor used in microprocessors—has included the same basic structures since its invention in 1959: the gate stack, the channel region, the source electrode, and the drain electrode. In the device’s original form, the source, drain, and channel are basically regions of silicon that are doped with atoms of other elements to produce either a region with an abundance of mobile negative charge (n-type) or one with an abundance of mobile positive charges (p-type). You need both types of transistors for the CMOS technology that makes up today’s computer chips.

The MOSFET’s gate stack is situated just above the channel region. Today the gate stack is made of metal (for the gate electrode) atop a layer of dielectric material. The combination is designed to project an electric field into the transistor channel region while preventing charge from leaking through.

Applying a large enough voltage to the gate (relative to the source) creates a layer of mobile charge carriers near the interface between the dielectric and the silicon. Once this layer completely bridges the span from source to drain, current can flow across. Reducing gate voltage to near zero should squeeze that conductive pathway shut.

Of course, for current to flow through the channel from the source to the drain, you first need a voltage across it. As transistor structures were made smaller and smaller, the effects of this voltage ultimately led to the biggest shape-shift in transistor history.

That’s because the source-drain voltage can create its own conductive region between the electrodes. As the channel region became shorter and shorter with each new transistor generation, the influence of the drain voltage got bigger. Charge would leak across, ducking beneath the region near the gate. The result was a transistor that was never completely off, wasting power and generating heat.

To stanch the unwanted flow of charge, the channel region had to be made thinner, restricting the path for charge to sneak through. And the gate needed to surround the channel on more sides. Thus, today’s transistor, the FinFET, was born. It’s a design in which the channel region is essentially tilted up on its side to form a slim fin of silicon between the source and the drain, providing a wider path for current to flow through. The gate and dielectric are then draped over the fin, surrounding it on three sides instead of just one.

Evolution of the FET

Since its introduction in 1959, the field-effect transistor has been mostly built into the plane of the silicon. But in order to better control the leakage of current, it took the shape of a protruding fin and will now become stacked sheets.

Illustration showing the evolution of the FET. 
Illustration: Emily Cooper

The FinFET has no doubt been a great success. Though it was invented more than a decade earlier, the FinFET was first commercially introduced in 2011 at the 22-nm node by Intel and later by Samsung, TSMC, and others. Since then it’s been the workhorse of cutting-edge silicon logic in these final stages of Moore’s Law scaling. But all good things come to an end.

With the 3-nm node, FinFETs are not up to the task. The three of us saw this coming in one form or another more than a decade ago, as did others.

Excellent as it is, the FinFET has its problems. For one, it introduced a design limitation that wasn’t a factor for the old “planar” transistor. To see the problem, you have to understand that there’s always a trade-off among a transistor’s speed, power consumption, manufacturing complexity, and cost. And that trade-off has a lot to do with the width of the channel, which is called Weff in device-design circles. More width means you can drive more current and switch a transistor on and off faster. But it also requires a more complicated, costly manufacturing process.

In a planar device, you can make this trade-off simply by adjusting the geometry of the channel. But fins don’t allow as much flexibility. The metal interconnects that link transistors to form circuits are built in layers above the transistors themselves. Because of this, the transistor fins can’t really vary very much in height—equivalent to width in planar designs—without interfering with the interconnect layers. Today, chip designers get around this problem by making individual transistors that have multiple fins.

Another of the FinFET’s shortcomings is that its gate surrounds the rectangular silicon fin on only three sides, leaving the bottom side connected to the body of the silicon. This allows some leakage current to flow when the transistor is off. Many researchers reasoned that to gain ultimate control over the channel region, the gate needed to surround it completely.

Researchers have been taking this idea to its logical conclusion since at least 1990. That year, researchers reported the first silicon device with a gate that completely surrounds the channel region. Since then, a generation of researchers have worked on so-called gate-all-around devices. By 2003, researchers seeking to minimize leakage turned the channel region into a narrow nanowire that bridges the source and the drain and is surrounded by the gate on all sides.

So why don’t gate-all-around nanowires provide the basis for the newest transistor? Again, it’s all about channel width. A narrow wire provides little opportunity for electrons to escape, thus keeping the transistor off when it should be off. But it also provides little room for electrons to flow when the transistor is on, limiting current and slowing switching.

You can get more Weff, and therefore current, by stacking nanowires atop one another. And Samsung engineers unveiled a version of this configuration in 2004, called the multibridge channel FET. But it had several limitations. For one, like the FinFET’s fin, the stack can’t get too high or it will interfere with the interconnect layer. For another, each additional nanowire adds to the device’s capacitance, slowing the transistor’s switching speed. Finally, due to the complexity of making very narrow nanowires, they often wind up being rough around the edges. This surface roughness can impede the speed of charge carriers.

In 2006, engineers working with one of us (Ernst) at CEA-Leti, in France, demonstrated a better idea. Instead of using a stack of nanowires to bridge the source and drain, they used a stack of thin sheets of silicon. The idea was to increase the width of the channel in a smaller transistor, while maintaining tight control over leakage current—and thus provide a better performing, lower-power device. And it works: Under the direction of another of us (Khare), IBM Research took the concept further in 2017, showing that a transistor made from stacked nanosheets actually offered more Weff than a FinFET that takes up the same amount of chip area.

But the nanosheet design offers one more bonus: It restores the flexibility lost in the transition to FinFETs. Sheets can be made wide to boost current or narrow to limit power consumption. IBM Research has made them in stacks of three with sizes ranging from 8 to 50 nm across.

How to Make Nanosheets

Sacrificial layers, selective chemical etchants, and advanced atomically precise deposition technology are needed to make nanosheets.

Illustration showing how to make nanosheets.  
Illustration: Emily Cooper

How do you make a nanosheet transistor? It might seem like a tall order, considering that most semiconductor manufacturing processes cut straight down from the top of the silicon or fill straight up from the exposed surface. Nanosheets need to remove material between layers of other material and fill in the gaps with both metal and dielectric.

The main trick is in building what’s called a superlattice—a periodic, layered crystal of two materials. In this case it’s silicon and silicon germanium. Researchers have made superlattices with 19 layers, but the mechanical stresses involved, as well as the capacitances, make using that many layers ill advised. After the appropriate number of layers are grown, we use a chemical that selectively etches silicon germanium but does nothing to silicon, leaving only the silicon nanosheets suspended as bridges between the source and drain. It’s actually not a new idea; engineers at France Telecom and STMicroelectronics used it 20 years ago in experimental “silicon-on-nothing” transistors, devices that tried to limit short-channel effects by burying a layer of air beneath the transistor channel region.

Once you’ve got the silicon nanosheet channel regions constructed, it’s a matter of filling in the gaps, surrounding the channels first with dielectric and then with metal to form the gate stack. Both these steps are done with a process called atomic layer deposition, introduced in semiconductor manufacturing only a little over a decade ago. In this process, a gaseous chemical adsorbs to the chip’s exposed surfaces, even the underside of the nanosheet, to form a single layer. A second chemical is then added, reacting with the first to leave an atomic-scale layer of the needed material, such as the dielectric hafnium-dioxide. The process is so precise that the thickness of the deposited material is controllable down to a single atomic layer.

One of the astounding things about the nanosheet design is that it may extend Moore’s Law so far that it actually outlasts the use of silicon in the channel. To a large degree, what’s at issue here is heat.

Transistor density is still increasing with every technology node. But the amount of heat an IC can reasonably remove—the power density—has been stuck at about 100 watts per square centimeter for a decade. Chipmakers have gone to great lengths to keep from surpassing this fundamental limit. To keep the heat down, clock rates don’t exceed 4 gigahertz. And the processor industry moved to multicore designs, correctly reasoning that several slower processor cores could do the same job as a single fast one while generating less heat. If we ever want to be able to ramp up clock speeds again, we’ll need more energy-efficient transistors than silicon by itself can deliver.

One potential solution is to introduce new materials into the channel region, such as germanium or semiconductors composed of elements from columns III and V of the periodic table, such as gallium arsenide. Electrons can move more than 10 times as fast in some of these semiconductors, allowing transistors made from these materials to switch faster. More important, because the electrons move faster, you can operate the device at a lower voltage, which leads to higher energy efficiency and less heat generation.

Stacked nanosheets also show great promise for compound semiconductors, such as indium gallium arsenide [above], and for silicon alternatives like germanium.
Image: Purdue University
A Nanosheet Forest: Stacked nanosheets also show great promise for compound semiconductors, such as indium gallium arsenide [above], and for silicon alternatives like germanium.

In 2012, inspired by earlier work on nanowire transistors and superlattice structures, one of us (Ye) constructed some three-nanosheet devices using indium gallium arsenide, a III-V semiconductor. The results were better than expected. That nanosheet transistor allowed currents of 9,000 microamperes for each micrometer of channel width. That’s about three times better than the best planar InGaAs MOSFETs today. The device performance is still far from the limit of what such transistors could deliver if the manufacturing process were further improved. It’s possible that we can boost the performance by a factor of 10 or more by stacking more nanosheets. (Researchers at HRL Laboratories, in Malibu, Calif., are now working on stacks of tens of nanosheets to develop gallium nitride power devices.) That’s why we believe this strategy is so important to the future of high-speed and energy-efficient integrated circuits.

And InGaAs is not the only option for future nanosheet transistors. Researchers are also exploring other semiconductors with high-mobility charge carriers, such as germanium, indium arsenide, and gallium antimonide. For example, researchers at the National University of Singapore recently constructed a full CMOS IC using a combination of n-type transistors made of indium arsenide and p-type transistors made of gallium antimonide. But a potentially simpler solution is to use doped germanium, because the speeds of electrons and positive charge carriers (holes) traveling through it are both very fast. Germanium still has some manufacturing-process and reliability issues, however. So industry might first take things halfway, using silicon germanium as the channel material.

All in all, stacking nanosheets appears to be the best way possible to construct future transistors. Chipmakers are already confident enough in the technology to put it on their road maps for the very near future. And with the integration of high-mobility semiconductor materials, nanosheet transistors could well carry us as far into the future as anyone can now foresee.

This article appears in the August 2019 print issue as “The Last Silicon Transistor.”

About the Author

Peide Ye is the Richard J. and Mary Jo Schwartz professor of electrical and computer engineering at Purdue University. Thomas Ernst is the scientific director at CEA-Leti in Grenoble, France. Mukesh V. Khare is vice president of semiconductor and AI hardware at IBM Research.

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30 Jul 16:41

AI is already reshaping how we get around, but progress will stall if vital infrastructure problems are not addressed

by Bryan Logan

ai transportation 2x1

  • Traffic management, shipping, and logistics are among the areas with the most potential to be improved by artificial intelligence.
  • Waymo is ahead of competitors in cracking autonomous vehicles, having logged 10 million miles with self-driving cars since October 2018.  
  • This article includes an overview of AI in transportation, including the top three trends to watch, and how advances in smart vehicles are pushing the need for better infrastructure solutions.
  • Read how AI is transforming health, retail, consumer technology, and more in other articles from our special report, How AI is Changing Everything.

Opportunities abound in the world of smart, internet-connected transportation infrastructure. This is the next frontier in intelligent systems design that touches every level of urban life: from the roads on which we drive, to the way we move around our cities and neighborhoods.

The paradigm shift is already happening, albeit in ways that might not be obvious. Sensors embedded in roadways can communicate with signaling systems to optimize traffic flow. Parking structures can send information about space availability to an app on your smartphone. And eventually, roads will be able to communicate more directly with autonomous vehicles and traffic signals in tandem, thereby reducing the friction caused by unpredictable human drivers.

But there is much further to go, and the current state of existing roads, bridges, railways, and other infrastructure in the US has lagged far behind the technology that futurists envision will power modern cities. The biggest metropolises in the US Los Angeles, New York, and Chicago contain an amalgam of the old and the new, adding further complexity to the task of modernization.

"We have to bring our infrastructure back up to standard before we can even consider modernizing for the future," Professor Lucio Soibelman, chair of the civil and environmental engineering department at the University of Southern California, said in an interview with Business Insider.

"So many of our roads, tunnels, and bridges in the US are in such poor condition, they can barely serve our current needs today."

The American Society of Civil Engineers seems to agree with Soibelman. It gave America's infrastructure a D+ in its 2017 report card, the most recent scoring of the nation's infrastructure, which includes bridges, dams, hazardous waste, public parks, ports, roads, transit, and more.

In order to realize the full potential of transportation infrastructure driven by artificial intelligence, those technologies must be integrated during the planning stages.

Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley's Institute of Transportation Studies find that three key infrastructure improvements are necessary to facilitate that process, among them: sensors that help connected vehicles talk to signaling devices. "These will enable two-way communication between the vehicles and traffic-management systems so that they can maximize safety, efficiency, and traffic flow," they said in a comprehensive 2017 report on intelligent transportation systems and infrastructure.

Architects, civil and software engineers, and local legislators have to provide the expertise and funding to ensure the buildings, roads, and bridges that crisscross our cities are equipped for such a future.

GettyImages 169390129The top 3 opportunities for AI in transportation

Self-driving vehicles: Nascent 

As noted by Ayoub Aouad, a Business Insider Intelligence senior research analyst, this segment is poised to be "the biggest opportunity AI creates in the transportation space," to the tune of $556 billion by 2026, expanding at a 39% compound annual growth rate from $54 billion in 2019, according to Allied Market Research. Silicon Valley has stepped up here, with Waymo, Mobileye, Uber, Tesla, other companies forging ahead.

Signaling and traffic monitoring: Growing

The autobahn system in Austria relies on a connected roadways system developed by Cisco, which connects more than 6,000 traffic cameras and tens of thousands of sensors to help monitor traffic and road conditions, the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers notes in its own roundup on the ways in which the Internet of Things will unify roadways and traffic signals. Electronically regulated toll-road systems serve a similar function in major cities in the US. These lanes could eventually be designated for autonomous vehicles or robo-taxis.

Shipping and logistics: Growing 

This sector is moving quickly thanks in part to rapid expansion in e-commerce led by companies like Amazon. To that end, tech giants like Oracle are helping companies find the most cost-effective way to ship goods, Business Insider's Rachel Premack reported recently. The Oracle Logistics Cloud product uses artificial intelligence and machine learning to pair long-distance truckers with companies that need a driver to transport goods. 

Connected vehicles are helping to accelerate the shift toward smart infrastructure

These vehicles are already roaming streets and highways in large numbers, guided by satellite navigation, and equipped with intelligent systems that allow the vehicle to sense its immediate surroundings to assist drivers and help prevent collisions. The endgame is for these cars to drive themselves, with no human intervention.

But that costs a lot of time and money.

Waymo, Alphabet's self-driving-vehicle unit, is way ahead, having logged 10 million (seven zeros) miles with its autonomous cars as of October 2018. Its vehicle fleet covered that distance in 25 cities across several cities in the US. In terms of miles driven in its own computer simulations has logged 10 billion virtual miles.

The company's significant investment in autonomy has some Wall Street analysts projecting massive valuations for the business. In December 2018, Jefferies raised its long-term value estimate for Waymo to $250 billion.

Waymo has sought partners in its effort to bring autonomous vehicles — in the form of robo-taxis — to market. It partnered with Lyft in May, delivering ten of its vehicles to be used on the ride-hailing company's platform in Phoenix, Arizona.

Vivek Wadhwa and Alex Salkever, who co-wrote the 2017 book, "The Driver in the Driverless Car" say it makes sense that the self-driving automobile would spur innovation in infrastructure, and eventually change the landscape in the US.

"We will no longer need traffic lights: robot cars will synchronize wirelessly to time mass movements across city intersections and entries onto freeways or balletic dances around four-way stop signs."

"When all the driverless cars are talking to each other, there will be no need for them to ever come to a complete halt and waste all their kinetic energy."

The proliferation of railways and highways had a similar effect during the second industrial revolution in the 20th century. Indeed, connected cars, and eventually self-driving vehicles, by virtue of being the primary beneficiaries of intelligent city design, are bound to do it again.

The Takeaway

Lucio Soibelman

"We have to bring our infrastructure back up to standard before we can even consider modernizing for the future."

-Professor Lucio Soibelman, University of Southern California.

Join the conversation about this story »

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30 Jul 16:41

AI is going to change your career. IBM is showing how that can be a good thing.

by Richard Feloni

ai workplace 2x1

  • Workplace applications of AI in development include helping managers measure and run their teams effectively, and cost-savings through greater efficiencies. 
  • As disrpution roiled its sector, IBM used AI to help transition it to a skills-based company. Those tools help other companies now. 
  • This article includes an overview of AI in the workplace, including the top three trends to watch, plus an analysis of how IBM applied its innovations to solve its own problems. 
  • Read how AI is transforming health, transporation, consumer technology, and more in other articles from our special report, How AI is Changing Everything.

We're in the early stages of a massive technological transition that is spreading across every type of industry. Chief among the worries caused by this seismological shift is the loss of steady, long-term careers to automation — and the disappearance of the financial and emotional stability that jobs provide.

At first glance, the numbers seem to support this fear. Consulting firm Bain estimates millions of jobs will be lost in the US over the next two decades, displacing as much as 25% of the labor force. Ginni Rometty, CEO of tech giant IBM, has been even more direct with her predictions: she's said artificial intelligence will change "100% of jobs in the next five to 10 years."

But let's take a historical breather. After all, automation wiping out jobs isn't new; what's changed is the method: Deep machine learning is now capable of replacing more than just manual labor. This makes it easy to imagine robot bosses coldly monitoring our work and firing us when we don't meet pre-calculated criteria — HAL 9000 in a suit and tie.

And yet, the inevitability of AI's increased presence in the workplace doesn't have to cause despair. While Rometty is clear things will change, her company has been proving that when used with managers and employees in mind, machine learning can be a powerful asset in keeping jobs safe.

Over the past five years, IBM has developed a suite of AI-powered tools that help recruit and map career paths, and even determine salaries. And because the company is so influential, the programs they introduce could find their way to your office soon.

Major corporations are aware of the fear that often accompanies these changes (not to mention the bad press). Amazon, which has faced criticism for the way AI is used to terminate underperforming factory employees, announced in July 2019 that they would invest $700 million over the next six years to retrain 100,000 employees whose jobs are at risk of automation.

The professional services company Accenture has also been an industry leader during these changing times, investing about $1 billion in job training each year over the past four years. So far, it has retrained 300,000 workers. Its AI program (the whimsically named Job Buddy) helps employees whose roles are in danger of being replaced find new opportunities within the company. "What it does is it tells our people that, look, this percentage of your job is likely to be lost to automation; your skills are adjacent to these skills, so go take this training," Accenture's HR head Ellyn Shook told Business Insider.

Brands around the world are using AI to enhance their human-resources departments. Research shows that more than 70% of employers and recruiters use some form of automated résumé parser to process CVs, create summaries of the candidate pool, and even rank candidates. Consumer-goods giant Unilever and mobile provider Vodafone have bet that AI can help eliminate bias from the job-application process. HR-services firm Pymetrics develops quizzes that test entry-level job candidates for traits like focus, memory, and propensity for risk. Its algorithm determines whether a candidate is worthy of a closer look from a hiring manager.

Pymetrics CEO Frida Polli told Business Insider her company is not looking to replace hiring managers at large companies. Rather, they want to free them from having to consider thousands of applications when they could instead be focusing on the top candidates. "People are being elevated to a much more strategic role with the use of it," she said.

AI in the workplace is still in its early stages, and these experiments are largely confined to companies with access to advanced technology. But the tools are worth exploring not just to improve output and productivity, but to enhance employees' well-being.

robotTop 3 opportunities for AI in the workplace 

Making managers more effective: Nascent

A manager augmented by AI is vastly superior to a program that outright replaces a boss. At IBM, managers use an AI tool called Compensation Advisor that sorts through historical data on thousands of employees and competitors to present a salary range managers can work with, saving time and reducing the scope of judgment required.

Providing employees with career-advancement opportunities: Nascent

The developed world is at another inflection point, where technology is transforming jobs at a rapid rate across industries for all professionals. IBM's Blue Matching program analyzes data automatically collected about a worker's skill set and weighs that against requirements for other roles within the company. The employees can then use the Your Learning hub to acquire new skills, from project management to cybersecurity basics.

ibm your learning

Cutting time-consuming tasks to boost productivity: Growing

Automation has always been used for tasks that a machine could perform more efficiently than a human. However, a new generation of tools is not only cutting time, it's enabling managers and employees to work more effectively. IBM employees used to have to answer long surveys about their skill sets, then go over them with their boss. Now this data is collected by AI, giving teams more time to focus on the discussions rather than the paperwork.

How IBM used AI to transition to a skills-based company

In 2014, IBM's leaders realized the tech giant was facing massive disruption. Cloud computing (software distributed online instead of through hardware), blockchain (secure ledger tech), and advancements in AI were redefining their industry. Left unchecked, the drive to automation would leave much of IBM's 350,000 employees without a job.

Diane Gherson, who'd been named IBM's head of HR the previous year, knew that if the company was going to thrive in this era of change, it had to shift into becoming a "skills-based organization" — that is, employees would now be assessed primarily by their collection of skills, allowing them more flexibility in a rapidly changing environment. And AI, which was partially responsible for this sudden and drastic shift, was going to help them adapt. "It was a huge leap," Gherson told Business Insider.

Veteran IBM researcher Anshul Gupta was one of the leads in developing AI-powered tools for this purpose. Fundamental to his team's mission was finding solutions to problems that already existed, rather than creating software they found interesting and seeing what stuck. First on his list was figuring out how developers would approach the problem. He told Business Insider that a question he had to ask himself was "How do you think about enhancing their experience through your offerings, but in their workflow?"

As Gupta and his team set about crafting those tools, another powerful AI was being developed elsewhere at IBM. The company introduced in 2016 a consumer version of Watson, the question-answering AI that famously made its public debut as a "Jeopardy!" contestant. Kelli Jordan, who's overseen IBM's New Collar Job training program and its apprenticeship initiatives, asked developers to find ways to implement Watson into their own workplace.

"When you start to think about careers and development, especially at a company as large as IBM (and especially in the environment that we're in now where skills are changing so rapidly), it's just hard for an employee to really take it all in and make the right decisions and understand where to look," Jordan told Business Insider.

The resulting suite of tools that branched out of Gupta's research and the Watson initiative touches nearly every aspect of the working experience, from answering a job candidate's questions to alerting managers when employees should be considered for promotion — or when they're in danger of missing a quota.

ibm compensation advisor

IBM has determined through quarterly assessments of financial and performance impacts that these tools saved the HR department $107 million and "thousands of hours" in 2017. The company has since greenlit further development on the tools.

Of course, as with any AI, each program has to learn through data accumulation and recognition of patterns. So when the skills assessor first rolled out to an initial batch of employees around the world, it didn't have data enough to work with.

Peter Usacov, an IBM project manager based in Hungary, volunteered to be an early adopter of the skills assessor program. He told Business Insider that he and his manager found it useless at first, though he decided to keep engaging it to see what happened. "It was like, 'Oh, this is rusty and doesn't really give me anything,'" Usacov said. "Two, three months later, I'm like, 'Oh my God, what happened in between that this became so smart and accurate?'" Usacov said he is now using it for help as he considers new career paths at IBM.

The company claims that its skills assessor currently has between 85% and 95% accuracy.

IBM also employs hundreds of AI experts to fine tune the various tools' data sets, to adjust for outliers or decisions stemming from unwanted human biases. Gupta told Business Insider that the compensation advisor is proof of how confident he and his team are in the accuracy of their programs' ability to gather and analyze vast amounts of data, since such a tool is not something you would undertake and use if you were "just playing around" with AI. So far, it's been used for 2,000 pay recommendations. 

The world where AI is capable of matching or exceeding human intelligence is "very far away," Gupta said. Still, the tech is now at a stage where it can be trained to do a particular function, like determining how much to consider paying an employee "very, very well."

"That's an area where you enhance the employee experience, you deliver good business outcomes, but you also transform the roles of the team itself," he added. "I think that's a practical reality of what we've seen as we've deployed it within IBM."

The Takeaway

Diane Gherson IBM

"One-hundred percent of jobs are going to change with artificial intelligence — we know that, right? But that doesn't have to be terrifying. ... If you can make people educated about how to make change and engage them in it, then you're going to end up in a better place. And people are going to be happier because they're doing more value-added work."

— Diane Gherson, SVP of Human Resources at IBM

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A new study from Microsoft finds that businesses are rushing to use the Internet of Things — an exec explains why it believes it can win in the market (MSFT)

by Rosalie Chan

sam george microsoft

  • Internet of Things (IOT), the tech industry term for hardware devices that are connected to the Internet, is already being used in manufacturing, construction, agriculture, oil and gas, and other industries.
  • A Microsoft survey shows that the majority of leaders in enterprise companies who make decisions about Internet of Things are already adopting this technology and see it as critical to business success.
  • Microsoft's head of Azure IoT Sam George explains what makes Microsoft stand out in its IoT technology, compared to its rival clouds.
  • Read more BI Prime stories here.

Whether it's tracking workers in risky environments or detecting contamination in food, Microsoft says it's making it easier for customers to take advantage of the rising trend towards internet-connected hardware.

This type of technology is called Internet of Things (IoT), the industry term for machinery that can connect to the Internet and be remotely monitored. IoT is finding uses in improving employee productivity, manufacturing efficiency, and supply chain management, as well as in improving safety and security.

"The most important thing is that IoT is really going mainstream," Sam George, Microsoft's head of Azure IoT, told Business Insider. "It's reaching that point where it's well recognized as a key ingredient in transformation and it's really happening now."

To George's point, Microsoft has released IoT Signals — a new report surveying 3,000 leaders in enterprise companies who are making decisions about IoT. Per that survey, 85% of respondents are already adopting this technology, and 88% of them see it as critical to business success.

Already, IoT devices can be used to track workers in fields like construction or oil and gas. If the worker faces a problem or gets injured, others can be alerted right away. Or, in the case of food production, IoT devices can better detect if there are any toxins using a combination of powerful cameras, UV lights, and artificial intelligence technology.

The idea is to use the power of the cloud, like Microsoft's own Azure, to make previously "dumb" devices like cameras or microphones a little smarter. 

"IoT took advantage of cloud," George said. "What it meant was that if you want to build an IoT solution, you can take advantage of cloud data centers and cloud services."

A skills gap in IoT

Still, 97% of respondents to the IoT Signals study have security concerns about IoT. It's not stopping them from using the technology, but George says that this shows that the industry still has a ways to go to assuage user concerns. 

There's also a skills gap in IoT right now. Nearly half of the respondents, at 47%, say there aren't enough skilled workers in IoT, which can slow down companies in adopting this technology. 

"This was something we started seeing a few years back when we realized IoT will have a profound impact and devices across the planet," George said. "If you think about the number of developers that are required to power that transformation, it outstrips the number of developers that are available today."

Naturally, Microsoft isn't the only one chasing this technology: Amazon Web Services, the market-leading cloud computing platform, has its own IoT strategy, as does Google Cloud, which lags behind Microsoft as the third-place player in the cloud industry

George says that what makes Microsoft's cloud stand out from its rivals is its hybrid cloud strategy. Specifically, its IoT technology works both on private data centers, as well as the cloud. That's important, because it means that it can work with a company's local servers, even if  the connected device itself is in a situation where access to the wider internet is slow or otherwise unreliable. 

"Hybrid and on premises is very important in IoT, especially given some sectors like manufacturing," George said. "When you walk through a giant manufacturing environment, you realize all these production lines, you have to keep going, even if there's a network interruption locally."

Read more: The head of Microsoft's data cloud business says that its tech 'battle hardened' and ready to face Google and Amazon on his home turf

In addition, Microsoft also relies on its partners, who can customize the technology and train customers on how to use it. George says that given the skills gap in IoT, this is especially important.

To address the skills gap, Microsoft is currently investing in developing an IoT School, which provides free online training about how to use this technology. It also recently launched IoT Plug and Play, which makes using this technology easier for users, without having to engineer and set up these devices on their own.

"We have a long history of taking complicated technologies and democratizing them," George said. "We're doing that for IoT to make it broadly useful for all these businesses."

SEE ALSO: Microsoft is acquiring a startup that will help its cloud customers control how their data is being used

Join the conversation about this story »

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30 Jul 16:15

Navigating Your Sales Technology Adoption Journey

by Laura Hall

You signed the dotted line on a shiny new piece of sales technology.  It’s an exciting day!  Then you realize the work is just beginning – now you have to implement the technology and get the team to adopt it.

*deep breath*

Adopting a new technology isn’t an event. It’s a journey made up of incremental projects. We developed a framework, 7 Considerations in the Sales Technology Adoption Journey, to help you navigate the journey as painlessly as possible. This step-by-step guide is a framework that we use to help our own customers succeed in reaching full utilization of our platform and achieve their ROI.

7 Considerations in the Sales Technology Adoption Journey

7 Steps For a Successful Adoption Journey

  1. Plan your implementation
  2. Define your engagements
  3. Configure your account
  4. Launch authentic customer engagements
  5. Measure your results
  6. Expand your success
  7. Empower your team

To implement a new technology as seamlessly as possible, there are a lot of questions to ask yourself, your team, and your vendor partner.  If you don’t do this every day, it’s easy to overlook key considerations.

Consider step one: Plan your implementation. In this stage, you will build a customized implementation plan tailored to fit your team’s needs. Here are some of the questions to consider

  • What is your ideal go-live date?
  • Who from your team needs to be involved in the implementation?
  • What features are you planning on utilizing?
  • What type of training will you require?
  • Is your team ready for this change in software?

After considering these questions, you might discover that you need to dive deeper into a specific area.  We’ve linked to some articles that provided more detailed help in each step.  Link this one on Creating Buy-In: 6 Strategies for Change Management(Pro tip: invest in change management early to save time, money, and headaches!)

We also understand that part of this adoption journey is measuring results and replicating success.  This guide includes information about how to reflect on reporting to understand team trends and identify areas of success. Don’t be afraid to dig into dashboard elements and analyze the underlying data for more insights than you originally thought possible. As you look to scale success with your new platform, think outside the box.  Areas for expansion go beyond adding more licenses.  Take your sales program to the next level! Think about leveraging innovative integrations or engaging with your sales community to share best practices.

Download this framework to uncover the most effective way for your sales organization to adopt technology so that you see a return on your investment. You will come away with:

  •  A framework for assessing your team’s progress in a new technology adoption journey
  • An understanding of what you should be evaluating each step of the way
  • A library of additional resources to help you at each step.

So what are you waiting for?  Fast track your way to ROI! Download the guide here.

sales tech adoption journey

30 Jul 16:14

How to Be More Competitive in Sales Now

by Anthony Iannarino

We don’t often speak to the fact that selling is a form of competition. In a contest measured by the value the salesperson creates, there is a winner and a loser. The victory often goes to the salesperson and sales organization who can solve the client’s problem, the best of whom solve the problem before it’s a problem. We give to little attention to the need to more competitive in sales now, with most people merely going through the motions, doing their job, hoping to win. This is how to be more competitive in sales now.

Competition to Displace

Right now, your competitors are calling on your existing clients. Some of these competitors pose a threat to the future of your relationship. Even if you delude yourself into believing your competitors are all terrible, their results likely prove different. Your competition intends to displace you, removing you from the relationship altogether, and taking the business for themselves and their company. Sometimes they achieve their goal, and you lose business.

You know this is true because you are calling on companies that belong to your competition. You are trying to take your competitor’s clients from them, making you a threat to your competitor and their business. Both you and your competitor are both susceptible to being displaced when you are apathetic, complacent, or entitled. You also lose when you stop creating the value that won you the business in the first place.Win customers away from your competition. Check out Eat Their LunchEat Their Lunch

Because selling has moved in the direction of creating displacements, the strategies and tactics for doing so have improved to the point where more salespeople and sales organizations are capable of creating a displacement without having to wait for the client to be dissatisfied enough to change. Instead, the salesperson and their teams create the environment for displacement and compel change. Even though many sales organizations haven’t adopted these practices (we are slow to make difficult transitions), there tends to be some in every industry.

Retention as Competition

Retention is also a competition. It is difficult to grow sales while losing clients and customers. It is difficult to get out of a hole while you continue to dig. You are competing to keep your clients, and there are two ways to prevent being displaced: Execution and New Value.

  • Execution: If you don’t execute well, you open the possibility of being displaced. If you can’t produce the outcome you sold, your client is going to have no choice but explore relationships with someone who can. Retention is one part execution.
  • New Value: The best way to avoid being apathetic, complacent, and entitled is to create new value for your client. To create new value, you have to develop and win a new opportunity or create some change that improves the result you are producing—or forms an improvement in some other way.

If you don’t execute and create new value, there are plenty of people who will.

Competition for New Entrants

Sometimes you compete for a client who is buying what you sell for the first time. These prospective clients have no existing relationship and are exploring their options. The competition here is in some ways easier because you don’t have to remove a person and company with a long history of working together. It is also in some ways more difficult because your prospective client often lacks an understanding of what you sell, the choices available to them, and the trade-offs and concessions they are making without really understanding them.

There is one winner in these contests. In mature markets, there are not too many of these contests, and the winner can keep a client for years before their new client ever considers changing, making the stake high for all who compete.

Consequences

There are rewards for winning and consequences for losing. Some believe it impolite to speak about the rewards and the consequences of winning and losing. They prefer not to think of selling in terms of contests or winning and losing. Some believe that the idea of competition breeds terrible behaviors, and maybe for the segment of the population already in possession of low moral intelligence, that could be true. However, in more cases, competition compels good sales behaviors, as far more salespeople have high moral intelligence and do not possess a “whatever it takes” attitude when that means giving up their integrity and reputation.

The consequences of losing contests are many. When you are displaced, you lose the revenue, the profit, some part of the relationship, and the financial rewards you would have earned had you retained them. Your company also lost the financial rewards, but they might also have lost a strategic client, a reference for future acquisitions, reputation, and in some cases, market share.

In business, some competitions create a disruptive in the market, displacing and harming a whole industry, as Uber and Lyft have done to the taxi industry in major cities (something that happens to industries over time, and a threat this is difficult to discern if you are not of the mindset to disrupt yourself before it happens to you).

How to Compete

  • Believe It Is a Contest: To win a contest, you have to believe you are competing. It isn’t enough to show up. You have to possess a strong desire to win. When a contest has consequences, you have to bring your very best effort to the competition. You are not served by showing up, and there is no benefit of just doing your job. You have to play to win.
  • Focus on Creating Greater Value: There is no reason to focus on your competitor. You cannot do anything about them or their approach, even if they always win by lowering their price. The way that you compete in a contest for a client’s business is in large part is creating greater value than your competitor. You win by being more valuable to your client than your competitor. You tilt the playing field in your direction when your dream client perceives more value.
  • Create a Preference to Work With You: We don’t spend nearly enough time on this concept. Clients decide that they want to work with someone more than they want to work with someone else. When you lose, they decided they want to work with your competitor. Your approach to selling is a differentiator. So is your bedside manner, what it’s like to work with you. Your business acumen and situational knowledge also help position you as the right partner, as your competency creates trust. It would be difficult to overestimate the importance of intangibles.
  • Make Every Interaction Count: If you believe you are making another sale call, you are not playing the game as well as you could. When you think you are engaged in a contest, a struggle where you win or lose, you treat each interaction as if it is critical to the outcome—because it is critical.
  • Leverage Every Resource Available: It is a mistake not to engage with the people on your team who might help you win a deal. If you can, bring your leadership into the contest. If there are things you can do, like visiting their site and meeting with their teams to better understand their world, you do it. If you can invite them to your location for a whiteboard meeting to share ideas, make it worth their while to join you. Use every resource available to you to win.

Sales is a competitor, and you are a competitor. Even though we don’t talk enough about competing, winning means recognizing you are in a contest and playing to win.

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30 Jul 16:08

How Brands Mirror Religion

by Emmanuel Probst

How Brands Mirror Religion 

Our belief in a higher power, and the search for guidance and pilgrimage are shifting from sacred to secular. Brands and their spokespersons now play the role of churches and preachers.

“Google is not a search engine. Google is an atheist God. . . . Where do we pray? Where do we send information, hope there is divine intervention, and get a better answer back? Our new God: Google.” —Scott Galloway, Founder & Chairman, L2

We confide our most intimate secrets and questions to search engines such as Google. They provide us with an immediate answer, unlike at church where we must have faith the answer will come one day. This is one of the reasons why America is becoming increasingly secular and church attendance across the country keeps decreasing. The number of people rejecting any religious affiliation rose from 6 percent in 1992 to 22 percent in 2014. Among millennials, the figure is 35 percent. Yet Google searches increase. Although churches are becoming deserted, 70 percent of unaffiliated Americans believe in God or a universal spirit. These individuals have a more personal spiritual experience, rather than through a religious institution.

While traditional religious institutions struggle to attract new devotees, people turn to other institutions (and brands) to fulfill their quest for spirituality and belonging. Many brands claim to serve a higher purpose, establish rituals, gather their customers in sanctuaries and preach a new way of being, all by borrowing heavily from the sacred codes and terminology. Also, we will see how certain cultural gatherings and music festivals substitute for the rites of passage and pilgrimages traditionally offered by religious institutions. While not always obvious, the power of cult-like marketing is undeniable. It has contributed to the success of brands like Apple, Harley-Davidson, SoulCycle, and Yelp. Let’s take a closer look, in a non-judgmental way, at the meanings we seek (or once sought) from religion and the metaphors brands use to fulfill these meanings.

How Brands Borrow The Codes Of Religion

Cult-like brands provide their followers with a strong feeling of belonging to a group (almost a family) of like-minded people. From a marketer’s standpoint, these brands deliver a very high level of customer loyalty and a sense of ownership with the brand. Cult-like brands also don’t lose traction like fads do. It has been over 35 years since the inception of the first Harley Owners Group (H.O.G.). Today, H.O.G.s have over 1 million members worldwide, through 680 chapters in the U.S. and 700 chapters abroad. To attract followers and turn them into fanatics, brands borrow heavily on the premises and terminology of religion.

Serve A Higher Purpose

Brands have no sacred texts to rely on so they create texts of their own. “SoulCycle instructors guide riders through an inspirational, meditative fitness experience designed to benefit the body, mind and soul,” reads the company’s S1 filing. “We believe SoulCycle is more than a business, it’s a movement.” In this same document, SoulCycle promises a spiritually uplifting workout to visitors “inspired to open themselves to the possibility of change.” The workout pushes our limits with the aim of reaching transcendent and altered states.

Embody A Sense Of Belonging And Social Identity

One of the key tenets of a cult is that it unites members to oppose what they see as an illegitimate or oppressive mainstream culture. To that end, many brand communities have converted both customers and merchants into devotees. In 2004, the now-popular review-site Yelp was struggling to grow its business. To surface new ideas, it decided to gather about 100 power users. Then Yelp realized that people were motivated by other people like themselves, not by the businesses they were reviewing. The number of reviews grew exponentially afterward. The Yelp Elite Squad gathers the platform’s most active reviewers and “role models” and distinguishes members of the Squad with a colorful elite badge featured on their account profiles. Five years of being part of the squad grants you a Gold Elite Badge. After ten years, you’ll receive the much-coveted Black Elite Badge.

Sacred And Ritual Consumption

In its religious sense, sacred means “connected with God or a god or dedicated to a religious purpose and so deserving veneration or regarded with great respect and reverence by a particular religion, group, or individual.” In marketing, sacred consumption refers to events and objects that are out of the ordinary and which we regard with the upmost respect. Rituals are patterns of behavior tied to events that we deem as important in our lives. These events often come from our cultures, religious background, and traditions. They often have some special symbolic meaning and are repeated regularly.

Ritual consumption is the consumption of goods and services that is tied to specific rituals. Artifacts are the items we use in a ritual. For brands, ritual consumption is the holy grail of loyalty. If we consume a product regularly and follow a ritual, we end up using a lot more of it and re-purchasing this same product without thinking twice about it. That’s why Olay tells us to use their facials everyday, Oreo teaches us to “twist, lick and dunk,” and Corona beer comes with a lime. Dunkin’ has become #1 in the coffee category by establishing its products as an artifact we use throughout the day: Dunkin’ is our all-day, everyday stop for coffee and baked goods.

You will find many more case studies and tips in my new book Brand Hacks: How to Grow your Brand by Fulfilling the Human Quest for Meaning.

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30 Jul 16:01

This Week’s Big Deal: Adopting Your Customer’s Point of View

by Steve Kearns

There is no single secret to success in B2B sales. Except… well, there might be. 

Empathy: The ability to understand and share the feelings of another person. In sales, it means adopting a customer’s point of view and truly seeing challenges, pains, and potential solutions through their eyes, not yours. 

When you reach this level of insight, everything else tends to fall in line. You’ll be able to better navigate large buying committees because you clearly understand how they internally operate and interact. You’ll have fewer leaks in your sales funnel because you intuitively recognize where they’re popping up. You’ll be able to speed up the sales cycle because you can pinpoint a prospect’s priorities and hold-ups. And above all, you’ll be able to deliver more compelling and personalized customer experiences

Of course, developing a consistently empathetic point of view is far easier said than done. Every person and company is different, and you can’t always get a read as easily online as you could if you were looking them in the eyes. But virtually every modern organization should see the value in boosting empathy in the sales department.  

This week’s roundup of sales content features tips on developing a truly empathetic approach to sales.

Sales Experts Weigh in on Developing an Empathetic Point of View

Communicate!

There’s no better way to learn about someone than to simply listen. In general, digital sellers are getting better at this critical activity. But we can only listen if we first get people talking. Are you focused on creating multiple avenues and triggers to invite conversation?

It starts with cultivating an active, welcoming, and receptive social media presence. But there are also techniques we can implement, as sales and marketing teams, to facilitate interaction from a curious or researching buyer. In his recent piece on influencing sales growth through B2B customer experience, Sam Makad calls out several tools for this purpose, such as live chats, co-browsing, and chat-bots.  

Don’t Steer Clear of Difficult Questions

The problem with run-of-the-mill sales conversations is that they don’t often reveal unique or useful insights. Anthony Iannarino advocates in favor of a willingness to engage in difficult conversations. “You have to effectively deal with and dispatch the obstacles to change, even when it is uncomfortable, and even when others would prefer to avoid difficult conversations,” he says. “You cannot be consultative or a trusted advisor if you are afraid to deal with challenges. Ignoring real issues is a lie of omission.”

On a similar note, Janice Mars writes that there is real value in telling hard truths: “If you do not divulge information you know will set the buyer up for failure and potentially create more risk for them, then you will most likely have an unsuccessful implementation and a pissed-off customer.” This transparency will often lead to greater openness from the customer, making it easier to see and meet their needs.

Create Connective Sales Demos

The solution demo can be a seller’s most potent asset. Unfortunately, they’re often built from the vendor’s point of view rather than the buyer’s. For this reason, they frequently fail to fully resonate. It’s always worthwhile to reflect on your approach and consider ways you might improve. 

In his new writeup on taking sales demos from boring to brilliant, one recommendation from Steve Bookbinder is to tap into the buyer’s motives:

“It comes down to understanding and quantifying both the rational and non-rational processes by which buyers make decisions,” he explains. “Ironically, we tend to see most sales pitches address rational needs, and rarely the irrational but salient needs that drive the individual’s decisions.”

He notes that there are broadly two categories of decision-making: aspiration (playing to win) and preventative (playing not to lose). Making this determination will go a long way toward helping you align your messaging to your prospect’s needs and wants.

Be Selective with Opportunities

Developing an empathetic point of view is not a fast or easy process. It takes (sometimes intensive) research and earnest effort. That’s why, as ValueSelling Associates CEO Julie Thomas guest-blogged here last week, we need to stop wasting time qualifying the wrong opportunities

Once you’ve come closer to adopting a prospect’s POV, you may conclude there’s no realistic chance of them making a move on your solution at this point in time. Obviously, it’d be helpful to predetermine that before investing time and effort.

Thomas suggests asking yourself these four questions at the outset:

  1. Does this person have the power to purchase?

  2. Does the company really need what you’re selling?

  3. Does this person truly understand your value proposition?

  4. Do they acknowledge a timeline for results?

Foster Deeper Connections and Win

As author Leslie Jamison once wrote, “Empathy requires knowing that you know nothing.” Assumptions and preconceptions can be the worst enemy of a salesperson. Leave them at the door and enter each new engagement with an open mind, ready to learn and better understand the person (or people) at the other end.

It’s an ongoing process and it’ll never be fast or easy, but when you master this art, you’ll have unlocked the (not-so-secret) secret to selling success.

Subscribe to the LinkedIn Sales Blog and never miss out on the latest big deal in B2B sales.

 

30 Jul 16:01

Use Accrual Accounting For Long-Term Success

by Terry Lammers

You’re an entrepreneur who is excited about growing your small business. Maybe you’ve identified the perfect niche market designing websites for local restaurants or installing high-end home security systems. You’re passionate about your company’s services, growing your business, and polishing your brand. Your focus on those elements of your business is really important to your success, but you might be overlooking an equally important accounting decision that you need to make: Do you use cash basis accounting, or do you use accrual accounting? After years of working with small businesses, I am convinced that accrual accounting is the best option for your company, especially as your company grows and looks for new opportunities.

Cash Basis Accounting vs. Accrual Accounting

Small businesses — which often have to learn basic accounting informally and quickly — can use either method of accounting, but the methods are different.

When using cash basis accounting, a sale is not recorded as a sale until your customer pays you, and an expense is not an expense until you pay for it. Money has to change hands in order for you to account for it.

When using accrual accounting, sales are recorded as accounts receivable at the moment you sell something, such as when you send an invoice to a customer. Expenses are recorded as accounts payable when you receive an invoice from a vendor.

Let’s think about a situation in which you are the owner of a brand-new plumbing company. In April, you performed 10 service calls and sent your customers their bills, totaling $5,000. At the end of the month, five customers had paid their invoices for a total of $2,500. That same month, you paid an invoice for some tools that you bought for $800.

If you are using cash basis accounting, you recorded a profit of $1,700 — the amount your customers paid you minus what you paid for the tools.

If you are using accrual accounting, you recorded a profit of $4,200 — the amount of the invoices you sent minus what you paid for the tools.

Your business is going to have very different financial statements at the end of April depending on the type of accounting you choose, even though the exact same events happened in both instances.

Why Small Businesses Prefer Cash Basis Accounting

I certainly understand why small business owners are interested in cash basis accounting. Here are a few reasons I think they do.

First, you have thousands of tasks to perform and decisions to make.

When you are just starting a business cash basis accounting is simple enough that it seems like a way to save time. Creating a financial statement doesn’t involve much more than looking at your bank accounts. If you see money deposited, you can consider those sales. If you see money paid, those are expenses. It’s easy for you to see a reasonably accurate record of your month-to-month cash flow.

Second, you might have a small business that has its customers paying immediately for services.

These pricing models are referred to as payment due at time of service. For example, think about a boutique financial advisory service. If customers pay immediately at the end of each planning session, there’s not much need for accounts receivable. Those types of small businesses might not see the need for the extra complexity involved with accrual accounting.

Third, cash basis accounting affects when you pay taxes for your business.

If your small business performs a service at the end of December but doesn’t receive payment until January, it doesn’t pay taxes on that income until the next year under cash basis accounting. However, your business is still going to pay its taxes at some point (and recording income received near the end of one year as income the next year is fraudulent, even if it sometimes happens). My point is that this often-mentioned benefit of cash basis accounting really isn’t that big of a benefit.

Even worse, unscrupulous small business owners might attempt to use cash basis accounting to manipulate their income statements. Let’s say you start a mobile pressure-washing company. During the day, you drive from house to house and pressure-wash decks, driveways, siding — you name it. If it has mold or dirt, you pressure-wash it. You didn’t have much money to start the business, so you used a loan to purchase the pressure washer and van. If you stop paying the bills for that pressure washer and van, you don’t record those transactions. At that point, your company’s income statement looks much better than it really is because, after all, you don’t have those expenses recorded.

Despite its benefits, cash basis accounting simply isn’t the best solution for a small business. In fact, it’s not even in accordance with the Generally Accepted Accounting Principles.

Why Your Small Businesses Should Use Accrual Accounting

There are some great reasons I think small businesses should use accrual accounting, even if it can seem more difficult. First, it allows you to track revenue and expenses more easily. Second, it helps you create more comprehensive financial statements for people outside of your company. Third, it allows you to calculate key ratios that you might need to know as your business grows. I’ll explain these one at a time.

First, consider how complex your business operations are as you are just starting.

Maybe demand for your pet-sitting business has exploded as your customers spread the word about how reliable you are and how well you care for their pets. You might have hired a few employees. Pretty soon, you find that you’re having trouble tracking who owes what. You know you are due some cash soon, but how much? And when? Ms. Jackson owes exactly how much, again, for watching her Labradoodle? Are you going to remember that in a few weeks?

With accrual accounting, you simply record the amount that Ms. Jackson owes you as an accounts receivable transaction. That gives you some peace of mind when you think about that amount offset against the expense that you recently had for your website redesign with the prominent picture of that Labradoodle at the top. You know immediately where your money is going and where it’s coming from.

Second, as your business grows, other people are going to be reviewing your financial statements.

Accrual accounting gives those people a better idea of the shape of your company. If your graphic design business looks thin on cash one month because you had to pay for a better computer, a quick glance at your accounts receivable allows anyone to see that your cash flow for the following month looks great because your clients are going to be paying you many times the cost of that new equipment.

Keep this in mind as you think about your future needs for credit. Maybe you need a short-term line of credit because of increases to your accounts receivable. If you hand your banker a balance sheet using cash accounting, he won’t even see that you have accounts receivable because it won’t be on your balance sheet. Using accrual accounting, your banker has a better understanding of the health of your company rather than a misleading one based on a snapshot in time.

Third, if your company is experiencing explosive growth and is looking for more credit to continue expanding, you want to keep your banker happy.

The banker is going to review your financial statements and calculate a few key ratios. These ratios are better calculated using accrual accounting.

Take the current ratio, for example. A current ratio is used to get a quick snapshot of a company’s cash position. Your banker calculates this ratio by dividing current assets by current liabilities. You’re not going to have an accurate current ratio using cash basis accounting because your accounts receivable and accounts payable are not being reported on your balance sheet.

Traditional lenders might not want to deal with a business using cash basis accounting to create that type of balance sheet, or they might not be able to account for some money that’s owed to you as they try to underwrite a loan. That’s not good in either case.

Even if you do find a lender willing to work with you while you use cash basis accounting, once you have to start providing other supplementary documents, you increase your chances of committing a mistake — and that might lead to you getting turned down for a loan. Accrual accounting helps you avoid those mistakes by giving your banker the information he or she needs right there on the balance sheet.

And if your small business as a rental property manager explodes, you add employees, and you expand beyond your wildest dreams, potential buyers are going to want to see the most comprehensive financial statements possible — that means you need to be using accrual accounting.

What to Do if You Want to Switch to Accrual Accounting

Making the switch is easier than you think. Because you might not be familiar with all of the tax laws that might apply to your specific business, I recommend talking with your certified public accountant — or hiring a CPA if you don’t currently have one. Your CPA can tell you about any possible tax consequences of making the switch.

The actual switch, though, is easier today than ever. Often, with today’s accounting software, such as QuickBooks, you might just need a few mouse clicks. Once you’ve switched to accrual accounting, make sure you’re consistent. You don’t want to hand someone statements using cash basis accounting one time and statements using accrual accounting another.

Once you’ve made the switch, ask your CPA to help you calculate your current ratio, your accounts payable days (how long it takes you to pay your vendors or other creditors), your accounts receivable days (how long it takes customers to pay you), the percent of gross profit to sales, and the percent of cash flow to sales. Use these ratios or key performance indicators to keep track of the monthly performance of your business — you will be better informed to make decisions, and you’ll be able to tell others outside of the company about your company’s health.

If you’re serious about growing your business, it’s time to embrace accrual accounting. It might be more difficult at first, but accrual accounting benefits your business in the long run, giving you better access to credit and — hopefully — better access to buyers when the time comes.

30 Jul 15:58

9 Things Terribly Wrong With Sales Today: The Sales People

by Keenan

Sales is suffering from 9 brutal ills:

  1. The Bro Culture
  2. Lack of Coaching
  3. Too Product-Centric and Not Problem Centric
  4. Not enough salespeople understand the game/rules of sales
  • Too much reliance on selling tools.
  • Not enough training in the industry/space
  • Too much activity management
  • Little respect for prospects and buyers time
  • Not enough humility

 

Here we are problem number four. This is a problem is like a dormant virus. Almost every salesperson is afflicted with it, but they don’t realize it. Most salespeople don’t understand the game of sales. They think selling is about them. They think selling is about their product. They think selling is about competition. They think selling is about quota. They think selling is about President’s Club and being the top rep. Salespeople look at selling in a lot of ways, but few actually get what sales is all about. They don’t understand the game of sales and it’s costing them deals, partnerships, and greater success.

Of all the misconceptions salespeople have, the biggest is they think it’s about them, their company, and their product. Look at most of their decks, pitches, emails, voicemail messages and the one pagers they send out. They almost always, exclusively talk about their product and their company. What they don’t understand is that customers and buyers don’t give a shit about your or your product.

 

Gap Selling Truth Bomb #2

No one gives a shit about YOU!

 

Sales is not a selling sport or a commission sport or a telling game. It’s a helping game. It’s a discovery game. It’s a thinking game. It’s a creativity game. It’s a support game. It’s a problem-solving game.

Buyers care about themselves. They have problems they are trying to solve. Their business is suffering somehow and they need to stop the bleeding. They don’t care about you or what product you sell or how long you’re company has been in business. They care about their own world and it’s our job as salespeople to understand as much about their world as possible.

What salespeople struggle understanding is that they aren’t paid to sell. They are paid to influence a decision and that can’t be done when you’re focusing on you, your product or your company.

When a salesperson doesn’t understand that it’s their job to influence they become an order-taker and order takers don’t provide as much value as decision influencers.

The game of sales is a data game. It’s about getting as much information as possible about the buyer’s current state and what’s going on. It’s about understanding the current environment, the problems they are struggling with, the impact those problems are having on the organization, the reasons they are having them and how it’s making them feel. It’s about understanding where they want to go. Why they want to go there, what happens if they are successful and what solutions would be most effective in ensuring they get there.

This is all data. No telling, pitching, no demoing, no hard close, not manipulation. It’s simply being a data hound, and getting as much information as possible, that will allow you to influence the sale leveraging everything the buyer told you.

Salespeople, it’s time to change the way we sell. The days of pitches, product-centric selling are over. The game has changed. Don’t be an order-taker. Be an influencer, be a problem-centric seller.

The post 9 Things Terribly Wrong With Sales Today: The Sales People appeared first on A Sales Guy.

30 Jul 15:58

Ignoring The Buyers’ State of Readiness

by Tibor Shanto

By Tibor Shanto

I’d like you to take a look at the marketing material or collateral you use to prospect and sell. For many, you will find one piece or set aimed at your market. Some will have iterations based on the role of someone in the decision process. Others may reflect the size of the target company or a couple of other demographics. But there is a singular erroneous assumption that goes into pieces, making them all but useless, and often get in the way of selling. It is not so much that they are too product-centric, which they are. But they are completely ignoring the buyers’ state of readiness.  That is the time between NOW, and when the buyer indents on making a decision.

Most materials provided to salespeople or made available for buyers directly is geared towards one type of prospect. Namely, those who are out there actively looking, searching on Google, downloading stuff, checking out your webinars. These people are ready, and you don’t want to be missed. As a result, most organizations’ collateral is aimed at that Active Buyer, boldly traversing 57% of their journey before succumbing to a salesperson.

The challenge is that the number of Active Buyers is tiny. Depending on your industry, and who is measuring, it usually is 10% or less of a given target market. Now, if you can make quota capturing your share of this market segment, all the power to you. But the vast majority of salespeople I meet admit that they need to sell to other prospects as well. And that’s when they are on their own.

When you looked at collateral earlier, did it speak to anyone that is not intent on buying? Were there different pieces based on time to decision? If yes, congratulations. But there are not many companies that do, just enough to prove the rule.

So What About The Others

It’s more than just “others” if only about 10% is actively looking, 90% are in various stages of not looking. Specifically, about 20% are Passive Buyers, people who know they need to make a purchase, but their timeline is 12 to 18 months. Based on their last buying experience, four years ago, the buying cycle took about four months. Knowing things have changed and advanced, they mentally add two months, “cause you never know, I don’t need to buckle down for 10 – 12 months.”

Talking to these people in the same language and about the same things as you would to an active buyer, is asking for trouble. They are a year out from transitioning to Active, which means you need to speak to them in the way someone a year away from an event would be thinking. Topics may be about issues or opportunities your product can address, but they are not in product mode. They are in any number of types of “trying to figure it out mode.” Few companies arm their salespeople with collateral aligned to milestones that occur before there is “product talk.”

While buyers would welcome some thought leadership about their scenario, what it means, how much attention it may or may not need, etc. It is dangerously too soon for “solutions,” especially a year out from the start of considerations.

Profiting From The Past

I get some push back on this in the form of “how do I know that?” All I can say “360 Degree Deal Review“. If you make it a habit to understand how the journey unfolded for the buyer, these factors will make themselves apparent. But you need to start by making it a habit, and you need to look at the entire buyer journey, not just when they reach the vendor selection stage. Just like you were able to create specific material based on role or other attributes. You can figure out what impacted decisions and how, how things evolved long before the product stage. The key to success is the habit you develop for knowing, not the tool you choose.

Understanding how they prioritize projects, typical blind allies people get caught in, help you add value long before others may. But that value has to be situational, based on the client’s situation, not your quota, and indeed not product related. Done well we can plant seeds during this stage that we can more efficiently harvest when they are in Active mode. If you plant the right business concepts early, you can align them very specifically to your product when they go Active.

Even Less Receptive

The group described above, the Passive Buyers, which make up about 20% or so of a given market. Add that to the 10% Active, and you are only up to 30% of your market. At least these two sets of buyers have a timeline. The remaining 70% of buyers, commonly known as the Status Quo, have no schedule or deadline. Mostly they do not perceive a need of any sort. They don’t know about our product, that we exist, or what our product does. They are busy doing their thing, “thank you very much; don’t need anything, especially that thing.”  Ignoring the buyers’ state of readiness is fatal with Status Quo prospects.

The messaging created for Active Buyers will do little more than piss people off or suggest that you do not understand them. While you may think you do, your narrative says not. There is only one way to engage with the Status Quo, that is through objectives. Most sellers will use the same intro with someone ready to go as they would with someone totally removed from the market.

No Pain No Gain

I know many will protest, but if you introduce yourself with the pains, needs and problems you solve, you’re sabotaging your opportunity. I know yours is more refined, but most prospecting pitches come down here’s the need, here’s the pain, and we got the cure. Which is why it does not work with someone refusing to see and acknowledge the things you desperately need them to. If they don’t see themselves in the picture we paint, there is no need to continue.

On the other hand, if you led with objectives they may have, (you’d know from the 360 Degree Deal View), they may want to engage. Probably not ready to buy, but with these folks, engagement is a real step forward. You can apply many of the practices described above, aligning the message with their pre-product journey. You know how we like to talk about a Client Life Cycle? That cycle starts long before many are aware or track. But with no compelling event, your best shot is to become their emotional favourite from the time you engage, to when they begin to consider things in Passive stage. Right through to when they become Active Buyers, familiar and comfortable with you. Ignoring the buyers’ state of readiness will always make for a long and often a more lonely journey.

The post Ignoring The Buyers’ State of Readiness appeared first on TiborShanto.com.

30 Jul 15:58

B2B Vendors Need To Play Catch Up In A “B2E” World

by kniemisto

Adobe recently published a report detailing the findings of a survey we conducted of 1,215 marketers and B2B buyers in the U.K., France, and Germany. The findings reveal that European business buyers expect vendors to display traits traditionally associated with consumer brands, demonstrating B2B and B2C landscapes are no longer distinct.

The “Creating Epic Customer Experiences report shows how the B2B buying experience is more similar to B2C, giving rise to a “Business To Everyone,” or “B2E” world. With 70% of B2B marketers saying they can’t differentiate, B2E poses a new challenge for all business in an already competitive environment.

The report highlights three areas of convergence:

Desire For Security, Protection, And Transparency Align B2B And B2C

It’s safe to assume that all buyers—both B2C and B2B—are looking for a great product at a reasonable price. Other buyer must haves are security, protection, and ease of business, are important to both consumers and business buyers. Marketers won’t be surprised to learn that the vast majority of buyers say it’s vital a supplier is serious about protecting both their organization’s and their own personal data. 85% want to be treated fairly as a customer, and 78% want a brand to be transparent about how they work.

The Rise Of Altruistic Brand Purpose In B2B

B2B buyers are increasingly motivated by other factors. Sustainability is an essential area of consideration, with 67% of buyers seeking to work with companies that are striving to lower their impact on the environment. Of course, a focus on green credentials is hardly a nascent trend. Being eco-friendly has been a hot topic for years, and marketers are well aware of the value of this. What’s interesting is the emerging importance of brands showing their stance on people, ethics, and the “big social issues” of the day. In short: altruistic purpose and brand values.

B2C and B2B buyer sentiments are converging. For example, just as many consumers will no longer shop with retailers whose ethics they disagree with, 30% of B2B buyers will disengage from a brand whose values don’t match their own. 68% of B2B buyers place a high importance on how a company treats its employees. A similar amount (64%) seek to do business with brands that ensure their operations are fair to people throughout the supply chain—and 63% expect suppliers to demonstrate authentic ethical values. Meanwhile, three in five want the brands they work with to take real action to support human rights at home and abroad.

These are big changes that stand to drastically alter the way marketers work, the campaigns they create, and the messages they deliver. In fact, many have already been impacted, with almost half (48%) of marketers agreeing they have lost sales in the last two years because they haven’t demonstrated a strong enough sense of brand purpose. So, for B2B organizations, purpose might not only be thing that sets your brand apart—a lack of it could even stop you from winning new customers.

All Buyers Crave A Personal Experience

Consumer brands are increasingly turning to technology to help deliver personal experiences across all digital touchpoints, and solve business challenges like driving first to second purchase, notifying visitors when products are back-in-stock and deploying relevant messaging based on behavioral data. This report indicates personalization is crucial to keep B2B buyers too, with 49% saying tailored offers and communications will encourage them to stick with a provider.

Accounting For The Generational Divide

B2B marketers face an additional challenge in that not all buyers feel the same way. The study shows, younger buyers are more likely to feel passionately about working with a company whose brand purpose aligns with their own values and beliefs. But for older buyers and board members, the landscape changes significantly.

Just 42% of board members are looking for suppliers to stand up for something bigger than their own product and services, in comparison to 64% at the sub-board levels. Meanwhile, only 34% of board members expect a brand to invest in and engage with cultural issues, next to 57% of sub-board employees. Finally, the board is 20% less likely to think it’s important that a company shows genuine engagement with diversity and inclusion for employees. However, board-level buyers are more likely to be concerned about being treated fairly as a customer and having both their organization’s and their personal data protected.

It’s a complex situation. There’s no point pushing this messaging on a big-ticket investment that will require board approval, when factors like security, privacy, and the promise of efficiency savings are more likely to be appealing. But if they don’t include brand purpose in “top of the funnel” marketing sent to younger/sub-board buyers, they may risk being passed over for RFPs. Marketers must have a nuanced understanding of when to bring out purpose-based messaging—and they have to find a way to create a customer experience that factors all of this in.

CXM And The Importance Of Lifecycle Engagement

39% of B2B buyers won’t switch providers if they’re doing a good job, so vendors need to adopt a robust full lifecycle engagement strategy and focus on customer experience, not just in marketing but across an organization. Whether it’s analyzing data to provide funnel-tailored messages, creating engaging experiences across different platforms, or delivering multichannel customer communications, marketers need to ensure they’re providing the end-to-end experiences that customers seek.

With all these challenges, it’s little wonder that marketers are finding their task harder across the funnel. To survive and thrive, all businesses should be looking at creating the same engaging emotional connections already prevalent in B2C because in a B2E world vendors can’t afford not to. Marketers in all arenas must adopt a robust CXM strategy and focus on engagement and experience to build trusted, long-lasting relationships.

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The post B2B Vendors Need To Play Catch Up In A “B2E” World appeared first on Marketo Marketing Blog - Best Practices and Thought Leadership.

30 Jul 15:56

'Data is the epicenter of the AI revolution': How AI is disrupting the data center and enterprise IT markets

by Rosalie Chan and Benjamin Pimentel

ai enterprise tech 2x1

  • The convergence of data and cloud technology has enabled businesses of all sizes to use AI for automation, better customer information, and online transactions. 
  • Facebook uses AI tools Sapienz and Infer to debug source code, while Google's AutoML helps develop new machine-learning software. 
  • This article includes an overview of AI in enterprise technology, plus the top three trends to watch, and how Google and Facebook use AI on their products. 
  • Read how AI is transforming health, transportation, investing, and more in other articles from our special report, How AI is Changing Everything.

Artificial intelligence has accentuated the ongoing disruption of two huge markets: the data center and enterprise IT.

The rise of cloud computing over the past decade has radically changed the way businesses — from big corporations to mom and pop shops — access and use computing resources. 

The cloud made it possible for them to set up and run their computing infrastructure, allowing them to downsize, if not totally abandon on-premise data centers, dramatically cutting IT costs.

AI is helping speed up and enhance the benefits of that transition. Traditional tech powerhouses have played an important role in this change.

Ruchir Puri, IBM's chief scientist, said AI's rise in enterprise IT was due largely to the explosion of data — online transactions, wide-ranging customer information, social media posts — that businesses could now collect, process and draw valuable insights to use for making tactical and strategic decisions.

"Data is the epicenter of the AI revolution," he told Business Insider. "A lot more data became available. The whole data infrastructure became more prevalent. Then a lot more compute available which was needed to deal with that data."

In fact, AI's impact extends to the basic component of modern computing: the chips used to power data centers and the cloud.

AI triggered a push for more powerful processors that could handle the more intensive computing needs of AI systems, especially the fast-rising trend called deep learning, which is based on neural computing networks that mimic the way the human brain works. 

More powerful AI-enabled data centers and cloud platforms paved the way for more powerful, more sophisticated business software applications. 

AI is making it possible for businesses to automate key parts of their operations, from sales, customer relations, managing inventory to long-term planning. AI software applications are enabling business leaders to make faster and more insightful decisions, helping them save time and money. 

Enterprises worldwide are expected to spend $35.8 billion on AI-based systems in 2019, said a recent report from the analyst firm IDC. AI is spreading so rapidly that by 2022, three-fourths of IT operations will be handled by "AI or analytics-driven automation," cutting operational expenses by more than 25%, another IDC report also said.

"It's about pattern detection. It's about autonomous decision-making," Juergen Lindner, an Oracle executive focused on the tech giant's cloud software business, told Business Insider. 

AI is making it possible for business leaders to make far-reaching decisions. It is "elevating their decision-making to an unprecedented level," Lindner said.

Lulea data center 5 - Facebook data center

Top 3 opportunities in AI for enterprise tech

Cybersecurity: Growing

Software makers have been helping businesses defend against hacks and other network threats for decades. AI is creating new cybersecurity capabilities on steroids, offering faster real-time protection and pinpointing potential risks long before they hit. It's a particularly serious need as more companies take their networks to the cloud. Crowdstrike, an AI cloud security startup, went public last month after raising $600 million.

Sales and Customer Relations: Growing

Cloud platforms, such as Salesforce, already let sales reps and managers keep track of customer leads and accounts. AI is dramatically expanding what they could do with all that data, letting them quickly figure out which leads are most promising, which sales rep is best suited for a customer, or how best to engage with a client. 

Programming: Nascent

Developers at Facebook and Google have been using artificial intelligence to help them be more productive. At Facebook, developers use the AI tools Sapienz and Infer to debug and test code. At Google, developers use AutoML to automatically create artificial intelligence algorithms for products like Google Photos.

"I think this is going to be one of the most transformative but also one of the most rapid changes we're going to have," Rajen Sheth, vice president of product management at Google Cloud told Business Insider. "Now we have a lot of the tools that set that up for success."

AI tools Facebook and Google use to debug code and detect malware 

At Facebook, engineers frequently use two AI tools — called Infer and Sapienz — to test and debug their code. Alexander Mols, software engineer on the Sapienz team at Facebook, says that before, testing code was a tedious, time-consuming process that would still result in errors. 

Now, it uses Infer to scan the source code for errors, while Sapienz is a simulator that mimics the way an actual human would use the app. Mols says these two tools "naturally complement each other" to find errors, bugs, and glitches. 

Infer came out of Facebook's acquisition of the startup Monoidics in 2013, while Sapienz came out of its acquisition of Majicke in 2017. Both these tools are used for Facebook, Messenger, Instagram, and Workplace, while WhatsApp makes use of Infer.

"It takes a lot of work away from the engineers," Mols said. "Instead of them having to spend time writing tests for the code, the algorithms take care of this for them."

Still, Mols says, there are things Sapienz and Infer can improve on. Right now, the team is working on improving the capabilities of these tools, such as adding automatic fixing and better explanation of the bugs it finds.

"We could work on better ways to document and explain these issues to engineers," Mols said.

Google is taking a slightly different approach: The search giant has developed a way to make it easier to use machine learning — the technology where a computer algorithm can learn from data, identify patterns, and make predictions without a human explicitly telling it what to do. 

Google's tool is called AutoML, and it essentially helps programmers — both internally at the tech titan, and its Google Cloud customers — use machine learning software to train machine learning software. 

It might sound meta, but the idea is that developers — even those who don't know much about working with machine learning — can bring their data sets to Google Cloud. AutoML will automatically create a machine learning model, which can be used for making predictions, identifying images and videos, or understanding text. 

"What we found with that is we can use the latest deep learning technologies to give people models that are highly accurate to their dataset," Rajen Sheth, vice president of product management at Google Cloud, told Business Insider. "They don't have to have machine learning expertise to do this."

Within Google, AutoML is used for tasks like recognizing and aggregating photos in Google Photos, automatically composing replies in Gmail, and detecting malware. 

"What we see within Google is that within a period of four years, we've gone from very little AI within products in Google to using it in every single product," Sheth said. "Now almost every developer at Google has access to machine learning."

Sheth says these tools make machine learning easier to more developers, helping them take advantage of the rising popularity of the technology. Now, Sheth says, the challenge will be to help those programmers stay on top of the latest trends with the technology.

"We're going from a world where machine learning has been very, very new, to now a world where there are many more tools and so many more people can access it," Sheth said. "Over the next decade, every single business will be radically transformed by AI. We need to transform every developer to use this in the right way for their businesses."

The Takeaway

Jensen Huang

"AI is the future of software. Software is the language of automation. It's very clear that AI is going to impact every industry." 

-Jensen Huang, CEO of Nvidia to VentureBeat

Join the conversation about this story »

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30 Jul 15:52

5 Inbound Marketing Strategy Tips for Tech Startups

by Teodora Ema Pirciu

Marketing B2B tech companies is challenging.

For most, it requires investing significant efforts in creating awareness, generating leads, and closing sales. For B2B tech startups, you can also add the pressure that comes along with launching a new product, as well as the lack of resources to invest in marketing in the first place.

However, even without a big budget, you can still spread the word about who you are and why you’ve gone into business. Of course, you shouldn’t expect to pull out all the stops from day one. But with the right strategy, you can still put a robust framework in place and garner considerable attention along the way.

Being smart and stretching every dollar can go a long way in putting your business on the right path. Here are five inbound marketing strategy tips any tech startup can use to grow awareness and get quality leads.

1) Market through your experts

Whether you’ve recognized this or not, you already have one of the most valuable resources at your disposal when it comes to your marketing strategy: your employees.

Outside of the benefit of already being on your payroll, many employees also have an intimate knowledge of your products and services. That level of insight can be key to educating your audience and convincing them of the perks of doing business with you. Cultivating those internal thought leaders helps your experts grow and build authority in your industry, driving visibility and trust for your brand.

If you’re still not convinced, consider this: employees have ten times more followers and get eight times more shares than their company’s social media accounts. That’s because people don’t trust the brand as much as they appreciate the people behind it.

Even if not every one of them has the writing skills necessary to capture attention with high-quality, optimized blog posts, they can still generate ideas and create outlines. A professional writer can use it to develop compelling copy, turning thought into practice, and with any luck, conversions—all while saving you money.

So, support your experts. Have them build an online presence and market through them. Encourage your top-notch employees to manage social accounts, take speaking engagements, and publish articles on your business blog. They’ll become the best brand ambassadors you’ll ever have!

2) Use strategic calls to action to capture leads

Inbound marketing relies on creating content with a purpose. That means every piece should do more than just deliver a message—it needs to be the right message, in the right way, to the right people, at the right time.

That’s possible if you guide your visitors through a buyers’ journey, which aims to convert strangers into prospects and leads and, eventually, paying customers.

To reach that, you need clear calls to action (CTAs) to convince people to move in the right direction. Think about it as a strategy, in which every CTA is part of the story and makes it clear for the readers what you want them to do next.

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Lead generating calls-to-action deliver a message at the right moment. Adding a well-designed CTA button to your article templates can increase revenue by up to 83 percent in one month.

Make sure that every time people arrive on your page, they have clear instructions on what they’re supposed to do next. That way, you maximize your chances to build long-term business relationships, which are crucial to B2B tech startups.

3) Promote your content

The value of your content primarily depends on the number of people it reaches. Even the best article, eBook, or white paper is worth close to nothing if no one reads it. Hence, the golden rule of inbound marketing: If you create content, you need to promote it. Otherwise, you’ll see little to no return on your marketing efforts.

As a tech startup, your content is the perfect tool to build awareness and establish your brand as an authority and a solution in your industry. If you don’t share your content with the world, no one will know you exist, and it’ll be hard for you to break into the market.

Close to half of business decision-makers consume between three to five pieces of content before contacting a salesperson. If your well-researched articles aren’t among them, no one will knock at your door.

As a guideline, you should put a bare minimum of 20 percent of your effort/money into promoting your content. In a perfect world, content creation gets only 20 percent of the resources, leaving 80 percent of the budget and efforts for promotion.

Yes, you read that right. Believe it or not, three perfect pieces of content promoted through multiple networks can do way more than a ton of blogs and eBooks that wait quietly on your website to be discovered.

4) Set up automation

Tech startups don’t need a lecture on the importance and benefits of automation when it comes to business operations. If there’s someone out there who can make the most out of human-machine collaboration, it’s you.

Marketing a B2B tech company requires a sophisticated strategy across a wide range of marketing channels. Chances are, you don’t have the time or bandwidth to do all of that manually.

On the other hand, CRM and other marketing software enables you to create workflows and optimize communication with potential clients. Automation refines your marketing by allowing you to design a buyer’s journey and build content around it.

Of course, you still need to put in some time and energy toward setting up your automated processes correctly. Once you’ve done that, automation allows you to scale your business as much as you want or need. You’ll be able to send emails to ten, 100 or 1000 people with relatively small costs and without increasing the working hours for your team. It’s a cost-effective way to open and keep conversations, remain relevant, and provide constant value.

Moreover, automation also enables you to segment your audiences and target marketing messages on a deeper level than manual processes. On a large scale, it helps you to increase ROI and close more deals.

5) Have your content ready in advance

Startups are synonymous with hard work, tight deadlines, and unforeseen issues that often crop up unexpectedly. Events and the launching of new products and services require a lot of attention and effort. If you’re able to find time for content creation in the process, it will pay dividends in the long run.

Make sure you create content ahead of significant events. Don’t wait until a day or week before the launch to start writing a press release or compelling post, especially those with high conversion potential. The pressure of time constraints and last minute details will inevitably distract you. So, you’ll end up with delivering low-quality content that doesn’t generate the buzz you need.

Not only does having your marketing materials ready in advance guarantee better content, but it can also boost your SEO strategy. When you have the chance to work on your B2B content strategy and integrate the right keywords and links, you’re more likely to get excellent results.

Content strategy is a long-term play, not a one-time show. So, make a plan and give your team the time necessary to craft the right content for each business event.

Conclusion

The success of your B2B tech startup depends on how well you can craft a strategic marketing plan. Of course, this plan will change over time as your business grows. But having a clear image of where you are and what you want to achieve can make the difference for your brand.

In summary:

  1. Use all of your expert resources to create well-supported, top-notch content ideas. Then bring in the professionals to whip it into shape to be both compelling and optimized for search engines (if you don’t have them internally).
  2. Make sure to use CTAs to direct visitors to other helpful content or down into the funnel.
  3. Promote!
  4. Automate to save time and money.
  5. Put a content strategy together and plan so you don’t compromise quality when things get hectic.

It may all seem a bit complicated at first glance, but once you put the framework in place and see the first results, it all becomes easier. And remember, inbound marketing is a long-term investment meant to position you in the market and help you build valuable business relationships. So, even if you don’t see results overnight, that doesn’t mean you’re not already on your way up!

30 Jul 15:52

When Your Buying Stages Don’t Match Your Customer’s Needs: Lessons in Customer Experience- Part 3

by Lorena Harris

blog graphic

As we discussed in part 2 of this series, even the largest and oldest companies are facing a new B2B selling environment where “old school” marketing and sales just doesn’t work like it did. Companies that talk to their prospects instead of listening and working with changing customer requirements are starting to lose out.

Large B2B corporations are often filled with silos. Corporate marketing, product marketing, sales development, field sales and other groups may all be talking to prospects and customers without regard for the overall conversation. A lot of disjointed noise doesn’t make for a great customer experience and prospects are screening it out.

Companies that still think in terms of sales funnels are surprised when the expected opportunities don’t fall out the bottom. Often their response is to push marketing to pour more leads into the top.

What happens when the funnel starts drying up? Let’s take a look:

  • Company X – let’s call them Acme – has always focused its marketing and sales efforts around “the funnel.” They see the world in terms of Marketing Leads, Sales Leads, Opportunities and Customers. Of course, Sales doesn’t always value Marketing Leads, and Marketing efforts aren’t always in tune with what Sales is trying to sell. But the execs look at the funnel metrics religiously to see how many leads are making it through. Recently the velocity has slowed, and more leads are falling to the floor. Naturally, marketing is pressured to make it rain and big campaigns are planned. But like many companies, Acme doesn’t have a way to measure effectiveness. Funnel results are their metric. How can they instead match their efforts and metrics to customer needs?

If Acme’s story sounds familiar, it’s because we all regularly engage with companies that have outmoded customer engagement models. Instead of thinking about what we the prospect might need, they toss leads into an artificial funnel or buying stage path and see what comes out the other side. These companies don’t realize that more isn’t always better. As customers, we’d all like to see fewer but more relevant emails and no obvious break in the conversation when marketing hands off to sales.

This scenario often occurs in mature companies struggling to evolve as their market changes. Tactics that used to work for them are showing signs of age. Newer technologies and tools are giving their competitors better ways to nurture and sell clients. They know they must integrate systems, data, and processes in order to enable a Revenue Marketing model that is based on continuous communication. But their funnel approach is familiar and change is hard.

Companies like Acme must refocus their efforts on the long-term versus the immediate sales need. Instead of spraying emails, marketing learns to nurture prospects with stage-appropriate offers based on their interactions – the right message at the right time in the right format and channel. Sales learns to engage at the right time, tailoring their approach based on activity history. Campaigns feature cross-functional plays and all customer touchpoints become orchestrated.

If your company is a bit too much like Acme, focusing on customer experience instead of the funnel will help you take customer relationships to a new level. As you move from one-sized-fits-all to personalized marketing, your customers will experience fewer disjointed communications, more relevant and timely information, and offers that enable their own growth and revenue. They will purchase, buy more, renew, and even advocate. You’ll see breakeven, profitability and maximum life-time value.

If your prospects are not fitting into your funnel, consider changing your model. Treat the customer journey as an infinite loop that results in more revenue and loyalty over time.

30 Jul 15:52

How to Move from Inside-Out to Outside-In Marketing

by Pamela Muldoon

Customer Journey

As we discussed in part 3 of this series, even the largest and oldest companies are facing a new B2B selling environment where “old school” marketing and sales just doesn’t work anymore. Instead of talking to your prospects, you need to listen to what they want. Instead of hitting leads with more disjointed messages, you need to deliver the right information at the right time in the right channel. Continuing to sell from the inside-out won’t work. Brands must learn to sell from the outside-In.

What happens to companies that resist change? Let’s take a look:

In CXP Lessons 1-3 we looked at an unfortunate company called Acme. They were industry leaders but are now seeing competitors eating away at the prospect and customer bases. Why? Acme has failed to deliver the experiences that customers now require. Instead of delivering relevant information at the appropriate time, Acme blitzes prospects with unrelated emails and poorly-timed sales calls. They fail to understand customer buying needs, instead walking them through traditional funnel stages. At Acme, it’s about what they want to sell and when, not what the customer needs

How Companies Look at Customer Experience

If Acme’s story sounds familiar, it’s because we all regularly engage with companies that have antiquated customer experience (CXP) models and out-of-date marketing tactics. They haven’t figured out how to get with the CXP program! The good news – many companies have successfully transformed. The bad news – it’s a big job. But consider the cost to your company’s future if your approach to CXP doesn’t change from inside-out to outside-in thinking.

As the global marketplace changes, many companies are recognizing the need to evolve not just their marketing tactics, but the many ways they interact with prospects and customers. What used to work for them is no longer effective as competitors employ newer tools and techniques to nurture, sell and serve clients. Systems, data, and processes must be integrated in order to enable a Revenue Marketing model that is based on continuous, personalized communication.

But lip-service doesn’t make it so. Real changes are required to get to Revenue Marketing and the optimal Customer Experience. Executives must clearly communicate the CXP vision, functional silos must be bridged, systems must be integrated, and data must be used in the service of customer engagement.

Changes Required for Optimal Customer Experience

Focusing on the customer’s experience versus your standard procedures will evolve your customer relationships to a new level. As you move towards Revenue Marketing, your customers will experience fewer disjointed communications, more relevant and timely information, and offers that enable their own growth and revenue. They will purchase, buy more, renew, and even advocate. You’ll see breakeven, profitability and maximum life-time value.

If your marketplace is changing without you, it’s time to commit to CXP. As in all of life, profitable long-term relationships require personal two-way communication and commitment.

30 Jul 15:50

Content Marketing Planning: How to Build Your Editorial Calendar

by Nick Nelson

Building an Editorial Calendar

Building an Editorial Calendar I can’t believe I got fired from the calendar factory. All I did was take a day off! Opening today’s post up with a bit of levity felt fitting, because calendars can cause much anxiety. They bring to mind deadlines, meticulous organization, and time crunches, which are often oppressive realities for marketers with a million things on their plates. But the truth is that you’re likely to encounter much more dread if you don’t house your content planning within a documented and strategic editorial calendar for blogging. Building out a set schedule (with a bit of flexibility) ultimately makes your life easier because it provides a guiding light, and ensures your content strategy remains cohesive and oriented around your objectives. In other words, editorial calendars are no joke. Here’s how you can construct one that seriously drives your company’s blog (or any other content initiative) forward. 

Fortify Your Editorial Calendar in Five Steps

Whether you’ve already got a content calendar, which you hope to refine and improve, or you’re starting from scratch, these five steps will put you on track.

Step 1: Crystallize Your Objectives

The biggest issue with many content plans is that they’re aimless and wayward. When you’re figuring things out on the fly, it can be difficult to tie everything back to the same goals and desired outcomes. So the first step is to zoom out and nail down what you’re trying to achieve with the content in question. For instance, if your blog is designed to generate leads with specific audiences, are you tethering each piece on your calendar back to this outcome in some way?  Placing objectives front-and-center is a key benefit of documenting your content strategy, and making them the underpinning of your planning will help ensure everything you publish has a purpose.  via GIPHY

Step 2: Chart Your Pillars and Timely Focuses

With objectives clearly defined, you can formulate content pillars that will serve as the cornerstones of your editorial calendar. Also known as topic clusters, these are the general categories that all of your content will nest under. Pillars are determined by the intersection of what you want to be known for, and where demand exists. They should be informed by SEO research around keywords and queries, hitting the sweet spot between search volume, expertise, and buying intent. Here on the TopRank Marketing Blog, our pillars are aligned with our agency’s core services — content marketing, SEO, influencer marketing — and so pretty much everything we create for the blog approaches these topics from various angles for people who are interested in learning about them and looking for insight. Don’t view content pillars as restricting; there are a wide range of ways you can address almost any topic, either directly or tangentially. Organizing your calendar around them will help ensure you stay focused, and relevant to your target audience. In addition to identifying a topical mix, you can start to define your content types — how-tos, thought leadership, influencer collaborations, conversion-driven pieces, etc. These can be aligned with various stages of the buying cycle, and mapped back to the key objectives established in Step 1. At this point, it’s also smart to map out industry events or seasonal milestones that you’ll want to create content around.  [bctt tweet="Don’t view content pillars as restricting; there are a wide range of ways you can address almost any topic, either directly or tangentially. @NickNelsonMN #ContentMarketing #ContentPlanning" username="toprank"]

Step 3: Coordinate with Your Broader Strategy

This is a vital consideration that is all too frequently overlooked. Whatever channel you’re scheduling content for — be it a blog, email, social, etc. — think about ways you can coordinate with other departments or disciplines in the organization. For example, does your sales team experience higher volumes of inquiries at certain times of year? Or are they attending a trade show next month that you could support with content? Maybe one of your executives will be speaking at a conference, and you want to queue up some thought leadership around the subject of their talk in the days leading up. A strong editorial calendar should reflect the company holistically. In this sense, it can be helpful to make your calendar visible to everyone and not just the folks on your team.  [bctt tweet="A strong editorial calendar should reflect the company holistically. @NickNelsonMN #ContentMarketing #ContentPlanning " username="toprank"]

Step 4: Plot Your Cadence and Schedule Out Your Content

How often will you create content? And why? We all know it’s valuable to publish regularly, because this is how you build an invested and trusting audience, but “regularly” can mean different things under different circumstances. Is it daily? Three times a week? Multiple times per day? This decision shouldn’t driven by guesswork, but by data.  Although it’s a little older now, HubSpot has a helpful post on determining how often companies should blog based on variables like company size and B2B vs. B2C. But you’ll also want to dig into your own visitor behavior analytics and draw conclusions on what your audience wants. Test different cadences and compare the impacts. As a general rule, more publishing equals more traffic, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’ll be worth your while to create new content each day.  As Alfred Lua of Buffer writes: “I would recommend experimenting and finding a suitable editorial cadence based on your content goals and the amount of time you have. There is no one right editorial cadence. HubSpot publishes several articles a day while Backlinko publishes less than once a month.” (As a side note, we highlighted Backlinko’s quality-over-quantity approach here earlier this year.) Having made this decision, you can start filling out the calendar appropriately, using your content pillars and organizational directives as guides. Plan as far out as you’re comfortable (at least one month, but forecasting three or more months is even better). Make sure you’re building in enough topical variety to keep things fresh and diverse. Once you get your schedule documented, it becomes easy to spot gaps or overloads. 

Step 5: Leave Room for Change

Note that you don’t want to completely fill out your editorial calendar. As we mentioned earlier, it’s important to leave some flexibility so you can nimbly address timely matters as they arise and account for the (expected) unexpected. Contently editor-in-chief Jordan Teicher proposes a 75/25 rule, wherein one out of every four slots in your calendar is left blank.  “In my years managing the site, I’m certain of one thing: s*** happens,” Teicher writes. “People miss deadlines. Sources don’t respond in time. The design team can’t find the right image. My day gets stuffed with meetings, which prevents me from editing a draft. A flexible content calendar is about more than just coming up with ideas for the current news cycle. It’s also about realistic expectations.”

Smart Practices for Getting the Most Out of Your Editorial Calendar

The five steps above will help you solidify your calendar. Here are a few additional tips to help make the process smoother and more effective.
  • Hold group brainstorming sessions. Usually, the toughest thing about building out a content calendar is coming up with enough concepts to fill it in. I recommend setting up a time where a bunch of your creatives come together to load up the pipeline with ideas (run these ideas past your content pillars and SEO research to assess strategic viability). Make sure to incorporate voices from various departments. 
  • Slice up and repurpose. It’s always valuable to get the most mileage possible out of your content. If you’ve got a big, meaty blog post planned on a certain subject, why not divvy it up into three parts and run it as a series? If you’re looking for a reliable performer next month, why not take your most successful piece from last month and flip it into an infographic, or conceive a follow-up post that expands on it? Repurposing is a great way to get the most out of your content leftovers.
  • Lean on the right tools. For some content teams, a spreadsheet or even a Word doc can be sufficient for organizing your editorial calendar. In other cases, this initiative can be run through your project management software. But for high-volume teams with many elements to track and account for, it might be helpful to go with a dedicated content-centric solution. There are plenty of them out there, including Contently, DivvyHQ, Kapost, CoSchedule, and more.
  • Create comprehensive coverage. What this looks like can vary in different scenarios. It might mean approaching your topical pillars with best-answer content that addresses every subtopic your customers are interested in learning about (especially those queries carrying any level of purchase intent). If you’re in a crowded niche, it might mean gobbling up every bit of white space your competitors are missing. If your content is oriented toward B2B buyers, it might mean creating content for every role on distributed buying committees, and speaking to each stage of a lengthy purchase cycle

Right on Schedule

If you feel apprehensive about building an editorial calendar from scratch, you’re not alone. It can feel intimidating to schedule out so far in advance, and to consistently manage and maintain this resource. But I assure you, once you get into the groove, your life will be much easier and your results will improve.  Following the steps and recommendations above will help you stay on target and derive maximum value from your efforts. Want to add further efficiency and foresight to your strategy? Learn more about getting ahead with your content planning

The post Content Marketing Planning: How to Build Your Editorial Calendar appeared first on Online Marketing Blog - TopRank®.

30 Jul 15:50

Scrum for Marketing

by Dave West

Scrum was developed out of necessity. Jeff Sutherland and Ken Schwaber needed a better way to develop software and built Scrum out of three very simple ideas. Empirical process, self-organized teams and continuous improvement. Those three ideas defined the framework that over the last 20+ years has been used by thousands of teams to solve complex problems.

Scrum’s roots are in software, but it is being used in many more domains ranging from developing cars, drugs, even running the police force. Scrum is an approach that helps teams and teams of teams to form around solving complex problems. It encourages a focus on learning via done work and continually allows the team to plan via transparency.

It should, therefore come as no surprise that marketing has taken the ideas of Scrum and started using them to better approach their work. I am not a marketing expert, but over the last few months I have learned how marketing and Scrum seem to be a perfect fit. I wanted to share my learning journey as we launch, with Avanade and SiriusDecisions, a podcast series that describes our thoughts on how Scrum and marketing fit together. David Carmichael from Avanade also talks more about the podcast and the reasoning behind it here.

The many benefits of using Scrum for marketing

About a year ago I sat down with David Carmichael, who leads Global Solutions and Industry Marketing at Avanade, to talk about how they were using Scrum. David described how he was introduced to Scrum when he was asked to better market Avanade’s use of Scrum. When David learned about Scrum it made such sense to him that he decided to use Scrum in marketing. To paraphrase David, the results have been fantastic not only in delivering more “stuff” to market faster, but also improving the morale of the team and getting better alignment to the customer. Hearing him describe the initial experiences highlighted some key benefits of using Scrum for marketing:

  • Different priorities are dealt with in a clear and concise way. Marketing suffers from priority overload with every part of the organization wanting attention and effort. Strategic plans often get added to as sales teams or product management discover immediate opportunities, which were not known at planning. By having a Product Backlog that clearly shows the priority, it allows marketing to have better discussions with stakeholders. There is never enough time or money, but making sure that everyone understands that their ask is not alone and that decisions have to be made ensures that there are fewer surprises.
  • Regular reviews bring stakeholders together. Marketing is often accused of being a blackhole in which requests go in and then they deliver stuff that does not work for the local field, product teams or communications groups. Sprints provide a regular opportunity for stakeholders to review what teams are doing and provide feedback. They also allow changes in local conditions to be quickly delivered to marketing to ensure that work is not wasted.
  • The Product Owner makes decisions even if there are many different “important” stakeholders. Marketing has many customers and that can mean work is slowed down to gain input, review and signoff. By empowering one person to drive the priority of the work and be accountable for the value delivered, Scrum reduces the overhead of multiple customers. Input is still given throughout the process and the Sprint Review provides a regular mechanism for review and feedback, but time is not wasted waiting for input from stakeholders. Decisions are made, even if they are wrong!
  • Improved marketing analytics changes the way planning happens. Traditionally marketing delivered programs to market and then slowly captured the results of those programs through closed sales or customer surveys. Today marketing has more modern tools to provide better insight into customer use of the materials. By having a regular Sprint cycle and encouraging feedback that leads to changes in planned work, Scrum provides a way to take that data and use it. Also, by surfacing some of this data at the Spring Review, stakeholders who would never read the emails or reports get more visibility, which then, in turn helps with their feedback.

Dealing with pressures from every side

The conversation with David led me to discussions with Simon Jones from SiriusDecisions. SiriusDecisions, now part of Forrester Research, is an analyst firm that specializes in marketing and strategy. Simon described a landscape with an increased need for agility as marketing departments deal with pressures from every side. He described:

  • Shorter timescales demanded by organizations. We live in the age of rapidly changing information cycles. The news is perhaps the best example with stories coming out and being forgotten in a blink of an eye. Marketing communications also has been affected by the changes in how people consume information. These changes have not gone unnoticed by organizations, which in turn has put more pressure on marketing to deliver faster and more frequently.
  • More potential knowledge about the customer. Along with changing information cycles comes the improvements on the amount of information we can capture about the customer or the customer value stream. Of course, the high-profile information acquisition by companies like Facebook and the increased European legislation (such as the General Data Protection Regulation) has put a spotlight on how this works, but the reality continues to be that we have more ways to learn about our customer. But that information is only valuable if it is acted on. This means a fundamental change in the way in which marketing plans work, or evens describes that work. More frequent data means more frequent decision-making and thus changes to plans and work products.
  • Focused, more frequent customer deliverables. The increased amount of data in turn leads to more focused customer deliverables, which in turn leads to more data. To keep any handle on the work requires increased transparency as the work becomes more and more complex with fewer knowns and more unknowns. Complex project plans are replaced with simple backlogs and planning is broken down to “just in time” or “just before we do it.”
  • More skills required to deliver value. The promise of technology coupled with the increased specialism of the profession has led to the need to involve more skills in delivering marketing value. For example, you need an SEO expert, a data scientist, a copy editor, a messaging expert and a graphic designer just to create a Google ad. This means that everyone is dependent on everyone else, which has led to project management gridlock and chaos.
  • And everyone “knows” marketing because of the internet. Just like everyone now is a mobile app expert or can provide advice on how to use the power of Google Ads, the mysticism of “mad men” has been replaced with a false sense of science provided by social media. Everyone thinks they know the right Google Ads or Facebook placement. Everyone wants to hire an SEO expert or data scientist. This has led to many of the traditional, still important aspects of marketing being ignored or time spent on them questioned.

Using Scrum to address complexity

Marketing, like so much knowledge work, is suffering from complexity; complexity because of the customer, stakeholders, improved data and the increased rhythm of the market. Scrum is great at dealing with complexity. As we spent more time looking at marketing, I uncovered a few other members of our community working in this space.

Professional Scrum Trainer, Yuval Yuret has been working with many marketing teams, helping them to use a combination of Scrum and Kanban to effectively manage complexity. His blogs describe the way in which marketing maps to the agile manifesto.

Professional Scrum Trainer, Dave Dame described the journey that he was part of at Scotia Bank. He explained how Scrum provided a better connection with the customer and drove clear progress towards shared goals.

30 Jul 15:50

Vymo raises $18M to help salespeople manage their leads

by Manish Singh

Vymo, a New York-headquartered startup that operates an eponymous mobile-first service to help salespeople manage their leads, has raised $18 million in a new financing round to expand its footprint in the U.S. and other markets.

The Series B round for the six-year-old startup was led by Emergence Capital, a VC firm that focuses on enterprise cloud firms. Existing investor Sequoia India also participated in the round. Vymo has raised more than $23 million to date.

Vymo serves as a CRM (customer relationship management) solution and also works with other popular CRMs such as Salesforce. The service helps salespeople automatically capture their business calls, visits, messages, emails, calendar, and the engagement levels to better track and manage their leads, Yamini Bhat, co-founder and CEO of Vymo, told TechCrunch in an interview.

The ease is crucial for salespeople. “CRMs have existed for more than a decade. But they still see under 15% to 20% day-to-day adoption,” Bhat explained. “Salespeople don’t actively log their activities into the CRM, which creates management challenges. People don’t know which deal will close and when it will close.”

Research and advisory firm Gartner said in a report that “field representatives aren’t going to “live” in [sales force automation systems]…that ship has sailed.” In contrast, over 75% of Vymo’s registered users log in and take actions on the app every day. Vymo’s offering also looks at a salesperson’s activities to identify what is working best for them and makes recommendations for “high-value activities” to other members based on that.

Vymo, which employs about 100 people, has amassed over 40 enterprise customers including life insurance firms AIA Group and AXA in seven nations. More than 100,000 salespeople use Vymo’s service. The startup will use the fresh capital to expand its business in many parts of the world and also begin operations in the U.S. market, Bhat said.

“With its exceptionally high user adoption metrics and steadily expanding user base — 100,000 salespeople at over 40 global enterprises and counting — Vymo is delivering transformational value. It’s the kind of company we at Emergence love partnering with — one that stands to drastically improve the day-to-day work lives of millions of people,” Jake Saper, a partner with Emergence Capital, who joins Vymo’s board as part of the financing, said in a statement.

Shailesh Lakhani, Managing Director of Sequoia Capital India Advisors, said, “As early partners, we’ve seen Vymo grow rapidly across all metrics, but most importantly in avid adoption by mobile-first workers at some of the largest global enterprises. Vymo is uniquely positioned to become the standard by which sales and distribution is run in these institutions.”

30 Jul 15:50

5 Inbound Lead Generation Strategies (& How to Make Them Work!)

by Brad Smith

Outbound marketing is the best way to get leads quickly.

Let’s say you pay for a commercial to run during the Super Bowl. Potential customers see those ads, and then a tiny fraction of them buy your product. It’s simple, right?

The problem is that it’s also an insanely expensive way to put your offer in front of your target audience. While most viewers expect and even enjoy the commercials during the Super Bowl, when it plays again and again interrupting other games or favorite TV shows, it’s just disruptive. Outbound marketing tactics are always disruptive.

But what if, instead of pushing your offer onto people when they haven’t asked for it, you could use valuable content to draw them in, when they want to come to you?

You can: It’s called inbound marketing. Sure, it takes a while to get going, but once you have an engaged audience of potential customers who trust you, generating leads becomes much, much easier—let me explain.

Inbound marketing: What you need to know

Inbound marketing relies on quality content, whether it’s in the form of articles, emails, videos, podcasts, or books. However, the content landscape is getting more and more competitive due to a virtually unlimited amount of quality content out there. In fact, Mark Schaefer argued back in 2014 that content marketing is not a sustainable strategy and that we are in the age of the so-called content shock.

content shock definition

Image via Mark Schaefer

Schaefer predicted that there would inevitably come a point at which producing content that can compete with what’s already out there will simply become too expensive to be a viable marketing strategy.

Take a look at this graph that he used in his post:

content shock graph

Image via Mark Schaefer

If you think about how the content landscape changed in the five years since Schaefer wrote that article, you’ll quickly realize that he did predict the future accurately.

Sure, in 2014 it was already competitive, but now you have seven-figure companies pouring their vast resources into creating in-depth articles with cutting-edge insights, extensive reports with original research, professionally produced videos and podcasts—you name it.

Now, Schaefer’s final prediction hasn’t come to fruition yet, and content marketing is still a viable strategy. However, if you decide to use inbound marketing to generate leads, you have to go into the arena with your eyes open. You have to become obsessed with producing top-quality content and providing as much value to your audience as humanly possible. And you have to be patient because you won’t break through the noise overnight no matter how great your content is.

That is the only way you will be able to compete with the established players out there.

You’ll also need to understand that inbound marketing is an indirect way of generating leads. You aren’t going to potential customers and pitching your product, you are encouraging them to come to you by offering them free, valuable content.

And when they do come to you, you don’t try to sell to them straight away. You encourage them to take the next step in your sales funnel by subscribing to your email list. And once they are on it, you keep providing value via email newsletters, but now you occasionally mix in sales pitches.

Basically, your aim should be to gain the potential customer’s trust and build a relationship with them. That way, when they are ready to purchase a solution to their problem, your product will be the first thing that comes to their mind.

This approach requires a lot of patience because you have to play the long game—but if you can play that game, it’s worth it.

5 strategies for better inbound lead generation

Let’s take a look at the top five inbound lead generation strategies that you can use to build an engaged audience.

1. Grow your email list

There’s a common misconception among people who aren’t marketers that email is an outdated technology. It’s better to invest in social media, right? Wrong.

According to DMA’s Marketer Email Tracker 2018” report, in 2017, the average return for each £1 spent on email marketing was £32.28. That’s a pretty crazy ROI if you ask me.

It’s great to have a blog, a YouTube channel, a podcast, or a best-selling book, but the most valuable online marketing asset you can have is an email list.

That is why you need to make sure that you are using all the other inbound marketing methods to draw people to your email list. You can do that by adding opt-in forms to your website and encouraging people to subscribe. You can even make it mutually beneficial by offering something in exchange, like an ebook, video course, or a webinar.

And once you’ve grown that list? Remember that no one wants to be spammed with endless sales pitches, so make sure that your emails add value. One company that does this really well is a male grooming brand Beardbrand.

inbound lead generation email sign up

Image Source

This company sends their subscribers a mix of helpful grooming tips, interesting grooming-related content, and promotional emails. Now, when a subscriber of theirs who enjoys their emails wants to buy, say, beard oil, who will be the first company that comes to his mind? Beardbrand.

So figure out what your subscribers want and give it to them. What problem do they have that you can offer a solution to in the form of an email?

2. Build a high-quality blog

Blogging is a great way to establish yourself as a thought leader in your field. For example, when Groove was struggling to attract customers, the company decided to bet everything on content marketing by building a blog.

As Groove’s founder Alex Turnbull recalls:

“We were only a few short months from running out of cash, and things didn’t look good. Our marketing efforts were failing, and nobody was visiting our site or signing up for our product. We were desperate. We were lost. And we were terrified. That was when we decided to finally get serious about content marketing.”

First, they reached out to all the content marketers that they respected and asked them for advice. A few responded. The Groove team was shocked by the feedback they got and realized they were doing it all wrong. They needed to find a unique angle for their blog.

email about blog

Image via Groove

The team started scouring the Internet trying to understand their target audience—small business owners—better. This wasn’t just passively observing relevant discussions, either. Groove proactively reached out to people and asked if they could pick their brain.

customer feedback email

Image via Groove

Eventually, the Groove team realized that people in their target audience were going through the exact same challenges they themselves were struggling with. So Groove decided to share their startup journey and launched a blog called “A SaaS Startup’s Journey to $100,000 in Monthly Revenue.”

blog redesign for Groove

Image via Groove

And it resonated with their target audience immediately: 1,000 email subscribers within 24 hours, and 5,000 within a month! Three years later, in 2016, the blog was getting over 250,000 unique visitors per month, and Groove was generating over $5M a year in revenue.

Pay attention to how Groove built this high-quality blog: market research, unique angles, and superior content. That’s what makes a blog a great lead-generation strategy. The Groove blog attracts small business owners, those small business owners join Groove’s email list—over time they start liking and trusting the company and eventually, once they need help desk software, they purchase it from Groove.

Want to do the same with your company’s blog? Analyze the market, find a gap in it, and then fill that niche the best you can.

3. Start a podcast

Podcasts have become an integral part of our daily lives. We listen to them while on the way to work, while doing chores, and while out for a walk.

This is especially true for young people. According to Music Oomph, almost a third of American adults between the ages of 25 and 34 are podcast listeners.

podcast demographics

Image via Music Oomph

A podcast can be a great way to generate leads for your business—as long as you can build a large enough audience.

For example, Tropical MBA, a popular business podcast that is focused on location independent entrepreneurship, allows the hosts Ian and Dan promote their membership website and grow the business.

podcast example

Image Source

They started their podcast back in 2009. At the time, they were running an ecommerce business and were just learning the ropes of location independent entrepreneurship.

Here’s how Dan and Ian explain it:

“Back then we hardly knew anybody growing a location independent business, especially one that had real physical products. It seemed to us that most of the websites and podcasts weren’t run by people with compelling business experience or insights. We wanted to meet others who we felt were legit. So we started sharing our story on a more or less weekly basis. Because of that, many of the episodes were just me and Ian sharing the stuff we were learning directly from our day to day work. That business taught us a lot. It started with—literally—a dream, and ended with a multi-seven-figure exit.”

As their podcast grew, a community of like-minded individuals formed around it, and the hosts leveraged it to launch their membership website, their business conference, and their remote jobs board.

Of course, in 2009 podcasts were a nascent medium. Since then, they have exploded in popularity, so if you launch one now, you are in for an uphill battle that Dan and Ian never faced.

However, what you can learn from them is that they found a unique angle, produced interesting shows, and kept going at it for a decade. With a loyal following, you can promote email sign ups to generate leads and sales for your business.

4. Upload video content to YouTube

Did you know that Youtube is the second biggest search engine in the world? You can leverage this massive platform to generate leads if you can rank for popular search terms related to your field.

For example, Brian Dean, the SEO expert behind the popular Backlinko blog, built an SEO-focused YouTube channel.

Backlinko on YouTube

But he admits that when her first launched his channel, he struggled to get any views.

Here are some of the tips Brian shared:

  • Use YouTube’s Search Suggest feature. Simply type in a word or a phrase into the search bar and look at the suggestions. These keywords are great because they are based on what people are actually looking for.
  • Analyze popular videos in your niche. This is great way to identify keywords for YouTube, and then you can optimize your own videos around the same keywords.
  • Identify the best keyword from the keyword list that you created. Look for low-competition keywords. You can do that by typing in a keyword and then checking the number of search results. The higher the number, the more competitive the keyword.

Now, Brian’s YouTube channel has 213,000 subscribers and generates leads for his business (he provides SEO training).

Your aim should be to convert YouTube subscribers to email list subscribers, so provide a link to an opt-in form at the end of your videos and encourage them to subscribe.

5. Write a book

Books might seem old school, but people still read them, and nothing gives you credibility like a book.

You don’t even have to sell your book in physical bookstores; it’s enough to simply put it on Amazon or even sell it as an ebook on your website.

Back in 2015, essayist and entrepreneur Taylor Pearson wrote a book called The End of Jobs, which not only made him a lot of money but also helped him to establish himself as an expert in entrepreneurship.

Taylor Pearson

This was Taylor’s first book and he sold more than 5,000 copies during the launch month. How did he manage to do that?

Well, he had a background in marketing, and he decided to run his book like a business.

What exactly does “run his book like a business” means?

It all boiled down to these two key ideas:

  • Allocate resources equally between product development and marketing. “As Gabriel Weinberg and Justin Mares point out in ‘Traction: How Any Startup Can Achieve Explosive Customer Growth,‘ almost every failed startup has a product. What failed startups don’t have is traction. Likewise, every author has a book. What most don’t have is marketing traction.”
  • Iterate quickly and publicly. “Startups release products quickly to ever larger groups of customers because it both improves the quality of the product faster (due to tons of feedback) and weaves that feedback into the narrative of the product in a way that makes customers feel a sense of ownership. I tried to do the same with the book.”

He gathered feedback by sending the first draft to five close friends, then by publishing sections of his book on his blog, and finally by sending the second draft to 70 early readers.

He also created a landing page for The End of Jobs around six months before launching it, and everyone who signed up got a free copy after the launch. That way, he built a community around the book, which was very helpful in terms of social media buzz, early Amazon reviews, and word-of-mouth marketing.

When he finally launched, he set the price as free, and the book was downloaded thousands of times on the launch day and hit #1 in Small Business Top 100 Free category.

However, Taylor didn’t stop there. He kept actively promoting The End of Jobs during the launch week, and then leveraged the success of the launch to gain even more exposure.

Not only did Taylor made a lot of money from his book, but it also opened many doors to him – the credibility boost of being the author of a best-selling book helped him get more speaking gigs and consulting clients, as well as sell his own products.

Want to publish a book? Learn from Taylor. Writing is only half of it. Marketing is the other half. You need both if you want to capture those readers and turn them into email subscribers.

Bonus tip: Have a clear call to action!

Inbound marketing is much less aggressive than outbound marketing. However, that doesn’t mean that you should be passive and just sit there, fingers crossed, waiting for people to sign up for your email list.

No, if you want them to take action, you need to tell them what they should do next.

So make sure that each piece of content you create has a clear call to action that encourages people to sign up for your email list.

It doesn’t have to be intrusive:

  • An opt form at the end of a blog post.
  • A link at the end of a video.
  • A reminder at the end of a podcast.
  • A link at the end of an ebook.

Just make sure that you clearly convey the value the person will get from subscribing. You can’t expect people to subscribe to your email list just because. You need to give them a reason.

What’s next?

It’s not 2009 anymore. It’s 2019.

This means that while inbound marketing is without a doubt still a viable lead generation strategy, it is also more competitive than it has ever been.

Want to succeed with it? Then be prepared to invest time, energy, and money into consistently producing top-notch content.

And don’t expect quick results. It takes time to build an audience. But time will pass anyway. Why not spend it on building assets that will generate leads for your business for years to come?

29 Jul 15:49

In the Future of Work, Technology is Both a Problem and Solution

by Brian Solis

As a digital analyst and anthropologist, I’ve studied over the last 20 years, the evolution of disruptive technology and its effect on business philosophies and models. At the same time, I’ve also studied disruptive technology’s impact on society and human behavior. If I had to share just one thing I’ve learned along the way, it’s that markets are splintering into two notable camps: 1) traditional and 2) hyper-connected aka Generation-C (connected). While this may at first glance seem either obvious or insignificant, I can assure you that the latter group is what’s causing friction at the top of many organizations. Digital is ushering a new generation of incredibly discerning, demanding, and fundamentally different customers and employees in what they expect and value. Not only do they represent your evolving market and workforce, they bring with them the need to change everything you do and how and why you do it.

Pervasive technologies have fundamentally changed how people communicate, discover, and connect. With smartphones serving as digital appendages, we are always on, in real-time, focused on small screens throughout our day…every day…in all we do. Technology’s biggest impact though, is not so much on the devices or the apps that we use, but instead on our behavior.  Specifically, how we learn, how we buy, how we work, how we influence and are influenced, are both evolving and already highly evolved.  This is significant because we take for granted the processes and systems we have in place to manage employee and customer experiences today. A widening experience divide now exists between existing and evolving standards. In the spirit of true candor, how we work, market, and sell are based on dated principles and mindsets designed to optimize tasks for a very different time.

To date, we’ve built upon legacy investments and operational procedures to adapt to technology and market shifts.  In the 1990s the Internet required new expertise, technology and processes to govern it internally and externally. The same was true for desktop PCs, laptops, mobile phones, desktop phones, telecommuting, etc. But most of how we coped or managed transformation before now was done so in a command and control fashion. IT would manage technology, HR would lead operations, managers would ensure productivity.  With social, mobile, real-time, cloud, et al., now part of everyday life, how people think and work outside of work is now radically different.  This is bigger than the BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) movement of letting people use their phones or devices at work.  This is about changing why and how we choose new technologies, how we roll them out, and how we design new processes for improving how people work individually and together.

“It isn’t the past which holds us back, it’s the future; and how we undermine it, today.”- Viktor E. Frankle

There are parts of a command and control methodology that are still relevant today. However, as architects of the future of work, building upon a foundation of the past inhibits our ability to optimally see or plan for an ideal future. Said another way, how we see the future is rooted in how we dealt with it in the past. Therefore, how we need to plan and build for it requires that we see the human drivers behind how people use technology in their personal life. Doing so helps us naturally emulate and foster collaboration and engagement in the work place in ways that are more intuitive and seamless. Otherwise, we are forcing people to conform to inorganic practices that will affect morale and loyalty over time.

We have to see people differently than how we see the world today. We are most likely not the people we are trying to solve for and as a result, we bring legacy mindsets and experiences to challenges and opportunities that in fact need new methodologies to engage and scale an infrastructure for a new generation of employees and customers.

Rather than rebuff the differences in how digital natives work, learn from it and be inspired by it. It’s the only way we can truly lead the future of work. Otherwise, we’re forever doomed to react to it.

We can’t change everything at once nor can we continue with business as usual. But we do need to take small steps to move in a new direction. Change actually begins with us. And it all starts with learning what we do not know. This allows us to see what it is we can’t see today in order to build what doesn’t yet exist.

The future of work does indeed take architecture and we are its architects. But as much as our challenge is affected by technology’s impact on behavior, we cannot assume that technology is therefore part of the solution. To design a meaningful and scalable ecosystem moving forward, we have to appreciate how behavior and expectations are evolving.  With technology now part of the fabric of life and innovation a constant, solving for behavior actually makes technology more human.

Brian Solis, Author, Keynote Speaker, Futurist

Brian Solis is principal analyst and futurist at Altimeter, the digital analyst group at Prophet, Brian is a world renowned keynote speakerand 8x best-selling author. In his new book, Lifescale: How to live a more creative, productive and happy life, Brian tackles the struggles of living in a world rife with constant digital distractions. His model for “Lifescaling” helps readers overcome the unforeseen consequences of living a digital life to break away from diversions, focus on what’s important, spark newfound creativity and unlock new possibilities. His previous book, X: The Experience When Business Meets Design, explores the future of brand and customer engagement through experience design.

Please, invite him to speak at your next event or bring him in to your organization to inspire colleagues, executives and boards of directors.

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The post In the Future of Work, Technology is Both a Problem and Solution appeared first on Brian Solis.

29 Jul 15:46

How To Achieve Net Negative Churn By Using Value Metrics In Your Pricing

by Ilia Markov

Recently, a ChartMogul customer told me, “You know, growing revenue is important to us, but we’re driven by a mission to help as many people as possible. So we have to find that fine balance that allows us to achieve both.”

Admittedly, it’s not unexpected to hear that from a team that’s building a meditation app. However, this also made me think that B2B SaaS isn’t that different. In the typical case, a customer becomes profitable long after they subscribe to a product. Because of that, SaaS companies have to put their customers’ success before their own. That’s the only way to succeed in the first place.

Pricing plays a vital role in that — not just as a way to achieve our own success, but even more importantly, as a way to align our motivation to that of our customers.

Moreover, having the correct pricing is not just about (not) leaving money on the table. Maximizing the value you get out of your customers gives you the resources you need to continue working on the product so that it’s even more useful to your audience.

It also allows you to find the customers who are best positioned to benefit from your product and saves you from trying to target everyone who lands on your site.

These are some of the lessons, we’ve learned at ChartMogul, experimenting with different pricing plans over the last 4-5 years. In this article, I want to share with you our most important learnings.

What is great pricing all about?

Many people in SaaS like to extoll the merits of value-based pricing and it’s certainly worth looking into if you’re still pricing by comparing yourself to competitors.

However, my feeling is that most companies in the industry are beyond this point.

Today, good pricing comes down to finding the right value metric and using that as the basis for your billing structure.

Note that this is NOT the same as “value-based” pricing. Value-based pricing can easily put a limit on how much value you can extract from a customer. Let’s play a little thought experiment with HubSpot’s pricing to understand the difference between the two:

Imagine they only offered the 3 straightforward plans above without the Contacts dimension. In that case, the highest they could charge a customer would be $3,200 no matter whether that customer has 20,000 or 200,000 contacts in their database.

That’s why they use the list size as a value metric to adjust the price for larger customers. Working with a value metric allows you to build your pricing model in a way that doesn’t put a ceiling on your revenue and the success of your customers.

This is key as it allows you to grow as your customers grow, achieving the SaaS holy land of Net Negative Churn.

The right pricing model is a great competitive advantage to your company — it allows you to get in early with a free/low-priced tier, become an integral part of how your customers work, and then grow with them long-term without having to spend on marketing and sales to acquire mature customers.

Slack is a great example of that — they combine a free plan with per-seat pricing, which makes sense in their case. The result is one of the highest net negative churn rates in the industry.

The right pricing aligns you to your customers

Choosing the right value metric means that you have an incentive to make sure your customers grow as that means your revenue expands organically.

That allows you to prioritize building the right features for those customers.

We can see this at play with Slack’s focus on building the tool as a platform. This allows their customers to bring in more teams and departments as they grow, thus ensuring Slack is also growing.

Finally, having this kind of pricing quickly weeds out the companies that are not a good fit for your product. That means you don’t have to worry about or get distracted with building features for them.

Pricing shapes the perception of your company

Low price can be a bad thing if your ideal customers perceive you as too cheap, to the point where they might consider you not professional enough to trust their business with.

Pricing shapes your customers’ perception of who you are and how you operate as a company.

It also sets how your employees think about your business — it can set the idea that you’re not selling a commodity or a widget, but rather something truly transformational and really aligned with your customers.

Now we’ve established why finding your value metric is so important, let’s look at some of the important things you need to consider in order to take advantage of it.

3 steps to build your pricing around a value metric

It’s always easier to understand value metrics when you look at companies who’ve found them and used them to great success.

Just look at those brands that boost the highest net negative churn and you’ll almost certainly find an element of pricing around a value metric.

Unfortunately, finding it isn’t so easy, but here are a few ways that can make it easier to find.

Find your customers’ “desired outcome” and put a value on it

Lincoln Murphy argues that people don’t just hire a product to get a job done, they have a higher goal — a desired outcome — they want to achieve with it.

When a marketing team adopts MailChimp they don’t do it because they want to send better emails — they want to reach an audience, close more customers, retain them for longer or (most likely) do a combination of all.

That means that for every outcome customers want to achieve, there are usually multiple ways they can do it. A team that’s not using Slack can use Skype, a project management tool such as Asana or even email to achieve the same outcome.

Email is free, but it’s also not built for this type of communication, which means it introduces a lot of friction and ends up costing a lot of time.

Even if a team loses just 10 hours per month as a result of using email (a very conservative estimate) and those cost ~$50/hour, that means a better tool can easily deliver $500 in value.

If your team is building a new Slack competitor and you’re wondering how to price, conventional wisdom says it’s a good idea to provide a lot more value than you’re charging for.

However, putting that kind of numerical value is not always so straightforward — even for the people on the team who experience it. That’s why, especially when you’re starting out, it’s a good idea to provide value at a multiple with your tool.

Use the “10x Rule” and price your product at around 1/10th of the value you’re providing. If your product is saving customers $500/month as we saw in the example above, following the 10x rule would mean you price it at $50/month.

Once you establish that price, it doesn’t mean you cannot change it. In fact, you should. Keep testing to find the optimal price — another rule of thumb is to keep raising prices after each sale until you start to get pushback from about 20% of the prospects you speak to.

Set your pricing to attract customers you can grow with

One of the benefits of pricing around a value metric (especially if you have a free plan) is that it allows you to take on customers who might not be profitable at the moment but have the potential to grow.

Another benefit is that this pricing structure doesn’t pressure your commercial team to extract 100% of the value of a customer at Day 0.

Instead, you can focus on building the relationship by taking the time to learn about your customers, improve the product using what you learn from them, and then upsell/expand to capture the full value they have to offer.

Maximize your revenue with multi-dimensional pricing

Using more than one dimension for your pricing (for example a set of features + a value metric) is a great way to maximize your revenue by targeting several different customer segments.

Companies would always use a feature that would only be useful to one specific type of customer they want to reach. One of the most common examples of such a feature is white labeling, which usually targets agencies and other service businesses:

If there’s a downside to using a value metric for your pricing, it is the fact that it introduces uncertainty for your customers. That could kill many a deal, especially if you’re selling to larger enterprises who budget at least a year in advance.

3-Part-Tariffs (3PT) allow you to overcome this. In this approach, your base fee includes some usage.

Studies show that this pricing structure produces the highest overall impact because it makes it easier for customers to predict how much they’d have to pay and gives them peace of mind.

How we used a value metric & these rules to revamp our pricing

In our initial attempt to turn to arrange our pricing around a value metric, we were charging by the number of active customers on each account. We thought this provided a just basis for our pricing structure that allowed us to dedicate the needed resources towards serving large-volume customers.

However, we quickly realized that created a two-sided problem:

      • Our prices were extremely high for B2C customers who have a high volume of users/customers, but a low ARPA — that made us unaffordable to them.
      • We were leaving a lot of money on the table with our B2B customers who on average have a lower number of customers, but a much higher ARPA.

This created a need to constantly tweak our pricing on the fly. For example, we started to use discounting in an attempt to offer a level playing ground to all customers and prospects.

It wasn’t the straightforward structure we were hoping for. Clearly, we needed to make a change.

The final push to make a change to our pricing came from an unlikely source — our process to define the company mission that we underwent in 2018.

We defined our mission statement as:

To help companies grow faster using their revenue data.

Soon we realized that the only way to uphold this and align our pricing to our mission was by moving to revenue-based pricing (and more specifically MRR).

That would mean that the better job we do at helping our customers grow their revenue by providing them with critical insights about their customers, their growth, and retention, the more money we can make as well.

Our incentives were now aligned with those of our ideal customers.

In addition, our new pricing completely eliminated the need for us to provide discounts as part of our sales process in an attempt to level the playing field for customers. As our price is not set on the amount of MRR a customer generates, it also means it’s directly correlated with the relative affordability of our product for that customer.

There’s no simple X-step process I can give you to follow to reach your ideal pricing structure. Indeed, I know from ChartMogul’s experience that it took numerous iterations before we reached a model that works for us.

What helped us was following the 3 features I mentioned above.

We focus on the desired outcome

Our customers tell us they were considering hiring a business analyst or building a tool internally to gain insight into how their business is growing before they found our platform.

We know what their desired outcome is — they want to have a clear picture of what’s happening with their business — and we know what the possible alternatives are and approximately how much they would cost them.

That allows us to put a (perceived) numerical value on the benefit our platform provides and use that as guidance when we come up with a price structure.

We attract early-stage customers with a free plan

ChartMogul is free for companies that generate up to $10,000 in MRR.

This allows us to compete with a number of free ways to achieve the desired outcome — the native analytics by Stripe, the App Store, etc.; Google Sheets; and even some of our direct competitors.

Even more importantly, we believe this will allow us to catch the next Airbnb or Uber in its early days and become ingrained in their workflow.

We use a simple 3-part-tariff

Our main plan comes with $10,000 in MRR included in the price and it grows linearly with each additional $10,000 in revenue.

This allows customers to quickly understand how much they would have to pay and also to forecast their subscription rate based on projected growth for the year and actual CMRR.

In addition, for customers that come in straight away with a high level of data and requirements, and/or serious growth projections, our sales team is able to build appropriate proposals.

You won’t always get your pricing right the first time

We’ve used several different structures over the last few years before we got to a point where we feel confident about our pricing model.

I realize writing that might hit your motivation to experiment and improve your own pricing because of how time-consuming and complicated the process sounds.

In reality, this is one of the most important decisions you have to take as an entrepreneur. It deserves your time.

The post How To Achieve Net Negative Churn By Using Value Metrics In Your Pricing appeared first on OpenView.

29 Jul 15:45

This Week’s Big Deal: Adopting Your Customer’s Point of View

by Steve Kearns

There is no single secret to success in B2B sales. Except… well, there might be. 

Empathy: The ability to understand and share the feelings of another person. In sales, it means adopting a customer’s point of view and truly seeing challenges, pains, and potential solutions through their eyes, not yours. 

When you reach this level of insight, everything else tends to fall in line. You’ll be able to better navigate large buying committees because you clearly understand how they internally operate and interact. You’ll have fewer leaks in your sales funnel because you intuitively recognize where they’re popping up. You’ll be able to speed up the sales cycle because you can pinpoint a prospect’s priorities and hold-ups. And above all, you’ll be able to deliver more compelling and personalized customer experiences

Of course, developing a consistently empathetic point of view is far easier said than done. Every person and company is different, and you can’t always get a read as easily online as you could if you were looking them in the eyes. But virtually every modern organization should see the value in boosting empathy in the sales department.  

This week’s roundup of sales content features tips on developing a truly empathetic approach to sales.

Sales Experts Weigh in on Developing an Empathetic Point of View

Communicate!

There’s no better way to learn about someone than to simply listen. In general, digital sellers are getting better at this critical activity. But we can only listen if we first get people talking. Are you focused on creating multiple avenues and triggers to invite conversation?

It starts with cultivating an active, welcoming, and receptive social media presence. But there are also techniques we can implement, as sales and marketing teams, to facilitate interaction from a curious or researching buyer. In his recent piece on influencing sales growth through B2B customer experience, Sam Makad calls out several tools for this purpose, such as live chats, co-browsing, and chat-bots.  

Don’t Steer Clear of Difficult Questions

The problem with run-of-the-mill sales conversations is that they don’t often reveal unique or useful insights. Anthony Iannarino advocates in favor of a willingness to engage in difficult conversations. “You have to effectively deal with and dispatch the obstacles to change, even when it is uncomfortable, and even when others would prefer to avoid difficult conversations,” he says. “You cannot be consultative or a trusted advisor if you are afraid to deal with challenges. Ignoring real issues is a lie of omission.”

On a similar note, Janice Mars writes that there is real value in telling hard truths: “If you do not divulge information you know will set the buyer up for failure and potentially create more risk for them, then you will most likely have an unsuccessful implementation and a pissed-off customer.” This transparency will often lead to greater openness from the customer, making it easier to see and meet their needs.

Create Connective Sales Demos

The solution demo can be a seller’s most potent asset. Unfortunately, they’re often built from the vendor’s point of view rather than the buyer’s. For this reason, they frequently fail to fully resonate. It’s always worthwhile to reflect on your approach and consider ways you might improve. 

In his new writeup on taking sales demos from boring to brilliant, one recommendation from Steve Bookbinder is to tap into the buyer’s motives:

“It comes down to understanding and quantifying both the rational and non-rational processes by which buyers make decisions,” he explains. “Ironically, we tend to see most sales pitches address rational needs, and rarely the irrational but salient needs that drive the individual’s decisions.”

He notes that there are broadly two categories of decision-making: aspiration (playing to win) and preventative (playing not to lose). Making this determination will go a long way toward helping you align your messaging to your prospect’s needs and wants.

Be Selective with Opportunities

Developing an empathetic point of view is not a fast or easy process. It takes (sometimes intensive) research and earnest effort. That’s why, as ValueSelling Associates CEO Julie Thomas guest-blogged here last week, we need to stop wasting time qualifying the wrong opportunities

Once you’ve come closer to adopting a prospect’s POV, you may conclude there’s no realistic chance of them making a move on your solution at this point in time. Obviously, it’d be helpful to predetermine that before investing time and effort.

Thomas suggests asking yourself these four questions at the outset:

  1. Does this person have the power to purchase?

  2. Does the company really need what you’re selling?

  3. Does this person truly understand your value proposition?

  4. Do they acknowledge a timeline for results?

Foster Deeper Connections and Win

As author Leslie Jamison once wrote, “Empathy requires knowing that you know nothing.” Assumptions and preconceptions can be the worst enemy of a salesperson. Leave them at the door and enter each new engagement with an open mind, ready to learn and better understand the person (or people) at the other end.

It’s an ongoing process and it’ll never be fast or easy, but when you master this art, you’ll have unlocked the (not-so-secret) secret to selling success.

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