Three good reasons for a b2b sub brand

Three good reasons to create a B2B sub brand in 2020

To be clear, there are hundreds of bad reasons to create a sub brand in a B2B market. The proliferation of brands is a real problem for a lot of very large companies. Every time they want to target a new market or launch a new product there is a temptation to create a new brand in order to ensure clarity of message and distinct positioning. This is a slippery slope and for the most part one that should be avoided.

However, sub brands do have a legitimate role to play in B2B markets. This article will look at three growing trends that are likely to require their (careful) use in 2020.


For firms looking to take a risk in a long established market

Sometimes it seems that innovation is now all anyone can talk about. The reality is, however, that the majority of so called “innovation” within traditional B2B markets is about doing existing things that little bit better rather than actually doing better things.

That’s because the risks are too high for true innovation. If I’m a CEO of a long established professional service firm and want to do something radical which may involve creating an entirely new organisational structure designed to compete with consumer brands and technology companies, then that is a huge leap, and one likely to represent unprecedented risk for my firm. Convincing the senior partners or board of directors that they should gamble their future profits on my hunch is going to be a hell of a struggle.

Creating a sub brand may offer a solution. In doing so we liberate those responsible for this innovation from the shackles of the parent brand, whilst protecting the latter from any direct risk.

It’s not ideal and at some point the parent brand will need to make a decision about its appetite for innovation or it will end up highly fragmented culturally and with no clear message to the outside world, but as a means of facilitating true change and proving new, exciting concepts within a highly complex and politically sensitive environment, it is likely to be the best of a limited set of options.


For firms looking to do something special with their marketing and communication

Most B2B and professional service organisations now understand the importance of having a compelling vision. However, few manage to translate that into an equally compelling communications strategy. The lofty nature of the visions are usually undermined by the lacklustre content the business serves to its audience via blogs, tweets, events and emails.

There is a further issue; in the unlikely event that the company is distributing content of a truly ambitious and engaging nature, there is still the barrier of the brand itself. Most people do not like to be seen sharing content from commercial entities at the best of times, least of all from markets perceived as traditional and dull.

There is a way to overcome this.

By creating a sub brand specifically for your content, you can build something that exists purely for the achievement of your vision, with no commercial messaging or any of the other unhelpful associations of the parent brand. Instead, this will be a brand that the audience can truly buy into, and that you can use as a vehicle to build a social community, run events, develop an email list and get in front of key influencers. Above all, it can signticanly reduce the cost per acquisition for MQL’s (Marketing Qualified Leads).

The downside, naturally, is that all of this brand equity you are developing is now on behalf of a separate brand, but there is no reason why you can’t make the affiliation very clear (at least in the direction of parent brand to content sub brand. Probably not the the other way around). You can even link to the sub-branded blogs and social channels directly from the parent website.

This is a strategy we have employed on a dozen or so occasions for ambitious B2B brands, and the results have been astonishing. In fact in one instance (within the health industry) the content sub brand became one of the best recognised names in the entire market. There wasn’t a door it couldn’t open.

One thing to make clear, however, is that this cannot be approached as a cynical marketing exercise. You must truly believe in the vision you are trying to achieve and ensure that it aligns in all its values to that of the parent brand.


Servitisation and productisation

This one I add with caution. There is a current (and important) trend for professional service companies to productise their offerings, while product B2B companies are adding layers of service to theirs. Both are intended as a means of differentiation and improving the customer experience, and in many cases it’s a critical shift for companies seeking to avoid commoditisation and retain share in markets becoming saturated or disrupted.

As part of this, it is natural for enthusiastic marketers and other senior decision makers to trial new brands in an attempt to crystallise the new offering. And in some cases, this is absolutely the right thing to do. A manufacturing company that wraps their product in layers of service never before seen within their market will be eager to demonstrate to the audience that this really is something new.

The reason I say “with caution” is that this is also an example of how a trend can lead to rapid brand proliferation. After all, if the new product is successful then it’s likely to spark others, each with their own separate brands. Very quickly a highly complex brand architecture will exist, with some of the new brands tying in very closely with the parent brand and others having far more distinct identities. Soon enough, the brand architecture will have descended into chaos and nobody will be quite sure how you got there.


Business foundations - marketing

Why better sales and marketing probably isn’t the answer

Most businesses believe that sales and marketing will be the magic bullet to all their problems. If they could just sell more stuff, all their other headaches would drift away.

Nonsense. If they have other problems in the business, selling lots more stuff will simply add fuel to the fire.

There are foundations that must be laid before scaling your sales and marketing, and for me, this is where it needs to begin:
- Clarity over the company’s core competence
- Clarity over the company’s position
- Clarity over the company’s product definition

Failure to address the above before launching aggressive communications or sales strategies is a bit like sticking Lewis Hamilton in a state of the art Formula 1 car and then removing the steering wheel. You can expect something spectacular to unfold but it’s unlikely be pretty.

It’s about doing things in the right sequence. I always imagine it like an egg timer with multiple bottlenecks that each get a little larger as they descend. The first and the most narrow of these bottlenecks is the clarity of the company’s core competence followed by its position and then followed by the product definition, so it doesn’t matter how much you widen the ones beneath it (culture, systems, marketing, etc), the sand isn’t going to get to the bottom any faster until you address those at the top.


Core competence

In simple terms, your core competence is the thing that sits at the intersection of the following:
- The thing you’re really good at
- That’s really important to your customer
- That’s largely neglected by your competitors

Sometimes this one thing is literally just one thing. So perhaps you’re a hardware company, for example, that develops one very particular kind of hardware solving one very particular problem. If so, fantastic, but that doesn’t work for every business, particularly those in busy markets, so instead you may need to pull two or three things together.

I always illustrate this with a conversation I had about 5 years ago with my cousin. At the time he was in his early 30s and already hugely successful within his field of medicine, having been featured in just about every major newspaper as well as The Lancet and New England Medical Journal. I asked him if he put this down to anything beyond hard work. He replied “Dan, I’m not the world’s greatest academic. And I’m certainly not the world’s greatest surgeon. What sets me apart is that I’m pretty good at both. I walk into a room full of academics and they all think it’s unbelievably cool that I’ve spent the day getting my hands messy in surgery. And then I walk into a room full of surgeons and they all think I’m some kind of supernerd because I’m writing code and contributing to exciting new academic studies. It’s this ability to talk both languages and bridge the gap that distinguishes me from others.”

Exactly the same is true in business:
- The accountant who combines deep technical expertise with high level business and finance strategy.
- The software company that combines some extensive functionality with great user experience
- The marketer who combines rich brand expertise with technical and analytical insight

Whether it’s one thing or the marriage of two or three things, few companies ever answer this question which is why few ever progress beyond resounding mediocrity.



Brand position essentially just means - what you do and who you do it for.

Well we’ve already answered the first part with our core competence, so the next question is - who are we doing it for?

This issue of audience is just as important as what’s actually being sold. The lawyer who is also a technology enthusiast and speaks at technology conferences. She may not be the best lawyer, but she’s in a league of her own in the technology sector. The software vendor that has 30 years experience of solving problems for HR departments. There may be competitors out there developing better software, but do they have the same insight into the challenges faced by an HR department? Perhaps more importantly, do they have the trust and relationships with heads of HR, or are they completely unknown to these buyers?

Again, if you’re operating in a really competitive market, narrowing your position to focus on a very tight customer universe is likely to be really important.


Product definition

Once we have our core competence and position neatly defined, it's time to establish how exactly this translates into a set of products. And to be clear, when I say product, I include services in that. In fact, the distinction between products and services is becoming looser every day, as service companies seek to “productise” their offerings and product companies wrap their products in layers of service.

Each product must tie in closely with your core competencies. Those that don’t must be eliminated from your offering. This is the part that separates the best from the rest. How brave can you be in tightly defining your products and saying no to those customer requests that fall outside your areas of core competence? Most businesses are simply incapable of turning away customers, which is why so few (particularly B2B organisations) have a really neatly defined offering.

So, going back to our earlier example of the accountancy firm that combines deep technical expertise with high level financial strategy, their products may include:

- R&D tax credits
- Audits

- An outsourced FD offering
- A business plan writing service
- A quarterly strategy review

But if someone walks through the door and asks for bookkeeping, the answer should be no.

That’s not to say that the accountants wouldn’t help to find another solution - perhaps there’s a great freelance bookkeeper based locally they can refer the customer to - but if it’s not within their core competence, they must not take it on. It will attract the wrong clients, undermine their core competence and harm the customer experience.


And finally comes sales and marketing

The above does still not guarantee a successful and scalable business. There are lots of other things that, if absent or broken, could still bring everything tumbling down (having the right senior leadership team, a strong culture of execution, robust processes for recruitment and training, etc) but what the above will guarantee is clarity of message so that all communications you now project (whether via a brochure or a tweet) will be developing your brand as one coherent, long term and ever growing asset.


B2B marketing

The greatest fallacy in B2B marketing

We’re taught that there is one small but significant difference between professionals and consumers; that consumers buy for emotional and self expressive reasons, while professionals buy for rational reasons.

Or, to put it another way, consumers are treated as humans while professionals are treated as machines. This may be good practice for when robots finally take over, but for now it’s a real problem.

Let’s be clear - there are two kinds of decisions we are capable of making as humans, regardless of our environment. Those that we recognise as being emotionally driven, and those that are still emotionally driven but that we feel compelled to rationalise.

Yes, the latter requires things that the former doesn’t. It requires greater detail and evidence, but it requires this detail and evidence to help us vindicate our emotions, not to override them.

People do not leave their personalities and emotions outside their offices in the morning. Whether it’s fear, excitement, enjoyment or frustration, there will be an underlying emotion forcing the buyer down one route or another, and the rational stuff is merely there to help them overcome the barriers.

Our failure to recognise this has led to B2B industries being flooded with content unimaginably dull and largely ineffective in achieving its goals.


What does it mean to be professional?

There is something else compounding this problem; the notion that the brand must present a “professional image”?

Well, what does it mean to be a professional?

The top sales person in your company, for example, does she make jokes? Yes. Does she talk in a familiar manner with clients? Yes. Does she open up and communicate freely and without barriers? Of course she does. Does she occasionally even sail a bit close to the wind? More than likely.

Well, as a marketer, your job is to be that top sales person when she can’t be there. Whether it’s via the blog, LinkedIn or email, it doesn’t matter. If you are interesting, people might just listen to you. If you’re not, they won’t, regardless how much information you bombard them with.


A magnet for the unambitious and unimaginative

Perhaps worst of all, this misunderstanding for what B2B marketing is all about results in the attraction of a certain kind of marketer. People who would rather spend their day finding reasons not to try things than to stick their neck out and take a risk. People who would rather follow the status quo and churn out yet another coma-inducing whitepaper, than to to stand out from the crowd and head in a new direction.

We call these people - B2B specialists.


Write like you’re chatting over a beer

So what do we do about it? Well the problems with B2B marketing may not end with copy writing, but that’s certainly where they begin.

One of the best pieces of advice I ever received was this - when writing B2B copy, imagine you’re with that buyer down the pub having a beer. How will you talk? What kind of language will you use? What questions will you ask? What stories will you share?

The person you are writing for is probably not fascinated by the technicalities of what you have to say. What they are is just like you - ambitious with their careers, nervous about the future, stressed out by their boss, and above all, just a little bit bored.

You have the tools to connect with each of these drivers, and you’re unlikely to do it with a 3000 word FAQ section. But I bet you have some stories up your sleeve that might just do the trick.

And if not, have another beer and try again.


Marketing budgeting

Budget Allocation: The Single Greatest Reason Why Most Marketing Is Destined To Disappoint

From my experience, most marketing departments approach the budgeting process in one of two ways:

  • They don’t.
  • As a flat percentage of current turnover based on your industry.

Both are a problem.

You can’t plan without a budget. That should be pretty obvious. What’s perhaps less obvious is why using a flat percentage of current turnover is (for most businesses) little better.

If you are a large and stable organisation with modest growth ambitions of perhaps a couple of percent a year, then fine - you can probably use a flat percentage based on your turnover. However, most organisations aren’t large, stable and unambitious. Most organisations are nowhere near where they want to be and therefore want much more significant growth. That could be 5%, 20%, perhaps 100%, but this is the figure that matters.

Let’s put it another way. If we have two organisations:

  • Company A has a turnover of £10 million. It’s goal is to grow by 2% over the next year, to £10,200,000.
  • Company B has a turnover of £5 million. It’s goal is to double in size over the next year, to £10,000,000.

According to most budgeting rulebooks, Company A will be spending more on marketing than Company B. You can see the problem.


Zero Budgeting

Before we go any further, it’s worth mentioning the importance of zero budgeting. Zero budgeting is where a company challenges every cost before the start of a new period. As the owner of a small business, I cannot imagine any other way of doing it - In fact, I would just call it “Budgeting” - but most companies above a certain size are built on status quo, and the primary goal of management is not to disrupt things. This is precisely why most large companies work on a simple % for their marketing budget - it’s simple and has always been done that way.

This is nonsense. Every cost should be questioned. That’s not to suggest that this is all about stripping them out. On the contrary, there will be areas that require a MUCH higher spend than you’re used to, but the money will only be available if you approach the whole thing as a blank canvas.


Setting your marketing budget

So, back to our budget projections. There are three components:

  • Your revenue
  • Your industry
  • Your growth target

Your starting revenue will likely determine your available cashflow and will be a strong indicator of the machine you are trying to feed, but on its own it doesn’t tell us much. To start narrowing things down we need to distinguish by industry:

In order to get a good sense of how much is spent in your industry I would suggest speaking to an expert in that market (and often each niche within the market will be very different), but some examples from my experience include:

  • Most professional services (law, accountancy, recruitment) - 3-4%.
  • Enterprise software - 12-14%
  • Manufacturing - 6-8%
  • Retail - 15-20%
  • Ecommerce - 20-30%

You will notice that the B2B organisations will tend to spend a lot less on their marketing department, and that’s because the majority of their new business spend goes towards individual customer acquisition experts that sit outside the marketing function. We call them sales people (the problem of marketing and sales being treated as entirely distinct functions is a topic for another day). An ecommerce business, on the other hand, may not have a sales team, so every penny of their customer acquisition and retention is flowing into marketing.

And finally, we have your growth target, which, as explained, is usually the component entirely absent from most budgeting formulas. I would suggest:

  • Growth of 5% or less over the next 12 months - use the standard figures above, so professional services would be 3-4%, for example.
  • Growth of 10% - multiply by two, so for a PS firm you would be looking at 6-8%
  • 20% - multiply by three, so 9-12%
  • 30% - multiply by four, so 12-16%
  • 40% - multiply by five, 15-20%
  • Etc

This is clearly still a very crude methodology but at least now we will be starting to build a budgeting model that bears some resemblance to reality.

So, for example, a recruitment company with £5 million turnover looking to achieve modest growth of 5%, could probably invest around £125,000 and be optimistic that they would see the return. However, another of the same size looking to grow by 30% in the next year should budget around £700,000. That will sound like a shit load of money to a recruitment firm of that size, but growing from £5 million to £6.5 million in 12 months is not going to happen without serious investment. This may eat into most of their profit for that period but few companies can expect to achieve significant growth whilst simultaneously maintaining profitability. The simple recognition of this fact is why tech start ups (designed for growth) are so difficult for conventional organisations (designed for profit extraction) to compete with.


Keeping growth viable (if not profitable)

Just because we’ve set our budget, that doesn’t mean that we need to spend it. The purpose of a budget is to set expectations - it is not a obligation to spend. This is why we need a cost per acquisition model.

Of course there is always going to be some sunk cost that can’t be avoided (hosting, website build, visual identity, brand activity, etc, the value of which will be impossible to calculate for some time, if ever) but the vast majority of your spend should be geared towards direct response activity. In other words, activity that drives a specific action, and if it drives an action, then it can be measured.

This is where a Cost Per Acquisition model can come into play. Cost Per Acquisition is exactly that - the cost of acquiring a customer or a lead. The basic premise is that if the CPA is less than the (profit) value of what you’re acquiring, then it’s worth doing. Again and again and again. Until, that is, diminishing returns raises the CPA to the point that it is no longer profitable, at which point you stop.

Examples of this could include:

  • Data capture via LinkedIn or Facebook advertising.
  • PPC.
  • Driving people to events or webinars.
  • List purchasing.
  • Telesales (although that typically won’t fall under the marketing budget)

Of course this does demand that you actually have a cost per acquisition model, but it’s not complicated (varies slightly for business to business but if we take a professional service firm the CPA figure (the maximum amount you can spend on a lead whilst maintaining profitability) will be sum of average lifetime customer spend, multiplied by your profit margin, multiplied by your conversion ratio from lead to sale) and once you this it means that we can spend your marketing budget within a framework that ensures profitability and positive cash flow.

If your marketing department is unable to achieve the growth targets within this CPA figure, then you have a decision to make. Either reign in your targets, or accept that achieving your growth is going to damage your P&L in the short term. That may be okay, but it’s important you have the data to make that call.


How to split your budget

This blog post is not going to go into the specifics of budget allocation across every channel, largely because that will always depend on the specific business in question. However, there is no point getting the right budget if some fundamental rules aren’t then followed:

  • Don’t spend anything anywhere until your brand is in decent shape. That needn’t mean delaying for 12 months while you hire a team of overpaid marketing wankers to create lots of powerpoint presentations, but you need to be happy that the fundamental pillars of your identity (core, vision, values, position, personality, tone of voice, etc) are clear and that they are well articulated across your primary marketing assets, particularly your website. Otherwise, for every pound you spend, you will only be getting a percentage of the return possible.
  • 20% on content. 80% on promotion - there is a tendency for companies to create WAY too much content - often of a pretty mediocre standard - then allocate little or no funds to promotion. This is particularly common where the content is created in house - after all, you need to keep that marketing intern busy and all they’re really capable of is churning out some forgettable blog content - but there is absolutely no point in creating something that never reaches its audience. Instead, you need to focus on small quantities of breathtakingly good content and then stick the other 80% into promoting it far and wide. And I’m not just talking about advertising. If you’re targeting a small proportion of B2B senior decision makers, for example, then the promotion may be in the form of events or even telesales.


In summary

Most marketing budgets somehow manage to be both simultaneously wasteful and unambitious. They are wasteful on those channels where money is being spent for no other reason than it always has been, and they are unambitious on others where nobody has a handle on the numbers and has noticed that a profitable and scalable cost per acquisition exists.

And because nobody has taken control of this mess, senior leadership teams are reluctant to sign off larger budgets, so targets grow while resources remain flat. Sound familiar?

The only solution is for marketing to seize the reigns and build a simple budgeting model that demonstrates a clear understanding of the market, their targets for growth, and the commercials of each channel that will help them reach that target. Do that, and you soon find that large pockets of budget mysteriously emerge.


Solution Vs Insight Selling - A Complete Guide To Complex B2B Sales


Like or not, we’re all sales people. If you’ve ever attended a job interview, you’re in sales. If you’ve ever asked for a pay rise, you’re in sales. And if you’ve ever been in a relationship, you’re definitely in sales.

Selling is something that we all do, and yet somehow it feels like a dirty word. Even professional sales people seem determined to keep it hidden from view, calling themselves Business Development Managers or Account Executives or anything else as long as it doesn’t describe what it is that they actually do.

This is all nonsense.

Sales, when done right, is a beautiful thing and one of the most valuable skills a person in business can possess. The question, therefore, is how should organisations build effective selling into their DNA? And, in particular, which of the many methodologies should they follow?


The Solution Sell

There have always been lots of sales models, but for most of the last 40 years they almost all fell under the broad description of “Solution Selling”, in which the seller asks questions to build a picture of what the buyer needs, and then sells a corresponding “solution”.

“It's a mutually shared answer to a recognized problem, and the answer provides measurable improvement.”

— Keith M. Eades, Founder of Sales Performance International

Some of the more prominent solution based sales methodologies include:

  • SPIN - in which the seller firsts asks questions designed to establish the Situation, then to highlight the Problem, then to highlight the Implications of not solving that problem, and finally to highlight the value of the Need being met via the solution that the seller is offering.
  • MEDDIC - The MEDDIC sales process serves as a simple checklist for your sale (Metrics, Economic Buyer, Decision Criteria, Decision Process, Identify Pain, Champion). As you discover more about your customer, you’ll know whether they’re a worthwhile investment of your time.
  • Conceptual Selling - the seller asks a range of questions (questions to reassure, questions to explore new territory, questions to establish the buyers attitude and questions to gain commitment) to help the buyer work out for themselves what it is that they need.
  • SNAP - SNAP positions itself as the answer to today’s busy world where customers have huge quantities of information but less time than ever to digest it, as the seller delivers helps the buyer to arrive at the solution as quickly and clearly as possible (Simplicity, being iNvaluable, Alignment and Prioritise).
  • NEAT - yep, another acronym essentially acting as a simple checklist. This time standing for Need, Economic Impact, Access to Authority and Timeline. Very similar to the more commonly known BANT.

The common theme with all of these methodologies is that they use questions to build rapport and enable the buyer to build up a picture in their mind of the solution they need.

The largest solution sales training organisation in the world is Sandler.


The Sandler Model

First developed in 1967, the Sandler methodology once again uses questions to help the buyer arrive at the desired solution. However, what really distinguishes the Sandler model is its desire to redress the balance between seller and buyer.

  • In the Sandler sales model, the seller spends more time qualifying than they do closing.
  • If the solution is not right for the buyer or the buyer isn’t ready to buy, the seller doesn’t push it. It’s about getting to a point of mutual commitment.
  • No demos or presentations are used in the initial meeting. Instead, the seller asks a large number of questions to determine what is required, whether or not they are a good fit for one another and whether the buyer has the authority to take action.
  • The seller’s goal is to facilitate a detailed conversation about both the technical problems at hand, and also the business implications of those problems.
  • Through asking these questions the seller is able to develop a level of rapport with the customer (as Dale Carnegie taught us 80 years ago, there’s no better way of getting someone to like you than by getting them to talk about themselves!) with the aim of being viewed as a trusted advisor. Relationships and rapport are key throughout the sales process and in the follow up.


“You can’t sell anyone anything, they must discover that they want it.”

David Sandler


The Challenger Sale

While each of the solution sales methodologies offered a unique approach, they were fundamentally all connected by their use of questions to lead the buyer to the solution being offered by the seller.

In 2011, that all changed.

Matthew Dixon, Brent Adamson, and their colleagues at CEB Inc published a book called The Challenger in which they argued that to sell complex business-to-business solutions, salespeople needed to radically rethink their approach.

CEB based their findings on research conducted across 6,000 sales people, who they categorised into the following groups

  • The hard worker - self motivated, interested in receiving lots of feedback
  • The lone wolf - follows instincts, self confident, difficult to manage but gets results
  • The relationship builder - classic solution seller. Builds relationships and consensus
  • The problem solver - detail orientated and great at solving problems but more focused on existing customers than getting the next deal in
  • The challenger - loves to debate, has different views, strong understanding of both the product and the customer’s world

In complex sales environments it was shown consistently that the challenger profile most likely to be a top performer, while the relationship builder was least likely. A finding that caused a great deal of upset among the sales training community, largely due to misinterpretation (which we’ll come back to later).

So what are the characteristics of a challenger?

  • They offer a unique perspective to the customer based on deep insight
  • They possess strong two way communication skills
  • They know the individual customer’s key drivers
  • They know the key drivers of the customer’s business
  • They are comfortable discussing money
  • They are comfortable creating tension and applying pressure to the customer

Or to compress this further, they are able to:

  • Teach the customer something new and valuable - this is the most important aspect of it.
  • Tailor their sales pitch.
  • Take control of the discussions around pricing - this is the most challenging part, and can only really come from the first…

The challenger doesn’t lead with open questions. Instead they work through the following process:

  • The warmer - show credibility and that you understand their world (I work with lots of your competitors…) and their challenges.
  • The reframe - connect those challenges to a bigger problem or opportunity that they hadn’t previously considered. This is where you dislodge their existing way of thinking and open up a gap for a conversation.
  • Rational drowning - then flood them with data and examples so that they can’t contest the notion that they need to think differently.
  • Emotional impact - Then find an emotional touch point based on that problem/opportunity.
  • A new way - introduce a solution to the problem.
  • Your solution - explain why your version of this solution is the best.

If we compare this to the Sandler model - a classic example of solution selling - we can immediately see the differences:

  • Sandler talks less and asks more questions to help the buyer arrive at a solution.
  • The challenger is more confrontational - they ask fewer questions as they believe the customer already has enough information to build their own solution and so if you merely ask questions you are going to end up in a bidding war against other providers with no point of difference.
  • The challenger therefore believes you either need to capture their attention before they’ve begun the buying process (something the Sandler seller would never do!) or dislodge their preconceptions about what they need so you are positioned distinctively from the rest of the market and don’t have to compete on price.
  • In short, the challenger seller leads where the solution seller follows.

If CEB were right and this is the most effective way to drive sales without compromising on price, then how did Sandler and all the other solution methodologies get it all so wrong?

The truth is that the creators of The Challenger aren’t suggesting that Solution Selling didn’t once make sense, but rather that things have changed. Information is more accessible now - through peer networks, research organisations and, in particular, the internet. They claim that on average the customer doesn’t contact the sales person until they’re 57% through their journey, by which point they have already formed a sense of what they need, what they will likely have to pay, and even who they may want to work with.

Therefore, to the challenger, it isn’t enough to merely know their customer’s world, they must know it even better than their customer so that they can dislodge their preconceptions and shift them on to the unique value offered by the challenger’s insight.

This isn’t just about the first sale but about repeat business. They argue that the key driver of customer loyalty is no longer brand loyalty, value or even product. They argue that it is the ongoing sales experience and, in particular, the unique insight provided by the sales person throughout that experience.


A Common Misconception

The Challenger was a stroke of marketing genius. By positioning itself seemingly at such odds with the bulk of the industry, it immediately made itself known, largely because so many took issue with it.

Perhaps the greatest objection towards The Challenger is the notion that relationships don’t matter. On the surface that’s what the book appears to suggest and it flies in the face of everything sales training has taught for nearly half a century.

This was brilliant marketing, but actually when you dig into more detail, you realise that they’re not saying that at all. They are very clear that trust and personal relationships will always matter and explicitly state that a successful challenger needs advanced two way communication skills. Nobody does business with someone they don’t like (certainly not twice!) and if you are operating in a limited customer universe where most of the key decision makers know one another, then personal relationships are critical to strategic networking.

What the book actually said was that reps for whom personal relationships were the dominant characteristic, were unlikely to be a top performer. The best challengers are strong relationship builders, but that is not their defining feature. Their defining feature is their combination of skills -  they are able to combine great two way communication with an ability to lead with insight and a willingness to apply pressure when required.

In other words, the challenger rep doesn’t see the relationship as the end in itself, but rather as a means to an end. And ironically, in the long term they build some of the strongest relationships as they are able to combine great people skills with real commercial value to that customer, through their unique insight.

This hypothesis supports research we conducted several years ago in which we surveyed senior decision makers on the factors that would most influence their decision to purchase. The response was overwhelming. The two factors that drove their decision above everything else was whether or not the person they were dealing with understood their market and whether they were able to offer commercial insight. The other stuff - trust, personal relationships, technical expertise - were all seen as hygiene factors (a reason NOT to work with someone), and price came right at the bottom.


Aligning Sales & Marketing

One of the most powerful features of the challenger model is how it highlights the need for alignment between sales and marketing - marketing must serve as an insight generation machine so that your sales team have a core group of market or industry insights, that they can then combine with their own research into the specific customer they are targeting (and the close competitors of that customer!).

The Challenger explains that these marketing insights must:

  • Lead to your unique strengths - sales decks should begin with insight and finish with USPs
  • Challenge customers assumptions
  • Catalyze action - show why the “pain of same is worse than the pain of change”
  • Scale across customers


Insight + EQ

When The Challenger heralded the end of solution selling, there was a fierce and immediate backlash. Sales professionals from around the world took great issue with the notion that they had failed to adapt to the modern buyer. However, as discussed, much of this was a misunderstanding, and one that the authors of The Challenger were only too pleased to see as it served to inflate awareness of the book.

The best sales people will bring together different skills. They will have the insight to demonstrate need and value to any prospect in their customer universe, and the people skills to remove barriers and develop profitable long term relationships.

As Falon Fatemi wrote in Forbes, “The bleeding edge of insights selling occurs when insight selling is coupled with emotional intelligence. 79% of business buyers say it’s absolutely critical or very important that they interact with a salesperson who is a trusted advisor (according to Salesforce). The winners of the future will marry insights and EQ.”

In summary, I believe there are three components to a great modern sales rep:

  1. High emotional intelligence - They have a deep and genuine interest in others. Just as the Sandler model advocated, they ask lots of questions and build rapport by making the other person feel important. The kind of person that walks into a restaurant and comes out knowing the names and backgrounds of every member of staff. That genuine interest in others is an asset that should never be underestimated.
  2. An eagerness to learn and an ability to assimilate and organise information - for this high performer to lead with insight and tailor the solution to the exact requirements of the customer, they need the organisational skills and discipline to collect the necessary information about the customer’s world and combine that with the insight they are provided by marketing. For the modern sales rep, every day is a school day.
  3. Commercialism - Sandler taught us the importance of never forcing the sale but rather maintaining parity between the buyer and seller. The challenger goes a step further and suggests that the sales person should be actively seeking tension. This can only come from an inner confidence and instinctive awareness of the value of one's time.

So where do you find these unicorns? Needless to say it can take some work and the recruitment process has to be structured with these specific characteristics in mind, but they are worth it - their value to a business can be transformative at both a commercial and strategic level.

By definition, they know what they’re worth, so if possible try to find them early, just as they’re starting out on their steep trajectory to sales stardom. And best of all, these people learn quickly, so you’ll know within weeks if your unicorn was in fact just a donkey with a horn glued to its head.

LinkedIn Ultimate Guide B2B

An Ultimate Guide to LinkedIn Advertising for B2B Firms

An Ultimate Guide to LinkedIn Advertising

Over 590 million people use LinkedIn to manage their professional network. According to LinkedIn’s 2016 Census, 40% of people use it on a daily basis for conversations and discussions.

That’s 224,000,000 business people you could be engaging with on any given day. Okay, not every one of them will fall within your target audience, but with clear messaging and smart advertising, LinkedIn is the ideal platform for reaching the people that really matter. This is why it’s such a popular tool for business. This guide will explain exactly how you can use it to drive real value for your organisation.


The Different Adverts You Can Use on LinkedIn

Sponsored content – just as with Facebook, you can share content you produce and target it to relevant feeds that fit your sales profile. The content will appear on mobile, desktop and tablet, and is great for sharing general company information, updates, videos, whitepapers and articles to the wider reaches of your market. If you want to increase your brand awareness, attract new followers to your company and generally get more views on your content, this is a great option.

LinkedIn Text Adverts – If you want to drive traffic to your page, or to your website, this can be a great fit. Craft a bespoke headline, short description and eye-catching image for desktop newsfeeds. If your audience is more likely to use mobile devices, this may not be the best option for you.

Sponsored InMails- If your goal is to create personalised content which makes your audience engage, InMails is for you. It is compatible on all platforms and messages can have custom greetings, calls-to-action, body texts and links. And the best part is you only pay for messages that send, so you can really stay in control of your budget.

Video Adverts – Pretty self-explanatory, but videos are a direct way to engage your audience and differentiate your brand. These are quite new on LinkedIn, which means there’s loads of opportunity for early adopters.

Single Image and Carousel Ads- If you have a very specific advert for a small audience early in their buying cycle, this is the option for you. You can use a variety of different media, including audio, image, video, and text and there are a range of different options to suit all budgets. Probably the most diverse option you can use on the platform.

Dynamic Ads- If you know your audience has a specific interest, use this option to target adverts that respond to audience activity. It’s great to build relationships a little bit later in the pipeline and you can quickly connect and communicate with the most influential people in your circle. This method includes Follower Ads, Spotlight Ads and Job Ads. 

Whichever advertising route you take, be aware that your budget will have to be adjusted frequently in order for your adverts to perform as well as possible. Sometimes you’ll need a £5.00 daily budget, other times it might need a lot more. The important thing is pay close attention and optimise the campaign as frequently as possible.



Polishing your Company Account

So you’ve picked your advert type and defined a budget, but before you can start advertising properly, you want to make sure that your page gives a good account of your brand or service and engages with your business.

With this in mind, we’ve got some basic tips to help you supercharge your account and stand out from the crowd.

  1. Add a Company Cover Photo and Logo – Pick your most up-to-date imagery and an appropriate shot to display company activity or culture.
  2. Craft a Company Description – In under 2,000 characters you need to define what your company does, how you do it and most importantly, WHY you do it. Pay extra care to the first 150 characters – they will make up your Google preview.
  3. Add your business address, company details and URL – In case anyone wants to contact you!
  4. Create compelling content – Fill your timeline with inspiring, eye-catching and interesting messaging– text, video, audio, and imagery in order to encourage page viewers to follow your company.

Once you’ve created your company page, you should regularly review and optimise it. This is a constant work in progress.


Setting Up Your First Campaign

Now you’ve set up your company page, you’ll be taken to the Campaign Monitor Dashboard. Usually, you’ll get a notification telling you that you need to add billing information – you can ignore this for now. 

In the top right corner, you’ll see the key button – ‘Create Campaign’. Click on it, and you can start the basics of setting up your activity.



You’ll see a screen like the above. At the moment, LinkedIn are going through a major content update, so some of the older features currently aren’t accessible. Currently, Brand Awareness, Website Conversions and Job Applicants are not available at this time of writing, but you can set up adverts for Website Visits, Engagement, Video Views and Lead Generation. As already explained, pick the option that best fits your goals, but remember, to be realistic. One five-minute website visit is likely to be more valuable strategically in the long term than 100 views on a 5-second video. Once you’ve picked your Objective, it’s time to create your audience.



Audience Attributes 

The most important element of setting up a LinkedIn marketing campaign is getting the audience right, and with this menu, you can ensure you cover all basis to get as specific an audience as possible. There are five options on the menu, which we’ll cover below:

Company – exactly as you’d expect, this is anything to do with company specifics, including:

  • Company Connections – 1st Degree Connections for employees of your chosen company. This is only available for companies that have over 500 employees or followers. 
  • Company Follower of – Reach followers of your company page.
  • Company Industries – Reach targets related to the industry in question.
  • Company Names – The names of the companies your targets have worked for
  • Company Size – The size of your target’s company, according to their LinkedIn company profile

Demographics – Quite limited, in order to comply with regulations, but still useful to a point:

  • Member Age – Your target’s age, based on set brackets
  • Member Gender- Your target’s gender on LinkedIn

Education- Focused on higher education qualifications, this option is great for finding specific professionals with a defined interest or knowledge in a set sector: 

  • Degrees – Targets who have a defined qualification from a college, university, or another learning institution.
  • Fields of Study- Targets who have a specific knowledge or interest in a particular field of study, following college, university or another learning institution.
  • Member Schools- Targets who have completed, or studied a specific course at a university, college or other learning institution.

Job Experience – Hit your targets based on what experience they have in the world of work:

  • Job Functions – Focus your audience, based on common tasks, activities or work they do on a daily basis.
  • Job Seniorities- Reach members based on rank and level
  • Job Title- Reach members based on job title, or previous job titles
  • Member Skills- Target based on specific information from the ‘Skills and Endorsements’ section of your audience’s LinkedIn profile.
  • Years of Experience – Target your audience based on the level of experience and number of years they have worked in a specific role.

Interests - Not quite as broad as the myriad of options on other social media channels, but still very useful for searching for information less related to job roles. 

  • Member Groups – Search for people who belong to the same LinkedIn Professionals Group.
  • Member Interests – Search for interests that align with your business, or target audience.

Alternatively, if you have a set of data from the audience who has visited your website, LinkedIn can process this for you in order to create a bespoke list of contacts and accounts, as well as creating relevant targeting criteria based on the data you’ve already collected. If you think your audience is too narrow, then click the tickbox to ‘Enable Audience Expansion’ – this means LinkedIn will widen your audience to find people with similar job titles, attributes and experience, although be aware they may fall outside your primary target sector and can result in unnecessary expenditure. If you want to make sure your audience also avoids certain characteristics, then you can exclude people, based on all of the criteria listed above.



You should spend about the same time creating your first audience, as you do creating your first pieces of eye-catching, enriching content. It’s important to ensure you get this as accurate as possible, to ensure your testing can be smooth, clear and precise.

Once you’ve defined your first audience, make sure you save it as a template, so you can return to it and update it in the future, once you have a clearer picture of who is engaging with your content on LinkedIn.

Ad Formats and Placement 

We covered this earlier on, but it’s important to pick the right medium to display your content. If you are mainly visual-focused, then a carousel image advert is going to be more suitable than a text-heavy advert. If you are looking to build a personal connection with your targets, then a suitably formatted Message ad is a much better option than a Single Image ad that will clearly stand out as generic. Every ad format on LinkedIn has pros and cons and there isn’t a magic formula for working out which one is best for you – just make sure you pick the right content for the delivery method you choose.

In some cases, you might be able to use the LinkedIn Audience Network to reach a bigger audience. By doing this, your adverts will not only run on LinkedIn, but also on associated partner applications and websites. Although you will probably see an increase in reach, and faster results, be aware that once again, this can drain your daily budget quickly. Also, LinkedIn Audience Network connectivity is only available for some advertising mediums, meaning you can’t just rely on this tool to drive engagement levels up.



Budget, Bid and Schedule

Once you’ve defined an audience, it’s time to put the money where the mouth is and define the financial constraints of your campaign. You can choose between setting a daily budget, total campaign budget, or total and daily budget. My advice would be to set both a daily and total budget, so you can manage your spending and track the changes over time but be aware that LinkedIn can spend up to 20% high than your daily budget total, due to potential changes in the bid amount.

For scheduling your campaign, most times you will want to start immediately and run your campaign continuously from a selected start date, until it spends your budget. But, if you have timed content you want to promote or something with a limited shelf life e.g. a job advert, then you can set a defined start and end date.

The more important issue for advertisers, is defining the Bid Type. There are two options, which are detailed below:

  • Maximum Cost Per Click (CPC) Bid: Your advert will be charged based on how many clicks your advert receives. The CPC Bid will usually be the higher of the two costs, as it is quantifiable engagement – someone has chosen to click on and open your advert.
  • Maximum Cost Per Mile/Thousand (CPM) Bid: Your advert will be charged based on every 1,000 impressions your advert receives. An impression equals any time your advert is clicked on, scrolled past or hovered over – basically each time anyone views it. Although it is usually cheaper to do this, it by no means guarantees you will see any tangible results.

The Bid Amount box below will automatically update based on this information. You can set the bid yourself, but be aware that LinkedIn will not go over this cost and will not automatically update based on what other advertisers are doing, so you a) may have to spend more time adjusting your budget and b) your campaign may not spend the entire allocated budget, if your bid is too low. If your bid is too high, you might not get a good CPC ratio either, as you will spend your budget too quickly. 



Creating An Advert

Once you’ve set this information, it’s time to create your first advert. Depending on the format you’ve selected, there are different ways you can encourage conversions, but this article will be focusing on how to create compelling ‘Direct Inmails’. 

  1. Have a punchy headline - spend time trying to come up with 15-20 different options to use. If your headline doesn’t catch people’s interest within a few seconds, chances are they won’t click on it. 
  2. Introduce yourself personally - give yourself instant credibility by stating your name, role and experience in the market. Be friendly without being forceful or appearing disingenuous.
  3. Cover your key points succinctly - get your message across as quickly as possible, in the most compelling way. External links to content or embedded videos and images can be a great way to encourage interaction. 
  4. Drive your customer interest - use buttons to steer your customer journey by sending them to key landing pages, or alternatively use Content Capture Forms to collect important customer details. 

Once you’ve created your advert, you’ll need to still launch your campaign, otherwise your adverts will remain a draft! Once you set your campaign as live, you’ll have to let LinkedIn check your adverts briefly to review your creative content, but providing you’ve obeyed all their advertising rules, your adverts should be live in no time. 



Monitoring Your Adverts

Once your advert has been live for a couple of days, it’s time to evaluate your content to try and find out what works best for your company. 

You’ll see a screen like below after your advert has been running for some time. Set your filter to Performance, as this provides the most well-rounded view for all adverts, covering the main metrics applicable to all campaigns:



Going through each column in order:

  • Campaign Group Name: Self-explanatory. The name of your campaign group, which will include the campaigns you’ve added to this section. 
  • Status: One of four options: Active, meaning your adverts are sending out to LinkedIn users, Paused, meaning your adverts have been temporarily stopped, Completed meaning your campaign has spent all budget allocated to it and Draft, only seen when adverts have not been put live. 
  • Spent: How much your campaign has spent. You can adjust the time period for the spending in the top right corner next to the Filter options. 
  • Impressions: How many people have viewed your advert. Please note, this can include multiple views from the same person. 
  • Clicks: How many people have clicked to open your advert or view more information about your InMail. 
  • Average CTR (Click-Through Rate): The percentage of users who click your advert after receiving it. 
  • Bid: How much your advert is bidding, if you have set manual bidding up. 
  • Average CPM (Cost Per Mile): How much LinkedIn is charging you for your advert to be viewed 1,000 times. It goes without saying that a higher bid cost means a higher CPM and vice-versa.
  • Average CPC (Cost Per Click): How much you are spending for a click on your advert. If possible, you want your CPC to be as close to your bid-rate as possible. 
  • Conversion: If you are using e-commerce options, how many users have directly converted on your LinkedIn Advert. 
  • Cost Per Conversion: How much you’ve spent to achieve each e-commerce conversion on LinkedIn.
  • Leads: How many leads you’ve generated if you are using LinkedIn InMail Forms to capture data.
  • Cost Per Lead: How much you are spending per lead attained via LinkedIn InMail Forms. 

There are a couple of additional useful metrics you can access with different filters including Conversion and Leads:

  • Lead Form Opens: How many users open your lead form.
  • Lead Form Completion Rate: The percentage of users that complete your form after opening it.

Finally Sponsored InMail can give some specific useful metrics for measuring the effectiveness of your specific Mails:

  • Click to Open Rate: The percentage of Users that go to your lead form against the total number of users that click on your content
  • Cost Per Send: How much it is costing you to send each individual InMail - ideally as close to your Bid Rate as possible. 
  • Cost per Open: How much you are spending to get a user to open your InMail.

You can check all of these details for your overall campaign, or for the individual adverts. Be sure to monitor regularly and turn off or optimise underperforming adverts by changing their copy to be more appealing or in line with your brand vision, or creating visuals that match your copy more effectively. 

Alternatively, you can expand your campaigns further by introducing audience demographics including job titles, locations and interests. Be careful though - wider audiences can lead to reduced bid costs but can also result in your audience being viewed by less relevant customers who are unlikely to convert. 

It will take some time to find a working formula for LinkedIn and as a business, you need to accept that your Cost Per Lead (CPL) may start off very high - don’t panic as this is normal and if your adverts are optimised, you can expect them to start performing soon after. Just keep trying different things and once you get an advert with some traction, try and optimise your bid rates and sending strategy as much as possible so you can get the best possible returns for your budget.

Market Analysis, Content Marketing

Content Marketing Part 3 - Know Your Market


As with any form of marketing, there are always lessons to be learnt from the competition’s content, and when I say competition, I don’t just mean your obvious, direct competition, but any brand that is trying to engage your audience with similar messaging. So if, for example, you are a law firm in London seeking to target business owners, you’re not only going to look at other law firms in London, but you’re going to look at other brands selling to business owners, regardless of their products or services.

What you’re trying to find through this research is two things:
- You’re trying to get a sense of where these brands are spending their time and money, because it’s probably an indication of where you need to begin.
- Secondly, you’re looking for examples of content that seems to be effective in engaging your audience, but that is not being fully exploited by your direct competition. Those gaps represent your opportunity.

As with any market research, this is all front loaded and you’re going to learn 80% of your lessons during the pre-launch phase. However, it is something that of course evolves so you’re going to want to check in on these brands every few months.In fact, it can be a great source of ongoing inspiration for your content calendars, which we’re going to come on to in a subsequent video.

So in summary, you need to ensure you are allocating sufficient time to proper market research. It may not sound exciting but it’s no coincidence that the best marketers, and business people for that matter, are always the ones that spend the most time scrutinising the competition. While it may feel like wasted time in the moment, it’s going to make the value of everything you do thereafter so much greater.

Content marketing, think big

Content Marketing Part 2 - Why You Need To Think Bigger


Many marketers seem to think that simply having well constructed content that is of interest to their audience is enough for their content. Well it might be if you’re operating in a niche with little competition, but in most markets you’re going to have to be more ambitious or you’ll never cut through the noise.

In fact, in my opinion, content marketing is one of those endeavours where the higher you set your sights, the better. That way, even if you only ever get half way there, you’re going to guarantee you’re doing something a hell of a lot more interesting than 95% of other brands in your market.

So what do I mean when I say be ambitious - well it could be that you want to build a community around a certain topic. It might be that you intend to engage with key influencers, although in most consumer markets now that’s not even really a competitive advantage any more. It might be that you intend for the brand to become famous for a particular form of insight or data. It may be that you’re going to hold an annual event each year for your industry, or publish a book.

Whatever it is, this ambitious goal will give direction to all your activity to ensure it’s all aligned, and it will also help you to get the buy in of other stakeholders, whether they’re internal or external, as they will be genuinely excited and intrigued by what you’re trying to achieve.

Finally, this big idea will ensure you are actually developing an asset over time. Something that accumulates value with each month. Rather than a disjointed series of very nice but completely diffuse array of activities that add up to anything.

So whatever your goal is, make sure it’s big. Being 3% better than the competition is not a strategy. You’ve got to aim to be 300% better or do something else that they’ve never even thought of.

Content Strategy

Content Marketing Part 1 - Why Strategy Must Come First


There is a tendency for content marketers to jump into whatever channel they believe their audience is active on, without giving much thought to what it is they’re trying to achieve or how they’re going to achieve it. Needless to say that this is a brilliant way of expending a huge amount of effort for very little gain. As with anything in business, it needs to form part of a broader strategy.

The single most important principle to grasp is that the channel activity itself - whether that’s Facebook or LinkedIn or a blog or email - the channel activity should not be treated as separate silos. Instead it all has to flow from the overarching content strategy, and if you get that content right then to some extent your channel activity is going to take care of itself. Get it wrong and no matter how clever your channel tactics, you’re always going to have an uphill struggle.

The other important point here is efficiency. If you’re like 95% of digital marketers then you’re probably being set ever more ambitious goals without the budget or resources to match. Ensuring you’re able to use your time and budget efficiently is everything, and that’s the other reason you need a clear strategy for your content - it is going to give you a tonne of time back each month.

This video series is going to help you to create a content strategy that achieves both of these things - it will ensure you are highly efficient with both your time and money while being as impactful as possible across every channel.

Digital reporting for decision makers

Digital Reporting Part 5 - Creating Reports For Senior Decision Makers


We tend to create reports for people like ourselves - people who understand the intricacies of digital marketing and who care about it.

Actually we want to be creating reports for senior decision makers. These people are:

  • Not technical, at least not in the context of marketing, so it has to be kept simple.
  • Time poor, so it’s got to be concise.
  • Good at seeing through vanity metrics. They care about things that are strategic and add value to the bottom line

So creating reports around these three things is key.

So is how you distribute it. They won’t open pdf’s, so containing the information succinctly within the email body is key. Even better, send it via SMS, and do so every week so you maintain a certain pace and momentum.

By doing this these people will stop viewing marketing as something vague and abstract over in the corner, but something strategic and commercial that’s critical to their future success, and that’s exactly what you want.

See you next time.