Developing an effective marketing program to support the sales effort often poses a substantial challenge for sales and marketing executives. A lot of time, money and resources are often wasted on ineffective or incorrect marketing efforts - which are out of alignment with the sales effort.

Conversely, several major companies (and even new industries) have been created based on little more than examining the customer experience and simply developing a better business model to deliver products or services to the customer.

If you think that your marketing effort ought to be based on more than just internal meetings and "best practices" marketing studies there is, surprisingly, a straightforward diagnostic technique that can help you.

Many of the techniques for developing marketing plans and activities were created in a slower, pre-social media era. With the heightened velocity of Internet sales and marketing (and the somewhat mistaken impression that the buyer can get all the information they need from the Internet), you often have to conduct real-time market (buyer) research simultaneously with selling activities. This is not as difficult as it seems, and if you use a diagnostic approach (that is, you listen more than you assume). This approach will help you design a marketing program based on exactly the results you want to achieve, which is duplicating your current sales wins.

Caveat: Much of what is described here may sound familiar like the development of buyer personas and the buyer's journey. There is a significant differerence in our technique and those methodologies:

  • We utilize a sales process overlay (a generalized Solution Selling® perspective*) - which is usually ignored by most buyer persona/journey techniques
  • We focus on your top customers - the 20% that typically result in 60-80% of your revenue
  • We add overlays (diagnostic framework) of:
    your business model,
    any changes in personality of your markets (disruptive events)
    the business history of your market (almost universally ignored - a key cause of blind-sided management)
Marketing poses problems for executives with technology or finance backgrounds because marketing addresses the issue of why people buy. This backs into sales psychology, which is nowhere near as well defined as the other aspects of running a business such as accounting, finance or legal issues. Even in the sales of well-defined products and technology, there are a lot of issues that don't lend themselves to quantification and need to be determined on a real-time basis. In other words, continually examining why you are successful at sales in your competitive environment. This diagnosis is seldom undertaken and even top sales people are often 'unconscious competents': they are successful, but they really can't tell you why. If you want to duplicate your success in a systematic fashion, you have to know why you are successful.

What I am referring to is a Sales AutopsySM or sales diagnostics. Many sales and marketing professionals think of sales analysis only in terms of what is known as 'lost sales'. Seldom is there an effort to seriously diagnose successful sales. The irony of this is that 'won sales' contain a gold mine of marketing information that is of far greater value than what is known about the lost sale. After all, if the objective is to duplicate the results, then do you want to duplicate a win or a loss?

In performing the sales diagnosis, there is occasionally confusion regarding the objective: do you want raw information (e.g. pure market research) or information and guidance on how to apply that information to your sales situation?

In a marketing context, there is a huge difference between raw market information and the ability to apply this information to develop a successful marketing program. Executives should be skeptical of supposed insights into raw market information is most often represented by holders of academic degrees or affiliation, but also often by those who were associated at some point in the past with a single venture that was successful.

Perhaps a caveat is needed here: much misguided marketing philosophy is advocated by those who happened to be merely bystanders to marketing success, which was actually driven by larger market or social forces. There are many one-trick marketing mavens who have been unable to duplicate their claimed performance. (Except, perhaps, in convincing others to attend their seminars on marketing.) As is often said, a rising tide lifts all ships.

Unless you want to go back to school and get an MBA in marketing to learn all the theory and principles of marketing, you need a valid fast-track technique that will give you all the information you need to build a successful marketing effort. This includes information such as current market trends, buyer behavior, competitive analysis, positioning strategy, future market needs, changing technology, etc.

When you think about it, all of these issues are addressed when you make a successful sale. They may not be  directly identified as such but you really do address all of them by the time you close a sale. Therefore, the easiest way to identify these issues and more importantly, how they impact your sales and marketing effort, is to diagnose your successful sales.

This being said, how do you go about the sales analysis to extract the information you need to develop and improve your marketing program? Here's a developmental procedure and related checklist that will serve to get you started:

Determine the market direction where you want to head your business. Then pick successful sales that represent that direction. What you are looking for is real-time sales information that will help guide your business in the desired direction - positioning it for the future - while maintaining today's cash flow and profits.

Interview the customers with the intent of documenting their thought process as they went though the buying cycle: how they identified their need, located vendors, performed the evaluation and made their decision. The key is to understand how and why your products and services are bought and sold, and what business problem your products solve.

Look for patterns that are common to all of the customers that you have interviewed. Remember, the goal is to develop a marketing program that will support successful sales by sending an accurate message to the larger market - and triggering a response from high-potential prospects. In short, you want to identify the delineation between generic a sales cycle and where the customized close begins. Marketing supports the sales cycle, the sales force has to do the closing.

Review your marketing program and message in light of the information you obtained from the analysis of successful sales. Is your program and message on target, or did you win in spite of yourself? In other words, you only had a 60% solution, but your nearest competitor that time only had a 59% solution. If you didn't know that, and then work to improve your percentages, next time you could do the exact same sales cycle and then get blown out by a competitor with a 61% solution, and you won't know why.

Evaluate your sales techniques with this same information in mind: are you consciously in alignment with the buyers during the entire buying process? Marketing is the strategy, sales are the tactics. Are your tactics appropriate, or can they be tuned up for greater efficiency?

Repeat the process every six months. The whole process should take the better part of a day (about eight hours), but will be spread out over a week or two. Figure an hour for each interview (three to four hours total), two hours to review your notes and draw conclusions, and two or three hours to brief your staff and implement your findings.

Don't be surprised if your sales analysis both confirms the 'gut feel' you might have had about some issues, but also presents you with some new information that you have to deal with. Once you get used to the process, you'll find a host of benefits:

  • your marketing will be increasingly on target
  • you will know how and why your customers (and prospects) buy your products
  • you will know how to reach them and what message to use
  • you will spot new market trends quickly
  • you will get a lot of ideas for new products and services.
To help you with the process, here's a checklist to use to guide your Sales AutopsySM:

Checklist for a Sales AutopsySM

  • Identify your last three successful sales that represent your sales goals.

Start by selecting the three last successful sales that represent the type of sale that you would like to duplicate. Don't pick all of the same type, but rather a spread of customer size, complexity of application, industries, etc. Not only are you looking for sales specifics, but also trends that run across different sales scenarios.

  • How an why did these customers buy from you?

The most basic question. Ask and then listen. The customer may come up with some reasons that impress you, and some that don't. Do not question or argue with their logic (or lack thereof) just take notes.

  • What business problem does your product or service solve?

Your customers are not buying your product or service for esoteric reasons - they have a problem (or 'pain' as it is often called) that they want to address. Ask them explicitly what this problem or 'pain' is, and why it is a problem. The answer will often be some of the best advertising copy you'll ever get.

  • Who or what was the competition (both vendors and solutions).

You always have competition, be it from other vendors, from the internal or substitute solutions, or the ever-present 'do nothing'. Find out who or what solutions you are competing with, and the relative merits and faults of each (from the customer's perspective.)

  • What were the key factors in the purchase decision?

There are usually one or several key factors in a purchase decision that push the prospect to a close. These factors may or may not be what you suspect. They could be internal events (budget or project deadlines), external (keeping up with the competition), or simply 'it's time we did it.' Again, do not challenge their reasons, ask and listen.

  • What was unimportant?

This is the reciprocal of the more common question of what was important to the purchase decision. It's equally important to know what they don't care about so you don't waste valuable time, material and mindshare on non-essentials. Again, you might find some surprises.

  • How did they get the information to make the decision?

The emphasis here is on the word how. What you're looking for is the channel of communications that will best reach other prospects. Savvy buyers look for information in certain places, be it directories, trade shows, trade publications, web sites, etc. You want to determine the best way to reach like-minded prospects.

  • What information was most important to their decision?

Try to get the customer to rank-order (prioritize) the information they used to reach their decision. It will serve as a useful cross-check on your marketing communications message. Do you present the correct information, and in the right order? More often than not marketing materials are written backwards - the really important stuff is at the end - long after the prospect has lost interest and gone on to something else. Attention spans are getting shorter and shorter - so your message has to be front-loaded from the prospect's perspective.

  • When did they make the actual decision?

This is a query to determine the length of the sales cycle. Ask both when they started looking, and when they made the purchase decision. This is useful to know for dealing with new prospects - are they in the front, middle or end of the sales cycle? Their location in the sales cycle should influence your sales and marketing tactics.

The term Sales AutopsySM is a service mark registered to Jeffrey Geibel Copyright 1993-2017

* The Solution Selling® sale process was originally developed by Mike Bosworth (we took the training from him) and swept the sales training industry by storm during the dot-com era. It was so pervasive that many other sales process techniques have incorporated its concepts - we see it all the time. An understanding of the original Solution Selling® concepts are critical to diagnosing the buyer's journey and persona quickly and effectively.

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