• This Blog Is Inactive!

    On of May 8, 2009, I moved my blog over to a new domain: DaveSteinsBlog.ESResearch.com

    I will no longer be posting on this URL. Comments will not be moderated. More information.

  • ESR’s STVG

    Here is ESR's highly acclaimed Sales Training Vendor Guide, Third Edition.

Why Industry Analysts are Sales Tools

I received my regular opt-in email from BNET this afternoon.  The subject was, “Discussion: Why Industry Analysts are Sales Tools.”

Hey, I thought, that looks like it would be interesting!  So I open the message and I see this link: Industry Analysts… from an Analyst.

Now this really looks interesting.  So I click.  Turns out it’s a comment I wrote on Geoffrey James’s blog 18 months ago.

I’ve written about Geoffrey before.  He’s a great writer, has plenty of guts and he’s salesguy through and through.  And, he understands the analyst business.  Big plus.

(At the moment Geoffrey’s having quite a back-and-forth with another BNET blogger.  Check it out and pile on as you see fit. )

Whether you’re a sales executive or in sales training, you do need to consider industry analysts as sales tools.   In the past I helped a number of companies figure this out and then watch them excel at leveraging the analysts that covered their markets.  By the way, analyst relations falls under marketing.  If it’s not getting done, or getting done right, just walk down the hall and start asking why.

From my position as an sales training industry analyst, few sales training company executives really understand how to leverage us.  ESR’s principal analyst, Al Case, wrote a terrific report a while back, but only a handful executives of companies we’ve spoken with have actually read the thing.  Many get on the phone with us for briefings and wind up squandering what should have been a great opportunity.

If you’re a sales trainer and want to bring ESR up to speed on what you do, please learn a bit about analysts first and how we work.

ESR’s 2008 Sales Training Arena

Click on the image for full size.  Do not make a sales training decision based solely on this chart.Each year ESR publishes its annual Sales Training Vendor Guide.

The 2008 Guide, which was published last December, compares and contrasts 19 leading sales training providers across many different capabilities such as depth and breadth of offering, program effectiveness, educational design, available customization, post-program reinforcement, learning technology support and measurement.

Although the 2008 Guide came in at 170 pages, the ESR/Arena (right) was, for many, the highlight of the report.  With appropriate deference to the Gartner Magic Quadrant, we designed the ESR/Arena to provide a quick, graphical perspective for those who would read the report.

We released a standalone copy of the ESR/Arena early in 2008. We found that some buyers of sales training were leaning toward making decisions about vendor selection based solely upon a single glance at the Arena.  We’re certainly delighted that they have that degree of trust in us, but that is precisely the wrong way to go about such a critical decision.

Selecting the right sales training company—the right way—is a process.  There are no shortcuts.  The foundation, and most critical component of the process, is a comprehensive assessment of the selling company’s situation.  I’m not talking about a quick, “The reps need training in cold-calling,” or “They need to get higher in the customer’s organization.”  Hundreds of millions of dollars a year are wasted on training based upon such short-sighted and matter-of-fact statements.  I know.  Performing postmortems on failed sales training interventions is part of what we do at ESR.  And now is a really bad time to spend money getting your people trained only to find that there has been no measurable improvement.

Now that I’ve offered that disclaimer you can take a look at the 2008 ESR/Arena. (Click on the graphic for full size.)  There are a few things for you to keep in mind:

  • This graphic is a year old.  A number of vendors have gone through changes during the past year.
  • There are eight additional vendors that ESR has included in our coverage that are not represented in the 2008 ESR/Arena.  (Here is a complete list.)
  • There are literally hundreds of other training firms, from one person to many, that could very well be the right one to meet your company’s training requirements.  Your perfect partner may very well not even be on this chart.
  • No single vendor that ESR covers is right for every company.  It’s your job, not theirs to make sure you’ve selected the right one.

ESR’s 2009 Sales Training Vendor Guide will be published early in the year.  It will include 26 vendors and considerably more information about training programs, CRM integration, Sales 2.0 technology, and other critical capabilities than previous Guides.

Baker Communications: Getting The Learning Job Done

I recently had an enlightening conversation with Walter Rogers (CEO) and Lawne Gerhardt (VP of Global Sales) at Baker Communications.  ES Research hasn’t covered Baker because they weren’t a pure sales training play—sales training content makes up about half of their broad array of course offerings.  You might not have heard of Baker.  Even Walter admits they’ve been under the radar screen.  (Disclosure: Baker has purchased ESR’s research.) 

The Houston-based company is 30 years old.  It was formed in the late 1970’s to meet the sales training needs of Conoco.  Baker was originally a sales training-only firm, targeting the energy sector and winding up in the unenviable position of having Enron as their biggest customer.

In 1990 Walter joined Baker.  He started targeting the technology sector, going after Apple, IBM, and Cray among others.  Baker won a deal for providing training for IBM—a part of their highly successful win-back program.  Walter then turned the company’s attention to the other high growth sectors.

Baker has grown substantially over the past four years. Technology is their largest market. That’s followed by energy, financial services, energy, and health care. They claim 800 active customers, 300 training events a month globally, of which 150 are sales-related.

What surprised me was their change in philosophical approach four years ago when they shifted to looking at alternatives to classroom-based training.  (If you are a regular reader of this blog, you’ll know how that is all changing.)  Visiting Baker Communications’ website doesn’t provide that perspective at all.

Walter established a relationship with WebEx whereby they provide Baker tools and guidance supporting WebEx customers’ sales processes.  That relationship has expanded since Cisco acquired WebEx.

Understanding that most companies don’t have a formal process, Walter took me through how Baker helps companies build a sales process and layer in training and ongoing reinforcement to achieve their client’s performance improvement goals and objectives.  What is unusual is Baker’s approach to an integrated and aligned sales and marketing process for building a highly qualified pipeline.   I’ve not seen a training company take this approach.

Walter took me through their work with one very large staffing company client and how Baker drove the reconfiguring of the company’s sales approach and sales process to enable them to adapt to customer demands in a new market. 

Walter is a smart guy.  He understands the challenges his customers are facing with regard to funding for sales training and is taking the company in the right direction.

Note:  ESR has not yet formally evaluated Baker Communications, so let the sales training buyer beware.

Photo:  © Eray Haciosmanoglu – Fotolia.com

Complimentary Sales Performance Optimization Report Offer

Jim Dickie and Barry Trailer, our colleagues over at CSO Insights, are currently in the process of launching their 15th annual Sales Performance Optimization study, the past results from which have been regularly featured in Harvard Business Review, Business Week, Entrepreneur Magazine, Selling Power Magazine, Inc., CRM Magazine, etc.  We at ES Research have also presented some of their key findings in our articles.  In fact, we have a feature article in the November/December issue of Sales and Marketing Management magazine, where we make specific recommendations based upon the results of their current report.

As we feel this information is very valuable to sales and marketing executives, we would like to invite you to take part in the CSO Insights new survey and in return be able to tap into the insights of your peers to optimize the performance of your organization when the new 200+ page report is published in January, 2009.

In appreciation for taking part in this study, you will:

  • Be able to access CSO Insights’ new reports on Sales 2.0: Hype, Hope, or Happening upon completing the survey.
  • Receive the 2008 Lead Generation Optimization report; highlighting the areas where companies are achieving the best ROI from their lead generation investments, sent to your email address.
  • Receive a complimentary copy the full 2009 Sales Performance Optimization report from CSO Insights when it is released early next year.

To take part in this project click on the following:  CSO Insights 2009 Sales Performance Study Link

Questions on this survey can be directed to Kim Cameron, Executive Director of Research, CSO Insights: kim.cameron@csoinsights.com.

Your Least Credible Point of Customer Contact

It's no wonder that no matter how articulate your salespeople are, they still don't get much respect from their customer.

Last week I wrote a post about the panel I was on with Bill Friend.  I referenced my colleague Olin Thompson.  Olin is somewhat of a genius when it comes to sales and marketing strategy.  At the present time he is VP of Strategy at Lawson Software. 

For a number of years Olin ran the “Credibility Forum” for sales and marketing executives of ERP software companies.  Olin tackled the issue of salespeoples’ lack of credibility with customer C-level executives and, with a few slides, accurately depicted the challenge and posed a number of solutions.

Before we get into solutions, let’s take a look at Olin’s slide.  The Y-(vertical) axis represents the messenger—either the seller’s employee (salesperson, non-salesperson and executive), a third-party, like an industry analyst firm, consultant or the press (unknown to the customer, known, and trusted) and another customer (unknown to the target customer, known, and trusted by the target customer).  Notice that credibility increases from bottom to top. That means that, as a source of information, an executive from a company other than yours that your prospect knows of and trusts is considerably more credible than an executive from your company.

The X-axis is the medium, either internal (spoken/verbal, a brochure or a white paper) or an external media source, such as analyst reports, articles or presentations, that are unknown to the target customer, known or trusted.  With respect to sources of information, credibility increases from left to right.  So an article about your company in Fortune magazine is far more credible than the best brochure or white paper you could ever produce.

Olin asks his audience, “Where is your most frequent and least controllable market contact?”  From the customer’s perspective, the lowest credibility is at the lower-left corner of this matrix.  It’s the salesrep speaking with the customer!

Olin’s message to the participants was that they must spend time and money supplementing internally-produced marketing materials with customer testimonials, reference visits, case studies, placements in trusted media, positive mentions by analysts in their reports, advertising in trusted industry and business magazines, etc. 

Here’s the take-away.  Unless you’re one of the top three companies in your industry, training your sales team to deliver messages about your company, products, and unique value will only take you so far.  You’ve got to provide ongoing credibility support from multiple external sources as well.  This doesn’t happen without planning, funding, staffing and effective execution.  It’s another in a long list of reasons that the sales and marketing functions must get aligned.

Should You Trust Sponsored Research?

Real insight or just propaganda?

Authentic and balanced insight or just plain propaganda?

I wrote a post a while back about white papers.  I said, “In most cases, white papers are marketing documents rather than the unbiased analyses they appear to be.”

The same can be said for a subset of marketing collateral labeled “Sponsored Research.”

There are three prominent flavors of non-academic, sponsored research:

  1. Legitimate sponsored research.  A corporation (or more than one) funds some or all of an independent research project.  The research is sound and not manipulated or skewed in any way.  The funding entity benefits by having a quality fulfillment piece to drive targeted visitors to their site.  The research firm gets their project funded and has that research distributed by a company with presumably a much larger audience. An example of this is Salesforce.com and Kadient’s sponsorship (along with other entities) of CSO Insight’s annual research report. 

  2. Sponsored research about a vendor.  A vendor pays a research firm to write a report that positions the vendor in an advantageous position versus their competitors.  Unfortunately this is a common practice in the IT industry and is growing in other industries as well. The problem, of course, is that the reader assumes that the research was done by an independent research organization, considers what is said in the report as fact, and then makes decisions based upon what they learned. 

  3. White papers positioned as research reports. The functions of a vendor-written white paper and a research report (presumed to be written by an independent authority) have been deliberately blended for the very purpose of manipulating the opinions of prospective buyers.  Take for example this page.  The URL is findwhitepapers.com. The title of the webpage is “Technology Research for Business Professionals.”  The heading on the page says “Popular Research Reports.”  I didn’t look at every page, but the ones I did have vendor-written white papers exclusively.  It’s self-serving propaganda.  Nothing more, nothing less. 

On the other hand, some firms won’t play the game.  Burton Group, a technology research firm has this on their site:

“Since our founding in 1990, we have not published vendor-sponsored research of any kind. We cover relevant vendors and products without regard for vendors’ subscription to our services. We maintain complete independence from vendor agendas, providing unbiased assessments of markets, vendors, and products…”

Several years ago, Forrester Research announced that they would no longer perform vendor-sponsored research. 

My warning to you:  If you are in the market for sales training, sales consulting, or technology-enabled selling tools, and you are reading whatever you can get your hands on to help with your decision, make sure you understand 1) who wrote the piece, 2) what they are selling, and most importantly, 3) if the information that is presented is independent of any vendor’s agenda.

(Full disclosure: My firm, ES Research Group, independently evaluates sales performance improvement programs and tools as well as the vendors that provide them.)