From experience, a company with 8 enterprises as their sales base, an average initial sale of 14k takes 2 to 3 years to grow to over $2M in annual revenue.
However, we know that for most SaaS (Software as a Service) companies the model follows a land-and-expand logic – the initial deal could be smaller, as low as $14k, but the seller has products and plans to expand that deal after the trial period to well-over $100k and up, with a customer lifetime value (LTV) of $1M or higher. Companies in this category typically know how large their client base is (in the high hundreds or low thousands) and start by focusing on 1 to 3 verticals for maximum results.
We found that there are consistent things that help with sales impact – get them right, and you pull through steady account growth. Some of them are counter-intuitive.
What marketers need to do right to sell to enterprise
1. Understand the role of emotion
The enterprise customer has two things in mind:
- Will this purchase go well and get me a raise/promotion?
- Will this purchase go badly and get me fired?
Multiply that by 10 or more people and you have the risk map. If there’s even the slightest amount of fear from any decision maker, your product or service is dead in the water.
With that in mind, your marketing needs to inspire. The message must to be on point with a compelling offer that triggers either trust or fear. A trust message is positive and communicates how your product is trustworthy. A fear message motivates product purchase through fear that something bad will happen if you do nothing. This is your first strategic choice. It needs to balance the pros and cons based on long-term effects.
Public relations can help you strengthen your position. Top tier-press coverage, trade placements, and analyst mentions move the needle in the risk-averse world of enterprise. Good peer reviews, favorable media and analysts mentions lower the fear that your product will work as advertised.
Underestimate the power of emotion is a risk – it may create unnecessary friction, lengthen your sales cycle, and be a drag on resources.
2. Adopt a land and expand mindset
This means marketing happens pre-sale and post-sale. Both are critical to success.
When purchasing used to be on premises, the post-sale wasn’t Marketing’s focus. We don’t do deal that way anymore for many reasons. More people are involved. Products and services have become more sophisticated. There are more competitors and alternatives to the job to be done. The new reality calls for an update of our mental models.
A land-and-expand approach often is critical to land deal and build momentum. In this model, marketing happens on a continuum. Subject matter experts (SMEs) need a mix of tools – case studies, white-papers, webinars, etc. – to understand all that they can do with your product. They need different kinds of proof for different stakeholders and different tools to use the product.
Every customer win could become a Success Story and win over skeptics. This increases the importance of tracking results. A Success Story that mentions each and every person that contributed to it and shared internally compounds good will and decreases risk. It builds up advocacy inside the company and educates your customer on why you’re the best solution to reach their goals. The additional content creates opportunity and multiplies results.
Sales impact relies on adopting an always-on marketing mindset – inside and outside the company.
3. Build a strong brand
Brand is an investment that pays dividends throughout a sales lifecycle. It’s critical to build a company, to reinvent an industry, and to create a new category. If you’re not #1, your brand matters. If there’s a strong incumbent going after #1, the brand of #1 matters.
Brand is what customers think of a company. It’s the sum total of all experiences. Value is in the eyes and opinions of the people who come into contact with your product, service, and teams. It depends on what they say and what they decide to do.
Companies can contribute to informing those opinions and experiences.
Message consistency and culture inside and outside the company and presentation can make your brand impression stronger or weaken it. Research found that human senses are stronger than logic to drive choices. We use visual cues to orient our decisions. A look-and-feel that is a hot mess sends a certain message about a company. The image a logo portrays trigger an immediate association. The visuals Account Executives (AEs) use when presenting can create a single and cohesive professional impression or confusion.
Every single interaction with a member group of your organization should deliver a consistent experience to work. Cohesiveness can do wonders for your brand – it facilitates sales, events, and online interactions. When Sales Engineers (SEs), AEs, and everyone else are using coordinated materials, they reinforce the brand.
Rogue design and messages create confusion of benefits and may open the door to expensive promises to keep. A team that cannot list the top 5 benefits of a product weakens the brand.
Sales playbooks, design brand books and templates are supercharging tools. They help everyone get on the same page quickly, feel confident about communicating the product and company benefits, and contribute to building a strong brand.
4. Adapt tactics to drive engagement
There are two theories about how we do marketing that seem to be prevalent in the enterprise world – the bow-tie model, which reflects a land-and-expand mindset, and the new Demand Waterfall introduced by Sirius Decisions. They’re compatible views.
The SiriusDecisions Waterfall focuses on the seller’s experience, while the bow-tie encompasses seller’s and buyer’s sides. Regardless of which one you use , things have become more complicated than they used to be. Group of buyers alone increase complexity. From the outside, it’s hard to determine who has the power to say “no”, but sometimes it’s hard to tell whether a “yes” depends on a few individuals or it’s a consensus decision. What is valid inside a company is even more important outside – with its customers.
Hence, the importance of adapting tactics to engage different stakeholders and address their interests. This calls for constant iteration to learn and adopt what works, then adapt it when it’s not working anymore. Sales impact depends on the wisdom of picking the right methods and things to run experiments.
5. Use advertising judiciously
The ROI from advertising isn’t as strong. From experience, we know that enterprise buyers don’t make $100k or more purchase decisions from seeing an ad. But you might be able to get them in the top of the funnel through smart content pushed through sponsored posts.
Sponsored articles sit at the intersection of editorial thought leadership and native advertising. They work to build audiences and increase exposure when the content resonates, and they’re part of a comprehensive online marketing strategy.
Many publications like The New York Times and Forbes Brand Voice run sponsoring articles and have built large audiences. Association with a publication and exposure to its audience can drive awareness, traffic, conversions, and leads.
The rise of content marketing helped move the old advertorials up the funnel. Because their role is to promote awareness, the purpose of sponsored articles and posts is to be helpful, entertaining, or both. This non salesy nor brand-centric content helps brands become not just purveyors of goods and services, but producers of ideas and distributors of knowledge.
The content needs to be exactly what your future customer is looking for, it needs to be timely and to inspire. Meet these conditions, and your sales cycle becomes smoother and faster. By definition, thought leadership is when something you read or watch has an impact and you change the way you do things.
6. Go direct to buyer with account based marketing
While it’s still a brilliant way to market, email doesn’t convert the way it used to. It’s easy to ignore and it’s hard to stand out in crowded inboxes.
Direct mail has gone out of fashion and many companies stopped using it. This creates an opportunity to deliver something that feels personal and thoughtful in a different format – what’s old is new again.
Account based marketing (ABM) is a new term for an old way of selling. Before the internet, companies selling to enterprise had a list of the top accounts they wanted to reach. Marketing worked with Sales to find different strategies to get to know the key people in that account. Marketing would create personalized materials, write letters, and send packages directly to key people in their target accounts. Key people were at trade shows or conferences, or features in trade magazines and who’s who books.
Today, we have more tools to research key people to send them something they will find interesting – an industry book or a personalized t-shirt. The package should include something to remember your company, like a branded bookmarker or the logo on a personalized mug. Send this to everyone on your target list.
Production drives higher costs, and it takes some planning to do, but research has shown that direct marketing has a higher ROI. It also gets the attention of your future-customer in a way that email alone can’t anymore.
In our experience, a combination of direct mail with more information and a follow up email that uses the same creative reinforce the message.
7. Create your own events
Nothing beats face-to-face in the enterprise sales world. People want to look the person they buy from in the eye. This is why so many companies spend so much on high-end events. It’s why the high-end events can charge so much – the decision makers still go, and it makes a huge difference to meet people there.
But that doesn’t mean you need to be at every single event. Choose 3 or 4 top events for you market or industry, and skip the trade shows. Instead, start creating your own events. Owned events deliver a higher ROI than attending every conference.
With your own events you can get creative, based on what would make the most sense for your business. Some ideas:
- CABs – Customer Advisory Boards
- PACs – Product Advisory Boards
- Private Dinners/ Breakfasts / Lunches – Have a speaker(s) come and give a talk, or have a panel, about something relevant to your target customers. Invite thought leaders to mingle.
- Bar Nights – Propose a topic and hang out in a cool swanky bar for a night for industry networking. (Make sure you make a limit at the bar)
- Create your own conference – It could start as a small user conference and then grow into an industry event. INBOUND by Hubspot started as a small gathering and now hosts more than 10,000 people every year. Dreamforce by Salesforce is another example.
A mix of top industry events works well for many companies. It’s still possible to use personalized pre- and post-event marketing to reach out to people ahead of the event and follow up later. With owned events, it’s a little easier to make customers and prospects feel like VIPs and invite entire teams or groups of decision makers.
Decisions happen in the middle
Selling software-as-a-service products to enterprise often means selling a product that is commoditized, or will be commoditized quickly. It’s crucial to build a strong brand and a holistic marketing engine to create sales impact at every step of the customer journey.
Enterprise brands put most focus on “top of the funnel” (brand awareness) and “bottom of the funnel” (direct-to-offers and promotions).
Beautiful homepage and conversion optimization matter, but it’s the content in between where the selling happens, because that’s where you build trust – inform, educate, inspire, persuade, motivate etc. When selling to enterprise, it’s the compounding effects of the connection you build with different stakeholders that moves the needle. That’s why you need to build a marketing flywheel to create sales impact. This is where brands are built in 2019.
The most successful and iconic brands today were built by bringing together marketing, product, sales, development and business so that everyone is looking at the customer through the same viewpoint.