This post is part of Playbook’s growth levers series, read more about growth levers here.
Make sure you’re focused on the markets where you’re a strong fit
The first step to converting more deals is focusing on the right, strong-fit market segments to begin with. This is the bread and butter of product marketing, whether that role is filled by a dedicated product marketer, a product leader, a marketing leader, or a founder. As Ryan Goldman puts it in his playbook on hiring product marketers, product marketing is responsible for “thinking through who the product is valuable for, how to message that value to them, and how to package that message into assets.”
For companies that have relatively homogeneous customer bases, there may be a single Ideal Customer Profile (ICP), which can be identified at the prospect stage using firmographic and technographic indicators. For companies that target several distinct customer types (e.g. SMB, mid-market and enterprise), there may be several relevant segments. According to Kirby Wadsworth, who authored a playbook on defining an ICP, the value of laying out who your ideal customers are is twofold: you’re able to focus more narrowly on targets that align well with areas of previous success, and you have the opportunity to get sales, marketing, product, etc. on the same page about who the target really is.
If you’re losing to inferior competitors, frame a category that works to your advantage
If you’re losing to competitors that don’t offer some of the key, differentiating functionality that you provide, the issue could be that prospects aren’t fully understanding that you’re not in the same category as that competitor. As John Rougeux, an expert in category creation, explains “people are always going to take a mental shortcut and lump you in with another category that they’re familiar with. If those other categories aren’t representative of what you do, they’re going to be evaluating you on the wrong metrics.”
For higher-touch deals, enable reps with training and tools
Sales enablement is a function that exists to improve sales velocity, that is, to help salespeople close more opportunities, close larger opportunities, and close them faster. One major prong of sales enablement is training, both new rep onboarding and ongoing development. According to Maggie Callahan in her playbook on onboarding salespeople, training should teach reps to speak in the customer’s language, instill your company’s sales methodology and processes, and should be heavily experiential, giving salespeople practical applications and opportunities to practice.
Another aspect of sales enablement is content creation and management. Enablement content can include things like messaging guides, competitive positioning tools, and pricing tools. According to Christi Wall, an enterprise sales enablement leader, the way you deliver content and updates is as important as the content itself, and Wall believes that “enablement must keep the attention of salespeople, unless you’re making it interesting and creative, enablement’s teachings will always be the last thing on their mind.”
Good training and enablement of new hires is key, because as Rachel Haley highlights in her playbook on sales capacity planning, accelerating ramp time of new reps is one of the most impactful ways to improve overall bookings performance. Especially if you’re growing your sales org quickly. She notes, “if you can improve your ramp time by one month, that’s far more powerful than some marginal increase in attainment of each rep.”
For lower-touch deals, design a frictionless online experience
In lower-priced sales where you can’t afford as much human touch, make sure your marketing website, sign-up flows, and trial experience are boosting your conversion success. Marc McDougall, a UI/UX designer specializing in conversion, recommends defining personas and answering each persona’s common “pre-sale” questions on the website, and simplifying the customer journey with minimal distractions and clear calls to action.
In the long term, build connections that make your product the default choice
Over time, seek to build a reputation that makes your product the first one that comes to mind when customers start to think about a purchase, instead of an also-ran that gets added to the evaluation list mid-sales process. Brand marketing can be expensive and harder to measure, so concentrate your efforts to limit spend. Identify small communities where your market fit is tightest, and saturate the relevant conferences, publications, and associations. If you operate in (or can define) a niche market that’s not already blanketed with media, consider producing and branding valuable content like “state of the market” reports.
Partnership expert Sunir Shah points out that ecosystem strategy should also be a part of your long-term thinking to place your company at the center of its relevant networks. “When you want to win a market, you need to put your brand where your buyers are looking for information. You need to get your brand connected with the partners your customers are going to when they want to learn.” This could mean partnering with other software companies, service providers, or being a part of relevant marketplaces.