How looking at different buying signals could boost your sales opportunities

I’ve arrived at Dreamforce 15 in San Francisco for a week of innovation, fun, giving back and learning about the latest trends in sales and marketing automation. As I walk around, I’m struck by the number of firms with really cool technologies that turn customer engagement into real sales. One thing that’s noticeably absent (although it’s a big conference, I may not have found it yet) are solutions that specifically address competitive selling – where the buyer isn’t looking to engage with you and, worse, is forcing you to sell through a process with a proposal at the end!

Marketing automation technology, such as Marketo or Hubspot, provides a valuable link between a company’s marketing collateral and its sales systems (e.g. Customer Relationship Management systems).  A core feature of these solutions is lead generation and qualification. They often rely on social buying signals - for example, qualifying a lead based on the fact that they have downloaded your white paper.

But such social buying signals cannot reliably predict outcomes in competitive sales, so businesses relying on such tactics are missing out on opportunities. Competitive sales is characterised by a Request for Tender (RFT) from a buyer. Most government contracting (worth 18% of global GDP) and an increasing percentage of B2B business is carried out this way.

Many SMBs never participate in a competitive sales process or, worse, invest in opportunities with a low probability of closing. Low SMB participation in competitive sales is due to two factors:

The first issue is SMBs believing they don’t have any chance of winning a competitive contract. The reality is that recent policy initiatives mean that more SMBs are being awarded contracts - by law, 23% of US government contracts go to SMBs (amounting to $83.1 Billion in 2014) and in Europe, 56% of contracts are awarded to SMBs (with a total worth of €123 Billion in 2011).

The second issue is SMBs failing to identify opportunities they have a good change of closing because they aren’t using competitive buying signals. Governments are precluded from awarding contracts on the basis of tenure, past relationships or because they like your marketing material – they make decisions to buy on the basis of formally submitted proposals.  In TenderScout research, we found that as buyers become more professional, just 1 in 4 contracts were retained by incumbents! Past performance is no longer a guarantee of future success.

Competitive buying signals are a different category of buying signal that offer the potential for more accurate lead qualification and predictions of success. For example, it’s much more valuable to know that the contract has been with the same supplier for 15 years, than the fact that somebody in the buyer’s organisation recently downloaded your white paper. Sales and marketing automation can make buyers aware of your business and solutions, which may increase your chances of being offered a chance to pitch. However, government and many B2B buyers, are unmoved by marketing collateral or invitations to webinars.

So, how can you add intelligence to your competitive selling? Many technologies, like GovWin IQ, collate government leads, while analysis tools can semi-automatically qualify them based on how well they fit both your ‘sweet spots’ and how likely you are to beat the competition. Signals such as how often a new supplier wins a contract with a particular buyer, what price was paid the last time this contract was put up, or who is already supplying this buyer are all available either through research or through market intelligence technology. The intelligence collated from competitive buying signals can be stored and used to create a track record of buyer and competitor behaviour - which can in turn help to predict future outcomes.

My view is that sales teams should be spending every minute of every day closing deals.  Generating and qualifying leads is time-consuming, subjective and challenging for many SMBs. But strategic use of technology based on competitive buying signals can deliver actionable, qualified sales opportunities and insights. Instead of guessing who MIGHT buy from you, you’ll know who WILL buy and what it will take to close the sale.

SMBs that can build competitive sales intelligence into their process are giving themselves a better way to score leads and a more comprehensive understanding of the competitive landscape - they're going to win more business. As I look around Dreamforce, I see great solutions from SalesPredict, Velocify, Radius, insidesales.com and Lattice which can help, although I haven't found that silver bullet just yet. There are hundreds of potential solutions at Dreamforce though, not least SalesforceIQ, just released yesterday, so the search goes on.

If anybody reading this knows of any great solutions for competitive sales, I'd love to hear from you!

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