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Sales Person and Technology: A Crucial Link

By Allan Rahn, CMO, Employee Benefits-National, BB&T Insurance Services, Inc. [NYSE:BBT]

Allan Rahn, CMO, Employee Benefits-National, BB&T Insurance Services, Inc. [NYSE:BBT]

We’re all in search of a great customer. Of course, definitions differ, but most want a customer who loves our products and services, provides repeat business, shares satisfaction with our program with others and is not a drain on revenue with merchandise returns or demanding things outside our offering.

In the employer-sponsored employee benefits space, sales cycles differ by employer segment (typically related to the employee number) and complexity of objectives, while the retention cycle is more like a battle in an old town square. It is between the incumbent provider defending their work and aggressive competitors offering claims of improvements and cost reductions. The incumbent was the aggressive vendor earlier and is now the defender. If they lose the business, the cycle begins again.

Employers’ health benefits costs are often in their top three spends annually, with little evidence or satisfaction their investment drives real returns. It’s a huge annual cost regardless of group size.

While employers work with brokers, agents, advisors and consultants or even the digital marketplace exchanges, they are hit with marketing messages from advisors and service providers as well as feedback from employees, who receive their own marketing messages from providers with whom the employer contracts.

“In the employer-sponsored employee benefits space, sales cycles differ by employer segment and complexity of objectives, while the retention cycle is more like a battle in an old town square”

It can be a messy communications paradigm that challenges all aspects of the “customer journey.” In health care, people don’t buy things; they buy into a “peace of mind” in the event of a medical catastrophe. Employers buy into tactics intended to manage costs and improve the health and productivity of employees (and, often, families), frequently without any acknowledgement or appreciation by employees.

This may seem specific to employee benefits; however, for health care (and, maybe, insurance overall), the implications on communications systems for marketers are real. If we focus on “digital transformation” and “disruption,” and other pieces of our marketing lexicon, we’re missing the key success factor: integrating best-in-class human communications with all facets of our marketing mix.

Prospects and customers are no longer really seen as human beings; we’ve all become data. We have shifted from touch points to signals and breathing organisms to personas. The concept of “big data” has shifted from “big brother is watching” to “sales analytics.”

Our use of predictive lead generation populating CRM platforms with triggers to marketing automation will continue to advance our abilities to target messages to our most desired prospects. In the benefits space, digital communications will connect with participants relative to specific health care benefits, gaps in care reminders, cautions and so on.

What may be in serious need of attention, however, is the Sales Person:

In Ad Age’s “2016 Marketing Fact Pack,” B2B respondents reported year-over-year increases in content marketing and increased content spending; however, when asked if they had a content marketing strategy, just 32 percent said they had a documented one. Forty-eight percent said they had one, but not documented; 44 percent rated their content marketing between very effective and not at all effective. Lead generation and sales topped the list of B2B content marketing goals. The anticipated growth of tools and tech? Forty-nine percent in predictive intelligence, 38 percent in guided selling and 37 percent in marketing automation.

We’re all looking to do more content – with or without a documented strategy – to generate leads and sales, and we’re going to do it using more tools and tech.

For industries that don’t require human interactions, all should be fine. For those that require dialog – sometimes with more than a dozen decision makers, an equal number of subject matter experts and so on – there needs to be a strategy of integrating marketing and sales with a focus on each as polished and perfect as the other. Together, they can create a formidable impression – almost to the point they become the value proposition.

For industries with a “sales person” properly in the mix, a strategy needs these professionals as key communicators in the funnel. There is little point in setting a content marketing strategy if it doesn’t ensure the sales force can beautifully articulate and discuss the content developed through predictive lead generation. Sales must be equally astute in discussing all attributes identified in the process to solidify the match between prospect and solution. Finally, a sales force must have the ability to customize enough approved communications in the automation platform so sincerity and authenticity are as close as they can be.

In any typical prospect nurturing funnel paradigm, there is a handoff to sales. Lead gen slips into the background and CRM and marketing automation take over. The degree to which there is integration between these elements and the actual sales or distribution team determines program success.

CRM is a critical component to increase awareness and reduce nuisance emails and unnecessary meetings. Its use requires serious rules for success. Who is the content keeper? Who sees to it that key elements are working? Who ensures team members are not only pinged but that desired responses are received?

Marketing automation – whether driven through corporate initiatives, purely digitally focused, field driven by reps and distributors or a combination – works best with a limited degree of customization. This protects brand messaging. If the focus is foggier and offers customization, it requires more of field people from beginning to end.

Some considerations in evaluating the mix:

• Combining CRM with marketing automation that allows output authenticity is ideal.
• Integrate both the sales and marketing teams in strategies and techniques.
• Outline expectations for touches.
• Train and retrain on content elements and articulation methods.
• Market both internally and externally equally.

If you have a great predictive lead gen engine, a super CRM platform and a centralized and decentralized marketing automation platform, you have everything you need – except the human factor. If your industry works solely through digital engagement without human interface, the human factor isn’t as interruptive. If you work in a people industry supported by digital tools, it is imperative as much attention be given to human interactions and communications between staff and leadership. You can have the best tech in the world, but for businesses that require touch, integration is the key.

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