Q&A: Taking Risks and Transforming Sales Experiences

28 July 2020 | Marketing Consulting, Sales Incentives

5 Questions: With Leahanne Hobson, Founder and CEO of Alinea Partners. As an expert in assessing and transforming sales experiences globally for the biggest IT companies and their channels, she shares her views on modern selling, the current gaps within sales teams and how marketing and sales teams can better align.

1. You mention that great things have happened in your life after taking risks and that even better things happened when you took risks, reflected and refined. Moreover, you have built your business on this approach. Looking at the current global economic landscape, what are the big risks that IT companies and their channels should take – now?

First, adapt to changing client demands versus hunkering down and second, move forward versus staying in the same place or moving backward.

Too many companies leave the most important client decision – whether to buy or not – to chance. Companies need to proactively assess, understand and act to make sure their buying, onboarding and customer service processes and experiences are exceptional. Broken contact links, poor proposal processes, unclear value propositions, confusing onboarding processes and more all lead to unsatisfactory buying experiences and today’s buyer will leave the process before buying. This is a differentiator that adds to the bottom line.

Furthermore, it is no longer enough to just fix what is broken. Companies need to be more proactive in identifying delighters, clarifying service-level agreements (SLAs) and sticking to them, and thinking logically about what a buyer or customer wants and needs from them at the given time – not just as a process.

I can give many examples as we annually assess hundreds of B2B companies, but here is a small example of what I mean from outside the industry. I always appreciate a little cross-industry learning.

Just recently, a lovely hotel we stayed at missed the opportunity to delight us and gave us a ‘story’ we will tell whenever referring the hotel to others – and as examples of missed customer delighters in forums such as this.

After two lovely days, we decided to leave a bit early as I unfortunately woke up on our departing day surprisingly ill from the genuinely delicious meal we enjoyed the night before. My husband explained to the hotel staff that we would not take breakfast. We agreed on this partially as I was not feeling well and out of respect for the hotel and their other customers. Instead, we asked if we could take some of their delicious homemade bread we enjoyed the night before for later. They gladly packed it.

In the car, when asked by his customer-focused wife, my husband confirmed that they charged us for two breakfasts and €7 for the loaf of bread. Now as a business owner, I get that they need to make a living. And particularly now, things are challenging. However, we just spent two wonderful days at their hotel and restaurant enjoying ourselves, but also supporting them. It would have been very reasonable to discount one breakfast as my husband was not ill and could have eaten. Or, they could have eaten the cost for the €7 bread and left us feeling that we received a bit of special treatment at a minimal cost for them.

The story would have ended much better with: ‘And they wished me a quick recuperation and packed some warm bread for us to take on our way… Until our next visit.’

2. What are the benefits of taking the risks you just mentioned?

Creating a buying experience and brand value that reflects what buyers are looking for today. A buying experience where customers are treated individually according to observable values within the bounds of reason and not as though they are being moved through an obvious just-for-profit factory. This approach will lead to additional customers, customer satisfaction and, of course, added profit and revenue.

3. As an expert in transforming sales experiences for IT companies, what is your personal definition of modern selling?

Social. Social. Social. However, I no longer believe in widespread B2B social media and challenge companies to shift budgets away from social media to social selling. Our yearly assessments prove that of the more than 700 B2B companies around the world, less than 5% are using social channels effectively for lead generation. That is a lot of time, money and energy (both inside and outside of the company) spent on something that is delivering very little value. If anything, they are getting a bit of awareness, not inbound lead generation. If used effectively across the company with the right messages and targets, modern selling can take place where today’s buyers spend their time.

4. What gaps do you currently see within sales teams and what would your expert advice be to close these gaps?

I am seeing a concerning gap between sales teams and marketing programs, as well as sales teams and buyer expectations. Over the last few months alone, many companies have doubled down on their digital marketing activities. I support these when done correctly. However, I have also seen this being done without first checking what buyers and customers want and need, and matching that to current capabilities of sales teams and processes that may have changed over the past few months. Thereby, wasting marketing spend and eliminating the opportunity to get an even better than planned ROI, because all processes and people are aligned to buyers.

I am also increasingly alarmed at loosely written campaign briefs and lead definitions inside companies, but also within marketing agencies. Have you clearly agreed on the target audience, business outcome (versus technical), messaging, sales strategy and a clear, agreed upon definition of what a lead is? I have had discussions recently where opportunities are disguised as leads, meaning everyone is disappointed with the demand-generation results. This is an area where superior demand generation agencies are delivering more and pulling ahead of the competition with transparency and aligned expectations.

5. Final thoughts: Looking to the future, how will – or should – the alignment between marketing and sales within the IT industry change to truly transform sales experiences and improve customer journeys?

How radical do you want to get? 

We could eliminate the marketing and sales functions and learn from agile sales organizations where everyone is compensated for sales and customer or partner satisfaction, and the entire organization works towards a single customer experience expectation goal. To enable this to happen on scale, I’d recommend deploying a fluid organization made up of people with different, but appropriate skill sets that can work on a project basis to meet client needs.

Leahanne Hobson, Founder and CEO of Alinea Partners
Image: Courtesy of Alinea Partners

About the Expert: Leahanne Hobson is Founder and CEO of Alinea Partners, an agency that consistently assesses and transforms customer experiences and sales journeys for the biggest IT/telco companies and their channels, globally. Before founding Alinea Partners in 2005, Leahanne was Vice President of Marketing and Channel Management for Europe, the Middle East and Africa at Avaya. She also held senior positions at Lucent Technologies and IBM Corporation. Leahanne is proud to lead her team at Alinea Partners in supporting clients in creating the most optimized and competitive customer buying experiences possible.

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