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[Interview] Brian Carroll of MECLABS Institute on Complex Sales and Meaningful Lead Generation

MECLABS_HS-29bIt was a great privilege to sit down with Brian Carroll, Chief Evangelist at MECLABS Institute and MarketingSherpa. Having started a blog back in 2003, Brian has gone on to win multiple awards, such as being listed among the Top 50 Sales blogs, the 15 Best B2B sales blogs for 2014, and many others. Brian was also the author of the book Lead Generation for the Complex Sale, whose subject matter we had the chance to delve into during the course of the interview.

About Brian Carroll

ML: To kick things off, how do you usually introduce yourself?

BC: My name is Brian Carroll and I am the Chief Evangelist for MECLABS Institute and MarketingSherpa. What does that mean? I work on building intentional relationships with people who are impacting and changing the broader marketing community.

ML: Let me ask about your title of “Chief Evangelist.” I have interviewed a number of people who have this title, and have even met Evangelists from Google in the past. It is an interesting field that I would say did not exist a few years ago. Besides what an Evangelist does, how does one measure the success of an Evangelist?

BC: Well, I think the biggest thing about being an Evangelist is really connecting and building relationships, be that customers, users, vendors, developers, or others in the broader community. It is about relationship building and community development. I think the first person that coined the term was Guy Kawasaki, who served as an Evangelist for the Macintosh computer.

ML: With Macintosh, Guy Kawasaki was trying to build a certain type of community. When you describe your community, is there a commonality among the people within it?

BC: The community we are trying to grow is marketers who are customers first. It ranges from researchers, who are researching what works in marketing, to authors, bloggers, speakers and people who are leaders of thought in the industry. Also, it is technology providers and vendors in the industry because they are an absolutely essential part of the equation as well. Marketers are in an amazing position to be change agents inside of their companies to actually help move company logic to customer logic. So the type of community we are looking to build is one of marketers who want to make a difference and impact on their companies. What they look at is, “Am I helping people? Is there a bigger purpose?” So what we are looking to do is have marketers come to MarketingSherpa looking for what really works. MarketingSherpa, which is owned by MECLABS Institute, is really about helping people understand why customers say “Yes” and helping marketers discover, within the mind of their customer, which things are getting in the way of their tipping process and how to help better connect.


About Lead Generation for the Complex Sale

ML: Let’s talk about your book Lead Generation for the Complex Sale. To those that are not familiar with your work, what is a complex sale?

BC: Most of my work previously was 100% business to business. What I realized is that the complex sale is anything that involves significant investments. It has more than one person involved in the decision-making process. Often, for a typical business to business sale, it can range from five to twenty-five people or more involved in the buying process, which can lead to a lot of pressure. For example, I’ve been part of programs where people are doing lead generation, but it is for multi-million dollar projects to do things like building energy management solutions. That is the complex sale.

ML: What motivated you to write the book and what keeps you engaged in this field eleven years later?

BC: I actually have been a follower and fan of MarketingSherpa since I started my blog in 2003. I was just writing about what I was learning in the broader community and couldn’t find a lot of resources. No one was really taking a holistic view of looking at lead generation, so I began writing from that angle. I think some of the key problems going on at the time, some of which are still happening today in sales and marketing, were challenges of alignment. At its core, lead generation is about connecting with customers, building relationships and alignment and not focusing on one particular tactic. Instead of a campaign approach, which is a military term, it’s about helping people, whether they be leads or prospects, as human beings and treating them as future customers.

I’m actually working to write a new revision of my book which will probably be a brand new book altogether. My focus is on all the complexity that has emerged with predictive analytics, big data and account-based marketing. With all these things coming together, how we can simplify this into a digestible strategy that companies can manage?

ML: You’ve mentioned that a lot of things have changed over the past ten years, whether that be predictive analytics, big data, etc. What is your view on all of these changes from a marketing standpoint?

BC: There’s an increasing amount of specialization that’s taking place because of the necessity of the various platforms and technologies. I was just interviewing another author who’s written a book called The Future of Marketing. What I heard from him, and this has been my own experience, is that marketers today have seen so much change happen that they themselves  are unsure what their job is anymore, much less, how to drive better success. I think there is a huge opportunity to focus less on the tactical and to have a lasting mindset that allows you to be agile. With this agility and mindset, the tactics need to be agile as well. The challenge as well as the opportunity here, and there’s a lot of opportunity for people in this space, is finding the human connection.

Marketing automation, for example, has enabled us to more effectively help and connect with other customers. But, what I often find is that we can more efficiently and effectively program our customers to emotionally unsubscribe and delete our emails more than ever before. We can put up forums and all kinds of different things, but what’s missing is that necessary connection to really understand what motivated that person to complete a form or attend an event or download. What I’m interested in exploring is: how do we take these tools and the technology, along with the changes happening in our customers as well, and connect in a more relevant and meaningful way?

ML: Big Data has been around for decades, but over the past few years has matured like you have pointed out. How do you think this is impacting what marketers are doing or should be doing?

BC: Big Data has been around a long time. What I would argue is we need less Big Data and more Smart Data and the problem that I see marketers facing is that a lot of the wisdom about their customers is in multiple databases. What we really need are people who can be data translators and turn Big Data into Smart Data. The most valuable information I find, and what marketers really need, is not necessarily the information to tell you what’s happened. The most important information is going to help you predict what is likely to happen. We have to connect with them in a way that is relevant and a lot of times we are not. Even if we didn’t have technology and had to get out of our offices and buildings and into the world of our customers, it is about reaching that wisdom.

ML: One more question relating to the book. Since the tactics are about winning a complex sale, do you have maybe two or three key items that, if we learn how to address internally, maybe our organizations will be better at closing complex sales?

BC: The biggest reason people lose complex sales is not because they lost to the competition. It is losing because the customer didn’t actually make a decision, and the status quo was quicker than making a decision. Look through the win/loss analysis to identify the problems and stuck points in order to understand every deal in your pipeline. This can be done pretty easily with review by sitting down with your sales force and doing a sales or pipeline review to understand what those stuck points are and understand the reasons why deals don’t close.

What I find is we think most of the buying happens in our customer’s mind when we are selling or when we are marketing to them. The truth is most of the buying happens when we aren’t even involved in the conversation, and the person or group of people are having that dialogue. How could you support the person who is being your champion or that change agent bringing those necessary changes? You are not just selling, you are actually helping someone manage change.

So that is what I would advise. Address the status quo, empower your customer to have the necessary and in some cases difficult conversations to engage and talk through the problems and the changes, and really move to be a facilitator in that discussion.


Advice for the Readers

ML: A lot of our readers ask for shortcuts such as,“How can we get 80% of value by doing maybe 20%?” Are there any reports or different metrics that you suggest organizations pay very close attention to?

BC: I would say there are three really important metrics, at least with lead generation, that I would pay attention to. The first is rather than looking at total engagements or the size of your database, look at the most relevant database. How many people or companies are you engaging that can buy from you? I call it your “ICP,” or your Ideal Customer Profile. That’s a huge metric.

Second, take all your responses, look at your core database and then look at how many of the marketing-qualified leads that you are generating fit your Ideal Customer Profile and your lead definition. Which serious positions created the waterfall that will become marketing and sales qualified?

The third metric is to track how many of those sales qualified leads convert to qualified opportunities. If you’re a user, you would measure your lead opportunity conversion rate and the resulting pipeline revenue. I find that if I can diagnose and understand inquiries, qualified leads, and qualified lead opportunities, those will give me a really good indication of inquiries that are a direct fit to the Ideal Customer Profile. That will give me a pretty good indication of the health of the overall pipeline. I would dive deeper into that.

ML: Lastly, what are one or two things you absolutely think organizations should stop doing when trying to close complex sales or build their sales processes?

BC: I actually see a huge problem with the notion of lead storing. For whatever reason, people are building lead-storing models that really don’t align with the definition of what their sales team would consider a sales lead. They are using lead storing to replace lead qualification. Lead storing is not part of qualifying leads. A lead is just a way to describe our own process.

The other thing is to remember customers. People don’t think of themselves as leads and targets. I think in changing the language of how we describe these future customers, we would treat these relationships and conversations differently as opposed to a replaceable resource.


You can visit Brian’s B2B Lead Blog or his book, Lead Generation for the Complex Sale: Boost the Quality and Quantity of Leads to Increase Your ROI.

Connect with him on LinkedIn or Twitter.

Also, you can visit MECLABS Institute or MarketingSherpa to check out the companies Brian works at.

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