How We Sell – Allison Munro, Head of Sales and Marketing, Viafoura
If your product is subtly visible, like Viafoura’s is on the websites they power, you have a amazing mechanism for discovery. Buyers will naturally find your solution as they experience it on their peers’ and competitors’ sites.
However, this comes with a challenge, as that can create a perception of your offering that is more tactical than it should be, and the challenge to sellers is to guide the buyer to broaden their horizons.
I had the pleasure of sitting down with Allison Munro, Head of Sales and Marketing at Viafoura to discuss just that. She and her team are extremely thoughtful about how they grow their relationships with buyers in the media space from initial contact through to a broad engagement with their offering.
Here are Allison’s insights into how she sells:
Tell me a bit about Viafoura – what solution do you provide to the market?
Viafoura is an audience engagement platform. We bring a comprehensive suite of engagement tools that surface the audience intel to help media organizations build a direct relationship with their audience, while driving the KPIs that matter.
Who is the buyer for Viafoura? How do they find you originally?
With all of the changes in the industry, understanding our buyers and account type is very crucial to navigating, oftentimes, complex organizations to reach our buyer and help them understand how we can support their business challenges as well as the problems we solve across other sides of the business, like the newsroom.
While the media industry is changing, so is the digital landscape, at times forcing them to seek out a new solution that they can leverage to own their audience, data and content. Our prospects may be leveraging a free tool, which does not offer the seamless and integrated user experience, and in most cases, monetizes a media companies audience and data to free tools benefits, vs the publishers, as we’ve seen with tools like Facebook commenting for example.
There are big fish and legacy systems that exist today. We are a startup, so we need to introduce both our capabilities but also, our success in market. That starts by leveraging the trust we have in market through referenceable customers, on our site and in our case studies, while speaking to our audience in the format close to their heart’s, content, designed for each persona / business challenge, leveraging tools that help us get the timing and channel right.
Let’s drill in a bit on the buyer’s journey. What is the first point that they find you?
One significant flow of inbound interest comes from the customers we are already powering. Seeing our product live, in market, on another media brand’s online properties can give a good introduction to some of our user-facing capabilities. But, the true business challenges we solve are not apparent in the end user product, which is why demonstrating the strategic and longer term business value is where our sales and customers success teams are focused.
The media space is also quite collaborative right now as they are competing more against third party platforms, like Facebook, than they are against each other at the moment. Being a vertically focused product, existing relationship and customer satisfaction is crucial to our success. Like in any vertical, there are leaders in the space that are change makers, who make decisions, move fast, test and repeat. Having had the chance to work with these individuals as they network within their industry or move on to other media companies, our relationships go a long way, as they share references on technologies they have had success with.
We also have a significant outbound program that gets us in front of our audience on a regular basis. Again, leveraging our in market success that we tell stories around based on specific challenges and type of media brand to ensure our content is targeted and relevant.
When they discover your commenting solution on another website, does that then pigeon-hole the buyer’s perception of you as a very niche, tactical solution? How do you educate that buyer on the strategic value of Viafoura when they start with that viewpoint?
There is, at times a longer road to education. When a prospect comes to our site after discovering us on another media property, like the very media companies we support, we have to ensure the pain points we know they are experiencing in their role and area of interest is addressed. We are currently working on personalizing our website by persona and media type to help with this delivery. Often times, we have to broaden their perspective on what is possible and how Viafoura can make it happen. This is not an industry that has spent many years focused on driving digital outcomes, so frameworks and best practices are key to our solution selling. As one example, we have an MIT/Sloan report that talks about converting site visitors into subscribers. That story then gives us an opportunity to inject messaging about various aspects of our platform and how they fit into the strategic picture that the MIT/Sloan report has introduced.
We’ve worked with academics, thought leaders, other journalists and not-for-profits in the industry to introduce new ways of thinking about direct engagement with audiences. That conversation needs to start before we introduce Viafoura.
You mentioned that the industry feels a little bit under siege. Yet, they are competitive with each other in a way. What motivates them to tell their peers about their success with Viafoura?
In the past, media companies were focused on discovery; find and consume my content, and maybe click back to the site. We know the highest bounce rates are those who visit media sites through social media and most times, when surveyed, readers don’t even know the source from which the content was read. With the challenges faced today, our prospects are much more focused on retention, loyalty and trust, especially in light of the ongoing changes across 3rd party platforms, including algorithmic changes, fake news and similar topics. These changes have created a more cooperative mind set amongst the industry as they come together to support the industry as a whole, with a focus to build a direct relationship with their local or trusted news source/media brand.
Other industries have been very focused on building and owning a direct relationship with their audience across digital channels and now, media groups are catching up in their effort to deliver content but also moving away from a broadcast model to a two relationship that users have come to expect as they invest their money, time and attention to a brand, which can lead to a number of distinct challenges, each of which we have solutions to within the Viafoura platform, but that obviously leads to a more complex sales process.
What are some of the factors that make a referral more or less likely from within the network of media execs?
There are both individuals and also brands in the referral network that are much more important in terms of their propensity to refer us in, and also in terms of the network’s propensity to want to emulate them. The Washington Post, for example, will create some innovative opportunities for engagement that our customers will look to model in a more cost-effective and supported way through pre-packaged SaaS solutions.
There are also individual industry veterans, like Kim Fox, now Managing Editor at Philly.com, who is a well recognized thought leader within the media industry. Having her voice, within our space, helps provide a lot of awareness in the industry forum of what is possible, both from a practices as well as technology perspective and how the media industry can compete and thrive.
Given the changes in media, there are also a number of “change agents” who are coming into media from other industries, and with other backgrounds. They are bringing new ideas on how their organizations can better engage with their audiences, and are not constrained by media’s history of being a broadcast-type industry. Those voices are often well listened to as they have interesting and novel points of view, especially around how technology can be used to address certain industry challenges.
How do you identify those change makers?
We’ll look at a number of factors. One important one is job changes where someone comes from another industry and joins a media organization that we know has the challenges but does not yet have the tools to solve those challenges.
What happens once you identify a node in the network that is likely to be powerful in terms of referenceability?
One thing that we’ve noticed recently, by looking at the data on our conversion rates for a new thought leadership marketing asset, is that the conversion rate varies significantly by relationship strength. We measure the relationship strength with Nudge and were able to split our analysis between new relationships and relationships with strength. The conversion rate in the group with strong relationships was much higher. It’s intuitive, but the data showed it very clearly.
Because of that, we’ve modified our approach to focus on relationship-building first, before attempting to move the conversation towards sales.
Was the sales team open to that change in thinking?
Marketing has built a lot of air cover on accounts, and we put a lot of effort into matching pain points to personas. Historically, however, once sales got ahold of the contact it was an aggressive push towards booking a meeting. We did an experiment where we split the sales team into two test groups; one group we kept the current process, and the other group we focused on first bringing value to the relationship.
The group that had focused on relationship-building converted at a much higher rate than the ones where we’d pushed hard to get time in their calendar from the start.
What are some of the pieces of value that you add to the relationship at the start?
We are a data-focused organization. This gives us an ability to bring very precise relevant case studies to them, for example on similar organizations reached their goals, and sometimes a step before that where we work to establish these goals and provide the best practices and technology to get there. And this demonstrates the importance of the relationship between or revenue team, spanning marketing, sales and customer success. Together, we build case studies that are valuable to that prospect regardless of whether they become a customer, and the narrative of the case study will often expose challenges that they may not have been thinking about. Similarly, building onboarding kits and guides, along with health checks that ensure we are able to demonstrate our joint success and ROI.
We are often talking to professionals who are very motivated to continually become better at what they do. When they see best-of-breed approaches and ideas, they are able to take their product and team to the next level. We want to be that partner in audience engagement, and we continually ask ourselves how we are helping people change the way they work. We ask that throughout the buying journey, even in its earliest stages, long before they’ve become a Viafoura customer.
Thank you Allison, your insights are super helpful!