SalesTechStar Interview with John Bruno, Vice President, Commerce Strategy at PROS
Creating a balanced product and marketing fit while addressing today’s sales and marketing challenges can be challenging sometimes; John Bruno, Vice President, Commerce Strategy at PROS shares a few tips in this chat:
Hi John, welcome to SalesTechStar! We’d love to hear about your journey through the years in tech…
My journey in the tech world has been somewhat of a winding road, constantly going back and forth from being hands-on with technology to driving strategy around it. In my current role, I straddle the line between marketing, go-to-market strategy, and product, but in the past, I’ve been the head of product for a SaaS eCommerce platform, an industry analyst, and advisor for the eCommerce and B2B sales technology markets. At one point, I even served internal technology roles like driving services operations for large publicly traded software companies. To put it simply, my passion is finding ways to solve the most difficult real-world problems with technology.
When it comes to product management in tech and B2B – we’d love to hear some of your best practices that have helped drive better results.
There’s a misconception that floats around product management — that being focused on customers and prospects will lead to great products. There’s often one additional step that’s required and it happens when product strategy meets company strategy. As a product leader you want to build products for markets, not necessarily for individual customers. But what market should you build for? To be successful, businesses need to create alignment on the definition of the market they are building for, what amount of white space exists to do something new or different, and a product strategy that marches in that direction even when competing forces try to pull you off course.
What are some of the biggest mistakes you still see leaders in B2B product strategy and management make?
Easily the biggest mistake I see product leaders make is reaching a solution too quickly. It’s always been my philosophy that product managers and product leaders should be experts in one thing above all: problems. Good product leaders need not obsess over solutions if they obsess over problems. The best solutions come from the best understanding of the most pressing and pervasive problems. When it comes time for creating solutions, there’s a much broader team responsible for defining the ultimate solution.
As sales and marketing trends evolve (and now more so because of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic); how do you feel B2B sales teams need to create experiences akin to a B2C experience to engage prospects and buyers?
When digital disrupted the B2C and retail worlds we saw a massive shift from high touch, personal interactions to self-led interactions. When that happened, retailers started focusing more on data and the signals they needed to better engage on the buyer’s terms. The same now holds true for B2B. Trying to engage with a B2B buyer before they are ready feels intrusive and unwanted. B2B sellers need to focus on advancing the buyer’s awareness and knowledge without being pushy, the same way an outdoor brand might email you a blog about how others use a product you’ve been looking at. Although not all buyers will require human-to-human engagement, knowing precisely when to engage is going to be the most sought-after skill of a salesperson.
How would you advise B2B sales teams to take better advantage of today’s shift in workplace trends and buying habits to win more meetings / clients?
B2B sellers—like their buyers—are going through a radical transformation. Sellers of the future will not look like your type-A, ABC (Always Be Closing) sellers. They’ll be ambiverts. They’ll be more data-driven and analytical, while still bringing great soft skills to build the human connection. This is going to require a new set of digital selling tools. These new tools will focus on data and insights, and they’ll surface intelligent recommendations in plain language that sellers can quickly turn into actions. The natural byproduct of this is a focus on quality over quantity, and sellers will be able to focus on the deals most likely to convert rather than hitting their number by more deals with lower likelihoods of conversion.
What are some of the biggest takeaways sales, marketing teams and business leaders should grab from this experience (and keep in mind for the long-term) after working and living through a global pandemic?
We have never seen such a radical shift in the ways business is conducted, and certainly we’ve never seen a shift happen so quickly. In fact, since the start of COVID-19, our research found that 37% of businesses are primarily purchasing through digital channels – up from 29% prior to the outbreak, and these numbers are expected to rise to 40% post-pandemic. Businesses should ask themselves what strategies they would put in place if they were starting their business from scratch. I fully expect most to say start with a digital-first mindset and support other customer journeys after that. Regardless of what the ‘new normal’ becomes, it will certainly not return to the pre-COVID environment, and businesses cannot afford to maintain their pre-COVID strategies.
Five best practices you’d share for sales and marketing leaders in 2021!
- Spend more time unpacking the customer buying journey and optimize for more self-service and digital engagement needs.
- Ensure at least 20% of sales and marketing goals are shared across teams.
- Social selling is great but building a digital identity is more important to make your remote buyers feel more connected.
- Make video your friend. From content to how you engage, use video to keep your business more human in a seemingly disconnected world.
- Only focus on your COVID story if you can rise above the abundance of bland platitudes with concrete brand promises about how you can uniquely help.
Your top sales tech / sales predictions for 2021…
2021 will be the first year that sales leaders look at buyer self-service technologies as part of their sales technology stack. The walls between internal departments of sales and eCommerce will start to come down as digital and sales leaders look to maximize the value of their shared technology investments. We’ve already started to see sellers leverage eCommerce platforms to create two-way engagement with their customers by making recommendations or walking them through the ordering process.
A parting thought on your biggest marketing/sales/ leadership goof-up and the learning that came from it!
(Perhaps not a goof up, but…) Leadership takes about 3x more work in a remote world. Teams need to feel personally connected to the strategy and direction. In a remote world, this often means reinforcing communications to the point where you will feel like they are beating a dead horse. As a former industry analyst, I’m conscious of how much I speak, and I’ve found myself saying something clearly to a broad group, only to see people go off in different directions. Attention spans are limited in a 100% remote environment. When it comes to creating and driving alignment, you know you’ve conveyed something the exact right amount when you feel like people are probably tired of hearing the same thing from you. They are not tired of it. They appreciate consistency and focus. Reinforce your direction and spend one on one time with individuals to make sure there is no daylight between strategy and execution.
PROS makes it possible for companies to price, configure and sell their products and services in an omnichannel environment with speed, precision, and consistency by providing AI-powered solutions that optimize selling in the digital economy. With PROS, you can meet customers’ needs when, where and how they want you to.
John is the Vice President, Commerce Strategy at PROS.