How to Use Content Marketing to Support Your Sales Team

Improving your sales team’s effectiveness is an ongoing process. Content marketing can help. In fact, content is no longer a nice-to-have. For most marketers, it’s a must-have. Here’s why.

Improving your sales team’s effectiveness is an ongoing process. Content marketing can help. In fact, content is no longer a nice-to-have. For most marketers, it’s a must-have. Here’s why.

Content IS Your Sales Team

For starters, today’s buyers are typically far into their decision-making journey before they invite a salesperson into the conversation. So for the first three-quarters of that journey, your content marketing is a proxy for your sales team. If it’s not demonstrating your expertise and its applicability to the problem they’re trying to solve, you will never be in the running for serious consideration by your prospects.

Being in the running isn’t really our goal, though. We want to make the short list and, ultimately, win the business. For that, content can again ride to the rescue, setting the stage for the late-funnel work that your actual sales team will do.

The question is, what kind of content will do that? Content that is optimized to attract your audience, is structured to create a story that engages your audience, and which asks the questions that will move your audience toward a decision.

Optimizing Your Content Marketing

For your content marketing to work well, you have to know who will be reading it and what their objectives are. Your content has to address the challenges they are facing and understand what their status quo looks like.

That last bit is key because your competition is not just the other firms with whom you trade account wins and losses; it’s inertia. If you can’t create a case that points to real business improvements gained by changing what they’re doing now, you won’t lose the sale to your competitors. There simply won’t be a sale.

Story Follows Research

Once you’ve done the research that helps ensure you’re speaking the using the right language and addressing the right issues, you must get their attention and get them engaged. This is not a time for same-old, same-old. It’s time for constructing a narrative that brings your value proposition to life.

Data can support your story, but the human and emotional aspect is what resonates with even the most analytical audience. Make them feel the decision they’re about to make and let the data support that feeling.

Ask and Answer

Finally, it’s question time. You should be ready to ask questions that will move your prospect toward the next step on their buying journey. And you should be prepared to answer the questions that you know (from your research) are top of mind for prospects at each stage.

Whether your content answers those questions or your sales team does will depend on the questions and on the nature of the prospect and the sale. Either way, strong content is an important part of giving your sales team the best chance for making the most of the opportunities your marketing creates.

How B2B CMOs Can Give Panicked Salespeople Answers Instead of Discounts

Seasoned CMOs have all experienced it. A downturn in business happens, the sales team is flailing and not hitting their numbers, and the sales EVP comes to the CMO and asks for one or more items.

Seasoned CMOs have all experienced it. A downturn in business happens, the sales team is flailing and not hitting their numbers, and the sales EVP comes to the CMO and asks for one or more items.

  • Some immediate lead generation campaigns offering specific discounts, or new discounted product bundles or free service offers to serve as door openers
  • Inexpensive customer upgrades or similar offers at a lower than normal prices
  • Mega-incentive offers for referrals or partner-sourced deals

The right response to these drop-everything-else-and-focus-on-these requests is “No … but … ”

Before we review the counter-offers to the sales VP, let’s quickly review why immediately saying “yes” is a bad idea.

Why ‘Yes’ Is a Bad Idea

If your customer value proposition rests heavily on product leadership, you will do your brand, and all future average selling price (ASP) values, a terrible disservice if you suddenly decide to offer discounts or temporary product and service bundles at lower prices.

You will be assuring the market that you are not in fact a product leader and your value proposition is more about prices. You open the door to being compared to the inferior product that owns the low-price part of the market.

There is nothing wrong with Wal-Mart’s “Save Money. Live Better.” Or its older slogan “Always Low Prices.” If that represents your primary value proposition and you have designed your firm to operate that way profitably, carry on. However, if you designed your firm to focus on product leadership, attempting to switch strategy to meet a short-term sales shortfall will fail in the long run.

In the short term, it might stimulate some deals to come in sooner at lower margins than they would have later. In the long term, you will have undermined your brand attributions and you’ll be forced to discount more often.

The same logic applies to firms whose value proposition rests heavily on customer intimacy. If you switch value propositions in a crunch, people will question your commitment. Four Seasons’ slogan “Experience Four Seasons” is never threatened by surprise discounts because hotel occupancy is low.  Nordstrom Inc. created the sub-brand “Nordstrom Rack” to address this issue: “Nordstrom Rack is the off-price retail division of Nordstrom Inc.”

Discounting a price is a sales tactic, not a marketing tactic. In B2B, it is best used in one-to-one settings with clients. When you ask marketing to broadcast it to many prospects, it becomes a strategy. Be ready.

A second major issue to saying “yes” to the sales team for these requests is that it leads them to believe that it will result in enough good deals to see you through the downturn. If, for the past three years, you have been trying to educate Sales on the idea that the buyer is in control of the buying journey, and we need to plan and nurture a pipeline of early opportunities, why would you suddenly capitulate, set aside nurturing campaigns in mid-flight, and launch a Hail Mary campaign? Don’t say “yes” to appease the sales team, if you know it will damage the business.

Why ‘No, But’ Is the Right Answer

So how do you respond? First, take the customer perspective. What is causing the downturn? Is it industrywide, or just your firm? Is it the economy? Is it in multiple regions and affecting multiple product lines? What are the customers telling you by delaying their purchases? Or are they simply buying elsewhere? In the event it is a downturn experienced by you and your competitors, there are things you can do to stimulate sales.

Assuming the customers are still buying something and simply not spending at the same level as usual, the new value proposition to the customers in the downturn must be based on why their shrinking budget is best allocated to your products and services in the downturn — that the benefits you bring will help them more in the downturn and stimulate the topline of their business more than anything else. It somehow readies them for the economic recovery and will help them outpace their competitors when the recovery starts.

Perhaps their reduction in spending is tied to their business slowing down, in which case they may have plenty of staff bandwidth to handle change, re-tool and learn new skills. This could be the perfect time to implement new products, services and processes.

Marketing does more than help the sales team sell more. We help prospects and customers buy more. We take the sales request to help them sell more and turn it into the question: “In these circumstances, how can I message customers to help them buy more?”

“No … but … ” can mean “I really don’t want to support a campaign that simply offers discounts, as that will cost us in the long run. But how about we run a campaign that highlights why our products and services have an even stronger value proposition in an economic downturn and list the benefits thereof?”

There are other times when the business is best served by demand generation marketing saying “no … but … ” For instance, when Sales wants to expand into a new market or go down market with no research or planning to determine if that is a good idea. In that case, a great CMO response is, “No, we really shouldn’t launch demand generation efforts for that market yet, but what we can do is some market research and competitive research and determine if we should put a focus there, how much it will cost to break in, do we have suitable products and services, and will it impact our current positioning and messaging, etc.”

So, under what circumstances have you said “no … but … ” to Sales? How did that work out for you?

Sales Email Tracking Software: Is It Worth It?

Sales reps are under pressure to track and report: Dials, calls, meetings, email sends and open rate. Not to forget, email clickthrough and download rates. All tracked by sales email tracking software. But is all this tracking worth it?

Sales reps are under pressure to track and report: Dials, calls, meetings, email sends and open rate. Not to forget, email clickthrough and download rates. All tracked by sales email tracking software. But is all this tracking worth it?

If yes, how do we know? Why? Says who?

Certainly software vendors espouse the benefits of knowing X, Y and Z data. Tools like ToutApp, HubSpot, MixMax, Yesware and outreach.io. But what sales outcomes are generated better thanks to sales email tracking software?

More importantly, what behavior does all this measuring encourage among sellers? Is tracking software good for sellers, considering the outcome demanded of them? (sales conversations)

The Problem With Sellers as Marketers

Sales reps are increasingly being held accountable for marketing statistics. This is problematic. Because measuring B2B inside- or field-sellers against marketing outcomes encourages them to write, speak and act like marketers.

Email tracking is a key culprit.

Here’s the rub: Sellers, by definition, need to start conversations with customers. Starting early-stage C and VP level discussions demands superior B2B sales communication skills.

Not marketing skills.

If we’ve learned anything in the last few years it’s this!

Too often our sales-focused communications practice sees reps sending pure marketing-speak within email (and voicemail) messages. Results are close to zero on the sales outcome side.

In the words one client:

“Our Inside Sales team is nothing more than virtual assistants who push marketing messages in hopes of setting meetings for reps. Lead quality is so poor I’m not taking any more appointments from our Inside team.”

This trend gets to the problem with social selling: It’s not. It’s social marketing.

Personal branding. Engaging with insights. Being seen by customers as a thought leader. In theory it sounds great. In practice, sellers are pushing marketing messages at customers. These marketing ideas are hurting sellers’ ability to start conversations with customers.

All because of how sellers communicate with clients.

B2B customers are not on social media waiting to be sold to. And if they are they’re already being marketed to by marketing teams! They know what a marketing message sounds like and don’t need any more of them.

The Truth About Sales Email Tracking

I question the validity of encouraging sellers to write in ways that earn downloads and opens … at the cost of earning replies and client conversations. Sales email tracking software encourages sellers to behave like marketers. This is counter-productive to generating sales outcomes.

Tracking quantitative stats is one of many lousy ideas being foisted upon sellers the last five to 10 years by “experts” who have something “new” to sell.

I’m not saying these tools aren’t good. Yes, they are useful. But the way they’re being applied is wholly irresponsible in many cases.

Like social selling, sales email tracking software tools are discouraging good sellers from trusting their instincts as good communicators. Good communications doesn’t scale very well.

Likewise, this marketing-focused tracking teaches inexperienced sellers to push marketing messages. All in hopes of achieving greater marketing outcomes!

This only hurts reps’ ability to earn replies and start client conversations. If I didn’t see so many sellers and sales organizations struggling to earn conversations with clients I might feel otherwise.

Marketing isn’t evil. It’s just not appropriate in a sales context. There is a difference between sales and marketing automation. Respect it.

The Problem With Sales ‘Campaigns’

Marketing is creeping into sales. Modern, digital (yet under-performing) sales forces create “campaigns.” They use email tracking software to measure opens, clickthrough rates (to links within emails), download rates (offers within emails).

Sales reps send campaign emails that include “opt out” links. Opt out links? Yes. So the customer can opt out of the “campaign.” The campaign?

Trouble is, most outbound sales email sequences feel like campaigns to customers. The moment a rep’s emails feel like part of a mass emailed sequence he/she is done. It’s over. You get marked as spam. Not to mention not getting replied to.

Sales email sequences are reading too much like newsletters potential clients haven’t subscribed to. Clients generally opt in to receive marketing newsletters. But they don’t choose to get cold emails. Thus, marketing-esque email copy ends up feeling like spam.

Increasingly, poorly executed marketing copywriting — shoved into sales reps’ automated campaign emails–drives customers to mark sellers’ messages as spam. This damages web domain reputations of sending organizations.

Another example: Focusing on tracking tools encourages sellers to sabotage their messages’ deliverability and readability. I cannot tell you how many sellers sabotage themselves by attaching PDF documents to cold email messages.

Sellers push value at customers who don’t ask for it. Reps create calls-to-action when they only serve to repulse customers. And sellers begin to make ill-informed outreach decisions based on data that is, actually, highly unreliable.

Email Open Tracking Is Unreliable

Here’s my biggest beef. Email tracking software is being used by most sales teams to in ways that tempt us to turn bad data into facts that are not facts at all.

Open tracking technology is imperfect; at times wholly unreliable. In theory, knowing if and how often the email is opened is great. But in practice your tracking software may not see “opens” from prospects who have opened. Likewise, many tools report a client “opened” when they have not opened. Technical reasons why include:

1. The recipient isn’t connected to the Internet.

2. Some mobile phones and email clients download images by default. A 1×1 pixel image is used by tracking tools. Consequence: even if the recipient has not opened the message, you will see it as a false positive — “opened.”

3. Some web-based email clients, corporate email clients and Android-powered phones block images by default. Consequence: even if the recipient opens the message, the sender’s server doesn’t count the email message as being opened.

Breaking Away

If all of this email tracking seems common to you, yes, it is. But organizations on the leading edge are quietly breaking away from the pack… training sellers to act like sales people, not marketers.

And they’re reaping rewards.

I get it. We want to fulfill a reasonable urge. We want to know if sending an outbound email message is reaching a recipient or not. But at what point do marketing-rooted desires like this (in aggregate) get in the way of a sales teams’ ability to generate more sales outcomes?

What is your experience lately?

6 Strategies for Medicare AEP Marketing Success

What makes for a successful AEP goes beyond strategy, beyond creative and goes beyond media. It delves deep into an effective team, working well together. Collaboration toward a common goal doesn’t happen by accident.

The leaves have changed into radiant hues and have begun to drop, football season is in full swing, and we’re already deep into Fall. Over dozens of Medicare Marketing AEP seasons, healthcare marketers have come to view Fall from a different lens. And now we’re in the middle of the Medicare Annual Election Period.

What makes for a successful AEP goes beyond strategy,  beyond creative and goes beyond media. It delves deep into an effective team, working well together. Collaboration toward a common goal doesn’t happen by accident.

In our experience, working with many clients, AEP success comes from a combination of at least six dynamics. Simply stated:

1.) Planning — There. I said it. While this may sound basic, every year as the Medicare Marketing landscape changes, it slows down even the fastest among us. Time and again we’ve seen how rallying EARLY around the metrics you’ve achieved for the AEP and marrying them with strategic trends in the market can be crucial to success. Why?

After the planning comes the real work. Timing is everything is a cliché for good reason. So much happens early in the season. We know that Medicare beneficiaries who are open to switching made up their minds months ago that would do so. And as of Oct. 1, they were flush with opportunities to do so. Backing into that timing and making “early” your priority is easier than it sounds. But you can do it.

2.) Collaboration — Boiled down, direct marketing equals sales! When AEP sales and marketing teams work closely together, fireworks can happen. Information sharing is a two-way street.

Based on their first-hand knowledge of the competitive landscape, sales teams have a unique perspective that can benefit creative. Face it, when themes persist in their work on the front line — they translate well into messaging.

The same cohesion is required to ensure that sales makes the most out of the opportunities that are generated by your marketing team. Sharing information early and often with materials and other resource will help to prepare the call center for the work you’ve invested so much in.

3.) Reporting — Determining what metrics matter for your AEP is the first step. Then put in the plan to make sure you can do it. In all of our years of AEP campaigns, I can confidently say that this can happen. But also, that it doesn’t always happen by flipping a switch. Be sure to ask for what you want while there is still time to figure it out!

4.) Optimization — CMS rules and timing don’t really allow much in the way of creative flexibility “on the fly”. But once you are underway there is still much magic to be spun through optimization. Regular analysis of your media  and a mechanism for acting on it can make or break your performance. Don’t just “set it and forget it”.

5.) Embrace the Details — As I read this blog and compare it with the hard work of the season it makes me realize that so often success is in the details. The every single day details that we chase down to get right.

6.) Partnership — Partnering with the right agency can make all the difference. Look for follow-through. Look for energy. Look for experts!

Finally, remember that your goals are not met by AEP alone. Let’s get busy on making the most of the rest of the year.

A Popular Sales Email Best Practice to Avoid

Misrepresentation in cold email outreach and social selling is rampant. In fact, it’s becoming a mainstream idea. The result is a popular, yet ineffective, sales email best practice among inside sales teams.

Misrepresentation in cold email outreach and social selling is rampant. In fact, it’s becoming a mainstream idea. The result is a popular, yet ineffective, sales email best practice among inside sales teams.

I’m talking about blatant lying. Faking sincere interest in a prospect as a means to tricking them into a self-centered pitch and/or meeting request.

“What’s the biggest challenge you have as a vendor or service provider?” asks sales trainer, Scott Channell, in a recent blog post.

His answer: Your prospects don’t trust you.

“They have been on the receiving end of too many exaggerations and lies,” says Channell, who then asks, “How much sincerity do you have to fake to earn trust?”

Think this isn’t happening in your organization or daily practice? It may be.

What It Looks Like

“Hey, Jeff. Love what you’re doing at Communications Edge …”

Reality: The seller knows nothing about what my business is doing lately.

“Hi Jeff, I am very interested in what you are doing and wanted to invite you to combine forces to help your business have more exposure …”

Reality: In most cases, the sales rep is not interested in what I’m doing. Because they have no idea what I’m doing. The rep is interested in creating the illusion of interest … all aimed at earning my gullible response.

“Hi Jeff, I came across your website this weekend and was really impressed by your expertise. I was wondering if you had ever thought about teaching online? I think you could teach a great marketing class …”

Reality: The rep is not impressed. Because they’ve not examined my expertise. I’ve been teaching online for years. That fact is obvious if you invest 10 to 15 seconds in noticing. This seller could not be impressed by my expertise without noticing that fact.

Why do I mark such messages as spam, so quickly? Why are your potential customers doing the same?

Because I’ve made myself vulnerable once too many times. So have your customers.

We’re being trained by sellers to distrust sellers.

Saying whatever is needed to trick prospects into speaking is, currently, fair game. It’s a sales email “best practice.” Insincerity is, right now, a mainstream component of sales prospecting culture. So what’s the big deal?

Do Your Emails Reek of Insincerity?

Making ourselves vulnerable cuts both ways. It’s the open, kind thing to do when receiving an email appearing to be genuine. Offering consideration to anyone who asks for it, especially the sincere, is smart. Humans are programmed to naturally think positively — maintain an “abundance mentality.”

But trick me three or more times and shame on me! Hence, we all learn to distrust sellers who exploit our willingness to be vulnerable. Because it takes too much effort to sort the truly sincere from the (fake) “sincere.”

In the end, sales (and your brand) earns a bad reputation.

“Buyers have seen it all,” says Channell.

“As soon as they sense a whiff of insincerity, or that their time is being wasted, you are done. And for those that do agree to speak, the no-show rates (to meetings) are high and the closing rates are low.”

“Your closing rate is going to be lower when you start the relationship faking genuine concern and interest or rely on gimmicks. That sales relationship is built on sand.”

Lies? Misrepresentation? Surely this could not be true in your situation.

But if your inside sales team practices activity based selling (ABS) you may have reason to pause.

Most inside sales teams are becoming defacto marketers — ramping up activity “touch points” to scale outreach. More meetings or demos demand more emails, voicemails … more outreach.

This is leading to a dangerous need: Looking sincere, authentic and relevant to large numbers of people using mass email.

But is your sincerity being seen for what it actually is? (insincere)

The Problem With Activity Based Selling

The ABS culture, mentality and practice is all about the numbers. ABS helps managers know how many proposals it takes to get one deal… and how many meetings are required for a proposal… and, thus, how many calls and emails must be sent for one meeting.

With ABS, success is reduced to squeezing more activities out of inside sales reps. But there’s a hidden problem emerging: Communications techniques reps are resorting to when communicating “at scale.”

Lying. Insincerity.

Indeed, how much sincerity do you have to fake to earn trust?

To be fair cold emailing prospects isn’t about earning trust. It’s about earning a response. I get that. But how effective is it to earn replies using an insincere advance?

What kind of conversations can you expect? In my experience you may earn conversations with unsuspecting prospects. But once you engage in honest discussion (revealing your trickery) they quickly back out of the “conversation.”

Have you ever traded emails (or LinkedIn messages) with someone and suddenly realized, “hey… wait a minute, this isn’t about me after all… this ‘conversation’ is purely about them! They tricked me into listening to a sales pitch!”

Let’s set aside the issue of sabotaging one’s ability to close deals. How many times does it take for prospects to learn the pattern—becoming skeptical about all all inbound emails they receive?

A Sales Email Best Practice That Isn’t

“I talked to a team last week who was sending automated emails on their first touch and getting a 1.5% reply rate,” says Ryan O’Hara, VP or Marketing at LeadIQ.

“I asked the sales manager, ‘Hey … why are you guys doing something that only works 1.5% of the time?’ … they told me… ‘We need to hit our activity goal.’”

“We ran our numbers across the entire sales team and the results showed that we have to do 150 activities a day to hit our stretch goal for the year. We need each sales rep to get one or two good responses a day … to hit their quota of 10 opps per month.”

Not surprisingly, O’Hara reports the sales team had a 4.8% unsubscribe rate. The client was pushing more people out of their funnel than putting in.

Examine your sales communications technique today for any faux sincerity and misrepresentation. Seek and destroy!

Selling Is Hard. 1 Easy Thing Can Make the Difference

Not going to lie. Selling is hard. Marketing your product or service to convert better than another brand is just plain difficult, as so much advertising sounds and feels and looks the same.

Not going to lie. Selling is hard. Marketing your product or service to convert better than another brand is just plain difficult, as so much advertising sounds and feels and looks the same. Add that to the harsh reality that the minor differences between brands offering similar products and services often don’t mean much to those discriminating buyers on the other side of the screen, conference table or phone.

And all of the “tricks of the trade” marketers use, like discounts, free gifts and compelling content, are the same tricks the old dogs have been using for many years. And they just don’t move buyers to action all that much anymore.

So what’s a marketer with a big sales lead quota to meet every month to do?

Stop Selling

Stop selling and start persuading. I’m not talking about persuasion in a manipulative sense that relies on one’s ability to master a carefully crafted telemarketing script that gets people to believe promises and sign up for an offer that often seems to be good to be true — because it is. I’m referring to persuasion in a natural sense, which involves influencing people to believe you, trust you and give you a chance because you are real, and really honest, reflecting the kind of person people see themselves to be vs. reflecting a polished sales rep with an arsenal up their sleeve.

If you Google “persuasion for selling,” you’ll get many lists of proven and best-practice persuasion skills from all the ”authorities” like Entrepreneur, Inc., Forbes and more. These include things like “playing hard to get, talking the talk of their industry, establishing authority and using words that make you seem trustworthy.” True, these telemarketing words may influence some to engage in a sales journey with you and your company, but there’s another big factor that persuades people to act on your offers even better: Transparency.

Everywhere we go, we are bombarded with marketing messages telling us if we do or buy something, we will be better. Be it prettier, richer, sexier, faster, smarter and so on. Yet so little of those advertising promises really come true. That form-fitting black dress just doesn’t look the same on the average Size 14 body as it does on the not-so-average Size 2 of the model in the ad. And when the dressing room mirror doesn’t lie, we end up leaving with negative feelings about ourselves and often about the store or brand associated with our missed expectations.

What does leave us with positive feelings that leave us trusting, believing and open to buying is when marketers, salespeople, brands, and stores create realistic expectations and are not shy about discussing the realities that many of us don’t want to face. A good example of this is Target. Instead of just showing models with zero body fat in swimsuits on in-store billboards, the brand shows women who look like many of their shoppers. Women who wear a Size 10, 12, 14 — because they have a few bulges that show when wearing a bikini. And at Target, these bulges show in larger-than-life photos at the point of sale, unashamed and unabashed.

In B2B, transparency rules. When we admit our flaws and imperfections, we are more approachable and most importantly, believable. Unconsciously, the mental wall or defenses break down among consumers when they listen to people who have flaws, have experienced failures just like we do and have. No one wants to surround themselves with perfect people and, thus, live with the pressure of being perfect, too; or the suspicion that perhaps that marketer or salesperson is not as good as they claim to be or is selling them promises they know will be broken. We do want to align with people who have ups and downs, successes and failures, just like we do.

One of my favorite examples of transparency in selling comes from Cam Conklin, VP of global sales and marketing at Innovatus Imaging, a leader in the medical device space. His approach is simply:

“I won’t promise to get everything right 100% of the time. But I will promise to fix any issues or problems on our part 100% of the time.”

By being real and never over-promising, Conklin opens doors other can’t.

Beyond Conklin’s example and sales philosophy, here are some tips for increasing transparency:

  • Sales Is Hard. Tell Those Stories: Every person and every brand has stories; some good and some not so good. As you tell your stories of success and how wonderful your brand is, tell stories about what it took to get there. What are some of the hurdles your company had to overcome to get to place of success you currently enjoy. A story of how your customer satisfaction rates were once in the 80s and what you did to get them in the 90s tells a customer many things about you. For one, your company doesn’t settle for “good enough,” but rather works hard to improve. Second, your company cares about customers and making them happy. And three, your company is willing to invest money in creating better experiences vs. just paying off shareholders and increasing executive bonuses.
  • Project vs. Promise: Ask any purchaser in any industry, and you’ll likely hear that their greatest frustrations include the hype and over-promises of sales executives. Over-promising doesn’t just occur in promising big returns like 90% success rates, record turn-times for repairs or services that maybe you achieved once but can’t duplicate consistently, and so on. It happens with the words you use. Do you promise or predict outcomes? Or do you project the possibilities according to real statistics from real customers? We are okay when economic analysts or politicians project certain outcomes, as we know that they may or may not happen and that they are projecting from statistically valid data that may or may not represent a trend. If marketing and salespeople share statistics and data that support projections for outcomes vs. implied promises like “All of my clients have achieved 100% increases in growth since hiring me,” chances are, they will achieve better outcomes.
  • Admit Your Failures, Because Selling Is Hard: Instead of trying to paint yourself as the poster child for a perfect account executive, and deliverer of all that your prospective client seeks, be real. Sales is hard. Admit when you have failed, discuss why, and describe what you did to fix the problem. My example: As a consultant, I have always achieved substantial increases in response and revenue generated from my psychology-based marketing campaigns tested against controls. Except for once. I broke even vs. delivering the triple-digit increase I implicitly set up as the expectation for my test. My failure was in trying to fix something that wasn’t broken. I took a marketing campaign that wasn’t failing and tried to elevate it when, in reality, the customer target didn’t need anything more to decide to purchase it or not. I learned a key lesson: If it’s not broken, don’t try to fix it. And learn to walk away when something or someone really doesn’t need your help.

To the above point, walking away is hard to do, as we are wired to compete and win business. Yet walking away pays off. You don’t set yourself up to fail, you can focus your resources on other opportunities, and you gain a higher level of respect from the target client who, in turn, may hire you just because they have discovered just how much they can trust you. We all hear stories of how David Ogilvy would walk out of a business pitch for a new advertising account if he discovered the competitors’ ideas were better than his. Takes a lot of guts to do that. And clearly, as Ogilvy has ruled the agency world for decades, this level of transparency did not hurt his sales or his legacy.

As you develop marketing and sales strategies, presentations and supporting marketing messages, take a step back and do an in-depth “reality” check. Dare to face your failings, not just your strengths, admit your limits and boundaries, and build your messaging around what’s real for and your clients.

In the end, we are only as good as our successes. And how we learn and help others learn from our failures.

Tapping the Psychology of Fun for Sales and ROI

Tapping the psychology of fun for sales and ROI takes work, because sometimes we marketers are so close to the trees, we can’t see the forest. Such is often the case with building customer experiences and journeys. It’s easy to download the latest template for mapping out each response to potential questions or needs along the customers pathway to “yes” and lifetime loyalty. And while that is critical for maintaining consistent touchpoints with a brand, it’s not where customer experience stops — or starts, for that matter.

Tapping the psychology of fun for sales and ROI takes work, because sometimes we marketers are so close to the trees, we can’t see the forest. Such is often the case with building customer experiences and journeys. It’s easy to download the latest template for mapping out each response to potential questions or needs along the customers pathway to “yes” and lifetime loyalty. And while that is critical for maintaining consistent touchpoints with a brand, it’s not where customer experience stops — or starts, for that matter.

Consumers are drawn to brands that make them smile, giggle or feel something beyond the routine by surprising them with creative experiences beyond any expectations. It’s not just experiences — like Apple’s Genius Bar and concierge style of selling — it’s little things that truly are delightful, fun and memorable. And its these little things that have a big impact.

Consider something as simple as this:

Every year, the charming town of Frisco, Colo., holds it annual BBQ challenge — featuring dozens of chefs, all competing for the People’s Choice award for best BBQ dish served. Most restauranteurs roll their retail trailers onto Main Street and set up their mobile kitchens in hopes of luring the crowd and getting votes for best brisket, ribs, pork and more. And to all the thousands of visitors roaming the streets for tasting and fun, they all look and smell the same. Except for one: The Golden Toad.

psychology of fun: golden toad
Credit: Jeanette McMurtry

Rather than just set up a food station and hope a colorful trailer and fun logo draw the crowds, the Golden Toad cooks up a crowd by making its food station about fun — not just food. Throughout the event, employees play fun, energizing music from their cook station, which is set up like a stage so people can see their chefs at work. And throughout each day, those same chefs take to the streets, playing air band with guitar-size spatulas, rallying attention — which quickly results in the longest line of all. They engage the crowd in their fun, too. They hand out those supersized grill spatulas to young kids and invite them to join their jam, sharing the fun and delighting parents who get to see their kids doing something beyond the routine, too. Its fun. Its contagious and it drives sales volume and People’s Choice votes, earning them this coveted honor many times over.

psychology of fun: Golden Toad's long lines
Credit: Jeanette McMurtry

Golden Toad doesn’t stop there, either. Once its attention-grabbing dance band draws a crowd for the performance and the food line, the commitment to making the customer experience positive and entertaining continues at a place most marketers neglect: the line for products or services. It’s no new news that we consumers are impatient and tend to abandon a purchasing mission if we get bored or antsy waiting in a long line. Golden Toad owners, “Toad” and Sara Jilbert counter this very real issue by installing a TV camera in their trailer, next to the cashiers, tuned strategically to whatever local sports are in play at the time. As a result, Golden Toad minimizes line abandonment from the consumers it drew with its fun, entertaining experience.

The psychology of fun and entertainment is real and needs to be front-and-center in all customer experiences for all brands. Wikipedia’s definition of “fun” includes the following insights:

“Fun is an experience often unexpected, informal or purposeless. It is an enjoyable distraction, diverting the mind and body from any serious task or contributing an extra dimension to it.”

We consumers live stressful lives. We need diversions from the stress of daily routines and the stress of shopping; especially when there are many choices to make, such as a huge BBQ challenge that lines several blocks on Main Street, USA. Little things that entertain and free our minds of routine energy and help ease our choices through fun diversions work. They work for all brands and in all industries. And they can work for you. All it takes is some imagination. Volkswagen, a few years ago, created a series of experiments and corresponding videos, called The Fun Theory. showing how behavior is changed for the better by adding fun to routine activities, such as choosing stairs over an escalator and using a bottle recycling station over a landfill-bound trash can. For example, by turning stairs into a musical keyboard, there was a 60% increase in usage.

Imagine if you could make your online or retail store shopping experience more fun and increase shopping transactions by 60%!

So change your routine. Go for a walk instead of sitting at your desk and let your mind have fun observing people around you — what draws them, what makes them stop their routine to engage and just have fun!

Why Direct Mail Is the Rodney Dangerfield of Media

If you’re in control of marketing and you’ve ignored the direct mail channel — you may be making a mistake. And yet, like the famed Energizer Bunny, the mail channel keeps performing. For most of our clients, their direct mail program reliably brings in more leads than any other single channel. By a lot.

If you’re in control of marketing and you’ve ignored the direct mail channel — you may be making a mistake. Easy to dismiss, for its role as a dinosaur — direct mail is the Rodney Dangerfield of media. I’ll admit that’s an almost extinct reference — but the comedian’s famous “I don’t get respect” act truly fits here. Great direct mail campaigns lead to big time sales — which — ultimately yield respect. Years ago, after starting a career in advertising, I fell in love with direct mail for the oh-so gratifying value of measurement. Now with so many options for measurable media, that tangible benefit is no longer limited to the mail.

Somewhere along the line though, gradually people began to doubt the power of the direct mail channel. Smart people. For well over a decade we have had doubters question and condescend about the dinosaur that is mail.

It’s easy to see why. After all, do people really read their mail anymore? And the cost per impression is high.

Get ready to be surprised.

And yet, like the famed Energizer Bunny, the mail channel keeps performing. For most of our clients, their direct mail program reliably brings in more leads than any other single channel. By a lot. In all of our Medicare Marketing work, the direct mail reliably drives more members and responses than any other channel. The list goes on.

There was a time that no one thought using offline media to drive online results made sense. Think again.

In fact I’d say, the best way to think about direct mail is as a sales channel. You can identify your target universe and work back from the point of sale to determine the metrics. A true cohesion among sales and marketing teams.

It’s not old news. And it’s not the only news. The really exciting part is that your mail performance can and will be enhanced by other channels

Here are some rules for determining how and when to use direct mail as part of your marketing mix:

  1. Do the math — Whether it be on the back-of-a-napkin, or via a comprehensive pro-forma spreadsheet, finding out in advance whether you can afford the cost of a direct mail lead is the best first step. At our agency, our teams are trained in direct mail math – those basics are “job one”!
  2. Start with a test — If you walk around the office showing people your mail, I can already tell you how that will go. Pretty much no one will like what could turn out to be the best performing direct mail package. Nothing beats the value of “in-market” testing.
  3. Feature an offer — An offer is something that goes above and beyond the product features. While an offer is not mandatory, it really helps.
  4. Hire an agency — This is a deceivingly detailed business. Any agency that has been in business for a number of years (with a specialty of direct mail) has faced problems. Lots of obstacles big and small that you’d rather avoid. But, beyond the value of smooth-sailing, you’ll likely get a better performing piece from a group that lives and breathes direct mail best practices. I promise it will be more than worth it.
  5. Hire a proofer — See No. 4. This is an area where you’d rather not make a mistake. It’s expensive.

Experienced direct response (and also sales) professionals honor the channel that is direct, because it’s proven itself as a valued part of the plan.

Once it works for you, you too will find yourself committed to the mail. Even if, like me, you never check your own mailbox!

Storytelling: Why It Rarely Works in Sales Prospecting

Many a book has been written on storytelling. Especially in marketing. Today, storytelling (as a practice) is creeping into sales prospecting. But is it effective to start conversations from cold?

Many a book has been written on storytelling. Especially in marketing. Today, storytelling (as a practice) is creeping into sales prospecting. But is it effective to start conversations from cold?

Like so many “best” practices this one rarely works for sales reps. Because stories are usually presented:

  • Outside the buyer’s decision-making context (not buying context … the many parts preceding it)
  • Selfishly, in a way tries to force conversation about the seller’s value
  • To help uncover a “hidden pain” the prospect has yet is unaware of

Yes, B2B buyers are concerned more with business value, how your solution is different … less with features and benefits. But until prospects discover, on their own:

  • why buying might be needed,
  • a way to manage their own internal change

… they won’t be in a position to want your story.

In many selling contexts, this reduces your story to a self-centered means-to-an-end: A discussion clients don’t see value in (yet).

Sellers using storytelling as a conversation-starter often suffer. Especially when clients don’t routinely invest in what is being sold.

After all, why would prospects want to hear a story (about a problem they don’t know they have) unless they were ready to consider change? Biased questions create push-back.

In Defense of Storytelling

“Sometimes prospects aren’t willing to open up to sales rep’s questions which are aimed to discover and build pain,” said a colleague who co-founded a SaaS company selling solutions to leaders of sales teams. His targets are often reluctant to invest. The status quo feels just fine.

“Sometimes prospects get frustrated at answering questions without being told why. Sometimes its difficult for prospects to understand ‘whats being sold to them’ and need the context. Storytelling helps prospects resonate with a sales person as they can relate to another customer in the same sector, with the same job title, with similar objectives.”

But here’s the problem: Buyers (who are not buyers yet) aren’t interested in helping you discover pains … and build upon it.

“Qualification or discovery questions on cold calls can sometimes feel like traps to prospects,” says sales trainer, Josh Braun. “How are you going to use this to sell me? Where are you leading me? It’s like when a mall kiosk person says ‘Can I ask you a question?’ You look away because you know they are asking to lead you somewhere.”

Prospects are very good at identifying and resisting your biased questions. Sadly, these are the questions sellers are trained to ask … which serve only their (not the client’s) need.

“This situation happened on a sales call I reviewed for one of my own reps today,” my colleague continued. “The prospect pushed back on my rep’s questions which were aimed at discovering how he could help and where the opportunity existed. As soon as he told a relevant customer story, the conversation changed for the better.”

But did the conversation continue? In most cases they do not. Prospects may get clear on what you’re trying to sell to them; however, they may become less motivated to continue the conversation!

Instead, what if the sales rep asked, “What would need to happen for you to give sales managers a way to monitor and act on how reps are interacting with prospects?”

The “why” is obvious: The rep asks because he’s interested more in the prospects’ current capabilities… less about qualifying them into a deal. By focusing the prospect on their own (lack of) capability there is no need to be put into a defensive posture.

Bottom line: Avoid the push-back completely, save the story for later.

Assume a Neutral Role First

What if your communications technique re-framed: Away from coaxing the prospect into talking about their “why” (which they don’t have), toward a neutral role.

What if you first helped the client realize a problem exists with neutral questions?

The question, “What would need to happen for you to give sales managers a way to monitor and act on how reps are interacting with prospects?” is not asking to consider what they’re missing out on. Instead, it is asking the client to consider a problem (or advantage) they don’t (yet) know exists.

Here is another neutral question my colleague should be asking when calling-in cold: “How are you measuring your sales managers ability to help reps drive qualitatively better sales conversations?”

How, not “are you.” This forces introspection: “Gee, I’m not measuring managers’ ability to help reps communicate better…. why should I be?” Now they’re on a path to developing their ‘why.’

Under your neutral guidance.

If prospects don’t have a need for your tool you cannot nurture that need out of them. You must help them, first, develop a ‘why’ that is not tied to the pre-determined need you have (for prospects to develop a why enabling your eventual sale).

Here are action items for you to consider:

1) Why would a customer who is not, yet, able to initiate the change needed (to bring you in) want to hear a story?

2) What if you, instead, got better at facilitating conversations addressing clients internal decision systems? (helping the champion navigate their internal decision process… and, thus, shaping the RFP)

3) What if you got better at identifying what created the buyer’s status quo — then helped internal champions create a business case within the framework of their decision process?

Stories may be of (better) use when we are invited to share them by the prospect — for their reasons rather than being a means to convince them of something they’re overlooking/not seeing. That feels too much like persuasion.

As Edith Crnkovich, of DXC Technology and self-proclaimed sassy storyteller, says,  there is more value in “having the sales person first seek to understand the customers business issues before launching into a story. I don’t think we spend enough time doing that and this is mostly about asking a lot of questions first.”

What do you think?

9 Secrets to Award-Winning Billboard Advertisements

In this age of the Internet, there are still many old-fashioned ways to advertise outside of a computer screen. A billboard is a great way to market effectively, providing high visibility for your company. However, to guarantee your billboard is doing all it can to attract customers, here are nine things you should keep in mind.

In this age of the Internet, there are still many old-fashioned ways to advertise outside of a computer screen. A billboard is a great way to market effectively, providing high visibility for your company. However, to guarantee your billboard is doing all it can to attract customers, here are nine things you should keep in mind.

The 6-Word Rule in Out-of-Home Advertising:

When people pass a billboard, it is likely they are not going to take time to stop and read it … especially if they are driving. A billboard must rely on delivering a message using images and a minimal amount of text. As a rule, it is best to keep text to six words. Although you can go over this recommendation by a bit, if you need a lot more words to advertise your product, billboard advertising may not be for you.

Noticeable Billboards that  Don’t Cause a Huge Distraction:

Most people look at billboards while they are driving. An image that is too distracting could cause accidents, resulting in a negative perception of your brand. Avoid overly sexual or controversial images.

Know What a Billboard is For:

Billboards are a great way to promote consumer awareness. However, they will rarely lead to a direct response from customers. This is due to the fact that consumers are not likely to take the time to read the ad for a website or phone number and, if they are, they are not likely to take the time to write it down. An exception to this may be if the phone number is highly memorable or if the website or phone number is the billboard headline. Otherwise, if you are looking for direct action, you are better off relying on print advertising, television, radio, flyers, websites, and mail for promotion.

Send a Simple Message:

When advertising your company on a billboard, it’s a good idea to be creative in sending a message to customers that will really stand out. However, remember that billboards are usually sending a message to passerby’s that they need to absorb quickly. Creating a message that is overly complicated might confuse them, so it is best to stick to something that is smart, but simple.

The Billboards More the Merrier:

Every billboard has a Gross Point Rating (GRP) which is based on traffic, visibility, location, size and more. If a billboard has a GRP of 50, that means that at least 50% of the population in the area will see your billboard at least once a day. To increase exposure, its best to have several billboards. Of course, this can be expensive, but it is also effective.

Consider Using Digital Advertising

A flat billboard can be effective in promoting your business, but being creative can be a great way to make your sign really stand out. Adding moving parts and 3D elements and using a means for people to interact with your sign are all excellent ways to grab people’s attention. Signs such as these can even attract press so that the billboard can generate its own publicity … totally free!

Be Concise

Use your space wisely. Avoid repeating any sort of information, even if you are using text to explain your visual. Also, make sure your imagery pops so that you are using your advertising opportunity wisely.

Think About Your Logo Size

When creating a billboard, often companies want their logos to be as big as possible. Although we can all probably see the logic in this, it is also important to make sure the logo is in proportion to the other images that will appear on the ad. Some companies market effectively with billboards without even incorporating a logo.

Do the Arm’s Length Test:

Billboard advertising is not cheap and, if you’re going to invest, you need to make sure it’s going to be a worthwhile investment. One good way to do this is to take the ad and print it on a business card, then look at it at arm’s length. This will provide the same effect as someone passing by your billboard quickly. If the image still pops, and you feel the message it is sending is clear, then you are good to go. If not, consider tweaking some elements. Billboard advertising can be an effective way to market your company. However, it’s important to make sure your billboard gets a message out to consumers in a concise and effective way.