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Archive for November, 2012

Do you avoid the word “sales” in your marketing communications?

I don’t mean “sales” the noun, as in “Sales were up 12 percent year over year.”

I mean “sales” the adjective, as in “sales representative.”

When you publish your 800 number and invite prospects to call, who do you say is standing by to take their calls? Customer service agents? Or sales associates?

Have you decided, at some basic level, that labelling the people who call on your prospects and customers “sales reps,” and the work they do “sales,” carries a negative connotation?

The Age-Old Debate: Is Sales a Dirty Word?

If it’s true that sales is the world’s second oldest profession — and maybe even the oldest, come to think of it — then the debate about whether to call a spade a spade, and a sales rep a sales rep, has probably been going on for eons.

On one side, there are the con arguments. Where at some level it seems smarter, maybe cleaner, not to remind customers and potential customers that you are out to sell them something. Better, instead, to call members of your selling force “consultants,” “business developers,” “relationship managers,” “account directors” — anything but sales reps, for heaven’s sake, on their business cards.

Then there’s the pro perspective. Where nothing happens until somebody sells something. And where, let’s face it, nobody’s fooling anyone with touchy-feely euphemisms. After all, sales is an honorable profession. Done well, it has little to do with fast talking and high-pressure tactics. Instead, it’s all about attentive listening, adding value and solving problems.

As I said, this is not a new argument. And if you Google around the topic of “does sales have negative connotations,” you’ll find any number of interesting and entertaining perspectives, including this article by Roger Bostdorff, titled Why Customers Hate Sales People, and this post by Andrew Rudin, headlined: Stop Selling! Trendy Idea but Bad Strategy.

One Rep’s Take

So where do I come down? It so happens this very question jumped out at me today, on my way to catch the afternoon bus.

Strolling past a downtown hotel, I noticed a sign touting the hotel’s banquet and meeting services. The sign offered a phone number, with a call to action which said I could speak to one of the hotel’s “sales representatives.”

It was as though the word “sales” was suddenly presented as a Rorschach test.

And in that split second, as my mind went searching for the essence of the word, along with any emotional or intellectual attachments, what flashed to mind — right or wrong — was the image of “sales” as a mostly one-dimensional, uni-directional value exchange. Value moving from the person buying the service or product (me, need-to-plan-a-meeting guy), to the person pitching the service or product (hotel sales guy or gal).

So I reflected a little more on that visceral reaction (because, after all, you’ve got time for such weighty matters while sitting on the bus).

Were I to call a hotel, looking to plan my next meeting or banquet, would I look forward to speaking with a sales rep? Or would I feel more motivated and optimistic at the prospect of speaking to an “event manager”? A “meeting specialist”? Maybe even a “certified meeting planner”?

I have to admit, despite being a sales professional myself, I think I’d prefer talking with someone who’s title seems to promise that they will help me solve my problem first (value coming my way), knowing full well they will eventually want my money (value going their way).

Maybe that’s why, some years ago, I asked that my supervisor allow me to use the self-fashioned title “VP, Solutions Development,” as opposed to “VP, Sales.”

Granted, it might sound a bit high-falutin’, even egg-headish. And most definitely it’s a bit namby pamby, judging by red-meat, there’s-nothing-wrong-with-the-word-sales standards.

But what I hope the title signals, to people I meet on behalf of my organization, is that they can expect me to focus, first and foremost, on seeking to understand and be of value to them and their business…before I try and sell them on mine.

So I guess that puts me in the anti “sales” camp, at least when it comes to using the word as an adjective in a job title.

But again, Boss, if you’re reading this: I’ve got absolutely nothing against the noun. Just the adjective. Just the adjective.

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Where do you and your organization come down on the word “sales”: Negative connotations, or a non-event?

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This post, originally published on Hanley Wood Marketing’s Content Is Marketing blog, is cross-posted here for subscribers to Touch Point City. For more marketing ideas and insights from my colleagues at HWM, subscribe to Content Is Marketing.

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What’s the secret to getting Marketing and Sales alignment on your message?

Here’s a thought: Forget about the message for a while.

Focus instead on content.

Recently a firm called Corporate Visions surveyed more than 700 B2B marketing and sales pros on the subject of messaging development. They asked respondents whether their companies had a collaborative, repeatable process for creating their “message.” Further, the survey asked which of their organizations’ stakeholders were typically involved in message creation.

You can see the survey results here, but I’ll summarize  the two key findings:

  • 33 percent of those surveyed said they do NOT have a collaborative messaging process, while another third said their process is only “semi-collaborative.”
  • Of those involved in message creation, field sales reps — the people who presumably know customers and prospects best — were least represented in the process.

As marketing and sales challenges go, coming to alignment on a message is not a new challenge. Chalk it up to egos, silos, or honest disagreements. Whatever the cause, aligning around a message is a persistent struggle for many organizations.

But let’s take a closer look: Alignment around a message. Put another way…

What’s the best way to describe the benefits of our product? How can we position ourselves most effectively against the competition? What can we say to customers or prospective customers that will make them most likely to become aware of us, consider us, and ultimately decide to buy our service?

In short, coming to alignment on a message requires that Marketing and Sales agree on the answer to this question:

What can we tell you about us that will make you want to do business with us?

Try Alignment on Content

Therein, perhaps, lies the alignment challenge.

For starters, it’s a complex question. There might even be several good answers. But the thing to remember is this: More and more, your “message” is a fairly deep-in-the-sales-funnel consideration. By some estimates, today’s B2B buyers might get two-thirds of the way toward making a purchase before they are interested in, or ready to hear, a “what can we tell you about us?” message.

To help them arrive at that stage in the buying process, there are plenty of questions you can help them ask and answer. Questions that call not for your message, but for relevant information. Useful insights. Case studies. Research. Content.

Content that, done well, speaks volumes about your organization and its ability to understand and solve customers’ challenges, long before you have to come up with a message that tells them you understand and can solve their challenges.

Assuming your Marketing and Sales teams will spend time getting in alignment this fall, consider: It’s conceivable that the more time and effort you devote to understanding your audience, and then planning and producing great content, the less time you’ll spend sweating and struggling over a sales message.

Value your audience enough to provide them with great content, and don’t be surprised if they get your message, loud and clear.
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What say you, marketing and sales pros? Have you found the secret to achieving Marketing and Sales alignment on your message? Or are you spending more time focused on content, and not worrying quite so much about message?

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This post, originally published on Hanley Wood Marketing’s Content Is Marketing blog, is cross-posted here for subscribers to Touch Point City. For more marketing ideas and insights from my colleagues at HWM, subscribe to Content Is Marketing.

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