I sell to some really big companies.   One rule I established when I founded my business is that sales is about listening and collaborating, not presenting.  The reason was that I had watched cost of sales at many companies skyrocket due to huge investments preparing elaborate sales presentations that often fell flat and pursuing deals that should have been disqualified or re-framed early on.

Even with the best qualification questions and inside sales efforts, a sales rep walking into an initial customer meeting is going to have, at best, a superficial understanding of the customers’ need.  If they start by bulldozing through pre-prepared slides, they are likely to a) waste time on topics irrelevant to the customer b) miss the opportunity to gain a better understanding and c) fail to establish a collaborative relationship with the customer.

If you’re a marketer creating content and tools for a direct sales force, ask yourself if the information and asset you’re giving them help sales people to:

  1. Ask questions that both demonstrate their expertise and help them gain greater insight into customer needs
  2. Facilitate in-depth discussions that are positive and valuable experiences for customers
  3. Articulate how what they’re selling is directly relevant specific customer situations they discover during the meeting
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This post is by guest blogger, Charles Born:

I could subtitle this “How to Lose at Buzzword Bingo and Increase Sales” but this is not where I whine further about buzzwords and jargon. I did that in previous blogs (Buzzword Bingo and Avoiding the Buzzword Bingo Trap). All kidding aside, there is a time for professional jargon: when you know you’re speaking to an audience that understands you, and you need the extra specificity and precision that jargon can sometimes provide. If you’re using it outside of that then you’re probably not communicating clearly, honestly, or effectively.

In the web and social marketing world, online “conversations” are the perfect opportunity to meet buyers’ information needs with smartly targeted and informative content that buyers consider valuable. Unfortunately, Web copy is often written in less than ideal circumstances by product marketers who do not have the time to do it right.

The good news is that anyone who writes content can ensure that every chunk of text on the web is doing something concrete and useful. Good marketing copy accomplishes specific goals; just touting a product is not one of them.

Let’s look at an example. Here is a chunk of text displayed prominently on one company’s website:

With Product X advanced features, capturing and reporting product sales data in the cloud and in real-time can improve operational intelligence and provide insight that enables more effective strategic, tactical and effective decision-making. With Product X researching your online sales is FASTER!

What do we know about this product from the two statements? Intelligence and insight will be improved by capturing and reporting! And that will enable, among many other things, better tactical decision-making! And we end with a tag line – in CAPITAL letters no less–with an exclamation point, indeed! Here we have a simple example of what happens when the goal of the writing is to fill up a web page with copy.

How do you approach writing product copy and potentially winning buyer attention and sales interest?

Just KIS – Keep It Simple (not stupid)

Most product content needs to answer 4 basic questions:

  1. Who is the product for?
  2. What is the product?
  3. What does the product do for its target user?
  4. Why is the product better than the available alternatives?

The lack of answers to these really basic questions is what frustrates buyers in their journey and wastes marketing money on writing babble. To do it right, let’s look at the questions in more detail.

Who is the product for? Think of your target audience. Can they tell from this copy that you are speaking to them? Can other people outside your audience tell that you are NOT speaking to them?

What is the product? Try to write in conversational tone using short and simple sentences. Make sure you have spelled out, clearly and in simple language, what the product is and that the nouns as concrete as you can make them.

What does the product do for its target user? Be specific in laying out the product’s primary features and benefits in a clear, concrete way.

Why is this product better than the available alternatives? Here is where flowery prose needs to be edited. If you make a claim, give evidence for the claims clearly and without empty language that makes you look like boasting.

Answer these questions, and you’ll communicate more clearly and efficiently than the horde of companies who’ve filled their web product pages with the content equivalent of cotton candy.

Please share your tips and suggestions to making content work.

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This article is by Guest Blogger Charlie Born, on of The Shirman Group’s extended network of business experts.

In their quest to solve business problems, buyers are turning to the internet and social media for information. This customer-driven Buyers’ Journey gives marketers a new channel to create valuable information that is discoverable, consumable, shareable and valuable.

Unfortunately, many marketers fall into the trap of creating content flooded with buzzwords, jargon, and marketing pitches. These cause buyer resistance and make you indistinguishable from competitors.

Buyers reward well-researched and believable information packaged into quickly digestible and easy-to-absorb info-graphics, white papers, info-training materials, webinars and blogs. Here are a few pointers for avoiding the buzzword bingo trap when creating your marketing content.

1. Don’t lead with your solution, your product or what you do. Instead start with a narrative about the business problem you are solving. Have a vision. Then lead your reader to your solution. Show how your approach is different before you go on to prove how it is better.

2. To craft the story, listen to your customers. Find out how your customers describe what you do. What words and phrases resonate with them—and which ones do not? See my previous post for how to interview customers about their buyers’ journey to get this information.

3. Listen to how your top sales performers tell your story. This will give you added perspective—particularly from those with strong solution-selling techniques.

4. When you write, ‘speak’ with a natural voice. Use the words you would use if you were speaking to someone you knew. Use short phrases and sentences. Most times, less is more. It just takes extra work to edit things down.

5. Strive to say something relevant, memorable, and different from what your competitors are saying. Just keep it real and not overblown. Be careful not to over-claim. Puffed up claims put most readers off rather than draw them in and can end up being a legal challenge later if problems arise. Make your reader want to learn more – and show them how they can by having additional content for them to pursue elsewhere on your website or blog.

Released last year and written by lexophile Arthur Plotnik, “Better than Great” is a book I have found useful in fixing buzzword bingo. It reads like a funky thesaurus and includes an assortment of over 6000 words and suggestions for describing things—pulling from rare gems, vintage gold, and even phrases influenced by hip hop to present a wide range of fresh superlatives. It is both amusing and vocabulary expanding.

Share with us successful ways on how you are telling your company’s story in a way that genuinely informs buyers, stands out from the crowd and avoids buzzword bingo.

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Buzzword Bingo

by Charles Born on October 16, 2012

in Marketing,Marketing 2.0,Messaging

This article is by Guest Blogger Charlie Born

Online “conversations” are a perfect opportunity for marketing to meet buyers’ information needs with smartly targeted and informative online content that buyers consider valuable.

At odds with this need for “conversations” is the high tech marketing history of using “words du jour” to make our products seem unique and different. Words like “cloud”, “social” and “big data” are just some that are rapidly littering our marketing content and are so over hyped their meaning is questionable. Coupled with over-used words like market leading, one-stop, scalable, easy to use, customer focused, best in class and many others, you have a winning game of buzzword bingo.

Does this buzzword bingo have any real meaning or value for the reader? The repeated use of trite phrases devalues them even if they are true. Furthermore, as marketers we know that when every company make similar claims, buyers struggle to tell us apart from competition. Of course, who wouldn’t claim these things? But more importantly, who isn’t claiming them?

Even if you think you are avoiding the creep of jargon into your marketing content, I’d encourage you to conduct a quick exercise with your marketing team:

1. Identify the most commonly used words and phrases on your website, in your online marketing materials and in your sales tools.

2. Do the same with your leading competitors

3. Compare the two.

If your language is truly distinct from your competition, congratulations! If, on the other hand, there’s an uncomfortable similarity between your words and phrases used by your competitors, then you have some work to do.

Next post, “Avoiding the Buzzword Bingo Trap”

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This article is by Guest Blogger Charlie Born

Are you generating leads and finding that the buyers who contact you are already far into their decision process, having already identified you as ‘1 of 3’ top but very similar vendors?  To prevent the final selection round from becoming a feature-function-price competition and create stronger differentiation, you may need to engage earlier in the Buyers’ Journey.   This early demand creation (in contrast to lead generation) requires changing what is in your buyers’ mind, and not what is in your marketing database. That means influencing the early learning process with the right information, presented at the right time, via the right mediums to help decision makers learn about you before they contact you as a prospect.

Information Must-HavesIt is not a surprise that the internet, social networks and online communities are key sources that potential buyers use to search for meaningful information during their Buyers’ Journey. These online sources are largely relationship and not broadcast oriented; this means information that stimulates interaction and response is welcomed and encouraged in a ‘community’ setting while obvious marketing spam is most often ignored.  Because of this, information needs to be packaged in buyer friendly content formats that make it attractive, discoverable, consumable and sharable throughout the entire Buyers’ Journey. Think of your information as ‘content as a service”.  Provide interesting whitepapers, webinars, blogs, info-graphics and “info-tainment” to engage your buyers and create demand.  Be sure to point your potential buyers to sources of information other than your own, which often carry greater credibility.

How can you be sure you are helping buyers discover what they want to learn at the right time in their Buyers’ Journey?  Engage directly with the buyers.  Meet with current customers, new customers and lost sales opportunities and focus on some of these concepts during your discussions:

  • Gain an understanding of the customer’s evaluation and buying process by industry and role within the company.
  • Talk to them about what triggered the need for the solution.
  • Ask them what they were looking for and where they went to find answers.
  • Find out who they spoke with directly and who influenced them and how.
  • And most importantly, find out how they evaluated the information.

It’s been my experience that through these meetings you discover how to align your marketing to the buyers’ information needs and to the content formats and outlets that are most effective for an audience. Your analysis of the information that buyers need, and when, where and how they consume it, should inform the process for creating, packaging, and disseminating information and maintaining consistency across communication channels.   That process will likely change your current marketing efforts to emphasize demand creation throughout the Buyer’s Journey, rather than lead generation when that journey is near its end.

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The New Challenges of Selling as “1 of 3”

by Charles Born on September 5, 2012

in Marketing,Sales Tips

This article is by Guest Blogger Charlie Born, the newest member of the Shirman Group extended team.

Over the last five years, B2B selling has evolved from general concepts of solution selling to the ‘Buyer’s Journey’ – a journey driven by the large amount of information available online.  A new sales and marketing reality is rapidly emerging as the internet plays an increasing role in buyer research.  I’ve seen the impact of this in my own marketing work, and I strongly believe we are on the cusp of some important changes to the conventional marketing and sales wisdom of the past

Studies are consistently showing that B2B buying habits are shifting.  Buyers are now 60-70% of the way through the buyer’s cycle before they reach out to your sales representative.   By that time, there is less need for traditional solution selling techniques.  In the new buyer’s journey, the buyers believe that, based on their own research, they have figured out what they need.   When they decide to contact your sales team, they have most likely decided you are one of their top three choices – you are 1 of 3.

Maybe this sounds like good news.  It’s not.  Most often the buyer views all three choices as equally acceptable, and the final decision comes down to features, functions, support—and price, price, price.  Exceptional sales representatives might be able to overcome this ‘1 of 3’ syndrome, but this is the antithesis of where you want to be with solution selling.

In this new selling environment your biggest hurdles are no longer your competitors or features and functions; they are:

  • The ability of buyers to learn on their own
  • How your company participates in that learning process

As the CMO of SAP, Jonathan Becher, said at a recent Churchill Club CMO Panel, “Being marketed TO is a mindset we need to end.  It’s helping (the buyer) discover what they want to learn about.”

Are you experiencing this phenomenon?  Has it changed your marketing strategy?

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The fifth trend that emerged from Churchill Club’s recent Chief Marketing Officer Agenda 2013 event was the expansion and diversification of the marketing role and skillset.  Several new, or newly important, areas of responsibility are driving the need for new skills:

  • Marketing organizations are aligning more closely with sales objectives.  The four speakers from SAP, Intuit, Google, and DreamWorks all mentioned revenue as a key marketing metric.  Nora Denzel, Senior VP, big data, social design and marketing at Intuit, said her company considers its marketers to be “growth officers.”
  • Marketers are often the customer advocates in the company.  At Google, Marketers not only evangelize the company externally, but also “play a big role internally in evangelizing on behalf of the customer,” according to Lorraine Twohill, VP global marketing there.
  • Marketers are also increasingly responsible for customer experience and engagement.  Lorraine Twohill mentioned that one of her organization’s main responsibilities is to “make technology mean something to real people in their daily lives.”   The focus on customer experience also translates into marketing having greater involvement earlier in the product design process.   DreamWorks CMO Anne Globe describes integrating movies with games as a way to engage viewers – a tactic that erases the lines between product development and marketing.  (See previous post: The Product IS the Sales and Marketing.)

These roles obviously extend well beyond marketing’s traditional purview of awareness and lead generation campaigns.  Google’s marketing organization now includes coders, artists, analysts, and gamers.   According to Lorraine Twohill, Google likes to hire marketers who don’t see the old functional limits, but can imagine completely novel ways of engaging customers.  When Nora Denzel was asked about hiring, she echoed the sentiment:  “We want a diversity of skills and backgrounds, and people who can do multiple tracks.”

Bottom Line: Consider what role your marketing team can play to provide the greatest value to your company and customers, and what new types of customer engagement are emerging in your industry.   Then

  • Identify the skills your team will need in its future role.
  • As you outsource leading edge techniques and tactics to 3rd parties, pay attention to which specialists and skillsets they have on the team.
  • Consider hiring people who have an in-depth understanding of your customer, but from a very different perspective and background than the existing team.
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The four CMOs from SAP, Google, DreamWorks, and Intuit at a recent Churchill Club discussion panel were in agreement that social and digital marketing are now standard pieces of the marketing toolset, not distinct areas to be managed separately.    Anne Globe of DreamWorks commented that “social is completely integrated into the fabric of marketing.”  A sentiment echoed by Nora Denzel of Intuit, who said, “There is no such thing as digital marketing – it’s all integrated together.”

Taking it a step farther and reinforcing the previously discussed trend that the product IS the marketing, Nora added that Intuit is integrating social into the product itself by providing access to user forums and peer support directly from the product.  DreamWorks is also leveraging social within the product by integrating movies with games, which Anne described as “the coolest newest way to engage viewers.”

Now that digital marketing has permeated go-to-market activity, what technologies will marketers adopt next to add some bleeding-edge luster?  Seems the answer is the same as for everything else in tech these days:  intelligence drawn from big data. Nora Denzel believes that “social media, smart mobile devices, and [intelligence gleaned from big] data will create a real market of one.”    Intuit is already looking at ways to combine transactional, behavioral and social user-generated data to better serve customers.  The company already offers new customer value by aggregating data across tens of thousands of businesses to create an employment and revenue index for small businesses.

Though Intuit’s service is free, Laura McLellan of Gartner pointed out that Marketing can use its new intelligence to help identify new revenue sources.   Lorraine Twohill, VP of Global Marketing at Google, sees this as a great opportunity for marketing. “If you own the insights function, you are the oracle and sage and that’s a great role that marketing can play.”

Of course the bleeding edge has its name for a reason. It can be a risky place to walk.   Lorraine pointed out that companies must balance customers’ privacy needs against the value that big data offers.  That’s likely to be a challenge for years to come.  Ultimately, the technologies available to marketers will evolve in ways we can’t predict.  Anne Gardner described the implications:  “Technology helps us get to where our customers are.  But we have to keep our plan open so that we can leverage new technologies that we can’t foresee yet.”

Is you company using data about customers or product usage to provide extra value to customers?

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The proliferation of SaaS and Apple’s demonstration of the impact of product design and user experience, have changed how marketers and their companies look at products.   The lines between product management, product development, marketing, and sales are disappearing as quickly as chocolate from my kitchen.

At a recent Churchill Club CMO panel, Nora Denzel, Senior VP, Big Data, Social Design and Marketing at Intuit  articulated this trend best with the comment, “our product IS the funnel.”  She described that Intuit customers make decision based on product use, not marketing messages. Their experience in using the product determines whether they spend money on it.  That should be old hat to anyone offering a freemium model, but may not be explicitly understood by companies new to the products as services environment. Even more traditional products are evolving to play a bigger role in sales and marketing.  Interactive TV guides provided by carriers upsell on-demand channels and premium content, toys include complimentary on-line gaming components that cross sell more toys, and grocery packaging offers recipes that promote sister brands and products.

A key implication of this product-as-sales-tool trend is the accompanying change in product design and development, which marketing leaders clearly recognize. Jonathan Becher, CMO at SAP  remarked that “product launch is the day you sat down to decide what product you are going to build.”  To which Laura McLellan of Gartner quipped, “If marketing gets involved when the product is done, engineering gets what it deserves,” voicing my own observations that R&D culture has been slow to change and, in some companies, still drives product roadmaps with a myopic focus on technology and features rather than user experience.  (You know who you are.)

Taking it a bit farther, Jonathan Becher described a vision of product development in which just-in-time creation of features and designs that respond to the customer’s current preferences would replace precisely targeted marketing of existing products

Bottom Line: Whether you’re delivering products on-premise or as service, your Product Managers should have among their top design criteria:

  • Ease of use and high quality customer experience
  • Opportunities for customers to experience the product before they buy
  • Usage and behavior-based upsell and cross sell features
  • Seamless integration of usage, behavior, and request-based support and social features
  • Intelligence and analytics capabilities that use information like product configuration, user behavior and preferences, and transactional data to provide additional value to your company and to customers
  • Product architecture, design, and/or manufacturing process that allow fast and easy modifications, feature additions, and integration of complimentary products.

Please share your examples of products with built-in sales and marketing.

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In 42 Rules for Growing Enterprise Revenue, I talk about the fact that customer relevance is a corporate skillset, not a departmental one.  Creating a positive, customer-relevant experience involves many parts of the organization, and the speakers at the recent Churchill Club CMO panel provided lots of validation and great examples of why shared ownership is critical.

Nora Denzel, Senior VP of Big Data, Social Design and Marketing at Intuit commented that Intuit’s CIO, sales, and marketing all contribute to create the customer experience.  Lorraine Twohill, VP of Global Marketing  at Google agreed that cross-functional collaboration is critical because while Marketing focuses on customer acquisition, keeping customers and making them happy is what sales, support, and IT (in a SaaS company) do.   Jonathan Becher, CMO at SAP, summed it up well.  “The SAP experience is about the company, it’s not a marketing thing. If it were, no one would pay attention,” he commented.

Bottom Line: Consider making great customer experience an objective for every organization that impacts it.

  • Ask each functional team to identify specifically how they affect customer experience.
  • Set detailed objectives in your annual and quarterly plans for how they can improve the department’s contribution to a great customer experience.
  • Identify opportunities for cross-functional initiatives to offer new value to customers. It’s these that often have the greatest impact.

Please share how different parts of your company are collaborating to serve customers better.

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