From always be closing to always be helping. Thought Leadership. Teaching point of view. These are all relatively new terms in our lexicon, yet they are regularly used by marketers, salespeople and executives. One need only spend 10 minutes on B2B websites to see just how much more educational material there is.
Yet, that very basic marketing problem continues to exist, despite (or maybe because of) the plethora of education there. The first challenge that must be addressed is being heard by the right audience, and the second is figuring out how to turn that attention into influence and action.
Educating, or teaching, is one of the most common ways of creating thought leadership. Done correctly it can also be one of the most effective. However, it's important to understand that there are two types of education; each of which are great when applied at the right time of the sales process/buyer's journey.
- The first type of education is designed to fill a hole of knowledge.
- The second type of education is designed to create one.
Understanding when and how to apply each type of education is crucial to creating and managing the type of demand you're looking for to drive consistent B2B sales.
I'll never forget a piece of sales advice that I got twenty years ago. I was told that there are always two questions on the mind of anyone you talk with. They are:
- So what?
- Who cares?
I learned that if I don't clearly answer those questions before the prospect thinks about them, the likelihood of success drops precipitously, and the process becomes far more complex and cumbersome. For years, the advice allowed me to resonate with my prospects earlier than my competitors and to drive faster, larger sales. I knew my approach worked, I just wasn't always so sure why it worked.
Then, Sales Executive Council released their seminal research on success in the sales process. Among other things, The Challenger Sale highlighted that before someone can truly value what you're selling, you must influence how they view their problem or existing situation.
That's the power of the second form of education. I call it "teaching to the "oh sh&t!" moment," or "The Moment" for short. The problem with education that fills a hole is that, while it certainly highlights your expertise and capabilities, it actually reduces the pain a customer feels. Think about it, how do you feel when you've learned something that you think is going to help you complete something? You feel good.
Using this type of education early in the process will actuall slow the B2B sales cycle, as the prospect will actually become less likely to take action. They may delay because they want to try some things on their own, or it may reduce the edge of the pain just enoug that something else captures their attention. This education is perfect for later in the funnel where the fear of taking action, or selecting a vendor, is increasing. Then the reduction of pain makes them more likely to act.
At the top of the funnel, however, my job is to teach them more about the problem and/or the consequences of their problem. When the prospect is at the top and middle of the funnel, the biggest threat to making a sales is their inertia.
Early on your job is to communicate a clear, discernable and compelling threat that is caused (or at least hampered) by the prospect's status quo.
Now, when I talk about The Moment, I don't mean the old school insurance techinique of manipulatively scaring the prospect. Your point-of-view must be achored in reality. It's why developing a Commercial Teaching Point-of-View is so important. I've written about this before, but as a reminder, such a point-of-view has five parts:
- It's focused on the prospects world, and it's about their issues, not your solution.
- It challenges the prospect's thinking. You're not looking for an "amen" here. Quite the contrary, if the prospect already agrees with what you're saying, you'll be treated as a commodity.
- It connects, partially or fully with a important or critical issue in your prospect's world. Remember, it's about them, not your solution.
- It plays to your area of advantage. It requires you to understand and focus on what you do differently than others, and, more importantly, why that matters.
- It leads to an investigative or diagnostic sales process.
Building your marketing assets in this area will enable you to dramatically enhance your lead generation efforts and shorten the sales cycle.