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An Important Message About An Important Message

A while back messaging and branding expert Maureen Blandford asked me to lend an endorsement to what was then her new book, Branding Doesn’t Work in Business to Business. I had not met Maureen.  I was skeptical. By the time I got through with the book, I was a Maureen Blandford fan.  Why?  Maureen provides the quality of insight and advice that is too rare these days—she’s passionate and completely devoid of B.S.  See for yourself:

Dave Stein: You’ve been pretty strident on Twitter about companies not getting the messaging thing right these days. What’s your perspective on what they’re doing wrong?

Maureen Blandford: It seems the sales thought leadership community is pretty aligned that selling collaboratively is where sellers need to be. I’m a huge fan of sellers asking great questions, building relationships, uncovering pain AND holding their opinions and solutions until they’ve first uncovered and quantified pain.

But HQ folks are busy flooding the marketplace with a lot of noise. Corporate marketers have a tough time shaking the Brand—the Dog & Pony Show sell. They’re creating boatloads of copy for upfront in the sales cycle when prospects are least likely to be paying attention. They spend days talking about tactic aesthetics (color, shape, size, etc) that are meaningless to our prospects. Our prospects want a solution that can solve their pain for less than the pain is costing. And if they can work with someone they like and possibly even trust to implement that solution – all the better.

Marketing and sales support tools essentially need to be the feet on the street in place of salespeople. Our sales folks can’t be everywhere at once. So we really need our tangible tools to mimic what we want our sellers doing: Be cool, confident, savvy. Ask great questions. Don’t assume you know all the answers. Intrigue the prospect enough to want to talk to a rep. Think: questions, bullet points, phrases.

DS: Is this any different from how it’s been in the past?

MB: Here’s the thing. We’ve been selling the same way for, what,  thousands of years, right?  Show your product, do a song and dance, negotiate price, close or lose the deal. Classic dog and pony show. That type of selling is in our DNA. Relationship Selling has only really been around for probably between 15 & 20 years. So, even though we can all be fans of Relationship Selling, it’s still really hard for salespeople to make that transition.  If you get Jill Konrath’s newsletter, she just wrote about some classic mistakes she’s made just recently. And she’s a fabulous seller. So, again, it’s tough to get this great model right.

But Marketing hasn’t even begun to make this transition. They’re still in Dog & Pony Show + Branding glory days. Marketing must make the transition to supporting how we sell today. The problem with that for marketers is (sorry, marketers) they’ve always been more concerned about shooting that next commercial, or winning that next ad club award, than they have been about how to help sales move the ball down the field. It’s a new day. Sales organizations are the stars now and marketers need to be happy and find the honor in being the back stage crew.

DS: Can you give us an example of a company that recently made a change in this regard, what the symptoms were and how they are faring now?

MB: Wow. I wish I could. Most of the orgs that are really successful at this fly under the radar. (I guess they value success over a globally-recognized brand. Huh.) Remember that there are thousands of B2B companies in the US alone. The big ones (IBM, Microsoft) get a lot of attention. But there are so many good companies out there, with salespeople generating revenue that many of us will never know about.

The way I see B2Bs today is in a kind of suspended animation. Our sales organizations need help making the transition fully to the consultative sale model. But where’s the budget, Dave, for on-going, sustainable training, mentoring, and support? (I can see you shaking your head, Dave…) Those budgets have vanished. Meanwhile, we only need to read the national news to understand the silly ways corporate is spending the revenue that the sales folks generate.

DS: Other than what you just described, how would a sales leader know that it’s their messaging that may be part of a sales problem?

MB: Most salespeople and sales leadership have given up on getting help with bad messaging. A colleague of mine, a VP of sales at a very successful biotech company, was at a product launch for a truly breakthrough, efficacious cancer drug targeted toward premier oncologists around the country. The marketing folks modeled their product launch campaign after, get this, a popular laundry detergent campaign. Uh huh. You read that right. Cancer drug, laundry detergent. Sheesh.

If I’m ever strident (!) about these issues, it’s because it’s unbelievable to me what’s going on in B2Bs. How long are we going to starve our salesforces of the training and support they need when their marketing teams (most of whom have never carried a bag) have the keys to extraordinary budgets but are quite clueless about the tactics necessary to support a consultative sale.

DS: Without asking you to give the entire content of your book away, could you enlighten us on why branding doesn’t work in B2B?

MB: Branding is a great methodology for consumer marketing. The consumer buying process, however, is the polar opposite of the B2B buying process for big deals. Universities don’t teach the difference between marketing for Consumer v. marketing for B2B. It doesn’t make sense to take the methodology for one and try to apply it to a completely different model.

Great B2B marketers need to think much less about what color does X need to be? And more about the revenue targets, prospect and customer buying processes, how sales needs to sell to match the buying process, who influences the prospects, and what are the best support tools to land new accounts and grow existing accounts.

Trust. Confidence. Relationships. Deals. Branding can’t get us there. But our people can.

Coming up…

  1. Please join me on April 8th when I present Nailing Your Sales Training—An Independent Expert’s View a complimentary webinar sponsored by The TAS Group.
  2. On Tuesday, April 14, I’ll be joining a stellar panel of sales experts for The Top Sales Experts Kickoff Event: The Future of Professional Selling.

Photo credit: © Beboy – Fotolia.com


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