HubSpot's CMO, Mike Volpe (@mvpolpe), wrote a piece on the HubSpot blog that I could paraphrase like this: "Don't Assume Your Prospects Know What You Do." He suggested that 'not repeating your value proposition' is the biggest mistake that marketers make.
Every marketer should read it. He knows marketing and marketers better than I do. But, if that's the biggest mistake marketers can make, I think the biggest mistake that salespeople make is assuming prospects care about your value proposition. As salespeople, we must suppress our urge to spit out what we do and how we do it until the right time, which is usually closing time. Our prospects must believe that we care about them, their challenges and their goals, before they'll be interested in hearing about us. Even then, it's important to focus on how we help them, not how we do what we do. The tricky part is that some prospects will ask you what you do and how you do it. Some will even demand that you tell them before they answer any of your questions. Explaining too much is still usually a mistake in these scenarios too. Why?
Although prospects have more information available to them then ever before, they don't have the right knowledge and experience to make informed decisions and create the ideal plan to help them accomplish their goals. In a perfect world, everyone would follow Mike's advice and marketing would help every prospect fully comprehened the positioning of every company. Then, prospects could make their own decisions about how to solve their own problems. In reality, that rarely happens. Even at HubSpot, where our marketing team effectively generates and nurtures 10s of thousands of contacts every month, only a small fraction of our prospects have connected their goals and challenges to our solution before we start talking to them. Prospects need salespeople to guide them through making the right decisions, given the prospect's unique situation. This starts by uncovering the challenges and goals that a prospect has. Then, it's the job of a salesperson to connect how their products and services can help them achieve their goals and overcome their challenges. Here's the process that we follow on my team at HubSpot:
- Exploratory. Understand a prospects goals, how they currently plan to achieve those goals, any challenges that have prevented them from achieving those goals in the past or challenges they (or you) anticipate they might face in achieving them, the timeline for achieving their goals and implementing their plan, the [usually negative] consequences of not achieving their goals and the [usually positive] implications of achieving them.
- Diagnostic. At this point, a prospect should trust that you are trying to help them. You mostly listened and challenged them and they should be thinking, "Wow. This salesperson knows exactly what I want and based on the questions she's asked, she must have helped other people in my situation before." At this point, it's time to identify what they are and aren't doing well that they will need to do well in order to achieve their goals and overcome their challenges within the timeline they need to achieve it, assuming they will eventually buy your product. This is where a good salesperson can teach a prospect what they don't know they don't know and talk through what they'll need to change in order to be successful. This is often the place where you should disqualify prospects if they are unwilling or unable to make the requisite changes to be successful.
- Goal Setting & Plan Development. Rarely, do prospects have all of their goals, challenges and timelines figured out. Rarely, are they confident in their plan. Rarely, do they know how they'll overcome challenges. Rarely, do they have realistic timelines. A good salesperson will help them set realistic goals and a plan to achieve them.
- Demonstration and Contract. Once all of the above is figured out, it's time to present exactly how a prospect will use your solution to achieve their goals, implement the new plan you co-developed, overcome the challenges they'll face and do it all within the timeline needed. If steps 1, 2 and 3 are done well, a salesperson can usually ask, "How are you going to implement this plan?" and the prospect should say, "I was hoping you guys could help me do that."
How Can Marketers Help?
Assuming that your salespeople follow a guided sales process like this one, how does this change what a marketer should do? Should they, as Mike suggests, focus on including their positioning in every piece of content? It can't hurt. But, I think marketers can do more than that. I'd suggest that marketers should care less about their own positioning and more about guiding prospects to solutions to their challenges, just like a good salesperson. In a complex sale, a prospect could have any number of challenges or may have different goals than other prospects do. Your short product positioning and company branding will rarely convey all of the right solutions to all of these challenges and goals. Why? If you want your positioning to be relevant and memorable for most of your audience, it must be short and sweet. Buyers are only going to store so much about you in their brains. But, the way your product helps someone is rarely short and sweet. If it were, you wouldn't need salespeople.
In my next article, I'll feature how two sales experts - Frank Belzer (@fbelzer) (Sales Shift) and Aaron Ross (@motoceo) (Predictable Revenue) - teach marketers and salespeople to customize their positioning based on the needs of a prospect. And I'll talk about how marketers can then connect the right content to a prospect based on their unique goals and challenges.