A few months ago, I was talking with the CEO of a client. He said something about “redefining the positioning.” I was hopeful for a second, but then had to ask.
“Who all was involved in that?”
“The management team and the marketing leadership.”
“Not sales at all?”
My heart sank a little bit. It only got worse from there.
The next sequence went something like this. The CEO is speaking first.
“Our new key message is around highest quality, fastest results, and most flexible design. What do you think?”
“I am not sure, because right now that’s a lot of buzzwords. What are the target groups? What’s the sales messaging for each individual buyer? How does that affect offerings?”
I said that a little bit more politically, but the response wasn’t helpful or hopeful. It seems these topics had not been considered in the “re-branding” or “re-messaging” period.
Let’s level-set this situation harshly: Sales vs. marketing
Sales vs. marketing has always been a fraught relationship, and this speaks to a large chunk of the problem. Sales is a quota-driven department, meaning they have to make numbers. They have to produce. Eat what you kill, etc. If they fail to do that, revenue suffers and others may feel the repercussions. Marketing usually isn’t judged this way. Makes sense, because it’s often hard to link “this logo adjustment” to “this amount of sales.” But sales often looks at marketing and thinks “They just do things and call it branding, but it’s not helping us.” Marketing then looks back and says “Sales doesn’t know how to use the great stuff we produce.” This cycle can go on for years in companies. When a “re-brand” or “new messaging” is led by marketing with no input from sales, it complicates the problem.
The bottom line on what you need to do
Most “branding” is essentially useless unless it’s challenged by a quota-carrying department. Fact is: most marketers don’t really know what “branding” is, confusing it to mean “I changed that background color a little bit.” That’s not branding. Branding is how your customers relate to and perceive you. It has operational elements like font changes, yes. But that’s not the whole picture, and many marketers get confused there.
How do you make sure marketers are challenged on their messaging?
This is about a five-step process. Ready?
Step 1: A “message” must address a real pain point. No buzzwords and BS. What are people in this vertical experiencing? What is holding up their productivity? How are you solving that? “High performance” isn’t a message. How will that idea of increased performance fix a problem for those who can pay you?
Step 2: A “message” must be tied to the ICP, or ideal customer profile. Somewhere roaming the planet Earth, there is a man or woman who would represent your “ideal customer.” They will love all the stuff you produce, be loyal, have a huge lifetime customer value, and consistently look at your offerings and think “That solves my pain points!” Find this person and the company that person works for. The messaging must speak towards that person, or towards evolving others into that person. Here’s where the problem often lies: marketing is used to creating “user personas,” which are usually alliterative BS i.e. “Ozzie The Operations Manager.” Personas are increasingly becoming useless in an era of more data, and sales guys know the targets because they talk to versions of them all week. That’s the essential reason sales needs to be involved in crafting messaging. They’ve been using different approaches on potential ICPs for years. They know what resonates and what doesn’t.
Step 3: A “message” needs a recipient, i.e. a buyer persona: Who is the buyer? (The average number of buyers in a B2B deal now is around 6.8, and that’s up 1.4 or so stakeholders from even 2015.) What issues does he/she need solved? How long might their sales cycle be? You need to know these things. And again, as above, it’s not about shoving generic data into a fictional character, which is how we often approach “personas.” It’s about talking to sales and figuring out what types of buyers exist and what they need spoken to. That’s your messaging for that buyer. Many guys, for example, are cost-averse when running a business. So you may have one set of messaging aimed at conveying the price point is low. Maybe you have some enterprise buyers where cost will be less of a factor, and your messaging there is more around speed, time saving, overall value, etc. It can vary. But messages must be tied to some kind of buyer persona.
Step 4: A “message” needs personalization. This is becoming easier to set up via the tech stack as AI and automation suites become more common. The easiest way people do this is by adding first names to email marketing campaigns, and you can think of that as scratching the basic surface of what to do here. At the end, whether it’s automated to a degree or still manual to a degree, you want a lot of info on buyers (college, family, career arc, papers published, quotes given, etc.) so that when sales approaches, the “message” can be personalized to them. You can take the 35,000-foot view “branding message” (i.e. tagline) and add all the personalized components around that.
Step 5: A “message” needs a related solution or offering. Oftentimes (sadly) a “message” will have lots of contemporary buzzwords, not speak to pain points, and then throw an offer into the mix which doesn’t come organically from the buzzwords or the pain points. If you define the pain point as, for example, “time-consuming tax accounting,” then the offering needs to be some type of program that will make accounting less time-consuming for SMBs. It can’t be a toaster. That was an extreme example, but some sales processes can feel that way because the messaging/offering alignment is so far off.
A final note on marketing “messaging”
Your sales team is ultimately who will deliver on the message in the field. So let’s say these are your two options:
- A message that looks great and is “branded” superbly but doesn’t sell or no seller understands how to apply your new messages in a sales conversation
- A message that doesn’t look as great but sells much more easily.
Which would most companies prefer?
To move away from (1) and towards (2), you absolutely need representatives from sales within any meetings or discussions or offsites about branding and messaging.