SALES

Have Customers Write Your Sales Message

Marketers aren't usually very good at writing an effective, strong sales message. You're better off asking customers for help.
Forget the marketing department: Your customers have the best ideas about why they buy your offerings.
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I recently received an email from the sales training firm Huthwaite (the "Spin Selling" guys) about how companies can keep revenues high in 2012. Their advice included:

  • Develop provocative prospecting and setting messages
  • Leverage your marketing department to create these messages

I think they probably meant "selling" messages, but whatever.  The first bullet makes sense because better sales messages can definitely help you develop new opportunities.

My quarrel is with the second bullet. Huthwaite apparently believes that marketers can communicate clearly about a company, its offerings and the benefits of doing business with it.

Would it were true.

Marketers Can't Do It

The reality is that marketers are almost always horrible at writing sales messages. Over the past 10 years, I've reviewed hundreds of sales messages, most of which were written by highly paid professional marketers. And almost every one of these "sales messages" has been a collection of biz-blab, technical jargon, meaningless promises and bloodless abstractions that barely describes what a company can do–let alone why anyone would want to buy from it.

I've come to the conclusion that it is almost impossible for anyone ins2ide a company to write a compelling sales message, simply because insiders (and especially marketers) are unable to see the situation from the customers' perspective.

What's the solution?  Rather than asking a marketer, ask your prospective customers to write your sales message.

Case Studies: Axe Body Spray, Toro Lawnmowers

Some companies have already put this idea into practice in their advertising. In the excellent book Outside Innovation, author Patricia Seybold explains how Unilever created its marketing campaign for the Axe male body spray line by opening a private online forum for men aged 17 to 23. These prospective customers came up with marketing ideas, promotional ideas, advertising ideas, and even new products.

Where Unilever's traditional marketers has assumed that that body spray was a lifestyle product, the young men explained that body spray was all about "getting the girl," as Seybold somewhat delicately put it.

With that observation in hand, Unilever was able to open up a new demographic with a highly successful product offering reflecting what was most important to that demographic. Here's the video--although you should be aware that it's a little bit risque.

This method works with less dramatic products, too.  Seybold cites the example of Toro Lawnmowers who, rather than letting their marketers write the sales messages, brought professional groundskeepers together to get a sense of what was really important to their customers.

Turns out the groundskeepers couldn't have been less interested in the kind of features and functions that seem to fascinate most marketers.  Instead, groundskeepers were mostly interested in how a lawnmower would make their job easier by saving time.

That concept was reflected in the "Timemaster" line of Toro products, where the product's features are expressed almost entirely in terms of how they save time:

The Payoff

The result of having customers become your marketing writing staff is a profound shift in how you sell, according to Gerhard Gschwandtner, publisher of SellingPower magazine (for which I sometimes write).

"Traditional selling is like a choir where marketing writes the music, sales sings the song, and the customers buy if they like what they hear," he explains.  "This new form of selling is jazz, where one musician plays a riff and others join in, each adding another riff, as entirely original music emerges."

In other words, your customers know what's important to them far better than any marketer possibly could and are therefore far more likely to come up with a "provocative" sales message.

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IMAGE: Corbis
Last updated: May 31, 2012

GEOFFREY JAMES | Columnist

Geoffrey James is an author, speaker, and award-winning blogger. Originally a system architect, brand manager, and industry analyst inside two Fortune 100 companies, he's interviewed over a thousand successful executives, managers, entrepreneurs, and gurus to discover how business really works. His most recent book is Business Without the Bullsh*t: 49 Secrets and Shortcuts You Need to Know.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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