When working on sales messaging, there are different approaches to finding the right messages to persuade customers and potential customers to buy. Some work better than others. All but the first on this list have merit.

Forget the customer completely

This is, unfortunately, a common approach. Ever seen a sales presentation start with seven slides about your company size, history, office, locations, corporate structure, services, awards, and client logos? “Me, me, me, me, me, me…” Of course it’s important to establish credibility, but if you have been given a chance to pitch, don’t waste it by talking about yourself – talk about your audience’s concerns, not your company history.

Let marketing take a best guess

There’s nothing wrong with this approach. Brainstorm possible selling points, and then ask:

  • Do our target audience care about this?
  • Do we have competitive advantage in this area?

If you do and they do, then you have found an important direction for your sales messaging. The challenge, of course, is in answering the questions accurately. Do you know what matters to your target audience? Are you sure?

Let sales, support, engineering, and marketing take a best guess

People in marketing have a very different view of the world to those in sales, or those in support.

Sales people sometimes ignore sales collateral from marketing, and make their own. Sometimes, this is because they have a completely different view of what matters to prospects. Sometimes, sales people say something other than that customers want a lower price.

Similarly, engineering, and support, hear different things from customers, and can recognise value where perhaps others might miss it.

Ask a wider internal audience “what matters to our target audience” and you may get a different answer than if you just made it up in a room of marketers.

Ask your customers

The voice of the customer is often missing in sales messaging. The solution? Just ask customers. Why they buy from you, what you do that they value. Better yet, ask them what challenges they face (in your field of influence), and you will identify opportunities too – areas where they need help but where you don’t currently have competitive advantage.

Quantitative research (PollDaddy is good – we use it with our Visual Conversations when selling on an iPad) is the easiest to run, but won’t necessarily help you to generate ideas to ask about. Either –

  • Brainstorm a list internally and test with customers to see what matters to them, or
  • Run interviews to get the list, and then survey a wider sample to find which ideas are most highly valued

One word of caution though. Stated preferences and revealed preferences aren’t the same. Just because customers say they want something, it doesn’t mean that they do. Actually offer to give them a product, and see what they choose – that’s a revealed preference.

Ask customers and potential customers

To acquire new – different – customers, it makes sense to talk to those who aren’t currently buying from you, not just those who are. They may have different thoughts, value different things, and have a different view of your competitive strengths.

It can make sense to create targeted sales messaging aimed at taking customers from a certain competitor. Work out what these customers want, what they are unhappy with, and what you can do better. Then execute, and enjoy.

Shape customer preferences

A focus group would never have agreed that they wanted a carbonated, sickly-sweet vegetable extract drink. But Coca-Cola does OK.

Nobody was clamouring for a computer without the keyboard. But the iPad sells fine.

In The Challenger Sale, Dixon & Adamson reveal research into what customers want from sales reps. Ranking right at the top (below only ‘professionalism’) of things influential buyers want from sellers is a rep who

  • ‘Offers unique, valuable insights’, and
  • ‘Frequently educates me on issues and outcomes.’

Don’t tell customers what they want to hear. Educate them, and tell them what you think they need to hear.

So, which one to choose?

These categories aren’t mutually exclusive. Sales messaging could – and perhaps should – evolve through a number of these steps. Once created, messaging can be tested and refined. If it doesn’t work – tweak and start again (or check that you don’t need better slide design).

It’s important to think about what the market values, but not to fetishise what customers say they want. Sometimes, you can teach them to want what you offer. Do it right, and buyers will thank you for it.

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Joby Blume


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