True story. My good friend Ken, had just walked into one of his first sales calls back in the ‘70s and he was feeling pretty righteous decked out in his plaid polyester Haggar suit, new Cross pen and shiny Samsonite briefcase – not to mention the big, curly hairstyle. It was an independent electronics and TV repair shop and it was early so no customers and the owner yelled from the back that he’d be right out. So with some time to kill he looked around and that’s when he spotted the monkey cage at the end of the counter.
Inside, innocently sitting there wide-eyed was one of those cute, cuddly little monkeys you could order from the small black-and-white ads in the back of magazines like Popular Mechanics. Well, he thought, this could be fun. Maybe the monkey would jump around a little given the right motivation, like maybe with a poke of the new pen in his pocket.
So just as the pen tip passed through the cage mesh, in a flash a little hand had snatched it and thrown it to the bottom of the cage. Ken stared in disbelief. His new pen was lying in monkey poop, and worse, how would he explain this to the owner? Thinking fast, he realized that if he pulled on the edge of the newspaper lining the cage bottom, he could reach the pen, retrieve it, problem solved. So leaning forward for a better view, he tugged the paper. The monkey watched too, and also immediately noticed Ken’s curly hairdo sticking into the cage. In a split second our monkey had a fistful of salesman hair and with the incredible strength even small primates possess, was bouncing Ken’s head off the monkey cage like a bolo-paddle ball. Realizing his predicament, Ken pried his hair loose from his furry assailant and simultaneously plucked the pen from the cage. None too soon either because as he gathered his wits while running a hand over his hair, the owner appeared, glanced at him, then the cage and asked, “You haven’t been messing with the monkey, have you?”
I think my friend Ken recovered well under the circumstances and the lesson there is of course, no monkeying around in B2B sales! Today I work with B2B marketing clients to develop integrated marketing programs and the most successful align with the sales program. Like my friend Ken, I was in B2B sales for many years (no monkey encounters thankfully) and we have both found success by following four best practices that I’d like to share because I think they are also relevant to getting a B2B marketing program on track and out front.
Know your products. The best salespeople I’ve ever known always knew their products cold. It allowed them the freedom to relax (which puts the prospect at ease), to listen, to gather the facts and then to focus on solutions tailored to the customer’s needs. Likewise, B2B marketers who know their company’s products intimately, who understand what motivates their customers , plus who are plugged in to the Inbound Marketing discussion and know what constitutes great Content, are the ones who are succeeding. The next time the VP of Sales or the CFO have a new initiative and come knocking to discuss it, be relaxed and be that great listener which relates to the next point.
Lead with questions. Perhaps one of the greatest strokes of luck for me was minoring in Journalism in college. The basic premise was getting the answers to the who, what, when, where, how and why. This was a practice I carried over into B2B sales, then B2B marketing where it continues to serve me well to this day. It’s surprising what gets revealed with the right questions and the quality ideas that come from careful qualification.
Follow with suggestions. Test those ideas you’ve synthesized through your fact gathering. Occasionally floating one out there will help either validate you’re on the right track or reveal some more finely pointed questions are needed. The Xerox Professional Selling Skills course I took many moons ago called this “identifying and overcoming objections”. Either way, gaining understanding by gradually narrowing questions from broad to specific will lead to the best solutions.
A-B-C: Always Be Closing. But not like the “hard sell” that may come to mind. On the contrary, think of it more like the way a doctor is “closing”. How’s that? A physician closes through selective screening by assessing the patient’s condition until they have a diagnosis that they can prescribe a course of treatment. Developing an effective B2B marketing program can be like that except thankfully without the drafty medical gowns. With all the chatter about the latest marketing technology, best practices, MAS, CRM, CMS, it’s easy to lose focus.
Perhaps these four guidelines will help to minimize the monkey business and make it easier to lay a sound foundation for an effective B2B marketing program. Have an example of how this process or similar has worked for you that you’d like to share? Please take advantage of the comment section below to post it up. We’d love to hear about it.