November & December theme:
“Choose One Thing”
Posted in :  Choose One Thing

This post is part five of a six-part series titled, “Choose One Thing” publishing in November and December 2013. If you’re like most businesses we know, you have that “one thing” from the past year that is still hanging in the air — it’s the one priority that, among all the others, would make the biggest impact on your business if it were fully realized. It could be competing in a new space or gaining more business from current customers. During this six-part series we’ll share the most common challenges we see among clients. If one of them is yours, let’s talk. We can help you turn your one big challenge into your biggest success for 2014.

Do your customers need a human to buy from you? This is not a rhetorical question.

Years ago I worked in the marketing department of Nerac, a patent and high tech research firm. I found that the most successful sales reps were a select group of extroverted engineers and scientists. I remember sitting in on prospecting calls and marveling at the depth of conversation that would transpire in a matter of minutes. Our engineer or scientist would unearth pain points and brainstorm ideas about how to solve them, allowing the customer to easily see why they needed to work with that individual and, consequently, our company. The Nerac “products,” were the brains of our people which, when done right, would sell itself.

As a marketing friend recently pointed out, selling has been replaced with “helping your customers buy.” It’s been well established that customers do their homework to determine credibility and make buying decisions without a sales person being in the room. Sales and the skill of selling is not dead, not by a longshot. But, if securing new business is a primary focus in 2014 for your organization and you’re in a highly specialized industry, consider changing your sales process to a customer buying process. How can better human interaction — and the right humans — become a key part of your customer’s ability to choose you?

At a recent Marketer’s Anonymous meetup, one of our members came to the group looking for ideas on how his marketing team could better support his sales reps. He runs a leading corporate computer training company and has built a reputation of producing rockstar instructors. The conversation took many turns but the most unexpected one came when we began to examine the role of sales rep. Instead of smiling and dialing, we wondered what would it look like if the company repurposed its sales team from creators of a sale to influencers of it. We talked about the idea of building the personal brands of his rockstar instructors — the subject matter experts — allowing the sales team to become agents for the instructor-customer connection. This allows the organization to lead with the credibility and know-how of its people versus focusing on general features and benefits (something a customer can get anywhere). Putting their expertise first also allows the current free and low-cost competitors to become obsolete, making them more attractive to corporate trainers, their most desirable customers.

At Fathom, we don’t have a sales rep. Our senior leadership team develops new business and holds the high level relationships. Currently, my work involves expanding our thought leadership program to expose our thinking and set the stage for future relationship building. It’s working. The most trusted and successful client partnerships emerge when we set the stage for the conversations that move way beyond “what we do” (which is easily comparable to our competitors) to why and how our expertise helps clients achieve success.

The onus is on you to set the stage for human-to-human interaction that leads to new business. If your sales pitches currently lead with features and benefits instead of putting your expertise into the context of your customer’s world, this might require some ingenuity to rethink or reorganize your team and your approach. This work will include:

  • Inviting your subject matter experts (SMEs) and HR to be a part of the marketing/sales/leadership team to build a thought leadership plan that cultivates a team of content creators beyond marketing and creates a sales process to support the initiative. This requires incentive plans and a serious look at who’s accountable for securing new business and how.
  • Brainstorming how the thinking you share with your audiences will merge core business initiatives with your SME’s expertise and perspectives. How will exposing your smart thinking showcase your team as experts while generating new business?
  • Identifying the future role requirements of Influencers and how they can set the stage for SME-client conversations. What sales skills can influencers bring to SMEs to ensure that “great conversations” become secured business?
  • Developing personal brand and networking strategies for your SMEs and the Influencers that determines how and where you will put your influencers and SMEs — either online or in person — to have the most fruitful conversations. This requires some research and listening. The influencers could end up attending industry events to talk up their SMEs while the SMEs could spend time on Quora or in webinars to reach their peers.

What you’re aiming for is piloting a thought leadership program where, at a minimum, 2-3 extroverted, career-motivated experts become your next generation of relationship builders. Worried that supporting the rockstar status of your team is too risky? Consider this parting thought from Peter Baeklund:


If you’re working on a similar program at your organization, we could learn a lot from your experiences and challenges, so please share. And, if you’d like to know more about what we’re up to around relationship building, let’s talk.

Other posts in the “Choose One Thing” series can be found here.

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Posted by: Suzi Craig
Email the author: suzi@fathom.net