Elizabeth Mills explains the importance of branding when selling a company and how small changes to the sales approach can greatly improve the chances of securing new business
An advertisement that first ran in 1958, for a publisher of business magazines, features a man in his late-fifties wearing a formal suit and bow tie. He is seated in a traditional leather swivel chair looking, unsmiling, directly out of the page, as if meeting a new salesperson for the first time.
Next to him are the words:
I don't know who you are.
I don't know your company.
I don't know your company's product.
I don't know what your company stands for.
I don't know your company's customers.
I don't know your company's record.
I don't know your company's reputation.
Now – what was it you wanted to sell me?
This advertisement illustrates the importance of properly introducing your company to prospects. And this message is from an advertisement that first ran nearly half a century ago. Today you could also add: I don't have time for you.
The issue for companies is how to overcome this resistance. And the answer lies in consistent marketing communications and good salesmanship. It's about working out what your pitch is and getting it honed down to a point where you can clearly convey it.
All too often sales pitches can be all about the power of positive thinking. Clearly this is important, but so is negative thinking.
To explain, unless your customers are wholly dissatisfied with their current providers or are looking for a solution to a new problem they have a dilemma.
They have current suppliers who have not caused them any major problems. They could improve things a bit or save a bit of money, but it's a gamble.
They'll naturally cling on to any reason not to switch and will give this a disproportionate importance, even if they're having to undergo a formal tender process. It could be one of any number of reasons – that you're further away, that you're smaller, or bigger. Anything to excuse the risk of switching.
One of the first steps in determining your marketing materials is considering why they wouldn't buy from you.
You can then work on reasons why these don't present an issue – deal with them before they crop up. If you think they might feel you're based far away, explain that you have representatives on the road and that you have long-standing clients across the country.
The crucial aspect of this exercise is to be honest and to get input from as many people as possible. This can be a bit uncomfortable, but makes for a very effective approach.
Even if you overcome all the hurdles put in place by the businessman in the advertisement, so that he buys into what you're offering, he may then have to overcome the same hurdles with his seniors. He may well decide it's not worth it.
This issue, which is not really a concern in consumer marketing, is a major problem with generating new sales into larger businesses. The bigger the business, the bigger the issue.
It's this dynamic which sat behind IBM getting the reputation as being the business that you could safely recommend to your bosses. After all, no one gets sacked for buying IBM. When senior people don't fully understand an area, such as IT, the brand becomes vitally important.
Brands are arguably most important in B2B environments, especially where increasing time and resource pressures prevent full formal reviews taking place. But brands are notoriously difficult and expensive to build. And because B2B sales are largely face to face, brand building is much slower.
A quick glance at the list of Business Superbrands 2005 illustrates how many have a very long heritage.
So, while you are building your brand, how can you keep your sales on an upward curve?
A key element is helping your contacts sell on your offering within their businesses. Understand how they will engage other parties and whether you need to speak or present to any of them.
Also consider what collateral you can provide your contacts to justify their decision to their peers or seniors. And seriously consider the role hospitality can play in bringing other involved parties into the sales process and helping them buy-in to your offering.
Without this broader effort, success is likely to be limited to businesses that are owner managed, or where there is very clear responsibility for specific areas.
Success is also about choosing the right prospects. Even if you have a fantastically strong offering you still need prospects that have the time and motivation to consider what you're providing.
Much has been written about websites, urging people to move beyond using them as brochures and to fully embrace online sales. The reality is that most websites are not even good brochures. This is a shame, because they are a truly fantastic addition to the sales process.
If you can use your marketing communications to catch the interest of your prospect, then your website can be the most important tool in your marketing armoury. It allows you to convey the key steps of the sales process that bring you to the 'now what do you want to sell me?' stage.
Use it with new prospects, people with whom you have an appointment and people you have visited. A website is also an essential tool in helping your contact to sell on your business within theirs.
The other essentials are patience and persistence. Keep building a prospect database, keep it fresh and keep working it. Keep making yourself relevant with regular articles and intelligent, informative, challenging sales messages, while building your brand through all the available channels.
Above all, be patient. New business success takes time to get rolling.
If it helps to focus the mind on how important a structured approach is to targeting prospects, imagine taking the word 'don't' out of each line in the advertisement copy above. Consider how much better the chances will be of securing the business. IT
Elizabeth Mills is head of human resources compliance training at the Broker Network