The selling cycle has become a buying cycle driven by content.
Once buyers can take 100% of the purchase journey online, social selling and even traditional selling could go away. How? If you're reading the world's foremost expert on cloud switching technologies' blog every day for a year, one day, you just may literally reach a tipping point and be ready to buy. Arguably we're really just accessing our customers lower in the funnel but the funnel is flipped on its head because they're accessing us. It's the delta between old school interruption selling and new school attraction business to business writing.
Rich subject matter expertise can literally fulfill the customer's demands in real time and generate qualified buyers.
I'm not saying that sellers are going away. I'm saying that the sellers of the future need to understand this paradox and this paradigm shift and run with it.
'Who's writing the best content on the internet about what I'm most interested in? I need to find out now, connect in with them, develop a personal relationship with them, buy their books and audio programs, attend their seminars and engage with them in any way that I can to step up my game!' This is the simplicity of how the content revolution currently occurring on the internet works. We are all desperately seeking the source - great ideas that are effective and actionable that will give us a business edge and help us win.
Ask yourself one question? Do you want to be a leader or a follower with how you use social media to evangelize your company or industry? Your audience is much smarter than you could ever imagine and will go to incredibly great lengths to seek you out if you can simply supply awesome ideas born of real world experience. How you reached your station in life is fascinating to other people, especially the techniques that helped you overcome obstacles and your spirit in getting up after you failed.
To dominate in social media, you need to be the butterfly flapping its wings causing a ripple effect that creates a hurricane of interest on the other side of the world. We must challenge ourselves to write powerful, compelling prose that move our public and inspire action. We must write things that help others, make them rethink their business and sharpen the sword of our own business acumen to supply an endless stream of new insight.
Water flows from the river to the sea. Our customers seek out that source of knowledge to establish a trusted advisor relationship with the content itself. I've read authors promoting various ratios. I tend to enjoy a 10:1 curation to creation. I've become a staunch advocate of daily LinkedIn publisher posting and now written extensively on how sales people can blog and publish daily while still adhering to social media policies and corporate governance.
Companies make the mistake of allowing a generic go-to-market strategy. Is it cohesive? Yes. But it's critical to allow reps to personalize and customize their sales story and materials. A final pause for a manager to look it over before going out to a key prospect is fine. The bigger risk is a cohesive, crystal clear brilliant set of approved collateral that looks exactly like the competitor. Sales people will differentiate by how they sell and the quality of the stories they tell. Dream clients are looking to find the best partner for them. They realize it's going to take a real investment to produce a dramatic result so savvy buyers are keenly interested in the ROI of similar customers. How did your solution help a similar client make or save money to justify the spend?
This is all fairly basic but where it gets fairly nuanced is what it takes to create content every day, bake in unique insight and balance it with a curation strategy. You want to give to get but you want to establish your credibility as a trusted source. You know more than you think you know.
- Mashups - I feel like I'm single-handedly bringing this concept back because it was en vogue at some point in Web 2.0. The reason this is so powerful, is one can simply take disparate elements and by putting them together, create some bizarre hybrid synergy which has a whole that is greater than the sum of it's parts. Let's take for example: MC Hammer, Search Engine Technology and The Wolf of Wall Street. How about: A circus, sales management and The Perfect Storm. What about: Putin, Potato Farming and Leadership Execution. Not only is this funny, outrageous and bizarre; this mixing and mashing provides an unique form of context that spices up flat B2B content and gives you a jumping off point almost like a radio show DJ. After all, your overarching goal is not to be 'boring.' You need to capture the hearts and minds of your readers who will invariably be potential customers. Make sure to still capture the core lesson in the message. Sticky, unique content is very rare in B2B so this technique will give you a tremendous edge in getting cut-through. Don't be afraid to stand out and embrace satire, humor and analogies to spheres of life that you're passionate about. For me, that's cycling, wake-boarding, aeronautics and Monty Python.
- Newsjacking - I consistently monitor Google Trends, Twitter Trending Hashtags and LinkedIn Pulse trending topics as well as Feed.ly (200 top sales and business bloggers) and leverage TweetDeck to listen as well. I also watch the Pulse Top 25 list and pay very close attention to what's going viral and by whom in my feed. Why? So that I can respond in a timely and meaningful way with my own opinion. An overarching theme to generating very interesting content that will have a higher propensity to go viral [potentially like this very article that you are reading] - is hyperbole. You probably actually have a pretty strong opinion about many things. Writers that are willing to put it out there and turn the knob to 11, resonate with those that share similar views. If you solely try to remain Swiss neutral on every topic and beat around the bush, you're not going to get much ardent support. Even people that disagree with you, will admire your writing much more if you speak from your heart and 'go big.' Watch the news each day? How does it relate to your company and your business? Granted, make sure you blog in line with a world class standard of how you'd communicate to a client but maybe some piece of it relates? Perhaps the news about Watson inspires you to reflect on whether sales people will go away and we'll have AI sellers? Maybe some technology trend about the rise of big data will inspire you to speak about how that could impact your industry or customer base? Blog about this, curate content adding your own comments to it and Tweet about this, getting into that hashtag stream. I could think of many funny ways to newsjack around themes like Kardashians and many serious and inspiring ones around world events! The options are actually limitless. Be creative!
- Threading - As you start to listen and monitor hundreds of thought leaders, it's critical to start a 'string.' Build out an Evernote file with a living, breathing list of topics that is constantly growing and changing. Sometimes, I'll pick 3 topics and build them into one. You'll also want to keep a running record of all the links you're browsing. You could do this from within feed.ly by bookmarking resources you'd like to come back to. I'm constantly drawing inspiration from what I'm reading all over the blogosphere. I sort and re-sort feeds not just by Top but also Recent so I'm not missing anything. In Feed.ly, I typically have 400 new blog posts per day from myriad thought leaders. I sort it like Google RSS to first scan a couple hundred that day. Are there recurring themes? Is newsjacking occurring there? It seemed to happen a whole bunch over this 'gold dress - blue dress controversy' yesterday? What reaches out and grabs me by the lapels? Perhaps I'll write about or reference that. Active listening requires taking a macro and micro view and then building up a phenomenal set of data points and references that can become the foundation of the article you'll build.
- Take downs - Frankly, sometimes posts just rile me up. I can't help but voice my opinion. We have quite a vibrant selling community in the blogosphere right now and especially erupting in LinkedIn Publisher. I'm often puzzled when experts tout a method that stopped working in 1992 and are still teaching it today. The big violator? Transactional methods being espoused for enterprise engagements. I'm sorry, complex B2B selling is not a one or two call close. It's a slow burn of building trust and collaboration. While you'd never want to make an ad hominem attack, it's completely fair to respectfully challenge another author's thesis and dismantle it by pulling out quotes. I'll first praise the argument and I do a couple things I find original: a) I pull out comments that disagree with me and republish the article with attribution to those writers. b) If there is a highly differing view, I'll often boldy go re-feature it back in the article to foment debate. LinkedIn Publisher is a majorly interactive forum. I often update my LinkedIn Publisher posts over 50 times. I add backlinks, references and quotes and edit them over and over as I read them. My reader base writes in to correct things, ask for sources and even just suggest things that I could add. I run this open source: fully - every day. In that spirit, please inbox me or send an email to [email protected] now with your feedback, questions, topic suggestions or just to say 'hello' so we can have a skype about this. (Especially, if you need to train your team to become content marketing ninjas and leverage this to increase pipeline and sell better.)
- Sacred cows - There are prevailing views that are held sacred. A big one that seems to never die is the 'phone as savior.' Also the discovery albatross question, 'What's keeping you up at night?' or the expression: 'Uncover the pain.' Hosts of salespeople in the 80's and 90's used a variety of manipulative high pressure tactics before the advent of the internet. They actually wielded specialized knowledge that customer prospects needed. It was still a combative sales process because buyers weren't in control running it yet. As Mark Roberge states in his regression analyses of how enterprise reps actually win post 2010: It's about Coachability, Adaptation, Intelligence and Will to Win. The fact is, selling has changed. There are so many sacred cows like this. For example: CRM has been broken and needs to become Customer Experience focused if it doesn't become a mere encumbrance as a back-end database. Every time I tell the truth about CRM I get a resounding yes from dozens of people who are working innovating in this field. Those posts garner over 1,000 unique views almost ever time - often hundreds of shares and retweets. Do you see something that is wrong in the world of business? Is your product or service disruptive and uniquely solving a real business problem in a new way? Are you taking on the establishment? Don't be afraid to write an open letter or truly highlight a prevailing set of myths. Chip away at the bad information out there. Just because there's a legacy incumbent that dominates market share doesn't mean they aren't the next Kodak pooh-poohing the rise of digital cameras!
- Interviews - My YouTube strategy has turned into an interview. I'll sit down in front of a camera and answer some questions that my readers have written in. Another great idea I recently read, is to have a journalist freelance for you. Get them to interview your CEO for a couple hours one Friday and they can turn this into a smashing white paper. Transcribing interviews is a great way to build fresh content because you can go to the thought leaders within your own organization and allow their ingenious ideas to bubble up.
- Contributors - As I network globally, I'm often deeply inspired by a thought leader I connect in with. I know they are the world's foremost expert on a subject so I'll often reach out and say, 'John, could you send me a few paragraphs about the future of where B2B lead gen automation is going?' And amazingly, they will. I'll feature that content in italics and bookmark it with my own writing. Jill Konrath is phenomenal with how she interviews bestselling authors about their books. I'll also dedicate some of my posts to books. I've done several on Cracking the Sales Management Code, SPIN and The Challenger Sale.
- Quote compilations - Some of the posts that I truly enjoy are quote compilations. Take your top 5 favorite business books and pop in your top 5 quotes with a link to tweet. Top book or audio program lists rank well. It's phenomenally 'useful' to list a bunch of quotes and then write in response to how you relate to them. This stagger-step quote and then paragraph of your thoughts is also the format I observe in a take-down post.
- Thematic - I wrote a whole series of posts called the Tao of Steve Jobs in Sales and the Tao of Frost in Sales. It was fun to create a recurring theme and compare their thinking to how they might have sold. Many would argue Jobs was the ultimately seller! If you find a recurring theme on a topic or lyrical writing style that very much works for you, build out a series of posts. I did this with Whale Hunting Part I and II and felt like this was very engaging. In one post I even wrote the world's first poem dedicated to LinkedIn Sales Navigator!
- Rankings - We all are familiar with Dave Letterman's classic Top 10 lists. Anytime you can simplify a complex system like the thousands of books on leadership and selling on Amazon into a ranked list to help curate for your crowd, it's excruciatingly valuable. What are the top sales books of 2014 from your lens? Which 25 books most influenced your career? What were the top 5 greatest sales you ever made? Who are the top 12 world leaders who influenced your career? Who were the weirdest reps you ever managed? What were the most offensive things a client ever emailed you and how did you deftly handle it? Lists get dismissed as cheesy by some but I think ranking lists where you really put time into a strong curation, are a powerful tool and help people. They also let crazy-busy executives 'snack' that content. My two cents!
- Real world advice - Think back to your best friend, most generous client and even a parent or coach that told it like it is. You know, sometimes the world is starving for content that is 'real.' The truth is powerful. Roll up your sleeves, lower the gauntlet and dispense some real-world advice. Have you been in an industry for 25 years? Even 25 days. It's more that you are sharing something that actually happened to you, your customer or in your industry. Content that is grounded in reality, developed from the school of hard knocks or the mean streets, resonates in social media tremendously well. There is so much perfectly constructed ivory tower, research based pabulum choking the airwaves.
- Highly personal stories - Your call if you want to go here - I shared a story about my dad and a plane crash that I survived. I wanted my readers to understand me, my life and my motivations. The journey is often more important than the destination and I think you'll find the 'truth is much stranger than fiction.' Becoming a top seller just like exceeding quota or getting rich, is much more about the person one becomes in the process that the summit of that mountaintop. There's always K2 staring you in the face at your Everest moment. What's the greatest way that you can differentiate yourself? Your story. Iannarino had a metal band! Many CEOs started in the mail room or going door to door as salespeople. We've all lead nine lives so once you reach comfort, be relatable and don't be afraid to share your personal story.
- Case Studies - QF32 was the most amazing virality I ever achieved. It is the true story of a pilot that saved over 400 lives. It's about a real world hero and humble Jim Collins Level 5 leader who graciously represented his brand and served Qantas customers. Testimonials from your clients (approved) and YouTube testimonials will sell your product better than anything else. Case studies about how your sales team won against a massive competitor, help readers divine concrete takeaways that they can go apply today to win in their businesses.
I could probably go on forever with ways to be creative with content. I'm often asked, 'How can I possibly generate this volume of quality content every day?' The above lucky 13 principles form the DNA of my process. It's not unlike writing for Seinfeld. Taking the minutia of a sale and breaking out atomized portions of the content like my recent admonition, 'Don't be a face sucking alien!' highlight one super annoying or funny thing and a valuable key lesson. From this periodic table of themes and elements, an entire universe of limitless rich, engaging content will materialize for you. As a bi-product of edutainment, sharing and creating you'll start to see a funnel build and over time, your public will seek out and buy your book. They'll be a standing room only at your next public speaking event. Thousands of people will research you and your company and start to move through the buying cycle on their own time 24/7 around the world. By the time I receive a message in my inbox on LinkedIn, it's an opportunity 9 times out 10. I average 25 LinkedIn invites per day from people I've never met because I have my email address included in my bio and ask that if you enjoy my content, please connect. So please connect with me now: [email protected]
Sophisticated content marketing creates a virtuous cycle. Curation alone will never get you there! You're just sending all your best relationships to competitors and others who they can buy from. Why tee up a buying cycle and diffuse your market share? Ensure that you are the trusted source. Ensure that your unique insights and your business is the hub and your spokes of insights that amplify out to every corner of the web always bread crumb back to you.
Open source your content and your life. If you have a very stringent policy for what you publish, make friends with your most senior manager and get buy-in for this strategy. Jack Kosakowski does! He's the Saas-a-Nova of Marketing Automation. He blogs up a storm in LinkedIn as a briliant Regional Sales Manager for Act-On Software. His blogs follow everything I shared above. They're funny, insightful, moving (he wrote a beautiful tribute to his grandfather) and rich with insight. He also hosts social hangouts and is hyperactive in social. Does he know how to sell? Yes. Is he monetizing his content? Is he active in the real world and in all other forms of quality selling. Don't doubt it! Social is his force multiplier and he evangelizes it, practicing what he preaches in the new guard.
Yes, he always providing value and creating content that has the capacity to go viral. Is he aligned with his companies policies? You bet and he still has a blast and readers like me do to just reading the stuff. Your audience will literally wait on the edge of their seat for the next riveting post. Sometimes I feel like Jerry Bruckheimer because I'm not afraid to feature a sexy ingenue saving the world on a motorcycles or pyrotechnic explosions. Other times, I feel a bit like John Cleese running rampant in here. Some of the most shared posts I've ever seen on here, come from folks like Jack who aren't afraid to be original and push the envelope. [H's frequently at the top of any top influencer list.
Be like Jack - sell to thousands of dream customers at a time one-to-one-to-many who are looking for your insight... right as we speak! They have a problem that you solve now and can't find you. They're finding Jack. Btw, if you are in the market for marketing automation, why not link in with him and see what he has to say?
Dare to be different. Think differently. Create something. Share what's in your head. Don't die with your music still inside you. Why would you work so incredibly hard one-to-one when the opportunity to move from interruption selling to attraction selling, from push to pull and walk your dream clients up the ladder of engagement every single day exists for you right here!? Naysayers of the old guard? Why not do both? Time management, reps not selling?
Well, social sellers are selling. The funnel is filling. The facts are the facts and the case studies are legion. The best reps still pound the phones but they do it lower in the funnel. They leverage LinkedIn to land more on-sites than their competitors and tee up triple the qualified discovery calls. While a phone only rep is gating EAs, the strategic social seller has landed multiple meetings. Phone rep reached 3 EAs in 10 tries. Strategic social seller buzzed 6 C-Levels iPhones in pocket.
No joke! Don't worry...No, I don't work for LinkedIn. I'm living these articles. Actually, I've started to call it 'living the corpus.' It's holographic as I apply the 150+ articles I've written in here, an upward spiral of ability unfolds and I become stronger in social selling daily.
Ask yourself this, "Is what I'm writing useful? If I read it, could I go out and leverage it to get powerful real-world results today?" If that answer's yes, the next step is always... to hit publish!
Social selling and phone selling, all the tactical selling is all going away. Sellers that win will continue to win. The selling of 2020 is paradoxically called: SELLING. The revolution will not be televised. It will be written by YOU.
If this post inspired you to write your first LinkedIn Publish or use these methods, please send that link back to me after you write it and I'll feature it to my stream with a shout out!
Tony Hughes is ranked as the #1 influencer on professional selling in Asia-Pacific and is a keynote speaker and best selling author. This article was originally published in LinkedIn where you can also follow Tony's award winning blog. Also visit Tony's keynote speaker website at www.TonyHughes.com.au or his sales methodology website at http://www.rsvpselling.com/.
Main image photo by Flickr: Maria Elena
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