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I want to ask you a question. Do prospects want to buy or be sold? Do great prospects, especially those in the C-suite, see themselves as being in control? Are they in the driver’s seat?
Do they choose how and when to engage with a professional service provider? Are they actively looking for the right solutions to help their organization achieve their goals?
Or are they passively waiting for the right company to come along and pitch the right products and services? Are they the passenger or the driver?
Why do I ask? Because the way you answer this question has a direct bearing on how effective your sales and marketing efforts will be now and in the years to come.
Here is my thesis to you. The world of digital marketing has forever shifted the power to the buyer. This means the pitch is dead. This means talking about your products and services, your company, how great you are at what you do – it will no longer work.
Today’s empowered buyer wants to buy. They are in control. They do not want to be sold. But here’s the tough part about this shift. They don’t know what they need. They don’t know how to apply your capabilities to their situation. This means your job as a marketer and a consultant has completely changed from what it was just a few years ago.
Your job is not to market and sell your services. Your job is to market and promote ideas, to create buy-in to an approach that consistently delivers the outcomes that matter to your ideal clients and prospects. If you do this, prospects will self-persuade and pull you through your sales funnel. Let me show you how to do this.
YOUR JOB, IN THE AGE OF DIGITAL, IS TO PROMOTE IDEAS ABOUT AN APPROACH THAT CONSISTENTLY DELIVERS THE OUTCOMES THAT MATTER TO YOUR IDEAL CLIENTS AND PROSPECTS.
They Don’t Know What They Don’t Know
I want to address this phenomenon of ideal prospects not knowing what they need. I believe this is a critical situation for you to understand and address if you are going to be successful in the age of digital.
A few years ago, we ran a custom research project for a technology consulting firm in Northern California. This firm had perfected a service delivery model for medium-sized corporations and it was a unique approach. They wanted to more than double their revenue and open several new offices. They had built a better mouse trap and were ready to take it to the next level.
To support this expansion, we conducted qualitative research with decision-makers and decision-influencers inside companies who fit their ideal client profile but who were not their client. Here is what we discovered.
These decision-makers, especially at the C-suite level, did not know that they had alternatives. They had become so accustomed to failing or under-performing IT systems and services that they expected nothing more than this. They didn’t realize that they could have consistently reliable, fast, secure and scalable IT systems.
This meant our client had one major job. They had to plant a seed in the minds of these C-level executives that there was a better way, that they actually could grow their company with predictable and reliable IT services.
Our client had to establish a new baseline for normal. Normal meant that you could walk into the office day after day and not wonder when your IT systems would fail. Failure was the old normal. Our client had to establish a new normal. Why? Because these prospects didn’t know what they didn’t know.
I know this phenomenon is even more pronounced today than it was back then. How do I know this? Our company, and a select group of our clients, are using digital marketing to pull great prospects into dialogue.
We see, time and time again, that prospects are excited about our ideas. But almost without fail, they are completely uncertain about how to apply the ideas to their business. They don’t know what they don’t know.
The Pitch Is Dead
Now let’s talk about the pitch being dead. I know many people don’t believe this and I think it takes some persuasion to see how the world has changed. Let me tell you a quick story.
Back in the 1990s, when I led the marketing function for Acclaim Technology, I heard a lot of pitches. I controlled a budget at the time of around three million dollars a year.
Over the several years that I held that position, I heard dozens and dozens of pitches. I couldn’t count them all. In fact, I got to the point where I could spend 5 minutes on someone’s website before they came into our office and could nearly predict their pitch before they put up their first slide.
There came a point when I was tempted to say to people coming into our boardroom: why don’t you sit over there in my chair and I will make your pitch for you. Why do I say this? Because if you’ve heard one pitch, you’ve heard them all.
Here is what dawned on me after I heard about my tenth pitch. Nobody who came through that door really cared about my company, my career or what I was trying to accomplish for my company. All they really cared about was getting a piece of my budget.
My signature on their deal was merely the gateway they had to pass through to get what really mattered to them – my money. Now don’t get me wrong. I don’t begrudge anyone the need to make money. We all need to do this.
But here is what I learned from those hours spent listening to pitches. They were all pretty much the same message. We are ABC company. These are our products and services. This is why we’re the expert. This is why we’re the trusted advisor to our clients. This is how we’re different from everyone else.
But it wasn’t true.
Swap out the name ABC Consulting for XYZ consulting and the pitch was virtually the same. Change a few details and a few graphics, and the slide decks were blandly, shockingly similar. This is the problem with pitching.
I couldn’t help but ask myself, after a certain period of time – doesn’t anyone have a unique idea for me and my company? Hasn’t anyone done research to understand the goals we’re trying to achieve? Don’t they know about the things we’ve tried to do?
Don’t they have any unique insights that would help us get there faster, with lower risks and with a higher degree of certainty? Don’t they know what that would do for my career?
If anyone had come through our boardroom with insights to share, rather than a pitch about their company, I would have been all ears. I would have listened. And if I liked the ideas and had confidence in the firm, I would have gladly awarded them a portion of my budget.
How Things Are Different Now
Back in the 90s, things were much different. Analog marketing was still effective. For decades, service firms went to market with just a handful of analog strategies.
- They asked their clients for referrals.
- They attended tradeshows
- They spoke at conferences.
- They advertised in highly targeted trade publications.
- They joined industry associations and networked.
- They formed partnerships and strategic alliances.
- They bought lists and direct mailed people.
- When all else failed, they cold-called prospects.
Then along came digital and suddenly the world changed. Services people tried to keep up with all of the analog strategies while adding these onto the list:
- Social media
- Email marketing
- White papers
But the biggest shift was not the new technology. It was how prospects behaved in the digital sphere.
The Prospect’s Inbound Journey
The internet is often called a disintermediation technology. This is a fancy way of saying people could now get access to information without someone in the middle. Here is what I mean.
Before the rise of the internet, if you were the CEO of a company and you wanted to know how a given service provider might help you achieve your goals, you had to call them up, ask for a meeting and wait for them to show up with a slide projector and set of brochures. Sounds archaic doesn’t it?
But it gets worse. If you wanted to know how several different service providers might be able to help you achieve your goals, and you wanted to compare their individual approaches, you had to repeat that process I’ve just described several times over. This could potentially take weeks or even months.
Of course, all of that has changed now. In an age of disintermediation, a CEO goes to the websites of 5 different companies in a matter of minutes. The CEO can download brochures, watch videos, view blog-sites and get access to all sorts of information – all without revealing that they are looking.
This is the biggest change from analog marketing. It’s the behavior of prospects.
Today’s active prospect can be completely invisible to you. They might be a serious potential buyer with millions of dollars in their budget, just like I was, and you may never know they were looking at you.
This is something I call the inbound journey and it has four distinct stages:
- Anonymous – where they surf your website and sample your content without identifying themselves.
- Acknowledged – where they register for a content asset and submit their personal information.
- Engaged – where they spend time thinking about your ideas and how you can help them.
- Leaning-in – where they request to enter dialogue with your sales team to discuss a specific need or opportunity.
But the only way we know of today to take great prospects from anonymous to leaning-in is to give them great ideas.
The Power Of Ideas
In a recent post, I outlined an approach to becoming a trusted advisor to organic ideal prospects. I won’t go into all of the details, but here was the approach I outlined:
- Build an ideal client profile.
- Ask yourself what matters to ideal clients: goals, opportunities, challenges.
- Ideate your best advice for these topics.
- Package this advice into short-form and long-form content marketing materials.
- Presume to be their trusted advisor before money changes hands.
- Deploy your content on top of a marketing automation platform.
- Pull organic ideal prospects into the consultative sale.
I won’t go into all of the details I outlined in that post. But I do want to add something to this concept about pulling prospects into dialogue.
After analyzing the lead score, the digital footprint, of literally thousands of inbound prospects, I’ve noticed a trend. Those with big budgets and decision-rights tend to engage with a gmail or personal email account before they reveal who they really are and how much they really have to spend.
I’ve now seen this happen several times. They quietly consume our ideas and spend sometimes hours on our website – all before they request dialogue. But when they’ve made up their minds, they want to go. They want to move quickly.
In fact, we cannot get them a proposal fast enough. We don’t have to pitch them about our company, who we are, what we do or why we’re great. They already believe all of that because they’ve spent time self-persuading. They know what we do and they know we have great ideas that are a perfect fit for their organization.
But what they don’t know is how we will apply our skills, our expertise and our ideas for their company. They don’t know, and they can’t wait to see, what a unique plan looks like just for their company.
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