Is it Time to Add Blogging as a New Core Sales Competency?

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Sometimes we perceive irony slowly, like icy water that creeps into our shoes after smashing through the fragile surface of a frozen puddle. Here’s an example:

“Salespeople know that their jobs depend on getting a customer to sign on the dotted line. Successful salespeople often approach this challenge by using tools that better align with the executive who has the checkbook . . . This means presenting a clear business case and delivering a concise, compelling c-level message that will increase the chance of making the sale.”

Fairly unremarkable, until you learn the source. Ready?

It’s excerpted from an article written for senior IT executives, Closing the Deal, in Profit Magazine/ The Executive’s Guide to Oracle Applications!

It’s hard not to glow when you’re the object of admiration. More so when it’s from an improbable source. If you blink, you’ll miss seeing the executive smile. So don’t let buzzkill sales experts fool you with their ceaseless listen-don’t-talk advice. Maybe, just maybe, the often-maligned, quota-carrying, commission-driven B2B salesperson has valuable knowledge that others want.

The fact that selling skills are transferable into project management tells us that others have good reason to crave the knowledge salespeople possess. But competitive culture keeps sales knowledge bottled up, hoarded rather than shared. Crack the vault open by even a little, and a salesperson risks revealing his or her most cherished keys to success. Internally, no red-blooded, ego-driven salesperson wants to make it easy for the #2 rep to usurp the crown jewels that come with Top Producer. And externally, please—don’t even think of getting too chatty in front of a customer! “Telling is not selling!” We’ve all heard it more than once.

While it’s popular to goad salespeople to shut up and listen, squashing half the communication circuit serves nobody. Like other professionals, salespeople face a chronic tug-of-war between talking and listening, sharing information and absorbing it, pitching and asking. Many things have changed in sales, but from the time the first Neanderthal salesperson meandered from cave to cave, selling and bartering anything has depended on effective communication—whether the item is a commercial jetliner, or obsidian buffalo hide scraper.

Social media and Sales2.0 have provided an explosion of communication opportunities for salespeople. But oddly, for reasons that aren’t clear, I have seen few takers. Maybe lots of salespeople are still asked to dial for dollars, and to improve techniques to get past gatekeepers. Absent from the mix is writing, an undervalued competency for today’s sales achiever. That presents an opportunity for any sales executive who chooses to seize it. Just as prospects and customers have much to gain from reading quality online content, salespeople have much to gain from writing it. And there’s no reason they shouldn’t. Or can’t. Qualifying, prospecting, closing. It’s time to add blogging to the list of core sales competencies.

Blogging provides companies significant benefits, including “more effective inbound marketing, better search engine results, thought leadership, increased engagement with customers and prospects, and social media integration,” according to Des Walsh, who recently wrote a blog about blogging, Five Business Benefits of Running a Company Blog.

But for salespeople, there are five more, which I’ll throw in for no extra charge:

1. Blogging requires rigor and practice. Good blogging requires ongoing rigor to identify important issues, to organize ideas, and to express them clearly.

2. Blogging encourages salespeople to move beyond the comfort of gratuitous recitation of product features, functions and benefits.

3. Blogs are durable. Compared to a face-to-face sales conversation, written communication is consumed over longer timeframes, usually by larger audiences.

4. Blogs are accessible 24/7, from almost anywhere, on almost any device.

5. Blogs enable prospects to engage at their convenience. Something to remember the next time your sales rep tells you that her prospecting calls frequently meet a voice mail greeting–a kinder, gentler term than brush-off.

Sales VP’s are justifiably leery about adding a potential productivity sinkhole with unclear advantages, fraught with risks. I understand the concern. After all, blogging takes time. And salespeople already use Twitter and Facebook during business hours. Among the objections I’ve heard:

“That’s Marketing’s job.” True, if you stick to the orthodox view of Marketing as one-to-many and Sales as one-to-one. But that doesn’t work for every company.

“My salespeople can’t even write a coherent email.” Understood. Before salespeople blog, we must first help them to write.

“I want my salespeople selling, not blogging.” Agreed. Balance is needed. Blogging forty hours per week won’t bring a salesperson any closer to a sale than will the same amount of telephone prospecting.

“Competitors might find my smartest salespeople and steal them.” Too late. Everyone on your sales team already has a LinkedIn profile. And a personal email address.

“My salespeople will say something dumb. Repeatedly. To the world.” Agreed. But if every writer were similarly risk-averse, libraries would be empty, and there would be no buyers for Amazon’s Kindle.

“People might think my salespeople are smarter than me.” A problem that many sales managers would be delighted to have!

If you’re looking for the bloggers on your sales team to provide positive ROI or to give a lift to next quarter’s revenue, you’re likely to be disappointed. Even though blogging provides prospect engagement, SEO, thought leadership, and gobs of other things that make marketers and brand evangelists jump for joy, for salespeople the greatest benefits from blogging come from the habits it creates. Among them, developing an ear for important topics and issues, and empathy for what others want to know and learn about them. Habits as mission-critical for sales readiness as up-to-the-minute data and knowledge of the latest product specifications.

Blogging is as essential for good communication as hand washing is for good hygiene. Call it calisthenics for the loquacious. The appetite that customers and prospects have for the knowledge that salespeople share is just the icing on the cake.

4 COMMENTS

  1. Hi Andy,

    Very much agree with your post. It points to just one aspect of how sales is transforming in light of new buyer behaviors and evolving technologies. While in the past couple of years the pendulum was swinging all the way over to the marketing side with the emphasis on content, sales was churning to find its’ new role. I believe that the pendulum will be swinging back to sales over the next few years as buyers seek stronger interactions and connections as well as expertise. The evolving technologies of social media and sales 2.o are allowing sales pros to do just that – build stronger connections while at the same time demonstrate expertise. Organizations will need to embrace this transformation as opposed to keep sales contained in conventional thinking. Great perspective here Andy!

    Tony Zambito
    @tonyzambito

  2. Tony: thanks for your comment. Wouldn’t it be great if before we invite a salesperson for a meeting, we had some insight into how he or she thinks? Or could gauge the depth of their expertise? Or had some other window into his character?

    And for salespeople, doesn’t that present an outstanding opportunity to facilitate that first meeting or contact?

    And for sales managers, wouldn’t reviewing a writing sample from a candidate salesperson help to identify those with higher potential?

    As you point out, evolving social media technologies provide the opportunities. Why not take advantage of them?

  3. This issue of whether reps should blog has been kicked around quite a lot. I hear a lot of excuses about why it’s a time waster etc., but it seems to me that it’s an opportunity for reps (and their companies) to stand out from the crowd.

    Fours years ago I wrote about the top 10 dumb reasons for CEOs not to be leaders in the social web, and I think many of them apply to sales reps or really any business professional.

    Here’s one that I think fits perfectly:

    Excuse No. 10: You don’t have enough time.
    Seriously, would you accept this excuse from one of your employees? Last I checked, everyone has the same number of hours in the day. It’s all in how you decide to use them. So, what you’re really saying is that the social web is not important enough (yet) for you to invest your time in it. But consider this: Some very busy CEOs are blogging regularly, like Bill Marriott of Marriott International. You can, too.

    To me, blogging is about communication. If a rep can’t write well, I really wonder how he/she can write effective proposals, emails, etc. I’ve personally found that writing helps clarify thinking. If you can’t put an idea down in words, maybe you’re not ready to talk about it. If you can’t write about anything except your products’ features and functions, maybe you’re not a consultative sales rep that understands business issues.

    Andy touched on another key point — blogging can help the prospect learn about the rep. Maybe blogging will help get that first meeting or differentiate from the other reps competing for the prospect’s time.

    Ultimately, I think blogging is an opportunity to show thought leadership, one of 5 opportunities to profit from social selling.

    So my view is to stop making excuses. Reps can spend a little less time putting data into that CRM system, and invest it in blogging instead!

  4. Bob: your comment reminded me that pre-social media, one company I worked for occasionally had salespeople present a key topic to share with the rest of the sales team. It wasn’t called ‘blogging’ then, but it was the ancient precursor. The presentation might have been to provide an overview of outsourced logistics, or insight about more technical topic. In any case, the presentation took effort and polish, despite the fact it was given in friendly, collegial surroundings.

    Today is no different. In many organizations, salespeople are asked to share knowledge with colleagues about a myriad of topics. Without much additional effort, why not turn that knowledge outward to clients, prospects, educators, and anyone else who might be interested–and listening. It’s an easy way to start, and probably easier than just saying “start blogging!”

    Through a committed effort on the part of management and the sales team, a company could differentiate itself by gaining a hard-to-match reputation for its knowledge and communication skills. The cost, of course, is mainly time. But the value added for prospects and customers could be considerable. Long term, expect the reciprocal benefits to be equivalent.

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