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.