The Seven (New) Habits of Successful Marketers in 2021

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I was honored recently to be a part of another great RevTech Summit 2021, an online summit for marketing and sales professionals who want to set themselves up for success in 2021; hosted by ChatFunnels.

I’m always happy to talk more about conversion rates, more about math marketing, more about predictable pipeline. We can get into all that. But in this moment, I thought it was important to step back and just talk about what some of the common components I think are going to make marketers and sales professionals successful throughout at least the remainder of 2021 and likely very beyond.

Watch the presentation here, or read on.

We are at the beginning of a new year. It’s a little odd to think about 12 months ago versus 10 months ago. 10 months ago feels very similar to what it is right now. 10 months ago, we had shut down our offices, many of us had and I was working from my basement. It is 10 months later, and I’m still working from my basement. But 12 months ago was very different. 12 months ago at the beginning of 2020, in late January of 2020, we definitely had some different ideas of what we might be facing for the year.

I was literally faced with this reality recently when building a fire in our fireplace. It’s been a little cold here outside of Seattle so we’ve been doing a fire most nights. I pulled a newspaper out of the bin and it happened to be the 2020 Outlook Special Edition of the Wall Street Journal– a special insert talking about what 2020 was going to be like, what the year was going to have in store, what the market in the economy was going to look like!

I stopped to sit down and read it and it reminded me how much the world has changed. It reminded me how different our jobs are now. You may have the same job you did 10 months ago or 12 months ago, the same role, the same function, the same company. But think about how much has changed.

If I would’ve sat here 12 months ago, this time 2020 and said, “I’m going to describe for you the seven key areas of growth and success for marketers in 2020.” If I would have said, “Here are the attributes, seven attributes of the most successful marketers in 2020,” it’d probably be a little different than what it looks like now!

Because even as we see a little bit of a light at the end of the tunnel, even as we start to see vaccines rollout, and we start to see there is a path towards getting out of the health situation we’re in right now, the economics of where we are continue, even for those companies that were not as adversely affected by the pandemic, you still have a CFO. In many cases, sorry, you have a CF-No who is still being very conservative with cash, rightfully so, saying, “Listen, we made it through 2020. We may have hit our number. We have exceeded our number. But do you really need all that extra money? Because we pulled back on field marketing in 2020 and everything turned out okay. So why do you need that money now?”

The playing field has changed. Field marketing as we knew it 12 months ago has not come back. Selling channels traditionally, getting in front of doing traditional sales calls has not come back. Now maybe that’s not that big a deal for those that have been selling remotely for a while, but we have a lot of manufacturing clients who are used to going and sitting in front of their prospects with a box of samples. That has changed dramatically.

It is accelerated certain trends in B2B sales and marketing as well. It’s not like all of a sudden we went from a purely offline sales into purely digital selling. It’s not like all of a sudden we went from a more vibrant mix of in-field market events and digital events, and then all of a sudden went digital. These were trends that happened suddenly and then… Excuse me. Slowly, and then suddenly. These are all things that have been happening for years and the pandemic accelerated it.

The pandemic also changed some of the rules of how we work together. And at least for the time being, some of those rules are still going to stick around. And I believe some of those are going to maintain for a while. So look, no matter what you believe in terms of the longevity of our lockdowns and the continued impact of the pandemic and its impact suppression on doing field events, getting back to some level of traditional selling, getting back to some level of field marketing events, there’s a lot of change that’s permanent. And I think that’s changing the attributes of what a successful marketer looks like in 2021 and beyond.

So, I want to share what I consider some of the most important attributes of marketers today.

If you’re sitting in a role today and you hear something that doesn’t sound familiar, I’d encourage you to spend some time looking into it. Don’t look at, like, marketer’s role for these things. Look at what it means to fundamentally be these things. Find out what successful people have done in history that have been good at these elements. I think these are not just marketer lessons.

These are not just sales lessons. Hopefully these are some life lessons that we can all use to become better professionals, to become better teammates, to become better managers, and to become better leaders in the months and years ahead.

So, my seven areas of focus, my seven key attributes of successful marketing and sales professionals in 2021.

EMPATHY

I think empathy encompasses so much of what we do as sales and marketing professionals. Your ability to have empathy for your customer, to understand, and know what they care about, to understand what makes them tick, to understand what problems they have in a way that they may not understand themselves, and to be empathetic about that….Not to tell them what to do, but to help them reach discovery for themselves on the nature of the problem, the impact and the degree of the problem, and what it takes to solve for that.

Empathy also applies to your peers across the aisle, sales, and marketing. Understanding you each have a very hard job. You had a hard job before the pandemic. You had a hard job, 12, 13 months ago. You have a harder job now. Let’s assume the best of intentions for the people we’re working with. It’s part of what empathy means. Assume that sales is doing their best to try to close opportunities that marketing gives them. Sales should assume marketing is trying to give you qualifying opportunities, is trying to give you good leads.

Look, this shit is hard, right? Doing this work is hard. And it’s getting harder not only as opportunities closing the field, but as the sales cycles lengthen, as buying committees get larger, as all of our competitive marketplaces get more crowded and more noisy. So having some empathy along the way and exhibiting some empathy makes a really, really big difference along the way.

COMPLEXITY

A tolerance for complexity. Gone are the days when you could just say, “Listen, marketing is easy. I’m going to get lists. I’m going to send emails to a list. I’m going to send some message to a list. Some people are going to respond. Some people are going to fill out a form. Anybody who gets to that point, if they fill out a form, great. They’ve raised their hand. I’m throwing those to sales.” That is a nice clean linear progression of demand gen that is no longer relevant and may never have been particularly efficient. Unless you are selling a truly transactional product, unless your sale is the equivalent of picking up People Magazine as you check it out of the grocery store, I guarantee you there’s complexity you need to make sure you’re accounting for in your sales or marketing process.

Some of that complexity could be the nature of the buying committee. There may be one senior decision maker, but I bet you there are other people in the organization who have a vested interest in solving the problem, a vested interest in reaching some kind of solution that points them towards a better outcome. I’ll bet you there are members of the buying committee that may be negative influencers, people who would prefer the status quo to stay the same. Let alone the procurement department, which is the sales prevention department in many organizations.

You’ve got complexity in the people involved. You’ve got complexity in the stages, the different steps that go along. Forget your sales process. If you actually documented the stages and every individual step your prospect goes through from the time they exhibit a behavior of a problem, maybe even just start from the time they reach out to you or you reach out to them, if every action is a step, how many steps is that? I bet it’s a lot.

For those of you who have sales cycles that are not measured in weeks, maybe even months, but are measured in quarters, God help you. If you’re selling into the federal government and now you’re measuring your sales stages in Olympic cycles. It’s like, “Well, what’s this deal? This deal’s been in our pipeline for a while. Well, I’m hoping it closes by Tokyo. We’ll see.” So that’s part of the complexity. Let alone the complexity we had in terms of how execute all of this internally.

I’ve seen multiple studies now, before 2020, but especially since last year, indicating the biggest challenge, the biggest obstacle for many sellers is not navigating the buyers ecosystem, but navigating their own ecosystem. Who’s doing what? Where does the data sit? How do we know when someone is ready to hear from us? How do we get the right signals and intent signals and data to be able to determine when someone’s ready for a conversation? There are lots of great ad hoc, agile ways to do that quickly. How do we do that at scale? How do we do that in a way that is process driven? That is predictable? That is repeatable?

Look, I wish sales and marketing was easier as well. I wish it was as easy as sending an email, getting response, and putting someone through a funnel, and eventually some close. It’s not that easy. It’s not going to get a lot simpler. The more you can embrace the complexity of the process internally and externally, the more likely you’re going to be successful at addressing it and creating systems, processes, messages to make it work.

DIPLOMACY

Diplomacy is how you get things done inside your organization. It’s how you negotiate resources within your own department and across departments. It’s how you reach mutual wins to make sure you’re not fighting for someone else’s resources so you win and they lose. You need to be in a situation where everybody wins. That might mean some compromise. It might also mean being really clear about what you want, and being really clear about what the outcomes look like, and being really clear about what the process is going to be to get there. This is a little bit of knowing how to negotiate, right? And knowing how to negotiate in a situation where you can address and be empathetic to the other side.

But make no mistake, as you are negotiating for budget, as you’re negotiating to get the sales organization to adopt a particular process, as you’re negotiating and working with the catalyst inside the buying organization to help them build consensus amongst the internal buying committee, the language you use, the approach you use that is diplomacy.

And this is one of those cases where I mentioned upfront, the more you can learn about what great diplomats do, what diplomatic strategy looks like the better. Go read about Kissinger. Go read about some of the great Secretaries of State in the history of the United States and you’ll learn a lot about skills that are transferable into your role as a sales or marketing leader.

RADICAL CURIOSTIY

Your prospect doesn’t want to be told they’re wrong. Your colleagues don’t want to be told they’re wrong. Any time I need to change as an individual, I’m more likely to pursue that change, I’m more likely to commit to that change if I come to the realization myself that that change is needed. So instead of telling me what I need to know, ask me questions that make me curious. Show you are curious about their situation. Show you are curious and interested in hearing more about their situation and ask questions that get your prospect to think differently about the problems they may or may not know they have.

If you learn how to ask the right questions, and again, this is based on how well you know the prospect to begin with, the better you know your persona, the better you know the detail of your buying committee, the more likely you know how to craft those questions in a way that helps the prospect see the future in a different way.  That helps them challenge their status quo. And if you’re able to do that successfully, you’ve got a prospect who simply in evaluating and reflecting on your question is learning. There is value not in the answer, but in the process.

There’s a reason why I put radical curiosity right after diplomacy. Great diplomats, great negotiators don’t tell. They ask. They let the other side feel like they’re in control. They let the other side come to a conclusion on their own. It feels like it’s their solution now, not yours you are shoehorning into them. So the better you can exhibit that level of curiosity, the better you can just continue to ask questions, not just about the situation, about the status quo, but about the impact it has, all the better.

  • What’s the motivation behind the change?
  • What will it feel like once that change happens?
  • How do you compare that feeling of achieving that outcome with the feeling that prospect has right now, and the fear they have right now about the lack of confidence that they’re going to achieve that outcome?

Those are questions you could ask. These are questions you can address in your marketing. These are questions you can teach a junior BDR to ask. We hear people all the time say, “How can I expect my 22 year old recent college grad to understand their prospects industry well? Well, maybe you can’t. But know your prospect well enough to teach your sales reps, even your junior sales reps, how to be curious and how to translate curiosity into asking the right questions.

ETHICS

I debated whether I wanted to call this values. You could address it as having a real strong company culture. But look, everyone’s going to have a different version of how that looks. And to me, it comes down to just knowing what’s right and doing what’s right. Not doing what’s quick. Not doing what’s easy.

I grew up in Northern California, but my family is all from the Midwest. My grandpa and mom and my dad, they taught me the impact and the importance of humility and hard work. You put your hard hat on every day. You just do the work. You get the work done and you just, you appreciate the impact it has. You don’t seek glory. You don’t see fame. It’s not about having any ego. It’s about just doing work and feeling good about that work. It’s not just being excited to go to work in the morning. It’s about feeling good about yourself and being proud of yourself when you go home.

If you’re expecting to be in business longer than this month, longer than this quarter, you can’t afford to take the shortcuts when you start to feel desperate. This has been an interesting year for that. A lot of us, a lot of people have suffered deeply with their jobs, in their businesses, with their health and their families. A lot of people have been scared for businesses that have been successful for years, if not decades.  All of a sudden the pandemic makes people desperate. I believe the way people have reacted in the last 10 months, the way people have reacted and treated their employees, their customers, their prospects, the generosity and grace they have exhibited within their industries, that’s going to echo for a very long time. And I think that is based on a set of ethics you determine.

Whether you codify that in values or in your culture, or whether you just write it down and say, “This is what we believe. This is how we act. Here are lines we don’t cross.” That may sound like senior leadership CEO stuff, but if you haven’t decided what your ethics are, if you haven’t decided where your lines are, then it’s going to be really hard to know whether you cross them or not.

TOLERANCE FOR CHAOS

God help you. In the last 10 months, globally, we’ve been forced to operate in a chaotic environment. Let’s not pretend all of a sudden one day we’re going to wake up and a switch is going to be switched and all of a sudden everything’s going to be good. I think if you’re in a fast paced growth based company, you’re used to both the complexity and the chaos to begin with. You’re used to things moving at a pace and changing at a pace that sometimes is uncomfortable. It’s part of the deal.

As we continue to recalibrate what’s working, what’s not, as we continue to find the right balance between digital channels and non-digital channels, as we start to emerge back into the world we need to be OK with chaos.

Today, it’s easy to say, “Well, we’re going to completely be digital.” “We’ll just wait until your competitors go back to an event.” “Just wait until one of your colleagues appears, shows up at your customer’s office again.” People are going to start to change their mind again. So knowing the way you’re operating today is likely to change again, knowing that to begin with, having a tolerance for chaos will make it easier for you to accept those uncertain times and uncertain situations.

Being willing to be the first to address it, the first to announce it, to be the first to say, “Hey, listen. Things are different. We need to make a change.” If you’re willing to step up and make that discovery and share that with your team, it gives you a little more control over the outcome. It gives you a little more control of the conditions and variables you can now put into play to make a change, to put a little bit of management around that chaos.

GRACE

I started with empathy and I ended with grace. This is a really tough time. We’ve been through a lot in the last 10 months and we’ve got more to go through. When I recorded this presentation, I was not in my office. I was not on stage somewhere. I was in my basement. As I recorded I could hear my kids running around upstairs. They should be in school. Maybe they were on a break. I wondered what are they doing?  The geographic circumference I am in these last several months, probably not that different than many of you. We are not robots. We are not purely professionals. We are full human beings.

I appreciate we’ve been able to see a little more into each other’s lives. I could have put up a background behind me with the Heinz marketing logo. No. This is me. I was in my basement. That’s where I was. It’s where I’m working. I have my piano behind me, some baseball bats off to the side. I have my daughter’s art and on the wall a picture of my wife and I, when I was a lot skinnier and a lot younger. This is where we are.

Understanding the full situation your colleagues and your prospects and your customers are situated in, having some empathy for that, but also proactively exhibiting some grace for the moment and understanding and asking people, “How are you doing?” And then especially people internally, especially your direct reports, say, “Okay. No. Really, no. How are you doing?” To get the real answer. People will appreciate it.

Even if you don’t have something you can do about their answer, just continue to ask that question. It doesn’t get old. Just because it’s been 10 months doesn’t mean people are getting used to this situation.

Recently someone said “I don’t know if the treadmill can run any faster right now. I feel like we’re at max speed.” People are still facing all of this. And if you feel like your colleagues are facing that, if you feel like your peers are facing that, if you feel like your board is stressed out, your customers and prospects are feeling the same way. Asking them how they’re feeling, and exhibiting some grace in the moment with them, for them, together with them, I think, means a lot.

Best of luck to all of you in the remainder of 2021. Be well!

To watch the full line up of RevTech Summit 2021 speakers, click here.

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