John Smibert

5 Topics That Sellers Should Write About

Every real profession demands that its members read to remain relevant. Their members research topics including the latest trends, industry obligations, case studies and research findings. Those within their ranks who are respected most are the ones who develop insights, achieve the best results and publish their findings.

Don't claim to be a professional and then tell me you don't read... you're joking, right?

According to CEB research, 95% of buyers expect insight from the seller. Yet Forrester Research highlights that 85% of sellers fail to meet buyer expectations while CEB research found that 86% of sellers fail to differentiate in the mind of the buyer. We clearly have a problem but it can be solved when sales people embrace imperative to write within the guidelines of their company and with management and marketing serving as editors.

If you want to transform the way you sell, commit to reading and then writing. Don't just read about how to sell, also read about the issues that impact your clients. Researching and writing is the best possible sales training a person can have because it forces the individual to go deep and test assertions while creating their own authentic narrative.Here is why sales people need to write but...

Should sales people write or 'curate' content during office hours or selling time? ... No!

Sales people should instead invest 30 minutes a day in their own time, before or after work, for career development. They should also work closely with their marketing department and manager to ensure quality, leverage tools, and be aligned with corporate messaging and policies. There are two types of content publishing:

  1. Content curation. This is where you work with other people's content and publish Updates via LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Google+ or other social platforms in which your clients and target market monitor and engage.
  2. Content Authoring. This is where you create your own blog posts or articles that demonstrates insight and value for your target market. It is also how you evidence your credentials and set the agenda with those whom you seek to engage.

Content publishing is important because 75% of buyers use social media to research sellers before engaging (Source: IDC) and 74% of buyers choose the seller who first provides insight and value (Source: Corporate Visions). It begs the question: What do people see when they find you online? Do they see a sales person's CV or do they see a warm professional person offering insight and value?

Go beyond the basics of personal branding to also attract and engage with content

Content Curation

'Content curation' is the process of working with other people's content where you add brief commentary and then share with your network. Your goal is follow those who are relevant for your target market and then become the 'forager for the tribe' as David Meerman-Scott says. Everyone is busy and you can provide value by being a content aggregator where your market can simply follow you to see content from dozens of sources they don't have time to research individually themselves.

Who are the journalists, bloggers, analysts and industry leaders that your market audience follows and respects? By attaching yourself to these personal brands you elevate your own, and by sharing their content with short additional insights and commentary you can create value for those who follow you. From this list, highlight the individuals with substantial following within your target market whose followers you would like to become your own. Who has substantial following within your target market?

The above format is my simple way of recording the details of those who can provide you with valuable content to then share with your network. Hootsuite or Buffer are excellent technologies for easily creating a scheduling content to be automatically published at the best times. 

5 Topics to Inspire Content Creation

We need to publish content write about what interests our audience instead of projecting our 'value proposition' or factoids about our company, product or service. Importantly, we must be clear about who we are targeting with our content and here are content categories that sales people and marketers can use to create blog articles to write that attract and engage clients.

  1. Your customer’s fears and concerns (competition, disruption, etc.). Without writing from a negative perspective: What are the risks that your customers face? What competitive risks that worry them? How are they being 'disrupted' by technology, changes in the economy or legislation, agile competitors, off-shoring, etc. These topics and more can be the subject of posts you write
  2. Insights from research data that impacts your customer’s world. Search and subscribe to analysts that comment of your customer's industry or the trends that impact them.
  3. Blind Case studies evidencing how things can be improved. Every sales person needs to be masterful at telling powerful true stories of how their customers solved problems, created business cases, managed change and delivered transformation. Even if the client won't do an official case study or testimonial, it can be written by the sales person and attributed along the lines of: One of my clients shared some insights with me recently concerning how they ....
  4. Objection neutralizers that positively position and set the agenda. As an example, I work with a client in the recruiting industry and a common objection is: 'I'm too busy meet but if you have a candidate then send me their CV'. I've coach recruitment sales people to write posts along the lines of: How 20 minutes saves 12 hours and dramatically reduces hiring risk. Skills, experience and qualifications are easy to screen but cultural fit is where the greatest risk resides in a hiring decision. List all of your common objections such as 'I'm too busy', 'We have an incumbent supplier', 'You're too expensive', etc and write about why that is the very reason they should meet you.
  5. Newsjacking topical events to create interest. When Harrison Ford crash-landed his plan on a Californian golf course, I had this post up within 90 minutes.

Trigger events are excellent opportunities for both content creation and initiating contact with potential buyers. What events provide potential opportunities to improve your own customer service, intercept competitor customers, or engage potential clients early in their buying process? In the mind of the buyer, trigger events create awareness of opportunity or need and can amplify perceptions of pain. These events can motivate people to take action to change the status quo? Trigger events can include changes in personnel, a major scandal, legislative changes, new compliance obligations, products going ‘end of support’, suppliers being acquired or dropping the ball, competitor staff leaving or retiring, new leaders coming into the organization. My worksheet below is ideal for identifying trigger events and establishing the best way to monitor.

Sales people should work with their marketing team to formulate strategy, select the right tools and secure the right levels of training and support to build their individual sales pipelines. Here are my tips for going beyond content curation (working with other people's content) and writing your own material that sets you apart as a sales person:

  1. Identify your audience and then write for the one person or role you are seeking to influence. This makes it targeted, personal and on point.
  2. Be clear in your own mind about why your message is important and what you want them to do about. But avoid any call to action that overtly seeks to sell or paints you as a salesperson.
  3. Create a catchy headline (think like a newspaper editor).
  4. Use an eye-catching picture that has an abstract relationship to your topic. Honor copyright by using 'common use license' images and attribute source, or use your own photos.
  5. Have an opening that hooks, a body that informs and a close that motivates or inspires. Deliver insight rather than mere information.
  6. Aim for 700 words and don't ramble. Longer is okay and some of my best posts with more than 220,000 reads have well over 1500 words.
  7. Create back-links to other content but never use click-bate to take people to another site where they have to complete forms or register to view content.
If you don't read, then you're not a professional. If you can't write, then you can't sell because you are incapable of building a strong personal brand online that shows insight and attracts clients.

If you valued this article, please hit the ‘like' and ‘share’ buttons below. This article was originally published in LinkedIn here where you can comment. Also follow the award winning LinkedIn blog here or visit Tony’s leadership blog at his keynote speaker website:

Main Image Photo by Flickr: Joe Flood Follow Writing = Breathing

Warrior of Persuasion or Engineer of Value?

The world of sales is tough and seems to be getting tougher.  I recently had a conversation with John Smibert, the most influential person in professional selling in Australia, concerning the emerging challenges facing B2B sellers in 2016 and I provide recommendations on how we need to respond in order to succeed.

The global economy will continue to be flat for years to come and the lack of economic confidence, combined with significant changes in the way buyers execute their procurement research and vendor engagement, means that sellers must continually adapt the way they sell. 

Warriors of Persuasion must learn to become Engineers of Value.

The challenges we face in 2016 and beyond include the fact that the customer are becoming more risk adverse - they are applying committee based decision-making to achieve consensus. Average deal sizes are also getting smaller which means sellers must figure out how drive greater efficiency to achieve sales quota. Other factors include the need for sales and marketing to come together to create superb 'buyer experience' mapped against the buyer's journey with fewer sales people and better uses of technology.

Watch or read the full interview below. This will be of value to the CEO, CFO, CSO, CMO, sales leaders and their teams in order to build and execute their sales and revenue strategy.

Interview Transcript

John: Tony, it’s early in the year of 2016 - you've talked a lot about challenges through 2015, and how the B2B sales world is changing and there’s more and more challenges. What do you see as the key challenges we’re going to face in the next 12 months?

Tony: Well, I think economically the economy, the Western world economy is going to be pretty tough for the next few years, maybe as long as five to seven years. I don’t think there’s going to be a big recession or anything, but I just think every purchasing decision inside an organisation is going to get scrutinised.

John: It’s just limping along, the economy, isn’t it?

Tony: It is. When you combine that with some other trends that are just remaining with us, buyers tend to be very risk-averse and sceptical of the claims made by sellers. Increasingly inside organisations they’re also looking for consensus, and the reality is there’s more than five people or five buying groups in big organisations involved in every decision.

John: Well, The Challenger Sale research indicates 5.4 is the average, right, in medium to large corporates.

Tony: Yes, it’s true. And it’s not 5.4 people, it’s 5.4 committees or bunches of people with competing agendas. And increasingly what happens is that the old model of selling, where you track down those individual buyer personas and craft and tailor your message to them, so that when they all sit around that boardroom table at a later date, they go “Yes, we know this supplier, we’re comfortable – let’s go ahead.” That’s not the case today. They may know us, but they can’t reach agreement internally, they can’t achieve consensus internally, they don’t want to cross-fund each other’s initiatives with who’s deriving the greatest benefits.

John: That’s the key message coming out of The Challenger Customer book that I’ve just read.

Tony: Exactly, which actually is a really brilliant book. Consensus based decision-making, distrust of ROI, all of those things are making it incredibly difficult to sell. The thing we need to do is we need to modernise our whole approach and get focused on leading with insight and value. People have known this for ages, but we need to make it a reality for salespeople so that they can help customers focus on outcomes and managing risk as the way of differentiating in how they sell.

John:  And from my understanding, we need to get very good at helping organisations make a decision by working with them in a collaborative way and understanding how those decisions are made inside organisations.

Tony:  Yes, it’s true.

John: Dealing with the right people that are going to make it happen internally.

Tony:  Correct. Well - in Corporate Executive Board Challenger speak - it’s look for the mobiliser, look for the change agent inside the buyer organisation, but help them build a compelling business case that can achieve consensus within the group internally. It’s not so much about being a warrior of persuasion in selling, we need to be engineers of value and do the engineering and partnership with the customer.

John: So, you see that as a key change in the way we approach the B2B business of selling in the next 12 months.

Tony: Yes. And in many, many instances we’re just going to have to get over the fact that average deal sizes are going to be smaller, and that we need to invest in longer-term relationships with our customers, that those revenues will come over the medium and long term; we’re not going to get huge revenue hits upfront with people anymore. That’s part of how the delivery of cloud software is changing things as well.

John: Yes, I understand that, and I think that’s going to apply not just in software but in lots of different industries.

Tony: Yes. And the last thing is we need to get good at creating customer experience that supports buyer journey, so sales and marketing need to finally, finally come together and start to think about that. I think there’ll be fewer field salespeople, but there’ll be lots of different sales roles inside organisations, as we make sure that we map how the buyer is evaluating and going to market and looking.

John: So, the alliance or collaboration or whatever you call it between sales and marketing is going to become more and more critical is what you’re saying, around that buyer journey.

Tony: Very much so, yes.

John:  Okay. Good advice. It’s going to be interesting for a lot of people out there, to work out how they change their strategy and adapt to be able to work in that environment. I look forward to learning more from you as we all go through that process.

Tony: Thanks, John!

John:  Thanks, Tony!

This article appears here within one of the planet's top 50 blogs on sales and marketing and the only top 50 blog within LinkedIn. Thanks John Smibert for the video interview and transcript which can also be found on on the Strategic Selling Group website where he interviews sales thought leaders from around the world. 

If you valued this article, please hit the ‘like' and ‘share’ buttons below. This article was originally published in LinkedIn here where you can comment. Also follow the award winning LinkedIn blog here or visit Tony’s leadership blog at his keynote speaker website:

Main Image Photo by Flickr: Hans Splinter - Viking