Why Marketers Should Read The New Rules of Sales and Service

If you’re in marketing, you’ve probably been influenced by David Meerman Scott’s New Rules of Marketing and PR. Originally published in 2006 (and updated several times since), it’s had a lasting impact on the practice of marketing.

Now he’s got a new book out, The New Rules of Sales and Service. Again, it’s a marketing the-new-rules-of-sales-and-servicemust-read. Although I read last fall and included the book on my list of marketing books last month, I haven’t reviewed it here yet. Until now.

Although the title doesn’t say marketing, I’d suggest you put it on your reading list. Because  sales and service interactions should be a continuation of marketing efforts and strategies.

Several of the new rules sound familiar to a marketing professional, but apply as well to sales and service organizations. For example:

Rule #1: “Authentic storytelling sets the tone.” Understanding the business story is critical for anyone engaging with the customer, including sales and service. If marketing is creating stories, we need to share them widely and build consensus throughout the customer-facing business.

Rule #2: “Content is the link between companies and customers.” Stop thinking of content marketing as simply a way to generate leads, and start thinking of it as a way to support and nurture your customers.

And another chapter heading reads: “We’re all in sales and service.” So true. The boundaries between marketing and the other parts of the business are blurring. Sales and service teams tend to own ongoing customer relationships, but that doesn’t mean that marketing’s job sends at the time of the sale.

This is particularly true in businesses that maintain a long-term relationship with the customer. Customer loyalty is the life blood of businesses with subscription-based business models. (That’s the topic of my latest focus, subscription marketing.)

The New Rules includes terrific examples, with instructions on topics such as interviewing customers to create buyer personas, engaging with customers in real time, and using great service to generate more leads.

To sum it up, again in David’s words:  “Break down the walls between sales and marketing, and your business will improve.”

Truth vs. spin in content marketing

As an English major in college, I avoided creative writing classes. Now, as a freelance marketing writer, I’m still avoiding fiction writing, but for another reason.  I don’t want to inadvertently write something that’s not true about the technology products I’m helping companies pitch.

Marketing has a wink-wink-nudge-nudge reputation for spin.  But there’s good spin, and bad spin.

  • Good spin pitches the benefits of solution, without stretching credulity
  • Bad spin glosses over important limitations, or otherwise misleads the prospect about what they would eventually get

Why care if you make the sale? Because you have to look beyond the sale to ongoing customer satisfaction. And because dissatisfied customers can  do more damage than the best marketing program can fix. You know the old saying about how good advertising kills bad products faster?  It holds for social media marketing as well, and social media  accelerates the potential disastrous impact of misleading prospects.

Should I hide sales objections?

The theory used to be that you should carefully avoid introducing potential objections – why put ideas into prospects’ heads?  Let the sales team handle the objections, with carefully scripted responses, when they happen.

That strategy doesn’t work anymore.

Today’s technology customers do their research long before they talk to any salesperson.  That’s why you’ve got to address sales objections proactively, even if it means telling the prospect about the possible objection in the first place.  Somewhere in the content lifecycle you need pieces that address sales objections – using a FAQ, or a paper on a specific concern or issue.  And this content must include an honest assessment of the objection and the customer’s options, rather than glossing over concerns.

What if there’s a more serious flaw in my product?

If you’ve identified it, of course you’ll work to fix it. And then you should let people know that you’re fixing it.

It may be painful, but it’s always easier to take the short-term damage of admitting a problem than the long-term pain of covering it up.  It’s like a publicly-traded company that fudges or manipulates its revenue numbers to avoid a short-term hit. The damage of the cover-up is usually much worse than the damage of just telling the truth right up front.

Content marketing and the inevitable sales objections

Into every sales cycle a little rain must fall – prospects get cold feet, someone raises an objection, the IT group puts up a roadblock. In her excellent book eMarketing Strategies for the Complex Sale, Ardath Albee calls these “step backs” in the sales cycle.

How do you handle those inevitable questions and objections? Do you wait for prospects to come to you with an objection, then provide a carefully crafted answer? Do you rely on the training and quick thinking of your sales staff?  Or do you address them head-on in the rich content you make available throughout the sales cycle?

When I first started in marketing, sales objections and their answers were closely guarded secrets, buried in sales guides and internal documents provided to sales.  No one wanted to put the possible objections in the prospects’ minds in the first place.

Today, everything has changed. You can’t sweep possible objections under the rug, and leave it to your sale team to answer them as they arise.  Why?

They’ll find out anyway.  Your prospects are researching actively their options, talking with others on social networks, or communicating with other vendors.  There’s not much point in hiding concerns if they’re common ones.

You may not get a chance to defend yourself.  Given the long nature of the B2B sales cycle, prospects may raise a concern before they have engaged with your sales team.  They could dismiss your solution before you’re personally engaged with them.

The better approach is to address those concerns head-on. For example:

  • Discuss potential risks and how to mitigate them in your papers and solution collateral.
  • Create specific papers for stakeholders (like IT organizations) that may raise concerns about integration or security.
  • Integrate objection handling in customer stories where appropriate.
  • If the personal touch is important, offer a podcast or video that addresses the concern and make it available on your website.

By openly airing potential objections, you can smooth the sales cycle while earning your prospects’ trust.