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Context, The Ultimate Sales Differentiator

by David Brock on May 24th, 2015

Everyone is enthralled with content these day–Thankfully!

Content’s not new, just most of the content generated sucks.  We have data sheet after data sheet, millions spent in brochures.

Of course there’s always the standard corporate presentation, with the ever so important logo’s slide.  It’s usually the second or third slide and it really is a “brag slide,”  “here are all the wonderful customers that bought from us…”

Fortunately, leading marketing and sales enablement folks are moving content into a new realm.  They are “customerizing” it, perhaps even humanizing it.  It’s targeted to personas, it’s targeted to markets and industries, it focuses on where the customer is in their buying process, helping them navigate to the next steps.

New tools and technologies make content increasingly personalized.

For marketing, Content has become King!

It’s about time.

As sales people, we’re cheering to0. We need relevant content to leverage with our customers.  But there’s a danger in how we leverage it.

We create no value by just parroting the content.  That’s why so many customers prefer going to the web.  If all we are is talking data sheets, then the web is much more convenient.

The one thing our content can’t do is provide context.

This is where sales people create huge value for the customer.  It’s that connection between the content, regardless how personalized, and “this is what it means to you and your organization.”

Context is how we translate content to the customer specific situation, where they’ve been, where they are, where they want to go.  It’s how we can address, their specific strategies and priorities, their specific problems and challenges, what’s happening to their customers and market.  It’s how we provide insight.

It’s how we talk to Bob, the product design director, saying, “Bob, remember the problems you had [these problem] in the design of your Super Duper Widget.  Those problems caused in launching the product by [X months].  The company lost [Y revenue] because of the delay.  We’ll eliminate that problem by helping your engineers address [these specific issues] that caused the delays.  You should see design cycle time reduced by [this much].”

Bob, “Awesome!  Now I get it…..”

If we rely just on content, without providing context, we leave it to the customer to figure it out themselves.  They probably don’t know how to, they probably don’t know how to quantify the impact, but most importantly, they probably won’t take the time.

Our job as sales people is to connect with our customers–and to help them make the connections in addressing new opportunities, changing, learning new approaches, solving problems, and continuing to improve.

Beyond providing the ability to be specific to the customer’s situation (individuals and organizations), context enables the sales person to manage the changes over time.  The issues concerning the customer today are different than they were yesterday, and they will be different tomorrow.  So the context changes over time.  Content is relatively static, so sales provides the context to manage these shifts over time.

While content is important for sales people, providing context is critical, that’s where we connect and help our customers make the connection, today, and tomorrow, and the day after.

For the marketers reading this, sales needs your help!

Content is great!  Targeted to personas, markets, industries, and where the customer is in their buying cycle helps increase relevance and the ability to connect with customers.

But sales people need more.  Sales people need tools, playbooks, training in how to provide context.

  • What should they be looking for with customers?
  • What questions should sales be asking, what responses should sales be looking for?
  • How do sales people help customers decide to change?  How do they identify and quantify the impact of doing nothing?
  • How de sales people help identify the specific impact the solutions will have, both qualitatively and quantitatively?
  • How do sales people translate the content into customer specific issues now, how do sales people lead that conversation?

Content may be king for marketing, but context is where the rubber hits the road.  It’s how sales people create meaning and value for customers.

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5 Comments
  1. Natalie Brown permalink

    Hi Dave,
    Excellent post! I am particularly drawn to the phrase sale people translate “what it does” to “what it does for you”. The challenge I find is that as a sales person I may not have a wide enough view beyond my single customer in the particular market to understand that market’s challenge and “what IT can do for the customer”.

    I relate to the “remember that problem you had last design cycle…this IT addresses that problem for you…”

    Thank you.
    Natalie

    • Natalie, it’s always great to see you visiting. I agree with the challenge of having a “wide enough view.” But to really create value for our customers, it’s important that we have that view–of the industry, their competitors, their customers, their markets. Having that knowledge really increases our value because we can talk about the customer, what’s happening to them, what they should be thinking of, opportunities they may be missing, threats, etc. From there we can start to talk about what we can do to help them address those issues.

      Thanks for the comment!

  2. Great post. Couldn’t agree more. Without context, salespeople are just presenting their product and hoping the customer can figure out why they need it or even worse why they should care.

    The question is how do you help your sales team gain context? To me, context is all about linking product knowledge with product knowledge and being able to see patterns. That means salespeople need customer knowledge and the wisdom gained through experience and having a curious mind. I find customer scenarios help because they are memorable, but I’m sure there are lots of other ways to acquire context. What have you found that works well David?

    • Sorry for the delay in responding Michael, been on the road. Great question, I think in part you answered it yourself. We have to look for sales people that have insatiable curiosity. That will drive them to explore–picking up the customer, market, industry, product knowledge. It will drive them to ask questions, problem and explore within their customers. So having people with this curiosity is a massive head start.

      As I mentioned in the article, there are ways that Sales Enablement and Marketing can help. I remember as a “newbe sales person,” selling to a Financial services territory, I was sent to a Wharton “Banking School” for 6 weeks. It was filled with new bankers being trained, I was the only technology product sales guy in the class. But I started learning banking. Few organizations can afford that investment today, but they can develop mini courses, they can provide market data, analysis, tools and all sorts of other training. They can provide specific content, and other materials (like customer scenarios) to help the sales person accelerate the learning curve.

      Thanks for the great question!

  3. oops mistake, sorry
    Great post. Couldn’t agree more. Without context, salespeople are just presenting their product and hoping the customer can figure out why they need it or even worse why they should care.

    The question is how do you help your sales team gain context? To me, context is all about linking product knowledge with customer knowledge and being able to see patterns. That means salespeople need customer knowledge and the wisdom gained through experience and having a curious mind. I find customer scenarios help because they are memorable, but I’m sure there are lots of other ways to acquire context. What have you found that works well David?oops

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