THOUGHT LEADER: PR techniques can help sales forces understandclient pain and avoid their own

Chances are you've seen a disastrous interview on TV; one in which the executive being interviewed looks like a deer in headlights. Doesn't it seem like Mike Wallace finds one of these execs almost every Sunday night? Maybe it's happened to one of your clients. When it does, heads roll. And accounts can shift.

Chances are you've seen a disastrous interview on TV; one in which the executive being interviewed looks like a deer in headlights. Doesn't it seem like Mike Wallace finds one of these execs almost every Sunday night? Maybe it's happened to one of your clients. When it does, heads roll. And accounts can shift.

"Winning an interview on TV isn't luck; it's the result of hours of training and practice via PR strategies and techniques. An executive or CEO who wins an interview not only looks self-assured on air, but controls a difficult interview by confidently bridging back to, and articulating, key messages.

Imagine integrating these proven PR techniques into the sales process.

Just as a CEO can "win a media interview, a salesperson can learn to "win a cold call or customer meeting. Doing so can dramatically shorten the sales cycle and greatly improve a salesperson's success rate.

What's keeping your customer awake? Training and messaging are only part of the successful sales equation. From our perspective, it all starts with a variation of corporate positioning which, on the PR side, is used to determine key communications messages.

We've created a specially tailored form of positioning that uncovers what salespeople think keeps customers or prospects awake at night and what actually does. Audits with actual customers and prospects arm salespeople with invaluable information they'd never be able to get themselves.

Simultaneously, by talking directly with customers and prospects, we create a much more meaningful PR program.

The result: deeper relationships with current customers, doors being opened with prospects, and a PR plan that directly addresses constituent pain.

Why is uncovering a customer's pain so key? During the dot-com heyday, rookie and veteran salespeople alike essentially took orders. Today, with no formal training, Gen Xers have no clue how to make a consultative sale.

Simultaneously, grizzled sales vets find that traditional techniques like lunches, golf outings or selling on price or features no longer work.

A recent PepperCom survey of 64 sales execs found that 47% of respondents had no idea what was keeping customers/prospects awake at night. If salespeople don't know what a customer's or prospect's greatest pain or concern is, they'll never make the emotional connection critical to closing a deal.

Pain also provides opportunity. Our sales positioning audits cause a rude awakening for many sales forces. Disconnects between what salespeople believe is keeping customers and prospects awake at night and what is truly doing so are numerous. These disconnects, however, offer salespeople the chance to better understand how to shift their approach.

One company's sales force, for example, was over-promising and under-delivering to its customers. They felt forced to sell great expectations.

They told customers that purchasing the company's service would increase their sales dramatically.

In reality, the opposite happened. Sales were down by 30%. Why? Because the salespeople assumed they knew what their customers wanted, when, in fact, the opposite was true. Customers didn't want inflated numbers.

They wanted to hear case studies that substantiated a return on investment for their peers. They also insisted on a high level of customer service throughout the year, and wanted the company's salespeople to fully understand their business in order to meet their needs.

Our findings confirmed management's worst fears. But by applying PR strategies to train the salespeople to address specific pain points, we have been able to help the company get sales back on track.

Another company used a similar strategy to compare and contrast the pain of its US-based clientele with that of European-based customers and prospects.

We found that several issues such as supply-chain management were keeping customers up at night but weren't even mentioned by the sales force.

A smart management team will leverage customer and prospect pain points to sell in new ways. They'll also fine-tune PR and marketing campaigns to reflect the findings. By involving both sales and marketing departments in the "pain discovery process, management can also bridge the gap between these sister disciplines.

PR can play a dominant role in many aspects of a client's business today.

All it takes is a willingness to think outside the box.

- Steven Cody is cofounder and managing partner of PepperCom, an award-winning strategic comms firm in New York, San Francisco, and London, that specializes in Sales Positioning, a proprietary program that results in deepening relationships with customers and opening doors with prospects. Cody is co-authoring a book on Sales Positioning for McGraw-Hill, to be published next spring.

- For more, contact Steven Cody at 212-931-6114 or scody@peppercom.com.

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